Somalian Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre has named former co-founder of the extremist Islamic organization al-Shabaab, Mukhtar Robow, as a member of his cabinet. Mr. Robow was appointed “Minister of Religion,” in hopes that his position in government will encourage current members of al-Shabaab to disarm and recognize the government. Al-Shabaab has taken control of many areas in southern Somalia and has conducted many bombings that have killed thousands of citizens, with the aim of taking control of the Somalian government and imposing a stricter interpretation of Sharia law. Al-Shabaab has been named a terrorist organization by the United States government. Mr. Robow left the organization in 2013 due to disagreements with the former co-leader of the organization, Ahmed Abdi Godane, who was killed in a U.S.-sponsored drone strike in 2014. In 2018, after publicly stating his support for the Somalian government, Robow was arrested after he campaigned for regional presidency of the South West State of Somalia. He was placed under house arrest until recently, as he is now able to serve in the government.
Reactions regarding Mr. Robow’s appointment remain divided among Somalians and the international community, with many viewing the appointment as a step towards possibly bringing peace to the country and others worried that this appointment will only cause more violence. Political analyst Mohamed Mohamud told Reuters, “We welcome his appointment. The move will advance reconciliation and will serve as a good example for more high-level al-Shabaab defections.” Whether this appointment will be successful in suppressing the power of al-Shabaab and creating more peace throughout the country has yet to be realized, but many view it as an important step in uniting the country.
Many believe that recognizing a former member of a terrorist group like Mr. Robow by giving him a position in government is an outrage and will have serious political consequences. The perpetual violence and grave famine that has been exacerbated by al-Shabaab’s presence in many areas of Somalia though requires immediate action to be taken in order to save lives, which is a far greater issue than any kind of potential political misstep. While the potentially positive or negative effects of Mr. Robow’s appointment to cabinet have yet to be realized, Prime Minister Barre’s decision to put political repercussions aside and do what is best for the Somalian people who are affected daily by the horrific actions of al-Shabaab is an important step in bringing peace to the country and helping innocent civilians, as Mr. Robow’s appointment very well may encourage other members of al-Shabaab to defect and disarm and may eliminate the blocking of necessary aid shipments.
Al-Shabaab controls a substantial amount of territory in the Bakool region of Somalia, where Mukhtar Robow is from. Prime Minister Barre hopes that Mr. Robow’s appointment will encourage insurgents to defect and garner more support for the government, as Mr. Robow is very influential and respected in that region. Bakool and many other regions in Somalia are currently experiencing a historic famine, with forty percent of Somalia’s population (roughly 7 million people) are estimated to be food insecure. While Somalia relies heavily on grain exports from Ukraine and thus has been greatly affected by the Russo-Ukrainian war’s delay of food exports, aid organizations also have not been able to deliver shipments of food due to al-Shabaab insurgents blocking many of the shipment routes. In many instances, humanitarian organizations have been forced to hand over cash payments to insurgents in order to distribute the food to those who need it most. This has caused many organizations to lose essential funding, as many large donors do not want to be thought of as “making deals” with al-Shabaab.
While the appointment of Mukhtar Robow as “Minister of Religion” in the Somalian government may be controversial, it is a necessary action in order to get immediate help for the millions of Somalians who are in dire danger due to the powerful presence of al-Shabaab in certain areas and may be an important step in creating peace throughout the country.
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