An attack in Lower Shabelle by a suicide bomber struck and killed the mayor of Merka and 10 other people (July 27th). The detonation of a homemade explosive device (a suicide bomber according to other sources) outside a mosque in Baidoa (South-West) at the end of Friday prayers (July 29th) also killed a regional Minister, his son and a third civilian; 11 people were injured. The event has not been claimed, but the authorities hold the Al Shabaab group responsible.
Earlier (July 27th), Ethiopia had claimed to have killed 209 militants of the group, in response to the cross-border attack conducted in Ethiopian territory. The jihadist threat is on the rise, particularly towards Ethiopia in this phase in addition to the more traditional one towards Kenya where elections are expected soon.
The latest developments rekindle tensions in the South and on the Somali-Ethiopian border that date back to the beginnings of Somali jihadism, during the mid-2000s and the period of the Union of Islamic Courts. These quickly came to control Mogadishu in 2006, having ousted the warlords installed there since the outbreak of civil war. The Union re-proposed the moderate precepts of Islam, to renew the foundations of a common cohabitation; at the same time some of its exponents did not hesitate to advocate more radical ideologies, others the nationalist rhetoric of the reunification of Somalis, even those across the border: those messages preceded the Courts, but were unwelcome to the governments of Kenya and Ethiopia. These orchestrated the return of the Transitional Institutions then installed in Nairobi before moving militarily against the Somali capital, which fell in December 2006.
The radical and armed wing of the Courts, the Al Shabaab, has resisted ever since, maintaining its insurrectionist and ideological traits useful for recruitment and control of the territory in contrast to Ethiopian and Kenyan interests and with Mogadishu portrayed as ancillary and succubus. It is not a question of actions capable of restoring that period – now consigned to history – as much as sustaining its presence in areas traditionally not under any central power. The recent spike of activity in this phase has not been motivated by the Al Shabaab leadership group nor by the local leaders, who may have perceived a weakness on the part of Addis Ababa grappling with internal crises and the tendential cooling of the bilateral relationship with the Mohamud Presidency to try to overturn the ever unequal relation. Ethiopian reaction also took the form of air raids in Garasweyne and Aato in the Bakool (South-West) on July 30th and 31st.
Power relations are unlikely to change substantially, since such a trajectory would have to include both a decisive impulse from the Mogadishu elders and support from the Gulf decision-makers, which is not discernible. In these capitals – as well as in Cairo, where Mohamud visited for talks with his counterpart Al Sisi – attempts are rather being made to foster Somalia’s re-inclusion in the regional context. For this to happen, there is certainly an anti-Ethiopian trait. It is revealed, for example, in the request for coordination on the Ethiopian GERD dam on the Nile, instrumental in obtaining an interlocution with Egypt. Although partly scaled down upon Mohamud’s return home, support for those positions is also useful in reiterating the condemnation of ‘unilateral actions’, which for Mogadishu can be traced back to the maritime border dispute with Kenya. The resumption of the khat trade is, however, a sign of détente on this front.
The parliamentary vote on the Barre government, on which President Mohamud is again involved, upon his return from a long series of missions in the region, is also expected shortly. There is resistance from parliamentarians – particularly those from Puntland – to a government with a ‘technical’ profile, which excludes several MPs from posts that have traditionally been assigned through a more collegial discussion.