Flawed Sheikhs and Failed Strategies: Lessons of the Jihadist Debacle in Somalia
Published on: Feb 20, 2007


The SCIC’s “jihad” in Somalia has been brought to an abrupt halt and with it the concern that this could grow into a wider conflict that might spread beyond Somalia’s borders. What remains is to eradicate the hardcore remnants that fled to the southern port town of Kismayo, on to the old Al-Ittihad base at Ras Kamboni and have now been attempting to infiltrate into Kenya. Prompt and decisive action is needed to catch them and bring the Al-Ittihad/SCIC saga to an appropriate and final end. Ethiopia has demonstrated the seriousness of its commitment to defend itself and its territory when it becomes necessary. That is an important lesson to enable living in peace in a rough neighbourhood

The rise in Somalia of the “Supreme Council of the Islamic Courts” (SCIC) a new form of the armed extremist group, Al-Ittihad Al-Islamiya, and the rapid expansion of its militias across southern and central Somalia, poses significant threats to the security of the neighboring countries, particularly Ethiopia and Kenya. The Al-Ittihad leadership, reportedly linked to Al-Qaeda, is believed to have played a significant role in past terrorist attacks in both countries.  

The SCIC, however, had its own internal problems that it failed to resolve. One such problem was its clan composition. Its membership, almost entirely from Hawiye sub-clans, facilitated its spread throughout most of the Hawiye homeland with little fighting required. But this same factor made it difficult for it to expand further. The northeast and the northwest, regions inhabited by different clans that have largely avoided the chronic turmoil of central and southern Somalia, made it clear that they were prepared to fight any invasion of their territories by the SCIC militias.

This, together with the armed resistance to the SCIC of Qeybdiid’s Habir-Gidir Saad militia, brought an abrupt halt to the northward expansion of the SCIC. It also demonstrated that the SCIC could not claim the support of all the Hawiye sub-clans. There were alternatives, which could encourage others to challenge the SCIC. And then there was Mohammed Dheere, with potential to mobilize some subclans of the Abgal. This put added pressure on the SCIC to push its jihadist credentials. No one really knew what it might attempt next, but on 21 December 2006, after agreeing with an EU envoy to pursue a ceasefire and negotiations, the SCIC again declared war.

That was a serious miscalculation on their part. This, reportedly followed by a further cross-border incursion into Ethiopian territory, appears to have tipped the balance. On 24 December, Ethiopia finally took action, and after seven days on the run, the SCIC abandoned its last stronghold under cover of darkness. The SCIC no longer exists as an effective force, although some of its remnants have gone back to join their subclan militias in Mogadishu and need to found and disarmed.  

The establishment of sustainable peace in Somalia in the foreseeable future, will require a significant effort on the part of those concerned, to strengthen the TFG to a degree that can enable it to effectively control its territory and disarm the various armed factions, including the remnants of the SCIC. It also needs the prompt putting in place of a comprehensive DDR program for all armed groups not forming part of the TFG’s security forces. This being the case, the IGAD states and the international community with interests in regional and human security need to carefully weigh their options and assess the possible opportunities to assist the TFG to become an effective governing body.

Among others, addressing the basic issues of sustainable livelihoods in Somalia will need to be undertaken through forms of regional economic integration. The key requirements for this include improved infrastructure to provide reliable access to transport, water and affordable energy. In particular, the rehabilitation of the country’s internal roads and their interconnection with those of the neighboring countries could open the way to increased trade, economic growth and poverty reduction. For example, road interconnection could both enhance trade between the two countries and enable Ethiopia to use Somali ports to the economic benefit of both countries.

The ongoing oil price crisis makes affordable energy a key problem faced by countries that like Somalia depend on oil fired generation of the electricity they need to build alternatives livelihoods. But this could be addressed by interconnection with Ethiopia’s electricity grid to enable it to purchase much cheaper hydroelectricity, a solution already agreed by Djibouti, Kenya and Sudan.

This draws attention to the important opportunities that exist for joint development of the hydroelectric potential of the Shabelle and Gennale-Juba river basins in the context of infrastructure-led regional economic integration. Multi-purpose dams on the Shabelle and Gennale-Juba rivers could meet the hydroelectric power needs of both countries, enhance their irrigation potential, and prevent the recurrent floods that from time to time devastate large areas of the lower Shabelle and Gennale-Juba basins, leading to serious loss of life, property and increasing poverty. For example, the recent floods in the Shabelle and Juba basins that have displaced hundreds of thousands of people in central and southern Somalia, dropping them deeper into destitution.

It is a situation that demands substantial investment in the integrated development of the region’s land and water resources, and creating sustainable alternative livelihoods. The cooperative development of the shared water resources of this drought disaster-prone region comprising central and southern Somalia, and the Ethiopian Somali region offers considerable potential to rehabilitate the livelihoods of their populations and put them on the path to sustainable development and sustainable peace. Both countries and their neighbors have a great deal to gain from this.


1 http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20061224/ap_on_re_af/somalia

2 Seifulaziz Milas, "Causes and Consequences of the Somalia Conflict," UNICEF Somalia, Nairobi, 1994, rev. Feb. 1997.

3 Ibid.

4 Mohamed Hatem Al-Atawy, Nilopolitics: A Hydrological Regime 1870-1990, AUC Press, Cairo, 1996, pp44-52, cited in Tom Hockley, “Nile Valley Case Study, Saferworld.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.

7 Informal conversations with a former senior officer of Somali National Army, Mogadishu, October, 1992.

8 Mohamed Hatem Al-Atawy, Nilopolitics: A Hydrological Regime 1870-1990, AUC Press, Cairo, 1996, pp44-52, cited in Tom Hockley, “Nile Valley Case Study, Saferworld.

9 Ibid.

10 Report of the Monitoring Group, p.41, para.208.

11 UN Monitors’ report, cited in “Adding fuel to fire,” The Reporter, 18 November, 2006.

12 Ibid.

13 UN Monitors’ report p.41, para.210.

14 Ibid.