Roland Marchal, research fellow at the Center for International Studies and Research at Sciences Po in Paris, recently published a provocative and well informed analysis of the Somali Jihadi movement (PDF) with a special focus on al-Shabaab.
Marchal’s main finding is that al-Shabaab found ways to evolve and overcome earlier strategic mistakes. About to be wiped out in January 2007, al-Shabaab is today the most powerful group in Somalia.
It has thrived because western and regional policies allowed it to appear as the best defender of Somali nationalism, the illegitimacy of its opponents in southern and central Somalia and its ability to use economic and ideological resources in an innovative and efficient manner.
At the same time, al-Shabaab has in the past year lost the support of influential Salafi religious leaders who were previously sympathetic to al-Shabaab’s wider regional agenda. Its military tactics have become unproductive and may eventually exhaust the organization. It creates fear in the populations that it controls, which may turn the people against al-Shabaab. There is growing resistance to its extremism.
The Somali diaspora is playing an increasingly important role in funding and providing al-Shabaab with military and civilian cadres. The non-Somali “foreign” fighters are increasingly from East Africa and even South Africa. This may result in the next two or three years in Jihadi movements in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and South Africa.