Separatism and State Stability in Somalia
How this week’s events affect maritime security?
By Ilias Papadopoulos – UGS Strategic Analyst
Master in International Relations & Strategic Studies
With the UN Secretary General announcing last October that Somali piracy has fallen to a 7-year low, many scholars hurried to prophecy ‘the end of terror’ in the region. But by looking exclusively in numbers these scholars failed to grasp the bigger picture, which is comprised by two facts. The first is that the fall of piracy is in direct relation to the success of the measure of placing armed personnel on vessels transiting the region. The second is that the root causes that create the piracy have not been addressed. From these observations, one can safely reach the conclusion that as long as vessels stop hiring armed guards, piracy will re-emerge at the levels of 2007.
This week we will address the question of stability in Somalia, one of the two pillars that will ensure stability in the region as soon as it improves. Somalia is in a de facto civil war since 1991. A government did not exist in the country until 2012 when an election was held, resulting in a president and the promise of stability. The problem was that Somalia is a country with strong centrifugal tendencies, with several communities claiming a state status. The newly elected government tried to take this into account and established a federal system, with the formation of semi-independent states under the roof of a central one.
Initially things seemed to work, after all the people of Somalia are fighting for over 20 years, thus they were tired of the violence in their country. But in the end the old feuds rekindled and pressure from the states for greater independence was renewed. Last week Southwest Somalia, a state that has not yet been recognized as such by the federal government, held a controversial election declaring itself independent. The next day another federal state of the country, Puntland hurried to support this move. We must remark that Puntland is the node of piratical activity in the country thus their incentive for a weak central state is apparent.
Further to that the state of Somalia is in a constant fight against al Shabaab in Juba and Asal states at the south of the country. Al Shabaab is an offshoot of al Qaeda and also seeks the establishment of a fully independent state in their areas of influence. In that region this week we witnessed some heavy fighting between federal troops and al Shabaab contingents, with several casualties in both sides.
The above elements show us that while Somalia tries to adapt to a modern state status, she still is full of instability pockets and contradicting interests that keep her from transforming. This instability eventually translates, as much as it concerns us, into piracy meaning that absent the military operations in the Horn of Africa and the on-board security teams in vessels transiting the region, maritime crime will quickly rise again.