Somalia has a newly elected government after its long-delayed presidential election, ending the complicated electoral process that has heightened tensions in the fragile East African country for the past two years. The electoral process has been complicated by a series of delays, an ongoing struggle between the central government and mainly two key member states of the Somali Republic, and an ongoing power struggle between the president and his prime minister. Nevertheless, Somalia finally held its presidential election where Hassan Sheikh Mohamud (HSM) became President of Somalia for the second time. President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has also named lawmaker Hamza Abdi Barre as the country’s next prime minister. This new leadership in Somalia will determine the path the country takes on several crucial political issues, including but not limited to foreign policy, the impending famine, the economy and the fight against al-Shabaab.
Not surprisingly, Somalia’s No. 1 challenge continues to be security. Somalia suffers from several broad categories of security challenges, ranging from tensions between Somali authorities (federal and regional states) and extremist terrorist organizations, including al-Shabaab, the Islamic State in Somalia, and more recently, paramilitary groups and militias such as Ahlu Suna Waljamaaca.
Despite setbacks and setbacks, Somalia has come a long way and made incredible progress in both the political and security sectors since the collapse of the Somali government in 1991; however, the job is not done, Somalia still faces increasing challenges and threats from terrorist groups, and these threats have become more complex, intertwined and deadlier for Somalia. As al-Shabaab’s threats evolve, the government must also evolve. In this article, I provide 10 policy recommendations to Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and the newly elected Somali government to sustainably combat the threat of al-Shabaab.
- Somali solutions to Somali problems: Over the past two decades, Somalia has relied on national security frameworks and security architectures designed or influenced by international partners, and the result has been disastrous and ineffective. The people of Somalia must unite to take responsibility for their national security. The Somali government must organize a series of national conventions to design, develop and inspire a national security strategic plan developed, implemented and supported by Somalia. This gives the government a sense of ownership, responsibility and accountability for its national security strategies and priorities.
- Empowering and Investing in the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA): One of the most important elements of a government’s counterterrorism efforts is to gather intelligence on those who are plotting and committing terrorist acts against it. A country’s intelligence agencies are generally the first line of defense when it comes to threats to national security, both from domestic and foreign enemies, and the stronger a country’s intelligence agencies, the stronger its citizens will be safe. The Somali government needs to invest in NISA more than ever. They must be well-trained, well-equipped, well-funded, and most importantly, removed from all political agendas and conflicts so that they can focus on protecting the nation from foreign and domestic adversaries.
- Strengthening inter-agency coordination: The Somali government should establish an inter-agency national security task force or coordination committee within its security sector. The many security agencies and their structures, planning processes, funding sources and intelligence can hamper inter-agency collaboration. We have seen al-Shabaab take advantage of disorganized information sharing and outreach between security services in Somalia. This interagency coordination working group should share national security information, intelligence, best practices and resources for a better and more effective counterterrorism strategy.
- Countering al-Shabaab financial sources: The Somali government must cut off the financial sources that al-Shabaab has exploited for a decade. They set up a vast racketeering operation, with checkpoint taxation on the illicit charcoal trade, taxation of imports and exports at Somali ports, and taxation of large and small businesses. These sources and many others have brought tens of millions of dollars to the group to help with their recruitment and sustainability to carry out their operations. It is the responsibility of the government to cut off these financial sources to ensure national security.
- Using education as a tool to counter extremism: The Somali government must understand that what is far more strategic than fighting al-Shabaab on the battlefield is educating young minds who are vulnerable to recruitment by these extremist organizations. The focus should be on fighting the narrative and winning hearts and minds through education. Can you imagine a nation that faces terrorism as its greatest threat yet its schools and universities fail to provide an education focused on national security? Somalia’s Ministry of Education must prioritize teaching and integrating a curriculum focused on countering extremism and helping train the next generation of Somali national security officials.
- Withdraw the security sector policy: To effectively reform the security sector in Somalia, the government must eliminate politics and in particular the destructive clan system 4.5 from its security sectors. The security sector should rely on merit and competent leadership that has experience and understanding of national security; they should not be recruited on the basis of clan representation. Moreover, the Somali armed forces should only be used to ensure the national security of the nation and not to intimidate rivals, federal member states or political figures, or be used for personal gain.
- Be consistent in national security leadership: The Somali government is known for constantly changing leadership in its security sector, especially after a new administration has come to power. Too much change has institutional consequences. Consequences of change saturation for the institution include higher turnover, lower productivity, increased absenteeism, loss of focus on strategy, and negative morale. Constantly changing security sector leaders in the belief that this will improve national security is a mistake and a disaster. Those who are qualified and experienced in the field of national security should continue to serve in each administration, as their work should not be political but rather related to national security.
- Robust verification system for the security sector and Parliament: The Somali government must create an accurate system or process to vet and identify al-Shabaab members and informants within the security sector and other branches of government, including parliament. Over the past decade, al-Shabaab has played a strategic role in placing individuals within these institutional structures to carry out their missions and infiltrate the government.
- Develop a fair and sustainable justice system: When governments adopt international human rights norms and standards, promote good governance, uphold the rule of law and eliminate corruption, they create an enabling environment for civil society and reduce the attractiveness of civil society. violent extremism. Al-Shabaab thrives on recruiting members of society who have been denied justice and public resources or whose decency and rights have been violated. The Somali government must develop a fair and just justice system for all its citizens in order to fight al-Shabaab. The people of Somalia need a system of governance in which all members of society, institutions and entities, public or private, are accountable for laws that are publicly enacted, equally enforced, independently judged and in compliance international human rights norms and standards.
- Strategic communications and counter-narratives: Al-Shabaab’s manipulative social media posts have had considerable success in attracting Somali youth to their ranks. While violent extremists have shown some sophistication in their use of old and new media tools, it is also true that government and civil society who reject their message have largely failed to communicate and develop counter- effective speeches to online recruitment of al-Shabaab. The Somali government must improve its partnerships between civil society organizations and government agencies to empower communities to develop a counter-narrative to al-Shabaab narratives and amplify the alternative message through all forms of Somali media and arts and culture.