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Somalia's Al Shabab Islamists are on the run

But the Somali officials, backed by international forces, are too busy fighting among themselves to govern.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer / January 5, 2012

Djiboutian soldiers arrive as part of the African Union peacekeepers for Somalia (AMISOM), at the Adan Abdulle International airport in Somalia's capital Mogadishu, December 20, 2011. AMISOM is an African Union force that has been largely responsible for keeping al Shabaab from ousting Somalia's internationally-backed but weak government.

Omar Faruk/Reuters


With more and more African Union countries sending peacekeeping troops to Somalia, and with the militant group Al Shabab clearly on the retreat, it might appear that Somalia’s future is finally starting to look bright.

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Bright is too strong a word, of course. Much of Somalia remains in the grip of a famine. Its coastline is a haven for pirates, smugglers, and criminal gangs. Military incursions by Kenya and Ethiopia will almost inevitably take a heavy toll among civilians as they fight groups like Al Shabab. And the Somali government, responsible for creating a stable, workable society after the militant groups are defeated, seems barely able to carry on a conversation with itself without getting into a fistfight.

Yet after years of neglect, Somalia is finally getting international attention, and the flurry of diplomatic and military activities does provide some hope that Somalia may finally pull itself out of a 20-year period of civil war, anarchy, and dysfunction.

The greatest activity appears to be on the military front.

In the east, Ethiopian troops have taken the central Somali town of Beledweyne, a key transport hub on the road to Mogadishu. Residents in the villages outside of Beledweyne say that Al-Shabab fighters have been trying to recruit young men to join them and halt the Ethiopian advance, but with one of the strongest armies on the continent, Ethiopia is unlikely to face much of a challenge if it intends to carry on toward Mogadishu.

Ethiopia has been this way before, occupying Somalia briefly, from July 2006 to August 2008, after overthrowing the Islamic Courts Union, a coalition of religious parties intent on imposing shariah law in Somalia.

In the south, the Kenyan Army seems to be on the move once more – they launched their incursion into Somalia in mid-October but have been slowed down by heavy rains – and appear to be moving in on the Shabab-held town of Afmadow. Afmadow is the largest town between the Kenyan Army and the Shabab headquarters in Kismayo, a large southern trading port where Shabab derives much of its income by controlling the smuggling trade.

How to find a solution in the middle of a fist fight?

But in Mogadishu itself, as AU peacekeepers continue to arrive – the latest being 200 troops from tiny Djibouti – the fragile Transitional Federal Government that the AU intends to support is busy fighting itself over who is in charge.

On Wednesday, a fistfight broke out between parliamentarians supporting and opposing the parliament speaker, Sharif Hassan. Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed supports Sharif Hassan, but his supporters are in the minority and were forced to flee parliament by the opposition, who apparently were using tables and chairs as weapons. Four parliamentarians were reportedly hospitalized, according to Garowe news agency. It was the fourth brawl in parliament since December.


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