EDITORIAL: Galmudug militia is a problem we must not sweep under the carpet
EDITORIAL | Somalia has this week witnessed another round of bloodbaths. It was not caused by Al-Shabaab, but by fighting between government forces and the moderate militia group Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaa (ASWJ).
On Wednesday, when the fighting stopped, there were at least 120 deaths. The group finally agreed to leave Guriel town, where they had bickered with government forces over who should control it.
The return of peace is certainly a sigh of relief for civilians forced out of their homes as violence escalated. But Somalia should not push this issue under the carpet.
There are those who have equated ASWJ as just another terrorist group. This platform will continue to condemn the choice of violence whether by government or non-state actors. Deeper than that, however, is that the group has had legitimate political grievances. Should they have fought for it? It wasn’t necessary. But this required a government that gives dialogue a chance.
ASWJ led by Sheikh Shakir Ali Hassan has in the past collaborated with government forces to chase al-Shabaab out of town. But they felt betrayed in the manner in which federal state elections were conducted last year in Galmudug. They still feel they were denied a chance to be represented in formal politics, making them feel used.
Unlike Al-Shabaab, ASWJ has shown it can readily be back in, and operate within Somalia’s institutions. As a country, denouncing them outright may be a blunder. We must cultivate an environment where they feel safe laying down their arms and represented by people they can associate with.
Somalia’s building block has been the clan. Some may argue the group is well represented in the local legislature. But they must feel that the people representing them really look like them. For now, there may be a ceasefire and everyone will likely move on. But the violence this week is not going to be won through the battle.
In fact, Somalia’s elite forces had to descend on the town to calm the situation. This elite squad is often more useful in targeting al-Shabaab, which is a common enemy of ASWJ and the government.
Somalia has so many problems. But it looks like only a few of them will need a hammer-size response. Most of them just need to listen and talk. Somalia has many low-hanging fruits in dialogue and it has shown in the past that even the most hard-line politicians can loosen up.
Besides, ironing out differences with ASWJ will allow the security forces to focus on priority areas, which is to provide crucial security against al-Shabaab as the country strives to complete its electoral cycle before year-end.
Accepting a ceasefire may buy the government some time. But doing nothing afterward will only boil the agitation of the group, with deadly consequences.