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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: À Mogadiscio, le spectre des shebabs

by Rosa Moussaoui

Mogadishu: the Phantom of Al-Shabab

Translated Friday 18 July 2014, by Brooke Cochran

Islamist insurgents, who have increased their attacks on surrounding countries in recent months, are re-positioning themselves in the Somali capital.

Somalia is far from being done with al-Shabab, the armed Islamist successor to the Islamic Courts Union which, in 2006, took power in a country submerged in chaos. Driven out of Mogadishu in 2011 by AMISOM’s African troops, Shabab hit in the heart of the capital Tuesday, attacking Villa Somalia, the presidential palace complex. Several attackers blew themselves up within this high surveillance compound, after forcing their way in with a car-bomb. According to Somali authorities, three members of this commando, wearing army uniforms, were killed, while another was captured. Shabab reports killing 14 soldiers. This new attack, the second on the Presidential Palace since the beginning of the year, confirms that Shabab still has significant room for maneuvering right into the capital where the group would have logistical and financial support, and even means of infiltrating security services. President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud dismissed the chief of police and the head of intelligence Wednesday, a sign that institutions being kept afloat by the international community are fragile. Subsequently, a former intelligence chief was appointed Minister of National Security, a post left vacant since the suicide bombing that targeted Parliament last spring. It is unlikely that these changes will be sufficient to cope with the resurgence of Shabab’s activism. It still controls vast rural areas despite AMISOM’s offensives (22,000 soldiers), and it benefited from the softened arms embargo. “Even if the territories which they control restrict their spending in the medium term, Shabab will continue to control both money and minds. They are taking advantage of at least three decades of Salafi-Wahabi proselytizing, in a context of deeply rooted social conservatism," according to a recent report by the think tank International Crisis Group. The report stresses "the ability of the group to adapt militarily and politically."

Kenya, the target of a policy of exporting war

Al-Shabab has a strategy consisting of bringing conflict to neighboring countries involved in AMISOM. This strategy does not compromise the group’s operational capabilities in Somalia, in fact, it’s quite the contrary. The principal target of this policy of exporting war is Kenya, whose troops had contributed to driving Shabab out of the territories that it controlled in southern Somalia. The coastal region of the Lamu archipelago, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the target of a steady series of raids attributed to Islamists who killed 87 people in less than one month. In Somalia, the human casualties from the conflict, combined with food insecurity, makes matters worse. A bad January harvest and a delayed rainy season made grain prices skyrocket (up to a 60% increase), to the point that Mogadishu is bordering on famine. "Acute malnutrition and mortality rates have exceeded alert thresholds," the United Nations warns. After the great drought of 2011, the famine had killed 250,000 Somalis, half of whom were children.

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