Somali ‘Awakening,’ potential solution to al Shabaab menace

Monday January 24 2011

Fighters loyal to Hisbul Islam party take part in a street fight against Somali government forces in Mogadishu July 3, 2009.  REUTERS

Fighters loyal to Hisbul Islam party take part in a street fight against Somali government forces in Mogadishu July 3, 2009. Photo/REUTERS 


Is a Somali “Awakening” in the making? 

There are indications that a movement similar to the Sunni Awakening movement, which began in western Anbar Province of Iraq in mid 2000, is about to arise in Somalia.

As the violence peaked, Sunni tribal leaders, previous supporters of the al Qaeda islamist militant group, rebelled because they realised that the outfit was threatening their way of life and existence.

Instead of fighting the American forces in their region, they cooperated with them in taking on the al Qaeda and soon, the movement spread around the country.

Now Somalia could be the scene for a similar “Awakening.”

To their chagrin, international jihadists are learning as Osama Bin Laden did in the 1990s, that Somalis care more about their clans than the Global Jihad.

Analysts are convinced that funding a Somali Awakening, an idea that is already being circulated in Washington DC and Addis Ababa, would bear more fruits and the al Shabaab militia could turn into a nucleus of the future Somali Armed Forces.

They estimate that in Iraq, this counter-insurgence programme, which was called the “Sons of Iraq,” cost Americans roughly $36 million annually, considering it was paying salaries of 10,000 militias at $300 per month in 2005.

The US government transferred the obligation to the Iraqi government in March 2009, that would eventually integrate the “sons” into the Iraqi Army.

The Iraqi government is paying about 95,000 militias at the same rate, hence it is estimated to cost $342 million.

In Somalia, such an operation involving 12,000 forces could cost a maximum of $50 million and the benefits would outweigh the costs.

The African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) has a budget of $245 million supporting 8,000 troops and auxiliary staff.

It is considered woefully underfunded by UN standards, which require 20,000 troops.

Military strategists believe they are now seeing a parallel handle in Somalia as they found in Anbar.

The highly dreaded Harakat al Shabaab Mujahideen — a transnationalist revolutionary Islamist movement that seeks to establish an emirate in Somalia based on the implementation of Shari’a law — is operating under three levels.

The first is composed of foreigners who oversee the group’s operations in collaboration with hardcore Somali Jihadists, the majority of whom originate from the northern Issaq clan.

The second is composed of the clan-based commanders who are ideologically Salafist but who use the al Shabaab label to extend their authority in their home regions.

These clan-based commanders are strong because the clan elders trust them and have given them their sons to protect their clans, provide security and a minimum of basic services.

The third level is composed of the Ansar (foot soldiers) the majority of whom are unemployed youths who are fascinated by the myth of al Shabaab, former Transitional Federal Government soldiers (mercenaries) who are on the payroll of the al Shabaab and those who have been forced to join the group for Jihad.

The conflict today is between the foreigners and Somali hardcore Jihadist on one hand and the clan based commanders on the other hand. 

The hardcore Somali Jihadist led by al Shabaab Amir, Sheikh Abu Zubeyr aka Godane stand accused of favouring members of his Issaq clan and using clannism as a strategy to divide and rule, when the strength of al Shabaab has always been their Islamic agenda above clannism.

The Amir is also accused of promoting the agenda of the foreigners and of sabotaging any efforts to unite the various Islamic organisations in Somalia.

Defectors have also accused him of ordering the arbitrary execution of al Shabaab fighters from other clans when they are sick or wounded and of not distributing the taxes collected from the business community or checkpoints equitably. Also, some commanders do not understand why he has remained elusive.

There is an Awakening in Somalia and the causes are Al Shabaab’s failed Ramadan offensive last October, the attack on Hizbul Islaam that resulted in the “merger” and the current drought.

The clan based commanders are convinced that the Ramadan offensive against Amisom and the TFG was mismanaged by the foreigners and Godane and resulted in the loss of numerous fighters; the attack on Hizbul Islaam was not backed by everyone.

Some of the Al Shabaab commanders wanted an alliance while the Amir wanted to annihilate a group that he considered a nuisance.

Godane did not understand the need to make an alliance with a group that was weaker militarily and financially.

He also did not trust the leader of Hizbul Islaam, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys that he considered “a power hungry criminal that deserved to be hanged.”

The drought in Somalia has always been political. It has caused numerous wars between clans but has also been used to unite communities.

Some Al Shabaab commanders including Sheikh Muktar Robow believe that communities should come together to help each other during the drought.

In fact, a group of Al Shabaab commanders have asked the Shura Council, Al Shabaab’s ultimate decision making council to accept the return of aid agencies in Al Shabaab controlled areas.

Although the foreigners and the other hardcore Somali Jihadis accepted, they perceived the operations of aid agencies disruptive, accusing them of being spies for Western countries

An Awakening in Somalia is possible if the clan elders revolt against Al Shabaab’s foreigners and extremists.

Following the Ramadan offensive many clan elders in particular in the Bay and Bakool region were infuriated that their sons were left to die in Mogadishu without ammunitions and other supplies.

The elders had asked Sheikh Muktar Robow to revenge their sons that were sacrificed by the Northerners and foreigners.

If the clan elders in other regions in South Central Somalia can be convinced to turn against Al Shabaab, the clan based commanders could turn their fighters against the foreigners and the Somali hardcore Jihadist!

It is however, important to mention that the Sunni Awakening was made possible by strong financial backing from the US once they realised that the Sunni tribal leaders could be more efficient than the US military in defeating al Qaeda.

Each fighter was paid $300 per month and the Sunni business leaders raised an additional $200. The Somali awakening would have to be backed financially by Somalia’s partners.

The Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaa (ASWJ) phenomenon in the central regions is actually the first Awakening.

In the Galgadud region, clan elders from the Hawiye, Darod and Diir clans — who were once divide over land and other rivalries — came together and agreed to get rid of what they called the Khawarich or Heretic.

Since they were previously divided because of land and other rivalries, they decided to unite under the banner of ASWJ.

In reality, the majority of Somalis are ideologically aligned with ASWJ. The phenomenon was replicated in the Hiraan region and now in the Banadir region.

Clan alliances to defeat Islamist extremists should be encouraged by empowering the elders.

Al Shabaab is first and foremost a political problem and any process to engage in a dialogue with the group must be Somali owned and led.

But the group must first be weakened militarily in order to force it to understand the virtues of dialogue and that effort must also be owned and led by the Somalis with the backing of other international partners.