Has Somalia entered a post-Islamism stage yet?

By Shu’ayb A. Bile

Mogadishu ( PPM) —  For the first since 1969 Somalia may conduct one person, one vote elections. Political alliances are getting formed around issues such as secularism and political Islam. Somalia’s brush with political Islam dates back to 1992, when Al Itihad Islami forces set up a base in Bosaso to control the city and port. As an armed group Al Itihad Islami did not share the goals of Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF), the armed, clan-based group that controlled what was known as Northeast regions before Al Itihad had appeared on the scene.

Al Itihad showed discipline and relied on militias from diverse clan backgrounds in a country that was increasingly becoming defined by clan fiefdoms. The clashes between Al Itihad and SSDF Forces in 1992 foreshadowed what would engulf the rest of Southern Somalia as highly organised, armed, religious groups had begun to pounce at the opportunity to supplant warlordism. The attempt by warlords to shore up their waning influence through funds from the United States to form the Alliance for Counterterrorism faltered in 2006. The Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) decisively defeated the coterie of warlords and challenged the Transitional Federal Government (TNG) then based at Baidoa. UIC forces captured a large swathes of territories in Southern Somalia. Their rhetoric that the Transitional Federal Government was “a puppet of Ethiopia”  galvanised many young men into joining UIC campaigns. The attempt on the life of the former TFG President Abdullahi Yusuf in Baidoa and the declaration of war against Ethiopia served to undermine the growing sympathy many people had had for UIC. A two-year war between TFG forces and Ethiopian Army on one side against UIC under the muqawama (resistance) rubric came to an end in 2009, when the Alliance for the Reliberation of Somalia and TFG signed an agreement in Djibouti. The agreement stipulated the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops, paved the way an enlarged parliament, the resignation of Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed and election of Sharif Sheikh Ahmed in Djibouti as the TFG President.

President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed was in power for three years and eight months, making the TFG the longest-serving post-1991 transitional administration (2004-2012). President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud ( in power from September 2012 to February 2017) unseated him to lead a permanent government for the first time since 1991. During preparations for 2017 elections Sharif Sheikh Ahmed campaigned on anti-corruption platform and pledged to return to government coffers public properties that the politicians of the incumbent administration illegally sold or misappropriated. Both Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and Hassan Sheikh Mohamud are now united under the Forum for National Parties. Is this a sign that a segment of Somali Islamists have entered post-Islamism stage? According to Professor Asef Bayat Post-Islamism“refers to a political and social condition where, following a phase of experimentation, the appeal, energy, and sources of legitimacy of Islamism get exhausted even among its once-ardent supporters. Islamists become aware of their system’s anomalies and inadequacies as they attempt to normalize and institutionalize their rule.” SomaliIslamists’ evolution fits Professor Bayat’s definition of Post-Islamism. Unlike Saudi Arabia, the exporter of Salafi school of thought to Somalia, where a deal between monarchy and religious leaders leaves politics to the domain of the monarchy, Somalia is does not have a political arrangement that can prevent Islamists’ political programme falling into the hands of extremists. “Religion has become an aspect of the political marketplace in Somalia. It divides Somalis more than rival clan interests do” said a political analyst in Mogadishu.

Somali post-Islamists political programme comes across as incendiary. They have a tendency to simultaneously appeal to clan and religious sentiments to bolster their political capital.

The Somali post-Islamist politicians’ hope lies inreviving old alliances on which UIC was built. Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, the former UIC leader, banks on support of former colleagues active in politics of which Jubaland President Ahmed Madobe is prominent. Mukhtar Robow, though still in active in politics following the disastrous attempt to contest South West elections, remains an ally of Sharif Sheikh Ahmed’s. The 2021 elections pose formidable challenges to the Somali transition from fragile status to democratic governance.

© Puntland Post Monthly, 2020

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