Monday, September 22, 2014

The President's Bank

Below is my article on Somali president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud's dodgy dealings, published today in African Arguments.

It was originally commissioned by Foreign Policy, who dragged their feet on it for months -- nine months, to be precise -- before I decided to pull it. Worst experience I've ever had with an editor, by far.

The President’s Bank: corruption allegations tarnish Somalia’s brave new world

The election of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud in September 2012 was heralded internationally as an almost messianic break from the past, an end to Somalia’s never-ending progression of corrupt “transitional” governments and the beginning of a brave new era. Once in office, Hassan Sheikh was feted by Western powers in London and Brussels, where he spoke of rebuilding Somalia and opening up the country to foreign investment. At a Brussels conference in September 2013, enthusiastic European donors delivered the ultimate endorsement – a pledge of $2.4 billion as part of a “New Deal” for Somalia.

But Hassan Sheikh’s tenure as the international community’s chosen one may be coming to an end. On 9 July 2014, the U.N. Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea submitted a 37-page letter – leaked to Reuters news agency and this writer – to the U.N. Security Council accusing the president and a Maryland-based law firm of “a conspiracy to divert the recovery of overseas assets” belonging to the Central Bank of Somalia (CBS). At least one of the president’s close advisors, who was paid by the law firm for services rendered, was implicated in the letter for supplying arms to the al-Qaeda linked Islamist group al-Shabab.

You can read the full article here.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

An al-Shabaab emir by any other name...

Back when I was following al-Shabaab more closely, I found it useful to have a visual representation of the organisation, which took the form of the "al-Shabaab Wall" overshadowing the dining table in my old flat.

After the death of al-Shabaab emir Ahmed Godane in a U.S. drone strike on Sept. 2, al-Shabaab selected a new leader, known by the nom de guerre Ahmed Umar Abu Ubaidah. Digging through piles of cards a few days ago, I finally found Abu Ubaidah's, under the name of Mahad Abdikarim (Ubaidah has also gone by the name Ahmed Diriye). The card lists him as a member of the Dir clan, and as Godane's appointed leader of Bay, Bakool, and Gedo.

And here's my self-congratulatory boast for the day: at the bottom of the card is written "#2 to Godane?" Which, it turns out, he was.

Not to give myself too much credit, my pick to succeed Godane in the wake of his assassination was not Ubaidah/Abdirakim, but rather Mahad Karate, the head of the Aminyaat. But there's a pretty good explanation for why Karate wasn't in the running for the top job; according to Stig Hansen, Karate may have died in the drone strike that killed Godane.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Djibouti: Al-Shabaab's Latest Front

On 24 May, two Ethiopian-Somali suicide bombers, a man and a woman, entered a popular Djibouti restaurant and blew themselves up. Dozens of Western military personnel were wounded, and one Turkish national later died of his injuries. 

Al-Shabaab claimed the attack three days later, announcing in a statement that the target had been "French crusaders" responsible for the "persecution" of Muslims in the Central African Republic (CAR). 

Two days prior to the attack, the two bombers – later identified as Musa Roble Hirad and Hodan Mohamed Isse – entered Djibouti via Loyada, the only land border crossing with Somaliland, assisted by a Djiboutian border officer. They had spent at least 20 days in the capital Hargeisa where they likely received local assistance, according to Muse Bihi, the chairman of Somaliland's ruling Kulmiye party.

There are strong indications that the attack was planned and financed in Somaliland, possibly even with the assistance of government officials. The Somaliland connection will certainly worry the Ethiopians, as the autonomous region has long been the eastern flank of Ethiopia's regional security strategy of isolating itself from Somalia's instability.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Al-Shabaab's New Face in Kenya?

With the notable exception of Westgate, terrorism incidents in Kenya have largely consisted of lobbed grenades and makeshift IEDs. The perpetrators have tended to be sympathetic to al-Shabaab's ideology but unlikely to have direct ties to the group. 

But there are signs that al-Shabaab top brass are beginning to take a more active role in Kenya, where the security climate has rapidly deteriorated over the past year despite the East African country receiving vast intelligence support from American, British and Israeli spy agencies.

In a 23 April suicide attack, two militants detonated a Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) at a police station in the Nairobi neighbourhood of Pangani, killing two police officers as well as the attackers. Many believe that the station was not the intended target, but that the bombers had been on their way to another site – perhaps a nightclub – when they were pulled over for driving on the wrong side of the road. The blast was atypically powerful, and it is possible that the secondary bomber was wearing a suicide belt to augment the main explosives contained in the vehicle's boot. 

It was the second time in under two months that a sophisticated VBIED – bearing the signs of more direct al-Shabaab involvement – had found its way into a Kenyan police station. On 11 March, an impounded car brought to an Anti-Terror Police Unit station in Mombasa was later found to contain six pipe bombs attached to a mobile phone detonator, containing enough plastic explosives to collapse a multi-storey building.