Al-Shabaab: ‘Your peace depends on us being left alone’

As a major conference on Somalia opens in London, reporter Jamal Osman went to Somalia to speak to the Islamist group that will not be attending the summit, despite controlling most of the country. Senior representatives from over 40 governments …

As a major conference on Somalia opens in London, reporter Jamal Osman went to Somalia to speak to the Islamist group that will not be attending the summit, despite controlling most of the country.

Senior representatives from over 40 governments and several international bodies, including the UN, have agreed measures aimed at strengthening civilian government in Somalia while cracking down on corruption. With an eye to criticisms that the international community is taking it upon itself to decide Somalia‘s future, the communique from the London conference stressed the importance of self-determination for Somalis.

Speaking at a press conference David Cameron pledged a crackdown on piracy in the region, with a particular emphasis on also prosecuting the “kingpins” who finance pirates.

With Britain taking a lead role, the gathering was always aimed at delivering a new international approach to Somalia, particularly how the international community “can step up its efforts” to tackle both the root causes and effects of the problems in the country.

Not invited

However, the Islamist al-Shabaab, who control most of the country, are not invited. I travelled to Somalia to talk to them to find out what they think about the British government’s mission.

To al-Shabaab, the whole London conference is deeply offensive. It says for decades Britain has been causing problems in Somalia, which go back to the colonial era. The Brits colonised parts of the country, helping its arch-rivals, Ethiopia and Kenya, to occupy regions which Somalis consider part of the greater Somalia.

The militants’ spokesman, Sheikh Ali Dhere, told me that they would never participate in the conference. And he warned Europe and America to stay out. “Your peace depends upon us being left alone,” said Mr Dhere. “If you do not let us live in peace, you will not enjoy peace either.”

Al-Qaeda

It was always going to be difficult for the west to accept the militants as part of the country’s future. Now it seems impossible. On arrival in the al-Shabaab controlled areas of Somalia, I was invited to film an event in which thousands of people were celebrating al-Shabaab’s new alliance with al-Qaeda. The group announced that it was merging with the international terror group.

“We welcome the pledge between our mujahidin and the international mujaheddin, al-Qaeda,” said Sheikh Abdulqadir Mumin. “Our unity means we can fight our enemies – the infidels – wherever they are.”