Somalia President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo has combined his clan and family links, persuasion and divide-and-rule tactics to engineer defections from Al Shabaab.
Besides offering amnesty and gaining substantial financial support from the international community to fight Al Shabaab, sources in Mogadishu told The EastAfrican that Farmajo, who was elected in February, has been using family links to persuade Al Shabaab leaders to abandon the militant group.
Being from the Darot clan, President Farmajo is married to Zaynab Abdi, who hails from the Murursade, the influential sub-clan of the majority Hawiye who provide the majority of Al Shabaab commanders.
“In the Somali culture, an in-law is a respected person. Given the network of family relations through marriage, President Farmajo has been gaining support that cuts across clan barriers.
Murursade elders have been persuading their youth to abandon the war,” said Mohammed Guled, an expert on Somalia matters.
The biggest coup was the defection in mid-August of Mukhtar Robow, a high-ranking Al Shabaab commander and spiritual leader.
Mr Robow is credited with coining the word “Al Shabaab” — youth in Arabic — in 2006 when Ethiopia invaded Somalia to oust the Islamic Courts Union.
He was the only surviving founding member of Al-Shabaab.
Robow’s negotiation to defect had been going on since the presidency of Mahmoud Hassan, but the catalyst was the decision by the US to cancel a $5m bounty for his capture.
Mr Robow left Al Shabaab in 2013 when he differed with the then leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, who was later killed in a US airstrike in 2014, but had been confined to the Bakool jungle since he was being pursued by Al Shabaab for “betraying the cause.”
His defection was seen as a major blow to Al Shabaab because he has a huge following and was instrumental in articulating the Al Shabaab ideology.
In May, Bishar Mumin Farah from Hiran region, was the first high level Al Shabaab commander to surrender after President Farmajo offered a two-month amnesty in April.
Somalia’s Information minister, Abdirahman Omar Osman, told The EastAfrican that although the progress has been slow, so far seven top Al Shabaab leaders have surrendered.