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Somalia - Al-Shabaab - NYC Navanti Workshop

Somalia - Al-Shabaab - NYC Navanti Workshop

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Published by David Shinn

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Published by: David Shinn on Jan 27, 2012
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1Al-Shabaab and Somalia in the 21
st
CenturyRemarks at Interagency Workshop on External Support to Al-Shabaab, oOrganized by Navanti Group25 January 2012, New York CityDavid ShinnAdjunct Professor, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington UniversityYou heard yesterday from a number of experts about al-Shabaab. I want to use my timethis morning to make several broad points based on my involvement with the Horn of Africafrom both Washington and in the region dating back to the early 1960s. I will also draw onthirty-seven years of experience with the State Department and considerable academic researchon the Horn.Somali Society Has ChangedMy starting point is that Somali society today is not what it was in the 1960s. I am notreferring to the obvious fact that Somalia became a failed state in 1991. I am referring to subtleand not so subtle changes in the nature of society itself. While clans remain important and, insome circumstances, are still the single most important feature of society, the role of Islam haschanged dramatically. This has been accelerated by the breakdown of traditional societyfollowing years of civil war, broken families, failure of governmental institutions and themovement of large numbers of Somalis from rural areas to Mogadishu, other cities in Somaliaand the overseas diaspora. Political Islam, admittedly a term that holds different meaning for different people, has been present in Somalia for decades. It was a minor factor in the earlyyears after Somali independence and harshly repressed during the Siad Barre regime. Evenfollowing the overthrow of Said Barre in 1991 and the breakdown of government, warlordsinitially filled the void before political Islam could assert itself.By 2006, with the rise of the Islamic Courts, it was clear that political Islam had becomea major factor in Somali society. In recent decades, more and more Somalis received training inSaudi Arabia¶s Wahhabi system and several other conservative Gulf States and they hadincreasing contact with Salafi groups in Egypt. Some of these foreign organizations establishedIslamic ³charities´ and educational organizations in Somalia. Although the Ethiopian invasion atthe end of 2006 forced the Islamic Courts out of Mogadishu, this led to an increase in politicalIslam, including a faction that became more radical. Al-Shabaab eventually grew out of thisupheaval and Somalis today are living with the consequences.I doubt that Somalia will return to the kind of society that existed in the 1960s.Traditional Sufi values have been weakened in much of the country. I am not suggesting that al-Shabaab will prevail. I don¶t believe it will; it has engaged in too many tactics such as forcedrecruitment and suicide bombings that have alienated most Somalis. On the other hand, I suspectthat a political group organized around a more moderate form of political Islam would probablywin a free and fair election in Somalia today hands down. Somalia is not Egypt or Tunisia, but
 
2developments in both of those countries should serve as wakeup calls. One of the biggestmistakes Western policies could make in Somalia is to assume that it is possible for the countryto return to the society that existed in the 1960s, 1970s or even 1980s. Those days are gone.Political Islam is here to stay unless at some point it totally discredits itself by trying toimplement an extreme program, for example the one being urged by al-Shabaab and its foreignsupporters.In a recent analysis of the ³Arab Spring´, Professor John M. Owen IV at the Universityof Virginia concluded that ³Islamism is winning out because it is the deepest and widest channelinto which today¶s Arab discontent can flow.´ Somalis are not Arabs, but the same dynamicseems to be underway in Somalia.If you agree with this conclusion, it argues for the necessity of giving prominence tohighly respected Somali religious leaders and scholars in any future effort to end the conflict inSomalia. The Islamic Courts, although they probably tried to implement too much change tooquickly and a few of their edicts were too extreme, developed a reputation for maintainingstability, fighting corruption and getting things done. Somali Islamic scholars can also haveconsiderable influence on reconciliation efforts in the context of this new social and politicaldynamic.Somalis Must Drive the Reconciliation ProcessThere have been countless efforts, both formal and informal since 1991 to reach a political solution to the Somali crisis. Contrary to popular belief, most of the past efforts have been largely Somali driven although they have all occurred outside Somalia. This left open the possibility for excessive foreign influence and the ability of Somali factions to seek support fromone or more interested foreign party. I participated in the failed effort to reconcile Somaliwarlords that took place in Addis Ababa late in 1993 in the aftermath of the U.S. decision to pullits forces out of Somalia. I also observed from Addis Ababa the lengthy Somali conferencehosted by Ethiopia at Sodere in 1996-1997. It too failed.Any future reconciliation effort must be entirely Somali driven with no foreign participation and should take place inside Somalia. Ideally, even the cost should be covered bySomalis as foreign funders will always want to influence the process. Somalis obviously have amuch better understanding of the situation in their country than do non-Somalis. I have yet tomeet a non-Somali who speaks the language fluently and, in my view, fully understands all thenuances of Somali society that would permit him or her to advise Somalis on a political solution.I don¶t even come close to meeting that definition.There is another problem when foreigners get involved. Somalis are often blinded bytheir family ties, clan ties and self-interest. During negotiations in which foreigners play a role,Somalis have developed to a level I have encountered nowhere else in Africa the ability to tellforeigners, with a completely straight face, what they want them to hear or what they think they
 
3should hear. I can probably count on one hand the number of foreigners who even appreciate themagnitude of this challenge. This situation severely circumscribes any role for non-Somalis intrying to reach a political solution that is acceptable to most Somalis. So far, Somalis have notreached the point where they can meet as described above in an effort to resolve their differences. But I doubt it will be possible to end the conflict in Somalia until this happens.The African Union ForceCreated in 2007, there are now about 10,000 troops as part of the African Union force(AMISOM) in Mogadishu. Uganda provided the largest contingent, followed by about an equalnumber from Burundi. Troops from Djibouti recently joined AMISOM. Although AMISOMhas not yet reached its authorized strength of 12,000, it has requested the UN Security Council toincrease the level to almost 18,000. Until last year, AMISOM controlled less than half of Mogadishu. As its numbers and effectiveness increased and al-Shabaab weakened, AMISOMwas able to expel al-Shabaab from Mogadishu. Al-Shabaab, which argued it was a tacticalretreat, remains active outside Mogadishu and periodically conducts suicide bombings andattacks inside the capital.AMISOM has probably done everything that could reasonably be expected of it,especially the creation of conditions that allowed most of the Transitional Federal Government(TFG) to operate from Mogadishu. With additional troops, AMISOM might even be able toextend marginally its authority beyond the city limits of Mogadishu. It is inconceivable,however, that AMISOM will be in a position to remove al-Shabaab from the rest of the territorythat it controls in south and central Somalia. While AMISOM has performed a useful role andkept al-Shabaab from controlling Mogadishu, it is essential to be realistic about its ability toremove al-Shabaab from the rest of the country.Early in 2012, the defense ministers of Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Burundi, Somalia andUganda met under the auspices of the African Union to propose a new military strategy for confronting al-Shabaab. According to press reports, the strategy includes the increase in the sizeof AMISOM and collaborating closely with Kenyan forces in southern Somalia and Ethiopiantroops and TFG militia that recently captured Beledweyne. Kenya formally asked to make itstroops part of AMISOM. The plan also calls for a naval front along Somalia¶s coastline,especially outside Kismayu, to prevent al-Shabaab from moving goods in and out of the port.The goal is to obtain funding for the strategy from the United Nations and donor countries.This strategy strikes me as wildly optimistic if the goal is to remove al-Shabaab fromSomalia. It has taken AMISOM five years to reach troop strength of 10,000. To its credit, itnow controls Mogadishu but nothing else. It is not clear who will provide the additional troopsor when they will arrive. In any event, 18,000 are far too few to take and HOLD all the other territory now controlled by al-Shabaab. There is no indication which countries will provide thenaval force. Of the six countries that developed the new strategy, only Kenya has a navy and it

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