Following the last suicide attack in the semi-autonomous Punt land, in northern Somalia, regional analysts have been providing various views. The attack caused the death of 5 people, including a policeman, and while another 12 people injured. ISIS took responsibility for the attack, and it is regarded as the group’s first attack in the region. Some commentators noted that it indicates the rise of new security threats in the already unstable regions of the Horn of Africa.
The Horn of Africa is one of the regions where intra and inter-state conflicts are concentrated. The long-lived conflict in Somalia, the ongoing civil war in South Sudan, the unrest in the Darfur region and the tension between Ethiopia and Eritrea are some of the major ones. As some recent comparative studies reveal, the war in South Sudan and Somalia, for instance, is claiming the highest number of causalities in 2017 as compared to conflicts in other African regions.
It is obvious that the above-noted chaos’s is severely affecting the region’s economic and infrastructural development. Hence, regional organizations such as the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) have been striving to address the long-stayed problems of instability in the Horn of Africa. IGAD was established in 1996 by eight East Africa states namely: Uganda, Sudan, Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, South Sudan as well as Eritrea. The founding fathers of IGAD put promotion of peace and security which is critical for the maintenance of regional cooperation and integration as a grand mission of the organization.
In 2002 IGAD member states established a special unit known as IGAD’s Conflict Early Warning and Response Mechanism (CEWARN). CEWARN aims to maintain sustainable peace by providing early warning and early response before the violent conflict erupted. CEWARN undertake empirical investigations on the causes and impacts of violent conflicts in the IGAD region; conduct and share analyses of that information and use the findings to curve viable policy options. During the past decades, IGAD has been striving to end conflicts that are already broke out and to prevent others by providing early warning and response before they occur.
Despite these efforts of IGAD, however, regional militant groups such as al-Shabab and since recent times ISIS have been challenging the organization from fulfilling its mission and maintaining a politically stable East Africa. Since forming in 2006, al-Shabab has had carried out a series of attacks in Somalia and other East African countries. These persistent attacks severely limit the region’s economic and political developments.
As some regional commentators highlight, since recent time al-Shabab restored its capacities from the loss it had faced in 2012 and 2013. The group successfully exploited the local grievances to recruit new members, and now it is actively engaging to conduct terror attacks throughout the region. In this regard, al-Shabab’s effort to build an active support base in Kenya is worth to mention.
This revival of al-Shabab in Somalia and the surrounding region coincides with the spread of the crisis in Yemen. Following the intensification of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, Yemeni refugees came to countries of the Horn of Africa such as Djibouti, Ethiopia and Somalia. As some regional analysts commented, this mass movement of people between the Middle East and Africa allow al-Qaeda militants to easily infiltrate from Yemen and settle in countries of the Horn of Africa.
On the other side, since 2012 al-Shabab has merged with al-Qaeda aiming to strengthen its capacity and better coordinate its terror attacks in the region and beyond. Since then, al-Shabab served as al-Qaeda’s offshoot group in East Africa. This, in turn, enables al-Qaeda to extend its influence in the strategically important regions of the Horn of Africa. Hence the war in Yemen better interact al-Shabab and al-Qaeda and enable them to spread their attack in the politically unstable region of the Horn of Africa.
The rise of al-Qaeda affiliated al-Shabab’s deadly attacks since recent time can be regarded as a good illustration of the above-noted argument. On May 24, 2017, for instance, al-Shabab claimed a bombing in Mogadishu, killing eight people and injuring fifteen. Al-Shabab’s deadliest attack, however, was at Garissa University College, in Kenya, where 148 people, mainly students were killed and 79 others injured. The list goes on like this.
In general, together with other regional instabilities, the turmoil in Yemen led to the rise of the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Shabab’s attack in east Africa. This poses an additional challenge for IGAD’s regional peace and security initiatives. IGAD should jointly work with those regional as well as the wider international actors to contain the impact of terrorist groups who have had a global network.