Bold Somali Government Move: Rebuilding Liberated Regions from Al Shabaab Grip to Bring Life Back from ‘Hell on Earth’

The Somali government will launch a comprehensive scheme to rebuild infrastructure in regions liberated from Al Shabaab. A resident in El-Dheer town describes the life under AL Shabaab rule as “Hell on earth.”

The federal government of Somalia has put plans in place to help rebuild infrastructure in the formerly Al-Shabaab controlled regions, so public services can come back to normality. The Somali state minister for internal security, a key figure in the fight against Al Shabaab to restore law and order to the country, Mr. Mohamed Ali Hagaa, said the government is in the final preparation of launching a national comprehensive plan intended to rebuild public services in the previously Al Shabaab controlled regions.

In an exclusive interview with Newsblaze, the state minister said the comprehensive scheme which involves all government ministries will be carried out in all liberated regions, adding that the scheme is meant to help the quick recovery of public services of the previously Al Shabaab-controlled regions.

We thank the state minister for internal security, Mr. Mohamed Ali Hagaa, for accepting to exclusively talk to Newsblaze.

Somali government State minister of internal security Mohamed Ali Hagaa addresses security meeting in Mogadishu. Photo Internal Security Ministry
State minister of internal security Mohamed Ali Hagaa addresses security meeting in Mogadishu. Photo Internal Security Ministry

Somali Government Minister Interview

NewsBlaze Question: Can you provide us with an overview of the recent military operation that led to the liberation of the town from al-Shabaab control? What were the key factors contributing to its success?

Mr. Mohamed Ali Hagaa: Let me first begin in the name of Allah, most gracious most merciful. If I give you the answer to your question, the fighting between the federal government of Somalia and Al Shabaab terrorists has in recent months been intensifying in the federal member states of Gal-Mudug and Hir-Shabeelle and our armed forces have been able to recapture more lands from the terrorists.

The local people in the recently liberated towns including El-dheer have welcomed government forces and they now feel like coming out of darkness. The people secretly cooperated with the government forces and have always given us every information we need before launching attacks on the militant-controlled areas.

The fighting is not yet over and we are very hopeful that in the next few months, Somali military will liberate the remaining towns and villages of these two states which are still under the control of the militants. We will then shift the war to the southern regions where the terrorists are still hiding.

Q: The government has had the upper hand in nearly all combat operations in recent months, what is the strategy you are using?

MAH: There are so many reasons behind our victories, but I can explain to you three reasons which are the basement of our operations against the terrorists which are: (1) ideological war, (2) economic war and (3) use of military power. We have used those three tactics and we have weakened them militarily and economically. We launched awareness programs on all media platforms which encouraged people to refuse the large sums of money once extorted from them by the terrorists.

Q: The military was supported by local freedom fighters. Could you elaborate on the role these local groups played in the operation and their relationship with the government forces?

MAH: These fighters are really playing a very important role in the ongoing war against Al Shabaab, because they are locals and they know the area very well; they also know possible hideouts for the terrorists. They know the best times to attack, they know which roads are best to use. The government forces are from all over the country, and they may possibly not know more about the area, so the local fighters are key for the war and they have a better relationship with the government forces.

Q: As we know, more than 11 years ago, Somali government forces were backed by other militia men from the non-militant Islamic group of Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a and when Al Shabaab was defeated in some regions, the group formed their own administration until they were finally dismantled by the government in 2022 after days of fierce gun battles, now aren’t you worried that these freedom fighters can do the same after Al Shabaab has been defeated?

MAH: No, no, that will not be possible at the present time. When the prime minister and I met them in the town of Aadan Yabaal in the Middle Shabelle region after its liberation from Al Shabaab, we asked the fighters to choose one of three options.

Those are: (1) He who wants to join the national army is more than welcome (2) He who doesn’t want to join the army will be given an honor certificate, a heroic award and will be rehabilitated in their region and the 3rd option is a financial assistance to help them create jobs.

They will benefit from these offers, so there is no point of going back to wars amongst our people after we have defeated these notorious terrorists.

Q: In your opinion, what are the immediate challenges to address now the town has been liberated? How does the government plan to ensure the safety and well-being of the residents?

MAH: There is a stabilization plan in which different ministries are involved. The internal security ministry has already arranged police services and other security units so we are doing our utmost to ensure the safety of our people in all liberated areas including the town of El-Dheer.

The education ministry is working to reopen schools in the region, the justice system will soon be reestablished as the ministry of justice is planning to send judicial authorities as part of the government’s efforts to return law and order. There is a comprehensive scheme in which all government ministries will take part, so you will soon hear some good news.

State Minister of Internal Security Mohamed Ali Hagaa and President Hassan Sheik Mahmoud Arrive at Police School Mogadishu. Photo Internal Security Ministry
State Minister of Internal Security Mohamed Ali Hagaa and President Hassan Sheik Mahmoud Arrive at Police School Mogadishu. Photo Internal Security Ministry

Q: Can you provide details on efforts to rebuild the town’s infrastructure, such as the hospital and school? What support is being provided to expedite these reconstruction projects?

MAH: You don’t have to expect infrastructure in a region once controlled by AL Shabaab. The town’s hospital is now offering some services with Somali military providing some sort of supplies. As all other freed regions, the town suffers much from Al Shabaab, but now that people have freedom, the government will do its best to reconstruct it starting from police stations, hospitals and schools.

Q: What role did intelligence play in the success of this operation? How is the government working to improve intelligence gathering and sharing in the fight against terrorism?

MAH: The intelligence services are the most vital chapter of the war. The intelligence is the microscope that finds the virus, so I can say they are playing a very crucial role in the fight against Al Shabaab terrorists, because without having the correct information, we wouldn’t have launched attacks.

Q: Al-Shabaab has been a long-term threat in the region. How does the government plan to prevent their resurgence and maintain security in the liberated areas?

MAH: As I told you we have a stabilization plan for all freed towns and villages. If we militarily destroy them, we will also destroy them ideologically and the ideological war has already been successful. The terrorists took advantage of the country not having a stable government or sometimes without government, but once they are defeated and we have a stronger government that controls the whole country, I don’t think they will have the chance to regroup. Al Shabaab are gone and will never be able to come back.

Q: Are there any plans for transitional justice or reconciliation initiatives to address grievances and promote stability in the newly liberated town?

MAH: The government’s plan is to have rule of law in place in all liberated regions and as I stated a little while ago, the judicial system will be established in the town and other towns and villages freed from AL Shabaab.

Reconciliation is another important matter and it is part of the comprehensive scheme which will soon launch. The plan includes to organize forgiveness meetings between clan elders. We want to forget the past grievances and work together for a better future for our country and people.

Q: Can you comment on the international community’s role in supporting the efforts to combat al-Shabaab and rebuild the affected areas?

MAH: The international community’s role is very clear. There are many countries supporting Somalia in the war against Al Shabaab, for example, the United States, Turkey, African Union are part in the war and many others are supporting us in different ways.

Q: Looking ahead, what is the government’s broader strategy for countering terrorism and extremism in Somalia, particularly in regions previously under al-Shabaab control?

MAH: The ideological war will continue even after we have completely destroyed Al Shabaab. That is part of our counter terrorism strategy.

State minister of internal security Mohamed Ali Hagaa during trip to Aadan Yabaal a town freed from Al Shabaab. Photo Internal Security Ministry
State minister of internal security Mohamed Ali Hagaa during trip to Aadan Yabaal a town freed from Al Shabaab. Photo Internal Security Ministry

El-Dheer Resident Viewpoint

Meanwhile, Newsblaze spoke to a resident in the recently freed town of El-Dheer to give us some insights of how the life under Al Shabaab rule was. He termed the life under Al Shabaab as “Hell on earth.”

The resident, Abdulle Mahamud Abdi, acted as an informant for the government forces and the local freedom fighters before entering the town.

Q: Can you describe what life was like in the town before al-Shabaab took control.

Resident: Before Al Shabaab came to the town, people lived their own lives, there was freedom, schools and Holly Quran madrasas were open as normal, we could travel to whereever we wanted, we could watch or play football. We lived an independent life without fear. Everyone was doing their own business freely.

Q: What was different during the years when al-Shabaab was in control? What were the major challenges and restrictions faced by the residents?

Answer: When Al Shabaab were here they denied people access to development, they destroyed medical services, they closed down shops, restaurants, they destroyed water wells, they destroyed all infrastructures of the town. It was a kind of life much worse than slavery. If I describe in two words, “It was a hell on earth.”

Q: How did the local community adapt and cope with the difficult circumstances imposed by the terrorist group? Were there any underground networks or support systems that emerged during this period?

Answer: It was a very painful life, but the locals here got used to that hard life and we had endured the difficult situation which we hoped would one day come to an end as it now happened. We had no option, but to live such a hard life or leave the town. We were determined to go against them, but government forces were nearly 200 kilometers away from us, but we supported government forces when they got close to the area.

Q: Can you share personal stories or experiences that highlight the resilience and determination of the local population during the years of Al-Shabaab presence?

Answer: It was our intention to seek for ways we could fight them, I was one of several organizers. In 2018 people in the neighboring Middle Shabelle region fought against Al Shabaab and we made secret arrangements, but unfortunately our neighbors didn’t get the support they need from the government early enough so they were defeated by Al Shabaab and their leader was killed, so we didn’t come out with our guns.

Q: What were the specific effects of Al-Shabaab control on the town’s infrastructure, such as schools, hospitals, and public services? How did this impact the daily lives of residents?

Answer: As I said in the beginning of the interview, there was nothing, they destroyed all public services. They left nothing for us.

Q: Were there efforts to maintain education and healthcare services despite the challenges posed by the terrorist group? Can you explain how the community managed these critical aspects of life?

Answer: We used to take sick people to the capital Mogadishu, which is 300 kilometers away from El Dheer. Pregnant women, children and elderly people mostly died on the way before getting to Mogadishu for medical care. The sole medical service we could get was that in Mogadishu which was hundreds of kilometers away from us. There was no way to maintain education.

Q: Were there previous attempts to defeat al-Shabaab? What happened?

Answer: Yes, we made secret arrangements, but we were unable to start the war against them, because government forces were very far away from us.

Q: Were there any successful attempts by the community to resist or challenge al-Shabaab’s rule during this period? Can you provide examples of acts of defiance or resistance?

Answer: There were some attempts, but not successful, the results of those attempts was death. A lot of people mostly elderly and young boys who tried to defy Al Shabaab’s restrictive laws were killed in front of the public.

Q: How did the liberation of the town impact the morale and hopes of the local residents? What changes have they witnessed since the town was freed from Al-Shabaab control?

Answer: We have now morale for development, we have morale for a better life and we now have hopes, because we live in freedom and private businesses have reopened. The medical service is in place although it is not well developed.

Q: What are the immediate needs and priorities for the town now that it has been liberated? How do the residents envision rebuilding their lives and infrastructure?

Answer: the immediate needs are the betterment of the medical service, schools and the return of public services, but the whole town needs reconstruction. All infrastructures are destroyed. Peace is the most important so if the people continue to have peace and freedom, they will be able to rebuild their lives.

Q: Are you worried about al-Shabaab coming back?

Answer: They don’t have the power they once had. They are still in the jungle outside El-Dheer and they sometimes fire mortars late in the night, but they can’t come out in the day time. If they try to come back, we have no other option but to fight them and defend our freedom.

Shafi’i Mohyaddin Abokar is the NewsBlaze Somalia reporter. Shafi’i has extensive experience in journalism, international relations, and football management. He is the founder of Somali Sports Press Association, a long-time sports journalist and a member of the International Sports Press Association.

Shafi’i has a Master’s Degree in international Relations obtained at De Montfort University in Leicester and a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Multimedia journalism from the University of Northampton. The photo shows Shafi’i in action while at CAF Centre of Excellence in Cameroon.