Burhan's Death and the Somali Swamp

The recent killing of Burhan Hassan, a 17-year-old Somali-American high school student who allegedly traveled to Somalia to fight for the Shabaab militia in the country’s civil war, is a shocking and tragic coda to this Newsweek story about the potential threat to the United States from radical Islamists among Somali immigrant communities.

If there’s a lesson in Burhan’s death, it’s that despite the headlines about rampant piracy in Somalia and potential fifth-column Somali terror groups in the Twin Cities, Somalia’s civil war is still a far greater threat to Somalis than it is to the West. One of the most telling points I came across in researching this month's CQ Global Researcher ("The Troubled Horn of Africa") is that none of the analysts I interviewed could name a single successful act of international terrorism carried out by a Somali. In fact, I’d argue that the main reason Western powers have been so disengaged in Somalia since the end of Operation Restore Hope in 1995 (during which the infamous Black Hawn Down incident occurred) is precisely because the country has posed so little threat to the outside world. Somalia’s immediate neighbors — particularly Ethiopia and Eritrea, who have both been major actors in the Somali war — obviously see things differently. But so long as the main protagonists and casualties of the war are Somalis themselves, it’s hard to see President Barack Obama or any other Western leader wanting to walk into the Somali swamp.

One of the most shocking aspects of the war is that over the past two decades a new class of Somali businessmen with a vested interest in the continuing chaos has emerged to become arguably the most powerful political force in Somalia. For all the talk about the Islamists battling the new moderate transitional government, a real back-story is the treachery of the country’s business class. This group includes exporters of charcoal made from Somalia’s few remaining forests, importers of the narcotic leaf "khat" and the local militias that “tax” aid organizations wanting to bring food aid to civilians living in militia-controlled regions — not to mention businessmen who print their own local currency or deal in arms.

Like Mogadishu’s “recycling” barons who in the 1990s sold off copper wire and scrap metal looted from the vestiges of the country’s physical infrastructure or today's pirates who hold ships hostage until their owners fork over millions of dollars, Somalia's businessman thugs have a vested interest in preventing a central government from coming to power that could outlaw or tax their trade. When even the rich guys don’t want a functioning government, you know your country’s in trouble.

— Jason McLure
Bloomberg News
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

1 comments:

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