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From Al-Shabaab to Coronavirus; Somalia's unending painful struggles


MOGADISHU, Somalia - For almost 12 years now, Somalia has been struggling to defeat al Shabab, an al Qaeda-linked group that wants to overthrow the government in Mogadishu and implement its own version of Islamic law.

Since 2006, the government has been fighting this group which continues to wreak havoc across the country. Despite its dominance in central and southern Somalia, FGS and allied partners have managed to liberate strategic towns.

But amid Al-Shabaab menace, Somalia is now grappling with a serious pandemic; Coronavirus, which is significantly surging, and could erode progressive gains made in rebuilding the Horn of Africa nation.

In just one month when Somalia recorded its first COVID-19 case, the figures have risen exponentially, making it the second most affected country after Kenya. As of Monday, 284 cases had been reported, almost catching up with Kenya, which has registered 303.

Already, 14 people have succumbed to the disease just like in Kenya within the same period. But unlike Kenya or even Tanzania and Uganda, only four people have recovered in Somalia, a further worrying concern to the government and partners.

The figures could surpass those recorded by all neighbors in the coming days given that only a few people have been tested. The Healthcare system is almost dysfunctional, a setback that has almost made it impossible for mass tests.

But to curb further spread of the disease, the fragile UN-backed administration has among others, suspended domestic and international flights, learning in schools besides enforcing a curfew especially within Mogadishu, authorities said.

Despite these, Mogadishu, the country’s capital, has become the epicenter of the disease with 128 cases. The city is under night curfew, but during the day, markets and other places are overcrowded, making it difficult for people to practice social-distancing.

According to the health department, the virus is now transmitted locally, meaning people with no history of travel or contact with those who have been abroad are contracting the virus, and are spreading it.

Surprisingly, even in the middle of uncertainty due to the pandemic, the Al-Shabaab militants are relentlessly unleashing against security forces and civilians, despite an appeal by the UN boss Antonio Guterres who calls for a temporary ceasefire.

Last month, over 100 Al-Shabaab officials among them clan elders, professionals, and members of notorious fighters, held a conference in which they discussed a range of issues including the Coronavirus pandemic.

In their summarised presser, Al-Shabaab acknowledged the danger posed by the virus, but unlike the Afghan Taliban, it did not elaborate its plans to contain it and whether it will allow medical workers to operate in areas under its control should the virus break there.

The group sees the disease came as a result of ‘God’s wrath; to punish non-Muslims and test Muslims'. in the past, the group has unleashed on medical experts and other professionals, although they are only abducted to help the group execute its agenda.

Somalia’s healthcare infrastructure is weak as a result of three decades of conflict. According to the Global Health Security Index, it is ranked 194th out of 195. There is a shortage of ICU beds available, and no single ventilator needed to provide life support to critically ill COVID-19 patients.

United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and the US have donated testing kits and other medical equipment, yet only one or two laboratories are equipped with machines that can process test samples, reports indicate.

Currently, Somali National Army [SNA] buoyed by AMISOM and the US military are fighting the militants in central and southern Somalia, despite the coronavirus pandemic. None of the sides is ready to back down.

For instance, the militants killed seven SNA forces in Lower Shebelle on Monday. But the allied troops have continued to unleash, with the US recording 60 Al-Shabaab deaths within a span of four months since January, AFRICOM reports indicate.

Kenya Defense Forces [KDF] troops also ambushed the militants in Lower Jubba on Monday, killing dozens of them according to reports. The militants had attempted to raid one of the military bases in the region.

Very few countries were prepared to deal with this global pandemic. And Somalia was not one of them. Its politics and security make it even less prepared for any kind of crisis.

“Somalia has never faced a threat as existential as coronavirus; neither do we have the means to adequately counter the pandemic nor do we have the capacity to overcome its devastating economic impact, particularly when half of the citizens needed external support to survive,” Abdirashid Hashi, director of Heritage Institute, a think-tank based in Mogadishu, told The Frontier.

Although radio is being used to educate the masses on COVID-19, some in rural areas mistake the coronavirus as the normal flu, and not take the necessary precautions to curb the spread of the virus. The government needs to employ local influencers and elders and opinion leaders to talk to people at the grassroots level.

Somalia recently cleared its arrears with the International Development Association and will benefit from the World Bank Group’s $14 billion global packages of fast-track financing to assist countries in their efforts to prevent, detect and respond to COVID-19.


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