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Appointment of former al-Shabaab co-founder and spokesperson a Strategic move by the Somali Government.

News of the appointment of the former al-Shabaab founder and spokesperson Mukhtar Robow by Somali Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre is indeed welcome news. The move looks well calculated and should be seen as an olive branch to al-Shabaab that should they wish to return to constitutionalism and the rule of law, the door is open in this new dispensation.

In televised remarks on Tuesday, Barre said Robow, who once had a $5m United States bounty on his head before he split from al-Shabab in 2013, would serve as the minister in charge of religion.

This seeks to reinforce and fulfil President Hassan Sheikh Mahamud’s vision of a one Somali government that will not leave behind any citizen of Somalia, or region but pull together as one nation and re-build Somalia.

Mukhtar Robow the former co-founder of al-Shabaab and spokesperson was appointed as a minister of Religious Affairs in the new Cabinet put together by Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre. Given the religious nature of Somalia, the post is a very powerful one indeed.

“After much deliberation with the president and the public, I have named cabinet ministers who have education and experience and they will fulfil their duties,” Barre said before announcing the cabinet appointees. “I ask the parliament to approve the cabinet.”

We look forward to a new dispensation that is all inclusive and seeks to bring everyone on board the Somali ship. The captain seems to know how to steer his ship away from turbulent waves that threaten to sink it.

We urge all Somalis to assist President Hassan Sheikh Mahamud to succeed in this noble endeavor to move Somalia to prosperity and development that will not leave anyone behind. Equally, the African Union (AU) and United Nations (UN) should continue to capacitate and put mechanisms in place that ensures all Somalis sit under one roof and talk in order to bring about a lasting peace.

The move by the administration of Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud should be commended as a good starting point of course it will need be enhanced and built upon.

Robow, who has been under house arrest for the last three years, also used to serve as a deputy leader of al-Shabab, the al-Qaeda-linked armed group.

In December 2018, he was in Somalia’s South West State while campaigning for the regional presidency. The protests that followed were quashed with deadly force, with security forces shooting at least 11 people.

Some analysts have speculated that Robow, who has long denounced al-Shabab, could help strengthen government forces in his native Bakool region, where the group holds substantial amounts of territory.

Robow, 53, publicly defected from the Al-Qaeda-linked militants in August 2017, with the United States government at one point offering a $5-million bounty for his capture.

“After consultations that took a period of more than 30 days… I’m very happy to present Somali men and women who I have selected based on their academic background, experience and fairness,” Barre said.

“I’m expecting they will respond to the needs of the country.”

Robow was arrested in late 2018, days before he was scheduled to run in regional elections.

Farmajo’s government accused him of “organising a militia” in Baidoa, the capital of the southwestern Bay region, and seeking to “undermine stability”.

His arrest triggered sporadic protests with demonstrators burning images of Farmajo, whom they accused of meddling in regional affairs.

His elevation comes weeks after recently elected President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud hinted at his government’s willingness to negotiate with Al-Shabaab, saying it would only happen when the time is right.

Al-Shabaab has waged a bloody insurrection against Somalia’s fragile central government for 15 years and remains a potent force despite an African Union operation against the group.

Its fighters were ousted from Somalia’s capital Mogadishu in 2011, but continue to wage attacks on military, government and civilian targets.

Barre was initially expected to name a cabinet within 30 days of his appointment on June 25 but said the delays were due to the country’s protracted election process that culminated in May with the selection of Mohamud as president.

Tuesday’s appointments include a deputy prime minister, 25 ministers, 24 state ministers and deputy ministers in a 75-member team, with parliament due to vote on the nominees.

The new government faces a host of challenges, including a looming famine and the grinding Islamist insurgency.

A crippling drought across the Horn of Africa has left about 7.1 million Somalis — nearly half the population — battling hunger, with more than 200,000 on the brink of starvation, according to UN figures.

In July, Mohamud said ending the violent insurgency required more than a military approach. We look forward to a reciprocal gesture from al-Shabaab that will stop the war and unite the nation. Aluta Continua!


Dr. Mustafa Mheta

Senior researcher/Head of Africa Desk

Media Review Network SA

Dean: School of Languages at Somali

National University (SNU) Mogadishu

Federal Republic of Somalia