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Is Al-Shabab still a threat?

As is the case for the terrorist group al-Shabab, its members ambushed a bus on the Kenya-Somalia border yesterday and true to form, they asked the Muslims to separate from the Christians.  That was the same tactic they used during the Westgate shopping centre attack which killed 68 people and the Garissa University attack in which 147 people lost their lives.  However, they could not bring their macabre plan to fruition yesterday because the Muslim passengers on board the bus refused to comply with the orders of an organisation that many say is all but Islamic.

“If you want to kill us, then kill us.  There are no Christians here,” some of the passengers were reported to have said. And their brave action saw the gunmen running away, even if they promised to return.

Al-Shabab, which means the youth, is indeed the youth branch of the now defunct Union of Islamic Courts, which used to control the Somali capital of Mogadishu in 2006.  At first, it obtained support in the war-torn country, which had not had an effective government for more than 20 years, when it promised to provide Somalis with security.  It started losing credibility five years later in 2011 when it refused western food aid during the drought and famine the country went through.

At the same time, things had started to change in the country.  Law and order was returning thanks to the African Union sending troops in the war-torn country to restore peace.  Kenya, which provided a lot more soldiers, has found itself to be the target of the terrorist group which is rapidly losing ground in Somalia.  These days, it is mainly found in rural areas where it is again being driven out.

For Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, the president of the Federal Republic of Somalia, al-Shabab needs to be made “irrelevant.”  For that, as well as military cooperation with the African Union and the United States, the government has introduced a “back to school” campaign in order to put paid to two decades of disruption in the schooling of young Somalis. For the president, this “will be another blow to the extremists’ ability to recruit vulnerable youth.”

The plan seems to be working, but it might be a little early to think that al-Shabab has been defeated.  While they have lost territories in Somalia, they are gaining some in Kenya, especially in Mombassa among the large and often poor Muslim communities.

So while it is good for the Kenyan interior cabinet secretary to reaffirm once again that Kenyans were “not separated by religion” before commending the action of the Muslim passengers, Kenya needs to devise better strategies if it wants to defeat the group.

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