Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, in his New Year’s Day speech Sunday, declared the country will eliminate al-Shabab Islamist militants this year.
Mohamud’s all-out war against the group, declared last year, has succeeded in pushing the militants out of some areas under their control. The president also said Somalia would also take over security operations from African Union peacekeepers in Somalia by the end of 2024.
The Somali National Army’s recent success against al-Shabab, achieved with the help of allied local militia in central Somalia, has attracted regional and international attention due to its homegrown approach in fighting terrorism.
Mohamud has been trying to rally Somalis behind the government, and in his speech he referred to al-Shabab as Khawaarji, a term referring to a person who deviates from the path of Islam.
Mohamud said that Somalis have taken a stand against Khawaarij regardless of where they live, and that this battle is in progress and is nearing completion. He said it was his hope that Somalia will be prosperous and peaceful in 2023.
Ahmed Abdisalam, former deputy prime minister and current director of HornCenter, a Somali-based research and policy center, applauded the president’s promise for the government to take over all security duties from African Union peacekeepers.
Abdisalam said the president’s annual address should be welcomed, as security is the country’s greatest concern. He said it was great for the president to provide a timeline for when he will take responsibility for security.
However, Abdullahi Gafow, a Mogadishu based political analyst, is skeptical about Mohamud’s pledges.
Gafow said that, after listening to the speech given by the president, he found there was no difference between this speech and the previous speeches that had been given by previous presidents, in that they all stated they would plan to assume responsibility for security from the African Union. He said that therefore, nothing has changed.”
Gafow added that the withdrawal of African Union forces is complicated by the fact that Somalia is still under a U.N. arms embargo, an obstacle that limits the capacity of Somalia’s security forces.
AU peacekeeping forces have been serving in Somalia since 2007 and have been crucial in protecting government strongholds.