Why Al-Shabaab is winning the hearts and minds of the Somali people?


By Abdirashid Salah

Often we hear that the African Union (AMISOM) and the Somali Government forces (SNA) are winning the war and have taken major cities in South-Central Somalia from the hands of Al-Shabaab, but the reality on the ground is contradictory. While AMISOM and SNA are after liberating cities mostly just confined to the military bases and rarely venture out, Al-Shabaab is ever present everywhere and has the majority of the local people backing them.

Here are some reasons why Al-Shabaab is wining the hearts and minds of the local population:

  • The locals overwhelmingly perceive Ethiopia and Kenya as an invading force due to their historical animosity with Somalia. Furthermore, Somalis see the Western nations and the UN as implementing double standard policies in awarding the invading forces with the AU Green Helmet and spending millions on financing the invasion.
  • The ongoing balkanization of Somalia into mini states run by proxy leaders, mainly confined to military bases with little or no connection with the local people.
  • The air raids by Kenyan war-planes and the claims that are often made about the mass killing of enemies and the destruction of insurgent outposts, which sometimes have turned out to be massacres of innocent nomadic people with no apologies to the victims.
  • Most of the Somali politicians are preoccupied with how much money they can make before being replaced or their term runs out.
  • The brutal silencing of journalists and the free media.
  • The local NGO’s with international funding who are tirelessly campaigning to change the traditional Somali way of life.
  • The current status quo which, for whatever reason, has never been challenged or questioned for fear of reprisals.

With all the above in mind, the militant group  Al-Shabaab has become the lesser enemy in the minds of most Somalis and overwhelmingly won public support

So how we can sway public support away from Al-Shabaab and to the Government?

This is a difficult task since the public has been limited to two weak options; therefore the majority has chosen, what seems to them, the less inferior of the two.

Here are some alternative solutions to winning back the hearts and minds of the Somali people:

  • Replace the current foreign troops, which are mainly drawn from the neighbouring states, with troops drawn mainly from Muslim countries or countries geographically far from Somalia, with no geopolitical interests.
  • Somalis confuse the current Federal system with tribal federalism, which is a ticking time bomb if it remains uncorrected. A huge campaign is urgently needed to educate Somalis that joining two or more regions to form a regional state with all clans living together in harmony is what the federal system is about.
  • All of Somalia’s political processes should be made within Somalia, with primary consultations focusing on the local population.
  • Asset freezes, travel restrictions and the threat of trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) should be imposed on Somali politicians preying on Somalia’s vulnerability to sectarianism and instability.
  • Somali leaders serving interests other than those of Somalia should be prosecuted by the Somali criminal courts for treason.
  • International pressure should be applied on the neighbouring states to stop interfering in Somalia’s political affairs with the threat of international sanctions.
  • Somali leaders should be accountable to the Somali people and any leader involved in corruption and theft of the nation’s assets should be prosecuted with the help of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and INTERPOL.
  • Building the capacity of an effective and inclusive Somali national army that is able to take the fight to the enemy with the full support of the locals is essential, with sufficient and timely paid salaries being a top priority.
  • An emphasis on human rights is imperative to rebuilding trust with the local population, as the current abuses and lack of justice make the population feel unprotected from all sides, which is further adding to their support of Al-Shabaab.

Considering all the above, the current conflict is set to continue for generations to come unless there is a concrete change to the current strategy.


(*) The Author, Mr. Abdirashid Salah (https://www.linkedin.com/in/abdirashidsalah) can be reached directly via e-mail abdirashid.bra[AT]gmail.com


Comment: One further important point needs to be added to this important and long overdue article above: The allegiance of many Somali politicians, lawmakers and top military officers.
Most of the people in these positions carry one or even two foreign, non-Somali passport/s, have sworn allegiance to different foreign states and thereby are more a kind of envoy for those states than Somali Somalis. They also have their families and bank accounts in those foreign states, to where they return after brief and enriching stings as Somali government officials.
How can they ever be credible in the eyes of the Somali people and those of their colleagues, who have vowed to not go abroad and not sworn allegiance to foreign nations, which not necessarily can proof to have the best for Somalia and the Somalis on their agenda?
Especially for the young generation of Somalis inside Somalia, who are conscious and become now active in the country, the governmental circles made up of foreign nationals appear as to not be the circle they want to be associated with. The only so far existing alternative for young Somali nationalists is obvious.


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