Mogadishu (Caasimada Online) – Al-Shabab, the notorious Islamist militant group, has tightened its grip over Baidoa, the capital of South West state, Somalia, triggering an outcry from Somali authorities.
The group has instituted a blockade, worsening an already grave situation fueled by an unrelenting drought and security turmoil.
President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud of Somalia issued a stark condemnation of the militant group for this ruthless action.
As a poignant depiction of the severity, Hussein Mohamud, the President’s chief of staff, articulated the prevailing sentiment, stating, “The blockade demonstrates that al-Shabab is at war against the people of Somalia.”
The on-the-ground impact of blockade
The weeklong blockade threatens local livelihoods and strategically positions al-Shabab to display its force ahead of an impending government-led offensive.
The repercussions are far-reaching, with Baidoa businesses teetering on the brink of collapse due to stalled supply chains.
Mohamed Edin, a local trader in Baidoa, poignantly captured the dire state of affairs in his statement to VOA, “Businesses will soon be forced to close as supplies dwindle.”
He further elucidated the plight of his business, heavily dependent on supplies from Mogadishu.
The blockade, he said, has dealt a significant blow to his operations, leading to possible closure if the situation persists.
Al-Shabab’s strategy and impact
The militant group’s tactics are not lost on analysts, who see the blockade as a symbol of strength aimed at worsening an already dire situation.
Abdirahman Azari, director of the Mogadishu-based Center for Analysis and Strategic Studies, elucidated this aspect, “Al-Shabab is sending direct and indirect messages to the Somali government that they are still in control in parts of the country.”
Azari opines that the group’s tactics might incite the government to hasten its planned offensive, Operation Black Lion, to retake the South West and Jubaland states in the southern region.
Despite the grim outlook, government forces, fortified by local militias, have demonstrated a resilience that previously led to the reclamation of part of the central region from al-Shabab last summer.
The next phase of the offensive involves the deployment of approximately 20,000 troops from neighboring Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti, all united in their goal of assisting Somali forces in reclaiming control.
The larger picture
Abdiaziz Isaack, a security and political analyst at the Hamad Bin Khalifa Civilization Center, sees the blockade as a clear signal from al-Shabab to the Somali government.
“Al-Shabab’s blockade on Baidoa is sending a message. It demonstrates the group’s ability to challenge the government despite local and international efforts to defeat them,” he stated.
This audacious move comes when the South West state, housing about 600,000 internally displaced persons per United Nations estimates, grapples with profound insecurity and drought.
The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who visited Baidoa in April, called for “massive international aid” to prevent a looming famine, a call that now resonates more urgently than ever.