Al -Shabaab’s suicide bomb attack in Mogadishu last week killed several innocent civilians, signalled the terrorist group’s continued presence in the Somali capital, and indirectly issued a challenge to the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) as well as the Kenyan forces that have been chasing it in the past few months.
Several commentators around the world have described last week’s attack in Mogadishu, in addition to recent sporadic incidents in various parts of Kenya, as the desperate efforts of a group that is split and is facing pressure from different angles. It is true that Al-Shabaab, which does not have deep roots in the Somali society, has faced great pressure from Kenyan and Amisom forces in the past few months, but any attempt to write off a group like this could be premature.
It is important for policy makers in the Horn of Africa, the Western world and elsewhere to view Al- Shabaab and the problem of piracy off the Somali coast, which is not necessarily due to Al- Shabaab, as manifestations of the failure of governance institutions in Somalia.
It is the high time we acknowledged that in Somalia, as elsewhere in Africa, terrorism is intimately linked to poor governance or the lack of governance. Without a sustainable governance structure, including law enforcement agencies, such as police and intelligence services, terrorism cannot be prevented.
As long as there are ungoverned spaces in Somalia, where the Transitional Federal Government lacks the attributes of a modern government, the Amisom and Kenyans forces might kill a few Al-Shabaab fighters, but the security situation in the country and the region may not necessarily improve.
Some of the leaders of Al-Shabaab are veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who have drifted to Somalia because they believe they can set up bases there and enter or leave the country as they like.
In this sense, tackling Al-Shabaab is not an exclusively Kenyan or African responsibility. It is a global responsibility that requires the participation of other countries.
Moreover, as the elimination of Al-Shabaab calls for the establishment of an effective governance system in Somalia, Kenya and other African states may offer some insights, but they do not have the means to accomplish the task.
Similarly, naval forces from various countries may patrol the Indian Ocean and arrest a few pirates, but this will not make much difference. In monetary terms, erecting an effective governance structure in Somalia will cost the world far less than patrolling the Indian Ocean.
So, rather than likening the recent Al-Shabaab activities to the last kicks of a dying horse, we should ask ourselves why there is no political will in the world to help Somalia onto its feet.
Were the international community to treat the situation in Somalia now with the urgency with which it treated the problem in Libya last year or with which it is handling the problem in Syria, Somalia would be different.
The conclusion we can draw is that Al- Shabaab, which espouses the same ideology as Al-Qaeda, is due to the lack of the political will on the part of the international community to establish an effective and sustainable governance structure in Somalia.
Prof Makinda teaches at Murdoch University, Australia.