When explaining the terrorism and security calamities in Somalia, the usual suspects are a readymade group, hiding somewhere in the horizon, with the nametag of al-Shabaab. But this doesn’t yield a takeaway solution to the very problem of terrorism and religious radicalism which are in action.
I think what almost everyone misses—everyone ranging from so-called ‘Shabaab scholars’ to security experts/analysts, to government officials—is the psychological, political and economic motives that are shaping the security dynamics of a fragile state like Somalia. I think this is the elephant in the room, and the invisible guerilla no one is ready to face.
History teaches us, when a country entirely collapses, and loses its arms, vacuum emerges. A gap which is ready to be filled at any time, by any group. And as far as Somalia is concerned, immediately after the fall of Barre regime, two great actors evolved: religion-oriented and clan-oriented warlords. The former saw its climax in the beginning of collapse, in 1990s when al-Itahad (a group which was secretly active in Somalia as early as 1980s) took an offensive measures to restore ‘Sharia’ law. And the latter chiefly dominated the nation’s ailing capital,Mogadishu. These two fronts were having their issues and ideas on how and why to take a role—a leading role. As the time goes, and Barre’s footprints start to fade, the two actors, one way or another, happen to be in the same boat. The establishment of Islamic Courts Union was the result, a kind of cocktail of the two actors.
So, from that on, political hegemony—and the definitions of who is going to fil the vacuum—readily became the central factor of any faction in question. Take al-Shabaab for example. Hopeless, seemingly unemployed youth with a religious enthusiasm, was successfully recruited by ambitious and extremely fanatical leaders. They told the world that their very objective is to defend Somalia from ‘Ethiopian invasion’. But, what they told was quite different from what they practically showed. They exhibited a significant degree of political pragmatism and willingness to govern. They have showed greediness. Those who were at the top of the food chain even faced each other in an unpleasant way: Hashi Ayrow was gone, Ibrahim Afghani was gone, and so was Omar Hamami. And lately, Mukhtar Robow defected and allied with the government after his friend, Hassan Aweys, did the same earlier. If we try to connect the dots, I think we can get a scary image of what was really going on under the leadership of Ahmed Godane: voracity.
And then, here is the economic factor. Somalia proved herself to be a safe haven for economic fantasies and illicit way of making money. One can easily figure out that al-Shabaab and Somalia’s ISIS version (al-Shabaab’s ex-girlfriend that chose to live separately) went one-on-one against each other for financial reasons: al-Shabaab used to tax some giants in Somalia, and ISIS asked the same, but the giants in question declined as they cannot afford triple tax rates, and then ISIS started to hunt down each and every defiant giant, and the giants called al-Shabaab’s help, then the rest is history. Not only that, al-Shabaab decided to directly attack Kenyan soil when Kenya indirectly involved in Kismayo’s reality and helped install a formed friend, Ahmed Madoobe, to the crown of Jubbaland. Why was this important? Because Kismayo is rich with charcoal, a source of hard currency for al-Shabaab and even Kenyans allegedly replaced al-Shabaab dealing with the charcoal economics. This reminds you of anything?
In Mogadishu, people are suffering. Maybe that word is not enough to define the situation, but I can hardly find more appropriate term to describe how things are moving. They are suffering. Because they don’t know what to do. The only thing everyone is good at is sending condolences and warm wishes for the victims and to their beloved ones. When anything bad happens, all fingers will point to al-Shabaab. But no finger is proved to be pointed for life. After a while, everything is gone, and business-as-usual thing returns on its foot. Water under the bridge.
I think, we need to convince ourselves that al-Shabaab is not the Pandora’s Box for Somalia’s security problems. It is a symptom of a system, rather than being the sole cause. If al-Shabaab, as a terrorist group, can use end-justifies-the-mean approach to gain more power and presence, cannot other actors—local and international—do the same? Probably al-Shabaab will claim the responsibility of every single blast that kill innocents, because it entertains sort of logic that sees this as a marketing and public relations opportunity.
This exactly denotes, partly, the psychological warfare. The politics of fear. The rule of uncertainties. The thing with al-Shabaab is now part of our collective unconsciousness. To an extent that people believe al-Shabaab is the one and only actor on the ground. Think about Zoobe Terror Attack which claimed more than 500 civilians. No one has ever dared to call it theirs. But almost everyone in the circle tends to believe it was al-Shabaab. Why? Because this has become the dogmatic, viable explanation to every security problem in Somalia. Al-Shabaab may be dangerous group, but this premature conclusion is far more dangerous.
Yes, this itself is not sort of ‘one-rule-fits-all’ pocket solution. But it at least draws our attention to the bigger picture. Security hardships in Somalia is a systemic problem. Dealt it as one.