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Stabilizing Somalia for Democracy
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ONC Editorial

Jan 22, 2024

The terrorist group al-Shabab and food insecurity are destabilizing the already fragile political situation in Somalia. Somalia is a democracy in name and partially one in practice. To implement democratic reforms, such as the norm of one vote per person, the country’s security landscape must be improved.

Big Picture:

The terrorist group al-Shabab and food insecurity are destabilizing the already fragile political situation in Somalia. Somalia is a democracy in name and partially one in practice. To implement democratic reforms, such as the norm of one vote per person, the country’s security landscape must be improved.

Graphic From Africa Center for Strategic Studies, Types of Militant Islamist Violence in the Somali Theater. Africa Center for Strategic Studies. africacenter.org. 8 February, 2022. This figure illustrates that al-Shabab fights more with the Somali government (coded as “battles”) than against civilians.


Operative Definitions:


BPC (Building Partner Capacity): Refers to activities taught to allied or partnered governments by the U.S. to improve their abilities in the area of security.

COIN (counterinsurgency): Describes operations that combat groups seeking to overthrow and replace the current government (insurgents can use terrorist tactics).

CT (counterterrorism): Describes operations that combat groups seeking to spread fear and cause harm to civilians, not to rule the territory in which they operate.

Food insecurity: The lack of assured access to food and proper nutrition.


Important Facts and Statistics:


Number of food insecure people in the Horn of Africa in 2022: 14 million.

Number of deaths attributed to al-Shabab from 2010-20: 4,000.

4-Point Plan:


BPC in Somalia.
In addition to redeploying American ground forces, the U.S. should bolster BPC with the Somali government on both CT and COIN. Al-Shabab operates an insurgency in Somalia, so the government must be trained in COIN, not just in CT — although CT training will be helpful, as insurgents tend to use terrorist tactics but toward a different end. BPC in Somalia will help bolster the capabilities of Somali special forces, the Danab, in combating al-Shabab more effectively on their own. This poses far less risk to American military personnel in the long run.


BPC in Kenya.
Al-Shabab also operates as a terrorist (not insurgent) organization in Somalia’s neighbor to the south, Kenya. The U.S. should also engage in BPC with Kenya on CT issues. Additionally, the Kenyan government has stated its desire to “police its own neighborhood”. BPC with the U.S. will aid Kenya in achieving this goal by increasing Kenya’s capacity for self-sufficiency in the security realm.


Improve Somalia’s food security.
Resource scarcity among large populations is a major driver of terrorist recruitment. To combat al-Shabab in Somalia, the U.S. should aim to reduce food insecurity in the country. The U.S. can contribute to a stable Somalia through BPC with the country’s agricultural sector, reducing the impacts of climate change and maximizing the production of food.


Invest in local media companies in the region.
Russia still has an interest in turning teetering democracies toward authoritarianism. One of Russia’s main tools to do this in Africa is through investing in Russian-funded and controlled local media start-ups, which allows Russia to control the narrative and influence — or even provoke — events on the ground. The U.S. should invest in local democratic media companies in Somalia and throughout the Horn of Africa to combat the spread of Russian influence.


Why This Initiative Is Important:


When a nation is plagued with political instability, resource insecurity and terrorism, there is a massive potential for a humanitarian crisis and civil war. Democracy cannot thrive in such conditions. Without this initiative, democracy may never come to Somalia, which is a strategically important nation for the U.S. in the Horn of Africa.

 

Acknowledgements:


The following student(s) worked on this nonpartisan proposal: LJ Trevette, Georgetown University.


Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author. Not all participants agree with every aspect of this proposal. To arrive at a proposal that takes multiple views into account requires compromise and difficult decisions. For individual commentary on this proposal and more details, go to JoinONC.com. We invite you to add your comments as well.


Sources:


Boukhars, Anouar. “Trajectories of Violence Against Civilians by Africa’s Militant Islamist Groups.” African Center for Strategic Studies. 8 February, 2022. https://africacenter.org/spotlight/trajectories-of-violence-against-civilians-by-africas-militant-islamist-groups/.

Felter, Claire, Masters, Jonathan, and Sergie, Mohammed Aly. “Al-Shabab.” Council on Foreign Relations. 19 May, 2021. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/al-shabab.

Maruf, Harun. “Al-Shabaab Attacks Killed 4,000 in Past Decade, Says Data-Gathering Group.” Voice of America News. 15 January, 2020. https://www.voanews.com/a/africa_al-shabab-attacks-killed-4000-past-decade-says-data-gathering-group/6182660.html.

McInnis, Kathleen and Lucas, Nathan. “What Is ‘Building Partner Capacity?’ Issues for Congress.” Congressional Research Service. 8 December, 2015. https://sgp.fas.org/crs/natsec/R44313.pdf.

“Revise Emergency Appeal Somalia: Hunger crisis 2021-2022.” International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. 29 March, 2022. https://www.ifrc.org/emergency/somalia-hunger-crisis-2021#:~:text=In%20Somalia%2C%205.6%20million%20people,of%20COVID%2D19%20and%20conflict.

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