Policy WATCH:Mubarak's Musings
Mubarak's Musings
A Message From The Supreme Leader
By MUBARAK 03/21/2012

Mubarak's Musings is a Somalia Report weekly column published every Wednesday. Follow Mubarak on Twitter, at @somalianalyst.

On Monday an audio message recorded by the al-Shabaab emir (overall commander) Sheikh Ahmed Godane (Abu Zubayr) was released on pro-Shabaab websites. The audio message touched on a number of current issues, shedding light on the leader’s positions on the London Conference, foreign policy, Turkey’s increasing involvement in Somalia.

In the message, Abu Zubayr uses the pronoun “we” to refer to himself in his capacity as the supreme leader of the Shabaab and its final decision-maker, clearly hoping to show that he is in total control in the face of a power struggle within the Shabaab after its merger with al-Qaeda. Abu Zubayr has previously shown that he has the final say in the organization, especially in matters relating to foreign policy. For instance, it was shortly after he had issued a direct warning of retribution to Uganda in 2010 that the World Cup bombings were carried out in Kampala. And despite the unpopularity of some of his positions (such as the merger with al-Qaeda and refusal to hold talks with the government), he has continued as the Shabaab supreme leader and will very likely continue being so in the foreseeable future.

The London Conspiracy

He claims that the London Conference is “one of the conspiracies against the Muslims” and holds the British responsible for settling the Jews in Palestine. In case his Somali audience were more concerned with issues at home, he reminds them of the Britain role in dividing Somalia.

“(Britain) is the state that divided Somalia into five areas, giving an area to Ethiopia and another area to Kenya,” says Abu Zubayr.

Building on the nationalistic tone, Abu Zubayr uses the unpopularity of the Ethiopian and Kenyan invasions of southern Somalia and the proxy states created by those two countries to paint them as part of a bizarre British plot to continue dividing Somalia as they had done in colonial times.

“(Britain) is the state that wants today to destroy the remaining areas (still in Somali control) and give them to Ethiopia and Kenya again," claims Abu Zubayr.

The London Conference included a pledge to create a Joint Financial Management Board (JFMB), which aims to oversee the Somali budget and reduce corruption. It will have international partners, and is thus seen by many Somalis as another nail in the coffin of Somali sovereignty. Abu Zabayr continues with his appeal to any nationalistic audience listening to his message by talking about how the proposed JFMB will give foreigners “not only control of oil and other hidden resources, but also of small sources of income such as seaports,” claiming that this shows how the west is falling into poverty.

The Turks Are In On It

Abu Zubayr goes on to give Turkey a damning indictment, accusing them of being part of the “conspiracy against the Muslim Somali nation.” Turkey, claims Abu Zubayr, is being used as a cover to “the crusade attack against our nation."

“Turkey is being used in sabotaging the return of the Islamic Caliphate as she was used in destroying it," asserts Abu Zubayr, referring to the medieval Ottoman overthrow of the Abbasid Caliphate.

It is interesting that Abu Zubayr brought up the issue of Turkey—a subject he had previously left to lesser clerics—while at the same time not threatening the country's operations in Somalia. This does not mean that the Turks are safe in Mogadishu; students heading to Turkey have been previously targeted by the Shabaab. I've written in this very column aabout how the Shabaab may one day directly attack the Turks, after carefully assessing which aid organisation were most against the principles of Islam.

That day just got closer. If I were the Turks, I would beef up my defenses in Mogadishu.

Ambushing AMISOM

In his next salvo, Abu Zubayr cites the entry of Ethiopia and Kenya into Somalia as proof of the African Union peacekeeping force's (AMISOM) failure to defeat the Shabaab.

Discussing AMISOM's expansion into the suburbs of Mogadishu and their plans to combat them, Abu Zubayr cites what he claims are the problems AMISOM will face.

“The problem they have with logistics is that it is a heavy burden financially and hard operationally. Whenever they move even a foot from their bases, the burden on their troop support system increases; this is not only financial burden but they will also have wounded and dead from the battles they will have to fight to protect their supply lines. This is the problem that is being faced by the Ethiopians, the Kenyans, and AMISOM too," claims Abu Zubayr.

AMISOM doesn't currently have problems in supplying its forward bases, except for the occasional improvised explosive device (IED) attack. There have been no armed ambushes on their supply lines, but this may change if they expand further from Mogadishu into less built-up and non-policed areas where the Shabaab will have a good chance of laying ambushes. Kenyan and Ethiopian supplies are regularly ambushed by the Shabaab.

AMISOM itself has recognized this threat, having requested helicopters ("force enablers," as they call them) to help them in what they say is their "phase two" of their war with the Shabaab.

Abu Zubayr lays out his concept of how the Shabaab intend to win the war against an obviously better armed and better trained enemy: outlast them with unrelenting guerrilla warfare. Historical inaccuracies aside, he does give us insight into the mindset of the Shabaab decision-makers.

“(Guerrilla warfare) was used to defeat the French in Algeria and the Russians in Afghanistan. It brought about the withdrawal of Britain and the Americans from Iraq after seven years. It also brought the withdrawal from Afghanistan —10 years later—of more than 40 Christian countries. (Never mind that the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is still in Afghanistan).

It is warfare that is hard for forces from an invading country that wants to subjugate people in another country. God willing, these men (AMISOM, et al.) will face what is worse than what was faced by the men who sent them (the US and Britain) in Iraq and Afghanistan," vows Abu Zubayr.

Momentous Merger

Next, Abu Zubayr raises the Shabaab-al-Qaeda merger. He tells us that the organization has the same goals and the same enemies as al-Qaeda, and that this shows the unity of Muslims and “however far we are from one another, we are not divided by nationalism, ethnicity, or any other thing."

The merger itself, however, has caused serious divisions within al-Shabaab itself, with Abu Zabayr reportedly clashing with nationalist faction head Mukhtar Robow over the decision to focus on the transnationalist jihadi agenda.

In his statement, Abu Zubayr tells us about the foreign policy implications of the pledge of obedience he gave to al-Qaeda on behalf of the Shabaab.

“That pledge (to Al-Qaeda) has put upon us more responsibility to doubly protect and stand by the oppressed Muslims wherever they are, whether in Palestine, Syria, Chechnya, Kashmir, Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Turkestan. We also have responsibilities for the Muslim prisoners, especially their leaders and scholars such as Sheikh Omar Aburrahman, Khalid Sheikh, Ramzi Yusuf...” Abu Zubayr declared, referring to Islamist leaders imprisoned in the United States on terrorism charges.

The reference to having responsibility for prisoners suggests that the Shabaab may intend in the future to bargain for the release of al-Qaeda prisoners in return for hostages. Kidnap is now a potential future threat to tourists in neighbouring countries, as the Shabaab attempt to prove themselves as part of the al-Qaeda network. They don’t want al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghrib (AQIM—notorious for kidnappings) to show them up.

The Shabaab are a borderless group, despite all the talk about imperialism and protecting Somalia in the earlier part of Abu Zabayr's message.

As Abu Zubayr finishes his homily, we can clearly hear an adhan (call to prayer) in the background. The Shabaab supreme leader was evidently not in those remote areas of Somalia from which he had urged his followers to wage a guerrilla campaign in the very same message.