The problem with militias in Somalia: Almost everyone wants them despite their dangers

The problem with militias in Somalia: Almost everyone wants them despite their dangers

Editor’s Note:The following introduction is an excerpt from the case study, “The problem with militias in Somalia: Almost everyone wants them despite their dangers,” produced by Vanda Felbab-Brown for the United Nations University report, “Hybrid conflict, hybrid peace: How militias and paramilitary groups shape post-conflict transitions,” of which Adam Day was the project lead. The full case study can be found here.

INTRODUCTION

Militia groups have historically been a defining feature of Somalia’s conflict landscape, especially since the ongoing civil war began three decades ago. Communities create or join such groups as a primary response to conditions of insecurity, vulnerability and contestation. Somali powerbrokers, subfederal authorities, the national Government and external interveners have all turned to armed groups as a primary tool for prosecuting their interests. State-aligned militias help to offset the weakness of Somalia’s official security forces, produce greater motivation and better intelligence and enhance bonds with local communities, perhaps even suppressing crime and intraclan violence.

Vanda Felbab-Brown

However, Somalia’s State-aligned militia groups are also an underlying source of insecurity, violent contestation, abusive rule, impunity and pernicious outside manipulation. They give rise to and allow the entrenchment of powerful militant groups such as the Al-Qaida- supporting, jihadist Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen, commonly referred to as al-Shabaab. As such, their increasingly central role in the fight against al-Shabaab is a double-edged sword: short-term military gains must be balanced against the militias’ longer-term, destabilizing impact.