Five people were killed in Somalia today outside of an airport in Mogadishu, in what is only the latest in a long series of attacks by al-Qaeda associated terrorist organization Al-Shabab (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/14/world/africa/car-bomb-outside-airport-in-somalia.html). Somalia, which is considered by many to be a “failed state”, has been a stronghold for terrorist organizations for over a decade and shows few signs that this will end any time soon. While the vast majority of the members of Al-Shabab are Somalis, many are Somalis that have returned to their country (or in some cases gone for the first time) after receiving training and support internationally, from Yemen, Pakistan, and even the United States. The group has not limited their attacks to simply Somalia, however- they were responsible for the four day attack carried out by Al-Shabab gunmen in Kenya several months ago. The presence of this organization, and their willingness to commit acts of terror both in their borders and beyond pose several interesting questions.
First, can there be any hope of democracy, or a stable government of any kind, without first dealing with Al-Shabab? I would argue that the nature of Al-Shabab and their brand of terrorism make it very unlikely that the country will be able to move in the direction of democracy while the organization is as powerful as it currently is. Unlike some terrorist organization, Al-Shabab is actively involved in seizing and controlling territory as well as carrying out the bombings and attacks that occur frequently. In parts of Mogadishu and the other areas controlled by Al-Shabab, they are limiting access to information and have banned outright the use of the internet- a priceless tool in the modern era for forming and maintaining support for democratic movements. Additionally, even in areas not currently controlled by Al-Shabab, the people have all but resigned themselves to the fact that the organization, or one like it, will arrive. In many cases in areas that had once been controlled by Al-Shabab but then saw the organization ousted still live in fear that they will return and, thus, are too afraid to speak out in support of liberal ideas like democracy (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-24234921).
Secondly, what roll the does international community play in combating terrorism to make way for possible progress in Somalia? The United States has been involved with fighting terrorism in Somalia for a decade, through the use of air strikes and the CIA-run drone program, as part of the global war on terror. Just two weeks ago, a drone strike was carried out that targeted and killed two suspected Al-Shabab leaders in the country (http://guardianlv.com/2014/01/u-s-drone-strike-in-somalia-kills-two-but-target-is-unknown/). While I agree with the need to eliminate the influence of Al-Shabab and groups like it, I fear that the United States’ actions in the country are potentially backfiring. Given the already poor opinion of the United States’ global influence by Somalis, and the risk of civilian casualties from UAVs, it is likely that Al-Shabab is actually benefiting from the occasional attacks on their ranking members (much like what has been seen in Yemen and Pakistan, where al-Qaeda has successfully used US intervention and the high civilian casualties as propaganda to gain new members). I pose this question: If the removal of Al-Shabab from Somalia could make way for progress and democratization to begin, would you support increased US intervention or are the risks of blowback too great?