Topic: Conflict
Defectors, Analysts Claim Shabaab Splintering For Variety of Reasons
Al-Shabaab Top Officials Sheikh Robow and Sheikh Dhere
Al-Shabaab Top Officials Sheikh Robow and Sheikh Dhere

As the allied forces of Somalia, the African Union peacekeepers (AMISOM) and various pro-government militias push the al-Shabaab militant group from key areas in Somalia towards their stronghold in Kismayo, the al-Qaeda aligned organization is rapidly splintering along clan lines and defections are on the rise, according to analysts and defectors who spoke to Somalia Report.

Suge, a Somali political analyst, argues that a number of factors are causing the split and defections: the disorganized administration of the regions they control, disputes over the role of the foreigners in the group, the lack of country-wide operations of the militia, the increased killings of innocent people, clan based politics, lack of funds and supplies, and their pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda.

More than 1,500 previously loyal soldiers of al-Shabaab have deserted the group, according to Ahmed Carale, a former al-Shabaab fighter who spoke to Somalia Report. Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) officials have claimed that more than 500 youths have deserted, however, the official number remains unknown as some fighters merely go back home without officially surrendering or defecting.

"I abandoned the group because whatever we were fighting for is no longer there, and everything became about individual interests," said Abdul Najib, a former al-Shabaab militant.

Abdul explained that he and his fellow deserters objected to the mass killing of innocent people, the hijacking of trucks carrying aid for civilians, the forceful taking of animals and taxes from people and child abuse in the name of jihad. Examples of killings of innocent people include that of the late district commissioner of the Garboharey town Ahmed Abdille Magan (Harawe), who was killed on the road between Baled Hawo and Garboharey by al-Shabaab. Also included in the list of grievances was the Hotel Shamow explosion, which killed many students on their graduation day. There were also number of aid trucks which were stolen by the al-Shabab militia in the Gedo region while they were heading to Garboharey.

When the Islamic Courts Union (from which al-Shabaab was born) was first instituted and sought to implement Sharia law, there was broad community support, and even some of the diaspora returned. Many people in Somalia admired and supported Islamic rule in the country after the era of warlords, since Muslims believe Islamic Shariah to be the best and supreme law on earth. Some Somalis even came from western countries in large numbers to take part in what they saw as the new dawn in the country.

Shaale, an elder based in Mogadishu, told Somalia Report that people started supporting the group even more after they battled Ethiopian forces who invaded the country in 2006. At that time, Somalis offered support, either financially or by taking up arms to fight with the ICU against Ethiopia, for the common cause of implementing Sharia law in Somalia.

After al-Shabaab splintered off from the ICU and implemented a severe form of Sharia in areas under their control and demonstrating their rampant abuse of power, more and more fighters began defecting.

Abdi Qaliq, a 29 year old former fighter, is one of the youth who joined the militia in early 2009 and took part in many battles in the country. He decided to abandon the group in late 2011 and is now living in Mogadishu.

“I began as a soldier for al-Shabaab in 2007. I first joined them because I was annoyed by the foreigners (Ethiopians) in our country. I did not like them at all because they have personal interests and will never help Somalia attain peace and prosperity. I was given training and was doing well in the militia. I took part in many wars but I was not happy with what was happening around the country," explained Abdi.

"I remember there were many times we waged a war against the TFG and its allies, and when one of us got injured and his clansmen were not near him to support him, the other fighters ran from him, carrying only those whom they knew personally or to whom they were related. That shocked me greatly. I asked myself many times, 'what will happen to me if I get wounded and I am left in the battle field and none of my relatives were in the group with me.' The answer was clear that I would be abandoned and be killed, which was not the end I wanted to see,” he told Somalia Report.

Many youth fighters from the al-Shabaab militia surrendered or defected after they felt guilty and shameful over the killings of innocent people, according to those who left the group.

Farah Gele, a former soldier for the ICU and al-Shabaab, recently put down his gun and is also in Mogadishu, from which al-Shabaab was ousted over the past year by TFG and AMISOM forces.

“I abandoned the militia because as a human being we have to question things. I can’t be told to do something that I know it is wrong, like killing someone unjustly. Killing one person in unjust because it is a grave sin and is punishable in Shariah,” Farah Gele told Somalia Report.

Asked why there are many al-Shabaab soldiers running away from the militia and giving themselves to TFG forces, Farah said, “many soldiers have escaped from militia and those numbers will increase as time goes on because everybody realizes the wrong things al-Shabaab are committing and the evil things they are doing to the people.”

There are hundreds of al-Shabaab soldiers who abandon the group every month, according to claims from former fighters and TFG officials. Some have put down their guns and are leading lives as civilians while others migrated to other neighbouring countries like Kenya and Ethiopia. Others have been welcomed into the TFG as government soldiers.

The matter of defection has affected the top leaders of the al-Shabaab including Hassan Dahir Aweys who accused other al-Shabaab leaders of shedding the blood of innocent people in the name of Jihad. Some reports from inside al-Shabaab, especially from soldiers in the Bay and Bakool regions, said that the al-Shabaab phenomenon only exists in southern Somalia and the militia have no plans to operate in the northern part of the country. This has raised many questions among the al-Shabaab soldiers and the leaders of the insurgents.

Abdiyare, a member of the Bay al-Shabaab militants told Somalia Report that some members of the al-Shabaab have raised questions to the top leaders about expanding the group’s activities to Somaliland, a break away region in the north part of Somalia. He complained that their suggestions went neglected by the al-Shabaab senior officials who finally admitted that Somaliland region was peaceful and the al-Shabaab will not interfere there. This has angered many officials including Hassan Dahir Aweys and all the other less radical officials like Sheikh Abdifatah Mohamed Ali, the former treasurer of the disbanded Hizbul Islam, within the al-Shabaab hinting that there exists an individualistic agenda behind the war and the conflict in the southern part of Somalia.

“I really don’t understand why the officials refuse to extend the group’s activities to the all corners of the country. When al-Shabaab was making an alliance with the Galgala forces in Puntland, it was fine and everyone wanted the group’s activities to reach Puntland, but when it came to Somaliland it was opposed by the top officials. Why? What makes Somaliland exceptional? I really can’t understand but there is something fishy I am sensing which will cause a rift and division in the militia if something is not done about is as soon as possible," said Arabey, a member of the al-Shabaab militia.

Tribalism and clan loyalties within al-Shabaab is reportedly the biggest worry of the soldiers in al-Shabaab. Although the al-Shabaab has many followers from all walks of life and from different tribes and even nations, tribalism is still an issue driving many loyal soldiers from the group. Tribalism exists in the al-Shabaab militia when a group dominated by a certain clan is operating in a region where the people of that region mostly don’t support the al-Shabaab. These forces execute people from the other clans, take their property and harass them just because they are not part of the al-Shabaab and their men are not in the group or have few soldiers in the militia. This had caused many clans to contribute hundreds of men and join the al-Shabaab with the agenda of safeguarding their tribe and their property from the other members of the al-Shabaab who would otherwise cause problems for these clans and their property.

Shuuke is one the many who joined the al-Shabaab not to fight for the al-Shabaab dogma and beliefs, but to safeguard his tribe’s interest. He added that men from their tribe operate in both in al-Shabaab and the TFG. The men remain in regular communication despite which group they joined because they are united by their blood relations. When a member of their clan is held by either party, men from his tribe stand up for him and makes sure he is not killed and make attempts to save his life.

“The problem in Somalia is now clear with everyone. For one to survive and live a life without fear in the country, one ought to have his men on every side to make sure one gets maximum respect as a tribe from both sides. As for us, the Rahawayn, we have many soldiers in both the TFG and the al-Shabaab. All the other clans have done the same although there are some whose men in the two sides are not on good terms and will execute each other if they find any of them," Shuke told Somalia Report.

The involvement of foreign forces operating among and sometimes dictating policy for al-Shabaab has been another major factor in defections. Most of the al-Shabaab fighters refuse to take orders from foreigners who sometimes demand the fighters to commit suicide when they themselves refuse to do so.

“I cannot take orders from someone who doesn’t understand the nature of our people and I can’t just kill people because he ordered me to kill a fellow Somali. To me that makes no sense at all. It is even worse when foreigners make key decisions and define the do’s and the don’ts for us,” said Ahmed Dhalo, another former al-Shabaab fighter who spoke to Somalia Report.

Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys
Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys

The continuing rift between the al-Shabaab members was also sparked by the group's allegiance with the terror group al-Qaeda. Al-Shabaab officials like Hassan Aweys are against giving its loyalty to the Al-Qaida group. "Al-Shabaab and Al-Qaeda are merely a small part of the larger Islamic group and Al-Qaeda's ideology should not be viewed as the sole, righteous path for Islam," Aweys was quoted as saying by Sabahi Online.

Adding to the defections and split are the allied advances which have forced the group to use precious ammunition and supplies.

“Things are tough these days. The whole world is against us and it is true we can’t withstand all the pressure. I and many others deviated from al-Shabaab because we didn’t want to fight a losing battle any longer," Sharmake, a former al-Shabaab member told Somalia Report.

Despite the defections, surrenders, and internal squabbles, the group remains formidable and united against TFG, AMISOM, and Ethiopian troops and local militias, vowing to hold onto their main base in Kismayo. The group was been equally effective at conducting guerrilla warfare and hit and run attacks against allied forces throughout southern Somalia.

(Editor's note: The exact number of Shabaab defectors or those who surrendered is unknown as the TFG, AMISOM, police, security forces, al-Shabaab and other news sources all cite different numbers.)

Disaster In The Making
By AHMED MOHAMED 05/02/2012
Charcoal Burning
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Charcoal Burning

Charcoal production has been in existence since the creation of the horn of Africa state. Output from this industry is consumed both locally and internationally. Somalia started the exportation of this lucrative commodity back in the 1970s making it the backbone of its economy. Up until 1991, 50% of Somalia's charcoal produce was exported to the Gulf States. Later on, livestock exportation gradually took over the export market but soon after that Saudi Arabia banned the importation of livestock from Somalia due to poor health standards. It was only two weeks ago when Saudi Arabia lifted the ban on importation of livestock from Somalia.

The lure of income from charcoal trade proved to be overpowering as traders, especially the low income earners turned to charcoal as their only source of income. The enterprise requires minimal capital and depends largely on human labour. The major effect of this economic incentive is gradual degradation of arable and pasture land which leads to long term desertification. Currently 80% of Somalia’s charcoal output is exported mainly to Saudi Arabia, Yemen and United Arab Emirates (UAE).

According to the Somalia Ecological Society (SES) 70,000 tonnes of charcoal are exported annually from Somalia.

If an Acacia tree can produce an estimate of 8 to 10 sacks of charcoal, 25kgs each, one can easily estimate the magnitude of annual deforestation in Somalia. Somalia Ecological Society estimated the deforestation rate in Somalia to be 35,000 hectares per year.

Previous Somali regimes have done little to combat the booming enterprise. There was no restriction and regulation imposed on this industry. Recently the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) requested that the United Nations (UN) ban the exportation of charcoal from Somalia, not because it was slowly turning Somalia into a Sahara desert but simply because charcoal exportation is a reliable income generating enterprise for the al-Shabaab militia. The insurgents use Kismayo and Barawo ports as their major exporting points. Three months later, on 25th February 2012 the United Nations heeded this call and the UN monitoring group banned the exportation of what it referred to as ‘black gold’. This means that the Gulf countries must refrain from using charcoal which is imported from Somalia. Bearing in mind the huge market for this cheap source of energy, this objective may be difficult to attain.

Competition in charcoal production has intensified as various clans have turned to it as a source of livelihood after the recent droughts resulted in loss of livestock.

For a better understanding of what the charcoal trade involves, Somalia Report spoke to a charcoal trader in Burgaabo who preferred to identify himself as Hassan (not real name).

“I have been working as a charcoal trader for eight years now. Aside from that, I also own twenty goats that I purchased using income generated from the charcoal business. This is the only enterprise that can provide a reliable source of earning in this area. That is what has forced me to do this job so I can fend for my family,” he said.

In regard to production of the commodity, Hassan described it as a labour intensive and difficult activity.

“Charcoal production cannot be handled by one person but an average of four to five men. We start felling acacia trees and chopping them into almost 1.5 meter long logs. We then dig the ground and arrange the logs in piles. We cover the logs with steel drums or leaves during the rainy season. This is done to minimize air circulation in the enclosure and convert the logs to charcoal. The final step is setting fire to the pile,” he described.

To produce 20 sacks of 25kg each, two huge acacia trees are felled. Charcoal prices are an average of $5 and are sold to merchants. The charcoal merchants in turn sell the commodity to Arab countries at $10 to $15 when the demand is high. However, lower prices of $2 were applied for sale of charcoal to al-Shabaab militia when they were in control of the area. The militia imposed taxes on loads of donkey carts ranging between $2 to $3. Hassan informed us in hushed tones that there are still al-Shabaab agents who trade in charcoal using capital from the Mujahideen after which they send the profits to the fighters.

Charcoal burners and pastoralists are currently at loggerheads due to the obvious state of environmental degradation and its impact on livestock. Abdullahi Gedi is a herdsman who expressed his disappointment in the current state of affairs.

“I don’t know what the TFG is doing. How can they remain aloof and fail to take legal action against these miserly people who are focused on destroying our future? Everyone knows that livestock is the backbone of our economy. These charcoal burners go to the extent of cutting flourishing green trees after exhausting the dry and dead wood. They do this for their selfish needs. I have seen trees with stems chopped off and ‘magadi’ (salt) inserted in that section so as to induce gradual drying of the trees,” he said. A frustrated Gedi insisted that they will no longer tolerate such selfish actions and interest by the charcoal burners.

Somalia Report contacted a TFG conservation official in Gedo region who conceded that the cutting of trees is an offense in Somalia today unlike in the past.

“I am not surprised that charcoal burners are doing this intensively. I believe our institutions are not well developed or have the capacity to impose any form of restriction on such trade. It is also difficult to implement and reinforce laws when there is minimal or no government presence on the ground," he said.

The charcoal industry in Somalia spells disaster for the indigenous acacia trees which are now confined to riverside areas of Shabelle and Juba. Widespread tree cutting has resulted in low rainfall production and limited atmospheric purification. Once a forest is destroyed mass wasting is impossible to prevent and soil erosion cripples farming produce and livestock rearing. Somali leaders must rise to this challenge and invest in the future of their country before it is no more. Environmental conservation is as deserving of adequate attention and resources as combat and military engagement. It is the one common enemy among all Somalis.

ASWJ Chairman Reassures Residents and Appeals for Community Policing
By UGAAS DEEQ ABDI 05/01/2012
ASWJ Chairman, Hassan Abudwak
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ASWJ Chairman, Hassan Abudwak

Insecurity has greatly undermined the development of Galgadud region specifically in Abudwak town. Militia men who are accustomed to killing and looting the property of innocent people have wreaked havoc in the area which is under the control of the Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jamaa (ASWJ) militia. Somalia Report interviewed Hassan Abudwak who is the ASWJ chairman in Abudwak.

Tell us about the general security of this region, particularly Abudwak town?

The region is stable and secure despite the fact that there are some militia men trying to cause havoc. We are after them and we will capture them very soon.

Who are these militia men and what do they do to the people?

They are men who hail from the region and are intent on promoting their selfish interests by killing and looting. We shall not ignore what they are doing at all costs.

What tangible measures have you taken to curb the insecurity incidents so far?

We have already restored law and order in some areas they looted and our armies are vigilant and ready to handle any future incident if they try to terrify the people.

Who give orders to the militia men and where do the go after looting?

Although we do not know where orders are issued to them our investigations are underway to unearth all these facts. There must be some one behind the heightened insecurity.

What assurance can you give to the people regarding the measures you have taken to ensure their security and safety?

I want to make it clear that maintaining security is a collective responsibility, so I urge the people to share information on suspicious elements. I promise that we shall take appropriate action against all elements o insecurity. I encourage the public to play their role as required.

Are your forces capable of defending the entire region from al-Shabaab?

It is obvious that we are capable and have proved it. We shall never accept al-Shabaab to take over the region once again.

Is it possible for ASWJ to negotiate with these militia's leaders for a lasting solution?

We don’t negotiate with thugs and criminals who are terrorizing the residents in the area. We advise them to desist from such action so that we can rehabilitate them and guide them towards a life that is free of crime.

Do the militia men carry out their activities during the day time or at night?

They operate mostly at night. As the ASWJ, we assure the public that these incidents will not occuer in future. We plan on re-inforcing our troops so that they can deal with these militia men as soon as possible.

Have you discussed the issue of rising insecurity with the local entrepreneurs? If so, what have you agreed on?

We consulted with business owners to discuss the way forward. We agreed to cooperate and eliminate the militia since they are a threat to the economy of the region.

Will the business community provide financial contribution to the initiative to maintain law and order?

No. It is our responsibility to ensure security but we have agreed that they play their role in working for the common interest of the region. We only sought their physical cooperation but not financial support.

Is it possible that al-Shabaab is behind the operations of the criminal militia group?

No, I don’t believe that because we chased al-Shabaab and none of their members are within Abudwak town and its environs. They are just local militia men who want to earn a living out of crime and they are hiding in the town. We shall soon land on them and capture them one by one.

There have been recent clashes between ASWJ and al-Shabaab in El-Bur district of Galgadud region. What can you tell us about this?

It is true that the clashes occurred and we defeated the al-Qaeda backed militia group and we killed several of them. They disappeared into the jungles but our forces will not stop chasing after them.

Does al-Shabaab have enough power in Galgadud?

No. We have definitely weakened them and I can assure you they are fighting a battle that they will lose. They have now changed their tactic of war into hit and run attacks which I can say is cowardice instead of direct confrontation.

Where do you think the solution for Somali nation lies?

I think we now have a chance to build a stable government free from al-Shabaab and their associates. I urge all Somali citizens to make use of this opportunity and establish a government with a solid base free from nepotism, tribalism and corruption.

I encourage the people of Abudwak to respect the laws of the land and obey the regulations imposed by ASWJ which safeguards them and their livelihoods. I also encourage them to work with our security forces and obey if a curfew is imposed in the town so as to hunt down the criminals who create insecurity in the area.

The Unsung Heroes of a War Torn Nation
By TAHIR ADAN 04/24/2012
Somali Women in Mogadishu
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Somali Women in Mogadishu

In a war torn country where might rules, the voices and concerns of Somali mothers remain muted and low on the list of the nation’s concerns. In Somalia’s patriarchal society, men rule with very minimal participation by women in their decision making processes.

As men and boys eagerly take part in ongoing clashes between the al-Shabaab militant group and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) forces with its allies, Somali mothers have learnt to conceal their anxiety and fear. Many have watched their first born child recruited into a militia group, a gang or simply disappear to take part in any of the numerous wars and battles at a tender age, in an attempt to provide for family or establish themselves in a violent environment.

Somalia Report looks into the challenges facing Somali mothers who suffer undefined loss after their husbands join al-Shabaab militants to sustain and defend an unfamiliar ideology. The Mujahideen leave their children and wives as they seek greater gains in another life. Somali women who are largely illiterate are left vulnerable and without sufficient support.

Many are ignorant about birth control and are eventually weighed down by the responsibility of children without the constant presence and support of their father. It is common and expected for a Somali woman to have nine or more children in her lifetime. Most expectant mothers deliver at home due to lack of sufficient health facilities. Many of them die of complications while in labour. According to the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), the maternal mortality rate in Somalia is among the highest in the globe.

Somalia Report spoke to a number of Somali mothers for their perspective on family and motherhood. Nasra is a mother of seven children who is willing to have many more.

“I feel gifted that I have seven children now. I hope to give birth to more in the future because I like having children and will do so for as long as I can. Children are a gift from God. Some people may think that having many children is not right especially when it comes to providing for them which is not a big issue. Allah will provide for me and my children as we do our best,” said Nasra.

Other mothers do not share Nasra’s views in entirety. They explain that it is good to have many children but providing for and guiding them is a great responsibility especially in the case of girls who require extra effort while moulding and monitoring their behavior. Education is a rare and costly service in the conflict ridden country where economic stability is difficult to attain or maintain. Most families are limited to struggling to cater for basic needs rather than seeking the luxury of education. This cripples the future of children.

Fatumo Shire is a married mother who has nine children, six girls and three boys. Unlike Nasro, she suspects it may be unhealthy to bear many children.

“I have nine children most of whom are girls. I am very happy to have so many children of my own despite the problems I face while providing for them. They need education, discipline and basic needs catered for. It is not healthy for me to conceive so soon between pregnancies since the required spacing period is one year at most. This prevents me from pursuing other interests since I am expectant each year. I am not sure if this will create problems for my health in future.”

Regular and endless wars in the country have left many families with single mothers who take care of their children and households with great difficulty.

“I sell meat at the market in Garbaharey and make a little income to sustain my four children because my husband has been away from home for a long time. I heard he is in Kismayo currently and working with the militia group of al-Shabaab,” Khadija told Somalia Report.

“My first pregnancy in December 2010 was a difficult experience. My husband was unemployed at the time and it was a very trying period in my life. He was a laborer and builds houses in the town but since the conflict intensified and drought worsened the situation, there were no more clients to work for. He would wake up early seeking an earning but always come back late in the afternoon with around 40,000 somali shillings which is approximately four dollars," Halima, a 24 year old mother told Somalia Report.

When the situation worsened, Halima feared for her well being and that of her unborn child. They were not getting enough to sustain them and she decided to return to her mother’s house. Her husband later disappeared from the town and news of him joining the al-Shabaab militia spread. Halima was shocked to hear the sad news and shared it with her family. Less than a month later, she was informed of his death and is struggling to come to terms with this.

The greatest concern for these mothers is that their barely grown children are lured and recruited by militia groups. Asha Farah is a mother of two children. She shared her feelings regarding bearing fewer children.

“I have two children, one is seven years and the younger one is four years old. I don’t like when my children are of one year age difference because that will deter them from developing properly. Spacing will enable me to breastfeed each child for two years. I can also afford their upkeep since they are not many and I can spare some money for their education,” she said.

“My husband provides for us. He owns a small retail shop and he sells a variety of goods. One of my children attends school now and the other one is still too young. We are both happy about having a few children who we can care for as parents,”she added.

Almost all women in Somalia do not use family planning or birth control since they regard children as a gift from the creator that should not be controlled. They are assured of their children’s upkeep and do not understand why child birth needs to be controlled.

“I don’t know what birth control actually means. It cannot be good for a woman since children are precious gifts and not everyone is able to get such a gift. Why should anyone control it?” inquires Kadra who is a mother of five children.

Not all women abide by the same ideology. Despite the fact that she does not use birth control, Shadiya who is a mother of four avoids continuous pregnancy and manages to maintain a fair amount of spacing between her pregnancy.

“I have four children now and each is two years older than the other. I like it that way. I don’t use any contraceptive but my husband and I discuss and agreed on when I shall be ready for pregnancy. That way we are able to plan our family’s wellbeing and avoid the problems that mothers face from successive child birth,” she said.

In Somali culture, the man is expected to provide for the family and support the mother while raising the children. However, some women lack this essential support. Due to clan related conflicts, scenarios in which two brothers maybe fighting for warring factions are not uncommon. When men join the fighters and relocate to the the frontline, their families suffer neglect.

Hawa, who is a mother of five children says, “My husband had been away from home since 2009. He used to travel to different places. One day I heard he was in Mogadishu and the next day I also heard he was in another place. He has not been supporting us since then, he claims he has nothing that he earns most of the time. When he earns something he remembers us and sends some money."

This situation varies for mothers in Somalia. Some have lost their husbands to daily crime and fighting incidents, without hope of support. Others are neglected by absentee or demoralized husbands who are unable to provide for their families in an unstable country. These women remain united by a common responsibility of caring for their families and children.

Ebla is a mother of three children who has not heard from her husband in a long time.

“My husband left me when I was three months pregnant and he went to Mogadishu to fight in the ongoing war and I have not heard from him since. I am not sure if he is alive now but I hope so. My brother-in-law searched for him but no one has told us of his whereabouts until now,” she said, “My in-laws assist me by catering for the financial needs of the family, however I am disturbed by my husband’s absence.”

It is a tragedy when a beloved child who has been raised under such difficult circumstances is lured away by warring factions in Somalia.

“I have raised four children and the first two are boys. The eldest joined al-Shabaab in 2010 and has refused to return to me. He lives in Kismayo now. I never expected that after raising him up with such hardship, he would one day fire a gun at another human being. He was 17 years old when they lured him to join them,” said a mother who wishes to remain anonymous.

“I still fear that my other son may join the opposite side. I always talk to him and advise him about his but I can’t help but fear that he too will disappear,” she said.

Despite a multitude of challenges, mothers in Somalia remain resilient and devoted to their children in most cases. The survival of Somali children who may grow to be peacemakers or warmongers depends largely on the nurturing efforts of Somali women.

Constant Attacks by Al-Shabaab Unnerve Residents, Erode Traditions
By MOHAMED ODOWA 04/20/2012
Mogadishu Street Scene
©Somalia Report
Mogadishu Street Scene

As hit and run attacks, sporadic shootings and suicide bombings by the al-Shabaab militant group continue to plague Mogadishu, life must go on for the capital's residents who have developed a culture of suspicion as they wonder who among them could be an al-Shabaab sympathizer or potential attacker.

Residents told Somalia Report that they grow anxious when they see an unknown person carrying backpacks or bags, fearing a bomb might be inside.

Although al-Shabaab was forced from the capital in August of last year, the group has conducted regular attacks in the city on military installation, the presidential compound, markets, intersections, the National Theatre, hotels and Sufi run mosques. Sufi is a moderate Islamist group of Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama (ASWJ) which has joined the Transitional Federal Government's (TFG) fight against al-Shabaab.

“The more explosions and assassinations in this city, the more we harbor suspicions amongst us as a community,” Ahmed Omar, a Sufi worshiper who runs a small business in Bakara Market, told Somalia Report.

Al-Shabaab female suicide-bombers have now made everyone - men and women - potential attackers in the eyes of residents. The deepening distrust has brought new concerns to the residents who have had to adopt a high level of vigilance.

It has made people less trusting, feeling more insecure and difficult for them to rattle on the war between al-Shabaab and the Somali government. “If you see a person with a hand bag or hand luggage then you should be very afraid because you cannot know what is inside the bag,” said a laborer, Abdisalaan Mohamed

Several residents who returned from al-Shabaab controlled areas of Elasha Biyaha for Wadajir and Dharkinley districts were ordered to register at the police stations by local militias loyal to commissioners of those two districts.

“The police want to know the number of your family members. It is compulsory for you to tell the police the figure of your family so as to resettle in these districts,” Fartun Ali told Somalia Report.

According to Ali Hassan, a junior official for the administration of Wadajir district in Mogadishu, there should be no doubt that the militants would use females to launch more suicide bombings.

“Women can be used particularly in the places that are difficult to penetrate. Even some squad within al-Shabaab men pretend to be women by wearing female attire like veils and burqa just in order to hunt down our forces,” said Hassan.

It is not unusual to see TFG soldiers turn their guns on the usual suspects like students with backpacks and veiled women. In the areas controlled by the al-Qaeda linked al-Shabaab group, women were required to wear veils whenever they appeared in public or they would be lashed with small sticks, however in today's Mogadishu, the veils breed suspicion.

Traditional Somalia culture is slowly giving in to the burgeoning suspicion within communities. The habitual acts of sharing political views at tea time, offering free rides to pedestrians, embracing one another by kissing cheeks and the back of hands when greeting and welcoming strangers into homes for a meal, are no longer the norm in Mogadishu. These precious acts are fast eroding in the face of conflict for a more cynical but necessary culture of suspicion and mistrust.

“We would have liked to help carry another's luggage without checking and did so once but that was then. We have no confidence in our siblings let alone others. Now I always worry when i travel with passengers in my own taxi or public buses because I do not know what is in their bags,” a taxi driver Mohamed Yusuf told Somalia Report.

During the day, folks can be seen in restaurants enjoying seafood or drinking tea in cafeterias, the favorite Somali treat, but most of them do not dare express condemnation about the ongoing violence for fear of being targeted. Both the government and al-Shabaab have infiltrators in the public and you need to keep your mouth shut to stay alive. “We are really agonizing over this and you cannot identify al-Shabaab because their infiltrators dress in civilian clothes,” said an elder Hassan Abukar.

Some Somali women choose to wear niqab or burqa, a full-length garment that may cover their faces for religious reasons and do not like to leave their homes without it but they cannot afford the daily risks that instability and distrust exposes them to. Many of them are either forced or requested to take off their veils in public places.

Unmarried Somali girls are wont to wear veils without staunch belief in a specific ideology but preferably to cover their faces. Oftentimes veiled women are not able to get free rides from local car owners and taxi drivers inside Mogadishu due to the growing suspicion in the community according to Qadro Ahmed.

“I was wearing a burqa when I asked someone who was driving his own car to offer me a free ride but he looked at me sternly, refused and turned away from me,” said the resident.

Qadro told us about an event she witnessed while she was travelling by bus with other passengers. A woman boarded the bus carrying a bulging black nylon bag. She picked a phone call and in response to the caller referred to her bag saying, "No, I haven't blasted the goods yet but I am about to."

The panic stricken passengers including Qadro fled in fear and alighted from the bus. When it did not explode as expected, they confronted the bewildered woman who laughed and told them she was planning on 'selling' some clothes she had in the bag.

She had reason to laugh. The word 'blast' means 'sell' within enterprising circles and residents of Mogadishu. This previously innocent street slang had adopted a new and dangerous meaning in this particular situation. This humorous but sad moment provides insight into the traumatised state of Somalis who have been exposed to generations of violence.

“It is a bad habit when people use the word 'blast' instead of 'sell' in public places. It has to be stopped due the current situation in the country," demanded Ahmed. In the current context, his adamant demand may well be justified.

Endless battles and covert warfare tactics are fast depriving Mogadishu residents of much more than meets the eye. Long known traditions and habits have suffered the brunt of warfare as a new language, attitude and culture of suspicion and fear continues to flourish in Mogadishu.