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Somalia Rallies to Fight Militants

Somalia President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud leads a demonstration at Banadir stadium, Mogadishu, Jan. 12, 2023.
Somalia President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud leads a demonstration at Banadir stadium, Mogadishu, Jan. 12, 2023.

Somalia’s public rally Thursday against the Islamist militant group al-Shabab was a much-needed show of unity, say analysts. Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud rallied thousands of people in the capital to support the all-out war on the group he declared last year. The Somali army offensives, backed by local militias and foreign allies, have retaken territories the militants held for years. Analysts say regional politics are undermining the progress.

President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s call for Somalis to kick out al-Shabab militants from their neighborhoods and remain alert in the war against the Islamists was a welcomed show of unity, say analysts.

Addressing thousands of Somalis at Mogadishu Stadium Thursday, Mohamud said time was up for al-Shabab and that everyone should work to annihilate the group.

He says Benadir region, which includes Mogadishu, should stand against the khawarij, which means a deviation from Islam, and throw out the group's members. Mohamud says they are in your homes, at your neighbors, they rented your houses, their vehicles pass near your homes. From today, he says, he wants everyone to pledge to kick them out like bedbugs.

The rally came as Somalia’s army, with the support of clan militias and foreign allies, has been fighting an offensive against the group.

Seven months of fighting has seen al-Shabab pushed out of territory it has controlled for years.

But the militants have also been on the offensive.

Somali authorities say the group Saturday carried out attacks on government forces in central Hiran region, killing more than 40.

In October, twin car bombings claimed by the group at a busy Mogadishu market intersection killed 121 people and injured hundreds.

Samira Gaid is an independent, Mogadishu-based political and security analyst. She tells VOA the government needs to gain public support in the fight against the militants.

“It's very important that operations are supported by popular support from the people, and I think that the government is ensuring that this is sustained by having the people involved," said Gaid. "And so I think it's a good idea to constantly have your pulse on the people and what they really want.”

Gaid says the offensive against al-Shabab has slowed down in the last few weeks as resources are stretched and the government gathers more support.

Despite victories by the Somali army against the group, analysts warn that political infighting could undermine the progress.

The government of Puntland, a semi-autonomous state in northeast Somalia, said in a statement Monday it had suspended cooperation with federal authorities.

The statement said it would be its own government while waiting for Somalia’s federal constitution to be completed.

Mohamed Ibrahim Rashid is founder of Linking Governance, a policy and governance strategy consultancy in Mogadishu.

He tells VOA the declaration by Puntland could erode some of the security gains against the militants.

Rashid says the row between the federal government and Puntland could be a challenge to the federal government and the ongoing security efforts. He says any regional state having a dispute with the federal government could be a problem.

Somalia’s President Mohamud defeated Puntland President Said Abdullahi Deni in last May’s election.

Tensions have since grown between the two leaders over distribution of power between the federal and state governments.

It’s not the first time Somalia’s federal government has grappled for power with regional ones.

Somalia’s breakaway republic of Somaliland withdrew troops this month from the disputed town of Las Anod after deadly clashes between police and protesters.

Puntland claims the town run by Somaliland, which broke from Somalia in 1991.

Somalia’s regional states in August suspended cooperation with the federal ministry of finance, citing “broken agreements” by the federal government.

Despite the political wrangling, Somali authorities this week quantified its progress against al-Shabab.

Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre said Wednesday since the offensive began in July Somali security forces have killed more than 2,000 of the militants and closed more than 250 bank accounts linked to the group.