The killing of 148 students at
Frequently, commentators have announced Al Shabaab to have been finally routed by African Union AMISON “peace-keeping” forces and
There is an historical precedence. At the turn of the 20th century Somali nationalist Sayyid Muhammad Abdullah Hassan led a 20-year holy war against British colonialism. A controversial and ruthless figure, Hassan’s aim was to unite the different clans, kick out the colonists and achieve self-determination.
Dubbed “the mad Mullah” by the British, he was in fact a military genius adept at guerrilla warfare and inflicted heavy casualties on the British. In 1910 the British, desperate to avoid their own soldiers being killed, launched a proxy war to get rid of him once and for all.
They armed “friendly” clans, who instead of taking on Hassan descended into bloody feuding and banditry, tipping
Hassan’s forces were only finally crushed in 1920 when Winston Churchill,
Fast forward to late 1990s. Out of the chaos and suffering of the Somali civil war, made worse by a botched UN and US military intervention (the Black Hawk Down saga), arose various Islamist groups.
They formed the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), and set up a rudimentary (albeit brutal) system of government based on existing clan structures overlaid by Sharia courts.
For the first time in a decade there was some kind of stability and the beginnings of civil society in the areas run by the UIC, covering the capital
The UIC contained moderates as well as hardliners, but we can only speculate as to whether elements could have formed the basis for a renewal of Somali society. Post 9/11 and with George W Bush’s “war on terror”
Bush decided that the UIC were the equivalent of Al Qaida – they weren’t – and had to be crushed, without putting US boots on the ground. As in the early 1900s “friendly” warlords were armed, this time by the
But in 2006 its leaders made the mistake of provoking
The brutality of the occupying force and the insurgency it provoked saw the civilian population tipped into a huge humanitarian crisis.
Despite the fortune poured into
The escalating brutality that accompanied the Ethiopian/US occupation – detention, torture, civilian deaths, drone strikes, special forces operations etc – served as a recruiting sergeant for Al Shabaab. It turned into an African version of the Taliban – battle-hardened, experienced in hit-and-run tactics and now ideologically aligned with Al Qaida, and more recently Isis.
There is also a large Somali population in
This process was accelerated when
In one sense Al Shabaab is only a reflection of the policy by the
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