Terror Reign in Somalia
Al-Shabaab is an insurgent and militant group based mainly in Somalia. It has close relations with Al-Qaeda. For more than a decade now, al-Shabaab and the Somali government have been fighting in the Somali Civil War. Al-Shabaab’s terror reign in Somalia needs to end by combatting the economic instability and poverty that allow it to continue.

Al-Shabaab’s Origin

Al-Shabaab emerged in 2006 as a splinter group of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) that had taken control of Mogadishu and de facto control of Somalia from the Somalia government. In response, the Somali government backed an Ethiopian invasion that defeated the ICU. The Somali people’s resentment of the Ethiopian invasion and the ICU defeat led to an opening for al-Shabaab and its terror reign in Somalia.

By 2008, al-Shabaab took control of southern Somalia and gained dominance by seizing multiple territories throughout the country. In 2012, al-Shabaab officially aligned itself with Al-Qaeda and became Al-Qaeda’s representative in East Africa.

Poverty Leads to Recruitment and Abduction

A lack of economic stability drives terrorism in Somalia. Al-Shabaab capitalizes on the fact that poverty, unfortunately, aids the recruitment of militant groups. Since about 67% of Somali youth are unemployed, many young men join militant and insurgent groups like al-Shabaab. Al-Shabaab provides a monthly salary that exceeds the average Somali per capita annual income of  $400. Teenagers that are 14 years old and younger are al-Shabaab recruits. In fact, 70% of al-Shabaab’s recruits are under the age of 24 and the median age for recruits is 17.

In addition to this, children between the ages of nine to 15 have been forcibly recruited into al-Shabaab. Since 2017, al-Shabaab has abducted children, predominantly from pastoral and rural areas, to be frontline fighters. Al-Shabaab also forced Islamic teachers and elders in Somalia to recruit children from school and arm them with military-grade weapons.

Famine and Drought Displacement Led to Al-Shabaab’s Recruitment

The Somali government’s lack of response to famine and drought has also allowed al-Shabaab to exploit poverty in Somalia. In May 2022, the United Nations Refugee Agency reported that the 2.97 million Somalis displaced due to drought, violence and food shortages led to extreme overcrowding in refugee camps. Refugee camps are often used as hunting and recruiting grounds for terrorist groups such as Al-Shabaab since they are remote and far away from authorities like police officers.

Support from the United States and the International Rescue Committee (IRC)

After President Trump withdrew all military support from Somalia, in May 2022, President Biden redeployed special forces into the country to help assist the Somali government in its war against al-Shabaab. He also approved a Pentagon request to target specific al-Shabaab leaders as part of the counterterrorism strategy.

In addition to the renewed United States support in the fight against Al-Shabaab’s reign of terror, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) is one organization that is currently helping Somalis get back on their feet economically from the effects of war, drought and food shortages. Since 1981, Somalia’s been receiving aid from the IRC which supports 280,000 Somalis annually.

Since drought is a huge issue, the IRC launched the Building Resilient Communities in Somalia to help educate families about disaster preparedness and financial resilience. These IRC programs mainly target female-led households so that females can learn how to build financial resilience during catastrophes, especially droughts. More than 1,400 Somali families received emergency cash for basic needs from the IRC. The organization has also provided business start-up grants and entrepreneurship training.

Looking Ahead

If Somalia cannot resolve its economic instability, al-Shabaab probably cannot be successfully defeated. Severe poverty is one of the primary reasons why so many young men join al-Shabaab. Joining an insurgent group should never have to be in any child’s future. Children in Somalia deserve better. They deserve a stronger and safer future where al-Shabaab no longer exists and economic instability is no longer a problem for their nation. The support from the U.S. and the IRC should help put Somalia in a better position to combat both poverty and al-Shabaab’s terror reign.

– Yonina Anglin
Photo: Flickr

Help People in Somalia
It is no secret that the countries most affected by climate change are the least equipped to combat the implications. Much of Somalia is dependent on livestock and agriculture, and more than half the population is now in dire need of humanitarian assistance after two seasons of poor rainfall. There have been many causes of poverty in Somalia that have left the country unable to aid its own citizens — in fact, the U.N. estimates a need for $864 million to assist 3.9 million people.


Leading Causes of Poverty in Somalia


The War on Hunger

Famine looms as a very viable threat. In just 48 hours, 110 people died from starvation and drought-related illness in rural Somalia. The drought is more severe in the country’s rural regions. Many Somalis from these areas took to the road out of necessity. Somalia’s capital city of Mogadishu offers feeding centers and food distribution.

Like most, Fadumo Abdi Ibrahim made the 30km journey on foot with her nine-month-old malnourished son in arms. While she was fortunate to complete the trek, others were not so lucky. “We found several bodies of children on the road,” Ibrahim said. The malnourished children died in their mothers’ arms; mothers too weak to carry the small corpses the rest of the way.

Like Ibrahim, Somalia travelled a long and challenging road to arrive at its current state of affairs. There are many causes of poverty in Somalia. The following are a few of the most significant.

In the early 1980s, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank instigated an intervention in Somalia and imposed economic and agricultural reforms in hopes of spurring development.

In theory, macroeconomic development seems reasonable.

POVERTIES is an online publication reporting social scientific research and information on economic development, public policy, human rights and discrimination. One article helps to simplify the damages of neoliberal reforms. The neoliberal ideology consistently follows a pattern of “currency devaluation for cheap exports and cheap labor, trade liberalization by opening the borders to world trade (and to global competitors), reducing budget deficits through massive cuts in the public sector and reduction of social services.”

Somali met with many of these consequences thanks to the IMF’s reformations. Unemployment, extremely limited wages and higher food prices proved among the most punishing.


Growing Dependency

Somalia was largely self-sufficient in food until the 1970s. Its economy was based on an exchange relationship between herdsmen and agriculturalists. The IMF’s economic reforms undermined these fragile relationships, victimizing food distribution and the agricultural economy.

Since the collapse of the country’s last government in 1991, social and political order in Somalia presents itself in the form of clans. The situation has proved surprisingly less violent than expected. Most conflict, however, is rooted in land and water resources. There is a necessary method within this madness: for many Somalis, access to such resources is dependent on their clan — that is, if they have a clan at all.

Again, the causes of poverty in Somalia are countless, but the IMF and the loss of a centralized government certainly caused the greatest damage.

Somalia’s traditional pastoral economy presented itself as the perfect project for modernization, but forced reformation led the population towards a fight for survival. The reforms devastated Somalia’s agricultural sector, and war and civil war further strained essential resources (as well as other factors too numerous to list).

When the rain stopped, the entire population was at the mercy of drought, with no centralized government to provide relief from impending famine.

The fate of more than half of all Somalis now lies in the hands of foreign and humanitarian aid. Somalia and its citizens like Ibrahim have fought to make it this far on a challenging journey; the question is, will help be waiting to greet them?

Sophie Nunnally

Photo: Flickr