FP usually does really good analysis, but I am concerned by a couple of blog posts they have published recently.  The first is here.  While I understand that they are trying to simplify a very complex issue, this is just lazy.  Especially for a group of mostly informed readers.  While I agree with their analysis that Shabaab is running a parallel government (to some extent), it is no where near as pervasive as, for instance, Greater Liberia was.  Shabaab have not issued their own currency, do not enforce “borders” in the same manner, etc. etc. 

The other thing which troubles me is that they seem to assume that just because Shabaab has announced that they are al Qaeda, that means that they are.  While the specifics of this are less than opaque, the evidence they point to is rather dismal.  There is a lot of counter-evidence that Shabaab is largely peopled by Islamist wannabes.  Personally, I lean toward the latter.  I think that largely Shabaab is a rebranded insurgency with Islamist claims in order to secure financing.  Yet, it is complex, as there are solid reports that some of the leadership of Shabaab has been trained by AQ and retains its linkages.  This leads me to believe that there is a split within the organization, but more on that at a latter date. 

This is big news for anyone still trying to read the tea leaves on the Somali insurgency, not least becuase in all honesty, this is really no insurgency at all. It's a parallel government. On any day of the week, it would be easy to point to a map and argue that more of Somalia's territory is run by Shabaab and its allies control than by the Transitional Federal Government (despite rather optimistic claims to the contrary). So if Shabaab is the al Qaeda affiliate it claims to be, that means that Somalia is being de facto run by a terrorist group. Yikes.

The paragraph below I heartily endorse and agree with from what little I’ve seen.

I have to wonder if the United States really gets all of this. As the last decade of conflict has shown us, chaos — a category in which Somalia has no competitors –  is perhaps the best predictor of 21st Century security ills. And from civil conflict to terrorism to refugees and the plight of disease, Somalia has it all. But it's precisely for that reason that the Somalia portfolio has been a hot potato within the U.S. government — bouncing from agency to agency and advisor to advisor with no clear owner or no clear line. It's probably less that U.S. policymarkers are ignoring Somalia (as the African Union suggested this weekend) as they are overwhelmed. A fair excuse, but a dangerous one as well.

The second article is here.  This, I think, is even lazier reporting. 

Somalia has two big scourges these days: Islamist milititas the run most of the country (and are linked to al Qaeda) and piracy off the coast. (The combination yields a desperate humanitarian situation sandwiched in between.)

But what if the two scourges are linked? That was the  suggestion of the Kenyan Vice President Kalonzo Stephen Musyok, speaking at the New America Foundation today. “Piracy is another issue which I think has a  direct link with these extremist militant groups,” he told the audience.

It's an odd idea at first. Al Shabaab has built its image on the harsh brand of Sharia that they hope to impose, and during the Islamic Courts government earlier this decade (of which al Shabaab was a part, piracy was banned. 

Not anymore. Last December, a Canadian intelligence report indicated that Shabaab was in fact training pirates for their “duties.” Further reporting from Jane's (summarized here) notes how taxes are levied on the pirates’ booties. Yes, the pirates and the Islamists are definitely in cahoots.

One way they know that both are getting worse? “[I]n Nairobi today, property prices today are still rising, and we think this has a direct link with the piracy.” In other words, all those wealthy pirates are buying up fancy homes. And they've got a lot of cash to spend.

While I cannot disagree with the quotes, the real evidence that I see exists on a map.  The major pirate networks are not in the south, which is where Shabaab is.  They are in Puntland, which has seen Shabaab incursions recently, but nowhere near to the level that I see this linkage blossom.  I do agree with Dickenson’s analysis that this is something to watch closely.  However, the evidence that pirates are buying houses and driving up property prices in Nairobi (in Isley neighborhood specifically) shows me nothing other than they have nothing else they can buy in Puntland.  Sure there are a few pirate networks that have developed in the South, but these pale in comparison to the networks which are operating with impunity up north.  Perhaps the cited Canadian intel report is correct, but that barely proves the point.

This illustrates one of my major beefs with living and being here.  The analysis is so shotty.  On the one hand, there are complex issues here, and Somali society isn’t the easiest to figure out.  Yet it isn’t the most complex society to figure out, and when you have a handle on it, it is relatively easy to work out what is happening. 

So maybe I need to do more commenting, with the hopes that it may be able to change some of the rhetoric and analysis a small bit.

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