Africa News blog

African business, politics and lifestyle

Some questions about al-Shabaab

September 22, 2009











Have the Islamists started to go too far in Somalia?

The reaction among ordinary Somalis to an al-Shabaab car bomb attack on African Union peacemakers last week may be instructive.

The attack was billed as an act of revenge against America for a commando raid carried out a few days earlier by U.S. troops, who killed one of the most wanted al Qaeda men in Africa.

Seventeen of the peacemakers, all Africans, were killed. So too were a number of Somalis who had gone to the peacekeepers’ base for medical attention. At least 19 Somalis died in shelling that followed the car bomb attack.

“Bombing Somali Muslims because of a dead foreign terrorist is totally ungodly and
inhumane,” businesswoman Asha Farah told Reuters after the al Shabaab attack. “I can only say that al Shabaab are mad.”

Her view reflected that of many Somalis that Reuters correspondents spoke to in the capital, Mogadishu.

Will any of this make a difference to a group that has already conducted executions and punishment amputations and which shows no sign of letting up in its fight to oust the transitional government?

That remains to be seen, but it is perhaps worth remembering that both in Saudi Arabia and Iraq, al Qaeda lost a lot of  ground when they began killing innocent Muslims during their attacks on Westerners.

There is certainly frustration among Somalis, who feel that al Shabaab is misinterpreting Islam and using religion to justify criminal acts in what is after all a traditionally moderate Muslim society.

Most Somalis are not in a position to take the initiative against al Shabaab — but if a real international force took the fight to them in Mogadishu and elsewhere, it could find it had more support on the ground than expected.


You’re kidding, right?

The attack on the AMISOM compound AND DynCorp office — good luck finding much coverage of the latter or any discussion of its ramifications — were a preemptive strike against foreign fighters in Mogadishu, reportedly timed during a meeting b/w several international representatives, at a stage where reports of AMISOM’s enhanced mandate to wage counterinsurgency operations abound.

Same situation that took place in Beledweyn a few months back when a hotel bombing took out the TFG’s security minister and others who had just returned from Ethiopia leading fresh forces planning on conducting operations in Central Somalia as they were holding meetings.

It was only the western media that “billed” the attacks last week as revenge, leaving out, among other important contexts, that of its strategy. That’s essentially propaganda – you leave out the context to shape the reader’s perception of what took place, which in this case strips one of the parties of any logical catalyst, substituting, instead, that of irrational & reactionary behavior.

This then sets up the opportunity to cherry pick quotes from select individuals — assuming they exist at all & were not constructed out of whole cloth — that reinforce the framing of a narrative that biasedly supports one of the parties in the conflict at the expense of the population at large, relying on several unquestioned premises to do so: the TFG is a legitimate, constituted govt of the people of Somalia; the foreign fighters propping it up on behalf of its foreign sponsors are “peacekeepers” and wearing the white hats; the rebels are extremists, unpopular in Somalia, and should be destroyed.

This blog entry is no different. It purports to tell us that we can learn (“may be instructive”) from the quoted reaction of a businesswoman, trying to make sense of the reason provided her for the bombing, that there is likely popular support for “a real international force” to invade Somalia and “[take] the fight to them in Mogadishu and elsewhere,” w/ “them” being conflated into “al Qaeda” in the third-from-last paragraph.

The real instructive lesson to be learned from all the attacks against foreign forces in Somalia is that the people of Somalia are just like most everybody else on the planet – they do not like uninvited foreign militaries in their neighborhoods, especially when they have been sent their to protect rulers imposed on them by outsiders. Advocation of sending “a real international force” – one supposes that this implies U.S. leadership – into “Mogadishu and elsewhere” only indicates a failure of comprehension at the most fundamental levels.

Posted by b real | Report as abusive

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see