Somalia’s stunning victory over Al Shabaab leaves world in awe and bewilderment
On Friday May 26, 2023, amidst a national zeitgeist, the declaration of war by the new Somalia president against the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab has left the public in a state of perplexity and burstiness. The excitement surrounding this offensive, led by President Hassan Shiekh Mohamud, was palpable. Many rejoiced with the hope that this would bring an end to Al-Shabaab’s 16-year reign of terror in Somalia. Previously, fear of Al-Shabaab retaliation kept many key partners silent or on the fence about the fight against terrorism. However, the current discussions have a new tone, with a sense that this fight has become Somalia’s main priority.
For the past decade, fear and private sympathy with Al-Shabaab forced most of the Somali population, including those pivotal to the fight against the terrorist group, to take a back seat. However, after securing his historic second term in office, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud made it clear that sitting on the fence was no longer an option. His passionate rhetoric intended to enlist the full support of the Somali citizens was the strongest yet used by any Somali President. The evidence so far shows that his efforts to mobilize local militias known as Macawisley and lead them in the fight against Al-Shabaab have swayed public support in his favor. The liberation of areas hitherto under Al-Shabaab’s control is generating hope among Somalis that the end of Al-Shabaab is finally in sight because the government “[is] serious this time”.
The Somali government knows that public support is crucial in the fight against Al-Shabaab. Therefore, it supports local community militias to stand up to Al-Shabaab, provides basic stabilization assistance, and directs messages at different cultural institutions. President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has chaired the National Anti-Money Laundering Committee (NAMLC) and is pushing an intense message that uncooperative businesses will be liable to prosecution. One of the significant outcomes of Minister Robow’s tenure is the historic meeting of religious groups, branding Al-Shabaab Kawariij (deviants, in their interpretation of Islam) in a four-day conference in Mogadishu.
Although the fight against terrorism has become the central national priority, the Somali government’s limited financial resources, a UN arms embargo, and slow national and international resource mobilization for vital stabilization activities required to maintain stability in newly liberated areas, poses a challenge to the long-term viability of these newly-formed national partnerships.
Liban Obsiye is a former Senior Policy Adviser at the Somali Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Liban A. Hussein is a security sector expert working in Somalia.