No talking to Shabaab, say leaders; little do they know

Tuesday November 7 2017

The aftermath of a car bomb outside a hotel in Mogadishu on October 28, 2017. PHOTO | AFP 

The aftermath of a car bomb outside a hotel in Mogadishu on October 28, 2017. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO
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The bombs won’t stop in the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

As the country was still reeling from the shock and horror of the deadliest ever single bomb attack in Somalia’s capital on October 14, the terrorists struck again on October 28.

The October 14 bombing was so bloody that, although Al Shabaab was widely seen as being responsible, it dared not claim it. This has led to the theory that the driver set off the bomb prematurely, and it was meant for a different target with a more “reasonable kill rate.”

Al Shabaab, though, took full responsibility for the latest attack, which started after a suicide car bomber detonated an explosives-laden vehicle at the entrance gate of a Mogadishu hotel.

Security forces ended a night-long siege that followed at a hotel by five terrorists, which left 23 people dead and more than 30 injured. For Al Shabaab, that number of casualties apparently is just about right.

The response to the attacks has been firm. The US promised to up its support for the war against the militants. Uganda, which already has the largest number of troops in the African Union peacekeeping enterprise in Somalia, Amisom, reportedly offered an additional 5,000 men.

There was, understandably, no talk of negotiations with Al Shabaab.

The ironical thing about that is that the foot soldiers of Amisom and Al Shabaab, know better.

While their presidents and generals talk tough, the “small” soldiers and militants have been doing business and talking. If it were left to them, they might already have clinched a political deal.

For years, some Ugandan Amisom officers and soldiers have been doing business with the Shabaab, including selling them arms.

A few have been arrested and tried back home in Uganda.

However, it would have been also useful to ask them: “Okay, these Shabaab buddies of yours to whom you sell guns, why can’t you ask them what deal they are willing to take to end this war?” No one did. What a waste.

A brilliant researcher on Somalia tells of what is happening today in some parts of the country.

There are some Al Shabaab and Amisom roadblocks that are only a few kilometres apart. The soldiers on two sides have reached an understanding on how to tax goods.
If a trader arrives with his truck at an Amisom roadblock first, he will pay the boys, say the equivalent of $50.

The soldiers will shoot in the air in a coded pattern, to alert the Shabaab roadblock that they have already taken their cut. Shabaab then will know how much to extract. It will probably also take $50.

If the goods truck arrives at an Al Shabaab roadblock first, the militants will take their bit, and shoot in the air to report to Amisom, who will know how much has been left for them.

It’s totally mind-bending, and quite impressive. If you think coldly about it, there is a higher level of political consensus between elements in Amisom and Shabaab, than there is between incumbent politicians of the troop-contributing countries like Kenya, Uganda, Burundi – and the US – and their opposition parties back home!

Amisom is a peacekeeping mission, and it has all it needs to make peace in Somalia. It’s just that for now it is using it for war-war not yaw-yaw.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is publisher of data visualiser Africapaedia and Rogue Chiefs. [email protected]