Lesson From Kismayo

(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.

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3 Responses

  1. This is the exact same dynamic that has played out with Somali jihadi activities for two decades. See AQ’s (Mis) Adventures in the Horn of Africa. The exact same disputes occurred in Southern Somalia between rival clans in the early 1990’s when AQ tried to expand there. This is another reminder for those threat generators that equate Somalia as the next Afghanistan and keep pushing for action there. AQ will struggle to achieve an organized foothold in Somalia for the same reasons they failed in 1992-1994. And Aweys was AQ’s man in Somalia back then, as seen by his visa in that study. Let AQ continue to thrash themselves in Somalia. The west should stay out of it unless they are doing interdictions on precise targets, which they seem to be getting better at all the time.

  2. I’m sorry to say, but this article has some mistakes.

    It’s not AQ who decides what group ‘may’ belong (or be affiliated-) to them, it’s showing the right aqeedah (As-salafiyya al-jihadiya) that makes them a brother-organisation. Links between all those groups exist through many ways (forums, messengers etc.)

    Founders of As-shabaab were in Afghanistan before they started the group in Somalia. When they announced their alliance to OBL it also had other meaning/purposes.

    AQ did not ‘turn down’ Fatah-al-Islam nor did it grant GSPC the favour over others. AQIM did not start after OBL said: ‘you’re good to go!’

    There is one simple rule within the global Jihad: any group on the right path can join as long as there are NO nationalists involved and the main cause is the establishment of Sharia (later to be added to the new Caliphate) and jihad fisbillah.

    The fighting between those to groups in Somalia has many different reasons. I would suggest you read what As-shabaab members write themselves about this subject on their official website.

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