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How Ethiopia managed to put Al-Shabaab at bay despite sharing longest border with Somalia

By Abuga Makori in Nairobi , Garowe Online

ADDIS ABABA - For almost a decade now, Ethiopia has been directly involved in the peacekeeping process in Somalia, a country that has struggled with the ghosts of civil war and terrorism.

With Mogadishu heavily relying on the UN to restore stability, Addis Ababa has played an indispensable role in realizing the mission in Somalia.

In between, its participation in the process has faced resistance, with a section states accusing Ethiopian non-AMISOM troops of interference with domestic affairs.

Ethiopia first deployed troops to Mogadishu in Somalia in 2006, ending the dominance of terror group in the capital, a move which of course came with casualties.

While Ethiopia has suffered casualties in the Al-Shabaab war, most of them have come inside Somalia, despite sharing the longest border with the war-torn nation.

This is contrary to neighboring Kenya, which has frequently been targeted by the militants. The latest attack came on Friday when the militants killed 11 in a Mandera-bound bus.

Ethiopian ambassador to Kenya Meles Alem believes the public has played a critical role in thwarting the militants from launching attacks across the border.

“Ours is a success story from the members of the public. Our vibrant 'Nyumba Kumi' model has played a key role in the detection and prevention of these attacks,” he told Kenya's The Star in an interview on Sunday.

'Nyumba Kumi' is an initiative that was adopted by Kenya which involved members of the community in security matters. It's yet to yield fruits.

In the model, locals are given powers to dictate their security. This includes identifying strangers and reporting them to authorities.

The set-up in Ethiopia, Alem said, has helped the government identify criminals with the help of the community. This has largely helped in keeping Al-Shabaab at bay.

“Security should not be the preserve of security agencies. It should be an all-collective effort aimed at weeding out terror elements," he noted.

Among others, the model helps people to identify those living next to them, thus making it technically impossible for strangers to penetrate the country.

This awareness isn’t security-oriented. Rather, it is the product of a social fabric that is based on good neighborliness, he argued.

So sophisticated has been the strategy that Ethiopia has managed to survive retaliatory Al-Shabaab attacks despite having the highest number of troops in Somalia.

Under the Amisom peacekeeping mission, Ethiopia has between 9,000 and 15,000 troops manning sector 3, which comprises Bay, Bakool, and Gedo. Kenya, on the other hand, has about 2,400 troops manning sector 2 in Jubaland.

Over the past five years, 46 terrorist incidents have been reported in Ethiopia, in which 361 people have been killed and 160 injured.

In the same period between 2013 and 2017, Kenya has suffered 373 terror attacks, leaving 929 people dead, 1,149 injured and 666 taken hostage.

Ethiopian has also been witnessing a host of radical reforms instigated by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Hundreds of political prisoners have been released.

In the process, the PM, who recently won the Nobel Peace Prize for securing a peace deal with Eritrea, has been struggling to contain ethnic violence in the country.

But according to Alem, corruption is another avenue used by unpatriotic elements to sponsor terrorist activities. For security to prevail, levels of graft ought to be reduced.

“Corruption is blatant theft in broad daylight, and it should be just be called by its name. It has become not only a security issue but smoothing oil for transitional crimes,” he added.

Al-Shabaab was recently declared a threat to Somalia's integration by the UN. The group has been keen to establish a parallel government.

With Al-Shabaab abandoning illegal charcoal trade, the UN said, the militants have resorted to mafia-style taxation means for sustainability.

Kenya has recorded the highest number of casualties in and outside Somalia, with a section politicians calling for the withdrawal of KDF troops from the Horn of Africa nation.


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