On November 12, Sharmaake Sabrie gave a lecture on "What is Al-Shabaab and how to counter it?" at the Institute of World Politics.
Mr. Sabrie started by explaining a little bit of Somali social structure. He pointed out that Somalia has a very tribal structure, and is not much integrated in the Westphalian concept of State. Instead, clans hold a prominent role in Somalia, and animosity between them have often led to major crises.
Mr. Sabrie made the point that Al-Shabaab was able to spread and take root precisely because of the weak concept of "State" in Somalia, which has been augmented by the lack of a state apparatus. The void left by the lack of these institutions has been filled by religious fanatics. According to Mr. Sabrie, after 9/11 these religious fanatics went back to their countries of origin to get trained on how to recruit new terrorists and support the organization.
Their stunning ability to recruit people comes from their particular capacity to exploit the religious faith in Somalia: religion is the common ground, despite tribal differences. In this sense, Al-Shabaab has the upper hand, as it has taken advantage of the widespread lack of education in Somalia. This terrorist group has had much leverage on the people living on the coast because they are Muslims and they are less integrated in the society.
Mr. Sabrie repeatedly made it clear that, unfortunately, the Federal Government of Somalia does not have the resources for protecting people, which is why clans are so autonomous, and, due to their uneducated background, they rely on the protection provided by Al-Shabaab.
In a discussion about the possible measures to counter Al-Shabaab, Mr. Sabrie had no doubts: the most important thing that should be done is to facilitate the inclusion and integration of clans in the Somali society and make them feel safe so that they do not have to look for the protection of the terrorists.
Mr. Sabrie is an MSFS student at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service. He has worked for the European Parliament as a policy analyst for Middle East and North Africa; he also worked with NATO on piracy in the Horn of Africa and with the International Criminal Court on issues of international justice.
Intern, Fall 2013
Video by Adam Savit, Center for Security Policy