Since al-Shabaab’s Supreme Court attack on 14 April 2013, the Somali government has been moving forward with efforts to improve security in the capital.
Large contingents of Somali soldiers have been training in Uganda, Djibouti, and Somalia by multiple partners—including the United States, the EU, and AMISOM. Training has been successful overall but at times hampered by a lack of equipment, including guns and combat gear, as pictured on the left.
The addition of 1,000 trained counter-terrorism forces, which have been equipped with the necessary arms and vehicles—could change the landscape of the security environment in Mogadishu.
Since the budget for these forces and their operations has not been allocated by the Ministry of Defence, it is unclear what the cost will be or if there are sufficient funds to support them. This is an ongoing problem for Somali security forces that could impact the new unit.
To complement newly trained and armed forces, the SFG will also need to continue to develop a successful security and intelligence strategy.
After the UK warned on 5 April 2013 of an imminent attack by al-Shabaab , many scolded the Somali government for not taking adequate preparation to protect likely targets like the Supreme Court. Though it is not known what details about the attack were shared between the UK and the Somali government, the gaps in preparation reflect the need to beef up protocols when such warnings are issued.
In terms of improving intelligence, a new ‘888’ tip line for local residents to provide info to police may help to prevent violent attacks. It is also a good step away from the government’s strategy of mass arrests (often of hundreds)—which appear to be arbitrary and at some times extortionary.
Importance of Relationships with Communities
On the same day of al-Shabaab’s coordinated attacks in Mogadishu, it was reported that civilians helped Somali and AMISOM forces identify an IED in Mogadishu’s Hodan District that was safely detonated. This event highlights the importance building productive relationships with local communities to combat al-Shabaab—something that could be harmed by carrying out mass arrests or the alleged execution of young al-Shabaab suspects in custody.
Relatedly, al-Shabaab’s spokesperson Ali Mohamud Rage said that the reason why the group attacked the Supreme Court was that it was a symbol of the government’s unfair and non-Islamic judicial system. However, the victims in al-Shabaab’s attack were mostly not associated with the government—including lawyers and activists who successfully fought against injustice.
The Somali government can help to further delegitimize al-Shabaab’s statements by making security officials more accountable for for their actions.
This could mean further scrutiny of Somali security officials accused of unethical or criminal behavior—including the commander of the Criminal Investigation Deparment (CID) Abdullahi Hasan Barise (involving alleged bribes for release) and the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) chief for the Banadir region Colonel Khalif Ahmed Ereg (involving the aforementioned youth killings).
The new anti-terrorism law passed by the Somali parliament gives security forces the right to detain terrors suspects for 48 hours or less without charge.
While suspects have been detained for longer than two days without charge in the past, the new law will add another controversial legal layer to counter-terrorism efforts that mirrors dilemmas in the U.S. and other countries regarding detention policy.
The new law also makes it a crime for remittance and telecom companies to send payments or provide services to al-Shabaab members.
It is no secret that al-Shabaab charges all organizations and companies hefty fees (zakat and other taxes) for operating in its areas—though many groups have been kicked out in recent years for various reasons.
The Somali government appears to be reacting to new reports showing that Dahabshiil—Somalia’s most widely used remittance company—provided cash payments to top al-Shabaab leaders.
The company briefly fell out with al-Shabaab in early April 2013—leading to a closure of its offices in some areas and an explosion targeting the Dahabshiil main office in Mogadishu. However, the company reportedly reached an agreement with al-Shabaab to resume services. Given the importance of Dahabshiil in the $1.6 billion per year remittance industry, it will be interesting to see how the government utilizes its new legal leverage with Dahabshiil without attracting the ire of those who depend on these types of companies for routine services.
Overall, the recent actions by the Somali government show steps to strengthen the number of trained forces and legal frameworks available to counter al-Shabaab more effectively.
If these tools are complemented by an improved security strategy, military re-structuring and professionalization, adequate financial support, and better leadership within the security and intelligence agencies, the Somali government could continue significant gains in addressing the dynamics of violence in Mogadishu.