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Monday 20 October 2014 21:24

Somali Govternment in ‘unofficial’ talks with Al Shabaab

The government of Somalia has started talking to the moderate wing of Al Shabaab even as it continues to battle the radical wing. Somalia ambassador to Kenya Ali Noor told The EastAfrican that his government has always been willing to talk to Al Shabaab as long as the militia renounces violence.

Teaser Image Somali Govternment in ‘unofficial’ talks with Al Shabaab

“We have opened unofficial channels for talks but serious discussions can only come when Al Shabaab come out openly and declare that they want to be part of the solution for Somalia and not the problem. Otherwise, it will not be possible to negotiate with people who kill innocent people,” said Mr Noor.

The ambassador said the government will take the youth — who have been under Al Shabaab for 23 years — to school or train them in skills that will help them generate income.

The government has been in a dilemma over whether to talk to the moderate wing of Al Shabaab or crush them militarily. The dilemma is caused by Somalia’s unique inclusion programme, where all the clans must be represented if the country is to achieve a national political settlement after 23 years of civil war.

Al Shabaab ideologue Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, the former head of the Council of the Islamic Courts Union, who has been on the US list of wanted terrorists since 2001, is in Mogadishu after making peace with the government.

The EastAfrican established that the idea of reaching out to Al Shabaab is not to incorporate them in the government but to find a political settlement and encourage them to participate in the 2016 elections.

However, opinion is divided on whether to wait for a substantive leader to emerge or engage the current leader, Ahmad Umar, who is seen within government circles as a stop-gap measure.

The danger is that waiting for Al Shabaab to get a strong leader could be counterproductive because they may regain their confidence and resume their offensive. Mr Umar succeeded Ahmed Abdi Godane, who was killed in a US air strike last month.

Abdirahman Omar Osman Yarisow, a senior media and strategic communications advisor to the Federal government of Somalia, said that now is the best time to offer Al Shabaab an olive branch so that they can take part in the rebuilding of the nation. The government has given amnesty to those willing to renounce violence.

Mr Yarisow, who is also a former spokesperson for President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, noted that the majority of Al Shabaab members are moderates since some of them were forced to join the group; others were brainwashed into joining; while others are in the group for money. However, the radicals are concentrated in the top and middle leadership.

“While the best option is to incorporate Al Shabaab members into society, there is the danger that some of them may cause harm or terrorise people and that is why we need to carry out public awareness campaigns to counter their narratives of destruction and violence,” said Mr Yarisow.

President Mohamud’s government is currently at a crucial stage in the history of the country as it has to engage all the Somali people in order to come up with a constitution that is acceptable to all, while also ensuring a strong federal system of government.

The East African

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