Wednesday, June 20, 2018
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The Somali Enemy

By Mahad Sheikh Ali Gelle

What happened in Somalia? How Somali Federal Government failures, foreign entities and collapsed institutions aid the terrorism industry.

The October 14, 2017 terrorist attack in Mogadishu, which killed at least 358 people according to official estimates by the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS), has been referred to as “Somalia’s 9/11.” The Mogadishu attack was designed to both cause fear and alarm while inspiring terrorist constituencies, and attracting future recruits. By succeeding,—and “success” here means humiliating the Somali Security services, thus causing large-scale death and destruction, and garnering global media coverage for days. The terrorists also hoped to attract Somali youth recruits to their cause.

The attack in Mogadishu demonstrates there were precise planning, detailed reconnaissance, and thorough preparation, both physical and mental. It relied on the element of surprise, creating confusion and overwhelming the ability of the authorities to respond. And it required determined execution by suicide attackers who nonetheless were able to operate effectively over an extended period of time in broad daylight on one of the busiest streets in Mogadishu.

A Strategic Terrorist Culture

Terrorism–either by the state or by the non-state actors, is the cruelest of crimes, which kills less criminals but more innocent citizens. Terrorism has no absolute and globally accepted definition. If simply stated, terror is extreme or intense fear, often employed by destabilizing agents to subjugate communities. It is a psychological state, which combines the physical and mental efforts to create dread and insecurity.

The common Somali views of the endless terror attacks in Mogadishu are deliberate acts committed with the aim of seriously intimidating a population, forcing the Somali Federal Government to abstain from performing any tangible action, or seriously destabilizing or destroying the fundamental political, constitutional, economic or social structures of Somalia.


The Al-Shabaab attacks on Mogadishu have serious implications for Somalia and, in some measures, the International Community. While many of the implications for these attacks remain the same irrespective of the degree of autonomy with which Al-Shabaab executed these attacks, other implications change dramatically if we assume some degree of state sponsorship.

The attacks have a number of external and internal implications for Somalia, and will explore the role both play. With respect to foreign interference and influence in local Somali politics, many Somalis are convinced that Al-Shabaab alone was not the sole sponsor of the Mogadishu attack on October 14th, 2017, and to some enxtent, aided by foreign government entities.

The Somali Federal Government Response

The Somali Federal Government’s response to the Mogadishu attacks highlighted several key weaknesses in the country’s general counterterrorism and threat-mitigation structure.

Intelligence Failures — The Mogadishu attack demonstrates that terror organizations based in the rural parts of the country are able to plan and launch ambitious terrorist operations in broad daylight.

Beyond the capital, the Mogadishu attack reveals a strategic terrorist culture that thoughtfully identified strategic goals and ways to achieve them and that analyzed counterterrorist measures and developed ways to obviate them to produce a 9/11–quality attack. For five good days, the terrorists brought a city of more than 3 million people to a standstill while the world looked on.

Inadequate Counterterrorism Training and Equipment for the Local Police: To effectively manage a terrorist incident, first responders need to have appropriate equipment and training to neutralize or at least contain the terrorists. However, the Mogadishu attacks graphically illustrated how ill-prepared the Somali police force was to handle a major terrorist incident.

AMISOM Failure in Somalia
Despite the military endeavour by the African Union, under African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) for the last Ten (10) years, violence increased by more than 180 percent till 2017. The Al-Shabaab led insurgency has spread and according to official estimates, almost 40 per cent of the country have become “no-go areas for security forces, government officials and aid workers.”

The inability of the International Community to fully support the stabilization of Somalia is clearly an outcome of the inadequate and shortsighted policies of Michael Keating, Special Representative for Somalia and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia( UNSOM), who embarks on the extension of AMISOM military presence in Somalia in every year at the United Nations Security Council meetings in New York.

AMISOM’s presence in Somalia is in body, and not in soul and the resurgence of the Al-Shabaab in Central and Southern Somalia increases the military burden of Somali National forces in defeating Al-Shabaab.

The US Airstrikes and delusional Drone Attacks

In March, just one month after the elections of Somalia, US President Donald Trump gave the US military more power to carry out airstrike operations in Somalia. Since then, there have been at least 13 missions with US participation–three ground strikes and 10 airstrikes.

The Somali Federal government responded by calling on President Trump to review this missile strike policy “and adopt a more holistic and integrated approach.”

Somalia, with its fragile domestic situation, cannot afford such abuses of its national sovereignty to continue. Anger against the US has been inflamed in Somalia as more civilians have died. Dozens of missile strikes, instead of simply eliminating people thought to be an enemy inevitably creates new a generation of enemies. The United States government must be a consultative security partner, as unilateral airstrikes on Somali soil only feeds terrorist sentiments.

Why is this all happening in Somalia now?

The answer is simple and short. Somalia is the only country on earth that witnessed a complete collapse of all its institutions, and the country’s current legal framework relies on the Provisional Constitution, which criminalizes abuse of office, bribery of national and foreign officials, embezzlement and trading in influence. Nonetheless, Somalia has no national instruments and powers to stop or advice the aggressive foreign influences in Somali domestic affairs and endless terror attacks in the capital. Simply put, Somalia is ripe for foreign exploitation. 

The United Arab Emirates hostility approach

The UAE’s deep involvement in Somalia’s internal affairs is indeed a national problem. The recent development of UAE’s frequent political interventions fuels the demands in Somalia for breaking the interdependence. Abu Dhabi must learn to resist the temptation to meddle in Somalia’s political processes. Frequent interventions, in pursuit of tactical goals, damage both Somalia and the UAE’s strategic relations and economic exchanges in livestock and trade between the countries.

The Somali Ports

Somalia is a strategic location for the Gulf nations because of the ongoing military operations in Yemen, while in the long term, it is projected to protect their shipping interests in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.  However, the United Arab Emirates is not the only country looking to build this kind of relationship with Somalia; Turkey has been pursuing the same contracts. Both Turkey and the United Arab Emirates are aware that Somalia sits on some of the world’s major shipping lanes, and they see opportunities to build seaports and other transport infrastructure. These factors, as well as the Somali Federal Government’s need for outside help and donor funds, make it a logical target for development by the United Arab Emirates as well.

Aside these factors, there are in the region contrasts and elements of tension due to different political regimes, religious, economic resources and the existence of crisis situations. Somalia is a deeply divided nation, as competition for economic resources and regional mistrust of the federal state government continues to hinder national political recovery. Somalia is now in the midst of a proxy war between the superpowers, emerging economies including the Emirates, Saudis, the Turkish and Qataris, who’ve attempted to establish and then promote their military presence and influence in Somalia.

Whatever UAE’s intentions, today a vast majority of Somalis sees its actions as blatant interference in Somali internal politics. 

The Poverty and Internal Divisions 

There is a flip side to UAE’S interventions. The special access of Somalia’s elite to different sections of the Emirati establishment–from erstwhile royal Princes to former Somali Prime Minister, Omar Abdirashid, the leaders of Somali Federal Member States and security agencies to the religious oligarchy–means every political churn in Somalia has its resonance in the United Arab Emirates. Every political faction in Somalia believes it has allies in Abu Dhabi. And this is a dangerous diplomatic relation to both Somalia and the UAE.

Somalia’s internal divisions have created a cycle where political elites turn to the UAE for intervention in their favour, which in turn absents their oppositions, creating the conditions for political instability. If Somalia had a settled constitutional framework, with its elites sharing power according to constitutional clauses, Abu Dhabi would have no reason for injecting itself into Somalia’s internal disputes. President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed ‘’Farmajo’’ must craft a strategic policy to deal with the United Arab Emirates, and other governments in Arab world, starting with his own Chief of Staff’s closest ally, the State of Qatar.

The messiness on the political front, however, masks the larger economic failures of Mogadishu. If geography makes the United Arab Emirates the most important economic partner for Somalia, the regional leaders in Kismayo, Garowe, Hargeisa or elsewhere have often politicized commercial cooperation with AUE at great costs to the Somali people. Abu Dhabi, which must take the larger share of the blame, has had economic hopes beyond the Berbera and Bossaso ports that increasingly ran into political resistance from the Federal Government of Somalia in Mogadishu.

The Somali Maritime Lanes 

The Somali maritime lanes are a part of the shortest and fastest waterway between Asia, Africa and Europe with considerable geopolitical advantages and characteristics that have always made it a main source of political struggles and confrontation. It is as well an arena for competition between great powers, intent on realizing their increasing ideological, economical, political and military interests.

Somalia is strategically located on the edges of the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, which has great strategic and economic importance. The importance of the Bab al-Mandab Strait comes from the importance of the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. Somalia is the gate connecting the Indian Ocean with the Red Sea, which cuts the water route between Europe and the Arabian Peninsula by seven to ten days, raved because ships do not have to go around east coast of Africa and the Cape of Good Hope. The Somali coast lane is important geographically, politically, economically and militarily.

The ‘Farmajo Factor 

In his campaign and inauguration day speech, President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed promised to extend a “Nabad iyoNolol” to restore dignity of Somalia and to pursue diplomacy to improve international relations. President Farmajo was a choice of the Somali people, but because of his inability to rein in rampant corruption, the flourishing regional and immediate neighbors influence in the country, and the inability of his government to deliver basic services, Somalis are fully disappointed today with his performance.

There are two dimensions to the problem in Somalia–strategic depth and nation building. Somalia needs to have a force, which is sustainable on its own budget. President Farmajo should initiate confidence building within the country to stop and change the hostility approach of the United Arab Emirates with the leaders of the Federal States in Garowe, Kismayo, Cadaado, Baydhabo and Jowhar.
In reality, Somalia’s economy, replete with corruption, has disturbed the lack of national conversation on the economy. Dishonesty, bribery, and other malpractices are common to make easy money. Black money has created new moneyed class in the society distributing the balance of social structure. This factor alone is ideal for the infiltration of terrorists in various segments of society.

Solutions and Concluding Remarks

In fact, no military solution from the air or ground will ever be found to solve the deplorable conditions– grinding poverty and the benign neglect that breeds violence, hatred and rebellion. Nor the United Arab Emirates hostility approach of bypassing the Somali Federal Government and dealing with the Baydhabo, Garowe or Kismayo leaders would bring any great solutions.

The UAE should avoid the distractive interference in Somali local and national politics to avoid furthering a diplomatic crisis. If the United Arab Emirates is willing, they should begin diplomatic dialogue with the Somali Federal Government, with the hope that this might clear the misconceptions against each other.

I propose a broad-gauge counter-terrorism strategy based on five ‘Cs’

  1. Comprehensiveness: A comprehensive, multifaceted strategy is needed that encompasses law enforcement, political, social, cultural, financial and diplomatic measures;
  2. Consensus at the Federal Somali Government level must require a strategy incorporating both short and long term security goals;
  3. Causes and conditions that breed, encourage and contribute to terrorism in Somalia must be objectively identified and addressed;
  4. Capabilities must be improved and national capacities must be strengthened across all institutions, with a guided mandate to pursue terrorists and implement preventative counter-terrorism measures;
  5. Civil liberties and principles of good governance must be upheld in the fight against terror, because real security can only be achieved through the respect for human rights.

Mahad Sheikh Ali Gelle


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