Africans and Cannots

'It may be premature to celebrate the fall of Gaddafi, especially since the National Transitional Council has introduced sharia'

Michael Burleigh

There are signs that other countries have run out of patience with the chaos and violence that radiate from Somalia. Two thousand Kenyan troops are embarked on Operation Linda Nchi (Defend the Country) inside southern Somalia, after the kidnapping and murder of European tourists from luxury resorts near Lamu laid to waste Kenya’s vital tourist industry. 

This operation is being synchronised with African Union attempts to expel the Islamist terror organisation al-Shabaab from Mogadishu. It is easy to forget the Burundian and Ugandan troops trying to bring order to a Somali capital that is so terrifyingly chaotic that in 1993 the US military came, saw and fled in what is sometimes called Operation Black Hawk Down. US-backed Ethiopian troops intervened in 2007 and withdrew two years later, leaving Somalia more unstable than ever. 

Although the Kenyan invasion seems to be going well, al-Shabaab has already mounted grenade attacks on bars in Nairobi, for it has a ready-made fifth column inside the country, consisting of 2.4 million ethnic Somalis and 600,000 refugees. “Your attack on us means your skyscrapers will be destroyed. Your tourism will disappear. We shall inflict on you the same damage you inflicted on us,” said an al-Shabaab spokeman.

Meanwhile, there is the aftermath of Nato operations in Libya, whose conclusion the British government regards as the starting pistol for an oil and gas bonanza for British business (and democracy and human rights). Many Western commentators have concentrated on the rights and wrongs of the summary execution of Gaddafi and his son. This is a largely academic question, of interest mainly to lawyers who are going to miss out on huge earnings which they might have accrued in The Hague. 

One key element of Gaddafi’s forces was Tuareg tribesmen hired out by the government of Mali. As far as the latter was concerned, this brought in considerable revenue, while getting disgruntled Tuareg separatists out of the north of the country, where they hope to establish a state called Azawad in the region of Timbuktu. As the war in Libya proves “portable”, we should familiarise ourselves with such capitals as Bamako (Mali), Nouakchott (Mauritania), and Niamey (Niger). 

And transferable it has become. Some 200,000 Malians have fled Libya, as the country has become inhospitable to black Africans, the majority innocent remittance men but some earning $1,000 a week as mercenaries, including thousands of heavily armed Tuaregs. Their separatist efforts in northern Mali have therefore received a powerful boost. So too has al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), for many of these men are now destitute and unemployed in their “homelands”. The government of Mauritania will be sending in its fighter bombers over Mali, where AQIM is mainly based, on an accelerated basis. They should be careful.

Twenty thousand Russian SA-24 Grinch and SA-7 Grail shoulder-to-air missiles have reportedly disappeared from one of Gaddafi’s arms dumps. These weapons have sufficient range to shoot down a commercial airliner (as Islamists in Kenya tried nine years ago with a jet full of holidaymakers returning to Israel) and are more than capable of knocking out helicopters. That affects Mauritanian air operations against AQIM in Mali but also Israeli mastery of the skies over Gaza, where some of these weapons have already surfaced. Planes leaving Eilat are also thought to be very vulnerable. The missiles could also be smuggled into northern Nigeria to bolster the Islamists of Boko Haram who are fighting the government in Abuja. The name says it all. In Hausa, Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden.” 

It may be premature for Western governments to celebrate the fall of Gaddafi, especially since the leader of the National Transitional Council in Tripoli has announced the introduction of sharia. 

As for Somalia, the recent Commonwealth meeting in Perth agreed that merchant ships can now carry armed men to ward off pirates who infest an area the size of Europe off the Horn of Africa. That  courts the risk that Somali pirates will start shooting their merchant seaman hostages, for there are downsides — for Filipino or Pakistani crewmen — to the “sink the ships and kill them all” talk one sometimes hears at London dinner parties. 

The US has also recently opened a new air base at Arba Minch in southern Ethiopia, from which it can launch Reaper drone strikes inside Somalia, of the kind that already fly from Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti or the idyllic Seychelles. The mess that is Somalia seems likely to contaminate its neighbours.

Underrated: Abroad

The ravenous longing for the infinite possibilities of “otherwhere”

The king of cakes

"Yuletide revels were designed to see you through the dark days — and how dark they seem today"