This note surveys the military set-backs experienced by al-Shabaab since the beginning of 2011, the motives behind the current Kenyan incursion into southern Somalia, recent international efforts to promote a viable political process on the ground and the continuing food crisis in the country.Jump to full report >>
Throughout 2011, al-Shabaab suffered a number of military setbacks. A number of factors made this possible: a substantial increase in the size of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which has been accompanied by an enhanced offensive capability; from October, a Kenyan incursion across the country’s southern border, justified on security grounds; and divisions within al-Shabaab which affected its own military cohesion.
Whether the most recent incarnation of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which has a long track-record of incompetence and corruption, can take advantage of al-Shabaab’s mounting problems remains to be seen. Its latest mandate expires in August 2012. International efforts continue to broker a viable and legitimate political process that will complement hoped-for military advances during 2012, with the UK Government hosting a conference on Somalia in London on 23 February. Africa Confidential hazarded the following prediction for this year in its 6 January edition: “Intervention by Kenya and Ethiopia will drive Al Shabaab from its strongholds but won’t produce a viable government.” But the UN Secretary-General is more optimistic, stating that “[...] the prospects for positive change appear greater than they have been for many years.”
Ordinary Somalis have found themselves in even more of a life-and-death struggle to survive than before. During the second half of 2011, famine struck six regions in southern Somalia. One analyst called it “a calamity that could join the ranks of the Rwanda genocide and the Darfur crisis in terms of scale and human suffering.” An estimated four million people, or 53% of the Somalia population, were affected. Last week, the UN declared that the famine had ended; however, the situation remains extremely fragile and could regress unless international support is maintained.
Commons Briefing papers SN06115
Authors: Jon Lunn; Gavin Thompson