Somalia: A tug-of-war for clan militias’ loyalty

Mogadishu (Caasimada Online) – In Somalia’s tumultuous landscape, the tug-of-war for control is palpable. With the federal government and Al-Shabab in a relentless battle for supremacy, the heart of this conflict is rooted in the allegiance of local clan militias.

August witnessed President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud introducing the ‘second phase’ of Operation Black Lion, shifting its epicenter from Mogadishu to Dhuusamareeb, Galmudug’s bustling regional hub.

The motivation? To galvanize better synchronization among security forces and to reinvigorate the allegiance of the formidable Habar Gedir clan militias of Galmudug state.

Under the banner of the first phase, the government, despite its constraints, managed to drive Al-Shabab out of numerous strongholds in central Somalia.

However, like the shadow they are, the militants retreated to Galmudug’s outskirts, dangerously close to the porous Kenyan frontier.

Historically, forging alliances with clans such as the Abgal, Habar Gedir, and Hawadle sub-clans has been a cornerstone of the government’s strategy.

Yet, internal political turmoil has impeded the momentum, particularly with the Hawadle.

The clan conundrum: Hawiye at the forefront

Recent maneuvers offer insights into the ongoing strategic chess game. The massive Hawiye clan, spread across central and southern Somalia, has become a prize.

Its divided loyalties have made it a pivotal player in the power dynamics.

In instances like the negotiations in Ceel Buur town, some factions within the Hawiye clan see Al-Shabab not as a menace but as guardians of their ancestral land and the tenets of Islamic Sharia law.

The government, buoyed by US air and intelligence support, has had a series of victories, notably in regions like Ceel Buur.

However, the ephemeral nature of these successes underscores the fragile security situation. Constant Al-Shabab threats have often forced a retreat, leading to a cyclical pattern of gains and losses.

Challenges within: A house divided

Many scrutinize the current counter-insurgency strategy. Jubaland’s President, Ahmed ‘Madobe’ Mohamed Islam, has been vocal about the pitfalls, cautioning that weapon turnovers to Al-Shabab could be imminent if there’s a falter in government operations.

Mohamed Abdi Ware, the former HirShabelle President, underlines the debilitating effects of internal schisms among top military echelons.

The government’s strategy, leaning on clan militias, is a consequence of unmet expectations from neighboring nations.

This dependence has led to sporadic Al-Shabab inroads. Territories flip their loyalties depending on the dominant force at any given time.

Moreover, Galmudug’s political atmosphere is charged. Tensions between the vice president and the state’s interior minister have added layers of complexity, casting doubts over the future trajectory of the campaign in that region. Al-Shabab, constantly vigilant, exploits these divisions.

Beyond the battlefield

Somalia’s battle against al-Shabaab is not just a military campaign; it’s a test of unity, strategy, and perseverance.

For any tangible progress, reliance on shifting clan loyalties must diminish. Drawing lessons from past experiences, it’s vital for the Somali government to bolster its security forces, especially as external military support, like ATMIS, dwindles.

The road ahead is undeniably challenging, but the stakes have never been higher. The outcome of this conflict will shape Somalia’s socio-political fabric for generations to come.