A little-known conference is taking place in Kampala, which could have big consequences: a confidence-building workshop for the Somali peace-keeping mission, AMISOM (the African Union Mission in Somalia). The two-day conference intends to create awareness among the media and civil society organizations in those countries which already send troops to the AU Mission, or who will do in future. Speaking at its opening on December 2nd, the AU special representative for Somalia, Wafula Wamunyinyi, pointed out that the presence of Al Qaeda in Somalia is real, and the world “should be put on notice.”
Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, the US, Tanzania, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda are listed as countries from where Al Shabaab, the group effectively running the capital, Mogadishu, and other key areas, has recruited.
Wafula said that the managers and operational commanders of Al Shabaab belong to Al Qaeda. He further warned that Al Qaeda could well take over Somalia unless the rest of Africa reacted, and quickly, since they have a huge grip on the country. A new approach to the Somali problem must be adopted; it is no longer merely a question of fights between rival clans. Al Shabaab has established training camps with Al Qaeda in Somalia, and the foreign fighters are said to number 1,200, half of whom are Kenyans.
Wafula listed the foreigners holding important positions within Al Shabaab as Sheikh Mohamed Abu Faid, Saudi born, who is the financier and current “manager” of the group. The head of security and training operations is Abu Musa Mombasa, who arrived recently from Pakistan to replace Saleh Ali Nabhan who was killed in US military operations.
Abu Mansur Al-Amriki, an American, heads the finance and payroll department of the foreign fighters, while Mohamoud Mujajir, a Sudanese, is in charge of the recruitment of suicide bombers, he said. Also on the list is Ahmed Abdi Godanem an Al-Qaeda graduate from Afghanistan, and Abu Suleiman Al-Bandiri, a Somali of Yemeni descent.
According to Wafula, AMISOM has been able to collect valuable information about the fundamentalists through intelligence gathering and defectors. The AMISOM spokesman, Maj. Bahoku Barigye, told a local newspaper that he ahd spoken with three of the Ugandan Al-Shabaab fighters who issued threats against him and his relatives. The three came from different parts of Uganda and he spoke with them in their languages; one of them had fought in DR Congo with the Alliance Democratic Forces, a rebel group opposed to Uganda’s present ruling party.
Uganda is also one of only two African countries that has sent soldiers to the AU mission; the other is Burundi. Djibouti, Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Malawi promised to send troops but have not done so yet. Out of the 8,000 soldiers needed to pacify Mogadishu, alone, only 5,000 have been deployed.
Al Qaeda’s involvement is no secret. The group has published their presence on their various web-sites, claiming they were in Somalia to defend their fellow Muslims.
Al Shabaab wants Somalia to be portrayed as a failed state and no-go area, so that criminals from other countries can operate from there.
It is estimated that more than half of Somalia’s population lives outside the country, the better-off ones in Western capitals; the rest have migrated within the region and have become either shrewd businesspeople in Nairobi, Mombasa and Kampala, or are among the thousands in refugee camps in northern Kenya.
Meanwhile the Somali pirates are operating further and further away from their shores, in the busy shipping lanes of the Gulf and the Indian Ocean. Much of the ransom money is finding its way towards developing parts of the country. With the major international powers hesitant to set foot there, and definitively solve a huge humanitarian problem on land, and now sea, is this the only way Somalia can hope to rebuild itself: on the booty collected from tankers taking oil to the West, or Chinese container ships ferrying cheap goods to Africa?
Martyn Drakard is a freelance writer working from Uganda and Kenya.