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Archive for the 'Terrorism' Category

So Who’s A Terrorist?

Posted in Somalia, Terrorism with tags , on March 24, 2013 by michaelkeating


John Michael Denney

Recently, the Bulgarian government concluded its six-month inquiry into the July 2012 bus bombing of a Black Sea resort in Burgas. Bulgaria’s official stance is that the agents who carried out the bombing received financing and other support from Lebanon’s troublesome Hezbollah political party (or terrorist group, depending on who you talk to). The official report comes as no surprise to the state of Israel, representatives of which have long asserted that Hezbollah is to blame. As a result of these actions, Israel is putting pressure on individual European countries and the European Union to declare Hezbollah a terrorist group. However, this is where the situation becomes a quagmire of competing worldviews, objectives, and politics.

How does one define a terrorist? And, getting at the heart of the issue, why does it even matter how we define actions as terrorism or actors are terrorists? There is a simple answer to the first question: a terrorist is someone who uses public acts of violence or mayhem to achieve political, religious, or otherwise society-altering goals. But this definition is too broad and adds very little to the conversation. Under this definition, Al-Qaeda and the Revolutionary War-era guerilla fighters, the Green Mountain Boys, are both terrorist organizations. But we in the United States do not look back in time and label anti-British militias as terrorists.

The question has become nebulous once again. It is not so much what a terrorist is, as who we call a terrorist that matters. This issue is of great importance off of the East coast of Africa, where, for the better part of a decade, Somali pirates have been hijacking foreign ships and holding their hostages for ransom. The response from the international community thus far has been condemnation, labeling the hijackers as pirates, and an on-going (and costly) military campaign against the Somalis. A little digging into the issue, and you might ask yourself why the Somalis started engaging in maritime piracy in the first place.

In an excellent and comprehensive article for the William and Mary Environmental Law and Policy Review, Ranee Kooshie Lal Panjabi points out that Somali piracy didn’t just appear out of nowhere; it is the result of illegal fishing and toxic chemical dumping in Somali coastal waters that have been going on since Somalia’s descent into lawlessness after the fall of the Barre regime in 1991. Indeed, Somalia’s coastal ecosystem has been compromised by international fishermen, mostly hailing from Asia and Europe, running roughshod over coral reefs and practicing otherwise illegal fishing techniques, taking advantage of the fact that Somalia no longer has a naval to protect its territorial waters. Perhaps more insidiously, chemical companies from the developed world have been illegally dumping toxic waste close to the shores, further harming the coastal fisheries and severely impacting the health of coastal Somalis. The Somali pirates, as it turns out, started out as disenfranchised fishermen, put out of work because no one was there to protect their fisheries from high capacity foreign fishermen. Many of the pirates were, at the outset, part of militia-style navies trying to fend off chemical companies poisoning their waters and their loved ones – though now the Somali pirates are indeed running a lucrative criminal organization, it is important to remember where this issue started. If we are to label the Somalis as pirates, Panjabi argues, then the foreign fishermen and chemical companies who take advantage of Somalia’s political situation must also be labeled as pirates.

But we do not label those chemical companies and those fishermen as pirates. And the Green Mountain Boys certainly are not remembered as terrorists (at least by those in the United States!). We do not label these groups as pirates or terrorists because of what that label brings with it. We see foreign fishermen working the Somali coast as engaging in normal economic activity, albeit activity that would be illegal in any other jurisdiction. What would we gain from labeling them terrorists or pirates? Labeling a group or a person as terrorist or as a pirate brings with it an enormous set of normative and practical implications. Once it is a pirate organization and no longer a fishing fleet, are we obligated to seize that fleet and imprison its crew when they try to dock? Conversely, if we think of the  Somalis as a patriotic naval militia protection their coasts from foreign invasions, can we justify bringing in the Navy to halt their activities? Similarly, if Bulgaria labels Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, what does that mean for the EU’s policy toward the organization? Can it still treat Hezbollah as a political group, as it has historically? Or does it have to cease engaging Hezbollah as legitimate representation of the Lebanese people and start treating it like the EU does al-Qaeda?

If he were alive today, Michel Foucault would remind us of the power of classifying groups and activities under one label or another. For the labels themselves have power, and they lead us to think about groups and individuals in a certain way. This is not to argue for or against Hezbollah’s classification as a terrorist organization. This is to remind us all that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. One man’s pirate is another woman’s breadwinner. Labelling a group as terrorists is a big decision with serious ramifications, and it is hardly reversible.

John Michael Denney is a graduate student in the International Relations Program at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Kashmir on the Brink

Posted in Disarmament, Fragile States, Kashmir, Peacebuilding, South Asia, Terrorism with tags , , , on February 17, 2013 by michaelkeating



Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra

The Indian subcontinent remained tense after Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri Muslim, was executed by the Indian state on 9 February 2013. Guru was executed in New Delhi’s Tihar jail as his clemency plea had been rejected by the President of India six days earlier. He was convicted by India’s highest court as one of the main culprits behind the attack on India’s Parliament in December 2001, which resulted in the killing of 9 people, mostly the security guards at the entrance of the building. As the Parliament was in session with many law makers inside the building, a successful attack could have crippled India’s legislature.

As Guru  was a Kashmiri, the execution was perceived differently by various actors. Had he belonged to a different constituent unit of the Indian federation, the event woulkd not have received such wide attention. Though there is a constituency in India that opposes the death penalty as an antiquated method of retributive justice, the opposition appears insignificant in the context of the contentious nature of Kashmir. As the news spread of Guru’s execution, there were huge protests in Kashmir valley, with protestors clashing with the security forces, leading to death of five Kashmiris. The coming days may witness intense violence, unless India plays an active role in addressing the concerns of the people.

As Kashmir is perched between India and Pakistan, with both claiming  its territory in totality, the event has a larger fallout. They have fought four wars, and now both wield nuclear weapons. Pakistan’s foreign office spokesperson expressed caution and said he “would not want to go into details of the trial process” as the matter is “being discussed and debated by the media and the human rights organizations.” He, however, reiterated Pakistan’s support, “we reaffirm our solidarity with the people of Jammu and Kashmir and express our serious concern on the high-handed measures taken by India in the wake of Afzal Guru’s execution to suppress the aspirations of Kashmiris…” Though Pakistan’s civilian government adopted a cautious approach, the extremist organizations in Pakistan like Jamat-ud-Dawa, one of the affiliates of the extremist organization Lashkar-e-Toiba, organized protests in various Pakistani cities. The head of the Lashkar, also the mastermind behind the Mumbai terror attack of 2008 that killed about 200 people, promised revenge against India’s act.

India attempted to downplay the execution with its home minister issuing a statement to the effect that the law has taken its course. The execution, he argued, was a matter of justice and there is no politics involved in it. According to him, “this (the execution) was not a political decision. It was done as per law.” Some analysts, however, see it as the government’s attempt to buttress its image as a tough actor in countering terrorism. The rightist political parties, however, expressed jubilation at the execution, while the leftist parties termed it an attempt by the government to appease the rightist parties.  India also undertook harsh measures to control protests in the valley by declaring a curfew, banning media and communication technologies, and detaining prominent separatist leaders of Kashmir. India aimed at preventing another 1984 like situation, which had witnessed the spiraling of militancy in the valley, leading to the death of thousands of people and earning Kashmir the sobriquet ‘the most dangerous place of the world.’ In 1984, a Kashmiri Muslim named Maqbool Bhat was executed by New Delhi in the same jail. His execution fuelled pent up frustration of the Kashmiri people and acquired violent shapes with support from across the border.

In the Kashmir valley, the situation continues to remain tense. Any linkage of the execution of Guru with injustice and suppression of Kashmiris by India may generate further violence and jeopardize the peace process. The militant organizations may use the situation to destabilize the region. The separatist leaders in the valley condemned the execution and argued that Guru was not given a fair trial. One of the prominent separatist leaders, Yasin Malik of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, currently on a visit to Pakistan, criticized the execution as a ‘sinister design’ of India, and announced four-day mourning.  The argument of the separatists may have some merit as there are other convicts in Indian jails, who have not been executed yet despite being given their death sentence before Guru. The youth of Kashmir are likely to be mobilized to continue protests unless swift measures for restoring dialogue and trust is undertaken. The youth of Kashmir, born during the heydays of militancy, have witnessed death and destruction with their own eyes. It may not be very difficult on part of extremist leaders to inject in some of the disenchanted youth the spirit of violence and cause havoc in the region. This may be easier than earlier due to spread of communication technology. Some of the separatist leaders also perceive the ongoing protests as a prelude to a ‘color’ revolution in the style of the Arab spring.

The year 2013 so far has not been propitious for peace in South Asia. January witnessed border skirmishes between India and Pakistan with each accusing the other  of violating the ceasefire. The current events will further complicate the already fragile peace process. Recently the Indian prime minister argued that the peace process can not continue unless Pakistan addresses India’s concerns. In Pakistan there also prevails a sense of frustration as, despite a decade of relative peace, Kashmir remains a protracted conflict as both parties are hesitant to give up rigid positions. The radical constituency may get emboldened by the recent developments and revive the old methods of proxy war, extremism and terrorism. Such a development will not be beneficial for India and Pakistan. Perhaps India can take the lead in breaking the logjam in initiating dialogue with Pakistan, while simultaneously addressing the alienation of the people of Kashmir. As advocated by Pakistan’s US ambassador, the US, which enjoys friendly relations with India and Pakistan, can nudge both the countries to foster peace instead of cultivating animosity. Needless to add, peace between India and Pakistan is a major key to peace in Kashmir.

Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is a PhD student in the Global Governance and Human Security Program at UMass Boston. He is also an Associate Fellow at the Center for Peace, Development and Democracy.

US Policy in Africa : Through the Lens of Anti-Terrorism

Posted in Africa, Education, Mali, Peacebuilding, Terrorism, Tuaregs with tags , , , , on November 26, 2012 by michaelkeating


Michael Keating


Here is a rare public presentation by the leader of the US Military’s Africa Command (Africom), General Carter F. Ham. While there is nothing surprising here there is commentary on the U.S. military’s position on the upcoming effort to oust rebels from Northern Mali.  The General makes no bones about the fact that it is a very complicated situation given the intertwining of criminal, terrorist and political actors.

I think you are right to identify the presence of illicit networks, illegal trafficking in persons and drugs and weapons, financing – this is certainly present in the same region and the networks upon which that illicit trafficking is conducted are the same networks that support the terrorist organizations operating in northern Mali. One of the efforts that I think is important in an overall campaign plan – not just military – are to find opportunities to separate out the criminal aspects, separate out the politically motivated entities, and focus specifically on the terrorist presence and deal with the political in different ways.

The General goes on to say that he views the planning as an African affair with strategic inputs from the Americans and Europeans, presumably the French. He makes no mention of Special Forces involvement of the kind that is underway in Central Africa in the pursuit of Joseph Kony, but then again he is unlikely to telegraph strategy at a public gathering.

While the opportunities for a negotiated settlement seem dim, it is not at all clear that a force of ECOWAS alone troops will be trained and equipped  enough to oust a band of heavily armed determined fighters who have had two years to dig in. Furthermore, as the discussion reveals, there is still no plan for the after-battle.

Winning the peace is not yet on the ECOWAS drawing board.

Debating Boko Haram: “A Foreign Terrorist Organization?”

Posted in Africa, Boko Haram, Nigeria, Peacebuilding, Terrorism on November 25, 2012 by michaelkeating
Darren Kew
Republicans in the US House and Senate have recently called on the Obama administration to designate Nigeria’s Boko Haram a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO).  CPDD’s Prof. Kew testified in July 2012 (testimony was earlier posted on PaxBlog) that the FTO designation would not help at this time, and would likely make matters worse.  Recently, he engaged in an online debate on the matter with Pastor Laolu Akande of the Christian Association of Nigerian Americans (CANAN), who is strongly in favor of FTO.  See their debate, and commentary from other Nigeria scholars on Boko Haram at:!topic/usaafricadialogue/Jo0H895BCLU
And add your comments here at PaxBlog!

Paxblog’s Darren Kew Testifies on Boko Haram

Posted in Africa, Boko Haram, Democratic Development, Fragile States, Human Rights, Humanitarianism, Nigeria, Terrorism with tags , , on July 16, 2012 by michaelkeating

The following is a transcript of Darren Kew’s testimony in front of Congress.

The Crisis in Christian-Muslim Relations in Nigeria

Testimony before the US House Subcommittee on
Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights

July 10, 2012

The recent escalation of violence between Nigeria’s Muslim and Christian communities is not a single conflict between these two great religions.  Rather, the crisis is a series of local and regional struggles, some of which feature religion as a strong motivation for conflict, while others ignite the Muslim-Christian fault line as a secondary or circumstantial matter.  Recently, however, several actors have seen interest in trying to frame these localized conflicts as a single religious contest across the Christian-Muslim divide.  US policy in the region should continue to support efforts to promote religious tolerance and improved governance in Nigeria, while avoiding actions that could feed the perception that the United States is ready to take sides.

A Complex, Explosive Context

With over 150 million people belonging to over 200 nationalities, and nearly evenly divided between Christians and Muslims in a federation of 36 states, Nigeria poses a difficult environment for peace and development under the best of circumstances.  Several contextual factors are particularly important for understanding the recent escalation of violence igniting the religious divide:

Nigeria has undergone a dramatic demographic shift in its number of Christians over the last 20 years.  Heavy Christian proselytizing in the minority-dominated regions of the “Middle Belt,” in the northeast, and in the far Northern regions of the country has won numerous converts in these areas, fueling resentment among some members of Muslim communities.  Some Islamic sects also proselytize in Christian majority regions, but they have been far less successful.  Initially, both religions focused their expansion efforts on practitioners of traditional religions, but now that most of these have been converted, Christians and Muslims have largely turned the proselytizing race on each other.  Ethnic minorities that were once alone and dominated by majority groups, particularly by the largely Muslim Hausa, have found new political power in being part of a larger Christian community, giving them increasing leverage in the struggle over scarce resources.

The leading contenders for the April 2011 presidential elections were President Goodluck Jonathan, a southern Christian, and retired Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, a northern Muslim, giving the race religious undertones.  Widespread perception among supporters of Gen. Buhari that President Jonathan’s ruling party rigged him the victory led to outbreaks of violence in key cities of the north, particularly Kaduna, which is evenly divided between Muslims and Christians.  The election left enduring frustrations across the north against the Jonathan government.  President Jonathan’s campaign also actively courted Christian minorities across the Middle Belt and northeast, which further framed the contest in religious terms and fueled the growing Christian political awakening in these areas.  These northern frustrations are certain to resurface if President Jonathan runs again for office in 2015, as expected.

Massive poverty amid a conspicuously corrupt political elite on both sides of the religious divide fuels widespread anger at the Nigerian state and increases the attractiveness of radical movements of all types.  Economic growth on average of over 6% annually for the last decade is encouraging, but much of this growth has been concentrated in the south.

Growing militarization in the Middle Belt and northeast is increasing the destructiveness of violence and the pace of escalation.  Christian and Muslim militias across these areas, particularly in Jos/Plateau state, are increasingly well armed, and occasionally benefit from informal relationships with police and military units.  Numerous atrocities are alleged to have been committed by both sides against the other in reciprocal acts of violence.  This spread of loosely organized paramilitary activity has exacerbated an array of local conflicts, with several particularly noteworthy trends:

Pastoralist-farmer conflicts across the region are aggravated by desertification, which is reducing the size of arable land just as Nigeria’s rapid population growth creates greater demand.  In locales where predominantly Christian farmers have moved into traditional grazing lands for Muslim Fulani herders, conflicts have aggravated religious tensions.
Jos/Plateau state remains the main religious flashpoint in the region, where longstanding disputes over control of scarce land and local government resources have sparked numerous bouts of violence over the last 15 years, particularly during local election cycles.  Politicians from local Christian majorities in the state, seeking to build political capital, have often appealed to religion and systematically excluded the local Hausa minority from access to state resources.  Although the Hausa are a minority in Jos, the capital of Plateau state, they are the largest ethnic group in Nigeria overall, fueling fears among the other groups of a Hausa influx and political dominance.
Numerous pockets of internally displaced persons from previous bouts of violence across the region have been largely ignored by the government and forced to fend for themselves.  Youth from both religions living in these desperate conditions have proven to be extremely susceptible to militant activity.
Christian and Muslim clerics in recent years have been preaching hate messages – ranging from the subtle to the blatant – from the pulpit largely unchecked by religious or government authorities.  More decentralized sects such as Pentecostal churches or itinerant imams loosely affiliated with the Izala movement among Muslims have been particularly prone to these messages, which contribute to escalation.

The Boko Haram Challenge

These factors alone have heightened religious tensions across Nigeria, but the recent rise of a militant Islamic movement, known as Boko Haram, has aggravated the entire Christian-Muslim fault line and provoked reprisals from Christian communities.  For most of its existence, Boko Haram was little concerned with Nigeria’s Christians, and focused its attentions on spreading its interpretation of Islam within the nation’s Muslim community, particularly in the northeastern states of Borno and Bauchi.  Its shift to military operations in 2008-09 occurred with a devout Muslim, President Yar’Adua, as head of state, and its primary targets were the Nigerian security forces – the police, military, and the internal intelligence operatives of the State Security Service (SSS) – and the Borno state governor at the time.

Consequently, Boko Haram’s move to targeting Christian churches and communities over the last two years appears to be largely a tactical shift in its operations in order to take advantage of growing northern frustrations with the Jonathan government, in order to situate itself as the Islamic alternative to the corrupt status quo, and to consolidate its recent gains.  This shift raises several matters of concern:

Boko Haram is a collection of groups, some of which are well armed and organized, particularly the hardliners, and others that are less organized and less interested in using violence to pursue the movement’s goals of establishing an Islamist state in at least the northern half of Nigeria.  Several of the more moderate factions of the movement have sought to initiate peace talks with the government in recent years, some of whom have been killed by hardliners for their efforts.  Initiating a religious conflict with the Christians thus strengthens the position of the hardliners, forcing the moderates to choose sides and possibly creating more sympathizers for the movement when Christian militias counterattack.  In most Boko Haram attacks on churches, the movement has cited previous attacks on Muslims as validation for its acts.  The movement justified its Christmas 2011 church bombings, for instance, as reprisals for Christian militant killings of Muslims during the Eid celebrations earlier in the year.
Given that President Jonathan is a Christian and his supporters appealed to these sentiments in the 2011 campaign in the Middle Belt and northeast, targeting Christians allows Boko Haram to try to situate itself as the protector of northern interests and the embodiment of the region’s frustrations.  Until June 2012, all Nigeria’s military chiefs were southerners, fueling perceptions even further that the Jonathan government was antagonistic to the north.
The conflict in Jos and Plateau state offers an ideal cause for Boko Haram to play to Muslim senses of victimhood, so the movement has actively sought to insert itself in the conflict.  Religiously charged Kaduna, which for the first time in its history now has a Christian governor, poses similar opportunities for Boko Haram, where it has also become more active.
Heavy-handed responses from the Nigerian police and military to Boko Haram attacks in the past have tended to increase local support for the movement, as state security forces often use indiscriminate force resulting in numerous civilian casualties with little effect on Boko Haram itself.

In light of these issues and the general inability of the Nigerian government to stop the movement, Boko Haram currently holds the military initiative and faces an important political choice.  It could continue its military offensive in the unlikely pursuit of total victory, or it could seek to build alliances in order to create its own political movement or some form of parallel party with which it is affiliated or which seeks to capture its message.  The latter is likely preferred by moderates in the movement, some of whom have requested an amnesty process much like that in the Niger Delta.

Implications for US Policy

In June 2012, President Jonathan took an important step toward changing the terms of the struggle with Boko Haram by firing his National Security Advisor and replacing him with retired Col. Sambo Dasuki, a northern Muslim with family ties to the Sultan of Sokoto, the highest traditional ruler in the north to whom the more moderate factions of Boko Haram had appealed for mediation in the past.  Col. Dasuki immediately announced his intention to engage both Boko Haram and the Christian militias, an important first step.

US engagement is particularly complicated by Boko Haram hardliners’ efforts to situate themselves as Nigeria’s Islamic vanguard and protector of northern interests and to portray the Jonathan government as a Christian bulwark.  An invasive US policy presence could be framed by hardliners as the Christian superpower supporting its local affiliates, and hand Boko Haram a useful recruiting tool while further delegitimizing the Jonathan government in the eyes of many northerners.

US policy, therefore, needs a subtle approach that seeks to isolate the hardliners in Boko Haram, strengthen the opportunities for dialogue with the moderates, and support Nigerian government reforms that can address the root causes of conflicts between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria.  Several elements in such a strategy are recommended:

- Encourage the Nigerian government’s new efforts to engage militant factions on both sides of the religious divide, in order to provide moderates in Boko Haram and other militias a clear alternative to the violence promoted by hardliners.  Special effort should be made to encourage the moderates to steer Boko Haram (as well other Christian and Muslim militias) into the political process, where they can pursue their goals in a peaceful fashion with the promise of a broader audience.
- Target anti-terror efforts on key hardliners and factions to isolate them from the rest of the movement and from the moderate Muslim mainstream overall. The Obama administration’s singling out of key Boko Haram hardliners as terrorists rather than the whole movement is a helpful approach in that regard.
- Continue US support for religious tolerance and Muslim-Christian dialogue efforts that engage local religious leaders and communities, building bridges and reducing the acceptability of hate speech.  Where possible, the US government should also encourage Nigeria’s national religious leaders to engage in meaningful dialogue that sends messages of tolerance and accommodation.  In that regard, the Christian Association of Nigeria and the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs should be encouraged to restart their interfaith reconciliation efforts.
- Unrest in the north is extremely likely if President Jonathan seeks reelection in 2015.  US policy should continue to insist on further Nigerian election reforms that include the primaries of the ruling party in particular, to increase the likelihood of a fair contest and help to dampen perceptions of rigging by any candidate.  The leader of Nigeria’s political opposition in a race against President Jonathan is likely to be a northerner, and should be engaged by US policymakers as a legitimate opposition leader.
- Encourage the Jonathan administration to undertake a broad-based national development policy and serious anti-corruption efforts that address the underlying conflict drivers of poverty and poor governance.
Encourage the Nigerian federal government to press its state governments to address local religious disputes and to prosecute crimes against humanity.  Plateau state politicians in particular should be investigated for their roles in recent bouts of violence.
- Press the Nigerian government to make police reform a priority and to retool its military for more responsible crisis response capacity.

Here are some video links for the session:

Somalia Conference Breaks New Ground

Posted in Africa, Peacebuilding, Somalia, Terrorism with tags , , , on February 27, 2012 by michaelkeating

The recently concluded London Conference on Somalia is probably the most high profile that has been held for Somalia. As a Somali citizen I see a glimmer of hope for Somalia in the London Conference. It looks like the entire international community is acting together cohesively and that will hopefully eliminate the competition and division among the international community itself on the issue of Somalia. Fifty heads of state and representatives attended the conference; even the breakaway self-declared Somaliland was pressured to attend the conference by Britain. This is what really makes this conference different from the others before it. At past conferences there were too many doctors in the operating room, many of them were suspected by Somalis of operating with dirty knives,  but this time the world seemed to be united with one message. Today the people of Somalia celebrated the London Conference and in support of the London Conference they decorated the main roads of Mogadishu with Somali and British flags.

Thank you to mayor Tarzan of Mogadishu (a legal resident of the UK) who was also invited in the conference. This is the first time that the flag of a western country was decorated on the streets of Mogadishu in the last two decades and that shows trust. As Professor, Ken Menkhaus of Davidson College said this week, the London Conference is the subject of considerable anxiety, skepticism, and hope among Somalis. It is widely seen as a critical moment in Somalia’s long 20-year crisis, a meeting that could shape the direction of the country in the coming years, for better or for worse.

The goal of the London Conference seems attainable with the focus on piracy, famine and terrorism which is the number one concern for the West. Terrorism is also equally a concern for Somalis. Terrorism, lack of security and rule of law is what led to both the famine and the piracy in Somalia today. The international community and the Somali government should carefully focus on Al Shabaab which seems to be crumbling by the day. As requested by the Somali Prime Minster Dr. Abdiwali Ali, airstrikes should intensify. AMISON troops whose number was increased this week by the Security Council from 12,000 to 17,000 should also now be able to compound pressure on Al Shabaab who recently joined Al Qaeda. The Kenyans and their TFG ally forces in the South are moving very slowly and they should be pushed to move quicker and capture Kismanyo. This war is about winning the hearts and the minds of the people as no one can win the public with prolonged foreign occupation. It is essential that Ethiopia and Kenya help TFG forces fully quickly liberate Kismanyo,  Baydhabo and the other Al Shabaab strongholds  and withdraw rapidly after these cities fall under the TFG control which must get ready to fill the void. Keep in mind, the people of Somalia are tired of war, civilian casualties and the interventions of their neighbors especially Ethiopians.

The London Conference will bolster the security accomplishments and the momentum is likely to continue. The once feared Al Shabaab is now crippled to a point where the only option for them is to hit and run. With that being said, it’s an uncomfortable truth, but direct dialogue with groups like Al Shabaab is sometimes indispensable to reach a sustainable peace. And even if it turns out that dialogue gets us nowhere with Al Shabaab, talking and listening can help us to better understand how we can bring  some of the moderate ones on board. Al Shabaab recently joined Al Qaeda and that may create divisions within its ranks. For instance, there are reports that some members of the Al Shabaab leadership are  a bit more moderate than hardliners like Ahmed Godane,  who is the current Al Shabaab leader. Generally speaking, there are three groups of Al Shabaab.  Some are hardline,  the so-called irreconcilables (Godane and foreign jihadists fall in this category); the reconcilables (often showing a nationalistic agenda and a conciliatory tone) and the third are those who lie somewhere in between the  two. The Somali government will have no choice but to fight people like Godane and migrant foreign jihadists to the end but the TFG must initiate a negotiation effort that empowers Somali traditional elders to reach out to those Al Shabaab members who are willing to talk. The Somalis should recognize that military power alone cannot defeat  an insurgency; even the Americans are now talking to the Taliban in Afghanistan. We should talk to our young fighters and The International Community should also encourage this dialogue with Al Shabaab in order to reach a lasting peace in Somalia.

By: Saeed Aden

The Author is a fellow at the Center for Peace, Democracy and Development at the University of Massachusetts, Boston and is the Director of Global Peace Aid-Somalia.

2010/ AFP Photo

Killer NGOs: Not Your Average Community Service Organization

Posted in NGO, Peacebuilding, Terrorism with tags , on February 23, 2012 by michaelkeating

Killers Sans Frontieres?


At first I thought it might be a joke or at least a painful oxymoron. “Killer” and “NGO” are generally not two words one usually finds in proximity. But when you read Col. Gary Anderson’s call for the establishment of Killer NGOs in today’s Foreign Policy magazine you may never think the same about the World Wildlife Fund again.

Anderson, a retired Marine Corp officer, says that citizens of the U.S. will never support wars against terrorists that require invasion forces the size of those that invaded Normandy. Instead he proposes the funding and establishment, in places like Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, etc.  of small private armies that are made up of indigenous fighters, are well armed and trained, have a development component and are dedicated to eradicating terrorists organizations, yet another kind of NGO according to Anderson.

As their paymaster we will have control over them and if they go rogue then we can simply cut off their funding. Sounds simple, right?  Nothing can go wrong with a plan like that.

What distinguishes a Killer NGO from a plain old mercenary army or militia is their professionalism and their development arm. What distinguishes them from the national army of whichever country we are speaking of is their willingness to take on bad guys our way and not get involved in the complexities of local politics.

Personally I have a lot of problems with this kind of wordplay. It is hard enough for real NGOs to operate in these places without fear that they might be labelled a ‘killer’ by some crazed warlord. It is much better if the fighters and the healers keep a wall between themselves otherwise innocent people in conflict zones might not be able to get the help they need.

Besides we already have a global killer NGO. You can find it here.


Michael Keating

photo by: mritunjay