After Westgate: opportunities and challenges in the war against Al-Shabaab



    1. Associate Professor of International Affairs at the George Washington University.
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    • Research for this article was supported by a SOAR Award from the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University.


The attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, in September 2013 intensified international scrutiny of the war against Harakat Al-Shabaab Mujahideen (Movement of the Warrior Youth). This article analyses the current state of affairs with reference to the three principal sets of actors in this war: Al-Shabaab, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and its international partners, and the various actors currently involved in building the Somali Federal Government's security forces. It argues that although the newly reconfigured Al-Shabaab poses a major tactical threat in Somalia and across the wider Horn of Africa, the movement is becoming a less important actor in Somalia's national politics. As Al-Shabaab loses territory and its popularity among Somalis continues to dwindle, other clan- and region-based actors will become more salient as national debates over federalism, the decentralization of governance mechanisms beyond Mogadishu and the place of clannism will occupy centre stage. As a consequence, AMISOM's principal roles should gradually shift from degrading Al-Shabaab towards a broader stabilization agenda: encouraging a national consensus over how to build effective governance structures; developing an effective set of Somali National Security Forces; and ensuring that the Federal Government delivers services and effective governance to its citizens, especially beyond Mogadishu in the settlements recently captured from Al-Shabaab. As it stands, however, AMISOM is not prepared to carry out these activities. More worryingly, nor is the Somali Federal Government.