Showing posts tagged as "rashid abdi"

Showing posts tagged rashid abdi

4 Dec

Toronto Star: In Somalia the solutions are in the details

By Michelle Shephard

MOGADISHU, SOMALIA—The famine is not about the lack of food.

Not here anyway, in the capital, where markets are crowded with bananas, bags of flour and sugar, and fish, hauled in from the Indian Ocean each morning.

Food aid continues to arrive by air and sea from humanitarian organizations and start-up charities responding to this year’s crisis.

The city is a high-risk famine zone because more than 100,000 came looking for help but couldn’t find it. Not quickly enough and not in the way aid should have been available.

“Mogadishu is a city that needs to be rebuilt from scratch. It has been destroyed for the past 20 years, a battleground for warring factions,” says Abdirashid Salah, a city project manager for the Benadir district.

The most recent fight has featured the militant Islamic group, Al Shabab, which retreated south this August.

“It really needs a huge reconstruction like the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe,” says Salah, referring to the U.S.-led efforts after World War II.

Britain may be taking a step in that direction. This week, the government announced that Prime Minister David Cameron will host a Feb. 23 high-level conference to tackle Somalia’s instability and economy.

There is the physical devastation of the country after two decades of war — damaged roads, buildings, schools and hospitals. But Salah and other leaders say the real need is to repair the city’s psyche and revamp how it operates, targeting corrupt leaders and inept bureaucrats.

Fixing walls and potholes will be easy. Stopping corruption and conquering the Shabab will not.

Al Shabab

Mogadishu is calm compared with the south, where nearly 10,000 Ugandan and Burundian forces with the African Union mission are fighting the Shabab with the help of thousands of troops from Kenya, and smaller contingents from Ethiopia and Djibouti. It is the latest chapter in the Shabab’s war against the internationally-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG).

Neither is popular.

The Shabab’s Al Qaeda doctrine goes against traditional Somali lifestyle where women are powerful community leaders, watching soccer is a national pastime and chewing the leafy stimulant qat is a guilty pleasure. By imposing a law that includes public amputations and assassinations, as well as suicide bombings that kill civilians and young students, the group has been able to reign with terror.

The Shabab has recruited desperate Somalis who distrust the corrupt TFG. Many joined because the Shabab provides protection, weapons and a salary — something the TFG cannot.

American analyst Ken Menkhaus has called on Islamic scholars and clerics worldwide to condemn the Shabab’s tactics and message that they are fighting foreign powers on behalf of Muslims. “Al Shabab’s leaders must be left with no doubt that they are viewed by the entire Muslim world as un-Islamic war criminals,” Menkhaus said recently.

Some Somalis once regarded the Shabab as a patriotic force that repelled Ethiopian forces in late 2006. But it lost popularity during a recent campaign of terror, including an Oct. 4 bombing in Mogadishu that killed 70, mainly students applying for scholarships to Turkey and Sudan.

The combined AU, Kenyan and TFG forces are reportedly gaining ground against the Shabab, but the fighting is forcing thousands from their homes and hampering famine aid delivery.

International Crisis Group analyst Rashid Abdi said with so many in the south still at risk of starving, immediate intervention must be the priority, even if it means negotiating with Shabab leaders.

“It just makes moral sense. How many times have we negotiated with people we don’t like? History is replete with instances where we’ve negotiated with the Pol Pots of the world, to cut a deal, or to achieve some short-term objective,” said Abdi. “You can never have a global agreement with Shabab, something that’s binding. You cut local deals with key commanders in the field to allow humanitarian supplies. We just need to be circumspect.”

FULL ARTICLE (The Toronto Star)

20 Nov

AllAfrica: Risks and Opportunties in Kenya’s Intervention in Somalia

Rashid Abdi and Ej Hogendoorn

Kenya’s decision in October to send thousands of troops in to Somalia’s Jubba Valley to wage war on Al-Shabaab is, without doubt, the biggest gamble the country has taken since independence to advance its security interests.

The mere act is, in itself, a radical departure for a country that, since independence, has never sent its soldiers abroad to fight.

In militarising its foreign policy, Nairobi is signalling a historic policy shift designed to align its geostrategic aspirations with its political, military, diplomatic and economic clout.

Operation Linda Nchi is a gamble, because the potential for getting bogged down in Somalia is very high; the risks of an Al-Shabaab retaliatory terror campaign real and the prospects for a viable, extremist-free and stable polity emerging in the Jubba Valley slim — at least, in the short term

Kenya is unlikely to heed any calls for a troop pullout, not least because it has invested a lot and its national pride is at stake.

What Kenya needs is modest progress in advancing its security and political goals.

Here is what Kenya should consider to improve its chances of achieving modest success and avoiding failure:

The nature of the enemy

Al-Shabaab is a formidable adversary that is resourceful, resilient, and adept at maximising its asymmetric advantage.

One tactical change has already become clear. Rather than fight head-on in open territory, Al-Shabaab has simply melted into the background, allowing thousands of Kenyan mechanised infantry units to move deeper into its heartland.

Al-Shabaab’s fighters are blending in with the civilian population and distributing weapons to them, especially in Kismayu.

This is a result of lessons learned during the last major intervention, by Ethiopia.

That time, in December 2006, Al-Shabaab deployed many of its combatants in the vast arid plains of south-western Somalia, to stop the Ethiopian invasion, only to be mowed down by ground and air fire.

It almost crippled the organisation, but it adapted, turning into an efficient guerrilla force.

Al-Shabaab also gained increasing support from Somalis, at home and abroad, because it was seen as the most effective force fighting a foreign and “Christian” occupation — not because of its extremist orientation.

Over three years it bled Addis’ resolve. Today, Al-Shabaab again wants to fight on its own terms.

It will most certainly seek to draw the Kenyan army into a vicious guerrilla war, principally in the city where Kenya’s technical superiority is minimised and it can use civilians as human shields.

How Kenya’s military will perform under such difficult circumstances is hard to divine.

In the “fog of war” many things could go wrong and the prospects for a quick and easy victory, followed by a swift withdrawal, as many hope, may prove unrealistic.

Furthermore, the likelihood of a badly mauled Al-Shabaab mutating into a more deadly foe exclusively devoted to terrorism cannot be discounted.

(It is also conceivable the group would move to now-relatively stable regions further north in a bid to find a new sanctuary).

The onus must be to minimise the risks of a protracted, messy and potentially unwinnable conflict.

The nature of the fight

Kenya’s biggest challenge is to prosecute an effective counter-insurgency campaign to degrade Al-Shabaab and progressively weaken its political and territorial control, without undermining its broader counter-terrorism goals.

This demands a heightened degree of sensitivity and caution in combat; tactical flexibility and adaptability in a complicated environment; resilience and determination to withstand setbacks and stay focused.

The military must resist the temptation to seek spectacular gains. It makes perfect military sense to target Kismayu port, considering its importance to Al-Shabaab, but it should be done deliberately, and other measures, such as an economic (not humanitarian) blockade of the port and the attrition of fighting on multiple fronts allowed to work.

Not only will this deny Al-Shabaab critical revenue to pay and resupply its forces, it will also force the clans of Kismayu to reassess whether it is in their interest to side with the group.

Otherwise, all indications suggest the fight for Kismayu would not be easy.

Urban combat would be extremely costly, and a massive loss of civilian life hugely damaging to the goal of countering terrorism and radicalisation.

It would certainly undermine any political outreach strategy designed to undermine Al-Shabaab’s popular support.

The risks of internationalisation

The Kenya government has been keen to cast the decision to militarily intervene as part of the ongoing Western-led counter-terrorism struggle.

Many in the West privately admit a campaign to weaken Al-Shabaab may not be such a bad thing, even though they are apprehensive about the potential for blow-back.

This perhaps explains the modest covert Western support for the Kenyan military, exaggerated by the media, but nonetheless true.

Some officials have been hyping up the extent of this support. Some form of specialised combat and logistical support are crucial, but the downside is that increased Western involvement could inflame Somali passions; catalyse radicalisation and help Al-Shabaab’s attempts to revive its declining political fortunes.

The latest —and most ill-advised — example was the public trumpeting of increased Israeli counter-terrorism support to Kenya.

Al-Shabaab immediately exploited the announcement, announcing the Israeli assistance to Kenya was aimed at “destroying Muslim people and their religion”.

Prevent blow-back, protect social cohesion

Views within the ethnic Somali and wider Muslim community in Kenya regarding the war are mixed, but predominantly critical.

Even those now mildly supportive of the operation could easily become hostile, especially if things go horribly wrong and civilian deaths mount.

The notion that this is a popular operation within the Muslim community is wishful thinking. The potential of the conflict to exacerbate already worrisome radicalisation in Kenya is real.

The government must reach out to Kenyan Muslims to explain its mission and discuss how to mitigate risks.

So far, the police and the security services have shown commendable restraint.

This is laudable, but the crunch will come if Al-Shabaab carries through its threat to attack Kenya.

If this triggers a draconian crackdown, the consequences for inter-communal relations and societal cohesion and harmony will be grave.

Remember war is politics by other means

Kenya should recall Clausewitz’s famous dictum that any military campaign should serve to change the political calculations of the enemy.

In the case of Operation Linda Nchi that presumably is, at a minimum, to convince Al-Shabaab it is not in its interest to allow cross-border kidnapping or engage in terrorist attacks against Kenya, and, ideally, to induce its leaders— or the supporters they depend on —to negotiate an end to the conflict with the Transitional Federal Government and its allies.

It is important to remember that Al-Shabaab is not a monolithic organisation, but made up of disparate elements with divided loyalties to different leaders and separate clans (the much smaller group of foreign and jihadi fighters are a different problem).

It would be militarily extremely difficult, if not impossible, to eliminate Al-Shabaab, so the focus should be to convince those clans and their leaders who currently support the group to change their allegiance.

The need for clear military goals

No-one doubts Kenya had core military objectives and a strategy to achieve them when it launched Operation Linda Nchi.

The problem is this has not been sufficiently articulated and the official line and rhetoric have been incoherent and confused.

In the early days of the offensive, official statements suggested the operation was limited and designed to stop tourist abductions that threatened a crucial industry.

This message evolved after it became clear many in Kenya and the international community were unconvinced and amid new concerns over terrorism.

Since then, some in authority have suggested the core goal is to eliminate Al-Shabaab (a much greater threat and one presumably prompting a more severe response).

Clearly, these are different aims, indicative of possible differences on strategy within the leadership.

There is an urgent need to bring clarity to the mission, not least because the current ambiguity could lead to mission creep — a situation in which goals progressively accumulate, requiring ever greater resources, time and commitment — or priorities could veer off tangent.

It is, therefore, imperative to clearly spell out the war aims and maintain the focus on the key objectives.

Downscaling ambition

Since the start, there has been a tendency by officials to talk up the mission and to raise expectations.

Whether this stems from inexperience — as has been suggested — or is simply a function of reckless overconfidence, is a moot point.

Nothing has the potential to over-stretch and complicate the mission more than over-optimism. Ambition is fine, but it must be tempered by a realistic assessment of what is feasible.

Downscaling expectations must start with reorienting the mission towards the one modest goal that is achievable in Somalia — degrading Al-Shabaab’s military capabilities and encouraging a negotiated solution.

Aiming for a decisive military defeat would require a lengthy and costly stay, a prospect that is certain to undermine support, galvanise Somali opposition and prove unsustainable.

Building a regional consensus

Kenya’s decision to go to war has not gone down well in the region, despite the official statements of support.

There is a rift over the regional strategy to pacify Somalia and contain Al-Shabaab.

Unless this rivalry is tackled and differences resolved there is fear each country may seek to undermine the other, a prospect that will compound the political and security crisis in Somalia.

Addis Ababa’s initial fears over the Jubbaland plan— that Ogadenis there would support the Ogaden National Liberation Front fighting in Ethiopia — may have eased, but many doubt it is completely sold on the viability and wisdom of the entire project.

Kampala has troops in Somalia serving under AMISOM, is increasingly assertive and wants to be seen as the key regional partner in international policy on Somalia.

It does not really approve of attempts by both Kenya and Ethiopia to support proxy forces and create buffer regions, arguing such actions further weaken the interim Somali government its troops are dying to shore up in Mogadishu.

The TFG is divided over the matter and the President, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, has publicly voiced his criticism, to the embarrassment of the Kenyans who all along maintained they had consulted with their Somali allies.

Kenya is unlikely to achieve its goals in Somalia unless regional divisions are addressed and a common strategy developed to stabilise Somalia.

Revisiting the Jubbaland/Azania project

The plan to create Jubbaland/Azania is controversial and much of the opposition to the intervention stems from fears it may not work.

It is not true the project is entirely Kenyan-conceived, and part of a “bottom-up” strategy to dismember Somalia.

Many inhabitants of Jubba have long desired an autonomous—not independent—regional state and this sentiment chimes with that of the majority of Somalis in the periphery, who have historically chafed under the domination of the centre.

Understood from this perspective, Kenya’s aim is not out of step with the wishes of many Somali clans in the region.

Crisis Group maintains that some devolution of power, be it real federalism or some other form of decentralisation, is necessary to address clan fears that they would otherwise be subjugated by rival clans.

Where Kenya got it wrong is in the manner in which they went about encouraging its establishment. 

 In handpicking Azania’s “President”, Prof Gandi, and a few other leaders and hastily legitimising them through an arbitrary process, Kenya opened itself to accusations of meddling.Had Kenya stepped back, allowed the process to evolve organically, invested sufficiently in reaching out to where opposition is strongest, especially among the minority Wagosha and mixed-race communities in the centre and the coastal strip, it would have been possible for the Azania project to gain wider support. 

The most stable regions in Somalia, Somaliland and Puntland, were only stitched together by slow and painstaking local peace and reconciliation conferences that built on each other to create larger and economically viable regions in which political power, revenue and resources are shared relatively “fairly” between subclans and clans.

It is not too late to embark on such an outreach, although Prof Gandi and his team will resist any attempt to unlock the process, but it is in their best interest to do so.

In addition, Kenya is working with both Prof Gandi and the former Al-Shabaab commander Ahmed Madobe to drive out Al-Shabaab, but the relations between the two men are far from amicable.Indeed their forces have clashed in the past. Kenya needs to urgently initiate a process to create a lasting détente between the two camps and a mechanism for political cohabitation, otherwise they risk losing both allies.

The special status of Kismayu

The port is the lucrative economic engine of southern Somalia and home to three clans that have regularly clashed over its control.

Any durable solution to instability in southern Somalia—and the criminality it enables—must include a negotiated deal between these clans over the distribution of revenue and benefits generated by the port.

Simply allowing Madobe to take over and impose control would undermine Kenya’s long-term interests, since it would undoubtedly trigger further unrest in the city and the region.

With its military intervention, Kenya is now even more closely bound to the chaos in Somalia.

It can be part of efforts to stabilise the country, but to so do it must not impose a solution but provide the right political incentives for Somalis to be at peace with themselves, and the region.

Rashid Abdi is Horn of Africa Analyst and EJ Hogendoorn is Project Director, International Crisis Group


4 Nov

VOA: Q&A: Who’s Supporting Al-Shabab?

The Kenyan military says airplanes full of weapons meant for militant group al-Shabab landed in Somalia this week. The unconfirmed reports heighten longstanding suspicions that Eritrea is arming the militants. Eritrea’s foreign ministry denies the charge, but the question remains: From whom is al-Shabab receiving support?

Rashid Abdi, a Horn of Africa analyst with International Crisis Group, addresses that question and more.

I wanted to ask you about these newspaper reports that Eritrea is arming al-Shabab. Is there any truth to this that you know of? And what is the relationship, historically, between Eritrea and al-Shabab?

"I think the first thing I would say is that it’s actually very difficult to reliably confirm these reports independently. I think no one doubts that Eritrea has throughout the last four years been supportive of al-Shabab, sending in weapons, sending in trainers and also training hundreds of al-Shabab fighters in some of its military camps. But I think, as I said, it’s very difficult to confirm this news story that this support has been resumed by Eritrea.

What is Eritrea’s incentive?

"Well, Eritrea definitely has been supportive of al-Shabab for a long time and this support is not ideological. It’s essentially meant to counter Ethiopia’s influence in Somalia and, during the Ethiopian occupation, that was the height of Eritrea’s involvement in Somalia."

And what other foreign assistance has al-Shabab received? There have been reports that there have been more foreign fighters coming in to join their ranks. Do you know anything about that?

"Yes, I think there has been a trickle of foreign fighters into Somalia throughout [the conflict], and increasingly al-Shabab has been very actively recruiting from Somali diaspora communities scattered all over. So, they still have pools of supporters on whom they can rely to raise funds and also potentially to recruit, but sometimes these [reports] are exaggerated. I think the organization itself is under a lot of political pressure and its support has been waning considerably. It’s by no means a diminished political organization, but no one doubts that al-Shabab is finding it very difficult now to recruit and to raise funds."

In the past, though, when foreign armies have come into Somalia, it’s helped to boost support for al-Shabab. Is there any indication that’s happening now?

"It’s probably too early to say that al-Shabab is gaining from Kenya’s military intervention, but probably if Kenya’s intervention becomes prolonged and then you have serious civilian casualties, then the tide may quickly turn in favor of al-Shabab, and al-Shabab will definitely whip up ultra-nationalism as they have done in the past (and) benefit from playing the nationalist card."

And on the other side, a lot of past fighting in Somalia has often been characterized as proxy wars that are really serving the interests of other regional or international actors. I’m wondering if that’s happening now and who the actors might be. Because, you know, a lot of foreign governments have been totally silent about whether they are supporting Kenya’s incursion.

"Yes, again it’s very difficult to know who are the parties that are supporting Kenya’s military intervention. But I think some of the reports that have emerged in recent weeks — that the Kenyan military may be getting some form of logistical and intelligence support from some of its traditional western allies — may be credible. But again, I think the report may be exaggerated; again, I think many countries are deeply worried about Kenya’s intervention, fearing of course that that may be what al-Shabab needs to regain some of the political losses it has suffered."

And finally I wanted to ask about the mixed signals we’re getting from Somalia’s leadership. You know last week Somalia’s president came out and said he was against Kenya’s incursion. Then the prime minister had to come out and say, “No, we’re on the same page, and we support Kenya’s military action.” What do you make of the mixed signals?

"I think there’s no doubt that President Sharif is in some kind of a quandary, because, you know, he is aware of how unpopular Kenya’s intervention is domestically. And he knows there are probably significant numbers in parliament, MPs, who are deeply opposed to this intervention. So he fears that if he comes out openly in support, then that may give extra ammunition to some of his rivals within the government, and, also, that [it] may not go down well within the domestic constituency itself. So this is probably what explains this confusion and the ambivalence on the part of Sharif to come out openly and support the Kenyan military intervention."

VOA (with audio)

18 Oct

BW: Kenya Pursues Al-Shabaab Rebels in Somalia After Abductions

Oct. 17 (Bloomberg) — Kenya’s government said it has taken “robust measures” to protect the country against al-Shabaab, the rebel group in neighboring Somalia, after foreign tourists and aid workers were abducted.

The action was in self-defense as defined by the United Nations, the government said in an e-mailed statement today without giving details of the operation. Kenyan soldiers entered Somalia yesterday to combat al-Shabaab and create a buffer zone of 100 kilometers (62 miles) on Somali territory, the Daily Nation reported, citing unidentified security officials. […]

Kenya has trained Somalia’s military and allied fighters, Rashid Abdi, a Horn of Africa analyst with the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, said today by phone from Nairobi, Kenya’s capital.


"'This Kenyan action may give the al-Shabab hardliners the excuse they needed to justify a strike against Kenya,' said Rashid Abdi, a Somalia analyst with the International Crisis Group."

—BBC, “Kenya’s incursion into Somalia raises the stakes

17 Oct

Reuters: Kenyan, Somali troops hunt rebels after kidnappings

Warplanes launched air strikes on two al Shabaab bases over the weekend and a Somali military commander said his troops were closing in on the town of Afmadow, previously a rebel stronghold. 

Under pressure to beef up security along its porous frontier after a string of attacks on Westerners by gunmen thought to be connected to the al Qaeda-linked rebels, Kenya is desperate to limit damage to its reputation as a relatively secure tourism and investment destination. […]

"The Kenyan military strategy looks intent on supporting these military groups," said Rashid Abdi, a Nairobi-based Somalia analyst at the International Crisis Group. 

"I don’t think Kenya has any intention of occupying southern Somalia. For one, they have no capacity to do that," he said. "What they probably want to do is step up the support of these militia groups so that the militia groups take territory."

FULL ARTICLE (Reuters)  

10 Aug

Interview: Al-Shabaab and Somalia’s Spreading Famine


Rashid Abdi, Analyst, Horn of Africa, International Crisis Group


Jayshree Bajoria, Senior Staff Writer

The famine declared in five areas in southern Somalia is expected to spread across all regions of the south in the coming four to six weeks, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The UN estimates twenty-nine thousand children under the age of five have died in southern Somalia and 3.7 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance across the country. Rashid Abdi, a Nairobi-based analyst for the International Crisis Group, calls the crisis in Somalia “a collective failure of the international community,” which failed to act on early warnings of a crisis, or to invest in sustainable agriculture to make local communities self-sufficient. Additionally, al-Shabaab, an Islamic militant group which controls most of southern Somalia, had banned several international aid groups from the region in 2009. Though they lifted the ban last month (al-Jazeera), restrictions remain. The priority now, Abdi says, is to reach people trapped inside al-Shabaab-controlled territory, and “if that means negotiating with al-Shabaab, so be it.”

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9 Aug
"The writing may be on the wall for Al Shabab. There has always been a split among their leaders, and it’s definitely been made worse by the famine situation."

Rashid Abdi, Horn of Africa analyst