US airstrikes will not eliminate Al Shabab

Al-Shabab's leader Ahmed Abdi Godane was killed in US airstrikes last week.

The US may have assassinated the leader of Al Shabab, but it will take more than airstrikes to silence them. Reporting from Nairobi, Mohammed Kahiye explains why…

A dark chapter may have opened for the Al-Qaeda linked Somali militia group, Al Shabaab, after US drone strikes killed their leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane on Tuesday 2 September. But the group’s strength now depends on the steps that will be taken by its newly appointed leader – Ahmed Omar, also known as Abu Ubayda.

During Godane’s leadership, Al Shabaab succeeded in uniting thousands of fighters from various warring Somali clans, as well as recruiting fighters from the West. Godane’s reforms led to the groups’ recognition by Al-Qaeda, which resulted in organised and sophisticated attacks in Somalia, Kenya and Uganda – most recently, the Westgate shopping mall attack in Nairobi last year.

Kenya has thanked the US for eliminating Godane, but as the old Swahili proverb says, “kuvunjika kwa mwiko sio mwisho wa kusonga ugali” – which means “the breaking of the cooking stick is not the end of cooking”. Neighbouring countries like Kenya and Uganda whose soldiers make up the African Union “peacekeeping” force in Somalia should stop thanking the US, and instead concentrate on preventing an imminent revenge attack on their own soil.

Al Shabab carried out more than a hundred successful retaliatory attacks in Kenya since its troops crossed over the border; to hunt what Kenyan authorities believe is a threat to its economy (tourism) and national security. Whether it was a plunder to send troops to Somalia or not, the reality is that Kenya currently faces serious security and economic challenges that was initiated by Godane’s political shrewdness.

Godane’s legacy

During one of the most significant speeches before his death, Godane confirmed that his group had established numerous bases in Kenya. These new cells were intentionally located in the coastal areas, a ruthless tactic to punish Kenya for sending its troops to Somalia.

His words were followed by attacks in the well-known tourist resort of Mpeketoni and Lamu where more than a hundred people, mostly civilians were killed. Additionally, an increasing number of Kenyan nationals joined Al Shabab during Godane’s reign. Somali president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud managed to survive two assassination attempts by Al Shabab in the presidential palace where several senior officials were killed.

These are some of the effective strategies that Godane executed. His death will not stop the frequent attacks on westerners in Somalia, Kenya and the region at large as many would like to believe.

What President Kenyatta, his Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Museveni, and Hassan Sheikh Mohamud should have done instead of thanking the US, was actually curse them. Al Shabab will undoubtedly seek revenge, as its new leader Ahmed Omar seeks to surpass the legacy of Godane. The West has more important issues to think about like the mess it has created in Iraq, economic and social problems at home, and the military ambitions of Russia in Ukraine.

After the death of Godane, the region’s leaders have been praying for a power struggle within Al Shabab, so it could weaken the group by shifting its attention from retaliation to internal reconciliation. That being far from the case, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda should prepare itself for the unimaginable attacks that I believe will take place in the course of the next few months…possibly weeks.

Mohammed Kahiye
Mohammed Kahiye

Mohammed Kahiye is based in Nairobi, Kenya. He is 5Pillarz East Africa Correspondent.

You can follow Mohammed on Twitter @MKahiye


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