By Mohamud Ali, Nairobi
For Fifteen years, one of al-Qaeda’s most lethal allay in the Horn of Africa, al-Shabaab, continues with its deadly attack in and outside Somalia, despite more than 22 thousand troops operating under the UN-sanctioned African peacekeeping force recently renamed ATMIS- The African Union Transition Mission in Somalia.
The insurgents control large areas in south-central Somalia and have been carrying out deadly attacks, mainly in Mogadishu- targeting hotels, Government offices, and military positions.
Their aim has always been to topple the western-backed civilian Government, which has been enjoying the support of western countries led by the US.
Over the years, the group has also claimed attacks in neighboring countries such as Kenya and Uganda, including the attack on Nairobi’s Westgate mall in September 2013, which left 67 people dead.
Despite efforts by the regional countries and international partners, the group seems to be growing its influence and has been spreading its wings across Somalia, imposing sharia law and collecting taxes from all corners of the Country.
They are described as the “most deadly Islamic insurgency group” outside the Middle East. They use unorthodox means to spread fear, including beheadings and public executions.
But, in what appears to be the most strategic move against the group, Somalia’s newly elected President, Dr Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, has recently launched a three-front campaign against the group, which has already yielded some positive results.
Immediately after his election in May 2022, the President prioritized eradicating the group and began taking the fight to their doorstep in the country’s central regions.
The Somali President announced a “military, financial and ideological war” against the group. For the first time since al-Shabaab emerged, President Mohamud’s Government openly supported efforts by the locals who have been waging war against the group in some areas in central Somalia. His new strategy was welcomed by the US, Turkey, and other major donors, giving an impetus to the renewed fight against the insurgents. Both the US and Turkey deployed their resources including drones to support the military action.
The Government also announced a crackdown on the financial sources of the group, shutting down over 250 bank accounts and money transfer systems. It also began owning the religious narrative through messaging and branding the group and its affiliates as “renegades” who spill their brothers’ blood.
In a recent public rally organized by the Government, the President called on the residents of Mogadishu to flush-out the members of the group and their affiliates.
The changing tide against the group is clearly showing as they lose more territory, mainly in central regions.
Analysts call this “the most successful campaign against the insurgents”, but express fears about how the transition would be managed. Already, there are concerns about what will happen after the group is finally pushed out and whether the Government can fill in the vacuum left behind. And what are the chances of clan conflicts erupting in the areas where the group is routed out?
All these challenges came at a time when the Country is facing the most deadly drought in forty years, which has forced millions into camps for displaced people across the country. The current Humanitarian situation has affected more than 50% of Somalia’s population, putting the country at risk of famine.
But given the Government’s achievement, following the new strategy, many believe this could be the best chance in decades, for Somalia to defeat al-Shabaab, if well managed.