The Current

Skeptics question if amnesty for al-Shabab fighters will bring peace

The Somali government is offering amnesty to any al-Shabaab fighters willing to renounce terrorism and lay down their arms. Some see this as a great way to divide a deadly movement, others worry it could leave Somalia mired in promises it cannot keep.
Al-Shabaab fighters conduct military exercise in northern Mogadishu. The Somali militant group Al Shabab has amassed a brutal record of violence across East Africa. The Somali President says the key to defeating the group is to offer its fighters amnesty. (Farah Abdi Warsameh/Associated Press)

"Everybody was running but I didn't have time to see where people are going, which was the safest place. Before long, there were gunshots everywhere. So then I just knew, this is it. I asked my children, "lie down!" I just moved the little one and I covered him and the shots were all over the place. I was so scared. And all this time we were just praying." - Faith Wambua during mall attack in Nairobi. 

Faith Wambua was one of the lucky ones. She and her family were at the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi, Kenya in September of 2013 when more than a dozen men armed with assault rifles and grenades went on a rampage.

After a four-day siege, 67 people were dead and another 175 were injured. The Somali-based militant group, al-Shabab claimed responsibility.

Last weekend, the group posted a video online asking sympathizers to launch further attacks on malls wherever they live. The video singled out Canada's West Edmonton Mall by name.

Somalia's President, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, meanwhile, is looking to make peace. He has announced an amnesty for al-Shabab fighters willing to lay down their arms. He first made the offer in September, and has extended it twice since then.

The government claims that hundreds of young men have come in from the fight. But many Somalis are skeptical an amnesty could work.

Abdirashid Hashi is the Executive Director of the Mogadishu-based think-tank, the Heritage Institute for Policy Studies. He was in Mogadishu.

Somalia is not the first place to consider an amnesty as a way to tamp down violence. They've been tried with various levels of success in Northern Ireland and South Africa. There are ongoing efforts in Afghanistan and, to a lesser degree, in Pakistan.

Michael Semple has looked at all of those cases. He's a visiting professor at the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice at Queens University in Belfast. 

This segment was produced by The Current's Naheed Mustafa.