In DepthThe QuestionAnansi: Should we talk to Al Shabaab?


Posted on Friday, 22 October 2010 11:01

Anansi: Should we talk to Al Shabaab?

In Somalia, the argument that 'we do not talk to terrorists' only gets you so far.

Would you talk to the Taliban? Or Al Shabaab? In Somalia, the Transitional Federal Government, Islamist rebels and international peacekeepers are locked in an increasingly deadly stalemate. With the UN and AU reticent to engage fully, and power-sharing in Kenya and Zimbabwe seeming to work as a means to a more sustainable solution, perhaps Somalia needs another strategy. ?

The argument that ‘we do not talk to terrorists’ only gets you so far. The time for talks may not be right after Al Shabaab attacks in the capital left the TFG clinging to control of a couple of blocks of Mogadishu. As long as both sides think they can win a military victory, a negotiated peace is unlikely.?

The Al Shabaab attacks in Uganda in July seem to be a page taken out of the books of the Hutu fighters in the early days of the Rwandan genocide. With the situation intractable in Somalia, the Somali rebels sought to infuriate troop-contributing nations, and the results were a win-win for them. The AU does not have the resources or the stubbornness to bring stability to Somalia.?

The situation seems as far away from peace as ever. Horn of Africa specialist Ken Menkhaus told the US House of Representatives in June that support for the TFG was “no longer the best of bad options.” The naming of moderate Islamist Sheik Sharif Sheikh Ahmed as TFG president and the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops in January 2009 were intended to meet the demands of groups like Al Shabaab and the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia, but the TFG did not get anything in return.

?Talks would mean that both sides would have to compromise on what they want. For now, Al Shabaab’s edicts against watching football matches have force because they are backed by guns, not popular will. In the long term, the solution to Somalia’s instability has to be based on the delegitimisation of violence and the creation of institutions of governance.

?The lessons learned by occupying Afghanistan and Iraq do not need another example to confirm their validity. Neither the TFG nor Al Shabaab is fit to govern Somalia. Perhaps together the two flawed entities can lay the foundation stones for the future. Both sides would have to prove their points through the strength of their arguments, not the strength of their arms.

This article was first published in the October-November 2010 edition of The Africa Report.

Gemma Ware

Gemma Ware

Gemma Ware is business editor of The Africa Report magazine, where she has worked since 2008. She coordinates the magazine's business pages and writes on a range of subjects from the continent's telecoms revolution, to private equity and African stock markets.

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