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No peace in Somalia

Maximilian Borowski / guOctober 10, 2014

African Union and Somali soldiers are continuing to drive back the Islamist militia al-Shabab. Nevertheless, a durable peace is still not in sight in this country torn apart by decades of civil war.

Standing on a hill, soldiers look down onto the port city of Barawe. Photo: EPA/AMISOM PHOTO/TOBIN JONES
Image: picture-alliance/AMISOM

The forces of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) are reporting one success after the other. On Wednesday (08.10.2014) the commanders announced that Kenyan and Somali government soldiers had "liberated" the southern Somali city of Bula-Gaduud. Only four days earlier, they had taken the port city of Barawe, thereby depriving the Islamist militia al-Shabab of its last base on the coast.

Al-Shabab militants, who only two years ago controlled a broad swathe of Somalia, have been retreating from more than 20,000 advancing AMISOM troops as well as Somali government soldiers, whom the German army is helping to train. In early September a US drone killed al-Shabab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane.

Al-Shabab's supply line cut off

The recent setbacks may have dealt the militia a decisive blow, the Somali journalist and analyst Mohamed Omar told DW. Although al-Shabab still had other places of refuge in the interior of the country, the loss of Barawe deprived the militants of their most important source of revenue, Omar explained.

The city was a commercial hub which brought the Islamists considerable tax revenue. The export of locally produced charcoal via Barawe's small port was deemed to be an especially lucrative source of income. Moreover, al-Shabab used the port to obtain arms, ammunition and food.

Situation improves for civilian population

According to Omar, the civilian population welcomes the soldiers' advance, because the Islamist militia imposed a very strict and therefore unpopular religious regime on the areas under its control. For the population, the situation had improved noticeably, the German-Somali political scientist and author Abdirizak Sheikh confirmed. This was particularly true for the capital, Mogadishu.

A veiled woman carrying a bag walks down a Mogadishu street just after sunrise. Photo: (c) dpa - Bildfunk
Life is improving for civilians in Mogadishu, but the security situation remains fragileImage: picture-alliance/dpa/Tobin Jones

"But the security situation remains precarious," he warned. The military victories against al-Shabab, Sheikh said, glossed over the fact that the violence in Somalia was not simply going to disappear along with the Islamist organization.

This was because al-Shabab did not consist of foreign jihadists, but of members of various domestic clans. These clans, which included some very powerful families, make up the basic structure of Somali society.

Even if al-Shabab was to fall apart as an organization, the clans would by no means lay down their arms, Sheikh stressed. Instead, they would continue to use force to fight for their particular interests. "As long as the large clans are not disarmed, there will be no peace in Somalia," he said.

German army involuntarily trains militiamen

Sheikh criticized that neither the Somali army nor foreign troops were currently disarming people. "These clans with their militias are even represented in the government and in parliament," Sheikh said. Therefore, the government was often not acting in the interest of all Somalis but in that of the large clans.

al-Shabab fighters holding weapons and flags perform military exercises. Photo: AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh
Al-Shabab has been weakened, but not defeatedImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/F.-A.Warsameh

As evidence of the influence exerted by the heads of these clans, some of whom are allied to al-Shabab, Sheikh cites the case of Hassan Dahir Aweys. The former spiritual leader of al-Shabab was arrested over a year ago. But to this day, he is staying at a hotel in Mogadishu. His influential family is preventing him from being put on trial.

Without meaning to, Western supporters of Somali security forces were even arming various militias in the country, Sheikh said. The government was paying its soldiers very little, and irregularly, too. So many of the soldiers trained by the European training mission, EUTM, defected straight to their respective clan's militia - and some to al-Shabab - taking all their freshly acquired skills with them.