In January of this year, I witnessed a demonstration prepared by Al-Shabab in the Barawe district, Somalia. Al-Shabab is a religious organization and member of other terrorist groups based in Somalia and controls the Barawe district, lower Shabelle region. The Barawe district is 182 km west from Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. It takes four hours by car from Mogadishu to reach Barawe. It is one of the ancient towns of coastal metropolitan area in Somalia; it is a famous town as it is among the oldest towns in Somalia from 1710-30. Barawe was greater than Mogadishu city at that time, and occupied a strategic location in the lower Shabelle region among cities such as Afgoye, Marka, Sablale, Lego and Wanlaweyn. The lower Shabelle region is the most agricultural productive region in Somalia. The Shabelle river crosses this area and runs along the seashore west towards Mogadishu city. The community of this district trades their vegetables with cattle and dairy products in Mogadishu and Kenya. The region has also a potential for tourism like farms, Indian Ocean coastlines, river and geographical observable facts, for example, Jazeera village.
The demonstration took place in the football stadium of Barawe town. Al-Shabab militias assembled the community using a mixture of violent power, spiritual religious ideology and fear, to force the community of the Barawe (and other areas that Al-Shabab controls) to follow their beliefs, dress code and hair style. This means that men must let their beard grow as long as possible according to Sunna (religious deeds) in Islam. Women must cover thoroughly and should not leave their home without covering their body from top to bottom. Al-Shabab informs people in areas under their control not to listen to music, lectures and speeches of the Somali government officials. They condemn the support by western countries and prohibit international media such as the Voice of America and the British Broadcasting Company. Al-Shabab is widely known for manslaughter, accusations, and threats, especially to women and children, preparation of suicide attacks and explosions of cars and more specific of the Westgate Shopping Mall attack in Nairobi Kenya, which took place in September 2013.
Al-Shabab engages in hostilities against the international community, especially against the western countries led by the United States of America (USA), the United Kingdom (UK) and Israel and demonstrates against the Ethiopian troops, which joined AMISOM (African Union Mission in Somalia). The hostilities from Al-Shabab are directed against the democratic secular administration. Al-Shabab does not believe in a democratic government and aims to advance and achieve their own Islamic (Jihad-based) fundamentalist system. Secondly, Al-Shabab is linked to Al-Qaeda. Both Al-Qaida and Al-Shabab share a faith-based ideology, which they would like to spread over the entire world if possible. The demonstrators mobilized by Al-Shabab were mostly youth.
Somalia is a dangerous country except for some regions like Somaliland and Puntland. Somalia is in a situation of anarchy and democratic leadership is under constant threat by Jihadi groups, like Al-Shabab. Due to the destabilizing influence of Al-Shabab the Somali National Government (SNG) led by president Mohamoud is permanently struggling to establish a stable democratic system. As matter of fact, Jihadist groups aim to make Somalia lawless and violent, refusing any negotiation with the SNG, on the grounds that the current government is backed by western countries and the international community.
At the demonstration in Barawe, flags of four countries were burned: USA, Israel, UK, and Ethiopia. The protest was angry, illuminating the community they control. Al-Shabab doesn’t allow any person freedom of speech and they hate it when you ask “why”. If they feel you might inquire why it is not logic how they deal with the community, they may slaughter you and will use fear and terror to remain in power.
All in all, when you are in Mogadishu city, you may feel and hear about the killings and violence led by Al-Shabab, the actions implemented by the Somali national armed forces and killings and kidnappings of international NGO workers or humanitarian aid workers by Al-Shabab.
Al Shabab currently controls few areas in southern and central Somalia, such as Bo’ale, Bar-dhere of middle Jubba and Gedo regions. It has evolved into a group resembling a hybrid of the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda and provides government services to its constituents, enforcing a strict interpretation of shari’a law while maintaining its grip on power by using violence and intimidation. It has established an effective recruiting strategy to attract militants from throughout Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, as well as the United States and Europe. The authority of the internationally recognized and USA-backed SNG has been handed over in more towns, like Jowhar, Baydhabo, Marka and Kismayo of middle Shabelle, Bay, lower Shabelle and lower Jubba regions. Al Shabab thus has no geographic space to train fighters, plan operations, and shelter its al-Qaeda allies.
Mohamed Abdi has more than 18 years experience in educational development in East Africa, civil society advocacy, conflict transformation and research practices of conflict dynamics in Somalia. The author lives in Somalia.
source picture: https://www.flickr.com/photos/albanyassociates/8161450330/
Written by Mohamed Abdi and published on 08-April-2014