How Al-Shabaab infiltration in Somalia's key institutions impedes quest for peace
MOGADISHU, Somalia - For over a decade, Somalia has struggled to contain the Al-Shabaab menace, despite intervention from a host of actors, among them the US military and African Union Mission in Somalia, who have almost 22,500 forces.
Throughout that period, the militants have wreaked havoc by waging deadly attacks against the peacekeepers, government operatives, and even civilians, who seems to be the most affected by the crackdown.
Statistics by the US Africa Command indicate that the Al-Qaeda linked group has managed to kill over 4,000 civilians along with hundreds of security forces. At the moment, the militants control large swathes of rural southern and central Somalia.
But even in the middle of their unprecedented sustained attacks, Al-Shabaab has considerably lost key strategic towns to Somali National Army [SNA], AU forces, and the US army. The most recent town to be liberated was Janaale in Lower Shebelle, where a number of militants were killed, police reports indicate.
Despite the significant victory against the militants, Somalia's quest for peace after three decades of mayhem and antagonism could, after all, be fallacious, if a report released by Kenya's security agents is anything to believe.
The group, a confidential report by KDF and Kenya's spy agency NIS says, has managed to compromise and manipulate key sectors in Somalia, which are key for operations of the government.
According to the report, besides the unprecedented infiltration to top government institutions, the group has managed to maneuver around to Parliament, through the weak clan-based system used to elect MPs in every election cycle, the report claims.
Elders, who are key in the selection of leaders, have been used as a weak link to pave way for the group's dominance in parliament, where key policies and legislations are done, further making its retrogressive agenda to thrive.
“The terrorist group has been threatening elders to select candidates who are friendly and accommodative to their ideology. Through this, the group has managed to have close links with members of the parliament in the National Assembly, senate and regional states," the confidential report notes.
"They use such MPs to lobby for the appointment of sympathizers and financiers into the Cabinet so as to influence policies and decisions at the national level.”
As a matter of fact, a sizeable number of current federal government leaders and the Al-Shabaab militants were part of the defunct Union of Islamic Courts, which at one time dictated the fragile nation's institutions, thus their smooth relationship in key decision making.
In February, top Mogadishu businessmen raised concerns about the militants' continued infiltration in key government institutions, in a press conference at Nairobi, Kenya.
The militants, they claimed, had managed to impose Zakat on residents of key towns without the government taking action to stop the extortion.
To overwhelm authorities, the report notes, the Al-Shabaab deployed agents to instill fear of "rigid" FGS officials and tax collectors in regional states, thus forcing them to work cohesively. They have also erected roadblocks in major supply routes in areas where there is limited FGS presence to collect taxes.
Abdirahman Duale Beileh, the country's finance minister, at one point last year, admitted that the group was controlling sections of key towns, where "they are now collecting taxes with impunity". He didn't divulge to finer details on the government's plan to curb the menace.
But according to the businessmen, most of who spoke in confidence due to sensitivity of the matter, some of the government bureaucrats are closely working with Al-Shabaab, further derailing ongoing efforts to establish a functional government in Somalia.
This fear of rampant infiltration of Al-Shabaab in FGS has even forced Forum for National Parties [FNP], a conglomerate of six opposition parties, to demand a total overhaul of the spy agency NISA, which it claims harbors Al-Shabaab operatives and sympathizers.
“The Forum for National Parties is very concerned about the information and reports which have increased these days and are about relations and co-operation between the NISA and al-Shabaab," the group said last month, urging President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo to initiate a radical purge in NISA.
NISA, the group said, was eroding the credibility of government institutions, adding that there was an "urgent" need to eliminate the current team and reinstate professionals who have been "expunged" under unclear circumstances.
FNP also demanded immediate investigations to alleged communications between NISA officials and two top Al-Shabaab commanders, adding that "the report should be made public" once concluded.
"We also want communications on social media between two commanders, who are NISA and Al-Shabaab commanders, and to conduct a comprehensive and independent investigation about this communication," it said.
The report by Kenya had also revealed the connection between NISA and Al-Shabaab, in which the spy agency is accused of besides financing the militants, it has been sharing intelligence briefs on KDF movements, which Al-Shabaab relies on when unleashing on KDF working in AMISOM.
But through the information ministry, Somalia dismissed the allegations as "cheap propaganda staged to paint NISA in a bad light". NISA, the FGS insisted, "works with professionalism in line with the law of Somalia".
In 2021, Somalia would be anticipating the exit of AMISOM troops, who are set to hand over security responsibilities to SNA forces. But with the current infiltration, the report concludes, "it will be difficult for Somalia to achieve desired peace".