Al Shabab’s power shifting as famine spreads in Somalia

In Somalia for the first time in five years internationally recognized government is in control of war ravaged city Mogadishu. The control comes as al shabab announced a surprise withdrawal from the city in late July. Some analysts say humanitarian crisis situation in the country has weakened the group. FSRN’S MOHAMMED YUSUF REPORTS.

After the UN declared famine in Somalia, al-shabab reversed a decision to allow aid agencies into areas under their control. Over the last few weeks, tensions have risen as virtually no aid is reaching people in areas under al shabab’s control. Al-shabab members arrested clan elders who tried to persuade the group to allow in aid or let people venture on their own to get food in government controlled areas and neighboring countries Kenya and Ethiopia. In response, clan militias have started attacking al shabab fighters.

Nairobi-based political analyst Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamed says al shabab leaders are divided on how to respond to the ever worsening humanitarian crisis.

“They fail to read the mood of the people, they fail to respond to the needs of the people, they fail to respond the crisis in those particular areas. so when they block the aid entering to the al shabab controlled areas, people are saying enough is enough that has divided them some people have publicly left al shabab.”

AbdiSamed said that the mass movement of people facing starvation and leaving al shabab areas is making it difficult for the militant group to recruit youth. It is still resorting to kidnapping children, and recently gave weapons and cash as a prize to youth who participated in a Koran competition.

Mogadishu’s mayor Mohamud Nur has called on civilians to revolt against Al-shabab.

“People have to stop fearing and fight for their protection, we are telling people to fight against al-shabaab and RISE UP against them. It is better to die while fighting OR they WILL kill you in horrible way.”

Some have criticized the mayor and other government officials for preventing aid workers from going into areas controlled by al-shabab. In mid-September, government forces arrested Turkish humanitarian workers who were attempting to deliver food. Officials say they are trying to protect foreigners until they control more parts of the country.

Paddy Ankunda is a spokesperson for the African union.

“Since al shabab fled the city we have taken over a number of other key places, the area is too big for the soldiers we have at the moment so we had anticipated that it would take about twelve thousand soldiers and we just have nine thousand so we need more.”
Although al shabab has left Mogadishu few people have returned to their homes. Some are concerned the insurgent group is blending into the population and fear revenge attacks following a wave of kidnappings and beheadings of people they accuse of spying for the government.

But al shabab might also be weakening due to an internal rift between its more nationalist leader Abu Mansoor Robow and a more global jihadist leader, Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr. Again, Somali analyst Abdisamed.

“Abu Zubeyr normally pursue global jihadist agenda, normally he likes to have orders from al-Qaeda. Robow is a moderate guy he has a lot of sympathy with the locals then that’s what we call a conflict of interest between those who pursue global jihadist and those who consider local ones.”

More than half of al shabab fighters come from Bay and Bakool regions where Robow has strong support. Some speculate that Robow withdrew all his fighters from Mogadishu after A misunderstanding with Abu Zubeyr about how they should respond to the famine in areas under their control. Many of the Somalis affected are from his own clan and Robow’s community was pressuring him to find a solution to the crisis.

AbdiSamed says al shabab’s al-Qaeda inspired tactics, like suicide bombings, and beheadings, as well as bans on music and watching soccer have isolated the fundamentalist group.

“They are no longer popular now (al shabab) initially Eritrea was publicly helping them, Eritrea now got a lot of pressure from the international community that’s why Isaias Afewerki (Eritrea president) went to Uganda he met with Museveni and got advice from him so where are they going to get some money now, al shabab now they are being isolated internationally and regionally.”

Some observers say a weakening of al shabab gives the US-backed transitional federal government a better opportunity to bring stability to the war-torn country. A recent UN brokered consultative meeting held in Mogadishu established four major benchmarks to end the transition improving security, drafting a constitution, national reconciliation and good governance. Critics have raised concerns about that process, citing a lack of representation of the anti-al shabab paramilitary group, Ahlu-Sunna Wal Jamaa and of leaders from the self declared independent state Somaliland.

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