By Abdiaziz Arab
The recent execution of twenty-one Al-Shabaab terrorists and affiliates in Galkayo was a step forward in the fight against terrorism in Somalia. Defeating Al-Shabaab militarily alone, though, is not enough, we must defeat their poisonous and un-Islamic ideology too. I am confident that we are capable of beating them in an open war anywhere and anytime.
However, the hardest part is defeating their venomous ideology. They are like cancer, and you cannot treat cancer without killing the cancerous cells that feed the cancer lump in the body. How are we going to do that? What steps do we need to take to fulfil this ambition?
We do have the tools and means to do this, but we need to show bravery and resilience.
United Against Terrorists
First, we need to be united against all forms of terrorism such as those who openly fight us with bullets and explosions and, want to kill us, those who spread hatred-speeches, those who hold extremist views, those who solicit, celebrate, defend, or sympathise with terrorists. Recently, I saw an artwork orchestrated by a well-known Somali artist appearing to support Al-Shabaab openly and create discord amongst Somali people. The artist claimed that the 21 Al-Shabaab murders who have been executed in Puntland a week ago were innocent men from one tribe, despite several courts including a high court found them guilty of murder and terrorism, and also, they admitted committing acts of terrorism. In fact, the majority of the men were from the local area, some of them were relatives to their victims. Thus, the journalist’s claim could not be far from the truth. This kind of behaviour should not be taken lightly, as the journalist incites violence and encourages division amongst the Somalis.
This sort of action must be punished by law. Moreover, we will never be able to defeat Al-Shabaab while the Federal Government and the Federal States are fighting. It is no secret that since the current leaders of the Federal Government came to office, the relationship between the FGS and its member states has gone from bad to worse. The FGS’ reluctance on federalism is there for everyone to see. The only thing that Somalis agreed upon is the provisional federal constitution—until we agree on something else, we should follow the instructions of the law. Thus, instead of putting their effort into guarding the constitution and fighting all forms of terrorism with all guns blazed, the FGS seems to turn on its member of states—and this can only benefit Al-Shabaab. Any functioning government should
constitute three independent institutions from each other. First, an independent legislative body in the form of people’s representatives who legislate policies. Second, an executive wing that carries out the legislated policies, and third a separate judicial system.
Under the current regime of Somalia, they broke the internationally known government barriers and annexed all three governmental wings to the executive. First, the Farmaajo regime got rid of the former speaker of the house Muhammad Osman Jawari—after he had resisted the orders from the Villa Somalia and insisted that the parliament is independent and will not take orders from the government. He was forced to resign and replaced with Muhammad Mursal Abdurrahman, a loyal man to Farmaajo. Some go further and claim he is a puppet to the government. As a result, Mursal and his Farmaajo loyal MPs illegally extended the regime’s term causing an armed conflict between the Somali army in Mogadishu, which could have slipped the nation back to civil war. Also, the power-hungry regime overthrew several state leaders including, Osoble of Hirshebeele State, Sharif Hassan of Southwest and Xaaf of Galmudug, and attempted to topple Ahmed Madobe, the president of Jubbaland State of Somalia. These actions caused severe consequences in the fight against terrorism and gave Al-Shabaab a breather. Therefore, the nation’s union; politicians and citizens, government and oppositions, tribes and clans, young and old, men and women are obligatory and necessary to fight all forms of terrorism and its supporters.
Destroying Al-Shabaab’s chain of supply
Second, we must cut and disrupt the terrorists’ chain of recruitment supplies by controlling madrasas, masjids and all learning and worshipping places. According to reports, Al-Shabaab has a long list of youngsters who wants to be suicide bombers. In recent experiences from Iraq and other places, terrorists cannot be defeated only with military assault. We must ask ourselves; do we have a strategy to defeat Al-Shabaab other than a military one? Have we prepared an ideological war against the group? Because Al-Shabaab has an ideology, to beat them, military assaults alone may win us a battle, but will not win us the war, which is crucial. Since 1991, the collapse of the National Central Government of Somalia, the country became an experiment-ground where Islamist ideologies are tested. Extreme doctrines and new interpretations of Islam that Somalis were not familiar with has been imported into Somalia by several Islamist groups.
With foreign money and support, these groups managed to establish schools, colleges and universities of their own, with each group teaching the curriculum of the group that finance them. Some of these schools teach the curriculum of Saudi Arabia, some teach Egyptian curriculum, some UAE’s curriculum. As a result, these schools produced and still producing an Egyptian, a Saudi or Emirati who know more about the history and geography of these countries than their own country (Somalia). Because of the lack of stable government that control, filter and unite national curriculums, thus, some of these schools took advantage of the situation of the country and teach children very much the exact ideology of Al-Shabaab, albeit a theoretical one.
Therefore, once these children grow up and graduate, Al-Shabaab recruiters are on hand outside the schools to recruit them. All Al-Shabaab needs to do is to apply the finishing touches and use the new graduates as suicide bombers and killers of innocent people, because the jihadist ideology is already instilled in them. To my knowledge, until today nobody inspects these schools and colleges which operate across the nation. Also, neither the Federal Government of Somalia nor the regional administrations have any power or accountability over these schools. These schools, in my opinion, represent the supply chain of human resources of Al-Shabaab. Therefore, if we want to defeat Al-Shabaab, we must inspect and closely monitor what the schools are teaching our children. The war on terror in Somalia should start from the grassroots, it is a waste of lives and resources if we do not accompany our bullets with educational reforms. We should fight the terrorists with bullets on the one hand, and control the education system with the other.
Similarly, no one controls the ideas that are spread in our mosques, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs has the responsibility to insinuate what it is being taught in our mosques. We do not need any extremist ideas, Somalia is a Muslim country, and according to historians Islam
reached Somalia before it reached Medina. Therefore, we should never stand behind anyone whoever it may be, when it comes to Islam. By and large, if we do not gain control over our mosques and schools, we should kiss goodbye to any peace and life aspirations we have. The battle against Al-Shabaab should start in schools and mosques if we are to defeat this heartless enemy.
Strengthening Our Financial Regulations
Third, Al-Shabaab needs capital and other assets, not only for weapons but also training, travel and accommodation to plan and execute their assaults and develop as an organisation. Disrupting and preventing these terrorism-related financial flows and transactions is one of the most effective ways to fight terrorism. Not only can it prevent future attacks by disrupting their material support, but the footprints of their purchases, withdrawals and other financial transactions can also provide valuable information forongoing investigations.
According to FATF “Countering terrorism financing is, therefore, an essential part of the global fight against the terror threat. As terrorists and terrorist groups continue to raise money with the use of various means, countries must make it a priority to understand the risks they face from terrorist financing and develop policy responses to all aspects of it.”
According to a recent report by Hiraal Institute, Al-Shabaab “collects more revenue than government.” The terrorist group collected last year at least $180m, with more than half the money coming from the capital, Mogadishu, the report said. All major companies in Somalia give Al-Shabaab funds, both in the method of monthly fees and a yearly "zakat" (obligatory alms) of 2.5% of annual profits, the report said. Fear, intimidation and a serious threat to their lives and the life of their loved ones is the only motivation that forces these people to pay Al-Shabaab.
Therefore, we need to financially suffocate Al-Shabaab by fully implementing AML/CTF rules and regulations and use the full force of the law on anyone that breaks them. Businesses and their owners must be held accountable and regular checks should be made about their transactions, who they do business with, who do they pay etc. For this to happen, the government must protect these businesses and their owners whatever it takes.
Reclaiming Our Country
Fourth, before we deal with the AMISOM question, we should offer an amnesty to the young, brainwashed Al-Shabaab militants. After all, many of the youngsters that associate themselves with Al-Shabaab claim that they are fighting against foreign invasion in the country. That is not true, however, Somalia is an independent and sovereign country, the reason the foreign troops are in our country is for peacekeeping missions mandated by the United Nations. Nevertheless, I think it is time that we weigh the benefits of having foreign troops in our country and make the right decision. Negotiating with terrorists, on paper, may not look right, but at this moment, and after over a decade of fighting, we owed to ourselves to stop the bloodshed by any means.
The first battalion of the African Union Mission in Somalia AMISOM arrived from Uganda, on 19 January 2007, with UN Security Council mandate of six-months authorisation to counter militant group, Alshabab. Fourteen years fast-forward, their size and equipment increased, but instability, assassinations and suicide attacks by Al-Shabaab also increased.
Originally a small peacekeeping force of Ugandan soldiers, AMISOM has since expanded in size and the capacity of the mandate and is now encompassed an estimated 22,000 soldiers from Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda.
Although Somalia is an independent state and should be able to defend itself, AMISOM has taken the Ministry of Defence’s role in the counter-insurgency campaign, representing as a de facto army until the Somali National Army (SNA) is strong enough to counter the jihadi groups on its own. At least, that was what we have been told. However, what has AMISOM achieved for those fourteen years in Somalia? According to Paul. D. Williams (2018), the author of Fighting for Peace in Somalia: A History and Analysis of the African Union Mission (AMISOM), 2007-2017, in the beginning, AMISOM “…force was never, from the outset, a peacekeeping operation, but rather a war-fighting and counter-insurgency operation.
Undoubtedly, as Williams (an academic scholar of Somalia) argued AMISOM from the set go had achieved some victories against al-Shabaab, especially in the battle of Mogadishu 2010-11, forcing al-Shabaab to withdraw from the capital. On the other hand, according to Williams, AMISOM had encountered some challenges such as; lack of coordination between the military units of AMISOM dispersed throughout the capital and surroundings. Williams stated that the idea of AMISOM was “…to develop the Somali National Army (SNA) as their national counterpart, to the extent that it would be able to take over responsibility for national security including defeating Al-Shabaab”. However, Williams claimed that the SNA has indicated slight possibilities for accomplishing this, hindered “by the more local loyalties of its commanders [tribalism], corruption, and political divisions within the Somali government”.
Moreover, in a recent interview with the Foreign Policy, one Ugandan AMISOM colonel said: “[the peacekeeping operation in] Somalia is like cleaning a pig, you clean it, and it gets dirty.” These failures and the lack of progress from the Somalis part also makes the AMISOM contingent to have failed to form an integrated army with standard military training, doctrine, and command. Although AMISOM lacked having the mandate to protect civilians, they are obliged under the international humanitarian law obligations to protect civilians—however, the lack of guidance left commanders and troops on the ground were left to make decisions on when and how to use force. According to Harley Henigson (2018), a scholar of Somalia, the inadequate plans to develop protection of civilians (POC) hampered efforts to defeat al-Shabaab.
This led AMISOM to neither fight al-Shabaab nor protect civilians, but rather prioritise the protection of government institutions and staff. The inclusion of old foes of Somalia, such as Kenya and Ethiopia, and the allegation of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA) has turned many Somalis to distrust the African Union’s mission in Somalia, Henigson argued. According to Henigson, life is hard to live under the harsh policies of al-Shabaab, some Somalis prefer to live in al-Shabaab governed areas than AMISOM and FGS ruled areas—because they believe that al-Shabaab-controlled areas are safer than government ruled areas.
AMISOM receive approximately a yearly budget of $900 million, an AMISOM soldier takes home monthly $1,028 roughly, for example. While their Somali counterpart takes home a mere $70, for the same duration and services—which is not guaranteed to receive.
According to these two studies, it is explicitly clear that the solution to our problems does not lie with foreigners like AMISOM or any other entity. Although comparisons sometimes mislead, ISIS came out long after al-Shabaab established themselves and have proven to be stronger than al-Shabaab in military, finance, and personnel, yet they were defeated in a short time. Someone may argue that the US and Russia defeated ISIS. That is half of the truth of what happened in Iraq and Syria to defeat ISIS. Yes, Americans and the Russians provided aerial support, but the Iraqi troops on the ground were the ones that fought ISIS tooth and nail street-by-street, and eventually cleared ISIS fighters from their country one by one. In stark contrast, the terrorist group al-Shabaab is flourishing in Somalia, particularly in some places in South and Central Somalia, it seems their resources, especially their human resource and finances are unlimited.
As a result of this, the next parliament must put forward a timetable for AMISOM to withdraw from our country within 12 months, no more. By the end of 2022, the last soldier of AMISOM should leave our soil. This will allow us to call the militants to surround and give up fighting, or else, continue to fight them unilaterally as we are already doing it.
Fighting and defeating Al-Shabaab is every Somali’s duty. We love to defeat al-Shabaab but were allowing ourselves to make the same mistakes repeatedly. We will never be able to defeat al-Shabaab until, first, we are all united under the federal constitution and work together. Second, we must reclaim our schools and mosques and cleanse them from all sorts of extremist agendas. Third, improve our financial regulations, and protect businesspeople and their businesses. Four, AMISOM must withdraw on short notice, it is very clear that they are not willing to fight Al-Shabaab. And moreover, they cannot achieve now what they could not do in fourteen years.