Amidst famine and despair in Somalia, a sudden turn of events has brought a spark of hope to the grim landscape. The Islamic militant group al Shabab, affiliated with al Qaeda, has pulled out of the capital Mogadishu which it had controlled for years.
This development has been brewing for months, as the 9,000 African Union troops supporting the government (mostly Ugandan troops) have strengthened their force and pushed to expand the government’s zone of control beyond the few blocks of territory it has held in recent years. The need to deliver famine aid to the refugees streaming into Mogadishu gave an extra reason to push out al Shabab. The militant group was also set back when a top leader was killed recently in a shootout after mistakenly driving into a government checkpoint. It has also been hit with U.S. drone attacks recently. Clan elders have turned against the group as it has blocked delivery of famine aid and has even held captive those families trying to flee the area. Shabab’s harsh methods of justice — it ruled by fear — were resented by the population.
The transitional government in Somalia is extremely weak and, at best, inept. But it is internationally recognized and has the support of the African Union, the United Nations, and all the major outside powers including the United States. With Shabab’s actions so reprehensible, this is one conflict in the world where the good guys and the bad guys are not hard to distinguish.
Somalia is extremely unstable and al Shabab has been beaten back before only to return. The country has been at war since 1991. Northern parts of it operate autonomously, including Puntland where the notorious pirates have their main bases, and Somaliland which has operated for years as an oasis of relative peace and democracy.
In the south, the famine continues to worsen and is quite desperate. Much more aid is needed. As before, I would urge everyone to donate to the major organizations working to help the affected population. Here again are links for Doctors Without Borders and Oxfam America.
There are always many reasons to be pessimistic about Somalia, but today we must agree with the Somali prime minister that the withdrawal of al Shabab from Mogadishu is a “tremendous step forward.”