21 December 2016

Al-Shabaab is back in Somalia

The armed Islamic group, al-Shabaab, is a growing threat to stability and efforts to rebuild Somalia’s state apparatus. This is the conclusion of a recent memo by two FOI researchers.

From 2009 to 2011, al-Shabaab controlled large parts of southern and central Somalia, including the capital. The Islamic group lost its permanent strongholds, though, and could be discounted for a few years. But since 2014, according to FOI’s memo, the group has increased the number of its terrorist attacks and its attacks against military targets.

“Al-Shabaab is back. They have intensified their activities since 2014. They’re on the offensive, with terrorist attacks against both civilians and foreign personnel, and through guerrilla warfare against the African Union’s bases, with high casualties. Al-Shabaab is once again a real threat to Somalia’s future,” says Daniel Torbjörnsson, a researcher at FOI.

In the memo, the FOI researchers identify several factors that can worsen Somalia’s security situation. Neighbouring Kenya has begun closing the Dadaab refugee camp, which increases the risk that hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees will be sent back to Somalia. The closure may thus benefit al-Shabaab. The large number of refugees allows an opportunity for the group either to recruit or forcefully conscript new soldiers. For refugees without an income in Somalia the prospect of a monthly salary can make joining the organization attractive.

Another threat the researchers highlight is the risk that the countries that have been contributing troops to the African Union’s peacekeeping force will withdraw them.

“They have contributed large forces and lost many soldiers. Kenya’s internal security problems have increased as well, since al-Shabaab is seeking revenge by carrying out attacks. Uganda’s continued involvement is unclear and Burundi has its own security problems. Al-Shabaab does not have the capacity to defeat the African Union if the latter’s forces remain at current levels, but the question is how much longer the troop-contributing countries can hold out,” says Daniel Torbjörnsson.

At the same time, EU is participating in a mission in Somalia in order to increase the capacity of the country’s army. The objective is that the government will be able to take over the responsibility for security from the African Union. The African Union plans to begin its troop withdrawal in 2018, and hand over complete responsibility to the country’s government in 2020. The date may be changed though.

Title of the memo: “Resurgent, Reinvented or Simply Resilient? The Growing Threat of al-Shabaab in Somalia.”