How to Tell Your Islamist from Your Warlord

Somalia’s problems are deep-seated and complex. Reporting on its conflicts, rivalries and politics is difficult. There are many pitfalls for the unwary reporter. The death of Aden Hashi Ayro a couple of weeks ago showed how easy it was for even illustrious names to slip up (you know who you are), confusing militia leaders for international terrorists. With that in mind, I offer my cut-out-and-keep guide to reporting on Somalia, explaining the key words and phrases that you may spot in your newspaper (or State Department press release):

  • warlord – thug or gangster friendly to the US
  • Islamist – thug or gangster opposed to the US
  • businessman who controls airstrip – warlord in the pay of the US
  • insurgent – a rebel with a disagreeble point of view, probably an Islamist (see above)
  • al Qaeda’s leader in Somalia – someone the US wants dead
  • linked to al Qaeda – anyone who lives in Somalia (and is not a warlord)
  • trained by al Qaeda – someone who uses guns and bombs to kill people (and is not a warlord)