Tuesday, May 21, 2019
Wardheer News
  • Opinion

Robow: From Wanted Terrorist to Political Candidate

By Hassan M. Abukar

“It makes no sense that Ali Dheere (an Al-Shabaab spokesman) wants to chase me in the bushes and PM Kheyre doesn’t want me in Baidoa,” Robow said. Both men he mentioned belong to the same clan.

* * *

Mukhtar Robow, the political candidate

Mukhtar Robow, former leader of the Al-Shabaab terror group, recently announced his candidacy for the President of the South West (SW) regional state in Somalia. Last year, he surrendered to the Somali government and renounced violence.

Robow went to Baidoa ten days ago where he was well received. However, a few days after his announcement, the Somali federal government denounced his candidacy and castigated him as unfit to run for office, stating that the requirements for lifting his past international sanction have not yet been met.

The issue of Robow’s candidacy is as complex as Somalia’s political landscape. It highlights the Somali government’s incompetence in formulating and implementing policies, its failure to speak in one credible voice, and in the dubious role played by competing interests, both foreign and domestic.

Who’s in charge?

It’s not clear how Robow — who has been under the protection and
watchful eye of the Somali federal government security forces — left  Mogadishu in a plane and landed in Baidoa, the seat of the SW regional government, without the full knowledge of top leaders in the federal government.

It was the Ministry of Security, not the Council of Ministers, that issued the statement banning Robow from running for public office. The document bears no name and no signature.

“It appears to be authentic, but poorly presented,” an anonymous former official of the Ministry of Security told me.

Through all this, Villa Somalia, the seat of the presidency, has remained silent. This chaotic bureaucratic bungling is common for the current administration, and it begs the question: Who is actually in charge of the government? We all remember the handing over of Colonel Abdikarim Qalbi-dhagax, a Somali citizen, to Ethiopia last year and the ensuing chaos of who was to blame for the debacle.

For the past few days, the government has been in damage control mode. Prime Minister Hassan Kheyre has vowed to investigate the Robow matter. Why Prime Minister Kheyre did not initially object to Robow’s candidacy is puzzling. It could be due to domestic pressure from certain groups, an issue we will address later. Being reactive rather than proactive has been the norm for the current Somali government.

Competing interests

Robow in his Al-Shabaab years

Competing foreign and domestic interests are at odds in Robow’s case.

 The U.S. continues to play a major role in Somalia’s war against Al-Shabaab. The country had placed a $5 million bounty on the head of Robow and his former colleagues in the terror group. Last year, American officials were intimately involved in Robow’s surrender to the Somali government and the terms of his protection and safety in Mogadishu.

The Americans must have been in the loop regarding the decision to let Robow run for office.  American officials have been meeting regularly with elders from the SW region to learn about the possibility of the former rebel leader running for office. According to reliable sources in the SW, the elders have supported Robow’s candidacy, believing he would be an agent of change, especially in ameliorating security conditions in their region. They came out of these meetings, believing Robow had the blessing of the U.S.

It is not inconceivable for the U.S. to endorse former militant leaders to become part of the political process. It happened in Afghanistan, with such leaders as Hikmatyar, Rabbani, and Haqqani, as well as in Iraq, with the likes of Muqtada al-Sadr. It also happened in Somalia, when Sheikh Sharif, the former leader of the Union of the Islamic Courts, was captured and released, and later became President of Somalia. And then there is the case of Ahmed Madobe, the former rebel leader, who once was the number two man in Al-Shabaab, and has been the President of Jubbaland State for the past six years.

Perhaps the U.S. views Robow as someone who can bring stability to the volatile SW region, where al-Shabaab is mostly in control. He might be a better alternative than Sharif Hassan, the current leader of the region. Robow may know how to deal with Al-Shabaab because he is well-versed in their tactics and inner workings. He also has one advantage: most of the foot soldiers of Al-Shabaab belong to his Rahanweyn clan.

The U.S. has security interests in the SW; it uses the Ballidoogle airfield to combat Al-Shabaab. Recently, a North Carolina company was awarded a $12 million-dollar to upgrade and expand the airfield, which in the future might serve as an alternative to the American base in Djibouti.

Is the U.S. against Robow’s candidacy? It doesn’t seem so because the issue of his candidacy, as outlined above, has been discussed with Somali federal leaders and SW elders for a long time.

Where do neighboring countries (Ethiopia and Kenya) stand on Robow?

It is difficult to gauge where Ethiopia stands. The current regime in Addis Ababa, under the leadership of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, may be neutral on Robow’s candidacy because it has more pressing internal issues, such as ethnic violence and regional unrest. The previous regime before Ahmed, however, was more attuned to supporting and bolstering President Sharif Hassan. It may be that the nation’s foreign policy will not change direction drastically and that Addis Ababa might be apprehensive about having Robow lead an important, strategic, and neighboring Somali regional state, such as the South West.

On the other hand, Ethiopia may not see Robow or his former Al-Shabaab group, as a major threat. Ethiopia and Al-Shabaab continue to coexist peacefully. Al-Shabaab does not target Ethiopia nor does it engage in terrorist acts inside Ethiopia, and the Ethiopian forces deliberately avoid engaging in battles with Al-Shabaab. In a way, there is an unwritten agreement between the two entities. Sometimes, Ethiopian troops inside Somalia peacefully withdraw from certain towns, and Al-Shabaab fighters move in, thereby resulting in no clashes between their forces.

Kenya differs from Ethiopia because it has serious problems with Al-Shabaab. There are constant Al-Shabaab bombings inside its territory. Moreover, Kenya has thousands of troops inside Somalia. However, the idea that Kenya has enough power to pressure the Somali federal government regarding Robow’s candidacy is tenuous.

Business and tribal interests

Robow at Baidoa airport

The role of business conglomerates or tribal groups in Somali politics cannot be underestimated. Sometimes these two groups overlap. This is especially obvious in the Lower Shebelle region, where various clan militias have been fighting and vying for power. Some of these clans are intricately aligned with President Sharif Hassan, who has given them the authority to operate checkpoints on the roads that connect Marka and Afgooye to Mogadishu.

These checkpoints are lucrative, generating millions of dollars, and they are controlled by rogue members of the Somali national army, business/tribal groups, or Al-Shabaab. The business and tribal groups want to maintain the status quo, and they see Robow’s candidacy as a clear, and present danger to their interests. Robow has vowed to close down all the checkpoints in the SW region, especially those in the Lower Shebelle.

Some say Prime Kheyre is responding to pressure from some of these business and tribal groups that have expressed their displeasure at Robow’s candidacy. Some of the stakeholders of this business/tribal group control the air transportation sector between Baidoa and Mogadishu because the roads are not under the government’s control. The veracity of these reports remains to be seen.

What’s next?

Next month, it will be interesting to see if Robow stays in the race. The head of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISA) was in Baidoa recenly negotiating with Robow to force him to withdraw from the race. Robow adamantly rejected this suggestion, saying that he had met with President Farmajo to discuss the matter. Moreover, he said his candidacy is for the people of the SW region to decide.

The federal government is in a bind. Robow has become a celebrity due to Mogadishu’s decision to bar him from running for office. The NISA delegation that met him were confronted by armed people willing to defend the former rebel group. Robow has told some of the SW elders he is confounded by a leadership that can not speak with one voice. It is the same federal government that has given him a diplomatic passport to travel to Saudi Arabia for a pilgrimage and gave him an official Interpol Clearance letter.

The current president of the SW, Sharif Hassan, is reveling in the political quagmire surrounding Robow’s candidacy because he does not want elections to take place in November. Any delay in the elections is a sure extension of his term. There are also other reports he may not be a candidate.

There are ten members of the Federal Parliament in Mogadishu from the SW region who are candidates for the President of the SW. Former president Hassan Sheikh and his opposition group have their candidate in Farkeeto, the former Finance Minister. Some in the federal government have an alternative candidate other than Robow: Abdiaziz Hassan “Lafta Gareen,” a parliamentarian. The head of NISA, who has resigned, is also a possible candidate. The current president of the SW, Sharif Hassan, is reveling with the political quagmire surrounding Robow’s candidacy because he does not want elections taking place in November. Any delay of the elections is a sure extension of his term.

Robow has been a quick hand in politics. His candidacy has mobilized a segment in the SW that is disenchanted with the way the region is governed. He has called for women to be included in the Election Commission. His speeches have tapped into the sentiments of those who want security in their region and see any federal interference in their affairs as an affront.

“It makes no sense that Ali Dheere (an Al-Shabaab spokesman) wants to chase me in the bushes and PM Kheyre doesn’t want me in Baidoa,” Robow said. Both men he mentioned belong to the same clan.

Regardless of what happens, Robow’s candidacy is a nightmare for the SW region, which has many highly qualified politicians with no history of blood on their hands. It was a coup for the Somali people to see one of the top leaders of Al-Shabaab defect and denounce his old colleagues, but to reward him with political leadership is a travesty. One only has to look at the example of Ahmed Madobe, also a former rebel leader, who hasn’t been able to drive Al-Shabaab from Jubbaland.  Besides, don’t these former terrorists ever ask for forgiveness from the Somali people and the families of the people they had killed?

The ideal situation is to require former terrorist leaders like Robow to take part in rehabilitation programs before they can assume office. It would be wise to introduce a requirement that all Somali leaders with a violent past be banned from running for or holding office until they prove they have been rehabilitated. Until that happens, Somalia will be populated with dubious characters in its political landscape—men like Robow, Madobe, and some former warlords in parliament with a similar violent past.

Hassan M. Abukar

Hassan M. Abukar is a writer, a contributor to Wardheernews, and the author of Mogadishu Memoir. He can be reached at: [email protected].

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Related Articles

THE DEFECTION OF ROBOW  By WardheerNews

A HIGH-VALUED SOMALI NATIONAL TERRORIST IS APPREHENDED By WardheerNews

 


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