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The interim president of Somalia, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, was attacked in his armored convoy on May 28 by the al-Qeada associated group al-Shabab. The attack lasted about thirty minutes, until the African Union troops accompanying the president were forced to fire shells. According to the BBC, one Somali government soldier was killed and four were wounded in the attack. The president arrived at his destination unscathed.
The president was attacked on the Afgoye corridor near Elashu while taking a rare trip out of the capital city Mogadishu. This corridor has nearly 400,000 refugees, the world’s largest concentration of displaced people, who were forced to flee from violence attributed to criminal gangs and militia in 2007 and 2008. The president’s visit was prompted by the victory of African Union and interim governmental forces on May 25 over the al-Shabab stronghold of Afgoye.
The battle for Afgoye lasted four days and is largely considered a great victory for the Somali government and the African Union. Al-Shabab often used Afgoye as a place to launch attacks at Mogadishu, because of its proximity. The town is on a strategic crossroads that allows access to the north, west, and south of Somalia, making this particular loss a huge blow to al-Shabab. It is now likely that the members of al-Shabab are hiding in the nearby villages and farmlands. Al-Shabab has been terrorizing Somalia since 1991, when the last central government failed.
The relative instability of Somalia after the fall of its last government is what has allowed for the presence of piracy and al-Shabab control. Until the election of August 2000, Somalia was without an established government. Since then there have been several presidents who have all tried to regain control of the country from al-Shabab and have succeeded at varying degrees. Recently, President Ahmed has had great success with the removal of al-Shabab from Afgoye and the reconstruction going on in Mogadishu.
However, there are still other groups in northern Somalia that have added to the instability. Somaliland and Puntland are two areas that claim they are independent of the Republic of Somalia and have tried several times to create their own representational government or constitutional democracy. Although Somaliland has remained relatively stable it still has border disputes with Puntland and neither country is recognized by the global community.
Although al-Shabab has been defeated twice now in only a week’s time, it still maintains its hope for the end of the Somali government. A pro-Shabab website claimed that the attack was against “the head of the enemy” and that Sharif had taken refuge behind “African Union troops and white gunmen for safety.” The group also claims that the retreat from Afgoye was a strategic one and that they will be back.
African Union troops have been essential to maintaining the stability and protection of the government in Somalia. Other entities have also aided at certain times, such as the United Nations and the United States. The intervention by the United States resulted in the loss of several soldiers, most widely known from the film “Black Hawk Down.” After this failure, the US was reluctant to engage in other African affairs, such as the genocide in Rwanda.
The African Union has been the most involved in the stability of Somalia and seems to be making progress. Last year the AU, in tandem with Somali government troops, was responsible for ejecting al-Shabab fighters from Mogadishu. These same troops are those who took Afgoye and protected the president from this most recent attack. African Union forces are stationed in the capital city of Mogadishu, Ethiopian soldiers are in the south and west of the country, and Kenyan and AU soldiers also patrol the south of the nation.
There has been a presence of at least 12,000 Kenyan soldiers in the south of Somalia since October 2011. Al-Shabab has promised to exact revenge against Kenya for its presence in its country. Some believe that the group is responsible for the bombing at a busy shopping complex in Nairobi, Kenya on May 28 that injured 33 people. The Prime Minister of Kenya called this attack a “heinous act of terrorism.” Additionally, Kenya blames al-Shabab for several kidnappings and for the destabilizing of its border region.