In Hiiran region in Hirshabelle state, clan militia have declared war against terrorist group Al-Shabaab and they seem to be doing a better job than what the Somali Federal Government (SFG) soldiers or the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) peacekeepers have done in the past ten years.
Although in 2022 the terror group is wealthier and more organised and ambitious, the terrorists are proving no match for the clan militia. According to video footage and photographs from various parts of the state, the clan militia are getting assistance from the local Somalis who seem to be fed up with the Al Shabaab ways.
When Al Shabaab ruled the roost, they conducted all types of attacks including suicides, assassinations, hit and run tactics, ambush, quick raid and runover. But since, Taliban entered Kabul and took over Afghanistan last year, there were signs that Al Shabaab are trying to emulate their fellow terrorists.
Photographs and videos of Al Shabaab assembling hundreds of graduating militia and their military capabilities have surfaced. Last June, an unknown number of Al Shabab fighters crossed into Ethiopia from three directions. They included many who originally came from Ethiopia’s Somali and Oromia regions. Their reasons for entering Ethiopia are still is not clear, but their version was that they had multiple goals.
The attempt by Al Shabaab to spread to Ethiopia appears to have been thwarted by Ethiopian forces, but the attack underlined a resurgent, more confident, and strengthened Al Shabaab.
Ethiopia was the de facto guardian in the Horn of African region since the collapse of Said Barre’s regime in 1991. It protected neighbouring countries from Somalia and contained problems within Somalia, like Al Shabaab and other organised criminals.
To oil its operations in Somalia and beyond, Al Shabab has multiple sources of income and earns hundreds of millions of dollars every year. According to sources from the business community, there are thousands of farms owned by Al Shabaab. Besides farming, the terror group collects a lot of money through extortion. The so-called zakawad (charity), is collected in different arrangements, through digital transactions account to account, Hawala/remittance and cash by hand.
Another type of taxation is taking thousands of animals every year from the pastoral communities. Some of these herds are sold, and others are given to covert Al Shabaab families in rural areas. The group also has a variety of businesses and shares across the board, including real estate, electronics, education sector, shares in banks, telecommunications, farms, charcoal exports and many more.
According to Somali merchants, Al Shabaab extortion tax is higher than the Somali government's by far. For instance, a 10-tonne commercial vehicle travelling from Mogadishu to Beletwaho, Mandera Kenyan border will pay pay Al Shabaab more than $3,000, whereas the Somalia Federal Government will charge $1,800 or even less. In real estate, Al Shabaab charges $2.50 per $100, compared to $50 per $100 by the government.
To sustain itself, the terror group introduced an alien culture in areas under their control, by inventing a new Al Shabaab tribe in known tribal territories. This new tribe is a construct of different components of Somali tribes and is given livestock to live like any other Somali pastoralists. They organised arranged marriages, created traditional chiefs and community leaders for the coverted Al Shabaab families.
In four to six years, most of them had been fully accepted. They are hardly noticeable and remain part of the adopted clan and have been trained on how to conceal themselves. This is replicated in urban areas where in some cases, these covert families have borrowed children to gain the trust in their neighbourhoods. The work of these covert families is to provide information that would not be otherwise possible.
They serve as field agents, not just to collect intelligence but also are trained to conduct operations such as targeted assassinations, planting explosives and landmines. An explosive expert may have a cover as neighbourhood Quran/Madrasa teacher or appear to be a herder in the field.
Al Shabaab have built numerous madrassa and indoctrination camps across Somalia, especially the southern part and neighbouring countries including Kenya. They have trained thousands of children some of them born in Al Shabaab covert marriages, orphaned children from underprivileged families and IDPs.
According to Al Shabaab escapees, each camp has about 130 students. There are at least six different Al Shabaab indoctrination camps in Galmudug State alone. Each camp accommodates students from the same sub-clan and the running cost is paid by the clan merchants by force. If you multiply this number by all the Somali clans and sub-clans, roughly 10,000 students graduate every two years from these indoctrination camps across the country. But the clans are now resisting.
The elimination of Al Shabaab is possible but not easy. First, the SFG needs to understand and acknowledge the complexity of Al Shabaab. Secondly, the government needs to come up with a comprehensive plan, not actionless rhetoric.
As the clan militia takes on Al Shabaab, there’s need for the government to stop the terror group’s taxation at the Mogadishu seaport and airport and land transportation stations where Al Shabaab openly collects money from vehicles and issue official receipts.
The government should set up a designated task force to begin military offensive to degrade or destroy, Al Shabaab’s military strength and offer reconciliation on the other hand.
As the war gets harder and space becomes smaller for Al Shabaab, it will probably try to move into neighbouring countries, and with big brother Ethiopia having internal problems, hopefully Kenya will step up its security apparatus and fill the vacuum.