The Zoobe district of Mogadishu had been a beating pulse point of the Somali capital. A bustling web of streets shaded by palm trees,where street traders advertised their wares to diners lounging in café windows, businessmen in suits took board meetings, and visitors to the city checked in to hotels boasting swimming pools and gyms. But this vivacity and vitality has been asphyxiated by the plume of black smoke that smothered the city this October. A truck bomb, detonated under orders of the terrorist group al-Shabaab, killed 358 innocent victims and injured more than 200 others in one of the deadliest attacks of its kind.
Indeed, it is this anti-Western sentiment in particular, so embedded in the dogma of al-Shabaab militancy, that we may perhaps see as central to the reinvigoration of the terrorist group’s activities in recent months.
Al-Shabaab is a Somali terrorist organisation that, according to the Council on Foreign Affairs, intends to convert Somalia into an Islamic state, to be governed according to Sharia Law. With strong links to al-Qaeda and inspired by the Wahabist tradition of Saudi Arabia, al-Shabaab cites the unseating of the Somali government and a rejection of western infiltration into the East African system as its ultimate goals.It is certainly true that since the inauguration of President Trump this January, and his subsequent deployment of troops to Somalia in April, al-Shabaab ferocity has massively intensified.
This however is hardly ironic given the extent of the aggression behind the US intervention. The Pentagon has confirmed that the US has carried out at least two airstrikes on al-Shabaab bases in the south of the country and forces claim to have killed the regional commander Ahmed Osoble.
Officially, of course, American intervention in Somalia is well intentioned. Yet, the foundations of the American aspirations in Somalia are in part, unsurprisingly, cemented in an egotistical realist vision. Somalia is located in a strategic position on the border of the Gulf of Aden. All maritime traffic travelling from the Persian Gulf towards the Mediterranean passes through Somalia’s straits, and so the veritable reason for American concern is evident. This realist interest of the US informs the military action that it takes.
It is clear that with global hegemony comes financial and social strain. President Bush’s follies in Iraq and Afghanistan cost the US $4.79 trillion and took the lives of 6,900 military personnel. The US simply can’t afford another war of such colossal scale, and so really can only justify its presence in Somalia by prioritising its own strategic interests there. To this end, American forces see not the destruction but the containment of al-Shabaab as their ultimate goal. Indeed, the US is concerned only that al-Shabaab is contained, and therefore starved of power, to such an extent that Somalia’s waters remain open for passage to commercial ships travelling westwards.
For the Somali government then, a painful irony surely taints the US’ presence in the region. America is fuelling the fire of al-Shabaab’s aggression, yet is unconcerned for the complete eradication of this terrorist organisation that threatens to consume Somalia’s stability, and so ultimately is succeeding in doing far more harm than good. And to add yet another facet to this tortuous paradox of intervention, whilst negative American involvement is forthcoming, alternative positive participation by the international community is slow to come forward.
The Somali commentator Nadifa Mohamed wrote last week of an international stasis in regards to recent events in Mogadishu. The public response to the shocking attack on Zoobe has certainly been subdued, with media coverage minimal, and thus donations to appeals for support in the recovery mission negligible. There has long been a problem of bias when it comes to the Western response to acts of terror elsewhere. The media and social media in general should be duly criticised for overstating the impact of terror at home and down playing its severity elsewhere, yet even with this in mind, it does seem to be the case that terror at the hands of al-Shabaab, so outstandingly horrific in scale, has been particularly underemphasised in the West.
Whilst Mogadishu laments this reality, it has no misconceptions about why this is the case. Early last year, al-Shabaab’s rejected the notion of an expansion of its ideology across into the Middle East by eschewing potential links with ISIS and drawing closer into al-Qaeda. It is this dismissal of ISIS by al-Shabaab that has provoked a certain nonchalance to colour the international response to terror in Somalia. Since 2014 and the beheading of American journalist James Foley, ISIS has consumed the Western media and has been revered as the most potent threat to our peace and stability. Al-Shabaab, by mere lack of association, seems not to conjure up such horror within the international community, and thus, Mogadishu has been struck by a distinct lack of interest by the rest of the world in positive involvement in Somalia to rid it of this terrorist organisation.
In the battle to stamp out its violent aggressor, Somalia has been trapped in a web of the interests and actions, or inaction as the case may be, of other actors. It is thus that Somalia is now introspective, looking within itself to seek refuge from the fury of al-Shabaab. Former Prime Minister Gedi has today called for unity between the state and regional authorities, and in the once shady streets of Zoobe, it is through such a national unity that it is hoped that al-Shabaab may be overcome.