EDITORIAL: In fighting Al-Shabaab, blame game is ruinous
EDITORIAL: Somalia’s second phase in the fight against al-Shabaab has just begun and as usual, we should expect a long run of battles against a group who consider themselves willing death merchants.
Yet there is something else: Somalia must remain united on the front and in all spheres of war against al-Shabaab. Which is why it is worrying to hear criticisms of the forces fighting on the frontline.
Since last week, there has been debate on whether certain decisions of the Somali National Army or their allied militias signal disunity or even underhand dealings with the militants. In Dhusamareb, a tactical withdrawal of the SNA was meant to avoid losses. But it also led to the recapture of territories conquered by the SNA. Was this a good deed?
There may be signs of miscalculations all over it. But that doesn’t give license for a blanket accusation that some members of the SNA are working for al-Shabaab.
There are weaknesses in the SNA. One of which may be the question of morale and equipment. But that is hardly the SNA’s fault. Somalia has been rebuilding its institutions for years and even as it fights al-Shabaab, let’s not forget that it is still under an arms embargo which ironically requires a sovereign state like Somalia to still get permissions on which weapons to buy and from whom.
One other thing is that fighting terrorism like any other war is very expensive. You could lose a limb, equipment, or even life. And yet recruiting troops and keeping them on the go costs money. For now, the first phase of the war on al-Shabaab gained momentum largely from volunteer vigilantes who took up arms to chase terror merchants out of their towns and villages.
But as every sensible leader has observed, fighting al-Shabaab will take much more than a gun. You can win a territory but locals can easily turn on you if you don’t offer better services than those of al-Shabaab. It means the war on terror is continuous. You win on the battlefield, then win the minds of civilians to stay with you, and then prevent al-Shabaab from gaining new ground by recruiting other merchants.
Winning a war on al-Shabaab will take much more than criticism on social media. We agree there is freedom of expression but banter on social media may have damaging effects. It must discourage the troops from fighting on. It might confuse the public not to back this noble cause. And it might even help extremists to recruit sympathizers.
Somalia is currently at the crossroads. It cannot afford a reverse gear in fighting extremism. And yet to move forward, it needs maximum support from the public. This is not to say there should be blanket support.
In these challenging times, it is crucial to differentiate between genuine criticism and malicious intent. It is unjust and misleading to label every individual who attempts to correct or criticize the government as a supporter or condoner of Al Shabaab. Such accusations not only undermine the essence of democracy but also create unnecessary divisions among the populace.
Furthermore, the government should refrain from employing social media figures to attack critics online or to provide blind support to the administration.
Authorities must learn to communicate effectively and remain accountable to the public in cases where questions emerge. It should be routine.