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Al-Shabab recruits walk down a street in the Deniile district of Mogadishu, Somalia, March 5, 2012. The group has suffered setbacks in recent years but remains remarkably resilient to eradication by Somali and African Union troops. MOHAMED ABDIWAHAB/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Al-Shabab recruits walk down a street in the Deniile district of Mogadishu, Somalia, March 5, 2012. The group has suffered setbacks in recent years but remains remarkably resilient to eradication by Somali and African Union troops.

The period from 2013 until the present day can be considered the second insurgency phase in Al-Shabab’s history. It does in many ways resemble the period from 2007–2008, when Al-Shabab were too weak to hold territories, and were in a race with the Ethiopians and the Western-backed government to make the Ethiopians leave before centralized Somali structures were in place. This similarity should not be forgotten, and probably serves as a reminder for Al-Shabab that they have withstood territorial marginalization before and still prevailed.
Still, there are differences, as not only an Ethiopian deployment to Somalia faces Al-Shabab today but a major regional effort, where all of Somalia’s direct neighbors, Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya, are participating, along with a sizable contingent from Burundi. This unified force has shown a will to stay over time and as there are real burden-sharing abilities in the alliance, it seems more sustainable than the Ethiopian deployment.

The government in Mogadishu has suffered defeats against the regional states of Somalia, however this in turn seems to be positive, as it is leading to a more realistic approach for a future Somalia where power would be devolved to the regions. Al-Shabab’s largest enemies inside Somalia, the Galmudug state, the Juba state, Puntland, Somaliland, and the various clan administrations in central Somalia, remain at peace and have so far resisted the temptation to attack each other, despite tensions.
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It should be remembered that Al-Shabab can survive even in a weak state; it can take advantage of police corruption and clanism/tribalism, even when some kind of central administration in Somalia is re-established, which is probably far in the future. Even now Al-Shabab can still tax, through checkpoints on roads when AMISOM is not present—which are removed when AMISOM forces arrives—and via taxes through fear, the business community paying money, in some instances even far outside Al-Shabab controlled areas, in order to avoid violence.

The fact is that Al-Shabab is a surprisingly resilient organization. It is cheap, consists of fighters that do not demand much, and—in its present state—it does not control large territories in the conventional sense and probably does not use large amounts of money on administering territories.
It can still tax large territories, partly because the absence of any credible security structures in the Somali countryside. In general, rural areas are neglected by the Somali army, who are poorly paid and who often have a clan bias meaning they lack legitimacy in areas of operation such as in the Lower Shabelle, southern Somalia; neglected by the Somali police, often facing the same problems as the army; neglected by regional states lacking resources; neglected by AMISOM contingents often restricting their movements to major bases, save the odd campaigns.
This enables Al-Shabab to pressure the rural population for money and recruits, even supposedly when the villagers are behind enemy lines, a capacity that has enabled Al-Shabab to launch relatively large-scale attacks in recent years, even against AMISOM. This was symbolized by the large-scale attack against the Kenyans at the AMISOM base in El Adde in January, which could constitute the largest loss of life in Kenyan military history.
The Islamic State militant group (ISIS) has also conducted a coordinated propaganda attackon the organization. It seems, however, that ISIS has made few inroads within Al-Shabab, either existing in marginal places as the Puntland mountains or as small cells, for the time being at least. However, sympathy for ISIS is present both in Somalia and in Kenya. Yet, for now, they remain a small problem for Al-Shabab.
The devil is in the detail—details such as ensuring that the Somali police and army gets necessary pay, through Somali channels, to ensure sustainability. It is to be willing to acknowledge that regional Somali security forces will play a role in securing the countryside, but that they can do this according to a proper federal structure. The focus need to be on the countryside, not necessarily the larger cities, demanding a more decentralized approach to security structures. Until this happens, Al-Shabab will do well.
This article is an expanded extract from Stig Jarle Hansen’s “Al-Shabaab in Somalia: The History and Ideology of a Militant Islamist Group,” which has recently been republished in paperback by Hurst.

1 Comment

  1. Taking the initiative provoked by this news article, I want to talk to you all about a story that gave me a jolt strong enough to deprive me some sleeps.
    We all know that religious extremists hailing from the Arabian Peninsula have been trying to pitch our harmonious people against each other for centuries. For the most part that had failed. That is why you see me calling the people we all left behind ‘glorious’, ‘harmonious’ and ‘very proud’. Indeed they are. This is just a dead giveaway. The Saudi family has been fomenting hatred toward other religions especially Jewish and Christian faiths for more than a century. They are awash with petro dollar so much that they have been giving away millions to extremists like candies. In recent article in the Bloomberg magazine there was a story about this same family’s plan to wean Saudi Arabia off its oil ‘addiction’. Their new upcoming alpha dog prince wants to change that heathen into an industrial giant making first and foremost military weapons. How he is going to do that you may ask. His plan is to make every weapon that country needs by hiring weapon making experts from the West. Just imagine that. It has been exporting radicalism and hatred through its Wahabi extremist ideology, now it will be able to offer that as a bundle; Ideology, money and deadly weapons from one-stop-shop terrorists’ bazaar, The West should take this ambition very seriously and must put laws in place outlawing transfer of such expertise by their citizens. The solution for this impending disaster is to help secular elements of that country to take the leadership role once and for all. These demonic fanatics should not be allowed to build their own long range missiles, supersonic jets and all other advanced armaments. Our people will be in danger like they have never been before. And these lazy bum halawa drunk fanatics will show no mercy for us all. They had not shown mercy for millions of Africans they snatched away as slaves since the 7th century. They have this deep-seated hatred for our glorious people Muslim or not, Christian or not, Native religion worshipers or not !!!
    Our people should be kept abreast with the latest about these demons and pressed to keep denying any opportunity to these scabs.

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