Somalia: Al-Shabab’s Complex Relationship with Civilians: Research reports

Published: August 3, 2023

New Research reports finds the Somali militant group provides governance, services, and justice to gain support.

The relationship between Al-Shabab and civilians is complex and goes beyond just violence. The group provides governance, services, and justice in areas under its control to gain support new research finds.

Al-Shabab exploits grievances against the government and plays clan politics to its advantage. It co-opts clan elders into its governance structures to gain legitimacy.

The terms of life under Al-Shabab control vary across locales. Civilians have some ability to influence the group through bargaining, but this depends on factors like clan unity, history with Al-Shabab, and an area’s strategic value, according new reports from Hiraal Institute.

Military pressure affects civilian relations. Al-Shabab makes more concessions to civilians when under threat, but imposes harsher rules when dominant.

In response to recent territorial losses, Al-Shabab is employing a conciliatory political strategy, signing deals with clans and avoiding civilian targeting.

The government has struggled to retain control of newly captured areas and build local civilian relations. Al-Shabab is playing a long game, betting the government will fail to consolidate control.

Understanding Al-Shabab’s sophisticated engagement with civilians and clan politics is key to countering the group over the long term. Military gains may prove ephemeral without political and governance strategies.

Playing the long game: Exploring the relationship between Al-Shabab and civilians in areas beyond state control (Download)

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