Following the terrorist attack on Garissa University College in which the country lost 149 innocent lives to suspected Al-Shabaab gunmen, there have been calls on the government

of Kenya to change its counterterrorism strategies. Many security analysts recommend that counter-terrorism strategies should shift from the present reactive approach to the proactive one. But the question is; can they change to the proactive strategies without proper knowledge of the entire dynamics that the enemy operates in? Presently, Al-Shabaab poses the greatest threat to Kenya’s national security. Without any doubt, the Somali insurgent group has increasingly become a threat to Kenya because of nothing else but the latter’s military involvement in Somalia. It is important to note that before the Garissa gunmen executed most of their victims, they taunted them by asking them to call their parents and tell them to ask President Uhuru Kenyatta to withdraw Kenyan troops from Somalia. As much as many Kenyans, driven by emotions of patriotism, would out-rightly dismiss any calls for withdrawal of Kenyan troops from Somalia, there is need for a sober, honest and focused national dialogue about Kenya’s military engagement in Somalia as part of any change of strategy in the war against terrorism.

In this regard, it is important for Kenyans to understand the power politics in Somalia in order to decipher the place of Al-Shabaab in the entire matrix. There is the popular notion that Al-Shabaab insurgents are driven by nothing else but religious goals. However, a closer analysis of Al-Shabaab operations reveals that propagation of Islam is none of their agenda. Unlike Boko Haram of Nigeria, Al- Shabab, in its pronouncements and actions, has never out-rightly called for the establishment of an Islamic state. Instead, Al-Shabaab has been very consistent in its message of grievances— insisting that foreign influence should stop taking sides in Somali politics. From the foregoing, we gather that politics rather than religion is the main motivation behind Al-Shabaab’s violence. To be persuaded that religion is not the agenda of Al-Shabaab, one only has to follow how Al-Shabaab conducts its campaign of violence— when Al-Shabaab strikes Kenya like it did at Westgate and Garissa University College, they purport to target non- Muslims and spare Muslims. But when the same Al-Shabaab strikes in Mogadishu, they target the very Muslims that they purport to spare when they strike Kenya. This amounts to double-standards on the part of Al- Shabaab—meaning that religion is not  the motivation of their campaign.

In this regard, we must acknowledge that if Kenyan authorities want to change their strategy in countering the violence from Al-Shabaab, more focus should be given to the real issues behind Al-Shabaab’s campaign of violence—and these real issues are nothing but power politics in Somalia. It is important to point out that
Al-Shabaab is a product of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) that ruled the capital Mogadishu and many parts of southern Somalia for about one year. ICU itself was a product of the chaotic clan-based political situation in Somalia following the 1991 overthrow of the autocratic government of Muhammad Siad Barre. The Islamic Courts Union was a group of Sharia courts that united themselves to form a rival administration to the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia with Sharif Sheikh Ahmed as their head. Although Western media often referred to the group as Somali Islamists in order to portray them as extremist or radical, the ICU was, in reality, composed of very moderate non-violent Sunni Muslim leaders of the Shafi school of jurisprudence. Until the end of 2006, they controlled most of southern Somalia and the vast majority of its population, including most major cities such as Jowhar, Kismayo, Beledweyne, and the capital Mogadishu.

The ICU was supported by warlord Yusuf “Indho Ade” Mohamed Siad who ruled Lower Shabelle but later became defense chief of the ICU, who aided in the defeat of the Mogadishu warlords. Only the Northern regions (Puntland, Somaliland), and the furthest interior regions of the south were outside their control. In December 2006, the ICU lost much territory after defeats at the battles of Baidoa, Bandiradley, and Beledweyne, retreating to the capital, Mogadishu. On December 28 they abandoned Mogadishu, leaving the city in chaos while they moved south towards Kismayo, which allowed the TFG and Ethiopian troops to take over the city. After a stand at the Battle of Jilib, the ICU abandoned the city of Kismayo on January 1, 2007. Stripped of almost all their territory, it was speculated the ICU would pursue guerrilla-style warfare against the government. Despite uniting under the banner of “Islamic shariah” in order to establish some civil order and gain legitimacy, religion was never ICU’s main agenda. Instead, ICU was motivated by a political agenda to compete for political power against the then Transitional Federal Government of Somalia. And this is where Somali clan rivalries come in. Somalia has four main clans that have always competed for political power ever since the country gained independence in 1960. These clans are the Darod, Hawiye, Dir and Isaaq. As a result of inter-marriages and other social dynamics, each clan splintered into sub-clans thus escalating centers of completion for political power, such that at different times depending on the political exigencies, one clan or sub-clan will form alliances with another to outwit the other.

It is important to point out that when Siad Barre, a Darod of the Merhan sub-clan, came to power in 1967, he implemented autocratic policies that immensely suppressed clan-based politics in Somalia. However, since every Somali has very strong loyalties to his clan and sub-clan even more than religion, Siad Barre still used his powers to ensure that his Darod clansmen dominate every socio-economic and political sector in Mogadishu at the expense of other clans, especially the
Hawiye. In this regard, the Hawiye were relegated to the periphery of the Siad Barre government which they held in contempt and which they also regarded as alien. Besides, it is important to point out that Somali demographics show that the Hawiye are the ancestral inhabitants of the central region of Somalia including the city of Mogadishu. In this regard, when Siad Barre entrenched his Darod clansmen in his government, he also ensured that the Hawiye lost their space in Mogadishu by displacing them further northwards and southwards.

When Siad Barre’s regime collapsed, the Hawiye saw this as an opportunity to re-establish themselves in Mogadishu. It is therefore important to point out that the anarchical period of warlords fighting over the control of Mogadishu soon after the overthrow of Siad Barre was nothing but a power struggle between Hawiye clan warlords seeking to re-establish themselves in Mogadishu against remnant Darod power brokers of the Siad Barre regime. But having benefited immensely from the Siad Barre regime, the Darod power brokers used their immense wealth and international contacts to push for the formation of the Transitional Federal Government which they ended up dominating with the support of the international community. In this regard, the TFG was nothing but a Darod affair and that is why the Islamic Courts Union led by Sheikh Sharif, a Hawiye from the Abgaal subclan, was established as a counter political force of the TFG. Suffice is to say that the Islamic Courts Union was nothing but a Hawiye political outfit against the Darod power brokers in the fight for the control of Mogadishu.

Hence, when the international community, especially Western powers, authorized and supported the Ethiopian government to deploy its troops to overthrow the Islamic Courts Union, the international community was simply taking sides in the Somali power politics. And the Darod clan and its sub clans has been the obvious beneficiary of the partisan policies that the international community has pursued in Somalia since the ouster of the ICU. The establishment of Al-Shabaab,
as an offshoot of ICU, was therefore an angry reaction by the Hawiye clan against the international community for siding with the Darod power brokers in the Somali power struggle. Harakat al-Shabaab Mujahedeen, also known as Al-Shabaab, or simply as “Shabaab” was the Youth Wing of the ICU. It adopted a radical stance after it realized that the moderate ICU leadership was not willing to stand-up against the international community’s siding with what the youngsters felt was a puppet Darod establishment in the form of the UN-backed Transitional Federal Government.

As a Youth Wing of the ICU, Al- Shabaab slowly sought autonomy and started acting like some sort of “special forces” for the ICU. The Shabaab caused difficulties
for the ICU in maintaining a good international image on a number of occasions due to their hot-headedness and zealousness, such as abducting critical journalists, harassing overly-hip youngsters, and murdering wounded soldiers in a Bu’aale hospital. The ICU formally apologized for each of the incidents and attempted to make it clear that these actions did not reflect ICU policy. Nevertheless, these incidents gave their opponents excellent propaganda ammunition and aided the global perception of the ICU being like the Taliban. From the foregoing, it is clear that Al-Shabaab’s agenda was, is and will always be political and has nothing to do with religion. It is also clear from the foregoing that Al-Shabaab is by and large a Hawiye outfit, and that their campaign of terror is simply a manifestation of the anger that the Hawiye clan feels after being elbowed out of the mainstream politics in Mogadishu.

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  • Comment Link Dźwigi Sunday, 04 December 2016 22:37 posted by Dźwigi

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