Friday, 5 October 2012

Thoughts on Kismayo

It is not surprising that the topic of the post al-Shabaab governance of Kismayo has received some attention among observers of Somalia and the Islamist group. There have been a number of good articles written on the current situation and the challenges facing the Somali Government and AMISOM as they attempt to assert their control over the city and its surrounding areas. However, should a reader be pressed for time there are three articles in particular from among these that can provide a good generally background and analysis of these issues.

The first of these is by Katherine Zimmerman, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute's Critical Threats Project, provides some brief background information on the campain that lead to the fall of Kismayo, some of the challenges of installing a new administration and what the loss of the city may mean to al-Shabaab. This article can be read here.

The second article is yet another excellent contribution by the well-known expert on Somalia and the Horn of Africa region, Professor Ken Menkhaus. In his article Professor Menkhaus manages to cover a wide range of issues both briefly and succinctly in a manner that both seasoned watchers or casual observers of Somalia may find useful. This article can be read here.

The third article is from the excellent SomaliaReport, which like the other two articles provides important background information to the capture of Kismayo as well as posing a number of questions that deserve careful and thoughtful consideration. This article can be read here.

It will be important that both the internationally backed Somali Government and AMISOM take a careful and considered approach to the administration of Kismyao. It is certain that al-Shabaab itself will be watching developments in the city closely for any opportunity to both attack targets and build discontent against the new masters of the city. 

One such method appears to be stoking local fears that Kenya wishes to exert dominance and control over Kismayo for its own benefit. This was evident in a recent statement released on the pro-Shabaab radio station 'al-Furqaan' by the groups spokesman Sheikh Ali Dhere in which he attempted to raise this specter. A recording of this statement can be heard here and a brief article on the contents of the statement can be read here (Somali).

The danger of al-Shabaab exploiting any opportunity given to it is not lost on either the Somali Government and its allies (AMSIOM, Ras Kamboni Movment). A recent press release AMISOM demonstrated that it understands the need to avoid civilian casualties and cause as little disruption to civilian life as possible by announcing the establishment of "No‐Fire Zones around markets, schools, mosques and hospitals." Nevertheless despite such caution incidents such as the killing of Somali civilians by a Kenyan soldier may still occur inside Kismayo. While such incidents may cause considerable anger among the civilian population it is also possible that any civilian deaths, destruction of property or disruption to daily life that occur through the actions of al-Shabaab may in turn be blamed on the Somali Government and AMISOM.

Given the complicated nature of all the issues concerning the post al-Shabaab governance of Kismayo it is difficult, indeed probably foolhardy, to attempt to make any predictions regarding the outcome for any of the parties involved. It may be that the control of the city may turn on the back of a single even or perhaps smolder until the eruption of a conflagration that would see the return of al-Shabaab - or perhaps neither will occur at all. What can be known for sure however is that both sides, and even internal factions, will all be watching developments closely and seek to turn them to their own advantage.

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