By Dr. M. Omar Hashi firstname.lastname@example.org
Those who can win a war well can rarely make a good peace and those who could make a good peace would never have won the war.
The recent election of Hassan Sheikh Mahmud to the presidency of the Federal Government of Somalia, closely preceded by the announcement by the Joe Biden administration of the re-deployment of hundreds of US military personnel and mercenaries to Mogadishu, is an indication of the approaching endgame in the two decades-long US war with the militant Al-Shabaab. The US and EU failed miserably to eliminate the Al-Shabaab, diminish its cultural and religious legitimacy in Somalia or to construct a viable local alternative in the various puppet transitional Federal governments since 2004.
Therefore, the impending negotiation with Al-Shabaab and concomitant international recognition of it, similar that of the Taliban movement in Afghanistan in 2021, was not only inevitable in light of its continuing military strength, embedders within the fabric of Somali but also a recognition of Al-Shabaab’s unique core resilience in withstanding the combined drone strikes, two decades of war with Ethiopian and Kenyan military occupation forces, the assortment of a dozen African Union militias, the cancerous CIA-controlled warlords, incursions of rival Islamic State/Daesh and the lastly the plethora of CIA paramilitary forces. Without any doubt the Al-Shabaab in 2022 has won the War in Southern Somalia. The Al-Shabaab now operates as a quasi-state entity that maintains its own tax collection, judiciary, police, intelligence gathering, health services and recently, a diplomatic mission in Egypt.
In fact, a recent US military report for the National Security Council for the first time concedes that The Al-Shabaab is the de-facto government-in-waiting in Southern Somalia. So, the sobering question is: How did the US and the Western powers despite billions of dollars since 2006 fail to win the war against the Al-Shabaab?
From a military perspective, the US as the leading global Superpower along with the European Union/NATO military alliance should have easily and comprehensively destroyed the Al-Shabaab movement in the early 2000s. In fact, the US assassination of Al-Shabaab’s charismatic founder, Aaden Xaashi Faarax Ceyroow in the Galgaduud region of central Somalia in 2008 only resulted in the diversification of the Al-Shabaab under the Hargeisa-born Isaaq leader Axmed Cabdi Godane from 2009 to 2014. It was Al-Shabaab leader Godane who successfully transformed the Al-Shabaab from a rag-tag and largely Hawiye militia fighting Mogadishu warlords and Ethiopia into a formidable pan-Somali organization with discrete intelligence, economic and political structures. Today, Al-Shabaab is not only the richest Somali political power but also the only grassroots pan-Somali governing entity that ideologically brings together various competing and hostile Somali clan groupings from the northern Sanaag and Bari mountains to the southern Juba valley and Lamu coast. More importantly, the Al-Shabaab is the only post-Independence Somali ideological movement that has acquired the most coveted value: political legitimacy in the eyes of the Somali population.
Today, the reality on the ground is that the recent election of Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud as president of the Federal Government of Somalia will not reverse the Al-Shabaab military and political ascendency in Somalia.
To be clear, Hassan Sheikh was chosen by the Western powers for certain political considerations not only because of his previous presidential record (2012-2016) but more importantly because he is a member of the Abgaal Hawiye clan. Historically, the Abgaal clan, along with the Majeerteen Darood, been the most compliant native Somali colonial collaborators and informants as evidenced from the Italian colonial occupation of Southern Somalia (1910-1960)— see the Records held at the historical archives of the Ministry of Italian Africa- Historical Archive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs ( ASDMAE); during the infamous US and UNOSOM neo-colonial and militaristic interventions of the 1990s code-named Operation Restore Hope (1991-1995); and the most recent Ethiopian invasion and occupation- genocide in Mogadishu and throughout Southern and Central Somalia (2006-2009).
Consequently, Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud simply serves as a present-day convenient interlocutor and collaborator for the US and EU powers for the ongoing discrete Al-Shabaab negotiations. The US and EU powers know the Al-Shabaab Leadership, like the majority of ethnic Somali, see Hassan Sheik as an affable and unassuming character. Hassan Sheikh is also preferable for negotiations with the Al-Shabaab Leadership than the toxic traitor Sharif Sheikh Ahmed who betrayed the Islamic Courts Union and sided with the late Ethiopian Tigrayan mass murder Meles Zinawi against his former compatriots (who Sharif now calls “terrorists”) for the pitiful political exchange of being given the cowardly warlord- traitor Abdullahi Yusuf’s spot as “TFG President” in 2009. Sharif has never been able to overcome his treacherous legacy as leader of the Islamic Courts Union and the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia.
So where does Hassan Sheikh go from here and what are the key issues the US and EU are negotiating with the Al-Shabaab? The Al-Shabaab already controls most of Mogadishu’s economy. Despite repeated AMISOM/African Union operations, the Al-Shabaab also tax and police most of the main population centres in the Juba Valley (From Kismaayoto Bardhere); Al-Shabaab remains military dominant over large tracts of the Rahanwein fertile farming areas in Bay and Bakool; on a daily basis the Al-Shabaab stage non-stop military incursions along the Lower and Middle Shebelle River and in the Mogadishu environs. What’s more, the Al-Shabaab today controls the entirety of the Hiran region, as well as the southern and eastern Galguduud and Mudugh coast. Since 2012, the Al-Shabaab presence has solidified in the northeast Bari and Sanaag regions. Therefore, it is the US and EU who are running out time and desperate need to make settlement with integrating the Al-Shabaab into the Federal Government of Somalia in-order to secure US oil and gas interests as well as to prevent the geo-strategic emergence of the Russian Federation and to some extent China in Somalia and the Horn of Africa.
Ultimately, Hassan Sheikh is only a convenient cover that the Americans will utilize for the international legitimatization of the Al-Shabaab in the coming months.
My prediction is that the Federal Government of Somalia will soon enter into direct and public negotiations with the Al-Shabaab in the next six months. The Al-Shabaab will certainly demand pre-negotiation concessions from the US and EU which will be fulfilled by the Hassan Sheikh government such as the release of jailed Al-Shabaab leaders and sympathizers, the public commitment to the Islamic character of Somalia, the end to UN sanctions on key leaders and the choice of venue for the negotiations. Looking at events unfolding in Somalia in 2022, it would be wise to recall the legendary former British Prime Minister and seasoned colonial researcher of Africa and the Islamic world, Sir Winston Churchill apt observation that “Those who can win a war well can rarely make a good peace and those who could make a good peace would never have won the war”. Let’s see if Hassan Sheikh and American and EU handlers are able to bring about a negotiated peace with Al-Shabaab.