Harakat al-Shabab Continues to Court Somalia’s Clans as Hasan Dahir Aweys Assumes a More Public Role
March 21, 2011 3 Comments
By Christopher Anzalone (McGill University)
The Somali insurgent movement Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Movement of Warrior-Youth; Al-Shabaab), as I have written previously, maintains a complex relationship with Somalia’s important clans, a relationship about which little is known. In early March the movement announced that clan leaders had rallied in support of its defensive fight against a new offensive, launched in mid February, by the African Union Mission in Somalia’s (AMISOM) military forces along with Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) soldiers and militiamen from the Sufi armed faction Ahlul Sunna Wal Jamaacah (Jama’ah) that is aligned with AMISOM and the TFG.
Harakat al-Shabab announced two days ago that some of its senior leaders in the district of Banaadir, in which the embattled capital city of Mogadishu is located, had met with clan elders from the Mudulood, a large sub-clan of the Hawiye clan confederation in Mogadishu. A brief report about this meeting was issued by the movement as a press release and was reported by some Somali news web sites, some of them sympathetic or aligned with Harakat al-Shabab. The movement also released photographs from the meeting, something that it often does when reporting important events.
The meeting was chaired by veteran Somali Islamist leader Hasan Dahir Aweys and Husayn ‘Ali Fidow (Xuseen Cali Fiidow), a senior Harakat al-Shabab leader in Banaadir, and took place in the northern suburbs of Mogadishu. The movement’s press release claims that Mudulood clan elders (shown throughout this post) pledged their support in fighting against the foreign forces of AMISOM. Fidow is a representative of Harakat al-Shabab’s Office of Politics & Districts (Maktab al-Siyyasah wa al-Wilayaat). A longtime insurgent leader, he was featured in the June 2010 Harakat al-Shabab video “The African Crusaders” and has been present at a number of the movement’s recent events in Banaadir.
Aweys, the former leader of Somalia’s other prominent Islamist insurgent movement, Hizbul Islam (Islamic Party; Hizbul Islami), has been taking a more prominent public role over the past one to two months. Following the “merger” of Harakat al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam, more accurately seen as an incorporation of the latter by the former, in late December 2010 it seemed that Aweys had been marginalized, though he was still trotted out because of his value as a symbol. A veteran of Somalia’s two decade-long civil war, he is widely respected by many Somali Islamists. Although the exact nature of his role within Harakat al-Shabab remains unknown, Aweys has been increasingly active, if the movement’s own media is accurate, in its public events.
He has been present at a number of high profile press gatherings alongside ‘Ali Mahamoud Rage (‘Ali Dheere), Harakat al-Shabab’s senior spokesman, including one where a Burundian AMISOM prisoner was paraded before cameras. Aweys has recently been referred to as “a leader” within the insurgent movement in its press releases, though this general title does not shed much light on what precise role he is playing.
This meeting between Harakat al-Shabab officials and Mudulood clan elders comes at a time when the insurgent movement is facing pressures on the battlefield. AMISOM, TFG, and Ahlul Sunna forces, reportedly aided by the Kenyan and Ethiopian governments, have captured territories in Banaadir and Gedo. The timing of the meeting suggests that Harakat al-Shabab is using clan ties during its most serious time of crisis in quite some time. However, the movement has in the past maintained relations with clan leaders, despite its criticism of “clannism,” and has even mediated disputes in the past between rival clans.
Insurgent primary sources must be used with care. They must be analyzed while keeping in mind that they contain strategic framing, in short an attempt to portray the movement and its inner workings in a manner that is flattering. This does not mean, however, that these primary sources are necessarily completely or even mostly false. In the absence of the ability to conduct on-the-ground fieldwork and other sources, insurgent primary sources provide valuable insights on the movement and, to a degree, events on the ground in territories it controls.