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

Beloved Lion Killing Sparks Virtual, Real Life Outrage

Twitter, as usual, was epicenter for anger directed at Palmer, with some questioning his manhood, calling for him to be released into the wild More

Video Booming London Property Market a Haven for Dirty Money

Billions of dollars from proceeds of crime, especially from Russia, being laundered through London property market, according to anti-corruption activists More

Video Scouts' Decision on Gays Meets Acceptance in Founder's Hometown

One former Scout leader thinks organization will move past political, social debate, get back to its primary focus of turning boys into good citizens 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.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Scouts' Decision on Gays Meets Acceptance in Founder's Hometown

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs