The Resilience of al-Shabaab in Somalia


The Resilience of al-Shabaab in Somalia

15 Jul 2014

As al-Shabaab carry out further attacks in Somalia, most recently on the presidential palace in Mogadishu, an International Crisis Group (ICG) report looks at why al-Shabaab is so resilient and what needs to be done to address longstanding grievances in the country.

The ICG report, Somalia: Al-Shabaab - It Will Be a Long War, released on 26 June 2014, finds that "defeat" of al-Shabaab remains elusive. There is also evidence to suggest that it will retreat to smaller, remote enclaves, while other groups of radicalised and well-trained individuals will continue to carry out assassinations and terrorist attacks in urban areas, including increasingly in neighbouring Kenya.

The report suggests the Somali Federal Government (SFG), supported by external allies, should consider the following political options:

  • Implementing, as outlined in the "National Stabilisation Strategy" (NSS), parallel national and local reconciliation processes at all levels of Somali society;
  • Imitating al-Shabaab's frequently successful techniques of facilitating local clan dialogue and reconciliation (as per the National Stabilisation Strategy, NSS), as well as religious education;
  • Developing a new approach to establishing local and regional administrations that privileges neither SFG appointees nor clients of neighbouring states; and
  • Making the local (Somali) political grievances that enable al-Shabaab to remain and rebuild in Somalia the paramount focus, not regional or wider international priorities.
Key Findings
  • While al-Shabaab remains the focus for international actors, it is just one of several obstacles on the road to peace and stability. And unlike many of its rivals in south-central Somalia, the group still offers practical solutions to clan conflicts and minority representation, simple but effective governance and justice structures, and basic social services, including religious instruction in areas with scant primary education;
  • al-Shabaab draws strength from an experienced cross-clan leadership that – despite internal tensions – continues to offer a consistent and well-articulated vision, propagated at the ground level through close engagement with Somali society, particularly in rural areas;
  • Before further military campaigns continue – especially in the large rural areas still controlled by al-Shabaab – the Somali Federal Government, with its regional and wider international supporters, needs to begin national and local reconciliation efforts in liberated areas, as outlined in its National Stabilisation Strategy. Local consultative bodies should be encouraged to generate political consensus and leadership, in tandem with term-limited care-taker administrations focused on rehabilitation of basic services.

The report concludes that there is a sense of inevitability to the resilience shown by al-Shabaab, and it has developed an aptitude for strategic planning. Somalis, however, see al-Shabaab as just one of many problems facing their community and in the broader sense it is important that local political work and reconciliation processes are given time to take root in the country.

You can read more from the ICG report here.

This article summarises an external report, and is not to be taken as the view of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. 


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International Crisis Group