Somali Civil War


The Somali Conflict is a multifaceted dispute triggered by the fall of President Said Barre regime on 27 January 1991. General Barre’s dictatorship was synonymous with extreme brutality, suppression of opposition groups, both nationalistic and Islamic, and exacerbation of interclan rivalries (clannism).  By 1988, the dissatisfaction with the government led to nationalist groups throughout the country, with Northern Somalia (modern-day Somaliland) leading the charge, to attack government and military posts, prompting the First Somali Civil war (1988-1991).  The fall of General Barre’s regime created a power vacuum in which nationalist and Islamic groups, warlords, clan and sub-clan militias and other actors aimed to take control of portions of territory to govern. Subsequently, regional and international institutions initiated various peace and reconciliation processes in an attempt to create a stable and robust federal government, with various degrees of success.  The lack of clear and unified vision from the Somali Federal Government and its federal states, as well as the inability to cohesively combat the threat of al-Shabaab, despite the support from African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and the US, has propelled the Somali conflict.  The interclan rivalries have fuelled the tension between the Federal government and the regional states, making the consensus and state-building, as well as peacebuilding, process strenuous. Moreover, the desire for oil exploration in the country will future prolong the conflict among the clans and sub-clans.

The combination of the internal and external factors has resulted in more than a million deaths. As a result of conflict and humanitarian crises, some which were man-made, millions more have fled to neighbouring countries. Many of the refugees have fled to Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, which is the largest refugee camps in the world. The desire for the Kenyan government to close the refugee camp, citing national security, will further complicate the Somali crisis.   

The current efforts to stabilise the conflict in Somalia is occurring both in the local and regional/international spaces. In the domestic setting, the Federal Government of Somalia (FSG) is trying to stabilise the country through building national consensus between the government and the regional states. This is critical to the peace process since many of the Somali politicians either were former warlords, control large militias or have a significant influence in their clans and sub-clans. Without the support of clans and sub-clans, it is close to impossible to maintain peace in Somalia.  In addition to the government efforts, Somalis, as well as Somalis in the diaspora, have engaged in peacebuilding efforts – trying to tackle issues such as youth radicalisation and unemployment, two key factors that contribute to recruitment into extremist groups.

The local federal peace process is supported by the regional and international actors, namely the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), respectively. AMISOM plays both a positive and negative role in the peace process. AMISOM’s role in the peace process has been primarily militarily where they support the Somali National Army in their fight against al-Shabaab, Islamic State in Somalia (ISS) and other extremist forces while building their capacity so that they can take over the security-related activities in the country. Due to their efforts, they have become frequent targets of the al-Shabaab attacks. Despite their role in lessening the territorial gains of al-Shabaab and generally decreasing insecurity in parts of the country, the historical and current tumultuous relationship between Somalia and Kenya and Ethiopia respectively is of great concern for the peace process. Al-Shabaab frequently uses the involvement of the two countries in gaining support from the locals who distrust the two nations. Somalis tend to question whether the troops are working to secure their country’s national interest in Somalia, or they are genuinely attempting to support the Somali government’s efforts to stabilise the country and free the land of extremist forces. Regardless of the Somali sentiment, both countries will remain part of the AMISOM due to the increased threat from al-Shabaab and its ability to conduct cross border attacks in the region. UNSOM supports the Federal government in their reconciliation peace process, which is mainly done through the emerging federalism process, institutionalising ideas of human rights, gender equality and the rule of law and assists with the humanitarian aid.


Where: Somalia

Population: 12.3 Million (UNFPA 2014)

Dates of conflict:  1988-1991, 1991 – 2000, 2007 – present  

Deaths: approximately 1 million


Refugees/Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs) – 1.1 million 

Key actors

The current Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) was created through a constitutional process and approved on August 20th, 2012. Before this, Somalia was governed by the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) which was formed through the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) led process, the Eldoret Conference (2004). The FGS’ peace initiatives revolve around reconciliation. Following decades of conflict, it is vital for the government to address the grievances that clans and sub-clans have. One of the ways the government is addressing reconciliation is through the creation of the federalist system. The federalist system is supposed to stabilise the country by giving the six federal states more autonomy. If this peacebuilding effort is done effectively, it can lessen the interclan rivalries which not only paralyses the operations of the country but is sometimes have been exploited by al-Shabaab. Another way the government is dealing the reconciliation is through instituting a 30% women quota in parliament. This is vital since women have traditionally been left out of governance and peacebuilding matters in Somalia. Somali tradition dictates that contentious issues that affect the community should be addressed by the Guutri or the traditional leaders. Though the women quota has not been met by the government, the conversation of equality of women and men is increasingly being discussed with the society.

The 2012 constitutional change that brought about the Federal Government of Somalia (FSG) created a federalist system which divides the country into regional states; 1) Galmudug, 2) Hirshabelle, 3(South West State, 4) Jubbaland, 5) Puntland and 6) Somaliland. The capital city of Mogadishu is part of the Banadir Regional Administration which is not governed under any regional state. The Federalist system was created in an attempt to tackle the issues of lack of equal clan representation in government and division of resources. These two issues have caused many inter-clan and inter-sub-clan conflict. Currently, the Federal Government and the regional states have a poor relationship, with two out of five states refusing to work directly with the FGS.

On paper, the federalist system can contribute to the stabilisation of Somalia, but the reality is that the implementation of the federal system has created more issues. For starters, the addition of Somaliland as a regional state is a contentious issue since they declared their independence from Somalia during the first Somali Civil War (1988-1992). Somaliland is not recognised by any country though it enjoys trade relationships with most of the regional countries, as well as the Gulf States. Secondly, the recent push for exploration of oil in Somalia has turned the tensions between the regional states and the Federal Government to an all-time high. The tensions reached a tipping point when the regional government of Puntland dissolved all its relations with the Federal government.  

Who are they: Al-Shabaab, whose official name is Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen which loosely translates as the Youth Movement, is an extremist group operating in Somalia but with the capability to conduct attacks in the region. They aim to; 1) overthrow the Somali government and install a radical Islamist government ruled under a strict interpretation of the Quran and 2) the creation of the “Greater Somalia” which is unifying the Somali people divided into four countries (discussed above).

Target: Their main target is government and military-related posts in Somalia. They also target AMISOM and UN forces as they support the government’s efforts in the country. Al-Shabaab says that they will rid Somalia of all foreign countries operating in the country.

Finances: al-Shabaab is known to kidnap aid workers in Somalia in the hope that the organisation or the country they belong to will pay the ransom money. In terms of finances, other than ransom money payments, al-Shabaab forces people in their territory to pay taxes and set up checkpoints to extort drivers. Additionally, they are profiting from the charcoal trade where they sell their product in the Gulf states.

Fighters: It is estimated that there are between 4000 and 7000 al-Shabaab militants, which includes the foreign fighters. Due to the many restrictions related to travel, the militant group relies on the kidnapping of children and youths for reinforcement

The Islamic State in Somalia (ISS), led by Abdul Qadir Mumin, is a splinter group from al-Shabaab. They are predominately located in the Golis Mountains in the Puntland regional state. They announced their split in 2016 and soon after pledged their alliance to al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State in Syria and the Levant. The group is still at its infancy with an estimated 500 and 1000 members. They have claimed few attacks in Puntland regional state. ISS faces assaults from the Puntland military and also from al-Shabaab militants. US Africa Command (AFRICOM) has been increasing its airstrikes in the region, killing their members.

African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) is an active, regional peacekeeping mission operated by the African Union (AU) with the approval of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Its original mandate was to support the national reconciliation process, the defence of government of officials and protection of critical installations in Mogadishu. The mandate has also evolved to support the counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations of the Somali Security Forces to combat extremist groups such as al-Shabaab. Furthermore, their mandate now includes building the capacity of Somali security agencies, which will enable them to hand over security responsibilities to the Somali security forces gradually. AMISOM is intended to withdraw its troops from Somalia by 2020-21.

AMISOM’s peacebuilding role is to secure the country, through lessening the influence of al-Shabaab, so that the Federal Government of Somalia (FSG) can operate without any pressure from non-state actors. The military-minded peacebuilding approach has had many problems, especially in the beginning, when the soldiers would indiscriminately target civilians after al-Shabaab attacks. The lack of proper training of the soldiers in matters related to human rights and sexual gender-based violence negatively impacted their ability to interact with the communities, which is an essential part of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency. Following training from different international actors, AMISOM has decreased its civilian casualty rate. Additionally, the mission has placed significant effort to build its humanitarian department, which does projects connected to internally displaced peoples, famine, and providing health service. The impact of the humanitarian department is limited by the allocation of funds since AMISOM is still operating as a military-focused peacebuilding mission. The civilian component of AMISOM supports the Federal Government of Somalia’s efforts of reconciliation through the creation of space where key stakeholders such as women and civil society can engage in discussion with the government about the road map to a better and safer Somalia.

Note: AMISOM troop-contributing countries are Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Burundi and Djibouti. Other African nations contribute to the AMISOM police force.

The United States primary involvement has primarily been to assist with the counterterrorism efforts against extremist groups, i.e. al-Shabaab and Islamic State in Somalia. The counterterrorism efforts, conducted by United States Africa Command (AFRICOM), are part of the broader strategy of decapitation. Decapitation is the killing and/or arresting of leaders and high-ranking officials with the assumption that without such individuals, the group will not operate effectively, therefore, causing its demise. In a recent interview in May 2019, AFRICOM stated that their counterterrorism efforts are geared towards lessening the strength of al-Shabaab in order to force the extremist group into a political settlement.

United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) was established on 3rd June 2012 through a UNSC Resolution. UNSOM aims to support the establishment of the Federal Government of Somalia by providing advice to the government, and AMISOM on matters such as peacebuilding, governance, security sector reform, the rule of law, the democratisation of Somalia, among other issues. Currently, they are working alongside the Federal Government of Somalia to develop the 2019 portfolio of the UN-Secretary General Peacebuilding Fund, which details the new state-building projects that the two entities will undertake this year. Some of the projects focus on stabilisation of the country, especially in those recently “liberated” areas from al-Shabaab, assisting Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs) and leveraging women’s contribution in peacebuilding while promoting gender sensitivity and equality.

The European Union Mission in Somalia is a major partner of the Somali government. They support the federal government in a matter such as political change, improving security, development assistance and humanitarian aid. Through Operation ATALANTA, they support the Somali National Navy in patrolling the seas to reduce piracy.

Timeline of the crisis

1885 – 1969: By 1892, Somalia was colonised by French (Djibouti), Britain (British Somaliland and Northern Kenya), Italy (Somalia) and Abyssinian Empire (Ogaden region in Ethiopia). In 1945, Italy lost Italian Somaliland to the British as a consequence of being in the losing side of World War Two. The combined territory is hence force known as British Somaliland.  By 1949, Britain relinquishes its control of the area, and British Somaliland officially becomes Trust Territory of Somaliland, a United Nations Trusteeship, under Italian Administration. On 1st July 1960, Somalia gains its independence, and Aden Abdullahi Osman Daar becomes president until 1969.

1963 – 1967:  Shifta War commences between Kenya and Northern Province People’s Progressive Party (NPPPP).  NPPPP, an ethnically Somali political party, was supported by the Somali government. The NPPPP wanted to the northern part of Kenya, which is mainly ethnically Somalis, to secede to join Somalia. In 1967, Somalia and Kenya signed a Memorandum of Understanding ensuring that Somalia will not arm armed groups in Kenya In response to Somalia’s actions in the Shifta war, Kenya and Ethiopia sign Mutual Defense Pact in 1964.  This was necessary at the time since Somalia and Ethiopia were also fighting and conducting cross-border attacks in each other’s territory.

1969 – 1991: General Said Barre stages a bloodless military coup to become president. Said Barre comes to power soon after the assassination of the Somali president Abdirashid Ali Shermarke. His 22-year dictatorship is characterised by; 1) the marginalisation of all clan that does not belong to the Ogaden clan family, and 2) oppression of nationalist and Islamic groups

July 1977- March 1978: Ogaden War between Somalia and Ethiopia over the disputed Ogaden region in Ethiopia, which is inhabited by mainly ethnically Somali people. Following the disastrous war, the Said Barre regime signed an agreement with Ethiopia that both sides pledged not to aid any opposition groups operating in their respective countries. Ethiopia was supporting the Somali nationalist groups operating from their territory while Somalia funded the ethnically Somali groups operating in the Ogaden region. At the end of the disastrous war, few soldiers attempted to stage a coup but failed. As a result, 17 military commanders accused of being organisers of the attempted coup against Said Barre are publicly executed.

By 1988, the conditions within Somalia had worsened significantly that the Somali National Movement (SNM) began attacking government and military posts in Northern Somalia, initiating the Somali First Civil War. While SNM fought in the North, the United Somali Congress (USC), in coordination with other smaller groups, fought against General Barre in Mogadishu. During this four-year conflict, over 300,000 Somalis died as a result of war-related casualties, hunger, and disease.

The pressure from the United Somali Congress (USC), in coordination with other smaller groups, ultimately forced President Barre to flee outside Somalia.

The sense of victory over defeating General Said Barre was short lived since the coalitions created to defeat him collapsed due to inter-clan conflicts. When the alliance between the two strongest leaders, General Aideed and Ali Ahmed, who were co-founders of the United Somali Congress (USC), broke out, fighting between them resulted in the ultimate Battle for Mogadishu. The fighting between the two parties caused the United Nations to intervene. Eventually, General Aideed declared himself president, but it was short-lived because he was shot by one of his supporters.

The Battle of Mogadishu leaves several civilians and eighteen United States park rangers dead. This is commonly known as “Black Hawk Down.” The dead soldiers were dragged through the streets and filmed. The footage was later shown on CNN causing public backlash to the US’s involvement in Somalia. The United States later pulls out of Somalia.

The conflict between the General Aideed and Ali Mahdi in Mogadishu caused the United Nations to intervene through a Security Council Resolution. Through this process, the United Task Force in Somalia (UNITAF), a US-led military operation, was deployed in 1993. The most notable of confrontation was the Black Hawk Down incident where suspected General Aideed supporters shot down a US military plane. The event led to the death of 18 US troops who were then paraded around the city as a sign of victory over the Americans. The US military immediately abandoned their mission in Somalia following the incident. A combination of the Black Hawk Down incident and the deaths of other UN peacekeepers forced the UN to begin the process of withdrawing personnel from Somalia.

The new millennium brought about a renewed effort to re-establish a Somali Federal Government. Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a Horn and East African regional institution, spearheaded the processes. In 2000, the Arta declaration, the basis of all subsequent Somali governments, was signed in Djibouti. The declaration asserted that all future Somali governments would use the 4:5 formula which states that the four main clans – Dorad, Hawiye, Dir (includes the Isaaq) and Rahanweym (Digil-Mirifle)) will have equal representation in government while the other smaller clans will share the rest of the representation. Following the collapse of the transitional government, which was also created through the Arta Declaration, the Eldoret Conference created the Somali Transitional Federal Government/Parliament (TFG/P). The TFG/P governed Somalia until the creation of the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) in 2012.

The United Islamic Courts (UIC) is a predecessor of al-Shabaab. UIC as formed when it splintered from Al-Ittihad al-Islamiyah (AIAI), a relatively moderate Islamic group. When UIC was established, they immediately had an instant connection with the business community in Mogadishu. The business community believed in the UIC’s ability to maintain peace and security in the city since they did not charge taxes and other forms of payment like the other warlords who controlled different neighbourhoods in Mogadishu. The business community did not mind the Islamic rhetoric as they saw their version of Islamism as more moderate compared to other groups. By 2006, UIC had grown in popularity and military strength. Following their military build-up, UIC challenged the authority of the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG). The two sides fought for the control of Mogadishu in which UIC won, forcing the TFG to relocate the seat of government to Baidoa. Since UIC was created with remnants of AIAI, the Ethiopian government was concerned over its rise. By December 2006, the Ethiopian military had invaded Somalia, with the support of the US, to oust the UIC from power, which only took a month.

The African Mission in Somalia is a peacebuilding mission approved and sanctioned by the African Union and United Nations. Following the approval in February, Uganda and Burundi had deployed troops to support the Somali Transitional Federal Government’s (TFG) efforts to stabilise the country.

Note: Analysts claims that one of the reasons why AMISOM was approved quickly was due to the US supported the invasion of Somalia by Ethiopian troops to remove UIC from power. Ethiopian troops need an exit strategy following the defeat of UIC since they were technically breaking the 1992 UN arms embargo

More information about AMISOM, refer to section AMISOM in key actors

The United States State Department designates groups such as al-Shabaab into its Foreign Terrorist Organisation list, as part of section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). The United States was one of the first international actors who classified al-Shabaab as a terrorist organisation. The predecessors of al-Shabaab, al-Ittihad al-Islamiyah and United Islamic Courts, were both designated as terrorist groups.

The twin bombings in Puntland and Somaliland used six suicide bombers who drove explosives-laden vehicles into high targets. In Somaliland, they targeted the presidential palace, the Ethiopian consulate and the UNDP offices while in Puntland they targeted the Intelligence Service building

Following the reports of Ayro’s death, many analysists began stating that the slain al-Shabaab leader Godane was the new leader. The new book, Inside al-Shabaab by Harun Maruf, claims that the CIA made a mistake thinking that Ayro was the leader of al-Shabaab. From the beginning, Godane was the Emir, or leader, of the extremist group.

Between 2007 and 2011, al-Shabaab took advantage of the weak Somali government and its security agencies, as well as the ill-equipped AMISOM, and began the process of solidifying its insurgency in Somalia by capturing territory. Kismayo was an essential gain for al-Shabaab since they were able to fully control a key port city where they could export illicit goods such as charcoal, as well as gain income by taxing locals from using the port. The fight for Kismayo was relatively easy for al-Shabaab since they were fighting pro-government clan militias who were inexperienced. The person who led the pro-government militia, Ahmed “Madobe” is the current regional president of Jubbaland.

  • A suicide bomber drove an explosives-laden vehicle into the gate of the popular Medina hotel. The devastating attack killed the Somali Security Minister Omar Hashi Aden, the former Somali Ambassador to Ethiopia and the African Union Abdikarim Farah and several Somali diplomats.

July 2010: Al-Shabaab conducts the “World Cup” Bombings in Uganda killing over 70 people.

The “World Cup” bombing in Kampala, Uganda was their first major attack outside Somalia which sent shock waves throughout the region. The explosion came just two days after al-Shabaab leader, Godane, issued a fatwa, declaring jihad against all Troop Contributing Countries. Previous to this, al-Shabaab had conducted small cross border attack to Ethiopia and Kenya.

Note: At this point, Troop Contributing Countries were Uganda and Burundi.

The “World Cup” bombing in Kampala, Uganda is a critical turning point to the fight against al-Shabaab. The ability to conduct a devastating attack outside Somalia demonstrated the military capability of the group, which until then was underestimated. The shock of the attack led to an emergency meeting with AMISOM Troop Contributing Countries and the UN, which resulted in the change of mandate. The mandate called for counterterrorism and counterinsurgency efforts to lessen the threat of al-Shabaab. Therefore, the AMISOM mandate became more militarily driven rather than utilising the three components of the mission, military, civilian and police. Previously, AMISOM’s mandate was limited to defensive work, i.e. the protection of Somali government officials and key installations such as ports and federal buildings. With the new mandate and the general fear of the threat of al-Shabaab, AMISOM troop increased by 12000 troops within a couple of months.

The Battle of Mogadishu took place in two major pushes. The first started in August 2010, where AMISOM and Somali forces tried to regain control of the districts within the capital city under al-Shabaab control. The joint military operation was unable to recover any of the nine districts that the extremist group controlled. The government and pro-government militias controlled eight districts by 2010. The final battle for Mogadishu to “liberate” the city from al-Shabaab began in May 2011 following the increased troop strength of AMISOM. Though the joint AMISOM and Somali National Army did not “liberate” all the districts, a final push led to the Somali government controlling 13 out of the 16 districts. Months later, al-Shabaab fighters retreated from the remaining three districts.

UN reports that al-Shabaab militants have blocked relief workers form assisting millions affected by conflict, drought and famine. Al-Shabaab banned food and medicine from reaching drought-affected areas. Al-Shabaab decision to block aid worsened the drought which killed tens of thousands. In addition to blocking aid, al-Shabaab militants raided aid agencies offices in southern Somalia.

The October 2011 al-Shabaab bombing in Mogadishu is one of their most devastating attacks. The suicide bomber denoted bombs at a checkpoint leading to the Transitional Federal Government’s (TFG) Ministerial complex. This was a catastrophic attack since it killed mostly students who were awaiting the news of scholarships to Sudan and Turkey form the Ministry of Higher Education.

Operation Linda Inchi, which translates to Operation Lead the Country, was a predominantly Kenya Defense Force (KDF) operation in Southern Somalia. The Kenyan government argued that the operation was necessary since al-Shabaab posed a threat to the country. The extremist groups were accused of coordinating kidnappings of mainly foreigners in Kenya and conducting cross-border attacks. Since the operation was not sanctioned, as described in the UN charter, Kenya and Somalia, two days after the military operation began, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which detailed reasons for Kenya’s involvement in Somalia.

Note: At the time of the operation, KDF was not part of the AMISOM which violated the 1992 UN arms embargo, as well as Somalia sovereignty. Also, this was not the first military operation that Kenya had conducted in Somalia, but instead, they had done small scale operations near the border with Somalia.

In an attempt to gain global notoriety, al-Shabaab formally pledges their alliance to al-Qaida following years of cooperation between the two extremist groups. Al-Qaida’s involvement in the Somali conflict began when then leader of the group, Osama bin Laden, was in exile in Sudan. It is reported that the al-Qaida leader sent his officials to Somalia to see how the organisation could partake in the conflict. It is also said that al-Qaida had to aid some Somali groups in their quest to overthrow the government. Some of the top al-Shabaab leadership, including al-Afghani and Robow, had trained in the al-Qaida training camps in Afghanistan.

Note: Also in the same month, al-Shabaab strengthened their ties with a group in Puntland, which later broke away to become the Islamic State in Somalia, and al-Hijra or Muslim Youth Centre in Mombasa, Kenya, which has been designated by the US State Department Foreign Terrorist Organisation list.

Al-Shabaab’s loss of the fishing port of Merca (Marka) is significant as it comes when AMISOM, in coordination with Somali forces, have increased efforts to “liberate” towns and cities from the control of the extremist group. It is reported that the al-Shabaab fighters have been fleeing towards the port city of Kismayo, their strongest stronghold.

One of the significant accomplishments that occurred despite the Somali conflict raging on is the creation of the Somali Federal Government (SFG). The creation of FGS is seen as a major step in the stabilisation efforts for Somalia, which would be made complete when the threat of al-Shabaab is reduced.

The liberation of the port city of Kismayo from al-Shabaab by AMISOM and Somali National Army (SNA) was high among the list of priorities for AMISOM. The port remained critical in al-Shabaab’s operations since they used the port to export illicit goods such as charcoal and force taxes on locals who tried to use the port. Within four days of the battle for Kismayo, al-Shabaab fighters retreated from the city. AMISOM and other foreign actors believed that the liberation of Kismayo was signalling of the decline of al-Shabaab.

The assassination of Omar Hammami, who was extremely influential in the creation of charismatic recruitment videos, by al-Shabaab sent a clear message to other leaders that those who disapprove of Emir Godane’s vision can be killed. Since Omar Hammami detailed the assassination attempts on his life on Twitter, the world was able to get a clearer view of the rising internal divisions in al-Shabaab.

The Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi was their first large scale attack in Nairobi, Kenya. The armed attack, which lasted four days, was heavily broadcasted throughout Kenya and the world. The attack was another reminder that al-Shabaab could stage a coordinated and lethal attack on neighbouring countries, despite the tactical defeats in Somalia. Secondly, the Westgate attack illustrated the inefficiencies in the Kenyan intelligence and security services since they had known for two years that al-Shabaab was planning to attack the mail. Unfortunately, the response from the Kenyan government was the suppression of the rights of ethnically Somalis through arbitrary arrests and detention and the closing down of shops and money-lending services in Eastleigh, a predominantly Somali neighbourhood in Nairobi. Studies have shown that the continual practice of marginalisation of the Muslim community plays into al-Shabaab’s hand since they can exploit the situation and recruit hundreds of Somalis.

The arrest of the 69 people in Tanzania for running an al-Shabaab child indoctrination camp came at a time when the Tanzanian Government was adamant that there is no Islamist or extremist movement in the country. The government’s denial mainly stems from the fact that there had not been a major terrorist incident since the bombing of the US embassy in 1998. Smaller attacks targeting churches had been on the rise. However, the increase of arrests of individuals linked to al-Shabaab forced the government to put resources to combat the problem before it becomes a severe issue. Studies have shown that Tanzania has increasingly become a preferred route to those trying to join al-Shabaab.

The 20-day operation in Central Somalia resulted in the liberation of eight of the ten districts, including Xudur and Ceel Buur.

Operation Indian Ocean was a two-month operation aimed to “seise, secure and stabilise key districts along the coastlines in all sectors.” The operation was able to “liberate” Baraawe, a major al-Shabaab stronghold, and secured the Beledweyne-Bulo Butro road which al-Shabaab had closed off to aid relief trucks.

A US airstrike killed al-Shabaab’s Emir Godane in Baraawe during Operation Indian Ocean. The death of Godane ushered the reign of Sheikh Ahmad Abu Ubeyda.

Al-Shabaab militants hijack a bus in Mandera, Kenya and killed 28 non-Muslims on board. Al-Shabaab issued a statement stating that the attack was revenge for raids carried out by Kenyan security forces on mosques in the coastal city of Mombasa. The assault on the mosques in Mombasa resulted in the arrest of more than 150 people and confiscation of explosives.

Operation Ocean Build in November designed to “enhancing stabilisation by holding key population centres and protecting their inhabitants and movements along the main supply routes.” The operation resulted in the recapture of Kudhaa Island. Besides, the operation resulted in the deaths of al-Shabaab leaders such as the Intelligence Chief Tahilil Abdishakur, Chief of External Operations Tahlil Yusuf Dheeq, and Dheeq’s immediate successor and mastermind of the Westgate Mall attack, Adan Garaar. The immense pressure from the operation leads to putative Head of Military Intelligence, Zakariye Ahmed Ismail Hersi, to defect to Somali troops

Garissa University attack, which resulted in the death of 146 university students and two security guards, is the worst attack by al-Shabaab in Kenyan soil. Gun-wielding militants stormed the university and shot indiscriminately at the university students. The trial of five individuals accused of assisting with the attack began in January 2016 with 22 witnesses testifying against them. The accused denied all 156 counts against them. It was not until January 2019 did the court issue out their verdict, which found four of them guilty, and one was cleared of all charges due to lack of evidence.

Operation Jubba Corridor “liberated” the towns of Diinsoor, the presumed al-Shabaab headquarter following the recapture of Baraawe, Bardhere, Adan Yabal and Galcud.

A small segment of al-Shabaab broke off to become an independent group under the leadership of Abdiqadir Mumin allied to ISIS in 2015. Godane, the deceased Emir of al-Shabaab, appointed Abdiqadir Mumin as the Emir of al-Shabaab in Puntland, a semi-autonomous region in Northern Somalia. ISS is currently fighting in two fronts while being bombarded by US airstrikes. On one side, they are fighting against al-Shabaab fighters who did not follow in the footsteps of Emir Mumin and on the other side, they are fighting against Puntland security forces.

Al-Shabaab’s El Adde attack is one of their most devastating attacks on KDF contingent in Somalia. A suicide bomber donated his explosive-laden vehicle in front of the AMISOM garrison base gate. The powerful blast damaged the command and communication buildings, as well as an armoury and fuel depots of the base. Following the bombing, between 150 and 300 al-Shabaab militants stormed the base carrying rocket-propelled grenades and assault weapons. The relentless militants heavily pursued some of the escaping KDF soldiers, many of whom had only arrived in Somalia 2 week prior. Though the Kenyan government did not release the casualty figures, it is estimated that 100 soldiers were killed.

USAID’s Transition Initiative for Stabilisation (TIS) aims to “increase confidence in all levels of government through a targeted, strategic intervention that improves service delivery and government responsiveness.” This is done through projects that focus on quick impact stabilisation activities around the country. Thematic focus includes fostering increased citizen participation in governance, building the capacity of election management bodies, and increasing the awareness and general knowledge of legal rights, human rights and options for recourse.

Islamic State in Somalia attempted to take over the port town of Qandala in Puntland regional state. The held the town for a month before the Puntland Security Forces launched their offensive.

A suspected ISS roadside IED kills 8 Puntland soldiers. The group did not claim responsibility for the attack.

Similar to 2011, al-Shabaab has imposed a ban on humanitarian assistance in areas they control. Al-Shabaab added that anyone who is found to have contacted the aid agencies will be considered a spy and will be punished. The extremist group usually executes those they believe are spies. This move has raised alarms throughout the humanitarian aid sector since the last time they did this, it worsened the drought conditions which resulted in the deaths of thousands of Somalis.

Sheikh Mukhtar Robow is one of the founding leaders of al-Shabaab. Before co-founding al-Shabaab, Robow was a high-ranking leader of al-Ittihad al-Islamiyah (AIAI), a previous moderate extremist group that was defeated by Ethiopian forces and United Islamic Courts (UIC). Robow was in constant disagreement with Emir Godane over tactics of war. Additionally, Robow disapproved of the killing of innocent Muslims in their quest to overthrow the government. His vocal disapproval of Godane led to him being relieved from his duties. Robow’s defection was welcomed by the government since his militia followed in his footsteps.

Note: Robow was arrested and beaten by police while he was running for South West regional president in December 2018. His arrest triggered mass protests in the regional state in Somalia. His supported believed that he was arrested, so that is opponent, a supporter of the current president Farmajo, to win the election. UN envoy to Somalia, Nicholas Haysom, was kicked out of the country after he aired his dissatisfaction over the arbitrary arrest of Robow. The Somali government accused him of interfering in internal affairs.

An explosives-laden truck detonated at a busy crossroad near the Safari Hotel in Mogadishu. The presence of a fuel tanker parked near the explosion caused a massive fireball, adding to the death toll and damages. It was reported that the truck had 350-kg homemade and military grade explosives. Five hundred eighty-seven people lost their lives, and another 300 were injured. The Safari Hotel collapsed, and the Qatari embassy was severely damaged. The investigations on the explosion showed that the good and bad sides of Somali authorities and security forces. It is was discovered that the truck was stopped at a checkpoint but was released after the Somali authorities vouched for the driver. Shortly after, Somali security forces stopped the truck while in a traffic jam after noticing the truck was covered with tarpaulin. While the officers tried to search the car, the driver accelerated and crushed the car into a barrier which caused the explosion.

Note: a car with explosives was intercepted on the same day and was disposed of without any casualties. Police believe that the car was going to target AMISOM and UN staff. Also, a car bomb denoted 30 minutes after the first bomb and 300 meters away, killing two people.

The Somali Peace Building Fund aims to facilitate youth political empowerment by enabling Somali young women and men to meaningful engagement in governance, peacebuilding and reconciliation. This fund is crucial since two-thirds of the Somali population is under the age of 25.

Note: The Somali Peace Building Fund is part of the broader UN Peacebuilding Fund (PBF) which currently supports more than 120 projects in 25 countries.

The discussions among local leaders, police and community leaders aimed to establish a community forum and joint police community action plans in Galkayo, in Gulmaduug State in Somalia. The UN-led process hoped to safeguard the ceasefire between two regional states, Puntland and Gulmaduug who are fighting over boundaries of their respective territories. Following the discussions, participants partook in trainings on community policing and leadership

Al-Shabaab continues to conduct attacks in Kenya, with relative ease. This time, five Kenyan Defense Forces (KDF) were killed in an attack in Lamu. The KDF spokesperson Lt Colonel Paul Njuguna disputed the reported casualties, saying that six soldiers were injured, two critically, but none have died.

Dusit hotel attack was a suicide bombing followed by a 19-hour armed assault which killed 11 people. Confusion about the attack occurred when the government was insistent that the siege had ended, but people in the neighbourhood were reporting gunshots periodically in the night and early in the morning. The four attacks who conducted the attack all were killed by security forces. Several possibilities have been presented for the reasoning for the attack. One reason why Dusit was attacked is possibly due to the proximity to three embassies and the presence of the international organisation in the premise of the hotel. Another reason is the attack was a three-year el-Adde attack commemoration where al-Shabaab stormed a KDF camp and killed possibly 100 soldiers. Thirdly, the attack on Dusit hotel could be interpreted as a way for al-Shabaab to communicate with the Kenyan government that they are still capable of conducting attacks in a secure location with ease.

Note: The Dusit hotel attack gave more insight into al-Shabaab. This was the first major attack where the public and government officials alike realised that al-Shabaab has been able to recruit non-Somalis to their ranks. Prior to this, in the Kenyan context, all the attackers were ethnically Somalis. This meant that al-Shabaab has successfully recruited converts into their ranks, as it has happened in Western countries.

The US steps up its airstrikes in Somalia, with the latest one killing 52 suspected militants.

A US airstrike in Puntland kills the Deputy Leader of the Islamic State in Somalia, Abdulhakim Dhuqub.   

How can you help?

  • Support refugee communities from Somalia; protest Trumps travel ban.
  • UNICEF works to help children in Somalia –
  • For more information and to help expose other crimes in Somalia visit Amnesty International –

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