Africa Center Assistant Director Joshua Meservey co-authored a Joint Special Operations University monograph with Dr. James Forest, professor and director of the Security Studies program at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and the late Dr. Graham Turbiville, Associate Fellow at JSOU’s Strategic Studies Department, on the al-Shabaab insurgency in Somalia.
The authors argue that the lasting solution to al-Shabaab’s insurgency is a legitimate Somali government; given al-Shabaab’s unpopularity in Somalia and its loss of territory over the last several years, a small window of opportunity has opened for such a government to try to build the necessary legitimacy. But the anti-Shabaab coalition’s efforts have thus far been ineffective, marred by members of the AMISOM contingent pursuing their own national objectives and the Somali Federal Government’s inability to be more effective than its weak predecessors. The situation in Somalia remains fragile, and sustained instability and further fecklessness will give al-Shabaab an opportunity to repair its damaged reputation with Somalis. There is the real risk of popular opinion turning decisively against the coalition, which would inevitably result in a broad-based insurgency, possibly led by al-Shabaab, the coalition cannot quell.
The authors further write that if the government single-mindedly devotes itself to transparency, anti-corruption, a devolved power structure, reconciliation, and service delivery, and if AMISOM wages a disciplined and coherent counterinsurgency campaign in support of a government building legitimacy, the majority of Somalis will see no reason to ever again support or tolerate al-Shabaab or a similar radical group. These are extraordinarily difficult tasks, but such is the undertaking confronting Somalia and the international community. There is a small window of opportunity to help a country recover from one of the worst, most sustained crises in the world, and help stabilize a fragile region. But it is closing, and the truly difficult part of this struggle has only just begun.