How stronger FGS and states could win the war on Al-Shabaab in Somalia
GAROWE ONLINE/EDITORIAL - The Somalia-based Al-Qaeda-linked militant group Al-Shabaab may have taken a serious beating in the recent past, but it appears they keep springing back with deadly consequences.
This week, a UN Panel of Experts on Somalia published a report that warned the group is still a potent threat to peace and security in the region, in spite of bombardments from the Somali National Army, African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) and the US aerial drone attacks.
Part of the reasons, the Panel argues, is that Al-Shabaab has morphed into a fluid organisation, outgrown from reliance on one source of revenue and infiltrated regular government departments and profited from missing or weak government institutions.
Its “mafia-style taxation,” for example includes planting officials at the Mogadishu Port to provide manifests of imports with which they use to demand ‘taxes’ from businessmen as well as extortion in fees for ‘protection’.
In addition, the group targets to plug gaps left by the government such as in the provision of justice in land disputes, child support or business deals, however rudimentary.
“Its ability to provide basic services, such as access to judicial recourse, may account for some of Al-Shabaab’s ongoing appeal in areas of Somalia where State institutions do not reach,” the Experts wrote.
“As state justice is often costly, protracted and unpredictable, concerned parties often initiate dialogue with Al-Shabaab and request the group’s mediation in issues related to conflict over land ownership.”
In the past year though, Al-Shabaab’s “unprecedented” rise in use of improvised explosives targeting government installations also coincided with the continual bad blood between federal states and the federal government in Somalia.
In South West, for example, violence erupted after ex-Al-Shabaab deputy leader Mukhtar Rubow was sequentially barred from running for state presidency. The election later saw Abdiaziz Mohamed “Laftagareen” voted in, but the absence of consensus on who should run, claims of bribery, continual delays in the polls as well as perceived interference from Mogadishu and Ethiopia, sowed seeds of discord.
Did it give Shabaabs a chance to expand its wings? Probably, as claims on similar interference in Puntland and Jubbaland may have taken authorities off the ball. The most recent struggle is in Galmudug, where local clans associated with Ahlu Sunna protested what they call the reneging of a power-sharing deal with the deferral government.
Yet some Somali politicians argue Al-Shabaab is a threat to the region, and Somalia in particular, regardless of which system of governance the country adopts.
“It is a tool for evil to halt Somalis to advance and develop their lives,” Somali Legislator Abdulkadir Osoble said, arguing it would remain a threat whether Somalis adopted a centralized system or federal structure.
But the MP who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee blamed the federal government for allowing Shabaabs to regenerate such as strengthening the justice system that would make it easier for people to use.
“It is true, current leaders (have) failed to correct and reform the judiciary system.”
A situational assessment by think-tank East African Centre for Research and Strategic Studies (EACRSS) said the provision of the ‘basic services’ has enabled Shabaabs to endear themselves to local communities, making it harder to be detected.
“The Al Shabaab's ability to blend in with the population has effectively enabled it to infiltrate the state revenue collection points, mostly using force and coercion to obtain illegal taxes and money from Somali traders in exchange for protection,” the centre said last week.
Correcting the judicial system falls within a wider Transition Plan by Amisom which includes establishing courts, getting judges, stabilising the security forces and retraining as well as equipping them to form part of Somalia’s plan that could see Amisom leave the country by 2021.
The Panel of Experts, however, are doubtful Amisom could implement the plan given the constitutional programme that would see Somalia hold universal suffrage elections by 2021.
Part of the current problem, experts think, is that the provisional constitution in Somalia does not indicate roles or limits of the federal government and federal states.
“I don't think so,” argued Abdimalik Abdullahi an independent researcher on Horn of Africa politics, dismissing al-Shabaab’s potential to undercut federal system in Somalia.
“The guys are weak in terms of military ammunition and manpower. They are just lucky that they don't have serious authorities who will flush them out.”
But he did admit that Shabaab is a complex problem that should be forcing the leaders to cooperate, rather than haggle over personal interests.
“It is going to take more to neutralise them, like another approach other than military intervention. It is quite complicated but it requires cooler heads to prevail and Somali authorities fully commit to themselves to execute that goal with the help of the international partners.”
Cooler heads will have to first sit down and draw up a new supreme law, which would guide functions of states. According to the UN Panel, some federal states received cash from foreign entities and continued to enter into contracts or partnerships Mogadishu didn’t like.
As the provisional constitution doesn’t directly forbid such engagements, it meant each region could easily have a contradictory foreign or defence policy.
Yet in one investigation, Al-Shabaab members were found with weapons that had been delivered to a federal state, indicating possible collusion on the ground.
When AMISOM officials were interviewed by the Panel, they worried that the Transition Plan may be weakened by the failure of the government to deploy replacements in areas Amisom had withdrawn, giving advantage to al-Shabaab.