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Somalia’s new Tubsan Center strives to secure alliances to counter al-Shabaab violent extremism

Tuesday March 26, 2024
By Isel Ras

Somalia’s new Tubsan Center strives to secure alliances to counter al-Shabaab violent extremism

Somalia’s new Tubsan Center strives to secure alliances to counter al-Shabaab violent extremism © Copyright (c) Daily Maverick , All Rights Reserved

Security in Somalia has deteriorated in recent months in the face of rising al-Shabaab attacks. Until recently, military operations, new counter-terrorism legislation and the work of the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (Atmis) had led to improvements, with extremists losing a third of their territory.

In August 2022, the federal government and clan militias launched Operation Black Lion in response to clan uprisings in the central regions. The offensive — supported by foreign actors — led to the recapture of key territories from al-Shabaab, such as Hirshabelle and Galmudug. However, al-Shabaab has clawed its way back into these spaces in recent months. The next phase of Black Lion aims to strengthen Somali forces by deploying additional troops from neighbouring countries.

Somalia must deal with the challenges of recruitment and radicalisation by al-Shabaab, and the prospect that some combatants may defect. Strategies that go beyond security measures are needed, especially since Black Lion’s second phase is expected to result in more defections. Such strategies should focus on rehabilitation, reintegration and prevention of violent extremism.

The Tubsan National Center for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism was established in Somalia last year with these goals in mind. With around 30 employees, the centre operates as an interagency government institution. Deputy Director Ibrahim Nadara has personal experience as a former extremist who defected from al-Shabaab in 2016.

A Tubsan official, who requested anonymity, says the centre collaborates with over 21 federal and state agencies to implement the recently finalised strategy against terrorism, which should be rolled out this year. Tubsan’s ‘soft’ approach prioritises preventive measures such as community engagement, strategic communications, promoting defections, and running disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programmes for former combatants.

Tubsan is also the central point for developing and coordinating partnerships with regional and international stakeholders, including the International Organization for Migration, Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund, Somali Police Force and National Intelligence and Security Agency.

An independent security expert providing technical support to Tubsan emphasised its pivotal role in Somalia. She says the centre aims to improve partnerships while conducting research and analysis to understand the drivers of terrorism. This will inform targeted strategies tailored to Somalia’s needs.

However, the centre faces various challenges in its early stages of development, compounded by the scale of Somalia’s security and governance problems. The issues are threefold, says the Tubsan official. First, as a new initiative in Somalia, the centre operates in uncharted parts of the country and must keep up with evolving extremist tactics. Second, Tubsan employees face threats from al-Shabaab, and third, Somalia’s national strategy requires more resources to become fully operational and succeed.

Yurub Waberi, Chairwoman of Payforward Academy, a civil society organisation working on education in Somalia, says coordination with government institutions and Federal Member States will be vital. While the appointment of federal state representatives is promising, clear roles for preventing and countering terrorism are still needed. Collaboration with local communities who know the context is also essential, Waberi says.

Omar Mahmood, Senior Analyst at the International Crisis Group’s Kenya office, says it’s too early to evaluate Tubsan’s effectiveness. However, one challenge lies in coordination, as certain activities related to countering extremism were previously managed by the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs. How these entities collaborate will be crucial for success, he says.

Growing recruitment challenges

Regarding Tubsan’s Strategic Communications pillar, Mahmood says Somalia’s struggle extends beyond countering al-Shabaab’s narratives. The government is engaged in a competition for the hearts and minds of Somalia’s people — and struggles to expand its presence beyond urban areas. This grants al-Shabaab operational space.

Most al-Shabaab recruitment is rural and clan-based rather than purely voluntary, indicating a less ideological nature. Defections have minimal impact on the movement’s strength, however, as recruitment is ongoing, says Mahmood.

Mahmood says the centre could counter some of al-Shabaab’s narratives if properly coordinated within the Somali government and supported by local outreach, but that’s just one part of a broader strategy. And the government’s struggle with al-Shabaab extends beyond what Tubsan alone can address.

Despite the substantial challenges, Tubsan could distinguish itself by recognising the need for collaboration with local actors, including traditional and religious leaders. This would improve trust and engagement between communities and security forces, alongside efforts to enhance education and awareness about the risks of extremism.

Tubsan’s approach aligns with Somalia’s commitment to the United Nation’s goals of prioritising local ownership, adopting a holistic approach, fostering collaboration, and focusing on long-term measures to prevent violent extremism.

The centre’s collaboration with external entities and internal governmental departments underscores its commitment to countering terrorism. Political will must remain steadfast in addressing the drivers and narratives of extremism, extending beyond urban areas to encompass the entire country.

To truly alleviate the drivers of violent extremism, Tubsan’s mandate will eventually need to broaden to tackle underdevelopment, socio-economic marginalisation and human rights abuses by security forces. DM


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