What we are seeing is the decline of the classic African liberation movement and the proliferation of something else — something wilder, messier, more violent, and harder to wrap our heads around. If you’d like to call this war, fine. But what is spreading across Africa like a viral pandemic is actually just opportunistic, heavily armed banditry.
I was turned on to Mr. Gettleman’s stuff after doing a little searching around on all things Africa, and I am impressed with what he has reported on. He seems to have a feel for what is really going on, and has boiled it down to it’s most basic root causes. From Somalia to the Congo, it is all the same. It is the Anarchy Gravy Train, and all of these seedy and despicable groups mentioned, all benefit from this chaos. They don’t want order, because it is a threat to their lively-hood.
At best what I can determine from all of this, is that these groups have found a means of survival through terror. It not only feeds them but gets them anything they want….anything. That’s pretty powerful, and these struggling governments who are dealing with these groups are having a hard time selling a better deal. So these thugs look at government as a threat to their good deal and terror based businesses.
It is the same with the current drug war, and you could easily say that the cartels only benefit from a weak government and weak borders. Anarchy, or something close to anarchy, is a place in which enterprising criminals can really flourish.
Look at Haiti right now, and that would be an excellent study for this concept. With the earthquake came instant anarchy. Infrastructure is destroyed, prisons crumble and convicts escape, and the government or any semblance of it is not able to protect or adequately help their people. Crime increases, and business based on that anarchy increases. Things like charging for shade under a tree, or selling child slaves, all because there is no one around to tell them that they can’t do that. That is what Africa is all about, and it is sad.
So in a sea of chaos and anarchy, how do you establish order? That is the million dollar question, and in Africa, it is a question that is continually pondered day in and day out, and with little success.
From my point of view as a security professional and as an independent contractor or businessman, I could give some suggestions as to how to bring order to chaos. Although my suggestions might not be the most politically correct solutions, they are none the less just ideas to think about.
Business must be supported and protected by government. I can’t stress enough how important business is to a government. If you have the support of business, and you actually do things that increase business or brings a return on investment for the community, then I think countries in Africa will be able to do a better job at diminishing the power of these free ranging thugs. Telecommunications is a big one, and any effort of the government to promote that and get it out to the masses, will only help in other areas of commerce and governance. Educations and the promotion of innovation is another. Anything a government can do, to stimulate business and get people occupied with that, as opposed to committing crimes or fighting each other, will help. It produces jobs, and increases the quality of living by bringing more cash into local economies.
Security is the second area that needs to be a priority. Governments must have adequate protection, and they must do all they can to protect it’s people. If they have the resources to raise an army and police, then that is one way. If they have the resources, but not the manpower, then using assistance of other countries or contracting a PMC would be another way. Or the third way a country could protect itself and it’s people, is through the means of Letter of Marque and Reprisal. To issue a LoM to individuals, and have them focused on taking the assets away from enemies of the state, and/or killing and capturing those enemies would be an excellent way of kick starting a government. This is privateering, and governments could turn to this activity as a cost effective way of defeating it’s enemies and eradicating these free ranging thugs and rebel groups that we read about all the time.
You could also use bounty hunting as a means to eradicate or capture these thugs. If countries could contract the services of competent companies to do this task, then that would buy them the time necessary to raise a police or army. And as the author pointed out below, once you take out the leaders of these roving bands of thugs, they tend to dissipate. Focusing the energies of a professional and competent company on the task of removing this threat, could be a real help in the over all effort of creating peace and stability within a country.
My point with both of these activities, is that countries should have the right and means to contract with professional forces who could accomplish the task of destroying any threats to a government. Especially in countries that are deemed failed states, or pretty damn close. Or countries that are so overwhelmed that even their current forces at maximum levels, are unable to do the task (like in Mexico).
The example of what I am talking about, is early America and our use of privateers in order to defeat the British on the high seas. We did not have a sufficiently sized Continental Navy, and privateers was the answer. Using mercenaries was our answer to manpower deficiencies during the Battle of Derne back during the Barbary Pirates days.(our very first foreign action as a young country) Or even look at the use of contractors today by the US–there are thousands of us working in the war. Why does the west continue to deny other countries whom they call friends, their right to defend self in such a way? Because currently, the means we are currently allowing countries to use, are pathetic.
We say things like ‘only the UN is authorized to be in the Congo’. And then what happens? They fail miserably, and things get worse. We say companies like Executive Outcomes are unjust and illegitimate, yet when they are contracted to help a government, like with Sierra Leone, they were successful. How about we put that choice in the hands of the governments of countries, and stop dictating what we think works or doesn’t work?
Ideally it would be nice if all countries in Africa, had the ability to raise armies that were sufficiently organized and violent to deal with their threats. Yet time and time again, governments fail to create such things. The local populations are not able to produce recruits for these armies that are able to operate at an advanced level. Education and health deficiencies are contributors. Corruption in society and government is another deficiency. There are a number of reasons why local males (or females) are not able to do the job. Some countries are just decimated do to war or famine, and to say that they could raise armies that can do the job is a joke. So where do they turn to, to get the strategic advantage?
Well if you introduce a company with some capability, and mix that up with the best local troops a country can offer, hence creating a hybrid force that could do the job, then that would be one way. Having a company do it all, or even another country do it all, would be another. This is not rocket science, and with the unorganized thugs we are seeing in most of Africa, forces like what I am talking about and what Eeben brought to the table with EO, are the types of forces that would end this ‘anarchy gravy train’.
The final component of destroying the anarchy gravy train, is international will. The mandates that the UN has operated on, are terrible. You must work to end wars, and that takes violence of action. You do not send in peacekeepers to somehow bring stability during an active war. The war must end, and that only happens after one side has broken the will of the other. Or you destroy the leadership of that other side. Only after the war has ended and the parties on both sides is exhausted, can you then begin to introduce peacekeepers.
What instead should happen, is wars should be fought and ended as quickly as possible. It takes extreme violence and strategy that far surpasses the other side, to make that happen. It also takes political will, not only from the government, but of the countries of the world who are looking on.
Just imagine if the UN was created back during the early days of America? And the countries of the world decided to send the UN to the Americas, to stand in between the rebels and the British? Do you think for a second, that the UN could accomplish that task? If anything, colonial rebel forces would just attack and steal from the UN, much like they do now a days in places like Africa. Or because the UN is so ineffectual, they could just claim that they are a tool of the British, and then turn the UN into a target of the rebels–much like local forces do to the UN today. And as the UN mission fails in America, donors to the UN continue to question why it even exists, much like countries do now. Pathetic really.
To end this Anarchy Gravy Train in places like Africa, we need to start looking at ideas that work. Ideas that have continued to be attacked because of misconceptions coming from the media or from those who stand to benefit from the Anarchy Gravy Train. I will continue to offer the lessons of the past, and how they could be applied to today. But until the powers that be, get realistic about actions that will bring the kind of peace and stability these countries need, we will continue to watch this horrid spectacle. –Matt
Africa’s Forever Wars
Why the continent’s conflicts never end.
BY JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
There is a very simple reason why some of Africa’s bloodiest, most brutal wars never seem to end: They are not really wars. Not in the traditional sense, at least. The combatants don’t have much of an ideology; they don’t have clear goals. They couldn’t care less about taking over capitals or major cities — in fact, they prefer the deep bush, where it is far easier to commit crimes. Today’s rebels seem especially uninterested in winning converts, content instead to steal other people’s children, stick Kalashnikovs or axes in their hands, and make them do the killing. Look closely at some of the continent’s most intractable conflicts, from the rebel-laden creeks of the Niger Delta to the inferno in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and this is what you will find.
What we are seeing is the decline of the classic African liberation movement and the proliferation of something else — something wilder, messier, more violent, and harder to wrap our heads around. If you’d like to call this war, fine. But what is spreading across Africa like a viral pandemic is actually just opportunistic, heavily armed banditry. My job as the New York Times’ East Africa bureau chief is to cover news and feature stories in 12 countries. But most of my time is spent immersed in these un-wars.
I’ve witnessed up close — often way too close — how combat has morphed from soldier vs. soldier (now a rarity in Africa) to soldier vs. civilian. Most of today’s African fighters are not rebels with a cause; they’re predators. That’s why we see stunning atrocities like eastern Congo’s rape epidemic, where armed groups in recent years have sexually assaulted hundreds of thousands of women, often so sadistically that the victims are left incontinent for life. What is the military or political objective of ramming an assault rifle inside a woman and pulling the trigger? Terror has become an end, not just a means.
This is the story across much of Africa, where nearly half of the continent’s 53 countries are home to an active conflict or a recently ended one. Quiet places such as Tanzania are the lonely exceptions; even user-friendly, tourist-filled Kenya blew up in 2008. Add together the casualties in just the dozen countries that I cover, and you have a death toll of tens of thousands of civilians each year. More than 5 million have died in Congo alone since 1998, the International Rescue Committee has estimated.
Of course, many of the last generation’s independence struggles were bloody, too. South Sudan’s decades-long rebellion is thought to have cost more than 2 million lives. But this is not about numbers. This is about methods and objectives, and the leaders driving them. Uganda’s top guerrilla of the 1980s, Yoweri Museveni, used to fire up his rebels by telling them they were on the ground floor of a national people’s army. Museveni became president in 1986, and he’s still in office (another problem, another story). But his words seem downright noble compared with the best-known rebel leader from his country today, Joseph Kony, who just gives orders to burn.
Even if you could coax these men out of their jungle lairs and get them to the negotiating table, there is very little to offer them. They don’t want ministries or tracts of land to govern. Their armies are often traumatized children, with experience and skills (if you can call them that) totally unsuited for civilian life. All they want is cash, guns, and a license to rampage. And they’ve already got all three. How do you negotiate with that?
The short answer is you don’t. The only way to stop today’s rebels for real is to capture or kill their leaders. Many are uniquely devious characters whose organizations would likely disappear as soon as they do. That’s what happened in Angola when the diamond-smuggling rebel leader Jonas Savimbi was shot, bringing a sudden end to one of the Cold War’s most intense conflicts. In Liberia, the moment that warlord-turned-president Charles Taylor was arrested in 2006 was the same moment that the curtain dropped on the gruesome circus of 10-year-old killers wearing Halloween masks. Countless dollars, hours, and lives have been wasted on fruitless rounds of talks that will never culminate in such clear-cut results. The same could be said of indictments of rebel leaders for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court. With the prospect of prosecution looming, those fighting are sure never to give up.
How did we get here? Maybe it’s pure nostalgia, but it seems that yesteryear’s African rebels had a bit more class. They were fighting against colonialism, tyranny, or apartheid. The winning insurgencies often came with a charming, intelligent leader wielding persuasive rhetoric. These were men like John Garang, who led the rebellion in southern Sudan with his Sudan People’s Liberation Army. He pulled off what few guerrilla leaders anywhere have done: winning his people their own country. Thanks in part to his tenacity, South Sudan will hold a referendum next year to secede from the North. Garang died in a 2005 helicopter crash, but people still talk about him like a god. Unfortunately, the region without him looks pretty godforsaken. I traveled to southern Sudan in November to report on how ethnic militias, formed in the new power vacuum, have taken to mowing down civilians by the thousands.
Even Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s dictator, was once a guerrilla with a plan. After transforming minority white-run Rhodesia into majority black-run Zimbabwe, he turned his country into one of the fastest-growing and most diversified economies south of the Sahara — for the first decade and a half of his rule. His status as a true war hero, and the aid he lent other African liberation movements in the 1980s, account for many African leaders’ reluctance to criticize him today, even as he has led Zimbabwe down a path straight to hell.
These men are living relics of a past that has been essentially obliterated. Put the well-educated Garang and the old Mugabe in a room with today’s visionless rebel leaders, and they would have just about nothing in common. What changed in one generation was in part the world itself. The Cold War’s end bred state collapse and chaos. Where meddling great powers once found dominoes that needed to be kept from falling, they suddenly saw no national interest at all. (The exceptions, of course, were natural resources, which could be bought just as easily — and often at a nice discount — from various armed groups.) Suddenly, all you needed to be powerful was a gun, and as it turned out, there were plenty to go around. AK-47s and cheap ammunition bled out of the collapsed Eastern Bloc and into the farthest corners of Africa. It was the perfect opportunity for the charismatic and morally challenged.
In Congo, there have been dozens of such men since 1996, when rebels rose up against the leopard skin-capped dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, probably the most corrupt man in the history of this most corrupt continent. After Mobutu’s state collapsed, no one really rebuilt it. In the anarchy that flourished, rebel leaders carved out fiefdoms ludicrously rich in gold, diamonds, copper, tin, and other minerals. Among them were Laurent Nkunda, Bosco Ntaganda, Thomas Lubanga, a toxic hodgepodge of Mai Mai commanders, Rwandan genocidaires, and the madman leaders of a flamboyantly cruel group called the Rastas.
I met Nkunda in his mountain hideout in late 2008 after slogging hours up a muddy road lined with baby-faced soldiers. The chopstick-thin general waxed eloquent about the oppression of the minority Tutsi people he claimed to represent, but he bristled when I asked him about the warlord-like taxes he was imposing and all the women his soldiers have raped. The questions didn’t seem to trouble him too much, though, and he cheered up soon. His farmhouse had plenty of space for guests, so why didn’t I spend the night?
Nkunda is not totally wrong about Congo’s mess. Ethnic tensions are a real piece of the conflict, together with disputes over land, refugees, and meddling neighbor countries. But what I’ve come to understand is how quickly legitimate grievances in these failed or failing African states deteriorate into rapacious, profit-oriented bloodshed. Congo today is home to a resource rebellion in which vague anti-government feelings become an excuse to steal public property. Congo’s embarrassment of riches belongs to the 70 million Congolese, but in the past 10 to 15 years, that treasure has been hijacked by a couple dozen rebel commanders who use it to buy even more guns and wreak more havoc.
Probably the most disturbing example of an African un-war comes from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), begun as a rebel movement in northern Uganda during the lawless 1980s. Like the gangs in the oil-polluted Niger Delta, the LRA at first had some legitimate grievances — namely, the poverty and marginalization of the country’s ethnic Acholi areas. The movement’s leader, Joseph Kony, was a young, wig-wearing, gibberish-speaking, so-called prophet who espoused the Ten Commandments. Soon, he broke every one. He used his supposed magic powers (and drugs) to whip his followers into a frenzy and unleashed them on the very Acholi people he was supposed to be protecting.
The LRA literally carved their way across the region, leaving a trail of hacked-off limbs and sawed-off ears. They don’t talk about the Ten Commandments anymore, and some of those left in their wake can barely talk at all. I’ll never forget visiting northern Uganda a few years ago and meeting a whole group of women whose lips were sheared off by Kony’s maniacs. Their mouths were always open, and you could always see their teeth. When Uganda finally got its act together in the late 1990s and cracked down, Kony and his men simply marched on. Today, their scourge has spread to one of the world’s most lawless regions: the borderland where Sudan, Congo, and the Central African Republic meet.
Child soldiers are an inextricable part of these movements. The LRA, for example, never seized territory; it seized children. Its ranks are filled with brainwashed boys and girls who ransack villages and pound newborn babies to death in wooden mortars. In Congo, as many as one-third of all combatants are under 18. Since the new predatory style of African warfare is motivated and financed by crime, popular support is irrelevant to these rebels. The downside to not caring about winning hearts and minds, though, is that you don’t win many recruits. So abducting and manipulating children becomes the only way to sustain the organized banditry. And children have turned out to be ideal weapons: easily brainwashed, intensely loyal, fearless, and, most importantly, in endless supply.
In this new age of forever wars, even Somalia looks different. That country certainly evokes the image of Africa’s most chaotic state — exceptional even in its neighborhood for unending conflict. But what if Somalia is less of an outlier than a terrifying forecast of what war in Africa is moving toward? On the surface, Somalia seems wracked by a religiously themed civil conflict between the internationally backed but feckless transitional government and the Islamist militia al-Shabab. Yet the fighting is being nourished by the same old Somali problem that has dogged this desperately poor country since 1991: warlordism. Many of the men who command or fund militias in Somalia today are the same ones who tore the place apart over the past 20 years in a scramble for the few resources left — the port, airport, telephone poles, and grazing pastures.
Somalis are getting sick of the Shabab and its draconian rules — no music, no gold teeth, even no bras. But what has kept locals in Somalia from rising up against foreign terrorists is Somalia’s deeply ingrained culture of war profiteering. The world has let Somalia fester too long without a permanent government. Now, many powerful Somalis have a vested interest in the status quo chaos. One olive oil exporter in Mogadishu told me that he and some trader friends bought a crate of missiles to shoot at government soldiers because “taxes are annoying.”
Most frightening is how many sick states like Congo are now showing Somalia-like symptoms. Whenever a potential leader emerges to reimpose order in Mogadishu, criminal networks rise up to finance his opponent, no matter who that may be. The longer these areas are stateless, the harder it is to go back to the necessary evil of government.
All this might seem a gross simplification, and indeed, not all of Africa’s conflicts fit this new paradigm. The old steady — the military coup — is still a common form of political upheaval, as Guinea found out in 2008 and Madagascar not too long thereafter. I have also come across a few non-hoodlum rebels who seem legitimately motivated, like some of the Darfurian commanders in Sudan. But though their political grievances are well defined, the organizations they “lead” are not. Old-style African rebels spent years in the bush honing their leadership skills, polishing their ideology, and learning to deliver services before they ever met a Western diplomat or sat for a television interview. Now rebels are hoisted out of obscurity after they have little more than a website and a “press office” (read: a satellite telephone). When I went to a Darfur peace conference in Sirte, Libya, in 2007, I quickly realized that the main draw for many of these rebel “leaders” was not the negotiating sessions, but the all-you-can-eat buffet.
For the rest, there are the un-wars, these ceaseless conflicts I spend my days cataloging as they grind on, mincing lives and spitting out bodies. Recently, I was in southern Sudan working on a piece about the Ugandan Army’s hunt for Kony, and I met a young woman named Flo. She had been a slave in the LRA for 15 years and had recently escaped. She had scarred shins and stony eyes, and often there were long pauses after my questions, when Flo would stare at the horizon. “I am just thinking of the road home,” she said. It was never clear to her why the LRA was fighting. To her, it seemed like they had been aimlessly tramping through the jungle, marching in circles.
This is what many conflicts in Africa have become — circles of violence in the bush, with no end in sight.
March 27, 2010
By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
TAPILI, Congo — Depleted by an American-backed offensive and seemingly desperate for new conscripts, the Lord’s Resistance Army, one of the most infamous armed groups in Africa, has killed hundreds of villagers in this remote corner of Congo and kidnapped hundreds more, marching them off in a vast human chain, witnesses say.
The massacre and abductions are a major setback to the effort to stamp out the remnants of the group, a primarily Ugandan rebel force that fielded thousands of soldiers in the 1980s and ’90s. But in recent years it has degenerated into a band of several hundred predators living deep in the bush in Congo, Sudan and the Central African Republic with child brides and military-grade weaponry.
The United States is providing the Ugandan Army with millions of dollars’ worth of aid — including fuel, trucks, satellite phones, night-vision goggles and contracted air support — to hunt the fighters down.
It is one of the signature programs of Africom, the new American military command for Africa, which is working with the State Department to employ what officials call “the three D’s” — defense, diplomacy and development — to help African nations stabilize themselves.
These efforts appeared to be succeeding, eliminating up to 60 percent of the Lord’s Resistance Army fighters in the past 18 months, American officials said. But that may have been why the fighters tore off on their raid, late last year, to get as many new conscripts as possible, along with medicine, clothes and food.
They also kidnapped nurses from hospitals, witnesses said, and stripped blood-splattered clothes off corpses for themselves, a sign they are increasingly desperate.
Human Rights Watch, which sent a team to investigate the killings in February, said the L.R.A. killed at least 320 people in this area, calling the massacre one of the worst in the group’s 23-year, atrocity-filled history.
Witnesses said that the number of dead could be several hundred more, and that most victims had been taken from their villages, tied at the waist and forced into the jungle, often with enormous loads of looted food balanced on their heads. Along the way, fighters randomly selected captives to kill, usually by an ax blow to the back of the head.
“They only scream once,” said Jean-Claude Singbatile, a high school student who said that he spent 14 days in captivity and witnessed dozens of killings.
What the attack shows, said Anneke Van Woudenberg, a Human Rights Watch researcher who was recently in Congo, “is that whether they are weakened or not, the L.R.A.’s capacity to kill remains as strong as ever.”
The events expose another troubling reality: Even as Congo’s leaders are pushing the United Nations to begin withdrawing peacekeepers, partly to make the government look more independent from the West, this immense nation of nearly 70 million people remains as vulnerable as ever.
This particular patch of northeastern Congo is so cut off from the rest of the country — there is no electricity, no cellphones and no roads, save 18-inch-wide footpaths barely passable by motorbike — that only now, more than three months later, is the scale of the massacre becoming clear. Human Rights Watch is planning to release an extensive report on the killings soon.
Residents here said that they had heard warnings for months.
“ ‘We are going to feast with you for Christmas’ — that what’s the L.R.A. kept telling people,” said Papa Adam Matsaga, the leader of a local human rights group that also documented the recent killings. Mr. Matsaga keeps a notebook log of the dead, including Merci Zunane, a 3-year-old. The list, in neat capital letters, covers page after page.
The massacre also had a clear precedent. Nearly a year before, more than 800 civilians were killed in revenge attacks after an American-backed air raid that went awry.
At the time, the American military had sent advisers to Uganda to help plan an attack on the headquarters of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Garamba National Park, in northeastern Congo. Ugandan helicopters strafed the camp, narrowly missing Joseph Kony, the group’s leader, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court on crimes against humanity. Afterward, the fighters scattered and vented their outrage on nearby villagers.
This time, the L.R.A. seemed to have had a different strategy.
Instead of storming into villages and burning down huts (as it did in 2008 and early 2009), the group sent in relatively clean-cut soldiers dressed in proper military fatigues.
“They came in saying they were the national army and they wanted to know where were the churches and schools, so they could protect them,” said the Rev. Joseph Nzala, a priest in Tapili.
Eastern Congo has been a dumping ground for various armed groups for years, so it is not surprising that the villagers might have been confused. But as soon as they gathered, the roughly two dozen fighters roped them up at gunpoint and took them away. The band repeated the ruse in village after village, steadily expanding but eliminating hundreds along the way.
There were no peacekeepers or real government soldiers around, and when the killing started Dec. 14, all the people could do was run. Several men who escaped said the fighters must have had their own secretive selection process because there was no way of knowing who was about to die.
“Was it someone walking slow or someone old? No,” said Charles Emabe, who managed to slip away one night.
Today, all along the paths that the L.R.A. traveled, in the shadows of freakishly tall palm trees and gigantic tangles of bamboo, lie the heaped-dirt graves of the men, women and children who were pulled out of line.
Thousands of displaced villagers are now camping in Niangara, the one town in this area, itself a study in decay. During the Belgian colonial days, Niangara was a major hub for cotton and coffee trade. Today, all that is left are faint outlines of cobblestone roads barely perceptible under the red dirt paths and brick mansions sinking into the weeds.
Even before the news of this attack emerged, American officials had been increasingly concerned about the Lord’s Resistance Army, which has not had a discernible political agenda for years and has become infamous for its brutality. The Senate recently passed a bill calling for a more coherent strategy against it, and American officials in Uganda have been pushing for more support for the Ugandan military, seen as the most capable and disciplined in this area.
“As long as the L.R.A are out there, this is exactly what they will do — kill a lot of people,” one American military official said.
According to American and Ugandan Army officers, the rebels are still split among small groups. Mr. Kony and a band of hard-core fighters have crossed into the Central African Republic and possibly to Darfur in Sudan.
But many analysts say the desert is not for them. They need a jungle to hide in, and people to prey on. The villages outside Niangara, in hindsight, were an obvious target. There was a lot of food, a lot of people and no soldiers.
The last time Cecilia Nendu saw her three sons, they were bound with rope and being marched off toward a wall of green.
“I think they are dead,” she said.
April 25, 2007
By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
GALKAYO, Somalia — Beyond clan rivalry and Islamic fervor, an entirely different motive is helping fuel the chaos in Somalia: profit.
A whole class of opportunists — from squatter landlords to teenage gunmen for hire to vendors of out-of-date baby formula — have been feeding off the anarchy in Somalia for so long that they refuse to let go.
They do not pay taxes, their businesses are totally unregulated, and they have skills that are not necessarily geared toward a peaceful society.
In the past few weeks, some Western security officials say, these profiteers have been teaming up with clan fighters and radical Islamists to bring down Somalia’s transitional government, which is the country’s 14th attempt at organizing a central authority and ending the free-for-all of the past 16 years.
They are attacking government troops, smuggling in arms and using their business savvy to raise money for the insurgency. And they are surprisingly open about it.
Omar Hussein Ahmed, an olive oil exporter in Mogadishu, the capital, said he and a group of fellow traders recently bought missiles to shoot at government soldiers.
“Taxes are annoying,” he explained.
Maxamuud Nuur Muradeeste, a squatter landlord who makes a few hundred dollars a year renting out rooms in the former Ministry of Minerals and Water, said he recently invited insurgents to stash weapons on “his” property. He will do whatever it takes, he said, to thwart the government’s plan to reclaim thousands of pieces of public property.
“If this government survives, how will I?” Mr. Muradeeste said.
Layer this problem on top of Somalia’s sticky clan issues, its poverty and its nomadic culture, and it is no wonder that the transitional government seems to be overwhelmed by the same raw antigovernment defiance that has torpedoed earlier attempts at stabilizing the country.
Granted, many of the transitional leaders acknowledge that they have made mistakes and that they have not played the clan politics as deftly as they could have. But they say they believe that there are some Somalis — actually, many Somalis — who will never go along with any program.
“Even if we turned Mogadishu into Houston, there would still be people resisting us,” said Abdirizak Adam Hassan, chief of staff for Somalia’s transitional president, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed. “I’m talking about the guys bringing in expired medicine, selling arms, harboring terrorists. They don’t have a clan name. They’re a congregation of people whose best interests are served by no government.”
In the past month, the resistance has intensified and more than 1,000 people have been killed or wounded as the country has sunk into its deepest crisis since the famine days of the early 1990s.
Most of the victims are civilians, like Amina Abdullahi, who recently fled Mogadishu with two small children holding her hands and a baby tied to her back.
“I don’t understand why this is such a problem,” she said. “If people don’t like this government, can’t they wait until there is an election and vote them out?”
American diplomats had mostly shied away from Somalia since the infamous “Black Hawk Down” episode in 1993 when Somali militiamen shot down two American helicopters and killed 18 United States soldiers. But now the Americans are involved again, driven by a counterterrorism agenda and armed with a pledge of $100 million to rebuild the country.
And it is exactly this kind of hefty support that is fueling the resistance’s urgency, because the opportunists sense that this transitional government, more than any other, poses the biggest threat yet to the gravy days of anarchy.
Somalis are legendary individualists, and when the central government imploded in 1991, people quickly devised ways to fend for themselves.
Businessmen opened their own hospitals, schools, telephone companies and even privatized mail services. Men who were able to muster private armies, often former military officers, seized the biggest prizes: abandoned government property, like ports and airfields, which could generate as much as $40,000 a day. They became the warlords. Many trafficked in guns and drugs and taxed their fellow Somalis.
Beneath the warlords were clan-based networks of thousands of people — adolescent enforcers, stevedores, clerks, truck drivers and their families — all tied into the chaos economy. Ditto for the freelance landlords and duty-free importers.
Over the years, prominent members of the Hawiye clan, Mogadishu’s biggest, have tried to cobble together a government and end this system. But they have failed every time. Though Somalia is notoriously fragmented among dozens of rival clans and subclans, and has been that way for centuries, clans alone did not seem to be the problem.
“It was the opportunists who didn’t see a role for themselves in the future,” said Mohammed Abdi Balle, an elder here in Galkayo, a city about 450 miles north of Mogadishu.
Not all opportunists had the same agenda. Many in the business community became fed up with paying protection fees to the warlords and their countless middle-men.
Business leaders then backed a grass-roots Islamist movement that drove the warlords out of Mogadishu last summer and brought peace to the city for the first time in 15 years.
The Islamists seemed to be the perfect solution for the businessmen. They delivered stability, which was good for most business, but they did not confiscate property or levy heavy taxes. They called themselves an administration, not a government.
“Our best days were under them,” said Abdi Ali Jama, who owns an electrical supply shop in Mogadishu.
But then a radical wing took over, and the Islamists declared war on Ethiopia, which commands one of the mightiest armies in Africa. The Ethiopians, with covert American help, crushed the Islamist army in December and bolstered the authority of Somalia’s transitional government in the capital.
Many residents initially welcomed the transitional government. But then it made some questionable calls that cut across clan and business lines. It abruptly closed ports and took over airfields belonging to Hawiye businessmen, denying them revenue they had been accustomed to receiving for years. Many Somalis began to worry that the transitional government, which includes elders from all of Somalia’s clans, was being pushed around by the Darod, the clan of the transitional president and a historic rival to the Hawiye.
At first, just a few Hawiye sub-clans — mainly those connected to the Islamists — took up arms. But as the government has moved to curtail the profiteering, business leaders say that more and more clans are embracing the rebel cause.
For many Abgal, an influential subclan of the Hawiye, the last straw came in mid-March when the government raised port taxes by 300 percent. Mr. Ahmed, the olive oil exporter and an Abgal, said that after that, there was a mass Abgal defection to the insurgency. “The government is trying to destroy business as we know it,” he said.
Despite attempts at a cease-fire between insurgents and government forces, the violence has raged virtually unabated in Mogadishu.
And once again, the opportunists have stepped in. In some areas, displaced people are forced to pay a “shade tax” to local residents for resting under their trees.
Mohammed Ibrahim and Yuusuf Maxamuud contributed reporting from Mogadishu, Somalia.