Originally Published 2011-11-17 00:00:00 Published on Nov 17, 2011
Al-Shabaab's decision to pull out of the capital city of Mogadishu has been viewed widely as a positive development and brings hope to the people of Somalia. Kenya's war against the militant group has also been largely welcomed.
Will  Somalia's nightmare end soon?
Al-Shabaab's decision to pull out of the capital city of Mogadishu has been viewed widely as a positive development and brings hope to the people of Somalia. Kenya's war against the militant group has also been largely welcomed. However, it will be premature to conclude that this will be followed by peace and stability in the country.

On 6 August 2011, Somalia’s militant group Al-Shabaab decided to pull out of the capital city of Mogadishu. The move was welcomed and celebrated by the Somalis as well as the West for two reasons. One, the capital city was now under the control of Western backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) after years of fighting against the militants. Two, it would now become easier to provide aid and assistance to the starving population of the region. It was hoped that this development would bring relief to the area, especially the capital. The latest reports on the famine in the Horn of Africa region, however, reflect a different picture. The move was also seen as a decline in Al-Shabaab’s power.  The suicide bomb attack in Mogadishu on 4 October that killed over 100 people proved otherwise.

On 5 September, the United Nations announced that besides the declared five affected regions, the famine had now spread to a sixth area, the Bay region in southern Somalia. The Bay Region joins the Bakool agro pastoral livelihood zone and the Lower Shabelle region, where famine was declared on 20 July, and the agro pastoral areas of Balcad and Cadale districts of Middle Shabelle, the Afgoye corridor IDP settlement, and the Mogadishu IDP community, where famine was declared on 3 August. The number of people in need of food aid in East Africa is climbing. According to the latest estimates released by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), almost 13.3 million people, an increase from 12.4 million at the end of July, are in need of assistance. Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti are also affected but Somalia suffers the direst need with as many as 750,000 citizens in the southern regions at risk of death by starvation, an increase from the July figure of 350,000. The level of crisis has made it clear that the emergency conditions will persist well into the first quarter of 2012.

International aid has been stepped up in the past few weeks. Though faced with obstacles such as denied access by Al- Shabaab and rampant corruption, American and European aid agencies have been continuously pumping aid products into Somalia. In September, approximately $280 million worth of donations for Somalia were collected in Turkey. The African Union has promised $350 million in aid. The amount of support reaching the people, however, remains scant in comparison to the amount that is required. One of the main reasons why United States in not getting directly involved but providing aid through its NGOs is to avoid getting drawn into the internal politics of the country. The last time U.S had intervened in Somalia the result was the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993.

Faced with a crisis incapable of handling on its own, the Somalia government has to now deal with Kenyan troops on its soil. The Kenyan government deployed troops and police into Somalia on 16 October and said it would hunt down the Al- Shabaab insurgents after aid workers were kidnapped from its border. Since then, areas in Somalia have constantly been threatened with air strikes by Kenya. While the move has been defended by Kenya as its right to secure its border and civilians, it can lead to disastrous results for Somalia. The memories of the Wagalla massacre in 1984, when over 2000 Somali men were killed by Kenyan forces have not been forgotten. If the Kenyan forces increase their presence in the north-west, Al-Shabaab may use this as an opportunity to aggravate the local population against the security forces.

The TFG and the international allies have reacted positively to Kenya’s advancement. The only criticism that came was from Somalia’s President, Mr. Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, who said that Kenya was only welcome to train Somalia troops. This announcement on the President’s part has led to questions being raised over his commitment to fighting the Shabaab. The fact that Mr. Ahmed was once the leader in the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), which facilitated the growth of Shabaab, has further aggravated the signs of an imminent split in the government.
Another factor that might lead Somalia towards fragmentation is the rise of clans. The retreat of the Islamic militants from certain areas has resulted in a vacuum that the TFG has been unable to fill. Instead there can be seen a growing tussle among other groups and clans over the control of these areas. There have been a rising number of warlords in the small towns in recent times. Though not strong enough to extend their power to neighbouring towns, this development is nonetheless reminiscent of the warlord period of 1990s. In September, Shabaab forces were pushed out of small towns based on the borders shared with Kenya and Ethiopia. Unlike in Mogadishu, the Shabaab militants were defeated in these towns by other militants. The government is too weak, corrupt, divided and disorganized to mount a claim beyond Mogadishu, leaving clan warlords and proxy forces to battle it out for the regions the Shabaab are losing. 

A major consequence of the culmination of all these factors has been the growing number of Somali refugees in neighbouring countries. According to a report published by UNHCR on 17 October, the total number of registered Somali refugees has reached 924, 159. Most of them have taken asylum in Kenya and Ethiopia. Within Somalia nearly 1.5 million are internally displaced, mostly in south-central areas.  The borders are lined with refugee camps struggling to keep up with the growing number of people desperately seeking aid and assistance.

Now that Kenyan forces are inside Somalia it is hoped that Al- Shabaab will soon be defeated. When that happens, the TFG will once again have a chance to rise up and act on the responsibility it has been entrusted with. Until then the overall security situation in most parts of Somalia remains unpredictable.

Priyanka Mehrotra is a Research Assistant at ORF

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