The Struggle for Peace in Somalia

Jeremy Jingwei

October, 2017

A Ugandan soldier of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) looks on as members of  Al-Shabaab stand in line after more than 200 fighters gave themselves up to AMISOM forces in 2012

A Ugandan soldier of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) looks on as members of  Al-Shabaab stand in line after more than 200 fighters gave themselves up to AMISOM forces in 2012


Nearly thirty years have passed since the Somalian Civil War, yet Somalian citizens are still seeking a peaceful end to the conflict. When the Transitional Federal Government forced al-Shabaab - an extremist jihadist group - to withdraw from Mogadishu in 2011, peace finally seemed within reach.

However, this was not the case.

Al-Shabaab prevailed as an insurgent group, exerting their control over pockets of rural Somalia to this day. The jihadist group continued to challenge the Transitional Federal Government and peacekeepers from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Although AMISOM and the transitional Somalian government successfully eliminated many al-Shabaab strongholds in the countryside during Operation Indian Ocean in 2014, al-Shabaab still remains a major threat to the Somalian federal government.

Since Operation Indian Ocean, al-Shabaab has begun to increase its use of explosives as a political tool. Two car bombs recently devastated the Somalian capital Mogadishu, killing over 350 people and injuring over 400. Although this was the deadliest bombing in Mogadishu ever, this was not an isolated incident. Over 20 explosions accredited to al-Shabaab and other jihadist groups have rocked Mogadishu since the start of the year, resulting in over 500 fatalities. The threat of improvised explosives has grown at a rapid pace; from 33 in 2013 to 395 in 2016.

Many including Somalia’s information minister, believe that al-Shabaab’s increased use of improvised explosives may indicate its desperation to stay relevant as it continues to lose territory to the Somalian federal government and AMISOM troops.

Yet, others do not correlate al-Shabaab’s loss of territory with signs of a weakening organization. Seth G. Jones, the director of defense policy at a Pentagon-funded think tank, determined in a 2016 report that attacks by al-Shabaab on AMISOM and Somalian federal government soldiers have escalated, despite its territorial control dwindling. Desperate or not, al-Shabaab remains every bit as dangerous as it did when it controlled vast swaths of Somalia.

Evidence from the recent Mogadishu bombings seem to support Jones’ statement. The ease with which the terrorists struck reflects negatively on the newly formed Mogadishu stabilization force. Although stopped at a government checkpoint, the truck packed with a bomb that weighed over a ton was still allowed to enter the capital city. Whether it is a sign of al-Shabaab’s desperation or merely a change in strategy, the increased prevalence of improvised explosives has created yet another problem for peace in Somalia.

Another obstacle to Somalian peace is the withdrawal of AMISOM peacekeepers. The peacekeepers, originally receiving a six-month mandate, have spent over 10 years in Somalia protecting the institutional structures of the newly formed government, training Somalian security forces and creating an environment in which humanitarian aid can be safely delivered.

AMISOM will begin its Somalian withdrawal plan this year, reducing its forces by over 1000 peacekeepers by December. It will continue to gradually transfer power to the Somalian National Army (SNA) in hopes that the SNA can replace its presence in various parts of the country. However, it is likely that AMISOM’s withdrawal will create a detrimental power vacuum in Somalia.

Following the overthrow of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) in 2009, Al-Shabaab exploited the power vacuum left by the defeat of the ICU and the withdrawal of the Ethiopian Army. Consequently, this strengthened its political and military entity. AMISOM’s exit may create a similar situation, allowing local warlords and insurgents to recuperate territorial losses.

As AMISOM begins its withdrawal, the United States African Command (AFRICOM) has been increasing its involvement in Somalia. AFRICOM’s involvement comes in the form of air strikes on al-Shabaab militants from its military base in Djibouti. AFRICOM has also experienced great success in targeting the command structure of al-Shabaab through drone strikes, killing former al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, and former al-Shaabab intelligence and security chief Tahliil Abdishakur.

However, AFRICOM’s presence in Somalia has also seen negative backlash. AFRICOM was involved in a botched raid of an al-Shabaab controlled village in August, which resulted in the deaths of 3 children. The local backlash against this raid may have been an inciting factor in the recent Mogadishu bombings, as both vehicles that detonated originated from this same village.

Peace does not seem to be in sight for Somalians, yet there are steps that can be taken in order to work towards ending the conflict. AMISOM, AFRICOM and the Somalian government need to take steps to support the reconstruction of vital infrastructure and institutions.  

Most importantly, there must be a fundamental consolidation of Somalian security institutions, including police services, defence forces, correctional services and border control. Furthermore, clan conflict needs to be addressed, as it is a primary force of political instability within Somalia. The clan system undermines Somalian federalism, weakens the government’s control in areas dominated by strong tribal ties and allows insurgent groups or warlords to control rural Somalian territory.

Should these vital frameworks be reconstructed, Somalian security institutions be strengthened, and class division be addressed, Somalia would find itself closer to peace.