Posts Tagged ‘Al Shabab’

Why a crackdown on Somalis would benefit Al Shabab

December 26, 2010 3 comments
Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed sits in t...

Image via Wikipedia


Last week, Ugandan security sent a warning that it had information that al Shabaab was planning Christmas attacks. Barely six hours after they issued the alert, grenades struck a Kampala Coach at the River Road terminal in Nairobi, killing one person on the spot and injuring 26. The explosion went of as passengers queued to board the bus for Kampala.

The Kampala Coach attack heightened suspicion of Somalis, including Ugandan and Kenyan ones, in the region. The Kampala Coach bus attack could make it worse.

However, we need to step back. Somali dominates transport in East Africa, including the lucrative cross-border bus business in the region. Therefore, an East African Somali is highly unlikely to attack a bus terminal, least of all in Nairobi. That would be the equivalent of the Pope spraying graffiti at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican.

In the same manner, an East African Somali would not have masterminded the July Kampala attack. Participate in it, some did. But plan it, highly unlikely.

So what kind of Somali’s would attack a Ugandan bus at a Nairobi terminal? To answer this, we need to understand what some people in the region describe as the “secret East African Somali pact”.

For years the vast Somali Diaspora all over the world, and Somali business people in East Africa, have backed the warring factions in that long-suffering Horn of Africa nation.
Nairobi, or specifically the Eastleigh suburb (easily one of the busiest business areas in Africa), became the conduit for all sorts of clean and dirty Somali money. It also became what some scholars of Somalia, like Paul Goldsmith, described as the war-torn country’s “unofficial central bank”.

The wealth of Somali business people, ranging from the fuel trade, transport, hotels, real estate, money transfer, and electronics sales, have grown dramatically all over East Africa over the last 20 years. In several ways, the growth of that wealth increased the conflict inside Somalia.

Though the Americans and the Europeans kept warning that Somalia was a “breeding ground” for all sorts of terrorists, East African governments never acted in any muscular way about it until early July 2006 when the fundamentalist Islamic Courts Union (ICU) won the shooting war and installed itself as the government, with Sharif Ahmed as it principal leader.

Alarms bells rang off their hooks at the spectre of “a terrorist Islamic fundamentalist group” ruling Somali.
Ethiopia, fearing among others, that the ICU was fanning nationalist feeling for a Greater Somalia, which would lead to agitation in its mainly Somali region of Ogaden to reunite with mainland Somalia, invaded Somalia in mid-July, 2007 and kicked out the ICU and Sharif Ahmed.

Big mistake, because that is what gave rise to a more radical group, Al Shabaab. To try and stabilise Somalia, the regional powers found themselves returning Sharif Ahmed to power as head of the Transitional Federal Government, because compared to other militants, he was a moderate! 

However, when the ICU took power, the ever-pragmatic elements in Kenya quietly reached out and made a deal: Don’t destabilise the rest of the region with terrorist and other extremist attacks, and we shall also not touch the Somali business networks in East Africa that supply and feed all sorts of groups inside Somalia. Somalis, as we all know, are equally pragmatic when it comes to business, so it was agreed.

However, Al Shabaab upset that equation. Unlike all other militant groups, Al Shabaab does not receive the bulk of its money from the Somalia Diaspora establishment. Most of it, including quite a few of its fighters, allegedly comes from the Middle East, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

Because Al Shabaab is not reliant on the regional Somali cashbox, it really doesn’t care what happens to Somali-owned business in East Africa. Even if they are seized or shut down, it will still be able to operate because its money from the Middle East will continue flowing in. With that, the “secret East African Somali pact” became useless, and regional governments lost their leverage.

Indeed, a crackdown on Somalis would benefit Al Shabaab, because it would drive disaffected Somalis to its side. If this tells us anything, it is that we shall witness many more terrorist attacks, before we see the last.

Al Shabab is so hated within Somalia, that its recent strategy to spread to the rest of East Africa would seem to work. They have butchered their own, even killing students, medics, on their graduation day. Who kills innocent students, on their graduation?

The video shows Somali artists singinig for a country, in remembrance of the students…part of the song says, ‘they butcher our kids, even on their graduation day’. A sad reality..

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