As the famed Somali adage goes, however long the night is, there will always be a daybreak. The long-awaited day break is here for Somalia, and a rare opportunity has presented itself before us. Today, we are faced with an unprecedented golden opportunity where we can take our country forward by defeating the deadliest enemy we have seen yet—Al-Shabaab.
Thanks to the efforts and sacrifices of our gallant security forces from Hirshabelle and the Federal Government backed by our locals and international partners, Al-Shabaab is on the back foot for the first time in 15 years. This is particularly the reality in the Hirshaballe region where I represent.
Credit also goes to President Ali Guudlaawe, who has been at the forefront of championing the armed forces and encouraging the local communities to fight against al-Shabaab. He has shown outstanding leadership and has been on the frontlines for the past four months. This indicates that it takes courageous and dedicated leadership to lead by example.
I have witnessed the dramatic change the military operation has created in the Hirshabelle region. I had the opportunity to travel across the vast area the last couple of weeks, bearing witness to the wind of change blowing across the region. Al-Shabaab has been cleared out of almost all the districts in Hirshabelle, apart from a few districts in the west that Parliament has voted to create but have yet to be officially established.
This is welcome news to those who have endured years of oppression, human rights violations and killings under the terror group’s control. It is also good news to all Somalis, the Federal Government, its partners and the rest of the world, who will be pleased to see the end of this brutal enemy.
However, the defeat of Al-Shabab in Hirshabelle and elsewhere in Somalia should not be the end of the mission. The work ahead of us is enormous and vital. The Journey to rebuild shuttered communities should start now.
Sustaining the gains we made against the militant group
There is an urgent need to implement a stabilization program that will encompass the restoration of justice, establishing the education system, correcting the poisonous ideologies, creating job opportunities for the youth and reintegrating the local forces that helped defeat the enemy into the mainstream national disciplined forces.
We must focus on critical areas to help rebuild our country after the enemy’s defeat. We must prioritize stabilizing the country by investing in the liberated areas. Investment in education will support the generation that has grown under the rule of al-Shabaab in many places in Hirshabelle and elsewhere. This generation has grown up without proper instruction. There is still time to create an opportunity for them.
Ensuring mechanisms where local communities can access justice is another key priority. For many years, communities who lived under the brutal rule of the militants had no choice in pursuing justice. Constituting a vibrant criminal justice system will fill that void. We also need to avoid clan conflict, as this is one of the militants’ tactics to avenge the losses it has suffered. In Hirshabelle, for instance, there is an urgent need for dialogue and reconciliation among local communities to avoid conflicts.
Amnesty International lauds Kulan Post for "holding those in power accountable." pic.twitter.com/qlT01jMZy5
— Kulan Post (@kulanpost) May 22, 2023
Going by the latest trends, we are witnessing the eruption of local conflict based on resources such as land. Hirshabelle President Ali Guudlaawe and the former President of Somalia, Sheikh Shariff, are involved in the reconciliation efforts. If these incidents are not addressed urgently, they risk creating a challenge that could spread to other areas.
The establishment of democracy and giving people the opportunity to exercise their free will when choosing their leaders is a fundamental right. This is an opportunity people who live in the liberated areas have missed. Therefore, there must be a genuine attempt to establish government structures enabling the communities to choose whomever they want.
On the other hand, there must be a strategy to help communities recover from years of consuming misguided ideologies, and this can be done through programs such as public awareness and education. Democratization and allowing people to decide who should lead them is another important priority.
For more than 15 years, Al-Shabaab has been propagating an ill-motivated ideology, and there is a need to undertake massive community awareness and education programmes to create positive change within the communities.
As part of a proactive strategy to curb the relapse of insurgency activities, we must expeditiously formulate an economic marshal plan to turn around the liberated area’s economic prospects by, among other things, sinking boreholes and building dams, constructing roads, medical facilities and putting up schools.
Apart from rehabilitating the destroyed infrastructure and undoing the group’s tools of ideological propaganda, the government should also open up the road network, build more learning centres and provide water and relief food to needy residents. I believe the opening up of the area will spur economic development, preventing the recurrence of militancy, a problem that has been wreaking havoc in the region for many years.
Also equally important is eradicating the bad practices left behind by the ruthless enemy, such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and forced early marriages for young girls and teenagers.
Such a proactive approach has proved relatively successful in Kenya’s North Rift region, an area that was ravaged by more than three decades of banditry. Just like Al-Shabab, the life of a bandit in Kenya’s insecurity-prone North Rift is one of sworn secrecy, military-like ranks, uneducated young men dangerously suspicious of their educated peers, and top-notch intelligence gathering that would rival any organized force.
Education and creating skills for the youth should also be an essential priority because we need education to develop our nation.
However sweet the victory tastes, what we do after the defeat of al-Shabaab will either make or break us as a nation. Let’s all work together, for the Journey ahead requires our joint efforts to live in a prosperous country.
The author, Mahad Hassan Osman, is the Deputy Speaker of the Hirshabele Parliament. He is pursuing Masters in Peace, Governance and Development at The United Nations University for Peace. Osman is a regular contributor to regional newspapers and magazines on issues of peace and reconciliation. He is a passionate advocate for democracy and good governance in Somalia and believes that education is essential for building lasting peace in the country. He is also well-versed in the region’s history and culture.