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UN, African Union upbeat on Somalia militarily, not politically

By KEVIN J KELLEY
A file photo taken on February 13, 2012 shows Somali Al-Shabaab fighters gathering in Elasha Biyaha, in the Afgoei Corridor in Somalia. PHOTO | FILE |  AFP
A file photo taken on February 13, 2012 shows Somali Al-Shabaab fighters gathering in Elasha Biyaha, in the Afgoei Corridor in Somalia. PHOTO | FILE | AFP

United Nations, African Union and Somalia government officials formed a chorus of optimists last week, suggesting that Al-Shabaab will soon be beaten — at least inside Somalia.
“We are really on the verge of defeating them in terms of conventional arms,” Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke told reporters at the UN following a closed meeting of the Security Council on the situation in Somalia.
Al-Shabaab now controls only about 20 per cent of the country’s territory, the Prime Minister said. And Somalia has actually become more stable than other states racked by internal conflicts, added Amisom head Maman Sambo Sidikou.
“Somalia is not Yemen,” he said. “It is not Iraq. It is not Libya. It is not Syria.”
An independent expert on Somalia told The EastAfrican that Al-Shabaab has been greatly weakened in its homeland. The group has “lost all political credibility,” declared Bronwyn Bruton, an analyst with the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington.
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The militant group has been drained of popular support as a result of its indiscriminate attacks on civilians, particularly students, Ms Bruton said.
“Killing students is about the lowest thing you can do in Africa,” she said. “They’re the hope for a better future.” Consequently, Al-Shabaab “has no chance of governing ever,” she asserted. “It’s really just a spoiler group.”
But because “the government is so weak, the army is a fiction, and the police are non-existent, even a weak organisation can cause serious damage,” Ms Bruton added.
Matt Bryden, former chair of the UN’s Somalia and Eritrea monitoring committee, similarly suggested that despite major setbacks, Al-Shabaab retains operational capability inside Somalia as well as a demonstrated ability to strike hard in Kenya.
The UN and AU officials taking part in last week’s Security Council meeting were meanwhile markedly less optimistic in their public comments on Somalia’s political situation.
UN special envoy Nicholas Kay said it appears unlikely that Somalia will be able to conduct a truly democratic national election next year, as had been planned by the country’s leaders and donors.
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“Progress has not been as fast as had been expected,” Mr Kay told reporters.
He noted that the body envisioned as organising the August 2016 elections has not yet been formed. An entity charged with rewriting Somalia’s provisional constitution has also made little progress, the UN official said.

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