Mareeg.com-Yesterday’s surprise Al Shabaab attack on the Somali Presidential Palace was their second this year. Yes second. The casualties of these two grave breaches of national security at the highest level does not include the number of civil servants, MP’s and civilians targeted by the militant group for supporting or working with the government. Nor does it include those who were injured or lost their lives in the car bomb explosion outside the Somali parliament a few days earlier (5th July this year).
Clearly angry like he was after all the other incidents before the last attack on his residence and the symbol of his government’s authority and existence, President Hassan Sheikh condemned the attack and firmly stated that neither he nor the Parliamentarians were frightened.
“They cannot frighten me, they cannot frighten the parliament,” the President told reporters in Mogadishu but most in attendance knew that had he not gone for Iftar when he did accompanied by the AMISOM and Somali troops to Halane, the outcome could have potentially been disastrous for him and his government.
Since this government and its security forces are unable to learn from past attacks and mistakes in security planning and implementation, I thought I reflect on the positive outcomes, yes there are some, of this latest attack which by no means will be the last unless there is wholesale reform of the security strategy within Villa Somalia and wider society.
The first positive outcome is that immediately after the attack, heads had to role and the first two to rightfully face the professional guillotine were the Police Commissioner and the head of National Security. The simple act of resigning is not the real positive change in this scenario as the people tasked with both roles previously also did the same thing after the last suicide bomb attack. The real transformation in this case is the swiftness with which these senior government officials departed. Perhaps after this incident, current and future failed or failing civil servants will also bite the bullet and leave the scene quickly and quietly with limited prospects of the kind political comeback Somalia has become notorious for as a result of the 4.5 tribal Ministerial allocation system.
The second cause for optimism after the brutal and humiliating incident is that, despite the rumours of a relative of a Villa Somalia employee been involved, the Somali security forces fought courageously to bring the siege to an end. Unlike the undisciplined minor trainees of AMISOM they are portrayed and seen as by many people, they held their ground and secured the Presidential palace and in the process saved many lives. Although AMISOM troops still remain the backbone of the Security operations in the country, the Somali forces displayed the loyalty, valour and discipline expected of any world class army. AlShabaab, if they had any sense, will not be rushing back to the Villa knowing that a similar reception awaits them from the Somali forces. More crucially, perhaps this is a sign of future security independence where Somalis rely on their own country folk to defend them from their internal and external enemies in all their forms.
The third positive outcome of the AlShabaab attack is that their tactics are always similar and predictable where they are observed and tracked closely. In all the attacks they usually use car bombs for the sense of shock it creates to buy time and then go in by foot with different types of guns and easy to carry weapons. They usually operate in teams and consist of two different groups operating more like opportunists than a well-oiled and practiced guerrilla group with absolutely no intention or plan of leaving the Presidential compound or wherever else they attack. The fact that AlShabaab are forced into these desperate symbolic attacks is a sign that the wider security strategy in Somalia is working as they no longer control any regions of any significance.
With every attack on civilians, MP’s, public servants and institutions, AlShabaab are losing the lofty moral arguments they attempt to present while wholly discrediting themselves as hypocrites with the violent acts they carry out against often innocent civilians in the name of Islam. Yes, there is corruption, institutional weaknesses and experimentation with Western democracy of some sort in Somalia which the militants argue offends Islam but nowhere in the holy Koran does Allah (SWT) ask his servants to maim, kill and ruin the lives of the innocent or destroy property. If AlShabaab want to influence Somali society they have gone about it the wrong way and now they seem more like a violent deviant subcultural sect than the Islamic organisation they profess to been. This was exploited by a national government TV advertisement aired on Somali National TV during Ramadan but if AlShabaab think that was bad publicity; their attack on Villa Somalia was a total turn off for any audience they want to ever reach. On a practical level, because of the predictability of their violent operations, AlShabaab’s attacks on public institutions can be prevented with better security preparation, personnel profiling, active Policing in neighbourhoods and basic traffic management on the road. The best example of public anger with the militant group and disapproval of their crimes is the case of the deputy Imam of Villa Somalia turning his own son to the security forces for who assisted in and facilitated the attack. This is a strong symbol and a positive outcome that warns future Alshabaab operatives that they have nowhere to hide and no defenders and supporters even within their own families.
The fourth positive outcome of the latest AlShabaab attack on the Presidential Palace is that absolutely everyone is questioning the leadership of the President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. When he came to power he raised the public expectations of his government’s security policy by making national security one of his 6 key pillars. He asked the public to judge him on the achievements and outcomes of the implementation of these pillars which he promised to deliver before the end of his term. With just under 2 years left of his Presidential term before the supposed national free and fair elections to come in 2016, the security situation which is actually improving somewhat according to experts all across the country, is been undermined by the poor security of his residence. For Hassan Sheikh to achieve any of the other 5 pillars which he wants to be judged against in the next election, he needs to face up to the fact that he has thus far sorely disappointed on every level. Diplomats, donor nation representatives and Somalis themselves speak of his failure and inability to connect and act decisively openly in public. A positive outcome of all the recent AlShabaab attacks will hopefully be that the President wakes up to the fact that the Somali people and the international community are waiting for him to lead the change Somalia needs towards security and prosperity. He needs to abandon the NGO mindset and put on his super hero outfit to save his presidency and ultimately government and people. Changing his National Security Minister regularly will not suffice.
There clearly are external matters of financial aid promised by donor nations in the past for security still not reaching the Somali government but this in itself is something the president and his Key Ministers should be working on fixing through their leadership, diplomatic skills and ultimately building credible state institutions such as the central bank so that it would be harder for donor nations to promise and not provide aid on the grounds of “concerns” in the area of transparency and good governance.
Terror attacks are never positive but the lessons they teach us about AlShabaab and the weaknesses of government policy have been. Somalia is in transition and taking the most crucial steps it could ever take to move towards reform and change. This process is not easy and it will not get any easier but if lessons are not learnt from every attack and government mistake, it is bound to repeat itself with devastating consequences for the Somali people and for the government led by President Hassan Sheikh which inspired so much hope when it first took office only a few years ago.
The author welcomes feedback and comments. He can be reached through the below means:
firstname.lastname@example.org @LibanObsiye (Twitter).