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Stabilizing Somalia for Democracy

This Policy Proposal discusses a four-point plan to stabilize and enact democratic reform in Somalia's political landscape.

Big Picture: 

The terrorist group al-Shabaab and food insecurity are destabilizing the already fragile political situation in Somalia. Somalia is a democracy in name and partially one in practice. To implement democratic reforms, such as the norm of one vote per person, the country’s security landscape must be improved.

Graphic From Africa Center for Strategic Studies, Types of Militant Islamist Violence in the Somali Theater. Africa Center for Strategic Studies. 8 February, 2022. This figure illustrates that al-Shabaab fights more with the Somali government (coded as “battles”) than against civilians.

Operative Definitions: 

  1. Building Partner Capacity (BPC): Refers to activities taught to allied or partnered governments by the U.S. to improve their abilities in security.

  2. Counterinsurgency (COIN): Describes operations that combat groups seeking to overthrow and replace the current government (insurgents can use terrorist tactics).

  3. Counterterrorism (CT): Describes operations that combat groups seeking to spread fear and cause harm to civilians, not to rule the territory in which they operate.

  4. Food insecurity: The lack of assured access to food and proper nutrition.

Important Facts and Statistics:

  1. There were 14 million food-insecure individuals in the Horn of Africa in 2022. 

  2. There are 4,000 deaths attributed to al-Shabaab from 2010-2020.

Four-Point Plan: 

(1) Establish a BPC in Somalia. In addition to redeploying American ground forces, the U.S. should bolster BPC with the Somali government on both CT and COIN. Al-Shabaab operates an insurgency in Somalia, so the government must be trained in COIN, not just in CT — although CT training will be helpful, as insurgents tend to use terrorist tactics but toward a different end. BPC in Somalia will help Somali special forces, the Danab, combat al-Shabaab more effectively on their own. This poses far less risk to American military personnel in the long run.

(2) Establish a BPC in Kenya. Al-Shabaab also operates as a terrorist (not insurgent) organization in Somalia’s neighbor to the south, Kenya. The U.S. should also engage in BPC with Kenya on CT issues. Additionally, the Kenyan government has stated its desire to “police its own neighborhood” and BPC with the U.S. will help them achieve this because Kenyan security capabilities will be sufficiently increased.

(3) Improve Somalia’s food security. Resource scarcity among large populations is a major driver of terrorist recruitment. To combat al-Shabaab in Somalia, the U.S. should aim to reduce food insecurity in the country. The U.S. can do this by BPC with the Somali agricultural sector while also reducing the impacts of climate change and maximizing the production of food.

(4) Invest in local media companies in the region. Russia nonetheless still has an interest in turning teetering democracies toward authoritarianism. One of Russia’s main tools to do this in Africa is investing in Russian-funded and controlled local media start-ups, which allows Russia to control the narrative and influence — or even provoke — events on the ground. The U.S. should also invest in local media companies in Somalia, and throughout the strategically important Horn of Africa, to combat the spread of Russian influence.

Why This Initiative is Important: 

When a nation is plagued with political instability, resource insecurity and terrorism, there is a massive potential for a humanitarian crisis and civil war. Democracy cannot thrive in such conditions. Without this initiative, democracy may never come to Somalia, which is a strategically important nation for the U.S. in the Horn of Africa.


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author, whose information can be found below.

The following student worked on this nonpartisan proposal: LJ Trevette, Georgetown University.

Sources: Boukhars, Anouar. “Trajectories of Violence Against Civilians by Africa’s Militant Islamist Groups.” African Center for Strategic Studies. 8 February, 2022.

Felter, Claire, Masters, Jonathan, and Sergie, Mohammed Aly. “Al-Shabab.” Council on Foreign Relations. 19 May, 2021.

Maruf, Harun. “Al-Shabaab Attacks Killed 4,000 in Past Decade, Says Data-Gathering Group.” Voice of America News. 15 January, 2020.

McInnis, Kathleen and Lucas, Nathan. “What Is ‘Building Partner Capacity?’ Issues for Congress.” Congressional Research Service. 8 December, 2015.

“Revise Emergency Appeal Somalia: Hunger crisis 2021-2022.” International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. 29 March, 2022.,of%20COVID%2D19%20and%20conflict.

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