Somalia: Is Military Action the Answer?

A few weeks ago, I wrote a short blog post at the Africa in Transition Blog of the Council on Foreign Relations about my thoughts on Kenya’s invasion of Somalia, and the possibility of defeating al-Shabaab and ending the Somali conflict. With the invasion approaching its 7th week, and Ethiopia wading into the fray, the Islamist group seems to have been cornered from all sides. But will this spell their doom?

Some Somali observers however think otherwise. Some suggested that the idea of defeating al-Shabaab through military means is not only simplistic, but also highly improbable, and gave a host of reasons why it will fail. Others looked at Somalia’s recent past, including the Ethiopian invasion of 2006 to justify fears as to why military action will never work, while others drew on the country’s complex sociopolitical dynamics as a reason why enforcing peace is impossible. Still, others raised doubts as to whether Kenya and the AU have the military capacity to sustain an invasion in Somalia for long.

Nevertheless, while many of these reservations are understandable, it should not dampen hopes of ending the Somali conflict— even if it means invading the country to save it, and preventing al-Shabaab from holding the entire region hostage. Whatever the motivations from previous interventions in Somalia, the problem is no longer confined to Somalia as in the past, and has become a case of “the lesser of two evils”. While doing something does carries risks, doing nothing puts the whole region at risk.

Why is Military Action Necessary?

The reasons necessitating military action are numerous—from stopping al-Shabaab infiltration into neighboring countries to its ties with al-Qaeda. Through the two decades of conflict in Somalia, hostilities were more or less confined within Somalia – until al-Shabaab raised the stakes by conducting raids into neighboring countries, and engaging in other terrorist activities that directly threaten the security and stability of its neighbors.

What are the Consequences of Failure?

The consequences of failure will be disastrous. It will mean periodic famine that will kill thousands and force millions across borders to equally impoverished countries. It will mean more al-Shabaab infiltrations in to neighboring countries, and more piracy in the high seas of the Indian Ocean. It will threaten international stability and provide a safe haven for al-Qaeda linked militants and their sympathizers. The list goes on and on.


Mohamed Jallow is a former Colin Powell fellow (Class of 2008/2009). He is currently a program associate at the Council on Foreign Relations.