That Was The Month That Was… JANUARY 2018

JANUARY began with continuing tensions in and around Mogadishu, ostensibly over security forces assaults on the residences of Hawiye/Habar Gadir politicians. However, at a deeper level, the forcible eviction of thousands of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from camps on the fringes of the city highlighted the more primal concerns at the heart of the resurgent clan friction: access to and control of resource, notably land. Thabit, the Governor of Banadir and Mayor of Mogadishu (and one of the few government figures to come out well from the aftermath of the October 14th bombing) sought to resolve the situation by relocating the IDPs but was then summarily sacked: he was replaced by the Minister of Information, Engineer Yarisow, a Hawiye/Abgal (with the sub-clan for sub-clan exchange seeming to work).

In a cabinet reshuffle the Ministers for Foreign Affairs, the Interior and Trade were all replaced, with the substitution of one of the few female Ministers by a man being the subject of much ire. The elections for seats left vacant in 2017 proceeded, albeit slowly. There was a spate of attacks on the staff and infrastructure of Hormuud, the powerful cellphone provider, although it was unclear whether this was coincidence or deliberate action.

The President attended the AU Summit in Addis Ababa while the Prime Minister attended the World Economic Forum in Davos: while there the President declared his intention to end corruption in 2018. More significantly, the President also toured the regions of Somalia, receiving a rapturous welcome as he went. However, one of the regions he did not visit, secessionist Somaliland, clashed with its neighbour, Puntland, over disputed territory, and in Jubbaland political dissent was repressed and seemed likely to result in yet more internecine communal violence. At the same time, Kenya and Somalia clashed over the disputed border area around El-Wak, a city that lies in both countries, just one more element of the continuing territorial dispute between the two countries.

aS, on the other hand, had no such problems with lines on the map and continued to operate with relative freedom in northern Kenya (although the Kenyan media continued to tell a very different and clearly coordinated story about the declining fortunes of the terror group). Al-Shabaab did genuinely struggle with the nagging presence of the high level dissident, Robow, right on the edge of its territory and in control of an increasingly powerful military force. Attrition to defections and strikes also continued apace and the publication of research by Human Rights Watch into aS’s use of child soldiers was similarly detrimental to the group’s reputation. One strike even resulted in the rescue of a group of child soldiers, an intertwining of aS’s woes. But the oft-promised collapse of aS still seemed far off, with the group even managing to threaten copyright litigation against the FGS for unauthorised use of its imagery while maintaining its campaign of low level assassinations and bombings.

That Was The Month That Was… DECEMBER 2017

l-r: the President and the UN SRSG at the Mogadishu Security Conference; policewomen parade at the Police Academy, a number of whom died in an aS suicide attack on the base; Robow meets Ahmed Madobe; and Abdishakur is released from custody after a storm of protests

DECEMBER began with the announcement that a second investigation was to be launched into events in Barire, which were being portrayed on one hand as US Special Forces on the rampage and as a cynical, compensation-driven misrepresentation of a bit of inter-clan scrapping on the other. But the US nonetheless continued its high tempo of strikes, disrupting aS’s pattern of life.

The US also suspended military aid to the SNA, citing endemic corruption: the FGS stated that it agreed with the move. The reality of the state of the Somali security forces – weak and sometimes dishonest leadership, lacking in numbers, equipment and capability, nowhere near ready to assume responsibility for security and all while AMISOM begins its drawdown – became painfully apparent.

A major security conference for international partners was hosted by the FGS in Mogadishu and the 2018 budget was approved, although with the obligatory procedural protests from the Upper House. Political parties were introduced in anticipation of the 2020 elections and Somalia regained control of its airspace.

The President travelled to Kenya, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt and Turkey: in Istanbul he attended a meeting of the OIC and added Somalia’s voice to the protests against President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. A US diplomat to Somalia resigned, her furious resignation letter splashed across the news media.

Other international partners – Turkey & Qatar on one side, Saudi Arabia, the UAE & Egypt on the other – seemed to be vying for influence through soft power (development aid and direct donations) while at the same time conducting intrigue in support of their national or bloc objectives. Kenya refused to accept the ICJ’s decision on the maritime border with Somalia and also appeared to seize a section of the land border.

Robow returned to Southwest State and began to fight aS: aS fought back, killing one of Robow’s numerous sons, and conducted a series of executions of ‘spies’ in the areas near where Robow was operating. A suicide bomber dressed as a police officer struck the rehearsal for the 74th Anniversary of the Somali Police Force: many of the victims were female SPF officers. aS’s campaign of low level assassinations continued.

While the international community cats were away for Christmas, the Somali mice decided to play. The game was an old one: clan power disputes over control of resources and positions of influence. Clan militias in security forces uniforms clashed over land rights. The home of a former Presidential candidate, Abdishakur, was stormed on the pretext of charges of treason and six of his staff killed: he was released following a storm of protests everywhere from social media to the rural hinterland (where security forces from his clan allegedly abandoned their posts). Astonishingly, another Hawiye/Habar Gadir politician, Qeybdiid, was also raided: this time the FGS claimed to have no idea of who ordered the operation and blame was steered towards UAE (who had trained the unit involved).

As 2017 ended it was hard to remember the numerous positives of the year – a successful electoral process and the genuine feeling of hope at the election of President Farmaajo, aS on the back foot, an increasingly secure capital – while the country teetered on the brink of a descent back into clan-driven conflict.

That Was The Month That Was… OCTOBER 2017


l-r: the aftermath of the October 14th bombing; the demonstration of anti-aS feeling; and the Mayor of Mogadishu with BBC journalists

OCTOBER began with a continuation of the divisive alignment of a block of Federal Member States (FMSs) – Puntland, Galmudug & Southwest State – with Saudi Arabia, the UAE & others versus Qatar (and Turkey): this went against the Federal Government of Somali’s (FGS’s) neutral posture in the Gulf Crisis (which was read by many as being pro-Qatari, pro-Turkish). Unaligned but nonetheless opportunistic Puntland intervened and offered to convene an FMS conference, but without the FGS: the result was the formation of a council of FMSs to no obvious purpose.

Turkey opened its military academy in Mogadishu and made a number of commitments to support Somalia bilaterally, including direct delivery of security in the capital. The President travelled to Sudan: amongst other things, Sudan offered to print the new Somali banknote. Discussion of the constitution continued to ‘circle the airport’, partly due to the now obligatory objections by the FMSs to anything that came out of the FGS. The civil service and the security forces revealed that they had not been paid since the new administration had taken power in FEB17 and the Chief of Police in Puntland tried to shoot a political rival but ended up hitting his own deputy. The Minister of Defence and the head of the Somali National Army resigned for reasons that were unclear.

Then, on the afternoon of Saturday October 14th, the largest terrorist bomb ever detonated on the continent, causing the greatest slaughter of civilians in a terrorist incident in Africa went off.

In the blurry aftermath of the incident, the international response was slow: but the usual capping of casualty figures was subverted by accurate reporting from a civil society ambulance agency, Aamin Ambulance, and it quickly became clear that the usual, magical figure of 20 dead had been surpassed (and, in fact, multiplied by a factor of at least 15 and possibly 20).  The local media (news and social) made it clear this was not another ‘bomb goes off in Mogadishu’. The story grabbed headlines around the world, although the sanctimonious chose to ignore this and bemoaned the differentiation between first and third worlds in terms of the value of human life.

Aamin Ambulance, Turkey, The Guardian newspaper & BBC News, the British-Somali novelist, Nadifa Mohamed, and the Mayor of Mogadishu were overt in their support and received plaudits. Others were more demure but the effort was nonetheless significant. Robowe, the controversial founder member of aS turned not-aS-member-but-not-FGS-supporter-either, condemned the attack with vigour.

The story began to twist and turn. aS declined to claim responsibility for the attack and the gullible speculated about who had planned the attack (ISIS/Da’esh faction or maybe Qatar – whose embassy was damaged in the attack- or perhaps AMISOM and so on), despite the device coming from an aS-controlled area and another element of the attack team being captured and confessing all. But massive anti-aS fervour gripped Mogadishu and the rest of the country, the red head band becoming a symbol of the rejection of aS and its un-Somali values.

The President declared war on aS (again) and then left for a tour of East African capitals (minus election-plagued Kenya), with the aim of engendering fighting spirit amongst the AMISOM contributing countries: the Prime Minister left for Turkey and visited the injured who were being treated in Turkish hospitals. But at the same time, former PM Sharmarke and a former President conducted a spoiler visit to UAE, a hint of a return to ‘business as usual’.

As the month ended, the Director General of the National Intelligence & Security Agency (DG NISA) blasted the international community for their lack of tangible support to the Somali security forces in an Op-Ed on the front page of the New York Times, keeping Somali at the top of the news agenda. aS attacked the Nas Hablood 2 Hotel in a text-book complex attack that shifted the conversation once again. This time the government and the security forces were the subject of popular ire and DG NISA and the Commissioner of the Somali Police Force joined the former Minister of Defence and the head of the SNA down at the Job Centre.

For a moment in mid-October it seemed like Somalia had reached a semi-mythical ‘turning point’, much like the attack on a group of graduating medical students in the Shamo Hotel in DEC09 (which was instrumental in Robowe’s split with aS). Depressingly, by the end of October, it seemed like Somalia was already back to ‘business as usual’.

That Was The Month That Was… SEPTEMBER 2017


l-r: weapons seized from gun-runners off the coast of Puntland; the unburied bodies of the casualties of the Barire incident; Prime Minister Khayre addresses UN GA; an AMISOM armoured vehicle shunts a civilian car in Mogadishu; and President Farmaajo heads to Saudi Arabia

SEPTEMBER started as it would end, focussed on the town of Barire in Lower Shabelle. A number of locals, armed and moving at night with an unidentifiable but presumably nefarious purpose, stumbled upon a Somali special forces unit who promptly engaged them, killing 8. The government agreed to compensate the dollar-hungry families of the unburied and decomposing casualties.

The business of government went on, with counter-terrorism legislation heading to parliament along with various other bills. The Media Law followed close behind, trailed by the ubiquitous chuntering. The PM headed to New York for the UN General Assembly where Somalia was deprived of its voting rights because of unpaid dues but the PM nonetheless managed to meet a selection of his influential counter-parts.

International relations interfaced dangerously with relations between the government and the Federal Member States. HirShabelle democratically removed its State President early in the month and quickly replaced him. But this was insignificant in comparison to the sudden alignment of Puntland, then Southwest, then Galmudug with Saudi Arabia & UAE against Qatar, in opposition to the government’s neutral stance. The President himself returned to Saudi Arabia for the third time since taking office, but the month ended with the situation apparently unresolved.

At a regional level, relations with Ethiopia caused problems. The extradition of an Ogaden National Liberation Front leader sparked an outburst of nationalistic fervour that mixers happily exploited: the President’s popularity plummeted. The fragility and disenfranchisement that came with a major clan/not-so major sub-clan President and Prime Minister appeared to spill over into violence, albeit concealed in a variety of Somali National Security Forces uniforms, when the Stabilisation Force attempted to disarm another unit (from a different clan block): 9 died.

There were some positives: football matches and civilian flights into Mogadishu Aden Abdulle Airport took place at night for the first time in nearly three decades. The Mogadishu Book Festival was a success, rivalling its elder cousin in Hargeisa.

Kenyan forces serving as part of AMISOM withdrew from Bardhere and Tarako: aS immediately occupied the towns. In Mogadishu, video of a road traffic accident, where an AMISOM armoured vehicle shunted a civilian car along one of the main arteries of the city, went viral on social media: AMISOM quickly apologised and offered compensation.

The security slugging match continued in the hinterland. aS continued to suffer from air, drone and special forces strikes, the Shadow Governor of Banadir being a notable victim. aS tried to use disinformation to counter the strikes, re-imagining them as civilian casualty incidents.

In reply, aS launched assaults on government positions across the country, from Af-Urur in Puntland to Bulo-Gaduud, Beled-Hawo, Kalabyr and El-Wak in south-central. In the city of Mogadishu aS kept up its campaign of assassinations of government officers, members of the security forces and NGO workers (although whether aS actually was responsible for every single killing remains unclear): the Deputy Commander of SNA Logistics was a notable victim. aS’s other urban trademark, the car-bomb, was less prevalent than in previous months, but some attacks succeeded in spite of the best efforts of the Stabilisation Force to secure the city.

The month ended where it began, in Barire. aS stormed the SNA garrison in the town, inflicting heavy casualties and seizing a number of vehicles including armed ‘technicals’. aS’s narrative predominated and steered attention away from its concurrent and grimly symbollic car-bombing of the Mogadishu Peace Garden.

That Was The Month That Was… AUGUST 2017

l-r: top, an AMISOM vehicle was destroyed after being caught up in bajaaj-driver protests; bottom, Robow; centre, the alleged victims of the Barire radi; and right, Eid al-Adha, aS-style

AUGUST began with the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) dealing with the aftermath of events in July: the Minister of Constitutional Affairs was summoned to parliament to explain his negative commentary regarding the overturning of the Supreme Court’s ruling on disputed parliamentary seats; and there was much outcry about the death sentence applied to the killer of the Minister of Public Works (the perpetrator being one of the Attorney General’s protection team).

Later in the month an AMISOM convoy in Mogadishu became caught up in a mass protest by disgruntled bajaaj­-drivers: one vehicle was destroyed. There was a flurry of attacks on checkpoints in Mogadishu (possibly indicative of the success of the Stabilisation Force) and a handful of car-bombs made it through to their targets, although with minimal effect. A group of family members were killed in a drive-by shooting on the outskirts of Mogadishu and a taxi driver working the lucrative Airport Road route was killed by a bomb placed under the driver’s seat of his cab: it seemed that, as terrorism in the city declined, business dispute resolution, Mogadishu-style, was returning.

Female representation in parliament also came to the fore when no female representatives were selected for the Constitutional Review Committee, prompting comment from UN SOM. The Telecoms Bill passed through both houses, meaning the FGS might finally see a share of the massive revenues from that industry (which currently go into private coffers and, allegedly, also in some small part to aS). There was turmoil in HirShabelle State, always the most fragile of the Federal States, when the President was voted out but refused to leave, despite the support of the central government for the process to remove him from office. Convicted pirates were repatriated by India. Another group of prisoners were returned to Mogadishu by South Sudan and were immediately released: unfortunately they turned out to be human traffickers.

aS maintained its campaign to influence the Kenyan election via the media, culminating in the release of a video showing the execution of a Kenyan prisoner. AMISOM and the FGS withdrew from Leego: aS re-occupied the town. A female suicide bomber detonated in the Central Prison in Mogadishu in an attempt to kill her relative, the Commander of the Custodial Corps: she failed. aS continued to suffer losses to strikes: air strikes, drone strikes, Special Forces strikes. The Shadow Governor of Banadir, Ali Jabal, was a significant loss, prompting a eulogy from aQ itself.

Defections continued, including a 19-year medical commander in Hiraan. The defection of Robow, probably prompted by aS’s attempts to finally eliminate him after years of his dithering in the wilderness, was the subject of much conjecture: was he significant? did he actually reject violence or the ideology of the Global Jihad? was there a chance he might destabilise Southwest State, to whom he defected?

The month ended with two more crises. A group of villagers were killed in a joint Somali-US special forces operation, prompting outrage (much of it faux, since it became apparent the group were armed and probably about to engage in a spot of inter-clan violence when they stumbled upon the soldiers). The alleged handover of an Ogaden National Liberation Front leader to the Ethiopian authorities saw indignation reach new levels. Eid al-Adha came and the celebrations were peaceful but the various controversies rumbled on in the background and would likely ripple on into September.

The C Word: Why Robow Matters

Robow speaks to the media at the City Palace Hotel in Mogadishu on Tuesday, swapping the black flag of al-Shabaab for the Somali national flag

ABU MANSOUR MOKHTAR ROBOW, former Deputy Emir of al-Shabaab, entered into discussions with the Federal Government of Somalia this week. In an information vacuum (where, bizarrely, the potential defector seemed to be taking the lead in explaining what was happening), there was much speculation about the significance and even the desirability of negotiating with someone like Robow.

Despite his ideological and military credentials, Robow had become a source of great aggravation to al-Shabaab after he split with the group’s leadership ‘over ideological differences’. For 6 years he inhabited a grey space between al-Shabaab and the Federal Government, a state of limbo where his clan-based personal militia afforded him enough protection to deter al-Shabaab from simply killing him but where, at the same time, his stern refusal to renounce either violence or a broader Nationalist Islamist agenda that transcends a mere organisation like al-Shabaab (an ideology that still receives much tacit support in Somali society) precludes amnesty. This makes his defection to the government challenging to say the least.

It is unclear what turned the uneasy stalemate between Robow and al-Shabaab into open hostilities, with al-Shabaab massing forces in Bakool and launching a series of unsuccessful assaults on Robow’s rural stronghold. Perhaps al-Shabaab received word of Robow’s negotiations with Southwest State and senior members of his clan (Rahanweyn) in the national parliament in Mogadishu. Or perhaps the time had come for someone to rid al-Shabaab of ‘this turbulent priest’. It is unlikely we will ever know since key players in Somalia’s insurgency seldom get to write their memoirs. What we do know is that the attack forced Robowe into the arms of the government, although 19 of Robow’s men didn’t get to join him.

Robow allowed himself to be moved to Mogadishu, his security guaranteed by no less than the Somali Minister of Defence himself (although Robow was, it is rumoured, initially resistant to the move to the capital). Once there he entered a process that some described as a negotiation, others as a debriefing. He spoke to the media at the City Palace Hotel (across the road from the Somali National Intelligence & Security Agency’s headquarters), reading a prepared statement and answering no questions – and, notably, not condemning violence, not rejecting the broader Nationalist Islamist ideology (just the manifestation of it that is al-Shabaab), nor confessing his crimes and seeking forgiveness.

One line of response focussed on the lack of a rejection of violence, the failure to address all those crimes. This wasn’t new: when Atom defected in 2014, there was a similar furore from those who had suffered when his localised dispute with the local government in Puntland merged with al-Shabaab’s parallel antipathy for the Puntland Authorities. But Atom, while deeply religious, was never an ideologue. If anything he was a criminal, a bandit, a gun-runner. It was a relief when he finally said the right things to the media and was re-located to a Gulf State for the rest of his days. When Aweys, who actually was an ideologue, defected, he was not perceived to have blood on his hands. But Robow is both: violent and ideological and, apparently, not yet reconciled.

Atom, 2014 sketch by Our Man on the Horn

For that reason many local commentators and even the worthies at Human Rights Watch, taking advantage of the unique view you get into Somalia from the raised balcony of a coffee shop in an affluent part of northern Nairobi, feel that there must be justice. But justice in Somalia involves a wooden post and some from-the-hip automatic fire. (Reconcile that.) As a Briton and a former British Army officer at that, I can’t help but note that we would still be fighting in Northern Ireland if we had stuck to that line of uncompromising, inflexible ‘justice’. But we aren’t because we found it in ourselves to forgive and to reconcile (however tentatively).

Other commentators conjectured that, while Robow was once a significant figure within al-Shabaab, he was now little more than a propaganda symbol since he had been isolated from the hard core of the group for so long.

And, as is so often the case when international commentators look at Somalia, a deep lack of understanding of how Somalia works is exhibited, coupled with an absence of imagination, a lack of vision as to how Somalia might eventually ‘work’ in the future. And that means ‘The C Word’.


Robow is a Rahanweyn from the sub-clan Leysaan and the sub-sub-clan Orsi. al-Shabaab were well aware of the significance of this: that is why they sent the Shadow Governor of Galgaduud, Sheikh Hassan Yaqcub, to lead the assault on Robowe’s hideout in the hinterland, because he too was a Rahanweyn-Leysaan-Orsi. They were probably also very aware of the predominance of Rahanweyn in the organisation itself, with perhaps more than half of the organisation coming from the clan, at the foot-soldier level at least (although understanding of the demographics of al-Shabaab remains hazy even 11 years after the Ethiopian invasion).

And that is where the real significance of Robowe might lie. If Robow can find it in himself to put aside not just his violent, xenophobic, Nationalist-Islamist agenda, if he can commit to working with the government to rebuild Somali, but, most importantly, if he still has influence over his Rahanweyn clansmen, even a proportion of them, and if he can bring them out with him, then Robow might be the most important defector from al-Shabaab to date.


If you’re about to comment on the Barcelona attacks, pause…

Spanish Flag


If you’re about to comment on Barcelona attack, pause: imagine what the terrorists behind the attack would like you to post.

  • Anti-Islamic? Tick.
  • Anti-immigrant? Tick.
  • Anti-refugee? Tick.
  • This is a war? Tick.
  • A bit of ‘whataboutery’? Our tragedy is greater than your tragedy? Tick.
  • This is the UK’s/the US’s/Europe’s/the Arab governments’ fault? Tick.

Don’t let the terrorists work you like a ventriloquist’s doll. Unless, of course, you enjoy having someone’s hand up your arse.

[This is an updated version of a posting from November 2015, written in the aftermath of the Paris attacks. I suspect I might have cause to update it again. And again. And again.]

Al-Shabaab is a Vital Part of the Global Jihad. No, Really, It Is!


Al-Shabaab spends 53 minutes trying to convince us of its pivotal role in the Global Jihad – and comes out looking like a local insurgency struggling to hold it all together

It is the start of Ramadan in Somalia and that means another gory video from al-Shabaab. (And a spike in assassinations and car bombings in Mogadishu and attacks against the Somali security forces and AMISOM out in the hinterland – although this year, after the President’s ‘declaration of war’ against al-Shabaab, this year might see a spike in a spike.) This year al-Shabaab, through its media outfit, al-Kataib, reminds us of the events in Kulbiyow in Lower Jubba in January of this year, when al-Shabaab fighters clashed with Kenyan Defence Forces serving under the AMISOM banner and al-Shabaab briefly overran the position, killing 67 Kenyan soldiers (al-Shabaab version) or the Kenyan Defence Forces bravely resisted a strong attack (Kenyan government version).

Islam under attack in Palestine and elsewhere

The video follows the standard format of attack products. It sprawls over 53 minutes, of which only 10 minutes is focussed on the attack itself. The remainder is message-laden: a succession of horrific images of atrocities against Muslims (especially Muslim children) in Palestine, Iraq, Libya, Burma, Chechnya, Kashmir, West Africa and Turkmenistan; imagery of US forces (some lifted from ‘Blackhawk Down’, also I suspect al-Shabaab don’t worry much about copyright) and then, right back at you, al-Qa’ida attacks on the US; accusations of atrocities committed by black African Christian troops against Somali Muslims (many Somalis don’t consider themselves to be either black or African in spirit) with special focus on the sexual abuse of Somali women, dutifully supported with words and pictures from Human Rights Watch (made all the more easy by provocative, racially and religiously charged emphasis on lines like ‘he ripped off my hijab and then he attacked me’); and all punctuated by the musings of a diverse group of jihadist thinkers like Sheikh Ahmed Abdirahman, Usama Bin Ladin, Sheikh Qassim al-Rimi, Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Shabaab’s spokesman, Ali Dheere, Abu Yaya Al Libi and Aboud Rogo amongst many others. Many, many others.


Dulyadeyn with his trademark brew mug

A lengthy section focuses on Dulyadeyn, the architect of the Garissa University attack (oddly there is no mention of that), and in whose honour the attack on Kulbiyow was named. (No coincidence that Dulyadeyn was a Somali-Kenyan, either.) He tours the troops, boosting their morale with his mere presence, and lectures them at length with a tea mug attached to his combat jacket (brew theft appears to be an issue in al-Shabaab, even for a notoriously blood-thirsty senior commander).


Conspirators in the war on Islam: Asaad, Putin, Netanyahu, Trump and Kenyatta

Finally, after 27 minutes shaping our perceptions (we now hate the West and the African Union and realise that Muslims are under attack pretty much everywhere – if only there were more people like Dulyadeyn fighting back against Trump, Netanyahu, Putin, Assad, Kenyatta et al, who appear and grinningly shake each others’ hands on what is clearly a deal to kill Muslims), the attack begins.


The camp beds of the heretics must die too

The product lacks the excitement of Janaale or El Adde (even I had twinges of excitement with them – but maybe I’ve been out in the sun too long). But there is gore. Dead bodies are made deader by being shot again and again in the head. The beds in the accommodation tents are shot again and again, which is a pity, since camp beds and sleeping bags are useful things. The camp church is smashed up. Finally, with everyone involved having fired a few rounds into something (even if it was a camp bed), weapons, ammunition and vehicles are commandeered and the fighters depart. (They were probably edgily watching the sky the longer they hung around, although that is obviously omitted.)

So, too, are any casualties, barring a select few. Six ‘martyrs’ are honoured and they are, of course, suitably diverse in terms of clan (even the much-put upon Galgale minor clan are represented – because al-Shabaab is above clan, remember?). One is a Kenyan with a typically non-descript moniker in place of his real name – Abu Naseeba, the father of ‘Lucky’ (although her father apparently wasn’t so lucky). Another is a cameraman – maybe that is why the footage is so limited. Maybe it was the briefness of al-Shabaab’s apparent occupation of the camp before the Kenyans counter-attacked.

A few minutes are filled with Kenyan denials that anything ever happened anywhere and then a lot more time is filled with a further reminder that this is part of the Global Jihad. More stock footage: training, an IED going off in Mogadishu (in 2014). The End.

Yes, the video gets its message across about the Kenyan government claiming there was ‘nothing to see’ in Kulbiyow when there clearly was something to see (and the footage has been verified as being Kulbiyow by the ever-efficient Bellingcat).


Near enough to film but apparently not near enough to shoot

But this is a strangely unsatisfactory product. We see shadowy figures moving maybe a hundred metres away but no-one shoots at them – why not? Why do dead bodies have to be made deader? What threat do camp-beds pose? And a lot of the images in the cascade towards the magic, claimed 67 dead look very similar to ones in other video products, despite maybe being flipped and re-filtered on Photoshop.

That is because this is an edited version of an event: this is propaganda. Or it might be a bit of the event, mixed with other events (the ground we see the troops advancing through changes dramatically on a number of occasions). It might not even be the event.

But the overall effect is that this is too much talking and not enough doing, too many foreign jihadis chipping in their ten shillings/rials/dirhams worth, too much emphasis that this is not about Somalia, this is about Islam under attack and the Global Jihad.

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Abu Naseeba, a not-so-lucky Kenyan Foreign Fighter

Which is a giveaway. The reality is that, inside al-Shabaab, foreigners have never really been welcome. Even members of the Somali Diaspora are viewed as ‘foreign’ (which is why they tend to head to Iraq and Syria these days). These days the ‘Foreign Fighters’ tend to come from the disaffected Muslim community in Kenya. So it is no coincidence that a Kenyan is one of the six selected martyrs.

But this conceals a fracture within al-Shabaab, between Kenyans (and, increasingly, younger Somalis), who genuinely do want to wage Holy War, and a majority whose focus is much closer to home, within the bounds of the fabled ‘Greater Somalia’, and much more akin to a nationalist insurgency driven by the desperate need to control resource than the genuine Global Jihad it claims to part of  – for a painfully dull 53 minutes.