About a year ago, Mogadishu was still in tears. It is now busy wiping out the deluge of tears that had previously inundated its cheeks. It is now recovering from the ordeal of over twenty years of insecurity, lawlessness and despair. But it is also haunted by the spectre of a relapse. The large-scale violence in the city might have ended, but the challenges facing it are enormous – peace is still fragile, and the needs of the people are far greater than the capacities and the resources of the national and international actors to meet them. More disconcerting is the reality that Mogadishu is yet to restore its image as the nation’s capital.
The long forced marriage between Mogadishu and the notorious clan militias and the radical groups was indeed brutal and unhappy. Thousands of innocent indigenous Mogadisciani have died in the course of this despicable relationship. Those who are planning to return to their ancestral home for the first time after their ejection in 1991 will be struck by the degree of destruction the city has succumbed to. The city’s infrastructures have been blown apart, its roads ripped up, and its ancient sites deliberately destroyed. The deep-seated poverty and the environmental decline in the city are appalling. As a former lecturer at the Somali National University, I find it extremely disgusting and profoundly depressing to drive through the University Campuses and notice the academic institutions reduced into rubble.
Mogadishu: Still Diverse and Pluralistic?
Mogadishu now is not the same cosmopolitan, multi-national and multi-ethnic city it used to be. It is monolithic in terms of its clan and ethnic composition. The demographic change that has occurred is strikingly astounding. The inhabitants who had previously constituted Mogadishu’s ethnic and cultural diversity including, among others, Arab Somalis, Indian Somalis, Pakistani Somalis, and Italian Somalis, are no longer visible in the city. They were forced out of the country when the Somali civil war broke out in 1991.
These were the citizens who believed in the sanctity and inviolability of Somalia. They were a transformational force in the society. They were the reason for the city’s diversity and pluralism. They were the citizens who had laid the foundation for Mogadishu to become an important economic and business hub in the Horn of Africa. Somalis of my generation still vividly recall their contributions in, among other important areas, education, health, arts, music, sports, and business.
These genuine Mogadisciani, whose unwavering allegiance to the nation was never doubted, and who had always disdained tribalism in a country where tribal rivalry was and still is at its highest, played a critical role in the struggle for Somalia’s independence and unity. They are now scattered all over in the diaspora. And it remains to be seen whether they, or their children or grandchildren, will ever want to return to Mogadishu to take part in the restoration of its old image as the nation’s capital. Those who are still alive are haunted by the ghastly reminiscences of a civil war that has made Somalia a “Failed State”.
Mogadishu, Al Shabaab, and AMISOM.
The Somali Armed Forces and AMISOM have suppressed Al Shabaab militancy and violence in Mogadishu. Areas that were controlled by Al Shabaab have been liberated. But despite the military defeat, the movement is likely to remain a significant feature of Mogadishu’s political and economic landscape for the foreseeable future. Salafist teachings, poverty, unemployment, and other social ills continue to threaten security and stability in Mogadishu. Chances for a relapse into violence remain real because of a reluctance to engage in understanding the underlying rationale that has led to such violence in the first place.
Besides, in the relatively long history of Somalia’s crisis, military rather than socio-economic considerations have dominated our national security debates. We believe that it is time now that we endeavour to raise the opportunity cost of rebellion through poverty eradication, the generation of employment among the youth, and the improvement of livelihoods. Mogadishu acknowledges the sacrifices and the commitments made by the AU troops that are engaged in bringing about peace and stability in Somalia. It is, however, the hope of all Somalis that these troops engage also in understanding the underlying factors that trigger rebellion among the Somali youth.
Within AMISOM and the United Nations Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS) in Nairobi, discussions on understanding the internal dynamics that have generated and sustained Al Shabaab militancy receive very little or no attention. This is shrugged off notwithstanding the fact that once these internal dynamics are revealed and the benefits and costs of enlisting in the movement fully understood, serious efforts can be made to dissuade the youth from joining Al Shabaab through the creation of disincentives for violence and incentives for a lasting peace.
Such understandings can help in reducing the risk of the spread/re-surge of Al Shabaab militancy by pursuing pro-poor economic growth, and investment in education and health care. What has increased the country’s vulnerability to Al Shabaab’s influence is the belief among many Somali youth that they have no stake in the country – the country denied them the opportunity to provide for themselves and for their families. The society has failed to protect them against violence and human rights abuses. These young Somalis have opted to join Al Shabaab not because of ideological reasons; they have done so because they have and still are venting their frustration and anger at a nation in which they have no stake, and from which they derive no protection or benefit.
The Future of Mogadishu
Nobody knows what the future holds for this city – once upon a time called the “Pearl of the Indian Ocean”. As resilient as it might be, chances of restoring its image as the nation’s capital now and in the foreseeable future appear more elusive. The new Government and other stakeholders can, however, make an attempt to create circumstances that are propitious to a gradual return of the indigenous Mogadisciani. Moreover, the current residents in the city, perceived as being monolithic in terms of their clan identity, can endeavour to dissolve this monotony and embrace inclusiveness and “Somaliness.”
The Somali governmental and non-governmental institutions’ imperfect understanding of the underlying factors that have led to the emergence of Al Shabaab in Mogadishu, or its reluctance to seek to understand them, have a lot to do with the reasons why it is taking too long to dismantle this movement. It is important to address the political, social, economic, and psychological causes that have contributed to the generation of this phenomenon. The Somali Armed Forces and AMISOM should not only exercise coercive power and focus on short-term symptoms of insecurity. The adoption of a realist approach, which assumes that through power and coercion, violence can be suppressed and peace can be ultimately achieved, cannot bring about a lasting solution.
The security sector reform that the country envisages to adopt must ensure that the poor youth, the marginalized Somalis, and those who have suffered discrimination and exclusion because of their clan identities, are fully engaged in the design and implementation of the security policies of the country. These groups must be empowered to become natural partners and important strategic actors in the process of conflict transformation in the country. Economic and political disparities, social injustices, and political oppression in the society must be seriously addressed.
The leaders of Al Shabaab have capitalized on the grievances of the poor, the unemployed, and the marginalized Somali youth to mobilize violence from the top. The youth have embraced this recruitment because they might have considered joining Al Shabaab radical movement as being a solution to their protracted problems. Analysts argue that getting involved in violence may “serve a range of psychological and even security functions as well as economic functions.” The alliance that these Somali youth have established with the leaders of this radical movement represents not a problem but a solution for them.
Drawing upon these realities, I argue that we must seriously undertake to fully understand the factors that have prompted the emergence of this movement in Mogadishu and elsewhere in Somalia, if at all we wish to spare the killings of our youth and bring about a lasting peace in the country. A lasting peace in Somalia, brought about through new transformational paradigms, would undoubtedly lead to the restoration of the pre-eminence and prestige of the capital city of Somalia.
By: Buri M. Hamza
December 26, 2012