Professor Abdi Ismail Samatar’s opinion piece ‘Somalia’s strategy for the war against al-Shabaab will condemn the country to perpetual hell’ in the Daily Maverick offers much food–indeed, a veritable feast for thought. As much as I applaud the learned professor’s remarkable contribution as laid out in the lines of his opinion piece, I find some of his claims hard to swallow for reasons I will explain below. Courtesy and fairness would suggest that I give equal time to those aspects of his expiations that I admire and those I find unpersuasive. In the interest of brevity, however, I shall focus more on the latter.
The thrust of the professor’s main argument proffers something along the following line: “To call for tribal groups to arm themselves and fight Al-Shabab without a national civic pact and credible national leadership is tantamount to repeating the mistakes of the 1980s and the 1990s that may yet usher in decades of internal conflict after al-Shabaab is defeated.” Notwithstanding the blatant threat concealed in the tonality of Prof. Samatar’s discourse regarding a return to the dark days the Somali people have overcome, a credible analyst would refute this notion without having too much grapple with it.
Going by the adage “things aren’t always the same, and we think that conditions never change,” I can confidently submit that the tribal communities at war today are, in many ways, not the same as those of the past. Today’s circumstances are much unlike those of the past the professor refers to. Put another way, much has changed within the framework of tribal groups and their approach toward the activities they engage in, as known and seen in the past. For, empirical evidence of the reality of societal change can be easily observed, more realistically, from a religious standpoint in which we saw the demise of groups that seemed and operated as well-organized religious sects and the rise of new ones in different shapes and modus operandi. Therefore, the strategy, organization, mobilization, and willingness to encounter an eminent challenge matter more than misconceiving the possibility of returning to the past.
THE NEW TRIANGLE STRATEGY
In order to curb the problem, the government has charted an appropriate roadmap whose aim is based on the functionality of the various state infrastructures currently available, of which social morale is primarily the most significant asset. This particular variable, the current nature of social morale, is where the tripartite strategic plan of President Hassan Sh. Mohamud imbibes from and is intended to root out the terrorist group Al-Shabaab, which has become a bone of contention in the country’s security and government-building projects for over ten years. It is an important and well-timed plan which gives priority to three activity areas:
To strategically carry out a continuous military onslaught that will immensely jeopardize the operations of the terrorist organization to total estrangement.To formulate ideological warfare with the help of the ordinary Somali citizen to annihilate the group’s immoral lust for power—hence the significance of high social morale to confront the terrorists.To impose financial sanctions for the sake of economic strangulation that aims at hampering the terrorists’ potential sources of income.
The professor overlooks that the army and the civilians (the general public) can function as two bodies but integrated and from the same nucleus. Therefore, unlike Professor Samatar’s view of military-only warfare against Al-Shabab, President Mohamud’s strategy considers a grassroots approach that places the average citizen, in this case, the community, at the heart of the solution rather than a separation from it. Engaging the enemy from this dual front strengthens the military-civilian interplay in the fight against the terrorists because the army is part and parcel of the nation’s social fabric. This is to affirm that, in a nutshell, the military stands a better chance to carry out its duties more effectively with the help of the society they hail from, not to mention when the high morale triggers that community to support the military and engage the enemy from another front.
In addition to direct engagement in warfare, the citizen is a significant player in the successes achieved in intelligence gathering, especially when implementing sensitive, covert operations. Such strategies need careful planning and consideration of several factors that put leadership at the bedrock of their fulfilment. Yet, while it is hard to problematize the general description or meaning of leadership, owing to the diverse perspectives and extrapolations of the disciplines, a clear explanation of our current president’s leadership traits is characterized by the three driving factors specified above, all of which represent the sense of purpose, political skill, character, and strategic move driven by sound leadership. This is to say that the president, supported by his team of advisors and as the head of the central government, is the principal strategic asset responsible for driving the nation in the right direction, the issue of the tripartite strategy being precisely one among the various approaches of focused leadership by the head of state.
On the other hand, while criticism is a form of healthy deliberation and a guiding factor in pressuring a leader to change direction for the betterment of a nation, Professor Samatar’s view is loaded with denunciations and denouncements that could be a cause of friction and political division in a country resuscitating from the effects of several years of hatred and under-development.
Whatever the premise of the arguments, eliminating Al-Shabaab and revitalizing nation-building and strengthening government institutions need to be executed as parallel processes. That is, fighting Al-Shabaab while other efforts to strengthen the government are not set aside. Al-Shabab is not an infant antagonist but an introverted sect that has roots everywhere in Somalia and the wider Horn of Africa countries. It requires concerted efforts, not only from the Somali people but even from foreign partners willing to partake in its annihilation and peaceful coexistence of the peoples in the region. Therefore, using the three Cs of cooperation, collaboration, and coordination, is required to stem a solid partnership that is a reliable asset in the present and in the posterity.
Viewing the argument from the other side and considering the various initiatives ongoing at the multiple levels of the government and their functions, I do categorically disagree with the uncorroborated notion that Prime Minister Hamze Abdi Barre of the Somali Federal Government is focused only on Al-Shabaab. This narrow view ignores the operations of the various ministries and branches of the executive body pursuing the implementation of their designation duties to the best of their ability. By this, I mean that the federal government’s development, such as decentralization of power through the establishment of district councils, provision of social services, and preparation of elections toward the one-man-one-vote system, should be the concern of our leaders.
To summarize my discussion, the process to eliminate Al-Shabaab continues in tandem with the tasks of government building without either of them compromising the importance of the other. Finally, let’s pray that this war against Al-Shabaab is the last and that there will be no other after it. Should we win, the country will enter two stages that will open a new page in politics and state-building. With the types and amounts of natural resources our country is bestowed with, we have to envision a bright future, despite the hideous challenges. Optimism, integrity, loyalty, forgiveness, and sacrifice are the key components necessary to achieve our goals.
By Hassan Mudane