East Africa: Could Somali famine deal a fatal blow to al-Shabab?- October 19, 2011

Somalia’s militant Islamist group al-Shabab is in crisis, as it battles to cope with the famine that is far worse in areas under its control than other parts of the country, leading to reports of splits in the leadership of the al-Qaeda-linked group.

The famine has forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee the Lower Shabelle and Bakool regions in search of food.

Many are escaping to the capital, Mogadishu, where over the weekend the group made what it called a tactical withdrawal of its forces from the northern suburbs that were under its control.
Others are walking for days to reach camps in neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia, arch-foes of al-Shabab.

“It is not a good picture for al-Shabab,” says US-based Somali journalist Abdirahman Aynte, who is writing a book on the movement.
“Nearly 500,000 people have left. Al-Shabab cannot do anything about it. They have become bystanders.”

Kenya-based Somali journalist Fatuma Noor, who travelled through al-Shabab territory last year, says the famine has damaged the group’s credibility.

“Al-Shabab are losing support. People are saying that the drought in the region was caused by a lack of rains, but the famine was man-made. They are asking – why has it been only in al-Shabab’s areas?” Ms Noor says.