There is a broad-based consensus that security in Somalia has been deteriorating at an alarming rate. In the past few weeks, hundreds of people have been killed by truck bombs at two prominent locations in Mogadishu. The lethal potency of the explosives and the scale of death and devastation resulting from the Oct 14th one was far beyond what Mogadishu has witnessed in over quarter of a century of violence.
These successive deadly terrorist operations combined with allegations that attackers have used intelligence services ID cards have turned the spotlight on Somalia’s National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA). Serious questions regarding the agency’s leadership, competence and the scope of its authority are being raised.
But how does one reveal unpleasant realities and tell a traumatized nation what appeared like a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ was in fact a runaway train coming at them? How does one do that without shoving them into state of self-defeating despair? These indeed are the dicey challenges, but truth must be told.
Somalia is in an existential race against time. Much like all other critical issues facing the nation, the Somali government does not control its intelligence or security. Worse, the government does not have the political will to address the real causes and effects.
The Ownership Dilemma
Somalia is the center of gravity of international predatory capitalism. Not only because of its untapped natural resources since many countries would qualify, but because Somalia is the gold standard of these three systematically destructive elements: corruption, ineptitude and disloyalty to the nation. How many nations do you know that host dozens of security and intelligence forces with various (domestic and foreign) commands and control? Here are some examples:
There is the revolving door syndrome of failed security leadership that recycles the same has-beens. Every year or so when a new commander is appointed and another is sacked. The former brings in his own clan comrades and cronies and the latter takes with him the manpower that he brought in.
There are former al-Shabab leaders with long ugly record who, despite never seeking the forgiveness of their victims, been co-opted by the government, and, yes, been giving highly sensitive positions at NISA and other branches of government.
There is the cottage industry of intelligence serves ID cards. These IDs are readily available for anyone willing to pay the going rate. Apparently it is the agency’s failure when individuals in charge of issuing these IDs make little over $200 for monthly salary and the going price for a false ID is twice their monthly salary. While civilians try to possess these IDs for various reasons, the most common is the need to get through roadblocks and checkpoints since there is no logging system to verify authenticity of employment.
There are multiple security and intelligence agencies that emerged within the five clan-based federal states that may share a name with NISA but functionally have nothing to do with that ‘national agency.’ Most of them take their substantive orders from one neighboring state or another.
There are the corrupt leaders in the political upper echelon that readily put Somalia’s national interest behind anyone with a bag full of cash or has the capacity to aid them in attaining or keeping a position.
There are many in the circles of influence, including ministers and parliament members, who own their own private security companies and directly benefit from increased insecurity.