April 24, 2017
Al Shabaab's Humanitarian Response
Al Shabaab seeks to expand governance and control in Somalia by cultivating popular support. It is distributing humanitarian aid as part of this strategy targeting vulnerable populations in rural Somalia. The group is well-positioned to capitalize on devastating drought and impending famine. Al Shabaab seeks to backfill the capabilities gap of the weak central government in Mogadishu that cannot meet the humanitarian needs of millions of its citizens. .
The group can cultivate a brand of benevolence by providing limited aid. Al Shabaab does not need to meet all of the requirements of the population in order to benefit whereas the Somali Federal Government’s inability to do so undermines its authorities. Al Shabaab spokesman Ali Mohamed Rage, also known as Ali Dhere, announced the formation of regional “drought committees” to plan and coordinate humanitarian efforts in March 2017. The group claimed to distribute food and water aid in the hardest-hit areas of south and central Somalia in March and April, predominantly in Lower Shabelle and Galgudud regions. Al Shabaab also delivered aid in Bay, Bakool, and Mudug regions.
Al Shabaab’s current emphasis on humanitarian aid signals a divergence from policies adopted during the 2011 famine, when the militant group banned international aid organizations, raided local agency offices, and kidnapped scores of humanitarian workers. These activities worsened conditions and alienated local populations who desperately needed assistance. Al Shabaab remains hostile to Western aid organizations in 2017, but has allowed non-Western humanitarian groups to deliver aid to local populations in high-risk areas under its supervision. Al Shabaab exploits humanitarian aid groups’ activities, broadcasting its own role in aid distribution to gain popular support.  This soft-power approach will establish al Shabaab as a provider of basic services and build public confidence in the group’s viability as a source of governance. Al Shabaab could use this broadening base of popular support to establish new strongholds in rural Somalia and set conditions to challenge the Somali Federal Government’s authority in more populated areas.
Background: Somalia’s Humanitarian Crisis
- Somalia is suffering from catastrophic drought caused by three consecutive seasons of poor rainfall. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs expects drought to cause the greatest harm in Bay and Bakool regions in southern Somalia and in Puntland and Somaliland in northern Somalia.
- Approximately six million people, more than half of Somalia’s total population of 12.3 million, require humanitarian assistance. Drought conditions have internally displaced at least 444,000 people, more than 8,000 per day, since November 2016. Most people have fled to urban population centers like Mogadishu and Baidoa, the capital of Bay region.
- The current conditions may be worse than those that caused the 2011-2012 famine, which killed 260,000 Somalis. Starvation, cholera, and other drought-related diseases have killed at least 407 people since February 2017.
Al Shabaab’s Response
Food and water distribution
- March 6 – Lower Shabelle region: Qunyo Barrow.
- March 11 – Mudug region: Adat, Warshubo, Harardhere, Jowlo, Dhalwo, Ris, Galdhabo; Lower Shabelle region: Wanlaweyn, Qoryoley, Kurtunwarey, Sablale, Barawe.
- March 19 – Galgudud region: Elbur.
- March 21 – Lower Shabelle region: Barawe.
- March 25 – Lower Shabelle region: Kurtunwarey, Qoryoley, and Torotorow.
- March 28 – Bay and Bakool regions.
- April 12 – Mudug region: Harardhere, Jowlo, Dumaye, Ris, Dhalwo, Dabagale; Galgudud region: Elbur, Galhareri.
- April 15 – Galgudud region: Gheriale.
Attacks against NGO workers
- March 22 – Gedo region: Red Cross worker killed in Bardhere.
- April 3 – Gedo region: World Health Organization workers abducted near Luuq.
- April 16 – Banadir region: UN World Food Programme convoy ambushed near KM13 junction.
- April 19 – Lower Shabelle region: Emirati Red Crescent convoy ambushed in Garasbaley.
 Harun Maruf, Al Shabaab announces formation of drought committee, Twitter, March 8, 2017, https://twitter.com/HarunMaruf/status/839491560282673152.
 Jamal Hadji Nur, Al Shabaab distributes aid in Bay region, Twitter, March 27, 2017, https://twitter.com/JamalHNur/status/846444349261053954; Al Shabaab distributes food in Bay and Bakool regions, Facebook, March 28, 2017, https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=118676788671383&id=111106089428453; Al Shabaab distributes food in Lower Shabelle region, Facebook, March 25, 2017, https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=112811155924613&id=111106089428453; and Live From Mogadishu, Al Shabaab distributes water in central Somalia, Twitter, March 11, 2017, https://twitter.com/Daudoo/status/840603587331915777.
 Katherine Zimmerman, “Al Shabaab’s History with Humanitarian Assistance,” AEI’s Critical Threats Project, July 27, 2011, https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/al-shabaabs-history-with-humanitarian-assistance.
 “Somalia: Drought Response – Situation Report No. 2,” UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, March 31, 2017, http://reliefweb.int/report/somalia/somalia-drought-response-situation-report-no-2-31-march-2017; and “Persistent drought in Somalia leads to major food security crisis,” FEWSNET, February 21, 2017, http://www.fews.net/east-africa/somalia/special-report/february-21-2017.
 Al Shabaab distributes food in Qunyo Barrow, Facebook, March 6, 2017, https://www.facebook.com/pg/shahadaagency/photos/?tab=album&album_id=257896484662344.
 Al Shabaab distributes water in Mudug and Lower Shabelle regions, Facebook, March 11, 2017, https://www.facebook.com/shahadaagency/posts/260256441093015.
 Al Shabaab distributes food aid in Elbur town, Galgudud region, Facebook, March 19, 2017, https://www.facebook.com/pg/shahadaagency/photos/?tab=album&album_id=263961617389164.
 Al Shabaab distributes food aid in Barawe town, Lower Shabelle region, Facebook, March 21, 2017, https://www.facebook.com/shahadaagency/posts/264729803979012.
 Al Shabaab distributes food aid in several towns in Lower Shabelle region, Facebook, March 25, 2017, https://www.facebook.com/Shahaadanewsagency/posts/112811155924613.
 Al Shabaab distributes food aid in Bay and Bakool regions, Facebook, March 28, 2017, https://www.facebook.com/Shahaadanewsagency/posts/118676788671383.
 Al Shabaab distributes food and water in several towns in Mudug and Galgudud regions, Facebook, April 12, 2017, https://www.facebook.com/Shahaadanewsagency/posts/131469824058746; Al Shabaab distributes food and water in several towns in Mudug and Galgudud regions, Facebook, April 12, 2017, https://www.facebook.com/Shahaadanewsagency/photos/a.112623352610060.1073741828.111106089428453/131472287391833/?type=3.
 Al Shabaab distributes food aid in Gheriale village, Galgudud region, Facebook, April 15, 2017, https://www.facebook.com/Shahaadanewsagency/posts/133351710537224.
 “Humanitarian worker gunned down in Bardhere town,” Garowe Online, March 22, 2017, http://www.garoweonline.com/en/news/somalia/somalia-humanitarian-worker-gunned-down-in-bardhere-town.
 Al Shabaab claims bomb attack on WFP convoy,” Shabelle News, April 16, 2017, http://www.shabellenews.com/2017/04/al-shabaab-claims-bomb-attack-on-wfp-convoy/.
 “Landmine explosion targets humanitarian, government officials,” Garowe Online, April 19, 2017, http://www.garoweonline.com/en/news/somalia/somalia-landmine-explosion-targets-humanitarian-government-officials.