News of the appointment of former al-Shabaab founder and spokesperson Mukhtar Robow by Somali Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre has been welcomed.
The move looks well thoughtout 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 the new dispensation.
In televised remarks on August 3, Barre said Robow, who once had a US$5 million bounty on his head before he split from al-Shabaab in 2013, would serve as the minister of religious affairs.
This seeks to reinforce and fulfil President Hassan Sheikh Mahamud’s vision of a one Somali government that will not leave behind any citizen, or region but pull together as one nation and re-build the country.
Mukhtar Robow, the former al-Shabaab co-founder and spokesperson was appointed Minister of Religious Affairs in the new cabinet of Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre.
Given the deeply religious nature of Somali society, the post is very powerful.
“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 waters 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 and United Nations should continue to facilitate and put mechanisms in place that ensure all Somalis sit under one roof to hold a dialogue in order to bring about lasting peace.
The move by the administration of Hassan Sheikh Mahamud should be commended as a good starting point.
Of course, it will need to be enhanced and built upon.
Robow, who has been under house arrest for the last three years, also used to serve as deputy leader of al-Shabaab, the armed group linked to al-Qaeda.
In December 2018, he was in Somalia’s South West state campaigning for the regional presidency.
The protests that followed were quashed with deadly force, when security forces shot and killed at least 11 people.
Some analysts have speculated that Robow, who has long denounced al-Shabaab, could help strengthen government forces in his native Bakool region, where the group holds significant territory.
Robow, 53, publicly defected from al-Qaeda-linked militants in August 2017, with the US regime 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.
The government of Somalia led at the time by President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo accused him of “organising a militia” in Baidoa, 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.
Robow’s 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 carry out 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.
The August 2 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 ongoing 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 country.
Dr. Mustafa Mheta is Senior researcher/Head of Africa Desk at the Media Review Network in Johannesburg, and Dean at the School of Languages at Somali National University (SNU) Mogadishu