Tackling the Al – Shabaab Menace

The War on al-Shabab should be one that adopts a combination of militaristic, diplomatic and developmental approach. The use of all these approaches should be undertaken within the framework of addressing the root causes of the problems in Somalia; re-establishing rule of law, mitigating the humanitarian situation and attaining sustainable peace for Somalia. After the July 11th Uganda bombing, President Yoweri Museveni was on record calling on African leaders to team together and “kick al-Shabab out of Africa.” It is such radical views and war mongering that continues to radicalize al-Shabab. In retrospect, such views have over the years not borne any fruits as far as conflict resolution is concerned. Militaristic approaches not only aim at treating the symptoms of the crisis in Somalia but they do not effectively tackle the underlying real problems therein. Such a call only amounts to entrenching al-Shabab’s terrorizing activities and offers them a good PR platform for their actions and message. When leaders like President Museveni choose to breathe out the “crazy war vibe”, al-Shabab gets free media platform to send out the message that “we are here and are stronger.”

The war on tackling al-Shabab should incorporate developmental approaches alongside the militaristic approaches. The developmental approaches are those that seek to address societal problems within the framework of socio-economic development and safeguarding human rights of the people affected. For the crisis in Somalia, the developmental approach would be more concerned with addressing key issues such as the recruitment and radicalization of young Somalis into al-Shabab. This approach would be interested in winning the hearts and minds of the many young and old Somalis who are being recruited daily at an alarming rate to join Al- Shabab. The New York Times recently carried an article that reported on how so many young Somali’s are dropping out of school to join al-Shabab as part of the militiamen and suicide bombers. It is not a surprise if you were to visit Mogadishu and you were to spot a 12 year old boy carrying a fully automatic and loaded Kalashnikov assault rifle or struggling to carry a rocket propelled grenade launcher (RPG). Therefore efforts to curb the al-Shabab menace should be directed on how to demobilize and disarm these young Somali’s who are daily becoming hopeless in a failed state where getting recruited into al-Shabab is preferred to being enrolled in school.

Diplomats and technocrats seating in consultative meetings at Washington, Cairo, Nairobi and Brussels should be busy coming up with developmental-oriented approaches that would represent a conceptual shift away from militaristic approaches. (Rosand, Miller and Ipe 2009:103) Today, Somalia is categorized as one of the heavily armed countries where trade in small light weapons is carried out in the local market. The international community and regional actors such as IGAD should adopt strategies that aim at disarming the young Somalis and establishing rehabilitation centers for them. This disarmament process should be coupled with the provision of alternatives such as access to better education or recreational activities.

Al-Shabab has adopted the imposition of Sharia law as one of its greatest weapons besides carrying out insurgency attacks and suicide bombings. This imposition of Sharia law has entrenched a religious fundamentalism and has created a system of fear and subordination among the citizenry in Somalia. However this imposition has resulted in the violation of the basic human rights and freedoms of the Somali people. For instance, there have been many cases reported where al-Shabab has chopped off the hands of children that had been caught stealing. In other instances wrong doers have been flogged openly as punishment for their offences and women stoned for committing adultery. This is indeed a clear violation of the universal right to a fair trial and justice system in the 21st century. It is such violations of human rights that must be addressed within the framework of the developmental approach. The international community has an obligation to ensure that the basic human rights of every Somali citizen are safeguarded.

Radicalization and indoctrination of the Somali population is another weapon that al- Shabab is using in recruiting members into its network. Peter Gastrow and Annette in an article in the African Security Journal point out that the violent radicalization of the local population is the greatest challenge to counterterrorism efforts in the East Africa region. (Gastrow and Husbschle 2006:84) Various reports have accounted that today youths from different nationalities, even from developed countries in Europe and the U.S, are being recruited into al-Shabab and other terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda. This was evidenced last year in December when a Nigerian youth, who had been recruited in Yemen, tried to carry out a suicide mission aboard a U.S airplane.

One of the sustainable and beneficial ways of fighting radicalization is through the dissemination of constructive information that would counter the indoctrinating and propaganda that most terrorist groups propagate among its recruits. The problem in Somalia is that al-Shabab has taken over most of the communication systems and is using them to indoctrinate the population. During the holy month of Ramadhan they issued a decree that everyone should surrender all their TV and radio sets and they had also issued another decree, on an earlier date, that all radio stations should stop playing non-Islamic music or airing western programmes.

The international community has a great challenge of getting around this hurdle by trying to make available alternative and constructive information to emancipate the minds and hearts of Somalis from al-Shabab’s indoctrination. It should be recognized that this cannot be an easy attempt but it is a sustainable means to creating a revolution within the Somalis against the al-Shabab. Many revolutions over the years have been made successful through the use of communication systems. Cases in point include the revolutions in Latin America and the impact of Radio Free Europe and Voice of America that contributed to the dismantling of the Berlin wall. The information relayed through media systems can have a far-reaching impact compared to the many additional troops that were pledged by various African leaders during the recently concluded African Union Head’s of States Summit in Uganda.

It should be appreciated that the crisis in Somalia is just not that of al-Shabab or the growing daily insurgency against the current Transitional Federal Government (TFG), but it includes the crisis of the lack of basic needs such as food security, easy access to health care, education, and adequate water supply. Therefore, the solution to Somalia’s crisis should not just be that of “kicking out” al-Shabab but that of how to re-establish rule of law, institutionalization of a governing system and addressing the humanitarian issues such as the provision of basic needs and securities for every Somali citizen.

There is a great need of legitimizing and strengthening the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) that currently exercises only a small mandate in Mogadishu thanks to the presence of AMISOM troops. This TFG has no popular support in Somalia because it is seen as a western-imposed and western-backed government against the wishes of the Somali people. To legitimize the TFG there is need for creation of an all-inclusive and diplomatic process that charts the roadmap for sustainable peace in the country. One way to do this is to involve the various Somali clan leaders in a negotiation process for the creation of a National Somalia Government. It is only by creating such an inclusive and participatory process of negotiation and diplomatic exchanges that a legitimate governing system will be established. This proposition would help build legitimacy for the would-be elected national governing body thereby creating precedence for proper governance and entrenching democracy in Somalia. In the long run, this would provide the people of Somalia with an alternative option towards good governance as opposed to getting recruited by al-Shabab.

In conclusion, acknowledgement should be recorded that the thoughts and proposals forwarded in this essay are just a drop in the ocean of solutions to fighting and defeating al-Shabab and addressing the crisis in Somalia. It should be appreciated that this crisis needs a multifaceted approach of incorporating militaristic approaches with non-militarized ones such as the developmental and diplomatic approaches as sustainable strategies towards re-establishment of rule of law, mitigating the humanitarian situation and attaining sustainable peace for Somalia.


P. Gastrow and A. Hubschle, “African Perspectives on the International Terrorism Discourse.” African Security Review 15(3) 2006:84.
Recruitment and Radicalization of School-aged Children. http://hssai.org/hsireports/Radicalization_School-Aged_Youth.pdf (Accessed on September 23, 2010).
Rosand Eric, Millar Alistair and Ipe Jason, “Enhancing Counter-Terrorism Cooperation in Eastern Africa.” African Security Review 18(2) 2009:103.


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