here are few militia groups in Eastern Africa that have recently captured as much attention as Al-Shabaab; it posses two types of challenges. First is the physical threat and destruction that result from its military and guerilla operations. Second is the threat to the mind and the socio-cultural and economic way of life. It has become part of Kenya’s national psychie in terms of cultural outlook, has changed the way people think, act and live, and is a reflection of Kenya’s, and Eastern Africa’s, unpredictable socio-cultural dynamics. It has created such a serious perception of threat that Kenya has mounted military operations in Southern Somalia.
Few understand the Al-Shabaab ideology except that it is closely associated with Islamic fundamentalism, Al Qaeda, and probably has a link to Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean. In many people’s minds, Al-Shabaab is less an organised group and more the product of a disoriented youth that were looking for something to occupy themselves. As long as its adherents operated in fragmented Somalia, Kenyans did not worry too much about it.
In comparative terms, Hannah Muthoni argues that the closest Kenyan example of an Al-Shabaab type of militia group is Mungiki which also appeals to disgruntled youth, appears organized in militaristic ways, and has a disciplined hierarchy. Both thrive on fear and send messages to target audience by inflicting heavy punishment on their victims. Yet Mungiki is nowhere near Al-Shabaab in terms of effectiveness or global notoriety.
Kenyans now see Al-Shabaab as a clear and present danger. The group emanates from Southern Somalia, mainly Jubaland, which used to be part of colonial Kenya, but is a threat to the broader Horn of Africa region, and beyond. Its origins can be traced to two interconnected failures, local and global. In Somalia, an expansionist dream of bringing every territory occupied by Somali peoples under one political roof, the concept of Greater Somalia, had developed into an ideology for holding diverse peoples together. Siad Barre, the most prominent proponent of the idea of elasticity of the state, had even started a failed war with Ethiopia over Ogaden. With the collapse of his regime, the glue that had upheld the myth of Somali unity disappeared and as a result identity differences that had been suppressed emerged. This failure of the dream for a Greater Somalia came just as the USA was celebrating victory over the Soviets, proclaiming a New World Order in which the American way was the only way. This post Cold War sense of American triumphalism, however, was symbolically pricked in Somalia where US troops were dragged through the streets of Mogadishu as Washington looked on helplessly. .more