Ultimately Al-Shabaab Will Fail
So far 2017 has proved a costly year in terms of the havoc wreaked by Al-Shabaab. Across the Horn this vile terrorist group and its poisonous ideology has brought misery and sorrow to hundreds of families. Far from going to ground Al-Shabaab has been on the offensive, determined as ever to cock a snook at those who once boasted that the Islamist terrorists were finished and in full retreat. Over recent weeks their indiscriminate and cowardly attacks have become more frequent, and decent people are quite rightly concerned. Furthermore, there are some politicians and clan elders who are endeavouring to whip up a lynch mob mentality more out of the desire to deflect criticism of their own failings and guilt than any zeal to address the horror of terrorism. In these challenging times it is important that for all our disgust and indignation, that our response should be measured and proportionate.
The easiest thing in the world is to advocate retaliation and vengeance, but such a response is certain to play into the terrorists’ hands. The simplistic and perverse thinking of Al-Shabaab means that they view any who are captured, tried and sentenced to death as martyrs. Far from deterring terrorism more often than not capital punishment actually makes matters worse. It is understandable that people wish to direct their ire at captives, but the rush to retribution only ensures that blood begets blood. Whilst there will always be those who advocate ‘an eye for an eye’, we all must look to ensure that the rule of law is not debased by the creation of courts that to all intents and purposes are little better than kangaroo courts. It is imperative that we work to ensure that courts are not only fair and just, but are seen to be so. This is doubly important when it comes to the treatment of minors, for we know that Al-Shabaab deliberately targets the young, the illiterate, the misguided and the vulnerable.
I am not here to advocate leniency, but I do believe that actions should have consequences, and that this is equally true of our response to terror attacks. Those who have perpetrated outrages should expect to face the full force of the Law. That said, we should also guard against developing a penal system that has no room for rehabilitation. It is important to resist the siren voices that demand retribution, for it we do not there is little hope that the fissures in society will ever be healed. We should lend a respectful ear to those who work for peace and reconciliation, for they know the healing affect of magnanimity and forgiveness. If is also important to remember how great a sin it is to incarcerate the innocent in the rush to punish the guilty. We would all do well to reflect on why capital punishment has become so discredited. Far better to show clemency to the guilty than to risk executing one who was in fact innocent.
As we wrestle with what to do to stop Al-Shabaab’s heinous crimes, we need to examine some of the root causes. For years now the people of the Horn of Africa have been let down by successive governments. The cancer of corruption has blighted lives and many of those who have walked the corridors of accountability have thought only of gorging themselves at the expense of others. Unemployment and under-employment have driven people to despair, some have risked people traffickers, seas and deserts to try find a better life, whilst others have been enticed away by Al-Shabaab. Such terrorist organisations care not a jot for national building, regional development or social cohesion, they simply prey on the innocent, the idealistic, the weak and those who often harbour legitimate grievances. Like all terrorist groups they peddle dreams, but are actually harbingers of misery . Such dark forces know how to exploit the collateral damage caused by trigger happy pursuers, whether these be local or foreign. Al-Shabaab’s nefarious activities are the stuff of gleeful tweets and twisted Facebook posts, all with the intension of luring others to join their benighted cause. They rely on the khat-addled thinking of others to provide fresh opportunities to maim and kill. Al-Shabaab and similar terrorist organisations would have us believe that day is night and night is day.
There needs to be fresh thinking when it comes to tackling the underlying causes of terrorism. Lessons need to learnt from other countries that have overcome the scourge of terrorism; Colombia and Northern Ireland come to mind. In truth there is every likelihood that things will get worse before they become better, yet ultimately Al-Shabaab will fail for the simple reason that it is built on falsehoods.
Mark T. Jones
Experienced Advisor on Leadership, Organisational Development & African Affairs