The roots of al-Shabab atrocities in Kenya: The long history of disruption in Somalia

Now al-Shabab has mounted a new traumatic massacre of 150 student innocents at Kenya’s Garissa University College on the heels of the the slaying of 67 at the Westgate  Shopping Mall in Nairobi in 2013.

Geographer Abdi Samatar at University of Minnesota, former president of the African Studies Association, research fellow at the University of Pretoria, and member of African Academy of Sciences writes that the deeper tragedy is,

… that the largest number of victims of al-Shabab are not Kenyans, Ugandans, or others, but Somalis in Somalia. Al-shabab has imposed an incredible tyranny on the population and has disabled them from rebuilding their war-torn country. The international community, including Africans, have been not only oblivious to the plight of the Somali people, but have turned them into a disposable political football since the collapse of their state in 1991.

For over 16 years the world watched warlord terrorists rape, loot and kill Somalis with impunity. In some instances, members of the international community used the warlords as clients to affect their agenda in Somalia. For instance, the value of the Somali shilling against the US dollar appreciated significantly in late 2005 and early 2006 as the market in Mogadishu realised that there was a flood of dollars coming into the city. The source of these was American intelligence sources that supported some of the warlords against what later became known as the Union of the Islamic Courts (UIC).

First it was Ethiopia. The UIC defeated the warlords and created peace in Mogadishu for the first time in 16 years and without any help from the international community. Rather than engaging with the UIC, the US and its African clients considered them as terrorists and Ethiopia was given the green light to invade and dismantle it. Ethiopian forces took over Mogadishu on December 25, 2006, and the prospect of a peaceful resurrection of Somalia perished.

Continue reading Samatar’s article on Kenya’s engagement in Somalia and the emerging Kenya-al Shabab conflict.

Samtar’s observations highlight several important lessons:

– the long-term costs of Western liaisons with local warlords and militias in fragile states such as Somali and Libya, as with CIA support in the 1980s of al Qaeda against the Soviets in Afghanistan;

– the positive possibilities and the importance of not rushing to label all Islamic movements as terrorist;

– the importance of seeking to negotiate with such local civic society movements as the Somali Union of Islamic Courts, especially in their early days in 2006  when they had defeated the warlords and established relative peace in Somalia, thereby engaging the support of the vast majority of Somalis; and

– the great dangers of foreign interventions in general and especially from adjoining nations (Ethiopia, Kenya) which contribute to the long-term civil disorder and loss of human and civil governance that we are witnessing now in Libya as well.

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