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Tuesday 20th March 2018

Al-Shabaab - A Threat in Ethiopia

Counterterrorism & Security

Fitsum Getachew

Sat, 05 Oct 2019 15:26 GMT

Ethiopia’s position on the Horn of Africa, a region with so much political dynamism and volatility very close to the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Persian Peninsula makes it particularly vulnerable to any form of terrorist schemes. The fact that there is no single, strong state of Somalia to its south east makes things even more difficult because there are no natural boundaries between the countries in the sub region. What is more, the features of the people living in and around the neighbourhood are so similar (they belong to the same stock, speak the same language and profess the same religion), it’s almost impossible to distinguish one from the others. That is why the issue of security is a nightmare for all those who operate in the region. 

Since 1991 Somalia has not had a single strong government in Mogadishu and the fact that it is divided into several parts has made it a safe haven for any form of organisation that can engage in any agenda including the infiltration of ‘mercenary elements’ and the recruiting of Somali nationals in East Africa. Their relatively huge financial status an attraction for some. This has constituted another challenge for the UN and AU backed Transitional Somali government which is fighting the al-Qaeda sponsored al-Shabaab who have somehow managed to survive despite the relentless efforts against it.

Al-Shabaab has been operating in the sub region now for more than a decade and although it seems that it has lost some ground (the Somali Government would say it is almost extinct!) as compared to what it used to control years ago, it has shown that it is still alive and kicking when it recently attacked a US sponsored training establishment and an AU establishment (both considered of maximum safety) creating a sense of uncertainty in the rank and file of Somali authorities and the military which are engaged in the mission under The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

It is known that there are lots of attacks against al-Shabaab positions carried out with the sustained support of the US, aided by drones and other technological apparatuses; but the end of al-Shabaab does not seem imminent. At least they are contradicting the conclusions of experts who used to maintain that they are almost totally driven out of Somalia.

The real threat for terrorism in the area, many agree, is the fact that there are still no conditions in which people can aspire to live freely and safely under the rule of law. Progress has been huge in the past few years with many Somali refugees returning even from safe countries such as the UK and USA as well as the Arabian countries (where there are thousands of nationals in exile) but whenever news arises of al-Shabaab attempts on what are considered safe areas, people are bound to be discouraged and hesitate to settle or invest in Somalia.

Just a few weeks ago, the Ethiopian government reported it had uncovered a plot to carry out attacks on Ethiopian people especially on the occasion of open religious celebrations, and the suspects were apprehended before they could execute their plan. It is to be remembered that there was a pact of cooperation recently signed between Ethiopia and the USA and several other partners to collaborate on the exchange of intelligence and antiterrorism. Many people in Ethiopia breathed a sigh of relief when they heard about the news of the failed attempt.

The records show that Ethiopians have actively been involved for years in anti al-Shabaab activities in Somalia and contributed to their demise including with direct army intervention both unilaterally as well as a part of the AMISOM mission. Whereas there have been several attacks against both civilian as well as public establishments in other east African countries such as Kenya and Uganda, there have not been any one in Ethiopia. Ethiopia prides itself on its security staff’s high qualification and vigilance. The population is also highly instrumental in terms of tipping the security teams whenever they feel something is happening which does not sound natural.

Some argue that the Ethiopian government’s investment in security and armed forces has enabled it to remain more or less immune from al-Shabaab type attacks. But there is a fear that the current transition period involving some sporadic unrest could reverse this tendency. With unrest caused by issues of identity and nationality such as what has happened just a few days ago around Gondar, the risks of attention being fragmented might embolden certain groups aligning to destabilise for political advantages.

There are groups who seem not to sleep before seeing this Abiy government weakened for their own programs. Even the ruling coalition has not settled well its differences to unite into one big party and it appears that there is still a ‘palace power struggle’ underway. Some traditional parties’ voicing more and more opposition to what the federal government is engaged in is not a good signal.

Whereas criticism and oversight of the government would be welcome as part of any democratic exercise, the exacerbation of these tendencies might in the end weaken the government and risk to expose it to dangers such as al shabaab. When the joint session of parliament reconvenes shortly after its summer recess, we will know the priorities of the government for this Ethiopian year that began on September 12.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of 7Dnews.

Middle East Africa