15 April 2013

Somalia: 'Al-Shabab Weakened but Not to Be Discounted'

Photo: Capital FM
Al-Shabaab militia have threatened to launch more attacks in the against the government (file photo).

interview

Al-Shabab militants have warned of further attacks in the Somalian capital, a day after 30 people were killed in coordinated shootings and bombings that exposed the fragility of recent security gains, says Laura Hammond.

Before Sunday's bloody attacks, Mogadishu had made considerable progress by achieving relative peace and stability. Are the peaceful days in Mogadishu over?

I don't think they are over, and I don't think - as horrific as the events of the weekend were - I don't think they were entirely unexpected either.

I think everyone who is involved in the transition in Mogadishu has been expecting that the road towards peace would be rocky and that there would be setbacks. So this is a particularly violent setback, but it's not entirely unexpected.

So should we expect to see more violence in the next months?

Well, I think it is likely that we will see continuing violence for sure, I mean al-Shabab has shown that they are maybe weakened, but they are definitely not to be discounted, and they are not completely defeated. I think they will continue to try to stage attacks.

When President Hassan Sheik Mohamud came to office, he said for at least the next year we can expect to have similar kinds of attacks. He certainly didn't know about this particular attack, but he was anticipating things like this happening. So I take him by his word, and I would expect for at least another year or so an uneven path towards recovery.

Do you think there was any particular reason why the attackers targeted the court house?

Well, the courts, the judicial system in Somalia has been in the headlines quite a lot recently. There was a well-publicized case in which a woman claimed that she had been gang-raped by members of the Somali security forces.

And she was arrested supposedly because she had made this claim and there was some dispute about whether or not the claim had been made falsely or whatever. It went on and on for quite a while. And ultimately, all charges against her were dismissed, and there was also a journalist who had been interviewing her who had been arrested and charged - ultimately, his case was also dismissed.

So this case was very highly publicized and it brought a lot of attention to the judicial system in Somalia as being in need of radical reform. I think the attempt to target the judiciary is to try to prevent that process from taking place, to sort of make the point that al-Shabab doesn't want reform to happen in this place.

A particularly horrific outcome of the attacks over the weekend was that the two lawyers who were most centrally involved in the rape case were both killed.

And how could the Somali government prevent such attacks in the future?

They are going to have to increase their own security forces' strength.

Yesterday, as I understand it, at midnight, the president announced that they would be taking a much stronger stand on security issues and unfortunately that may mean being much more, sort of interfering more with people's daily lives in terms of more road blocks, more suspicions, more roundups and arrests - and I hope that doesn't result in the infringement of people's own personal liberties who have nothing to do with al-Shabab. But there is likely to be a lot more of a sort of suspicious climate of security enforcement in Mogadishu - at least for the coming weeks and months.

Dr. Laura Hammond is a senior lecturer in development studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

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