‘Al-Shabaab is part of us’
Endogeneity and exogeneity in the struggle for recognition in Somalia
in Armed non-state actors and the politics of recognition
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At a recent meeting in Mogadishu, a Somali elder challenged national and international scholars and policy-makers who were debating how best to destroy the non-state Islamist armed group al-Shabaab, active in Somalia for over a decade. ‘When you say, “destroy al-Shabaab,” you are speaking about destroying us. Al-Shabaab is part of Somali society. If you destroy al-Shabaab, you destroy us.’ The statement illustrated the role that recognition plays in engaging with non-state armed groups and the complexity surrounding this question.

The chapter examines how recognition in the case of non-state armed groups goes beyond the question of legality and legitimacy, to whether a group is recognised as part of the social fabric of a society or external to it. Al-Shabaab has had close ties to transnational non-state armed groups, particularly al-Qaeda, and numerous state actors have tried to engage with it as a mere extension of al-Qaeda. The claim that al-Shabaab is exogenous to the conflict and, indeed, to Somali society is a specific form of mis-recognition. Al-Shabaab reacts to this by denouncing the current government as being controlled from outside forces, too, thereby trying to undermine its legitimacy.

The mutual allegations that either the government or al-Shabaab are not ‘one of us’ deny the respective actor to have a legitimate role in the conflict and its solution. Thus, the chapter goes on to argue that the question of whether an armed non-state group is recognised as endogenous or not has direct consequences for conflict transformation.

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