In Lower Shabelle, TFG military and AMISOM forces have gained significant grounds from Alshabab in recent months, but the ultimate test for TFG and their African Union friends is to win the hearts and minds of the people in the area, and that depends whether they work with the civil society groups from the area both inside and outside of the country or continue their current policy of acting as an occupation force.
After long struggle with the militants in Mogadishu, followed by successive surprise victories that came within few months, AMISOM forces and their TFG counterparts finally took over Mogadishu and the surrounding towns. In order to continue gaining grounds from anti-government forces in the remaining parts of the country and establish a new regime in those areas, TFG leaders need to understand the recent history of the Lower Shabelle.
The military regime of Siyad Barre victimised the people of Lower Shabelle for almost two decades by appropriating their farmlands and awarding them to various members of his family and families of his ministers. Since the collapse of that regime the situation got worse. Brutal warlords with their sub-clan militia took over all the important towns of this most fertile region of the country. During this time, there was very sophisticated terror campaign against the indigenous people of this region that involved high ranking religious, political and military figures, all from the same sub-clan with an strategy to rule this region forever.
In 2006, when the Islamic Courts (IC) took over and rid Mogadishu of the notorious warlords, their “liberation force” took deliberate detour to Kismayo. When people from the region, including the famous political cartoonist Amin Amir, raised the issue with the leaders of the then IC, they didn’t get satisfactory answers.
After the split of the IC, Alshabab, which was part of that IC “liberation force”, didn’t waste time to correct IC’s moral misjudgement with regard to picking and choosing which warlords they were fighting. Alshabab executed an strategic offense against the heartless warlord in Marka and humiliated him. That didn’t only help them get the control of this resource rich region, but it also boosted their recruitment efforts. Despite their strict interpretation of religious affairs, they became popular by allowing local people in charge of their own security.
Now, there is growing frustration with TFG forces in Afgoye – the first major town in Lower Shabelle TFG forces captured. Even though, to their credit, TFG nominated civilian leadership from the area, the military commanders, who are out of the region are apparently wielding more power than their civilian leaders. There are wide spread abuses committed by TFG soldiers with impunity. This is not helping TFG win the hearts and minds of the people and in fact it becomes strong tool for the anti government forces for their campaign of undermining the recent victories of African Union and TFG forces.
TFG and AMISOM need an alternative strategy to the current one that is bound to fail. The following recommendations should be considered in order to improve the relationship of the locals and TFG:
There are various initiatives inside and outside of the region to bridge the current collaboration gap between locals and TFG. How TFG handles Afgoye will certainly have enormous impact their future successes. Gaining the trust of the people is the ultimate challenge for any government, but for the current TFG their survival depends on it.
By Abdulkadir M. Abow
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