Lately the war has also intensified to the west and south of Mogadishu, which was previously under Shabab control. Fighters of Ahla Sunna Waljama, a Sufi group which has been fighting the Shabab in central Somalia, say they have taken control of several towns close to the border with Kenya and Ethiopia. As a result, thousands of Somalis have fled across the porous border into Kenya, which now hosts 260,000 registered Somali refugees, along with hundreds of thousands of unregistered ones.
The Shabab says it is still in charge of the south and south-west. It has asserted its authority in some border towns by lopping off limbs or even the heads of men they accuse of fighting against them. The Shabab has also accused Kenya’s government of sending its forces into Somalia to help the feeble but internationally recognised transitional government. Sensitive to the views of Kenya’s 2m-plus ethnic Somalis, who favour a policy of non-intervention, Kenyan officials deny such direct involvement.
Most of the recently displaced Somalis have taken shelter in and around the Kenyan town of Mandera. Kenya says it has arrested a number of Shabab fighters in the town, including some non-Somali jihadists. Mandera’s elders are worried that the violence may be spilling over into Kenya. They express particular hostility to the reported presence of Ethiopian agents in the town. But Mandera has long been a regional hub for the sale of cattle, camels and general trade; the border with Ethiopia and Somalia is only a walk away. Safaricom, a Kenyan telecoms firm, says Mandera has the busiest mobile-phone traffic in the country.
The Shabab may be more resilient than the AU and Western countries would like. Some Somalis originally welcomed it for bringing order and for weaning locals off foreign aid. Moreover, Ahla Sunna is distrusted because it gets military support from Ethiopia, the Somalis’ ancient enemy. No single group looks capable of securing permanent control of the border. But the Shabab is on the defensive.The Economist Newspaper