There’s rarely any good news out of Somalia but, recently and slowly, it seems the African Union soldiers are making some headway against Al Shabaab, an Islamist insurgent group aligned with Al Qaeda.
In a statement sent to journalists on Monday the African Union Mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM, said it had advanced to the southern edge of Bakara Market, the commercial heart of the capital Mogadishu.
AMISOM’s Ugandan commander, Major General Nathan Mugisha, said two of his soldiers had been killed and five wounded. He said that 22 fighters had been killed and 40 injured.
The approach to Bakara over recent days is significant for at least two reasons.
Firstly, Bakara has long been the most lawless neighbourhood of a lawless city and Al Shabaab’s most important stronghold. Bakara has symbolic value as the city’s true centre and Al Shabaab’s control of it is proof — if any were really needed — that the United Nations-backed Transitional Federal Government is not in charge of its own capital.
Al Shabaab launch mortar attacks, take sniper potshots, plan attacks and recruit fighters and suicide bombers among Bakara’s warren-like alleys.
Secondly, Bakara is Mogadishu’s biggest and most important marketplace where, despite the daily fighting, brisk business is done (click here to see a video report from a few years ago that includes a visit to Bakara’s legendary gun market at a time when it was not quite suicidal for a foreigner to go there). Profits are made and taxes levied by whoever’s in charge. Which is to say, for now, Al Shabaab.
If AMISOM can push Al Shabaab out of Bakara — and it is a very big ‘if’ — then the insurgents will have lost one of their key sources of financing and the TFG will have won another source of income besides the port and foreign aid.
Success in Bakara could mark a genuine turning point in a seemingly endless war.