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Shifting in Camouflage-Trends and patterns of change among sections of al-shabaab

We note that the al-shabaab as a body operative, is slowly metamorphosing from the older narrative of an Islamo-organon, with aims of creating an Islamic constituent domain or state, for extending Islam. It seems to be moving out of its ideology in radicalizing for extremism, towards becoming an informal out-of -the-book type of economic-dragon with new aims. This shift also seems to be in some of its sections or factions within its leadership.

In that connection, some al-shabaab factions seem to be shifting their actions as means for wealth, resources, and broadly, economic benefits, among others of its economy-led objectives. This indicates that the al-shabaab imperative has moved over and beyond religious determinants of radicalized extremist violence, to a camouflage of radicalized economic violence.

In this regard, this will influence Isiolo, Wajir, Mandera, coastal counties of Kenya, and localities in Ethiopia, Djibouti and the Eastern Africa seaboard. The Eastern regions of Kenya from the north to the south, along the coast are also spurred by the impact of climate change, and experience reduced options in pastoralism, reduced rainfall in Kilifi, and Taita Taveta. Outside of that, reduced rainfall, erratic weather patterns, and environmental degradation with reduced vegetation in Somalia and South Eastern Ethiopia are factors to watch. These supported charcoal trade in the past, alongside livestock to the middle east.

With reduced livelihoods, household members will become vulnerable and will want to undertake any viable economic activity for survival. This will provide suitable conditions for recruitment and mass engagement with al-shabaab factions for what might be seemingly good motive, livelihoods. The engagement will remain informal and undisturbed by radicalism or extremism, but it will not remain innocent.

Such a build up has been witnessed in West Africa where idle youth having been emaciated from weak economic conditions and having more access to economic options to support family members have also become a moving army on motor-cycles. They no longer have to move on foot and this has made Boko-haram factions in Cameroun, Nigeria, Mali, Chad, and the Central Africa Republic more lethal.

The development of the LAPSSET Infrastructure ( a mega project of Kenya Ethiopia, South Sudan connecting the countries by telephony, road, rail, electricity, new urban and expanded centres) is expected to interfere with traditional access routes for pastoral lifestyles such as cattle pasture and watering routes, let alone economic fishing among some of the local fisher-folk of the Lamu Archipelago. This has the likelihood to reduce household livelihoods in the pastoral and fisher-folk communities. Combined with climate change, and shifting economies in Southern and South Eastern Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia, this will have socio-econo-cultural dimensions on pastoralist and fisher-folk households. The impact of this is yet to be studied and understood.

Radicalized extremism in East Africa as it is in West Africa is shifting. This is exemplified by the Mozambique Cabo del Gado Region around the gas, oil, and minerals region. It would not be surprising the Tanga gas and mineral zone erupts in the not too distant future.

It is imprudent to assume that al-shabaab has weakened in its stature and means, as it has continued to recruit increasingly, especially in Kenya; among other localities in Southern Tanzania and Mozambique.

Kisuke Ndiku is an MPI alumnus who is based at PRECISE, "a regional agency involved in organizational development, strategic management of change, leadership development and planning in Africa. He is a development practitioner, writer, editor and researcher on peace and development" (

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