ISS Today: Mogadishu blast could bring about renewed conflict prevention

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    First published on
    ISS Today

    The attack in central Mogadishu on 14 October
    that killed more than 350 people has not drawn much attention
    from traditional or social media. Despite being the largest
    terror attack in Somali history, the now-common supportive
    hashtags disseminated globally after such deadly incidents –
    such as #PrayforMogadishu – are still not

    trending
    .

    Nevertheless, indications are that the scale
    of the attack by al-Shabaab could serve as a game changer for
    innovative conflict prevention in Somalia – both for local and
    international actors.

    The 14 October attack was far from surprising,
    despite the horrific death toll. Just two weeks later,
    al-Shabaab militants again assaulted Mogadishu, laying siege to
    a hotel and killing nearly 30 people.

    Since being pushed out of many urban centres
    after a series of offensives by the African Union Mission in
    Somalia (AMISOM) between 2012 and 2014, al-Shabaab has
    countered by engaging in asymmetric violence similar to the
    recent Mogadishu attacks. As a result, Somalia has become one
    of the countries most affected by terror attacks
    worldwide.

    Al-Shabaab has achieved success due to several
    factors. For example, the Somali security sector has struggled
    to contain the extremist group. Four top security officials
    have either resigned or been dismissed in the past month, while
    nascent efforts to develop a coherent national army are
    hindered by the fact that soldiers are rarely


    paid
    on
    time, if at all.

    But at its core, al-Shabaab has thrived
    because of deep-rooted

    structural
    factors. These include the constant divisions among
    political actors, and the challenge of extending government
    presence in rural areas after decades of state collapse (this
    is all the more pertinent given the need to compete with the
    services provided by al-Shabaab itself).

    This shows that al-Shabaab is more a symptom
    of the
    conditions
    conducive to
    conflict in Somalia than the cause.

    The public anger surrounding the 14 October
    attack will contribute to pressure to step up the military
    fight against al-Shabaab, which the Somali government has
    already

    promised
    to
    do. Yet such reactive responses limit the scope to deal
    proactively with complex longer-term causes of
    terrorism.

    Despite the entrenched risk factors in
    Somalia, and the immediate responses, it is worth considering
    whether the 14 October attack can in fact lead to local
    innovation in Somalia that sees more coordinated and unified
    conflict prevention efforts. The outpouring of
    anti-al-Shabaab

    sentiment
    after the attack indicates that the Somali public has
    already made its feelings known; Somali leadership should set
    aside their squabbles and unify around this objective. A
    failure to do so could mean that in the future the public’s
    wrath is directed more towards the country’s leaders than
    al-Shabaab.

    Genuine local conflict prevention efforts
    could include a greater focus on clan reconciliation,
    especially among minority clans. The grievances of potential
    spoilers left out by Somalia’s incipient federalisation system
    need to be addressed, to ensure al-Shabaab doesn’t target
    aggrieved parties for recruitment.

    On another front, the aftermath of the 14
    October attack could also potentially alter international
    efforts to manage and prevent conflicts in Somalia. It may
    ultimately influence the nature of the withdrawal of AMISOM at
    a time when the mission is grappling with the specifics of its
    funding-induced drawdown.

    The current global climate and reduced
    European Union funding for AMISOM troop payments has signalled
    a degree of donor fatigue regarding Somalia, despite an


    outpouring
    of support after the deadly al-Shabaab attack. If such
    donor fatigue resumes after the shock of the attack wears off,
    the future of conflict prevention in Somalia may suffer.

    In a larger global and regional context,
    however, the attack occurred during a period when international
    actors, including the United Nations (UN) and AU, have put
    increasing emphasis on ensuring that conflict prevention is
    more effective. However, if conflict prevention is – as UN
    Secretary-General António Guterres often says – the
    priority for the international community, then it has to be
    more visible where it matters most.

    A renewed focus in Somalia would be an
    opportunity to put this talk into action.

    International actors must however steer away
    from an approach focused on the superficial assessment of
    emergencies. Conflict prevention in Somalia requires not only
    that the symptoms of the conflict are addressed, such as the
    attacks themselves, but that local partners are part of the
    effort to deal with its root causes, like a pervasive lack of
    governance.

    This will ensure that in the aftermath of the
    horrific 14 October Mogadishu blast, local and international
    actors are mobilised to innovatively change conflict prevention
    strategies in the country.
    DM

    This ISS Today is a version of an article
    first published on the

    Conflict Prevention
    Innovation
    website, a partnership between
    the ISS and the ISS and the Igarapé Institute.

    Omar Mahmood, Researcher, ISS Addis Ababa
    and Gustavo de Carvalho, Senior Researcher, ISS
    Pretoria

    Photo: Destroyed vehicles are seen at the
    scene of a massive explosion in front of Safari Hotel in the
    capital Mogadishu, Somalia, 14 October 2017 (reissued 21
    October 2017). Photo: EPA-EFE/SAID YUSUF WARSAME

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