SOMALIA: WHO TAKES ADVANTAGE OF POLITICAL INSTABILITY?

Islamic movements find it hard to share a strategy, but some international interests favor chaos

by Glauco D’Agostino

Last April, a senior member of Hizbul Shabaab, the movement officially acknowledged last year by al-Qā‘ida as its cell in Somalia, called for the establishment of a new group leadership. In May, Sheykh Ḥasan Dahir Aweys, another of its high-ranking dissenting member and former leader of the Union of Islamic Courts Wahhābi faction, said the party leader Aḥmed Abdi “Godane” rejected the proposal to establish a new leadership; then, he accused Godane itself of “hitting, detaining, killing and hunting down the foreign fighters” who have been serving next to ash-Shabaab since 2007. Last September 12th, ‘Omar Shafīq Hammami, renamed Abū Manṣūr al-Amriki, a 29 years-old jihādi Commander from Alabama, has been shot to death in a southern Somali village during an attack ordered by senior leaders of Hizbul Shabaab, following his accusation to the militia leadership of trying to assassinate him because of disagreements about the Sharī’a implementation in the areas under his control.

What’s going on in the Youth Party? Is Hizbul Shabaab the only Islamist movement aiming for power? And is Somalia a real terrorists’ den? These seemingly simple questions urge other ones of greater scope in terms of reflections in history and politics: Why has been the Somali conflict lasting for so long? Why have attempts at reconciliation to a viable peace all failed?

Hizbul Shabaab (Youth Party)

Also known as the Popular Resistance Movement in the Land of the Two Migrations, when it was established in 2004, it was a special force of the Union of Islamic Courts, in turn formed four years earlier as a co-ordination of existing Sharī’a Courts. The youth movement has developed since 2006, following the military defeat suffered by the Supreme Council of Islamic Courts; and in 2009, when Ethiopian troops leave Somalia, it has been controlling the whole territory of southern Somalia. The same year, it refused to accept the legitimacy of the elected President Sheykh Sharīf Aḥmed, member of the Idrīsiyya Ṣūfī Order.

Hizbul Shabaab is inspired to a pure monotheism, according to the teachings of Sunna and the Sharī’a application rules. At political level, it struggles to establish an Islamic Emirate throughout the Horn of Africa. In its operations, however, it’s articulated in territorial groups, sometimes differing with one another about the tactics to be adopted. These groups act respectively:

          –     in the south-western regions of Bakool and Bay;

          –     in the central-southern regions, including Mogadishu;

          –     in the northern territories of Somaliland and Puntland, now virtually independent;

          –     in the autonomous southern region of Jubaland, whose territorial competence is assigned to an “irregular unit” under the rule of Sheykh Ḥasan ‘Abdullāh Hirsii at-Turki, enjoying a large autonomy within the movement.

In order to understand the conflict broken out inside Hizbul Shabaab, we must refer to other political subjects making up the galaxy of Somali Islamism.

Hizbul Islam (Islamic Party)

Founded in 2009 as opposed to the government of President Sheykh Aḥmed, it has been created as a merger of four Islamist groups:

  • the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS-Asmara), founded in September 2007 and led by future President Sheykh Aḥmed and by Sheykh Ḥasan Dahir Aweys, had the aim of creating an Islamic State in Somalia, even embracing nationalistic goals for an integration involving Somali-inhabited Horn of Africa territories, including Ethiopian Ogaden, Djibouti and the Kenyan northern frontier District. Following the June 2008 Djibouti Peace Accords, the Alliance has broken down into two sections, with Sheykh Aḥmed as the group leader favoring the end of conflict against the Transitional Federal Government and its Ethiopian ally (ARS-Djibouti), and Sheykh Aweys heading the armed resistance supporters (extension of ARS-Asmara);
  • Jabhatul Islamiya (JABISO) (Islamic Front), by Moḥamed Ibrāhīm Hayle;
  • the Ras Kamboni Brigades, by Sheykh Ḥasan ‘Abdullāh Hirsii at-Turki, previously mentioned. Since they have been conveyed in Hizbul Shabaab in February 2010, have caused the defection of Commandant Sheykh Aḥmed Moḥamed Islām “Madobe”, the current Jubaland President, with his new movement Raskamboni;
  • the Mu’askar Anole, militia of Harti clan (strongman in Somali), the protagonist of clashes with Ras Kamboni Brigades of Sheykh Hirsii at-Turki.

Hizbul Islam, following its merger into Hizbul Shabaab in December 2010, has separated back in September 2012, following criticisms raised by Sheykh Aweys to the Qaedist movement leaders. This explains the severe conflict under way between the two Islamist movements. Then, in late June this year, Aweys, after being invited to Mogadishu for talks with government officials, has been arrested by security forces.

According to Abdirahmān Moḥamud, a political analyst monitoring Islamist groups, unlike Hizbul Islam, the Shabaab have adopted a tactic working from the beginning “without geographical boundaries and seeing the entire world as an open space for staging their military operations”. Another analyst, ‘Alī ‘Omar Moḥamed, confirms that supervening allegiance to al-Qā‘ida  has been among the factors “causing deep and growing divisions within the radical Islamist factions, along with military pressure, the reduction of resources and supplies, a rise in civilian casualties and tribal politics”. These assessments are validated by the statements of Hizbul Islam spokesman, who has admitted the ideological confrontation: “Hizbul Islam is no longer a Shabaab’s partner, as there are political and ideological differences with the group”.

Hizbul Shabaab and Hizbul Islam don’t exhaust the list of Somali Islamist movements, only being the most visible as a result of their option for armed struggle. But historically numerous political subjects making different choices exist and have existed among them. We can mention at least:

  • Harakat al-Islah (Reform Movement), an organization affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and founded in 1978 by Sheykh Moḥamed Aḥmed Nur “Garyare”, whose goal is setting up an Islamic State, but by marking reform and revival of Islam for facing the challenges of modern world. Despite the difficulties of political and institutional situation in Somalia, this movement confirms so far the democratic bases of its structure, internally as well, by electing its President within the Shura, a Consultative Council;
  • Damul Jadid (Young Blood), a 2004 Islah offspring, today expressing the President of Somalia Ḥasan Sheykh Moḥamud (who was elected last year) and by last March including “Garyare” itself;
  • Harakat Jalalaqsi, a movement born in August 2008 precisely in Jalalaqsi, in Central Somalia, and which is opposed both to the Djibouti Peace Agreement and the Shabaab violence.

The Islamist tradition, however, has always been present in Somalia, through the formation of groups more or less long-lived, that have marked the history of cultural and political opposition, first to the Italian colonialism, then to the Moḥamed Siad Barre’s socialist dictatorship, and finally to the military and political intrusiveness of Ethiopia and Western countries:

  • The Somali Islamic League, founded in 1952 in Mogadishu during the Italian Protectorate and considered the first true Islamic organization in the country. Its goals ranged from the propagation of Islamic values ​​to the use of Arabic language and script in education, from the supremacy of Sharī’a law to the promotion of cultural exchanges with Egypt;
  • anNahḍa (Renaissance), born in Mogadishu in 1967 and serving young people back from Arab universities, which re-proposed roughly the same purposes of the previous movement;
  • a plethora of organizations made ​​illegal by the Siad Barre’s military regime, as Jamiyat humat ad-Diin and Wahhābi Wahadat ash-Shabab al-Islāmi (Union of Young Muslims), who were active in Somaliland, Jamiyat Ihya as-Sunna and the student movement al-Ahli, both operating in Mogadishu, the neo-Kharijite group Takfir wal-Hijrā (Excommunication and Exodus), all aiming of reacting to the regime socialist ideology;
  • Ittihād al-Islāmiyya (Islamic Union), which emerged after 1991 State collapse and the outbreak of civil war, aiming of creating an Islamic State in the Horn of Africa;
  • Ittihād al-Mahākim al-Islāmiyya (Union of Islamic Courts), founded in 2000 as an heir of the previous movement, the latter having been forced to immediately dissolve after the events of September 11th. The Union has been finalized to a courts’ government (critocrazia): it would have reached the power on June 6th, 2006, after having expelled US-backed warlords (Second Battle of Mogadishu, in George W. Bush’s era). It would have ruled for a little over six months, falling down as a result of the country’s Ethiopian invasion.

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Thus, history of Somali political Islam is particularly rich in events and behaviors, which can be interpreted according to both endogenous and exogenous reading blueprints.

Under the first point, we must consider the specifics of the involved political subjects, depending on their sensitivity to issues such as:

          –     building of a centralized State, as it emerged after 1960 acquired independence from Italy;

          –     co-existence of cultural references often antithetical, such as tribal identity, nationalism and Islamism;

          –     conflict within the Islamic society, with ideological clashes among its components, such as Sufism, Muslim Brotherhood, Wahhābism, Kharijism, Jihādism and Qaedism;

          –     political instability, which has become endemic and permanent, due to the State disintegration.

From the second point of view, the Somali geo-political context should be taken into account, with influences arising from:

          –     the historical colonial presences of Italians, British (in Somaliland) and French (in Djibouti), which still now perpetuate an interest towards the Horn of Africa role;

          –     the involvement of this area in US-Soviet confrontation during the Cold War and later in the strategic control of the shipping to the Red Sea;

          –     the weight reached into the economy by the American and European multinational companies acting in various sectors, such as Coca Cola and Dole Food (foodstuffs), General Motors (vehicles), Sprint, ITT and Telenor (telecommunications) and several oil companies;

          –     the use of the country as a dumping ground of toxic, including nuclear waste;

          –     the recent presence of international terrorism and piracy.

This all may explain the inability (or unwillingness?) of the international community in setting up a diplomatic mechanism of action, being able to put an end to 20 years of civil war. Surely, it may be inconvenient for a number of governments to stabilize the political situation, whether this would lead to clarify their more or less direct relationships with the (more or less legal) regimes in power from 1991 to 2005, and to investigate the causes producing maritime piracy.

Somalia has had a chance to leave instability as the Supreme Council of Islamic Courts had legitimately unified the country in the name of a restored security and a regulated justice system. The international sanction to the principle of military intervention wherever a political system is not appreciated wished to reject the country into chaos. How much in terms of responsibilities does extremism and how much a pure political and economic calculation of international lobbies?

What is clear is the stability of Somalia must go through an explicit Islamic government, which is able to overcome sectarianism of its components, and at the same time is a promoter of peace and country renovation, but certainly opposed to institutional and cultural intrusion by the usual “Fatherland’s Saviors”.

Somalis take it as an undeniable right!

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