Much has changed for Mukhtar “Abu Mansur” Robow, a key founding member of the Somali jihadist organization al-Shabaab, over the past decade. In November 2008, al-Shabaab was sweeping across southern and central Somalia toward the capital city of Mogadishu. Robow led the jihadists not only in their fight against the Somali government and allied international forces but also in their enactment of territorial governance and implementation of a harsh form of Islamic law (shari’a). That month, according to an al-Shabaab communiqué from the time, he and other senior al-Shabaab officials delivered public speeches announcing the jihadist-insurgent rulers’ new system of law and order.
Ten years later, in October 2018, Robow, who once condemned democracy as “unbelief” (kufr), announcedhis candidacy for the presidency of Somalia’s South West State. South West State is one of the five semi-autonomous member states that make up the often-fractious Somali federal republic (excluding Somaliland, which doesn’t see itself as a part of Somalia). The country’s federal government maintains ever-fluctuating, often combative relations with the administrations of regional states. Robow’s announcement set off an intense debate about the prospects of an ex-jihadist gaining a leadership position through democratic elections.
The former jihadist’s campaign shook up Somali federal and regional politics. But the federal government, backed by Ethiopian military forces, ultimately blocked him from participating and eventually detained him. His detention, which his supporters saw as the result of the federal government’s blatant interference in South West State’s regional government and an attempt to broaden federal power over the regional states, raised concerns from Somali politicians and international organizations — including the United Nations — about the rule of law, the federal executive branch sliding toward authoritarian tendencies, and the harming of counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency efforts. Read more THE SAGA OF MUKHTAR ROBOW AND SOMALIA’S FRACTIOUS POLITICS
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