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IN FOCUS | The reinvention of Al Shabab

  NIAS Africa Team

Africa Weekly #27 & 28, Vol. 1, No. 27 & 28
6 September 2022

The Reinvention of Al Shabab: Four drivers
A juxtaposition of several internal and external factors driving the post-2011 phase of Al-Shabab has manifested into an extremist form of episodic terrorism.
By Paulomi Mondal

On 19 August, the capital city Mogadishu witnessed yet another terror attack in a 35-hour long siege that killed 21 people and leaving 117 wounded. Al Shabab, one of the richest and largest affiliates of Al Qaeda in the region, claimed the attack. 
The attack which took place at the Hayat Hotel marked the longest attack in Somalia’s history. The siege commenced with explosions, followed by hours of gunfire exchange and ended with clearing of planted explosives and evacuation process by the Somali forces. 

On 20 August, the US Department of State condemned the attack: “We express our heartfelt condolences to the families who lost loved ones...The United States remains steadfast in our support of Somalia and African Union- led efforts to counter terrorism and build a secure and prosperous future for the people of Somalia.” The UN Secretary-General Antonia Guterres said the UN supports the people of Somalia “in their fight against terrorism and their march towards peace.”

Al Shabab activities in Somalia: Four drivers 
First, the increased emphasis on counter-insurgency operations. President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s election in 2022 was followed by the immediate rolling out of strict counter-insurgency measures against Al Shabab; this can be deemed as a prime trigger for the attacks in the earlier months, including the group’s unprecedented invasion of Ethiopia or the killings of UN peacekeepers in Burundi prior to the Mogadishu attack. Additionally, the appointment of Mukhtar Robow, a former spokesperson and leader of Al Shabab as the religious minister hinting at the internal knowledge and falling out of the group triggered retaliation from Al Shabab.

Second, the US Policy in Somalia. An extension of the “war on terror” has been the primary emphasis of Washington’s interest in Somalia to prevent it from becoming a refuge of terrorist groups to plot attacks against the US or destabilize the Horn of Africa. The US has largely relied on proxy forces in Somalia to fight Al Shabab and hired private contractors or provided training and equipment to AMISOM security forces to combat the group. Over the years, there has been an increase in the number of airstrikes conducted by the US, particularly during the Trump administration conducting 276 airstrikes in Somalia. Under the Biden administration, the airstrikes killing 14 Al Shabab militants in August and a drone-strike killing the Al Qaeda head Ayman al-Zawahiri could be the reason behind the retaliation via the Mogadishu attack, aimed at deterring Western as well as European counter-insurgency operations in the country.

Third, the inefficiency of AMISOM. Despite the AU’s offensive against the Al Shabab in 2011, taking down a considerable number of militants and taking control of Kismayo, the main financer of the group by illicit taxation or charcoal trade, the group is still active and has affiliations with other groups like Islamic State of Maghreb and Boko Haram. This can be owed to cutting of funding to the AMISOM forces by US and the European Union amid allegations of corruption and widespread human rights abuse by the peacekeepers in the force, leading to lack of legitimacy even within the Somali citizens. A juxtaposition of lacking credibility and the cutting of funds has been the main reason for the inefficiency of other peacekeeping missions in the African continent as well, like the MONUSCO in Democratic Republic of Congo or MINUSCA in Central African Republic.

Fourth, the change in leadership dynamics. The earlier phases of Al Shabab saw a relatively heterogenous leadership including nationalists and politically pragmatic figures like Hassan Dahir Aweys or Mukhtar Robow who has publicly condemned the Al Shabab attacks recently. These leaders led to internal debates over the wisdom of attacks on civilian, role of Al Qaeda or role of foreign organization and so on. However, after 2011 what remains in Al Shabab is a more extremist fringe of the Al Qaeda franchise which is richer than the government of Somalia and strictly believes in the “takfiri” ethos that legitimizes killings for restoration of one true Islamic Caliphate. This shift of focus and homogenization of a group which played crucial role in employing the youth and local population after the piracy crisis or was instrumental in averting Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia in 2006, questions the acceptability of Al Shabab in the general public opinion who for a long time gave their unwavering credence to the group.

In Perspective
Somalia today faces a four-part problem: severe drought and climate change conditions, a central administration whose writ does not run beyond the capital, complete dependence on international doners and timely episodes of terrorism from different extremist groups. All these cumulatively amount to the humanitarian crisis that the country faces today. At the bottom of it all lies the lack of state-building measures since its independence from colonial powers in 1960 to the civil war during Said Barre’s dictatorial regime till 1991 and continuing till date. At the short-term level, the government needs to immediately focus on providing essential services, relief and goods to the people as they face severe hunger and climatic warnings. Similarly, for longer term there is a need to simultaneously carry out state-building and counter-terrorism operations to lay the foundation of a comprehensive security framework that could be built with the help of international community to back Somalia in its looming humanitarian crisis which destabilizes the entire Horn of Africa and the African continent at large.

24 August – 6 September
By Anu Maria Joseph and Apoorva Sudhakar

At least 32 killed in clashes between rival governments
On 28 August, the UN called for an immediate ceasefire to hostilities following deadly clashes between two political factions. The UN’s Libya mission said that the fighting had included “indiscriminate medium and heavy shelling in civilian populated neighborhoods'' and called for an immediate ceasefire backed by the US ambassador to Libya. On 27 August, the health ministry of Libya said that at least 32 people were killed and 159 wounded in the clashes in Tripoli. The ministry added that hospitals and medical centers were shelled and ambulances were blocked from evacuating the wounded, in acts that “amount to war crimes.” The UN backed Government of National Unity (GNU) said: “The clashes were triggered by a military group firing randomly at a convoy passing in the Zawia Street area, while armed groups were gathering at the 27th gate west of Tripoli and the Jebs Gate south of Tripoli.” The country’s interim Prime Minister and head of GNU, Abdulhamid Dbeibeh is based in Tripoli and the rival government led by Prime Minister Fathi Bashaga is seated in the eastern parliament. Bashagha has been trying to take over Tripoli claiming that GNU is illegal. While GNU has refused and claimed power should be handed peacefully through elections, not force. (Alys Davies, “Libya clashes: UN calls for ceasefire after 32 killed,”  BBC, 28 August 2022, “At least 32 people dead following violent clashes between rival militias in Libyan capital of Tripoli,” CNN, 28 August 2022)

Macron announces ‘renewed partnership’ during his visit
On 25 August, France’s President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Algeria, expected to repair fractured relations with the country. The move came as the country’s oil and gas reserves have new strategic importance due to Europe’s impending energy crisis. According to the Elysee palace, Macron has “made the choice to orientate this visit towards the future … and lay down the basis for a relaunching of the relationship.” On 26 August, France 24 reported, the French presidency said that Macron will head back to Algeria capital Algiers “to sign a joint declaration for a renewed concrete and ambitious partnership.” The same day, along with French military officials Macron laid a wreath at a monument to those who “did for France,” in the mixed Christian-Jewish Saint Eugene cemetery, a burial ground during colonial times. In a joint press conference, Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune praised “promising prospects for improving the special partnership” between the two countries. Macron said: “We must look at it and recognize it, but we have a responsibility to build our future for ourselves and our youth.”  (“Macron announces 'renewed partnership' during Algeria visit,” France24, 26 August 2022, Hugh Schofield, France's Emmanuel Macron to mend Algeria ties as energy crisis bites,” BBC, 25 August 2022)

US sends first ambassador in 25 years
On 25 August, the US sent its first ambassador to Sudan in 25 years. The decision came two years after it removed Sudan from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism. On 24 August, Ambassador John Godfrey arrived in the capital, Khartoum. He tweeted: “I am delighted to arrive in Sudan. I look forward to deepening relations between Americans and Sudanese and to supporting the Sudanese people’s aspirations to freedom, peace, justice, and a transition to democracy. In 1993, Sudan was listed with the countries that sponsor terrorism over the accusations of supporting Al Qaeda. In 1997, the US removed its representation in Sudan from ambassadors and imposed economic sanctions. (“US sends first ambassador to Sudan in 25 years,” BBC, 25 August 2022)

Fresh fighting between Ethiopia and Tigray forces, UN and African Union raises concerns, calls for peace talks
On 24 August, Tigray forces accused Ethiopian forces of launching a fresh offensive on the southern border with Amhara. However, the Ethiopian government blamed Tigrayan forces for starting the fighting. The Ethiopian military said that they hit an airplane in Mekelle carrying weapons for the TPLF. Meanwhile, UN chief Antonio Guterres said he was “deeply shocked” by the renewed fighting and called for an “immediate cessation of hostilities” and to resume peace talks, humanitarian access and re-establishing public services in Tigray. The head of African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat called for “de-escalation” and “talks to seek a peaceful solution.” The AU’s Horn of Africa envoy, Olusegun Obasanjo has been leading the peace talks to end the 21-month Tigray conflict. Previously in August, the Ethiopian government appealed for a formal Tigray ceasefire agreement. The government wants the AU envoy to lead the peace talks; however, Tigray authorities want former Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta to lead the talks. Re-emergence of tensions between the two sides is threatening to undo a humanitarian truce reached in March. (“UN calls for ceasefire amid renewed fighting in northern Ethiopia,” Al Jazeera, 24 August 2022, Kalkidan Yibeltal, "Tigray forces accuse Ethiopia of fresh offensive," Al Jazeera, 24 August 202)

Ethiopian government accused of drone strikes in Mekelle
On 31 August, BBC reported, Tigrayan forces in Ethiopia’s northern region accused the government of conducting drone strikes in regional capital Mekelle. The government did not respond to the allegations. However, previously, the government had warned people to stay away from military targets. The UN said that the airstrikes conducted the previous week in Mekelle killed civilians including children. A Tigrayan official said that three bombs were dropped in the city and hospital was targeted in the latest strikes. The communication blackout in the region has made it difficult to get further information. On 1 September, Tigray forces accused the government and its Eritrean allies of launching "massive offensives" In the north-west region in Ethiopia. The same day, the government called the TPLF a "terrorist group" and said "the duty of halting from its destructive activities has fallen on the government and people of Ethiopia." .("Tigray forces say hospital targeted in drone strikes," BBC, 31 August 2022; “Rebels accuse Ethiopia of 'massive' Tigray offensive,” BBC, 1 September 2022)

At least 55 killed in Oromia region
On 2 September, residents in western Ethiopia said that at least 55 people were killed in the Oromia region. They claim that the Fano militia, affiliated with the Amhara ethnic group, is responsible for the attack. As the civil war in the northern part of the country has resumed, ending five-months truce, violent attacks keep erupting in various parts of the country. The UN and the US have raised concerns and called for "immediate ceasefire." Meanwhile, UK's Africa minister, Vicky Ford said: "The return of fighting in Ethiopia's civil war is catastrophic for the people of Ethiopia. The renewed conflict risks deepening the already dire humanitarian situation. Twenty-two months since fighting first began, it is clear that there is no military solution." The fighting continues to intensify and spread to other regions after the resumption of the conflict, following a five-month truce. (“Fresh Ethiopia fighting is catastrophic for the people - UK,” BBC, 1 September 2022; “Ethiopia government 'has duty' to halt Tigrayan attacks,” BBC, 1 September 2022, “Fear as dozens killed in Ethiopia's Oromia attacks,” BBC, 2 September 2022, )

Odinga welcomes but disagrees with Supreme Court decision on elections
On 5 September, former prime minister and presidential candidate Raila Odinga accepted the Supreme Court’s decision to nullify his petition challenging William Ruto’s victory in the presidential elections. Odinga tweeted: “We respect the opinion of the court although we vehemently disagree with their decision today.” Previously on the same day, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld Ruto’s victory; Chief Justice Martha Koome said the court did not find proof that the results were tampered by hacking the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission’s servers. (“Odinga accepts but disagrees with court decision on Kenya election,” Al Jazeera, 5 September 2022)

Al Shabab kills at least 19 in Hiran
On 3 September, at least 19 civilians were killed and trucks with food aid were destroyed by Al Shabab fighters in the central Somalia’s Hiran area. The governor of Hiran said the death toll could be higher. An Al Shabab statement said the group targeted members of a local sub-clan that assisted the government recently. The attack comes after 21 people were killed by Al Shabab in its 30-hour siege of the Hayat Hotel in Mogadishu in late August. (“At least 19 civilians killed in al-Shabab attack in Somalia,” Al Jazeera, 3 September 2022; “Somali forces end al-Shabab siege at Mogadishu hotel,” Al Jazeera, 21 August 2022)

UN says around 730 children died of malnutrition
On 6 September, Africanews reported, the UN said that around 730 children have died in nutrition centers across Somalia since January. It warned that the true figure could be much higher as the country reached a severe famine. The Somalia representative for the UNICEF said: "Malnutrition has reached an unprecedented level. Around 730 children are reported to have died in nutrition centers across the country." She added that nearly 1.5 million children, nearly half of them aged under five, are at risk of acute malnutrition. Among this, 385,000 needed the treatment for severe acute malnutrition. In June, the World Bank estimated that nearly 66.4 million people in the Horn of Africa are experiencing food crises and food emergencies. Affected by the worst drought in 40 years and failed consecutive rainy seasons added with global food crisis after the Ukraine war has exacerbated the condition in the region. ("UN: Around 730 children dead In Somalia nutrition centres," Africanews, 6 September 2022)

Six people killed in flash floods in capital Freetown
On 29 August, BBC reported, at least six people were killed after torrential rains caused flash floods and landslides in parts of Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown. The landslides swept away houses in Looking Town, Kanikay and Kaningo. The Freetown Mayor said: “As I spoke with survivors and neighbors, I could clearly see a huge boulder positioned precariously above the community. A poignant reminder of the risk of disaster this community lives daily.” President Julius Maado Bio said: “poor urban planning and mismanagement of the city’s resources as an enormous contributor to the problem.” He also cited climate change as another major factor. He said: “The heavy downpour experienced this August points to the impact and consequence of global warming and climate change.” (“Six deaths after Sierra Leone flash floods - report,” BBC, 29 August 2022)

National dialogue suspended amid scuffle
On 29 August, BBC referred to a pro-government website Alwihda, and reported that Chad’s national dialogue has been suspended over the conflicted composition of the steering committee. The proposed steering committee was rejected by few members, who felt that the “names were not reflective of the country’s fabric.” The Alwihda report said: “Anger immediately spread in the meeting room after former Prime Minister Guelengouksia Ouaidou read out the proposed list of names.” The disagreement forced the chairperson of the Organizing Committee for the Inclusive National Dialogue (CODNI), Acheikh Ibni Oumar, to suspend the session. The national dialogue started on 20 August following the government’s signing of an agreement for peace with 40 rebel groups, expected to lead to free and democratic elections and transfer of power to civilians. (“Chad national dialogue suspended over representation row,” BBC, 29 August 2022)

Heavy rainfall leaves capital city and other areas flooded
On 6 September, Reuters reported Chad was experiencing the heaviest rainfall in 30 years, leaving parts of the capital city N’Djamena flooded and accessible by boats only and displacing thousands from their homes since August. The news report suggested that though rains are common from May to October, the current rainfall was early and abundant, thereby overwhelming the drainage systems and ponds. With this, Chad joined the countries in West and Central Africa which experienced above-normal rainfall in the same time period. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that by the end of August, 442,000 people had been affected by floods. (Mahamat Ramadane, “Thousands battle 'catastrophic' floods after Chad's heaviest rains in 30 years,” Reuters, 6 September 2022)

35 killed in IED blast
On 5 September, 35 civilians were killed and 37 injured in northern Burkina Faso in an IED explosion. The victims were traveling to the capital city Ouagadougou in a convoy escorted by the army, when one of the vehicles ran over an IED between Djibo and Bourzanga area. The development comes after 15 soldiers were killed in a double IED blast in early August in the same area. (“Dozens killed, injured in attack in northern Burkina Faso,” France24, 6 September 2022)

At least 50 civilians killed in military operation, says UN mission
On 31 August, the UN said that at least 50 civilians were killed by Malian soldiers in a military operation on 19 April, aided by what it called "foreign" military personnel. The UN's mission in Mali MINUSMA said that the incident happened in Hombori municipality in the central Douentza region after a military convoy was attacked. MINUSMA stated: "At least 50 civilians (including a woman and a child) were killed and more than 500 others arrested." The military did not respond to the allegations. Though the foreign fighters were not specified, Russian mercenaries are active in the country after France withdrew its troops amid tensions. ("Dozens of civilians killed in April by Mali’s army: UN report," Al Jazeera, 31 August 2022) 

At least 14 killed in rebel attack in eastern DR Congo
On 31 August, Al Jazeera reported, a local human rights group said that at least 14 were killed and more than dozens were kidnapped in an attack in Ituri province in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. An army spokesperson blamed the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan militia having allegiance to the ISIL group, for the attack. Military spokesperson Antony Mwalushayi said that the army killed five fighters and rescued a five-year-old girl who had been kidnapped. The military group ADF carries out frequent deadly attacks in villages in eastern Congo despite the joint efforts by the Congolese and Ugandan armies. ("At least 14 dead in rebel attacks in eastern DR Congo," Al Jazeera, 31 August 2022) 

The ruling MPLA party wins elections
On 29 August, the National Electoral Commission (CNE) of Angola declared that the Movement of the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) won the elections gaining 51.17 per cent of votes against the UNITA opposition party which gained 43.95 per cent, marking the tightest elections in the country's history. The CNE head said: “The CNE proclaims Joao Manuel Gonclaves Lourenco president of the republic.” The MPLA party, a former liberation movement since independence, has been in power for 50 years, now extends its decades long rule giving president Joao Lourenco a second term in office. The previous week, Adalberto Costa, leader of UNITA, rejected the provisional results and called for an international panel to review the vote count. He cited disparities between the commission’s count and the main opposition coalition’s own tally.  However, he did not respond to the declaration of final results. (“Angola’s MPLA ruling party wins elections and presidency,” Al Jazeera, 29 August 2022)

Court rejects opposition party’s bid challenging the election results
On 2 September, Angola main opposition party UNITA filed a case in the constitutional court challenging the election results in which the ruling People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) was declared the winner. On 6 September, Angola’s constitutional court rejected the petition by the UNITA party to annul the election results. The court ruled that the part0079’s complaint did not meet the requirements to nullify the election results. The UNITA leader, Adalberto Costa Junior said that his party “did not recognize the final results” by the election commission. On Facebook, he said: “The MPLA did not win the election … we have been in peace for 20 years, and we now need to embrace a true democratic rule of law.”  The MPLA, which has been in power for 50 years, secured a narrow majority with 51 per cent votes, handing President Joao Lourenco a second term. ("Angola court rejects opposition bid to annul election," BBC, 6 September 2022, "Angolan opposition files legal challenge, seeks annulment of vote," Al Jazeera, 2 September 2022) 

Madagascar: at least 18 died in police firing
On 30 August, Al Jazeera reported, at least 18 people were killed in Madagascar after the police opened fire on protesters demonstrating over the kidnapping of a child with albinism. People with albinism are regularly the target of violence in the country. According to the UN, more than a dozen were abducted, attacked and murdered in the past two years.  In the previous week, four suspects were arrested. However, the residents forced their way into the police station, armed with blades and machetes demanding that suspects be handed over, which triggered the clash. (“Madagascar police shoot 18 dead in albino kidnap protest: Medic,” Al Jazeera, 30 August 2022)

Trade unions protests against rising cost of living
On 24 August, hundreds of South African people protested in the executive and legislative capitals of Pretoria and Cape Town amid rising inflation, the highest in 13 years. The protests were led by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), a longtime ally of the African National Congress. The protesters marched through central Pretoria towards Union Buildings, which houses the office of President Cyril Ramaphosa holding placards saying “stop basic food items.” In July, the central bank increased the interest rates, highest in 20 years, to curb inflation. (“South African unions go on protests against high cost of living,” Al Jazeera, 24 August 2022)

High chance of persistence of worst drought in the Horn of Africa, says WMO
On 26 August, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said that the October-December forecasts show a high chance of persistence of the ongoing worst drought in more than 40 years. The director of the IGAD Climate Prediction and Application Center (ICPAC), WMO’S regional climate center for East Africa said: “Sadly, our models show with a high degree of confidence that we are entering the fifth consecutive failed rainy season in the Horn of Africa.” He added: “In Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, we are on the brink of an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe.” Nearly 10 million children are suffering under failed consecutive rainy seasons, killing livestock, crops and drying water sources. More than 1.8 million children in East Africa are in need of urgent treatment for life threatening acute malnutrition. In June, the World Bank estimated 66.4 million people in the Horn of Africa experiencing food crisis and emergency. Besides, the global rise in food and fuel prices after Ukraine war has exacerbated the condition. (“Horn of Africa drought could go on for 5th season: UN weather body,” Al Jazeera, 26 August 2022)

The UN chartered Ukrainian ship for the Horn of Africa arrives in Djibouti
On 30 August, the World Food Programme reported that a United Nations chartered ship loaded with Ukrainian wheat for millions at risk of starvation in Ethiopia arrived in Djibouti. The ship carrying 23,000 tonnes of grain reached the Horn of Africa port two weeks after leaving Black Sea port in Ukraine. WFP executive director, David Beasley said on Twitter: “We have officially docked! The first WFP ship to carry Ukrainian grain since February has just arrived in Djibouti. Now, let's get this wheat offloaded and on to Ethiopia.” The previous month, the UN agency reported that 20.4 million people in Ethiopia are in need of food support because of the worst drought and global food crisis amid the war in Ukraine. ("First Ukraine ship for Horn of Africa docks in Djibouti port – UN," Al Jazeera, 30 August 2022) 

Japan announces USD 30 billion to Africa during the TICAD8 in Tunisia
On 27 August, Japan held the eighth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD8) in Tunisia and pledged USD 30 billion in aid for development in Africa, aiming to work closely with the continent. Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Tokyo would work to ensure grain supply to Africa amid global shortage. He said: “If we give up on a rules-based society and permit unilateral changes of the status quo by force, the impact of that will extend not only through Africa, but all the world.” Tunisia’s President Kais Saied urged to “search together for ways for African peoples to achieve the hopes and dreams of the first generation after independence.” (“Japan pledges $30bn in aid for Africa at Tunisia conference,” Al Jazeera, 27 August 2022)

About the authors
Poulomi Mondal is a postgraduate scholar at the South Asian Centre at the Pondicherry University. Anu Maria Joseph is a Research Assistant at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru. Apoorva Sudhakar is a Project Associate at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru.



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