Somalia President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has condemned the militant group al-Shabab for imposing a weeklong blockade on the southwestern town of Baidoa. Authorities say the Islamist group has cut off supplies in and out of the area, worsening hunger caused by record drought and insecurity.
Al-Shabaab set up the blockade Tuesday, cutting off transport to and from Baidoa, the capital of South West state.
The blockade, which comes ahead of a planned government military offensive in the region, has affected businesses and resulted in price hikes as vehicles transporting goods from towns such as Mogadishu are stranded.
Hussein Mohamud, the chief of staff for Somalia’s president, said the blockade demonstrates that al-Shabab is at war against the people of Somalia.
Mohamed Edin, a trader in Baidoa, told VOA businesses will soon be forced to close as supplies dwindle.
He said he relies on supplies from Mogadishu that pass through Afgoye but his business has suffered since the blockade. With his stock nearly depleted, Edin said he might be forced to close his business if the blockade continues.
According to the United Nations, Baidoa is home to about 600,000 internally displaced people pushed from their homes by the al-Shabab insurgency and drought.
Analysts say by imposing the blockade, al-Shabab is affirming its strength and that could worsen the situation in the region.
Abdirahman Azari, director of the Mogadishu-based Center for Analysis and Strategic Studies, said al-Shabab is sending direct and indirect messages to the Somali government that they are still in control in parts of the country and can impose sanctions anywhere and people will obey their orders.
Azari added that the blockade could jolt the government into an earlier launch of a planned offensive.
The Somali government says it is on course to launch Operation Black Lion, which will focus on South West and Jubaland states in the southern part of the country.
Government forces with the help of local militias reclaimed part of the central area of the country from al-Shabab control last summer in the first phase of the offensive.
Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti are expected to send in about 20,000 troops to bolster Somali forces and clan militia in the second phase of the operation.
Abdiaziz Isaack, a security and political analyst at the Hamad Bin Khalifa Civilization Center, said al-Shabab's blockade on Baidoa is sending a message.
He said it demonstrates the al-Shabab’s ability to challenge the government despite local and international efforts to defeat the group. Isaack said al-Shabab is telling the Somali government that it will face stiff resistance when it begins the second phase.
The South West state perennially remains the most vulnerable region in Somalia in terms of insecurity and drought. In April, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visited Baidoa to launch a humanitarian campaign for Somalia, appealing for “massive international aid” to stave off famine.