Saturday, October 19, 2013


 By Abdi Noor Mohamed (The writer is a Deputy County Commissioner. He Holds an MA in Peace and Reconciliation Studies and another in International Security. The  views expressed here are his own)...

The smoke billowing from the Westgate shopping mall may have subsided but the scars of the attack will be permanent, the wounds difficult to heal. The Al-Shabaab insurgency has claimed responsibility for the attack, which coincided with World Peace Day killing 67. For us to confront them, a cogent analysis is primordial.

So far, the literature on the group represents an axiomatic view that Al-Shabaab is a Somalia based insurgency with links to Al-Qaeda seeking an Islamic government in Somalia and exit of foreign forces.

What if the latter were to leave tomorrow and an Islamic government is established in Somalia? Would Al-Shabaab disband? In such cases, the insurgents would invent new grievances and continue what they know best; violence. So who are they?

Somalia has been seen as an in important destination to establish an Al-Qaeda bastion, but the treasure trove of analysis on Somalia points out that Al-Qaeda did not succeed due to many factors, which can be summarised as the wrong personnel, cause, time and allies. I opine here that Al-Qaeda did not leave Somalia, but had to mitigate against the aforementioned drawbacks leading to the birth of Al-Shabaab, which is Al-Qaeda incarnate, by  finding the right personnel, cause, time and allies.

Right personnel came in the  form of  Adan Hashi Ayro, Al-Shabaab’s first commander (now deceased)  Ahmed Haji Godane, the current commander, Muktar Robow and Ibrahim Haji Ahmed a.k.a Afghani. They were all   Somalis  under  the  tutelage  of Osama Bin Laden in the valleys and mountains of Afghanistan. Not only did they understand the culture, but were also from different major clans, save for Godane and Afghani who belonged to the same  clan.


Opportunity presented itself in 2005. The government of the Djibouti elected Abdul-Qasim failed to take off and Somali delegates were in Nairobi to elect a new Somali president. The birth pangs associated with this vacuum necessitated the coming together of various Sharia courts in Mogadishu to form the Islamic Courts Union in 2006. The Somali Al-Qaeda men quickly jumped onto the bandwagon and strategically took three of the eighteen seats available. For the Somali Al-Qaeda men, being part of the ICU was one thing and convincing Somalis to embrace the Al-Qaida ideology of global jihad was another. In 2006, while still being part of the ICU, they revived Somali irredentism by claiming that they would ‘liberate their brethren in Ethiopia and Kenya’.

Ethiopia fell into the well laid trap of the jihadists by crossing the Somali border.  Al-Qaeda cognoscenti travelled to Somalia in droves. Thousands of Somali youth from Minneapolis to Mogadishu joined Al-Shabaab to fight the Ethiopians. By the time Ethiopia left Somalia in 2009, the youth were part of the global jihadist network by default. Time to discard the Somali cause had arrived. Ahmed Godane, the current leader of Al-Shabaab, glorified Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al Zawahiri, in 2008.

The international community should adopt what is referred to in American military parlance as a kinetic-military response. From what the world is learning from Iraq and Afghanistan, military force leading to collateral damage may further alienate the same population we want to protect, to the chagrin of the overall goal - defeating Al-Shabaab. Eliza Manningham-Buller, former head of British Intelligence orMI5, has enough experience and intellect in dealing with groups like Al-Shabaab, having worked at the organization for 34-years. In her famous BBC Reith lecture in 2011, Securing Freedom, she informed us that in a discussion with her colleagues on whether the United States would take direct military action in Afghanistan where al- Qaeda was based after 9/11, they  all agreed that ‘terrorism is resolved through politics and economics not through arms and intelligence, however important a role these play.’
We must win the moderates on our side and isolate  extremists. It has often been said that ignoring the population in counterinsurgency is like playing chess while the enemy is playing poker. Deliberate efforts must be made to win the hearts and minds of the Somali population. Al-Shabaab has used cherry-picked verses from the Quran to justify their violence. This makes clerical de-legitimacy vital. Somali and other Muslim scholars need to be mobilised to delegitimise Al-Shabaab’s suicide ways and motive.

Finally, AMISOM will deny Al- shabab a key propaganda tool if it comes up with a pullout timetable to hand over the security of the country to Somali security organs. An open ended intervention may in the long run be viewed as imperialistic.

The writer is a Deputy County Commissioner. He Holds an MA in Peace and Reconciliation Studies and another in International Security. The  views expressed here are his own.