On the heels of Somalia’s new President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed’s return to Mogadishu, fighting in Somalia is in the headlines again. Recent clashes in and around the capital are the worst in weeks and have left 81 people dead. Meanwhile, Islamist insurgents are gaining ground outside the capital, after they were forced to withdraw from the towns of Guriel and Dusamareb in central Somalia last month following clashes with rival militias and former warlords.
President Sharif is attempting to reach out to the Islamic insurgents, known as the Shabaab. However, the Shabaab’s aggressive response to the new president shows the reticence of many Islamic militant groups to adopting a more pragmatic approach toward the new government. In fact, they lost a good deal of legitimacy for their insurgency when Ethiopian troops withdrew in mid-January.
The new government has thus far demonstrated their intentions to pursue an agenda of reconciliation. In a recent interview with IRIN, Somalia’s Interior Minister Sheikh Abdulkadir Ali Omar said that the fighting was “regrettable and unnecessary,’” but that the government remained committed to a reconciliation process focused on dialogue:
Any differences between Somalis can be and should be resolved through dialogue…the Somali people do not need any more fighting.
Islamist insurgents continue to attack African Union peacekeepers. In a major attack on Monday, Shabaab militiamen killed 11 AU soldiers from Burundi and promised more attacks. But the AU peacekeepers’ recent disproportionate actions against civilians and indiscriminate shelling of populated areas in Mogadishu seem to help legitimize Islamist claims that they are fighting an insurgency against an outside power, similar to the way that Ethiopian troops did previously. That’s why Gérard Prunier argues,
[i]t is urgent to withdraw the [African Union] troops from Somalia before their counterproductive efforts destroy the very thing they are supposed to foster: the birth of a transitional national-unity government working towards a realistic peace that can endure. [emphases mine]
Peace will only be achieved through a political solution in Somalia itself, with intelligent (instead of ill-considered) outside help in a situation where about half of the population faces a devastating—and escalating—humanitarian and food security crisis.
A vintage (2006) photo of the Shabaab, retreating from Mogadishu.