(Editor’s note: This post is the last from our guest blogger Jean-Pierre Filiu this time around. He might be back later in the year with occasional articles, but he is now leaving the stage for our next guest. Please join me in thanking Jean-Pierre warmly for his excellent contributions. And if you read French, buy his latest book, which is now out.)
A few days after they emphatically pledged allegiance to Usama Bin Laden, the Somalian Shabab clashed with their jihadi allies from Hizbul Islam in the Southern city of Kismayo. The rebel factions control the port city since August 2008 and were supposedly united in their common fight against the Mogadishu-based Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the African Union peacekeepers. The rift erupted on October 1, when the Shabab started taking over Kismayo port from Hizbul Islam, especially one of its components, the Ras Kamboni brigade. Despite mediation meetings during the last days, the tension appears to run high between the Shabab and Hizbul Islam.
What is fascinating in this Kismayo showdown is a new illustration of the dialectics between global and local jihad. By joining the global realm, even only for propaganda purposes, a jihadi group as the Shabab may try to get the upper-hand over its rival/partner, in that case Hizbul Islam. Hassan Dahir Aweys, the leader of Hizbul Islam, has long worked to incorporate the Shabab in his own organization, and he even strove to take credit for the Shabab’s wave of suicide attacks. But the Shabab refused such a merger and found in the allegiance to Bin Laden the most powerful deterrent to Aweys’ plans. Kismayo quickly became the focus of this new inter-jihadi competition.
A lot has been said and written about the very selective process through which Al-Qaeda decides to lend its franchise to local groups, how it was for instance refused to Fatah al-Islam, while it was eventually granted to the Algerian GSPC, now Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. But, since it takes two to tango, one should also question the rationale that leads those groups to try and go global. The Algerian precedent as well as those most recent Somali developments underline the importance of the local dynamics: the more a group wants to stand apart from its local allies, especially under the background of mounting rivalries, the more it will be tempted to identify publicly with Al-Qaeda and its slogans. The global rhetoric can then go hand in hand with intense feuding for local positions of power, like the port of Kismayo for the Shabab. Talk globally (about AQ-led jihad) and act locally (against the rival jihadis) could be the relevant motto for such a process.