This past weekend in the heart of downtown Mogadishu, suspected al-Shabaab terrorists detonated two vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices in the busy K5 neighbourhood, killing over 300 people and wounding hundreds more. It was the deadliest attack in Somalia’s history.
Yet despite an outpouring of global goodwill, was this attack just another sad day in war-torn Somalia? Absolutely not. The reality on the ground is clear: after over two decades of civil war, Somalia is finally re-emerging from the ashes.
So what should policymakers know about the Mogadishu bombing? Two key factors explain the attack and its implications for Somalia and the region: the decline of al-Shabaab and the rising tide of Somali national unity.
First, although al-Shabaab have not yet claimed responsibility for the attack, security experts on the ground insist that the bombing is clearly their handiwork. Yet the fact is, al-Shabaab has systematically lost power across Somalia over the past five years. In 2012, African Union and Somali forces pushed al-Shabaab out of Kismayo, a southern coastal city, causing the terrorist group to lose tens of millions of dollars in revenue from taxing the port. Since then, the group has lost its control over other lucrative land routes, including the strategically significant Afgooye corridor.
“Al-Shabaab are now weak,” explained internationally decorated humanitarian doctor Deqo Mohamed, who runs a clinic in Mogadishu and a hospital along the Afgooye corridor. “They have a small number of checkpoints between Mogadishu and Baidoa, but they’re running out of money, they’re far away [from the key areas], and people are fed up with them.”
Indeed, analysts who have been tracking the group know it is desperate and lashing out, just as it did with the 2013 Westgate Mall terrorist attack in Kenya. “When I was in Mogadishu late last year, it was clear that al-Shabaab was tottering,” said Amarnath Amarasingam, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. “The government’s defection program was gutting levels of trust within the organization and everyday people were totally sick and tired of them.”
Even the scale of the recent attack appears to have been a lucky shot on the part of the alleged al-Shabaab terrorists. Some observers have commented that the reason the blast was so deadly was because the bomb happened to be near to a fuel truck, which unintentionally amplified the explosion. “Somalia’s law enforcement is stretched thin and these kinds of attacks will happen from time to time, but we shouldn’t confuse luck for strength,” said Amarasingam.
Second, since al-Shabaab has been pushed back, the political landscape in is undergoing a remarkable transformation. A crucial moment was the surprising presidential election victory earlier this year of popular Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, affectionately nicknamed “Farmaajo” because of his love of cheese. Unlike the many warlords and thugs who have fought over Somalia for the past 20 years, Farmaajo is a technocrat with a demonstrated record of fighting corruption. His unexpected election victory gave Somalis hope that the country was turning a new leaf.
“The Mogadishu attack aimed at crushing that momentum, pushing out businesses, scaring off investors.”
On the ground, the results have been striking. “There are no checkpoints from Afgooye to Mogadishu now; only 1-2 security stops, but no harassment,” said Dr. Mohamed, whose medical teams travel these roads regularly. “And Mogadishu is much easier. Business is booming. People are out on the streets, even at night.” Despite many challenges, Somalia has been on an upward trajectory towards political stabilization and economic growth.
The Mogadishu attack aimed at crushing that momentum, pushing out businesses, scaring off investors, and forcing people back into the shadows. Through a combination of malicious planning and dumb luck, the bombers pulled off an attack with a larger casualty rate than usual. Their plan to shatter the new Somalia, however, has completely backfired. Rather, the attack appears to be fanning the flames of a national unity movement.
Street protests erupted against the terrorists in Mogadishu, bringing together members of historically rival clan factions. Solidarity protests emerged in the city of Kismayo and elsewhere. Youth have even flown in from the northern city of Hargeisa in separatist Somaliland, in a surprising display of goodwill. President Farmaajo has galvanized public support, lining up to donate blood to the victims of the attacks. He also organized the new Somali national military to help with the rescue mission, digging survivors out of the rubble.
For a country that has long seen its armed men as symbols of death and division, this virtuous display of military power has had a profound effect on public opinion. “For the first time, we love and respect our military,” said Dr. Mohamed. “We are standing with our mayor, our parliament, and our president. It is a revolution of unity.”
This unity revolution could signal a new era of hard-won peace in Somalia, and presents a tremendous opportunity for the international community to finally stabilize a troubled region. After the disastrous 1992-95 UN mission, Canada and the rest of the international community have been shy to engage with a Somalia led by warlords, criminals, or Islamists. This new unity movement in Somalia is changing the game. But the international community must rally.
“Now is the time to back the legitimate government,” urged Dr. Mohamed. “It has to happen now.”
In the fight against terrorism, state failure, and political unrest, hopeful moments such as these are rare. And so, this is a chance for the international community to finally make it right. If the tragedy of Mogadishu attack can be turned to supporting the momentum of a new Somalia, the lives lost will not have been in vain. The end of the long war is in sight.
Turkey’s foray into Somalia is a huge success, but there are risks
THE CONVERSATION –Turkey’s presence in Somalia certainly embodies one of the most interesting regional geopolitical developments in the past decade. It also represents one of the most misunderstood and confusing. Why did Turkey choose Somalia? And, after its initial humanitarian intervention in 2011, what internal and external forces have shaped and expanded that involvement? Furthermore, what explains Turkey’s reported triumphs?
Some have pointed to a shared history and a common Sunni Muslim heritage. This is questionable, at best, and alone cannot explain Turkey’s engagement with Somalia – let alone the rest of sub-Saharan Africa. Others have noted Turkey’s economic clout and its status as a mid-sized country interested in trade rather than extracting resources.
Genuine humanitarian concerns have also, at least initially, driven Turkey’s engagement as well as the prospect of economic gain. Scholar Federico Donelli notes its approach to Somalia
“has made Turkey a regional actor different from the traditional western powers, as well as from the emerging non-western ones.”
Turkey’s approach in Somalia has been largely welcomed inside and outside the African nation. However, a cautionary note is required. Allegations of corruption and bribery have surfaced. Turkey’s recent opening of a military training base in Mogadishu to train the Somali National Army has also raised eyebrows across the wider Horn of Africa region.
Keys to success
Ankara has an understandable and deep seated desire for international recognition as an emerging power and G20 member state. Its status in Somalia is part humanitarian and part financial, but is at its heart about influence and prestige.
Turkish money and aid – delivered directly to key stakeholders in the Somali Federal Government – ingratiated Turkey with local power brokers and provided Ankara with access and power in Mogadishu. What soon followed is Turkish control and management of Somalia’s most lucrative assets, the airport and seaport.
Parallel to these were unilateral rebuilding efforts, offers of scholarships, renovations of hospitals, and the hosting of international conferences about Somalia. These have largely contributed positively to Somalia’s development and yielded the international acclaim and diplomatic clout craved by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his coterie.
For some parties inside and outside Somalia, Turkey is now viewed as indispensable to Somalia. The keys to Turkey’s reported success in Somalia – where so many other established powers have failed before – may revolve around four critical factors.
The first is approach. Most interventions in Somalia have been multilateral affairs by international and regional actors, such as the UN. Turkey’s approach, in contrast, has been largely unilateral and highly coordinated by the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency. In this way, the efforts of business, government and humanitarian staff either do not overlap or do so effectively.
Second is novelty. Turkey’s Ottoman past and Muslim identity have been raised as major variables driving Turkey’s engagement with Somalia. But these assertions ignore or minimise one of its key strengths as a rising power: its distinct lack of a colonial past that devastated so much of the continent.
This approach is not only novel; it also represents Turkey’s first meaningful engagement with the continent. This contrasts sharply with that of the US, France, Russia and China, among others, which have a colonial or Cold War baggage.
The third factor is risk. Somalia has been the scene of thousands of capacity building and self-help experiments funded by a plethora of international organisations and states. Yet it is precisely where these efforts have failed that Turkey has found its niche.
This required a big appetite for risk. Naturally, as the risks rise the potential for significant rewards does too. The economic rationale for risk among Turkish businesses is particularly high, given experiences in difficult environments such as Iraq and Libya. This has contributed to sensible, if risky actions in Somalia.
Fourth is soft power. Turkey has deployed an array of soft power approaches. These include diplomatic support for Somalia and direct flights on the Turkish national airline from Mogadishu to Istanbul. These pragmatic approaches have also led Turkish businesses to reap major financial rewards and lucrative contracts.
Turkey’s interest has shifted from being primarily humanitarian to one that also takes into account the political and security aspects of the country. Doing so, as stated in the Becoming Global Actor: The Turkish Agenda for the Global South has made the country
“a hybrid non-traditional actor because it combines the traditional political-stability perspective of western powers with the economic-trade perspective of emerging ones.”
It also has broken with the traditional development model for Somalia that has characterised the past three decades.
Turkey’s hybrid approach may yet lead to mission creep and draw the country into Somalia’s infamous clan politics. Its increasing role could also put it on a collision course with other states, regionally and internationally.
However, its actions have arguably improved the situation in Somalia over the past six years. This is because Ankara has actually attempted to assuage rather than solve Somalia’s long-standing problems outright. Investment is largely driven by profits and assistance is targeted, coordinated and based on needs.
These interventions rarely come with the types of strings attached that characterise other efforts seeking to restructure Somalia. This has been welcomed by many Somalis for whom requirements for political reform or the creation of accountability mechanisms ring hollow.
Brendon J. Cannon, Assistant Professor of International Security, Department of Humanities and Social Science, Khalifa University
Islamic Hijab Is More Than Sexuality
In reference to the article published on the Evening Standard on 24 January 2016 and written by Nimco Ali who claimed that the Hijab sexualises little girls, I take the view this article is misleading and intended to cause further confusion on a subject, which the writer does not fully have knowledge of.
I respect and support the FGM campaign and the pursuit of equal rights for women and girls everywhere. However, it seems Nimco Ali is now moving the goal post to Hijab wearing young girls. This, I believe, is a distorted view that serves no purpose other than to confuse the public discourse. Hijab, Kippah and the Turban are personnel choice for parents intended to serve a religious purpose for modesty, social protection and religious entity. This is a religious freedom of choice for parents as they are the parental guardians for our children. It is my view the writer is right to start a discussion on the issue. However, the writer fails to understand the Hijab serves many other purposes other than modesty. It is a form of religious identity for our Muslim girls intended to encourage them about their values. It is my view the writer is attacking a value she has missed out on at young age and I would encourage her to seek further knowledge on the subject before throwing extreme form of liberalism on our faces.
I would like to encourage the mainstream media to seek people of knowledge on the subject matter other than channelling their own comforting views through people who clearly do not know what they are talking about. It is becoming a common trend in the media to have Muslims being represented by people who are themselves in need of rehabilitation, distorting the facts and confusing the wider public for personnel interests or beliefs. It is a comforting view for right-wing audience, but serves no purpose for community cohesion,mutual understanding and knowledge.
These writers or activists can express their own opinions. However, when their glass is half full, they can hardly contribute to progress on a subject matter they have no knowledge of. It is also ironic to have a freedom fighter for women/girls seeking to limit the religious freedoms of our parents and children. The writer’s views have no logic of reasoning, coherence and knowledge of this subject matter.
Chairman of London Somali Youth Forum, a London based, UK, Social Activist
Bring Kenyan troops home from Somalia
On January 15, 2016, Kenyans reacted with anger and horror at the news that Al-Shabaab militants had attacked Kenyan troops at a military outpost in El Adde, southern Somalia.
The attackers claimed to have killed dozens of soldiers and captured scores of others, including their commander. To date, the Kenyan military has not released details of the attack, although some reports put the death toll at 100.
The El Adde attack raised serious questions about Kenya’s efforts in Somalia. Why is the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) still in Somalia? What are they trying to accomplish? Why was the outpost vulnerable? When will the troops come home?
The KDF first entered Somalia in 2011 on “Operation Linda Nchi”, aimed at securing the northeastern border with the Horn of Africa nation following a series of attacks on tourists and aid workers.
Until El Adde, things were going well for Kenya, with little violence. The KDF captured Kismayu port, a source of income for Al-Shabaab from charcoal trade and sugar smuggling into Kenya. Ironically, a United Nations report said the KDF was also involved in the illicit trade.
But the cost of Kenyan and Amisom efforts is staggering, with a heavy toll of African troops and Somali civilians. Although Amisom has kept a tight lid on its casualties, more than 4,000 soldiers are said to have been killed and thousands more wounded, making it the deadliest peacekeeping mission.
Due to lack of political progress on the ground, even the United States’ counter-terrorism efforts, billions of dollars in foreign aid and 28,000 AU soldiers from 11 countries are unable to impose order in Somalia. The Mogadishu central government is mired in political infighting over the spoils of foreign aid, factions and corruption.
The president of Somalia is holed up in a hilltop palace in the capital city — where a tenuous government exists that is unable to protect its people, administer justice and deliver basic services.
Al-Shabaab also exploits discontent among marginalised clans in the Shabelle River valley, who believe the US-trained, Al-Shabaab-infested, corrupt, one-clan-dominated Somali National Army (SNA) is using the fight against the Al-Shabaab to grab their fertile land. Although they don’t share the militants’ extremist ideology, they see them as defending their lands from State-backed clan militias.
But southern Somalia’s problems are not limited to Al-Shabaab. There is also small arms in the hands of clan militias and the second-generation of merchants of corruption and violence.
Moreover, the heavy-handed foreign meddling, including self-interested neighbours, impedes creation of a functioning, stable government. In fact, the 2006 US-backed Ethiopian incursion into southern Somalia midwifed the Al-Shabaab.
Then-President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga may have started the Somalia military mission on the wrong foot but President Uhuru Kenyatta has the opportunity to end it well. After all the Kenyan troops are accounted for, he should withdraw the KDF from Somalia in an orderly manner.
The policy on Somalia is neither protecting the homeland nor serving Kenya’s interest. In fact, it has made border counties more vulnerable to attacks.
There is no compelling reason worth risking more Kenyan lives or treasure in Somalia’s clan-driven terrorism or dictating the political outcomes in the war-torn neighbouring country. It’s time to bring Kenyan troops home and let the Somali fight for their own country and destiny.
Mr Mohamed is founder and editor, Gubanmedia.com, a 24/7 online magazine of news analysis and commentary on the greater Horn of Africa region. email@example.com.
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