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The Battle of Hiiraan: Birthplace of an Organic “Ma’awisley” Movement to Uproot Al- Shabaab from Somalia
by  Ismail J. Warsame
Monday October 10, 2022


For the better part of the past two decades, a terrorist group called Al-Shabaab (UGUS), have had significantly penetrated the fabric of the Somali society. They built schools to groom the youth, established intricate, highly sophisticated financial networks, and imposed a mafia-like, extortion-based, taxation system. Anyone who dared not to comply with their rigid rules and harsh demands got targeted, assassinated, tortured and so on. In addition, they regularly engaged in massive PR campaigns to overhype their reach and to downplay their inhumane behaviors. Thus, it became the norm that entire cities, with next to nothing Al-Shabaab presence, would still fully comply with their financial obligations and submit to their kangaroo court rulings. Often, the plurality of average citizens, business owners, and intellectual elites would look the other way and refrain from any sharp criticism of Al-Shabaab out of fear of retaliation.

Private companies such as top telecom operators with integrated, modern mobile-based financial platforms, all catered to Al-Shabaab’s demands by relaxing their record keeping procedures, to create intentional loopholes for illegal money laundering. One could go and open a phone/internet service without showing any form of ID or providing any traceable government issued tracking number. I tested the system myself when I recently visited Somalia this past summer. I established a phone line with mobile banking capability and an internet service without showing any identification or going through any level of scrutiny. It is not like these companies are so oblivious to the modern standards for banking and telecommunications, but rather they succumbed to the terrorist demands to keep the system deliberately flawed, knowing that the government agencies that are in charge of regulations, auditing and compliance were themselves at best weak, and at worst compromised/infiltrated.

Earlier this year, Somalia undergone a consequential election in which the new administration headed by President Hassan Sheikh Mahamud and Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre, made fighting terrorism their main priority. They both effectively used the bully-pulpit of their respective offices to gin up support for this overdue campaign. It didn’t take too long for the tides to turn against Al-Shabaab and that is why we are witnessing such robust kinetic responses.

Although it is too early to predict the outcome of this renewed anti-terrorism campaign, most experts agree that the current trajectory of the war to be positive and is directionally correct. One good indicator is that on October 8th, 2022, the Ministry of Information Culture & Tourism, has issued a press release reiterating the strict enforcement of various, preexisting anti-terror laws that were always on the books but seldom deployed or enforced. As a result, more than forty social media pages and several mainstream media outlets that were often used to propagate Al-Shabaab’s terror messages and intimidating tactics have reportedly all been shut down in a matter of hours. This sends a strong signal to the Somali people that there is a new sheriff in town. A bold gesture that there will be consequences for anyone who is involved in the terrorism orbit.

Besides the anti-Shabaab conventional war, spearheaded by the Somali Military, the local community leaders in south central Somalia (Mainly in Hiiraan region) led by the late Chief Elmi Hagar Guure and several elected officials from Hiiraan (including members of the Federal Parliament of Somalia) revolted against Al-Shabaab and established armed uprising dubbed “Ma’awisley”, due to the casual attire they wear, have joined the fight and in most cases outperformed the government’s trained military. Likewise, they share crucial intelligence, work side-by-side with the Somali Military and provide the necessary moral boost for the soldiers and fellow citizens alike. The popular slogan introduced by Chief Elmi was “death with dignity is better than living under oppression”. While the Chief died on the battlefield against Al-Shabaab at one of the bloodiest encounters in “Eel Qohle” as he promised, more than one hundred Al- Shabaab terrorists also perished in the same battle, including several high-profile leaders. Chief Elmi’s inspiring words were indeed written on stone for they became the rallying slogan for the campaign and sent out a giant shockwave throughout the region and beyond. The International Community including the United States and Turkey seem to be pleased with the performance of “Ma’awisley” campaign, thus provide regular aerial logistical support via unmanned aircrafts and helicopters. During the operation, several high value targets on the US terror watch-list were also eliminated, something that is applauded by the Somali government.

The man on the helm of operation for this seismic campaign is none other than the Governor of Hiiraan Region, Colonel Ali Jeyte Osman. A Somali National Army veteran with deep knowledge of the battle terrain, popular Al-Shabaab hideouts and an intimate understanding of the communities in which he is operating. Governor Jeyte doesn’t mince his words, his eloquent speeches, coupled with his piercing glance and straight to the point delivery, inspired millions of Somalis, and the outpours of support from Somalis around the world is unparalleled and unprecedented in recent memory.

Al-Shabaab’s (UGUS) days are numbered, and to borrow the words of Governor Jeyte “Their books will be handed to them from the left”. That’s a statement Mr. Jeyte coined and uses frequently to describe the fate of Al-Shabaab fighters. Since Al-Shabaab often uses distorted, out-of-context Quranic text to justify their brutal tactics. The Governor is beating them at their game by also using theological references directly from the Quran which suggest the evil doers will be given their tainted, sinful records in the day of judgement via their left hand. In short, it means that they (Al-shabaab fighters) are going to hell. His statements are not just random, for he fully understands that, to fight terrorism, you need to unravel their philosophical underpinnings and expose them for the brutal terrorists they are. Governor Jeyte’s counter narrative can’t be better timed. While the mission is still incomplete, it sure is well on its way towards success.

On the other hand, Al-Shabaab is not going down without an intense resistance, and that means unleashing everything within their power such as business leaders who benefit from the status quo, those who built entire illegal enterprises, integrated socioeconomic ecosystems totally interdependent with the terrorism. Outside (foreign) entities who have vested interests in keeping Somalia in perpetual anarchy and lawlessness, all strategically align and coordinate with Al-Shabaab’s messaging in a repetitive and an almost verbatim manner. Folks with political grievances against the current administration also tend to inadvertently regurgitate Al-Shabaab talking points to create unnecessary distractions. Indeed, this is all to undermine the organic anti-terror revolt that is bearing fruit in Hiiraan and slated to create a domino effect throughout Somalia. They’re noticing the anti-terror campaign will substantially disrupt and potentially eliminate the Al-Shabaab’s terror networks. In fact, the litmus test to distinguish the Al-Shabaab
sympathizers who are part of their sphere of influence is to gauge the degree to which they oppose—or fail to support—this ongoing, visible anti-terror campaign. Creating doubts, exploiting pre-existing regional sensitivities, or simply projecting the appraisal of fear can all be traced back to Al-Shabaab’s network of financiers, sympathizers, and operatives.

Make no mistake, Al-Shabaab skillfully utilizes all social media tools to coordinate and curate their messaging. They carefully craft their talking points and deliver them timely. I urge the Somali people and their international allies to stand firm and remain vigilant against all the radical ideologues, be they armed or unarmed, and to work together to support this struggle to reclaim the soul of the Somali Nation from Al-Shabaab, which—God willing—will uproot all forms of terrorism from Somalia, once and for all.

With Peace and Prosperity,

 Ismail J. Warsame, Oregon, USA Geopolitical Analyst
Email: [email protected]
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ismail-warsame-m-ed-5060b510



 





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