Ever since the announcement of the exit of the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (Atmis) towards the end of next year, several questions arise. Has peace been eventually achieved? Isn’t the al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Shabaab Islamist group going to emulate the Afghanistan Taliban’s strategy? And /or will the Somalia National Army (SNA) be effective after the handover of security responsibilities?
Somalia must be legit to rule itself, but certain factors can change the fortunes dramatically—depending on military, intelligence, socioeconomic and, most significantly, strategic communication on capacity. The Somali federal government; SNA, police and the other institutions, should first be enhanced to stand on their feet.
The Horn of Africa nation has been unstable still since the 1991 overthrow of Gen Said Barre, who had taken power in a coup in 1969. Regional armies have, however, been in the country as peacekeepers, sponsored by the African Union. The African Union Mission to Somalia (Amisom) comprised troops from the neighbouring East African nations: Djibouti, Ethiopia, Uganda, Burundi and Kenya.
However, Atmis must exit with caution. The Afghan situation could be replicated in Somalia. The Al-Shabaab have similar goals with their fellow Islamist militant group Taliban. Determined to take power, they can also exploit a hasty military pullout by the international community and install themselves into leadership.
Since inception in 2006, Al-Shabaab has styled itself along the lines of the Taliban’s military offensive driven by factors like illicit supply of weapons and ammunition, improvised explosive device (IED) capability, multiple funding from within and without, superior intelligence networks and, more importantly, strategic communications. Like the Taliban, it has deployed multiple strategies, enabling it to challenge the state monopoly of violence and carry out terrorist activities at will in and outside Somalia.
And it is smart and organised, capable of using supplied weaponry with armed intelligence, known as Amniyaat, who plan and execute successful armed attacks on government officials and institutions (army target assassinations have weakened state operations against the group). They, indeed, have managed to control certain districts or even regions. The hit-and- run attacks and bombings have made them look like a Somalia government in waiting.
This group might dangerously be waiting for a takeover after decades of running roughshod over Somalis and their state. They have enhanced their visibility by ambushing and killing Amisom peacekeepers. They play the clan loyalty card across Somalia—a strategy that can help them to achieve legitimacy, as was the case with the US-Taliban pact, the Doha Accord, in 2020.
Mr Kurgat is lecturer at Moi University’s Department of Publishing, Journalism and Communication Studies. [email protected].