An acrimonious power struggle among Somalia’s leaders is opening the way for Islamist militants to step up their insurgency against the government, said the African Union peacekeeping force.
Military offensives in the capital Mogadishu and in the south of the country earlier this year appeared to put al Shabaab rebels on the back foot, but there are concerns a lack of political leadership is now letting them regroup.
“The disunity among top government officials is an opportunity for the opposition forces to take root,” Major Paddy Ankunda, spokesman for the AMISOM peacekeeping troops, told Reuters.
Two peacekeepers and four civilians were killed in the last 24 hours, officials said.
The 9,000-strong peacekeeping force is effectively all that prevents the al Qaeda-affiliated rebels from overthrowing the Western-backed government whose mandate ends in August. Ankunda said an extra 3,000 troops would be deployed soon.
They will face militants determined to avenge the death of al Qaeda’s leader Osama bin Laden, at a time when Somalia’s politicians are distracted by political wrangling.
President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed has extended his term of office, as has the parliament, whose speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden harbours presidential ambitions.
Neither the executive nor legislative recognise the other’s extension.
“GOING TO BE MESSY”
Several al Shabaab commanders held a rare news conference on Wednesday in rebel-held Afgoye, about 30 km (20 miles) from Mogadishu, and said bin Laden’s killing by U.S. special forces would not discourage them.
“We tell (President Barack) Obama and the United States that only one out of hundreds of Osamas died. We shall redouble the jihad,” American national Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki told reporters, shouldering an automatic rifle.
President Ahmed has been widely criticised at home and by regional allies and donors for failing to rein in the insurgency and push through political reforms. Some speculate the government might implode if the president and speaker remain at loggerheads.
“I don’t think we will have anything that will resemble a consensual way forward. I think we are going to have a fight and I think it is going to be messy. My fear is that this could even turn violent and the government collapses,” said Rashid Abdi, Somalia analyst at the International Crisis Group.
In the past few days, Somali government soldiers appear to have been deployed in the mortar-pocked city’s streets and outside hotels known as meeting places for lawmakers.
Somalia’s police chief has warned that the government must approve all rallies or political meetings. Many lawmakers and residents believe Ahmed is trying to repress political discussion to thwart his rival’s presidential aspirations.
“The government has poured all its forces into the streets just to silence us. I am afraid no soldier is in the frontline to fight back at al Shabaab, whose mouth is now watering,” said local elder Hassan Kassim.