New Swahili/English magazine Gaidi Mtaani (Terrorist in the Street) was first posted in April 2012 in Jihadi forums used for material published by al-Qai’da in East Africa (AQEA)–a group with long ties to al-Shabaab.
The publication reflects al-Shabaab and their affiliates’ continuing efforts to expand its base of support among the large population of Swahili- and English-speaking population in Kenya, as well as those in Tanzania and Uganda.
Issue #1: “Operaton Linda Uislamu”
The first issue was entitled “Operation Linda Uislamu”—meaning “Operation Protect Muslims”—and included stories of revered Jihadis, described operations to rout al-Shabaab as a battle against Muslims in Somalia, and encouraged sympathizers to carry out attacks in Kenya. [Download full version of Gaidi Mtaani – Issue #1]
Authors in Issue #1 asserted that foreign forces are invading Somalia in order to accomplish objectives detrimental to Muslims and urges young Kenyan Muslims to join al-Qai`da in East Africa (AQEA) or al-Shabaab in order to fight “opponents” of Islam in Kenya and Somalia.
It also issued specific threats to vulnerable areas in Kenya—including tourism areas, shopping malls, and bars:
“Imagine who is to lose when we start attacking Kenya’s economy, look at how vulnerable Kenya is… we have tourists, shopping malls, bars etc…just imagine how we can compromise your economy, kill one ‘muzungu’ [foreigner] and they all run away… just imagine!”
The issue ends with a quote indicating that force is now the only tool available to be heard by its enemy, stating:
“If our words could have reached you by mouth, then they would not have been sent by grenades.”
Some of this propaganda may have played a role in inciting recent attacks from sympathizers and supporters of the group, who have been blamed in several attacks in the Kenyan capital Nairobi and the northeastern town of Garissa in recent months.
Issue #2: “The Long Road to Kismayo”
The second issue of Gaidi Mtaani—entitled “The Long Road to Kismayo”—was released on 1 July 2012 on various Jihadi forums. It covers the many of the same topics as the first issue. At 28 pages, it is almost twice as long as the first issue. [Download full version of Gaidi Mtaani – Issue #2]
But while the first issue encouraged guerrilla attacks on Kenyan civilian sites, the second issue focuses on what the authors characterize as efforts of the Kenyan Defense Forces (KDF) and the U.S. “to oppress Muslims in their own lands.”
Life through al-Shabaab’s Eyes
A Swahili article entitled “Life Under the Stability of Islam” states that life in Somali has improved in areas under control of al-Shabaab because the group has outlawed Sufi traditions (which most Somalis observe) and “depoliticized” clan issues. (Ironic, given al-Shabaab’s widely noted manipulation of clan dynamics to attract support.)
Al-Shabaab commonly claims in its propaganda that it can administer areas with less corruption and more security in comparison to Somalia’s hapless Transitional Federal Government (TFG)–a sentiment shared by a substantial number of Somalis.
Al-Shabaab’s Center of Gravity: Kismayo or Ideology?
The main English article in the issue describes the KDF as inexperienced and unprepared for its prospective operation to oust al-Shabaab from its economic hub in Kismayo. It cites skirmishes in which al-Shabaab reportedly carried out successful attacks against the KDF in the Lower Juba region as an example of the group’s resilience and capacity to fight a large army funded by American trainers.
The article also states that while Kismayo represents the economic center of gravity (CoG) for al-Shabaab, the group’s ideological strength is the main CoG for the group, stating:
“ [It] cannot be diminished or crushed by the material superiority of the enemy.”
Lastly, the issue observes Kenyan and American counter-messaging efforts as “failing” and “fabricated”—citing retractions of false statements from the Twitter account of KDF spokesman Major E Chirchir (@MajorEChirChir) as evidence.
Because the articles focus on what the authors characterize as the weakness of the KDF and the resilience of al-Shabaab, it is likely the publication is meant to reassure online audiences that the group will remain strong—whether it retains control of Kismayo or not—as a result of its “superior” tactics and “resonant” ideology in Somalia.
Despite its claims, al-Shabaab’s reputation continues to take a hit due to ongoing abuses of civilians, and contrastingly, the satisfaction and tangible economic improvement in communities liberated from al-Shabaab rule.
Within Somalia, al-Shabaab is recruiting new support from exploiting clan rivalries and to some extent capitalizing from regular abuses by the TFG and other clan militias such as the ASWJ. But the rising number of defections show that the group’s ideology is losing resonance, and its radical actions are causing many members to leave the group.
However, as long as self-interested warlords, corrupt government officials, and foreign forces such as Ethiopia wield power–often with Western support–a ripe environment will remain for Islamist movements to flourish in the country.
By disseminating propaganda like Gaidi Mtaani on social media and Jihadi forums, al-Shabaab will exploit opportunities to highlight the abuses of Muslims in the region by Kenya, Ethiopia, and other TFG allies to justify its cause.