Analysis: Mogadishu after Al-Shabab

NAIROBI, 7 September 2011 (IRIN) - After the Al-Shabab insurgency announced on 6 August that it was pulling out of Mogadishu, the hope was that the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) would fill the vacuum, but doubts are emerging about its capacity to stamp its authority on the capital.
A government minister, however, told IRIN the TFG was slowly regaining control of the city.
"There is no doubt that the government is now in control of all the areas that were previously under their [Al-Shabab] control," Abdisamad Moalim Mahamud, Minister for the Interior and Security, said, adding that it had appointed officials to run those districts.
Mahamud said the government may not have moved as quickly as many people had wanted, "but we are there and we are strengthening the administrations every day, with the appointment of district officials and security personnel".
He said the fact that people were returning to those areas "was indeed a testament that we are doing something about the security situation".
The government is in the process of deploying more security personnel, not only in areas Al-Shabab left but throughout the city, Mahamud added.
"We are well aware that the job is not yet done until we can comfortably say that Mogadishu is totally safe from them [Al-Shabab] and from opportunistic criminals," he said.
Mahamud said critics who questioned the government's efforts were not being realistic.
Danger remains
Ambassador Abdullahi Sheikh Isma’il, a member of parliament and the parliamentary committee on reconciliation, warned the government not to create a false sense of optimism: "It is too early to say Al-Shabab is defeated and declare victory. They still pose a very serious danger and have not left the city completely."
He cautioned that Al-Shabab could try to start a guerilla war. "There is the real danger of increased targeted assassinations and remote-controlled explosions."
Isma'il said the government needed to move with speed and take advantage of the situation created by the withdrawal and splits within Al-Shabab, not only through military means but also through dialogue.
Ken Menkhaus, a professor at Davidson University, North Carolina, and Horn of Africa specialist, said Al-Shabab's partial withdrawal allowed it to redeploy forces to the south, thereby avoiding "direct fights with AMISOM [the African Union mission supporting the government], shore up [its] southern flank, and place the spotlight on the TFG to manage aid flows into Mogadishu”.
He said Al-Shabab’s already bad reputation was further damaged by "its criminally negligent handling of the famine. Blocking aid into famine zones, denial of the famine itself, and preventing famine victims from fleeing for help appalled Somalis and the world," he said, adding that debate over how to handle the famine "was one of the issues that split Al-Shabab leadership too.
"This is the TFG's best and probably last chance to do something right, and capitalize on Al-Shabab's weakness by showing that it can and will govern well. I wish I could say I'm hopeful it will, but the TFG's track record so far points to the opposite conclusion - it has never missed the opportunity to miss an opportunity," Menkhaus said.
An aid worker, who requested anonymity, told IRIN that immediately after the insurgents pulled out, roadblocks emerged in parts of the city. "We saw roadblocks around Bakara market, Hawl-Wadag district and Boondheere."
He said there was also fear that warlords - who controlled parts of the city from the 1990s to 2006 - or people associated with them, were trying to take control of the areas formerly occupied by Al-Shabab.
He said most of the roadblocks were manned by militias under the control of district commissioners. "The government must unify control of the various armed groups under one command," he said. Otherwise, "we will have serious problems delivering aid to those most in need”.
Al-Shabab pockets
"They are definitely still in control of Huriwa and Suuqa Hoolaha [north of the city]," said a local journalist, adding that on 5 September, the group attacked units of government forces in the city. "They may have been weakened considerably but they are still here."
Another problem hampering government control was the fear of landmines in the vacated areas. "I think they want to make sure that the area is free of mines before sending anyone there."
Abdi Yasin, a resident of Hamar Jadid area of Wardhigley district, however, told IRIN that residents were not waiting for the all-clear. He said in the past two weeks many former residents had started returning to their homes and started repairing them.
"There is no doubt as to who is in control; government forces are here and they are in control," Yasin said. "There is hope and life is returning to the area. People are very optimistic but how long that will last is anyone's guess."
The area has been one of the most contested in the city.
Ahmed Bile fled his home in the Abdul-Aziz district of north Mogadishu three years ago and returned on 2 September. "We fled to Medina [southwest] because it became too dangerous but now I have returned and we are very happy."
Bile said that since the beginning of this week, "between 15 and 20 families were returning to the area. We are very optimistic that things will get better," said the former trader, who wants to start his business again.
Impact of famine
Minister Mahamud said the government would do all it could to assist aid agencies to deliver food to the famine-displaced pouring into the city.
"We have created a task-force of 300 to make sure that aid is neither hindered nor looted. We have also established special military courts to deal with errant members of the security forces."
He said the government was determined to make sure that Al-Shabab "does not return to Mogadishu and that it is defeated in other parts of the country. I think this is the beginning of the end for this group. They don't have any support anywhere."
However, Al-Shabab continues to control most of south-central regions, including the famine-hit regions of Bay, Bakool, Lower Shabelle, Middle Shabelle and Lower Juba, and Gedo, where more than half the famine-hit live.
Theme (s): Conflict, Governance,
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]