News / Africa

Q&A: Who's Supporting Al-Shabab?

Al-Shabab fighters display weapons in Mogadishu, Somalia (undated file photo).
Al-Shabab fighters display weapons in Mogadishu, Somalia (undated file photo).

Multimedia

Audio
Gabe Joselow

The Kenyan military says airplanes full of weapons meant for militant group al-Shabab landed in Somalia this week. The unconfirmed reports heighten longstanding suspicions that Eritrea is arming the militants. Eritrea's foreign ministry denies the charge, but the question remains: From whom is al-Shabab receiving support?

Rashid Abdi, a Horn of Africa analyst with International Crisis Group, addresses that question and more.



I wanted to ask you about these newspaper reports that Eritrea is arming al-Shabab. Is there any truth to this that you know of? And what is the relationship, historically, between Eritrea and al-Shabab?


"I think the first thing I would say is that it's actually very difficult to reliably confirm these reports independently. I think no one doubts that Eritrea has throughout the last four years been supportive of al-Shabab, sending in weapons, sending in trainers and also training hundreds of al-Shabab fighters in some of its military camps. But I think, as I said, it's very difficult to confirm this news story that this support has been resumed by Eritrea.

What is Eritrea's incentive?

"Well, Eritrea definitely has been supportive of al-Shabab for a long time and this support is not ideological. It's essentially meant to counter Ethiopia's influence in Somalia and, during the Ethiopian occupation, that was the height of Eritrea's involvement in Somalia."

And what other foreign assistance has al-Shabab received? There have been reports that there have been more foreign fighters coming in to join their ranks. Do you know anything about that?

"Yes, I think there has been a trickle of foreign fighters into Somalia throughout [the conflict], and increasingly al-Shabab has been very actively recruiting from Somali diaspora communities scattered all over. So, they still have pools of supporters on whom they can rely to raise funds and also potentially to recruit, but sometimes these [reports] are exaggerated. I think the organization itself is under a lot of political pressure and its support has been waning considerably. It's by no means a diminished political organization, but no one doubts that al-Shabab is finding it very difficult now to recruit and to raise funds."

In the past, though, when foreign armies have come into Somalia, it's helped to boost support for al-Shabab. Is there any indication that's happening now?

"It's probably too early to say that al-Shabab is gaining from Kenya's military intervention, but probably if Kenya's intervention becomes prolonged and then you have serious civilian casualties, then the tide may quickly turn in favor of al-Shabab, and al-Shabab will definitely whip up ultra-nationalism as they have done in the past (and) benefit from playing the nationalist card."

And on the other side, a lot of past fighting in Somalia has often been characterized as proxy wars that are really serving the interests of other regional or international actors. I'm wondering if that's happening now and who the actors might be. Because, you know, a lot of foreign governments have been totally silent about whether they are supporting Kenya's incursion.

"Yes, again it's very difficult to know who are the parties that are supporting Kenya's military intervention. But I think some of the reports that have emerged in recent weeks -- that the Kenyan military may be getting some form of logistical and intelligence support from some of its traditional western allies -- may be credible. But again, I think the report may be exaggerated; again, I think many countries are deeply worried about Kenya's intervention, fearing of course that that may be what al-Shabab needs to regain some of the political losses it has suffered."

And finally I wanted to ask about the mixed signals we're getting from Somalia's leadership. You know last week Somalia's president came out and said he was against Kenya's incursion. Then the prime minister had to come out and say, "No, we're on the same page, and we support Kenya's military action." What do you make of the mixed signals?

"I think there's no doubt that President Sharif is in some kind of a quandary, because, you know, he is aware of how unpopular Kenya's intervention is domestically. And he knows there are probably significant numbers in parliament, MPs, who are deeply opposed to this intervention. So he fears that if he comes out openly in support, then that may give extra ammunition to some of his rivals within the government, and, also, that [it] may not go down well within the domestic constituency itself. So this is probably what explains this confusion and the ambivalence on the part of Sharif to come out openly and support the Kenyan military intervention."

You May Like

US Firms Concerned About China's New Cyber Regulations

New rules would require technology companies doing business in financial sector to hand over their source code, adopt Chinese encryption algorithms More

WHO Focus on Ebola Shifts to Ending Outbreak

Focus to be less on building facilities and more on efforts to find infected people, manage their cases, engage with communities and ensure proper burials More

US Scientist Who Conceived of Groundbreaking Laser Technology Dies

Charles Townes, Nobel laureate, laser co-creator paved way for other scientific discoveries: CDs, eye surgery, metal cutters to name a few technologies that rely on lasers More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Webi
X
January 29, 2015 9:58 AM
Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video As Ground Shifts, Obama Reviews Middle East Strategy

The death of Saudi Arabia’s king, the collapse of a U.S.-friendly government in Yemen and a problematic relationship with Israel’s leadership are presenting a new set of complications for the Obama administration and its Middle East policy. Not only is the U.S. leader dealing with adversaries in Iran, the Islamic State and al-Qaida, but he is now juggling trouble with traditional allies, as White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Saved By a Mistake - an Auschwitz Survivor's Story

Dagmar Lieblova was 14 when she arrived at Auschwitz in December 1943, along with her entire Czech Jewish family. All of them were to die there, but she was able to leave after several months due to a bureaucratic mix-up which saved her life. Now 85, with three children and six grandchildren, she says she has a feeling of victory. This report by Ahmad Wadiei and Farin Assemi, of RFE/RL's Radio Farda is narrated by RFE’s Raymond Furlong.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid