Connect to share and comment

Somalia erupts again

Fierce fighting has broken out in Somalia as the al-Shabbab Muslim extremists sweep through the country to seize control of large swathes of territory. Civilians are fleeing across Somalia’s borders to escape the violence and turmoil.

Somalia hasn’t had a functioning government since 1991 and the attempts to establish an interim government have encountered so many problems that it has had to move away from the capital, Mogadishu, to the neighboring country of Djibouti. If the members of that government want to return, it seems likely they will have to fight their way back in. For years, the country has been in a state of chaos that has made obsolete any rule of law.

Now al-Shabbab has seized the opportunity to institute Shariah law in areas it controls. The group has quickly asserted its rule over many parts of Somalia following the departure, in early January, of Ethiopian troops that had been stationed in Mogadishu for two years to oust Muslim extremist forces.

Does it sound like a violent, complicated mess? It is. Somalia has come to define the term “failed state,” since the downing of two U.S. helicopters in Mogadishu, which inspired the book and movie "Black Hawk Down." In more recent news, Somali pirates last fall, and habitually, have interrupted shipping around the Gulf of Aden.

However, Somalia can be understood. Look at a piece by GlobalPost Passport editor, David Case, in which, two years ago, experts predicted the current situation.

Thousands of Somali refugees have come to the United States. NPR covers the troubling story of the disappearance of some 20 young Somalis from Minneapolis, who may be in training by extremist groups.

The continuing crisis has left 3.25 million Somalis (about 43 percent of the population) needing international food aid last year, which was provided by the UN’s World Food Program. WFP is continuing to provide food but is experiencing terrible difficulties, including the murder in January of two of its aid workers. The UN agency told GlobalPost today that it is launching a program to distribute 57,000 tons of food aid, enough to feed 2.5 million Somalis for two months. But WFP must get signed commitments from all the fighting militias that they will not attack those working to distribute food.

GlobalPost's correspondent in Nairobi, Tristan McConnell, tells us that people are streaming out of Somalia — but no one dares to go in.