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How America Carefully Crafted Al-Shabaab

By Hannah Martin

*This article has previously been published in The Re-View, 2014

Somalia’s lack of established central government since the fall of Siad Barre’s socialist government in 1991 has earned it the title of #1 on the Failed State Index. The country has drifted in and out of famine and war since it gained independence in 1960, and to make matters worse, since 9/11 it has been considered a hotbed for terrorist activity. But how much has American foreign policy played a part in the radicalisation of pockets of the Somali population?

In 2006 the Islamic courts of Somalia joined forces to form the Islamic Courts Union. The Union began to provide health care, education and rule of law to Somalia on a scale greater than anything that had been witnessed since the failure of the state. Rape and robbery decreased rapidly, and areas previously under the control of corrupt warlords with a tendency to withhold aid were suddenly provided with some sense of security. People began to go about their daily lives in a relatively ‘normal’ fashion. This is not to say the Islamic Courts Union were upholding human rights – they had a violent militia who would impose Sharia law in a number of inhumane ways – but for a population who had lived through a vicious civil war, it was the next best thing.

But of course, no one expected America to appreciate an Islamic government. Before long the USA, led by the Bush Administration, had joined forces with ex-Somali warlords in an organisation ironically entitled the ‘Alliance Against Terrorism and the Restoration of Peace’ to expel the Islamic Courts Union. Just as things began to look up for Somalia, the USA began to bombard its people with bombs, heavy artillery and drones fired from neighbouring Kenya.

You can imagine what kind of effect that had on the USA’s popularity. Eight years on, Somalia is home to transnational terrorist organisation al-Shabaab, who claimed responsibility for the Westgate attack in September 2013 and are suspected to be to blame for a string of attacks in Kenya since. Al-Shabaab spits venomous threats towards the USA and in 2009 formally allied with al-Qaeda. I wonder when the USA will come to realise that for every innocent life blown apart by a drone, dozens more lives will become radicalised. It is not only immoral to bomb innocent victims in the name of a ‘War on Terror’, it is counter-productive and completely illogical.

Author Biography

Hannah Martin has recently graduated from the University of Leeds having completed BA International Relations. Hannah’s research interest include terrorism and political violence and African politics and Middle Eastern politics. Hannah is an intern for the Terrorism and Political Violence Association, a think-tank based in Leeds, as well as a volunteer research assistant for Against Violent Extremism.

*Cover image ‘Al-Shabaab Retreat from Mogadishu‘ by Africa Renewal


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