Somalia’s government this week announced plans to crack down on so-called shadow courts run by the Islamist militant group al-Shabab. The country’s interior minister acknowledged that many Somalis go to the militants for justice because Somalia’s legal system is too weak. But experts on Somalia say closing the shadow courts will be no easy task
Somalia’s new Interior Minister Ahmed Moalim Fiqi said this week the government plans to wage war against so-called shadow courts that al-Shabab runs in and around the capital Mogadishu.
He said the government will close the al-Shabab courts within the next two years.
He says there are people who go to terrorist al-Shabab courts to seek justice due to a lack of enforcement of the government courts’ decisions. He says we will close the al-Shabab courts around Mogadishu, including the one located in Basra and on the outskirts of Dayniile district of Mogadishu.
Omar Mahmood, is a senior East Africa analyst for a research organization, the International Crisis Group. He told VOA the group has invested in its justice sector and primarily focuses on land and contract disputes.
“For those using them voluntarily, pull factors include a reputation for lowered levels of corruption, less discrimination based on clan and high enforcement capacity compared to the government judicial system," said Mahmood. "The courts themselves are not always that sophisticated and the threat of brutal forces underpins them, but at the end of the day they have shown to be more effective in addressing the needs of some populations.”
Matt Bryden is a Horn of Africa Analyst based in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. He says the courts also operate in a way more accessible to many Somalis by invoking Islamic law.
Cracking down on the courts will be a formidable challenge, he says.
“First, the federal and state governments must earn the public's trust in the state-run judicial system which is still in its infancy," said Bryden. "Second, they must be able to protect citizens from al-Shabab violence, since the jihadists' courts operate like a protection racket: either you obey their summons and abide by their rulings or Al-Shabab will mete out punishment - even in government-controlled areas.”
Abdirisak Aden is executive director of Farsight Africa Research & Policy Studies. He said the government's willingness to close the al-Shabab courts is commendable.
He says he believes the best way to fight al-Shabab courts is to get an active judicial system which works for the people and creates a friendly environment for the people who seek justice. He says it is unfortunate that everyone who thinks he lost a court case unfairly goes to al-Shabab courts.
Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan last year, al-Shabab has reportedly built schools and hospitals in the parts of Somalia they control in a bid to gain more popular support.
But, the group, which has battled Somali governments for 15 years, has not stopped carrying out attacks.
Last month, al-Shabab carried out suicide attacks in the towns of Merca and Jowhar, claiming the lives of more 25 people, including senior officials.