The Shabab both exploits and worsens poverty
More than 300 people died in a bustling section of Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, Saturday night when two trucks laced with explosives detonated, engulfing the surrounding area in fire.
The attack, which was the deadliest in at least a decade, was so powerful that more than 160 bodies were damaged beyond recognition, according to city’s director of ambulance services who spoke with Reuters.
As emergency response workers and ordinary citizens sift through the rubble, the death toll is expected to rise even further.
Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed denounced the violence and called on the country to come together. He also called for three days of national mourning.
So far, no group has taken credit, but it’s widely suspected that it’s the work of the Shabab, an Islamic terrorist group that has fought for control of the country for more than a decade.
Throughout 2017, more than 771 people have been killed or wounded in the capital through attacks by the Shabab, according to data from the Long War Journal.
The latest attack would represent a new level of carnage for the group, according to The New York Times, and the sophistication of the bombs suggests that it may have had assistance from terror groups like Al-Qaeda.
It may also betray desperation. The Shabab has been pursued with greater focus since the start of the year, when US President Donald Trump expanded the use of drone strikes and special operations missions in the country. Earlier in the year, a drone strike killed a powerful commando, Ali Jabal, which may have degraded the Shabab’s field operations.
As motives are clarified and blame is assigned, one thing is clear: the attack, while shocking in scale, is a common spectacle in Somalia, which has struggled with civil war and insurgencies for nearly three decades. In 2016, there were at least 46 terrorist attacks in Mogadishu alone.
The ongoing instability exists in a country that has weak government institutions, deep cultural schisms, and endemic poverty, according to the UNDP.
Somalia is one of the poorest countries in the world, with more than 73% of the population living below the poverty line, and a youth unemployment rate of around 67%, according to the Borgen Institute. The country is also among the worst places for maternal health, education, and women’s rights, and one in eight children are acutely malnourished throughout the country.
The Shabab both exploits and worsens this poverty.
Young men, with little opportunity for jobs or further education, often turn to the group for income, religious meaning, and a sense of belonging, according to the Counter Extremism Project.
The Shabab offers monthly stipends well above the average per capita annual income of $400, according to the Country Extremism Project.
As one Kenyan recruit told the BBC, “If I had had a job, I would not have gone [to the Shabab.]”
Similar to ISIS, the Shabab has a sophisticated public relations arm that seeks to spread its message and influence the broader culture through social media.
The terrorist group has also obstructed relief efforts throughout the country. For example, aid groups were prevented from reaching those affected by a famine between 2010 and 2012 that ultimately killed more than 258,000 people.
The ongoing conflicts have also made the country more prone to famines and less able to cope with natural disasters. More than 6.2 million people needed humanitarian assistance in the country earlier in the year because of a conflict-fueled famine.
Millions of people have been displaced by the conflict in Somalia, some fleeing to nearby countries such as Kenya, and others fleeing to safer parts of the country.
While the country has moved toward stability in recent years, the Shabab has undermined efforts to improve the economy through its terrorist attacks and intimidation.
Outside of foreign aid, the country does not receive much foreign investment beyond from Turkey, which has been a useful partner for Somalia over the past five years and was one of the first responders after the attack in Mogadishu.
The country’s tourism sector is minimal except for through groups like Untamed Borders, which promotes adventurous trips.
The Shabab seeks to discourage tourism and travel by regularly attacking hotels and popular destinations. In fact, the attack on Saturday was thought to be aimed at the country’s foreign ministry.
By attacking potential sources of revenue, the Shabab tries to suspend economic development and prolong the state of political instability.
Currently, the country receives roughly a third of its GDP through remittances — when family members abroad send money back home. Many banks and countries have, over the years, temporarily or permanently frozen the flow of remittances to the country because of feared connections to terrorism.
While remittances are unlikely to be affected following this latest bombing, the loss of this crucial financial lifeline would almost certainly be a boon to the Shabab, which thrives on economic turmoil.
The Mordi Ibe Foundation campaigns on the Global Goals, which call for an end to extreme poverty.