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Making an Al-Shabaab co-founder a minister is a welcome move by the Somali government

Al-Shabaab co-founder and spokesperson, Mukhtar Robow in Mogadishu, Somalia on 15 August 2017 [MOHAMED ABDIWAHAB/AFP/Getty Images]
Al-Shabaab co-founder and spokesperson, Mukhtar Robow in Mogadishu, Somalia on 15 August 2017 [MOHAMED ABDIWAHAB/AFP/Getty Images]

News of the ministerial appointment of an Al-Shabaab co-founder and spokesperson, Mukhtar Robow, by Somali Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre is welcome news. The move looks well calculated and should be seen as an olive branch to the extremists of Al-Shabaab with the message that should they wish to return to constitutionalism and the rule of law, the door is open.

Robow had a $5 million bounty placed on his head by the US before he split from Al-Shabaab in 2013. Barre has said that he will now serve as the Minister of Religious Affairs. Given the religious nature of Somalia, the post is a very powerful one indeed. The appointment seeks to reinforce and fulfil President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud's vision of a united Somali government that will not leave behind any citizen or region, but will pull together as one nation and rebuild Somalia.

"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," explained Barre before naming his cabinet appointees. "I ask the parliament to approve the cabinet."

Barre was initially expected to name a cabinet within 30 days of his appointment on 25 June. The delay, he said, was due to the country's protracted election process that culminated with the selection of Mohamud as president in May.

Tuesday's appointments include a deputy prime minister, 25 ministers, 24 state ministers and deputy ministers in a 75-member team. Parliament now has to vote on the nominees.

READ: Somalia militant group Al-Shabab publicly executes 7 people

The new government faces a host of challenges, including a looming famine and the grinding Islamist insurgency. A crippling drought across the Horn of Africa has left about 7.1 million Somalis — nearly half the population — battling hunger. According to the UN, more than 200,000 are on the brink of starvation.

We can now look forward to a new dispensation that is inclusive and seeks to bring everyone on board in Somalia. I would, therefore, urge all Somalis to assist President Mohamud towards success in his noble endeavour to move Somalia to prosperity and development for all. Equally, the African Union (AU) and UN should continue to help Somalia to capacity build and put mechanisms in place which ensure that all Somalis can sit under one roof and talk in order to bring about a lasting peace.

Although this move by Mohamud is to be commended, it is just the beginning. It now needs to be built upon.

Robow has been under house arrest for the past three years. As well as a founder, he used to be a deputy leader of Al-Shabaab, which is 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 personnel shot at least eleven people, after which Robow was arrested.

Some analysts have speculated that the 53 year old, who has long since denounced Al-Shabaab, could help strengthen government forces in his native Bakool region, where the group holds substantial amounts of territory. Opponents accused him of "organising a militia" in Baidoa, the capital of the south-western Bay region, and seeking to "undermine stability".

READ: Bomb blast kills regional judicial official in Somalia

His elevation to ministerial status comes weeks after recently-elected President Mohamud hinted at his government's willingness to negotiate with Al-Shabaab when the time is right.

Al-Shabaab has waged a bloody insurrection against Somalia's fragile central government for fifteen 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 attack military, government and civilian targets.

Mohamud said last month that ending the violent insurgency requires more than a military approach. I look forward to a reciprocal gesture from Al-Shabaab that will stop the war and unite the nation. A luta continua!

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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