Mogadishu: The Imminent Fall

Maj. Barigye Ba-Huko

The voice of Major Barigye Ba-Huko, the African Union spokesman in Somalia, hit the airwaves yesterday evening. Denouncing the attempts by Al-Shabab to overthrow the Somali government along with the AU troops as a mere ‘dream,’ Major Ba-Huko challenged the Islamists fighters to be braver and take on his well-trained soldiers.


‘Let them come and fight us. They know we are at the airport and I challenge them to come there instead of hiding inside the residential areas.’

 

Not more than 48 hours had passed when Ba-Huko’s imprudent dare turned into a grim reality. Al-Shabab has, a few hours ago, carried out another daring attack on the Somali government and the African Union troops stationed at the airport. Two cars, tailing one another and loaded with explosives and armed fighters, infiltrated the government-controlled territory and quietly made their way to Adan Adde International airport, passing by dozens of government bases and hundreds of armed soldiers along the way. They carried neither passports nor tickets and boarding passes; what they carried, however, was a firm conviction in their breasts that, after their operation, they would die as ‘glorious Martyrs.’

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Somalia: Legitimizing the Illegitimate

Al-Shabab Parade

 

As I type this, a fierce battle is underway in the northern districts of Mogadishu. The rapid sound of machine guns and other firearms combined with the loud reverberations of tanks firing and mortars exploding can be heard from miles away. Since the beginning of Ramadan, there has been no respite from such daily battles, but as the month of fasting comes to an end, the battles here have become increasingly intense, particularly in the last few days. And with the ever changing formations of the battle lines and territorial boundaries that define the authority of the warring sides, the battle for Mogadishu, and eventually Somalia, has entered another new neighbourhood.

After a series of co-ordinated attacks yesterday that targeted the Ugandan forces in the vital artery of Makka Al Mukarrama and Shangani district, the Burundi forces in Boondheere district as well as the Somali troops, the Islamists seem to be getting ever closer to achieving their goal. At around evening the loud sounds of heavy artillery fire echoed throughout the city and the sparks of fireworks glowing against the setting sun could be seen from every corer of the city. After several hours of the rapid exchange of bullets came the deadly silence. In this bullet-scarred city, where the gun wreaked havoc for nearly three decades, the sound of a gun has become a part and parcel of life. Silence, especially after a fierce battle, often signalled that something ominous was in the air. People immediately scampered to safety, and not before long, the mortars made their daily rounds, tearing apart the tin-roofed ramshackle buildings and huts. In response to the attack, Amisom began shelling the residents. Soon the news hit the airwaves that up to 23 people were killed and dozens more injured. And though up to 230 are reported dead this month alone and more than 400 injured, the numbers are far greater than that. Estimates here are at around 500 killed and more than a thousand injured.

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Somalia: The Battle for Hearts & Minds

Ali Jabal, Al-Shabab Governor of Banadir

 

The battle for hearts and minds in Somalia has long been fought and won on the basis of tribe and tribal allegiances. But with the rapidly changing political landscape, particularly here in Southern Somalia, a recent shift in perspective has had a tremendous effect on the Somali population. Today the battle of hearts and mind is fought and won on the basis of religion and the people of Somalia judge the worth of an administration by what it can do to alleviate the suffering of the population or by the number of services they can provide the public; and here there is a great divide.

In the congested streets of the Bakara market, an unusual event took place today. Al-Shabab, the Islamist force waging a bitter battle against the Western-backed Transitional federal Government (TFG), have launched a new ambulance service to help those injured by the bullets and mortars. It is out of the ordinary of a group labelled a ‘terrorist organisation’ to set up an ambulance service, But Al-Shabab seem to be defying the norm.

Unveiling this news service, Al-Shabab’s governor of Banadir region spoke at the scene with assurance that his administration was determined to help a population suffering at the hands of the ‘crusaders’ as he put it. Wearing a white overcoat, Sheikh Ali Mohamud Hussein or better known as Ali Jabal, addressed the amazed public:

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The Ramadan Remedy

Mogadishu Morning

As the sun rises in Mogadishu this morning, it does so with a new spirit and a new prospect. Its luminous rays glow with the promise of hope and suffuse the hearts of these suffering souls with renewed optimism; it is optimism intertwined with some pessimistic undertones. But with the spirit of Ramadan saturating the surroundings of this bullet-battered city with its unique sense of jovialty and peace, some of the long-lost passions of the people have also been revived. Just like in its glory days, when Mogadishu was pulsating with youthful vitality, an animated public move about the city in preparation for the month of Ramadan. Ebullient Mogadishan women fill their baskets with dates in preparation for the holy month and buoyant kids are already counting down towards the Eid festival. All around, the city is bustling with a fertile effervescence and yet has a distinctive aura of tranquillity about it. It is surrounded by a peculiarly soothing ambiance which has somehow managed to remain defiantly placid despite the ricocheting bullets and the menacing mortars.


But while the high spirit appreciably diffuses some of the tensions in Mogadishu, a strong sensation of hostility also seems to pervade every part of the city. Ramadan, as the people of Mogadishu have come to learn, is a month of intense battles. The UN is increasing its international and local personnel in Somalia, though they are still not venturing out into the deadly Mogadishu streets. The African Union troops are positioning their mortars and have promised to increase the war. The mystic Sufis have declared war on Hizbul Islam and Al-Shabab. And the Islamists, on their part, have also vowed more attacks during Ramadan and have promised to defeat the ‘Christian Crusaders’ and the ‘enemies of Allah’ in the path of their holy war.

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Quotable Quotes:


I am optimistic that these numbers will be raised now – especially now – because these people have provoked the world more than before. And I can assure you they have invited a lot of problems for themselves,” he told journalists in Uganda

Yoweri Museveni on his decision to send up to 20,000 troops to Somalia to “eliminate” the hardline Islamist group, Al Shabaab

The president did not answer critical questions like: What are our objectives in Somalia? What are the key success indicators? What is the timeframe of our intervention? What is our exit strategy? Without answers to these questions, I am inclined to believe that we have deployed blindly into a troubled country, a factor that is likely to vitiate against success.

TMC News on Museveni’s intervention in Somalia

African leaders are daydreaming. You can’t solve Somalia’s problems by sending in more troops. With its devastating effects, the culture of using military might has been tried but failed. Now it is the time to nurture the culture of dialogue.

Zakaria Mohamud Haji Abdi, the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia, on the solution to Somalia’s crisis.

Military approaches have only helped to radicalize more youths and exacerbate fundamentalism in Somalia. The international community needs to realize that its current and previous policies on Somalia have largely strengthened religious extremism and Somalis’ distrust of the West.

Kisiangani Emmanuel, a researcher at the South Africa-based Institute for Global Dialogue, said the international community needs to signal a willingness to accept any government that is acceptable to Somalis — including insurgents — regardless of the affiliations of its leaders.

Somalia: The Blurred Perspectives of Peace

The menacing sound of rockets whistled past my window and exploded, a few seconds later, with a thunderous noise. It is a common occurrence here in Mogadishu. Every day dozens of rockets and mortars claim the lives of innocent civilians living in areas often far away from the battle fronts. Despite living in a hotel protected by large slabs of concrete, the power of the explosion threw me to the ground. Soon the pervasive smell of gunpowder filled the corridors of the hotel. It was a harrowing experience, and though I had expected my journey to be very dangerous, the moment of explosion completely dismantled my determination. For a while the whistling sound continued, as I lay flat on the ground, followed shortly by large explosions. Once the hailstorm had subsided and things appeared normal again, I went out in response to the neighbour’s loud bellows of rage.

Outside the shattered tin-roofed house, Amina Hussein, a nurse at the local clinic, screamed her lungs out. Rummaging through the debris and gesticulating wildly, Amina had to be restrained by a group of women standing nearby. And as the crowd consoled the grief-stricken nurse, I peered into the destroyed house. Through the ruins, and illuminated by the sun’s rays seeping through the small openings, I was confronted by a horrific scene. Digging through the rubble along with some helpers, we quickly uncovered the four bodies. The nurse’s husband and three children, lying peacefully next to each other, were all covered in blood. Dressed in what seemed like a colourfully embroidered frock, the state of the youngest daughter, no more than five years of age, was perhaps the most shocking. Shrapnel had completely punctured her delicate body while blood slowly trickled out of her beautiful face.

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A Parody of a Parliament


Golaha Shacabka

Another meeting delayed, another MP resigns, another punch-up on the way. Amid the never-ending saga that has crippled the Somali parliament, the long-awaited meeting of the MPs scheduled for Sunday 18 has now also been cancelled. The parliament was expected to convene today for the first time since December last year, but it failed. Not surprisingly also, Cismaan Cilmi Boqorre, the second deputy speaker of the Parliament, has officially declared his resignation today. Criticizing the government of ineffectiveness and detailing some of the reasons that led to his resignation, Mr Boqorre said:

Though there was some dispute between me and the Parliament Speaker, the main reason of my resignation is the ineffectiveness of the parliament and its lack of action when needed…and after looking into all this I’ve decided to resign.

Mr Boqorre’s decision comes at a time when the parliament has been facing a severe power struggle from within. Divided into two camps, the parliamentarians have been at loggerheads ever since their call to duty.

On one hand, the Pro-Sharif division of the parliament has been calling for the speaker of the Parliament, Sheikh Adan Madoobe, to step down and allow the election of a new speaker. A call vociferously repudiated by the speaker who recently returned from a meeting with the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, to discuss security and bilateral relations. Also, the president and the Prime Minister both want to oust the Parliament speaker in favour of the President’s right hand man – Sharif Hassan. Read more of this post

Mogadishu Without Music

Almost all of Mogadishu’s radio stations have stopped playing music in compliance with the order of Hizbul Islam, who ten days ago banned all radio stations from broadcasting music.

At that time, the government’s Ministry of Information Spokesman, Sheikh Abdirizak Mohammed Qeylow, strongly condemned the instructions of the Islamists, stating that their instructions would have no effect on the media:

“The so called Hizbul-Islam is now like a drowning man who clinches to straw, they are having no other options other than oppressing the media, they are ordering the radio stations not to air any sort of song may it be the national anthem. I know very well what they want to fill the gap of the songs – they are bringing the songs of Al-Qaida, and why they are doing all this is just because they are envious of Al-Shabab”

Today, however, except for the few radios under the TFG-controleld territory, Mogadishu’s radio stations remain silent. No music and no commercial jingles to spice up the programs. I don’t know how the rest of the Mogadishians here are coping with the ban, but luckily I brought my 160GB iPod along with me.

Missiles Rock Mogadishu

Mogadishu is under attack. Dozens of BM rockets, as they are called here, fired by the AMISOM forces have crippled the busy Bakara market and brought the entire business hub of Mogadishu into a complete standstill. Just as worshipers exited the mosques, after noon prayer today, the rockets fell. Hundreds of people in the market scrambled for safety, some hiding under concrete buildings and others rushing back into the mosques.

I had just left my apartment and decided to meet a journalist, Keyse, for lunch when the shelling began. Squeezing through the riotous crowds of shoppers, hawkers, tea ladies and past the tightly crammed stalls whose fetid odour assaulted our senses, medicine shops and juice bars, we made our way to Tawakkal Restaurant, a fairly clean and quiet place compared to the other noisy eating places in Bakara. But just before we could enter the restaurant, the sound of a rocket fired caught Keyse’s attention. Being still fairly new to this war-torn city, my senses were not quite alert yet, though I am now slowly becoming attuned to the music of mortars.

The frenzied look on my friend’s face explained it all. Without a second spared, we dashed into the nearest building, hurdling past donkey carts, screaming kids and stumbling women. Though it becomes the natural instinct to help the elderly and the weak when in need, but during times like these, and in Mogadishu’s mayhem, it is every man for his own. Several rockets, whose whistling noise was enough to send fear running through your veins, fell a few streets away from where we were.

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Exclusive Pics: Al-Shabaab & the BBC

I’ve gained these exclusive pictures of Al-Shabaab confiscating BBC equipment through a local journalist. Click on the images to enlarge.

Al-Shabaab Silences The BBC

Al-Shabaab has banned the BBC from operating in Southern Somalia. In a press release read out this morning here in Mogadishu, the Islamic Administrations in Mogadishu, Marka, Kismayo, Jowhar and Bidoa have taken all of BBC’s FM transmitters off the air and seized all their property. The statement described the organisation as a ‘vile western mouthpiece’ propagating ‘a barrage of depraved Western views’ to the unsuspecting Muslim population.

The air seems somewhat strange and silent here in Mogadishu. The renowned BBC tone is no longer on the radios and the public is buzzing with discussion and debate. HornAfrik radio which used to air the Somali Service apologised to the public on newshour. Al-Shabaab have also issued an order to HornAfrik, the only radio station that airs VOA news, to stop airing its programs.

Al-Shabaab’s daring display of authority comes at a time when majority of the Somali listeners have been expressing great concerns about the BBC’s management and editorial content. The BBC Somali Service has been riddled with complaints from the Somali media and the public alike.

Al-Shabaab, which has been banned as an organisation in Britain has struck back fiercely and banned the BBC, accusing it of inaccuracy, impartiality, lack of objectivity, propagation of Western views and fanning the flames of enmity among the Somali population. Some of these accusations, however, are coming not only from the Islamists but some professional and journalists have also voiced somewhat similar opinions.

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Al-Qaeda in Somalia

It may sound plausible; Yemeni Alqaeda would perhaps be welcomed by the thousands of Al-Shabaab fighters eager to receive them and they may even be garlanded with wreaths by Al-Shabaab’s unwavering local supporters.

But when Somalia’s Treasury Minister, Omar Osman, tells the world that according to the TFG’s superb ‘intelligence’ (who can’t seem to locate or capture even one of the thousands of Al-Shabaab youths by the way), 12 members of Al-Qaeda have crossed from Yemen into Somalia, what was the implication of his message?

Perhaps it was to distract the world’s attention away from the failing government and point the beacon away from the chaotic situation of the Somali parliament. Parliamentarians have been at loggerheads with each other lately – particularly with the parliament speaker, Adan Madoobe, whom more than 75 MPs are forcefully urging to step down. But of course, he refused. And soon we might witness another classic parliament brawl

The MPs have also criticized the embattled government for doing nothing to improve the security situation of the country and also accused Shekh Sharif of spending his time jet-hopping instead of tending to the affairs of the country. The government did not sit idly too as it was reprimanded but instead retaliated and banned the MPs today from holding any meetings.

So with a country in such a mess, it is only a wonder how the Treasury Minister got his information! Good detective work, Mr. Osman, but though this story of yours may sell in Western publications, even the young shoe shiners of these ruthless Mogadishu streets will laugh at you when they hear your tale.

Regurgitating old Al-Qaeda tales is only fit for western consumption. Here in Mogadishu, the TFG has become but a laughing stock. But since Osman and his ministry are quite accustomed to taking bribes, perhaps he aims to point out that either Somaliland or Puntland is an accomplice in helping the Al-Qaeda fighters to cross into Southern Somalia.

And with the long awaited offensive now turning out to be simply a gradual push, and Kenya denying the TFG’s request for some troops, perhaps Osman’s attempt was to titillate the ears of the West once again with some poorly crafted Al-Qaeda fables.

The Law of Retribution: An eye for an Eye

The Islamic Administration of Lower Shabeelle region yesterday executed one of their own soldiers as a retribution for the murder of a local villager while on duty. Muuse Ali Abud’s sentence was carried out in Marka in front of hundreds of spectators by an Al-shabaab firing squad just after mid-day yesterday. The 27-year-old soldier confessed to killing a 20-year-old villager, Ahmed Abdi Yusuf, after a heated brawl in the market of the tiny village of Balow, near Awdheegle.

Shortly after he killed the villager, on the 27th of March, Muuse was arrested by his comrades and taken into custody. After an investigation into the matter, the family of deceased was called and presented with some options:

  1. To forgive him
  2. To accept blood money
  3. Qisas or retaliation

The family chose the third option, demanding the execution of the murderer, and Muuse’s fate was sealed. But in front of the large crowd that had gathered in Marka’s main square, the convicted soldier displayed a calm disposition and awaited his final moment. Though Muuse might have been the soldier responsible for arresting criminals and bringing them to the Islamic courts for justice in his earlier days, this time he was on the stand.

Sheikh Mohamed Abu Abdallah, Al-Shabaab’s governor of Lower Shabeelle, delivered a sermon to the expectant crowd just before the execution. He said:

‘Us and the public are equal in the eyes of the Shariah. We pledged to live under the rulings of the Qur’an and whoever commits a sin, he will be punishmed according to the rules dictated by the Shariah.’

But while the Sheikh’s speech was received with loud chants of ‘Allahu Akbar’ and Muuse’s case attracted a huge media attraction, another case went under the radar. Just as twilight fell yesterday, one of the TFG soldiers shot and killed a teenager as he left his house in Xamar Jajab district of Mogadishu. But this case has largely gone unreported in the media and no one was brought to trial for the murder. The number of killings has increased recently in the three government-controlled districts in Mogadishu as soldiers are said to often rob residents at gunpoint, killing whoever retaliates. Many of the residents have now relocated to areas such as Dayniile, under Al-Shabaab, and the remaining persistently complain to the government, which has done nothing so far.

Unlike the government’s corrupt and bribe-riddled system, Al-Shabaab follow a strict Shariah code and govern all the 10 regions under their control in this manner. The people living in regions under Al-Shabaab control have had a relatively greater degree of safety and peace compared to those living in the TFG controlled areas. With establishment of the Islamic Administrations in Al-Shabaab controlled regions, and the introduction of the Islamic penal code system, the number of killings has significantly decreased.

They may be branded as terrorists by the western world, but Al-Shabaab continue to gain more support and popularity here from the local population they govern. When questioned about the events, Ali Osman, one of the spectators in Marka, couldn’t control his tears:

‘I never thought I would live to see the day when a killer is punished for his crime in Somalia. Never! This is just a miracle. And on top of that he was their [Al-Shabaab] soldier. This is the justice we need and if every killer today was brought to this sort of justice, we would have lived happily. I feel sorry for the man and it was painful to watch but this is the justice we wish to live under.’

The Sufi Disintegration Phase – 2

Continued from The Sufi Disintegration Phase 1

We continue to look at the gradual decline of Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaaca.

Politically:

The merger of the Sufis with the TFG could not come at a worse time. When internal strife had debilitated the energy of the group, the Ethiopians concluded the merger between them and the TFG. Though the aim of the merger was also partly to save the Sufis from disintegration, it was primarily two-fold:

  • To bolster the weak government’s deteriorating credibility by allowing it to claim the few successes of the Sufis in Guriceel and Dhuusamareeb.

  • To pressure the Islamists in the middle regions so as to reduce the pressure from Mogadishu

The results, however, were quite the opposite. The Sufis and their allied TFG forces met with a series of defeats in Galguduud and Hiiraan after their initial victories. Now the Sufis are confined to Galguduud region and maintain only the towns of Guriceel, Dhuusamareeb and Caabudwaaq under their control, with the towns of Ceelbuur, Galhariiri, Wabxo, Warxoolo, Maxaas and Ceelgaras under Al-Shabaab. Many of the prominent Sufi leaders also criticized the deal and the political wrangle between its top leaders did not go unnoticed, despite the media’s attempts to bury it.

At a press conference in Nairobi the Vice Chairman of Ahlu Sunna, Sheikh Hassan Sheikh Abdi convened a meeting to openly denounce the deal. The main cause of the split in the Sufi leadership is a complex clan structures. Sufis are comprised of a Hawiye and a Darood group, all sharing one common goal, i.e. to avenge their scholars. But with the merger, it emerged that since the parliament and allocation of seats were based on a 4.5 formula, the few Darood clans would receive nothing; therefore they all denounced the deal. A power struggle ensued, with the Darood elements of the Sufis disowning the deal and intending to retain the name of the group for themselves and the Hawiye tribes eager to join the TFG.

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The Sufi Disintegration Phase

When Al-Shabaab exhumed the graves of the Sufi scholars in their Polytheism Eradication Campaign, all the people here in Mogadishu expected, in addition to the usual public outcries, an all-out war between Al-Shabaab and Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaa’a (ASWJ). Radio stations were abuzz with debates, coffee shops were alive with the silent Somali murmurs, animated discussions filled the public gatherings and the vociferous Sufi supporters protested as much as they could. But when the campaign swept through Somalia, leaving no stone unturned in its quest, and the Sufis, except for their spokesman vehemently expressing his sorrow on the airwaves and some demonstrations outside Somalia, silently bewailed their loss, the public noticed something slightly disconcerting. Was this all ASWJ could do? Or was there something more to come? The answer was a painful let-down for SWJ supporters. Nothing happened; not the much expected boldness in words and deeds, not the gathering of forces and not even the slightest of movement towards reclaiming their lost honour and saving the reputation of their saints.

Though it has been known fro quite some time here, as the well-versed politicians and coffee-shop pundits are quick to point out, that the Sufi elegance is slowly becoming out of fashion, it has now come to the realisation that soon they will no longer be able to survive. Made up of Sufis who claim mystical communication with their saints, unsuitable alliance of clan militia groups and political opportunists, ASWJ has now entered a phase of gradual disintegration. And there are many reasons for this. Some of which are:

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