Somalia has cleared a former al-Shabab leader to run for public office in a regional election expected to take place later this month.
Mukhtar Robow Abu Mansur is a former al-Shabab deputy chief and spokesman who defected from the al-Qaeda-linked group in 2013 and surrendered to the Somali government last year.
In September, he declared his bid to run for the presidency of South West state, one of five federal member states. Somalia’s Interior Minister said Abu Mansur was not fit to hold a public office because he remains under international sanctions, including financial and travel restrictions. However, on 2nd November, just days before the elections, South West regional electoral body cleared him, saying he has the right to bid for any political office as long as he holds Somali citizenship. Initially, Abu Mansur dismissed the government’s statement blocking him from seeking a political office. The United States has lifted a $5 million bounty on him and removed him from its terror list.
Abu Mansur states he will restore peace and justice and improve standards of education in his native South West state if he wins the election, which will take place on 17th November.
“If we win this election, I will ask you, ‘Who can defend the people of South West against the enemy (referring to al-Shabab) with guns, pens or strategy?’ We will achieve peace and justice,” he said at a campaign address to university students in Baidoa, the capital of South West on Saturday 3rd November.
He vowed to fight the enemy--without mentioning the name al-Shabab--and asked for public support if he is elected as the region’s president. Al-Shabab is already calling Abu Mansur an ‘apostate.’ The former Al-Shabab leader presented himself as democratic, promising to respect the outcome of the election.
“If I fail to win the South West presidency and someone else who is capable is elected, I will give my support,” he said.
Abu Mansur is the most senior figure to have quit al-Shabab after falling out with his boss Ahmed Abdi Godane, who was killed in a US airstrike in 2014.
Godane is one of the leading founders of al-Shabab, an al-Qaeda-affiliated group that aims to topple the Somali government and implement its own version of Islamic law. The group is Africa’s deadliest jihadist group. In October 2017, it killed more than 500 people in a single attack in central Mogadishu.
Abu Mansur, being a former al-Shabab commander who trained with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, knows how his former group conducts its attacks and he could help in preventing them if he chooses to work with the government irrespective of the outcome of this election. His election could encourage others to abandon the group.