by P Chonka · 2016 · Cited by 17 — (burjiko) that are produced there. Going in search of those with (2012). csafs/downloads/ceads_volume_2_-_ansa_in_somaila.pdf.
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DOI:10.1080/17531055.2016.1180825Document VersionPeer reviewed versionLink to publication record in King’s Research PortalCitation for published version (APA):Chonka, P. (2016). Spies, stonework, and the suuq: Somali nationalism and the narrative politics of pro-HarakatAl Shabaab Al Mujaahidiin online propaganda. Journal of Eastern African Studies, 10(2), 247-265 . this paperPlease note that where the full-text provided on King’s Research Portal is the Author Accepted Manuscript or Post-Print version this maydiffer from the final Published version. If citing, it is advised that you check and use the publisher’s definitive version for pagination,volume/issue, and date of publication details. And where the final published version is provided on the Research Portal, if citing you areagain advised to check the publisher’s website for any subsequent corrections.General rightsCopyright and moral rights for the publications made accessible in the Research Portal are retained by the authors and/or other copyrightowners and it is a condition of accessing publications that users recognize and abide by the legal requirements associated with these rights.ŁUsers may download and print one copy of any publication from the Research Portal for the purpose of private study or research.ŁYou may not further distribute the material or use it for any profit-making activity or commercial gainŁYou may freely distribute the URL identifying the publication in the Research PortalTake down policyIf you believe that this document breaches copyright please contact providing details, and we will remove access tothe work immediately and investigate your claim.Download date: 08. Jan. 2022

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This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in the Journal of Eastern African Studies on 26/05/2016, available online: . Spies, stonework and the suuq : Somali nationalism and the narrative politics of pro – Har akat Al Shabaab Al Mujaahidiin online propaganda Peter Chonka Centre of African Studies, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom PhD Candidate, School of Social and Political Science, Chrystal Macmillan Building, 15a George Square, Edinburgh, United Kingdom.

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Spies, s tonework, and the suuq : Somali nationalism and the narrative politics of pro – Harakat Al Shabaab Al Mujaahidiin online propaganda Since 2013 , media affiliates of Harakat Al Shabaab Al Mujaahidiin (HSM) have been producing and disseminating online documentary – style videos pre senting daily life in areas of south – c entr control . In the context of their wider jihad waged ag ainst foreign occupiers and an Federal Government, these videos feature narratives of nationalist economic self – determination as alternatives to aid dependence and the allegedly nefarious interference of external powers in Somalia. This paper analyses the iconography of these videos in the fragmented modern Somalia. If HSM has, at times, been characterised by a broad ideological divide between factio ihadi discourses of this latter faction require detailed analysis not only for a clearer understanding of the internal dynamics of the HSM insurgency b ut also in regards to the wider role of narratives of Somali ethno – nationalism in ongoing processes of state reconfiguration. The paper argues that although HSM no longer benefits from the popular nationalist kudos it previously enjoyed in its resistance t o the Ethiopian invasion of 2006 , it nonetheless operates in a discursive battlefield where narratives around malign foreign intervention – based on exploitation of socio – political divisions of society and the dependence brought by external humanitarian ai d – transcend the movement itself and find expression in the wider public spheres of news media and popular commentary. Keywords: Somalia; conflict; Al Shabaab; media; Islamism; nationalism; aid Introduction Harakat Al Shabaab Al Mujaahidiin ( Al Shaba ab 1 , hereafter HSM) operates as a primary belligerent at war with governmental and international forces i n Somalia. In the terminology of one of these parties, the United Nations , it acts towards multilateral military and political efforts to reconfigure and reconstruct the Somali nation state 2 . This takfiri j ihadi or militant s alafi 3 Islamist organisation is distinct from the numerous domestic armed actors in Somalia in that it has maintained a broader operational structure (both in terms of territorial presence and operation, as well as relatively diverse clan makeup of senior leadership and ideologues 4 ) and has thus been

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in a position to espouse a distinctive narrative of the ongoing conflict in local, national and global terms. In south – central Somalia , where state structures have been absent for a quarter of a century, the re – emergence of governance and the ongoing reconfiguration of the Somali state ine vitably involves discursive contestation over political legitimacy and ideological or ientation . This propaganda war continues in a context of extreme political and social fragmentation where very little – in terms of the mechanisms or legitimacy of power – can be taken for granted. HSM and affiliated propagandists operate on this battlefie ld to promote an all – encompassing lebenswelt/ lifeworld narrative 5 legitimating th infidels/unbelievers ( gaal) ( murtad/dabadhilif ). This operates both in terms of the global j ihad of transnational Islamist militancy and also through vocabularies of Somali n ationalism and anti – colonialism, draw ing on assumptions of shared cultural, religious and political identity. The pro – HSM narrative is just one of numerous different interpretations of processes of state reconfiguration active in the dynamic discursive arena that is the 6 of insurgency and counter – insurgency emphasises the diverse circuits of political communication which feed into and help construct popular imaginations and understandings of conflict and internationa l actors including humanitarian organisations, United Nations agencies, country and in the diaspora engage this narrative politics and seek to f violence of HSM itself 7 . At the other end of this info – wars spectrum, even the United – language news website i reconstruction of the Somali state, clearly indicative of the importance of electronic media in the context of ongoing conflict 8 . Most recent literature on HSM communication s has focus ed on its internationalist orientation and its status as r egional affiliate of Al Qaeda, often emphasising the role of foreign fighters or the agency of Somali – diaspora recruits either in Somalia i tself or in communities in the West 9 . While such accounts y ield important insight into the transnational dynamics of modern Islamist militancy, m uch less attention is given to the local narratives of conflict which propelled HSM from being one radical splinter of the broader Islamic Courts Union ( Midowga Maxkamada ha Islaamiga ) to the bureaucratic, relatively efficient and cross – clan administration of large parts of Southern Somalia bet ween 2006 and 2010 . While forged in their resistance against the (Western – backed) Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in 2006 – has been noted by the relatively few scholars who have critically examine d the movement as an administrative entity 10 , I argue that there remains considerable scope for interrogation of the actual forms of these Somal i ethno – nationalist discourses in the wider context of statelessness,

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political reconfiguration and socio – religious change in Somalia . This paper contends that Somali language propa ganda of HSM affiliates and sympathisers explicitly presents – nationalist and religio – cultural discourses, relevant to wider popular local perceptions of the conflict and political reconf iguration across Somalia. While HSM may have exhausted its popular political capital due to its battlefield tactics , elements of t heir conflict narrative may continue to chime with popular critiques in the wider Somali public sphere against political elites beholden to foreign security agendas, finance and ideology , and the ultimate neo – colonial of the Somali U mmah ( Ummadd a Soomaaliyeed ) 11 . This paper does not endeavour to humanize or provide a platform for ideologues who hope to legitimize v iolence (which the w riter has witnessed first – hand) against civilians. Instead, there is an attempt to understand how tropes of ethno – nationalism vis – á – vis a n audience which has experienced a generation of statelessness, persistent (if inconsistent) foreign intervention, and socio – religious change. The paper attempts to steer clear of pri or propaganda texts themselves . Critical discourse analysis and text selection Th is paper interrogates the cultural, religious and historical narratives which are wrapped up in the content of pro – HSM propaganda videos often prosaic, domestic or idyllic themes seemingly far removed from the violen ce of much of the Islamist propaganda which receives greater scholarly or journalistic attention. Here I apply methodology as utilised in his analysis of media/literary products of Hamas in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, another movement whose communication strategy employs tropes of nationalist – historical struggle as well as themes of divinely sanctioned politico – religious governance 12 . 13 and a Saussurian conception of langu signified 14 ), this culture of communications communicative practicesto recognize socio – political plurality and positionality within societies as well as the shared lin guistic and cultural characteristics that a socio – 15 methodology speaks to a core feature of critical discourse analysis approaches: the treatment of language as a social practice in itself and an emphasis the dialectical relationship – in other words, that they mutually condition and are conditioned by each other 16 . erience in the Somali media environment since 2012 and my wider PhD research focuses on the relationship between a transnational Somali – language public sphere of news media and the continuing deployment of ethno – nationalist discourses. As such, I identify in the analysis narrative overlaps between these pro – HSM propaganda videos and material in the wider media environment across Somalia. The paper primarily engages with three

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videos from the same media network (Al Furqaan media), which, although of differen t lengths, all share numerous stylistic features. The analysis moves between a fine – grained examination of particular elements of the discourses and an attempt to situate the recurring themes of the material in the broader contexts of both the struggle fo r the reconfiguration of the Somali state and wider debates in the Somali – language public sphere. These videos are worthy of attention, I argue, for three reasons. Firstly, this type of material has received little prior scholarly attention in the Somali context in Secondly , this particular producer (Al Furqaan) continues to release slick propaganda material that directly relates to dynamic battlefield developments in southern Somalia indeed, their most recent video was released in December 2015 and purported to show the town of forces 17 . Finally – and while this lies beyond the scope of this paper there is significant Jihadi propaganda from other contexts, particularly the media savvy militants of the so – called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, whose huge output on the alleged socia l benefits of Islamist state – building goes far beyond the gruesome execution or battlefield themes they are most commonly associated with. Before embarking on analysis of these texts themselves, the paper first gives an overview of the various conflic t dynamics which characterise state reconfiguration in south – central Somalia today and provides a condensed contextualisation of Islamist mobilisation in modern Somali political history. This is followed by an examination of the particular Somali media env ironment in which these texts operate. The direct textual analysis is followed by reflection on the interplay between narratives of internationalised and regional militancy, and highly localised dynamics of political organisation and mobilisation. Conflic t and political reconfigura tion in modern south – central Somalia Despite the installati on of a new and internationally – recognised Somali Federal Government (SFG) in 2012 under the pres idency of Xasan Sheekh Maxamuud, and the gradual ex pansion of military co ntrol by g overnment f orces and the African Union Mission in S omalia (AMISOM) over territory once controlled by HSM , the wider Somali political environment remains highly fragmented. Political control by the SFG of areas outside of M uqdisho (Mogadishu) remains tenuous, and a n insurgency/counter – insurgency conflict is ongoing in several regions. Although HSM has been on the back foot since 2010/11 with the loss of territory it controlled in Muqdisho (and then from 2012 with the progressive fall of towns from Kismaayo and Baraawe on the coast, through to inland urban footholds in Gedo and Bay regions in 2015) it still retains an amorphous presence in the south central hinterlands, frequently demonstrating the move on. This fluidity means that maps of military/political control of south – central Somali – however up to date – invariably fail to capture the complexity of the reality on

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regional clan – based militias through the 1980s (including the Somali National Movement in what would become Somaliland in the no rth – west; the Somali Salvation Democratic Front in what is now Puntland in the north – east, and the United Somali Congress who took Muqdisho from the central regions and swept through the south), Islamist mobilisation and rhetoric remained an undercurrent w ithin attempts to pull the country out of the conflict that followed state collapse in 1991. The extent to which Islamist organisations such as Al Ittixaad were active and internationally – linked during this period is debatable, although modern jihadis are often eager to link themselves with this historical context – for example, in regard to the murder of the Bishop of Muqdisho, or the infamous Black Hawk Down – state collapse S omalia 21 . Space precludes a full overview of the complex historical development of the i ncluding the confrontation between Al Ittixaad and the SSDF in the North East leading to their expulsion from the strategic port city of Bosaaso in 1992, and their subsequent entrenchment in the South in Gedo region, eventually prompting Ethiopian military incursions from 1996 22 . Meanwhile, a stateless and divided Muqdisho experienced different stages of Islamist judicial development, eventually culminating in the emergence of the Midowga Maxkamadaha Islaamiga (Union of Islamic Courts) that would expand its authority into larger areas of Southern Somalia before its overthrow in the Ethiopian invasion of 2006 23 . It was from this point that HSM (hitherto an armed radical faction of the broader Courts movement) asserted itself as the primary resistor against what was portrayed as brutal Ethiopian aggression, and would subsequently come to establish itself as an administrative body across the majority of the Southern territorial contr ol around 2009/2010 24 . These different periods of Islamist mobilisation and administrative development in the post 1991 – era corresponded with and conditioned wider trends of socio – religious change visible particularly in urban Somalia. Increased emphasis o n public piety, – religious practices and a visible trend of cultural orientation towards the Arab world are all apparent features of religious expression in modern Somali urban communities 25 . The popular conception t 26 and are thus likely to automatically reject or resist the governance or judicial practices of a salafi Sunni administration is an over – simplification of a socio – religious context which has changed enormously in the decades fol lowing state – collapse. Insecurity has created conditions where the perceived impartial and firm implementation of Shariah has, at times, been welcomed as a remedy by different social groups who make careful calculations of the tradeoffs between individual liberty and the security gains of jihadi rule. This is not to say that religio – political contestation along salafi/sufi lines does not exist . T he militant agency of the Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jamaac against HSM may be expressed in these terms, although the extent to which this constitutes a purely

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ideological contest – as opposed to completing clan interests in the Central Regions – is beyond the scope of this paper 27 . However, in the wider discursive battlefield, popul ar forms of Islam. Indeed, the propaganda analysed below makes no mention of competing instead on clear distinctions between a Sunni Ummadda Soomaaliyeed and those who This formulation by omission is in itself a highly political act – essentially erasin g debate on alternative conceptions of appropriate religious practice in the Somali context – and yet this type of framing of the religious/ideological field is characteristic not just of HSM propaganda but also other debates playing out in the Somali publ ic sphere. The space for public religious debate has been greatly constricted not only by the threat of HSM retaliations but also wider patterns of increased doctrinal orthodoxy and social conservatism evident in urban centres across Somalia 28 . In discussi on over the complexities of Islam and social change in Somalia one must remember that this is a context where various political Islamist factions (themselves often the products of the same educational, and socialisation processes which influenced the emerg ence of HSM) are on the ascendancy in government and represent the future of Somalia as a Sunni Islamic state 29 . In many respects, the elite political arena of Muqdisho is characterised both by clan/regional competition and the factionalism of political Isl amists, organised around semi – institutionalised cliques such as Dam al Jadiid, the group which is popularly perceived to dominate the current presidency and which itself emerged as a – orientated Al Islaax m ovement. Menkhaus 30 emphasised the continued primacy of xeer (customary law) over Shariah, and, a decade later, while recognizing socio – religious changes, Anderson follows this logic to assert tha difficult to sustain [as] previous experience in Somalia indicates that Islamic fundamentalism will dissipate again when the thre 31 . is, sure enough, over . H owever, I argue that critiques and fears of persistent (or permanent) foreign occupation and its affect on the civilian population remain highly salient throughout the public spheres of media debate in Southern Somalia 32 . Occupation continues alongside the political reconfiguration of the Federalisation of Somalia and local commentators continue to decry the varying interests of foreign forces. These discourses range from narratives and conspiracy theories emphasising the trans – historical dominance of the Et hiopian state over the Somali territory, the current Kenyan agenda in South, or the interests of other AMISOM contingents content to take their African Union salaries leaving them no good reason to end the conflict and leave Somali soil. In a context of me dia fragmentation and intense suspicion towards outside agendas, rumours and misinformation can hold great currency. This is a fact not lost on propagandists, including those who support HSM. The media battlefield

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The complexities of the political – m ilitary context are mirrored in the fragmentary nature of the media environment in Somalia. Apart from several large , externally – based Somali language broadcasters ( radio, and Universal TV), the news – media market is characterised by multiple radio stations and websites usually focused in and around specific areas or cities. State control of media is limited, particularly in South – Central Somalia, and state or stat e – affiliated broad casters (such as Somali National TV or Radio Mogadishu) have no monopoly over broadcasting to shape a unified political narrative 33 . Although radio remains the primary mode of news media transmission across the country, levels of internet connectivity are i ncreasing rapidly especially in urban areas, and this includes the use of mobile internet technologies. Indeed, in the absence of libraries and state archives the internet itself is becoming the primary repository of Somali media and cultural production as virtually all content (radio broadcasts, television programmes, print news) finds its way online to become accessible for audiences elsewhere in Somalia and in the large and influential global Somali diaspora 34 . Media products promoting the HSM agenda can be divided into two broad and potentially overlapping networks such as Al Furqaan Radio/Media , or websites such as or Differentiating between affiliation and ownership with/by HSM is rarely straightforward in the fluid battlefie ld and media environment , and since 2010 Radio Al headquarters has shifted from one HSM – controlled l ocation to the next as the group has lost control of various urban strongholds . While this indicates that Al Furqaan is a Shabaab station, it nevertheless bills itself as an media network , and this i nflue n ces the type and tone of the propaganda it releases. output is largely in Arabic or English and focuses mainly on the on the ongoing conflict itself, the role of fighters and the various operations carried out in the name of HS jihad both in Somalia and in neighbouring countries such as Kenya. This material appears to primarily target audiences in the Arabic speaking world and in the West, and seeks to either promote HSM as a credible and effective transnational Jihadi actor 35 ) or as a vehicle to directly address Governments to both threaten attacks and attract potential foreign fighters (whether of Somali ethnic origin or not) to the ir struggle in East Africa 36 . Capable cameramen are evidently embedded in HSM units for certain high – profile attacks and the (edited, captioned and often highly graphic) material they produce is picked up not only by pro – jihadi websites but also finds its way into more mentation of ongoing conflict 37 . The media production of Al Furqaan , on the other hand, tends to be rele ased exclusively in Somali and, whilst referencing the ongoing conflict , focus es more on the alleged economic, social, political and developmental benef its of HSM rule through the ir implementation of strict Islamic Law ( Shariah ) . The videos analysed in this paper are taken from a much wider Al Furqaan output, and have all been distributed electronically, primarily through the Youtube platform. As the vide os only reference the conflict indirectly they have so far escaped Youtube censors who typically remove other

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more explicitly violent jihadist material. The four videos analysed in this paper had (as of January 2016) a combined total of around 97,000 views . Whilst this figure in terms is hardly staggering, it does indicate that a Somali speaking audience exists for the material and these figures do not include direct viewing through other websites. Attempting to identify the target or actual audience of such material is a difficult task for the researcher. Obviously, this material is aimed at a Somali – speaking audience located in Somalia, in the Somali – speaking territories of the Horn, or in wider diaspora communities. Thi s paper assumes that the audience in Somalia is primarily situated in urban areas where internet access is relatively fast and affordable, and is also relatively young, based on the tone of the material and the apparently young age of many of the journalis ts. Whilst it is clear that the content has been filmed on the ground in south – central Somalia it is possible that post – production may have been undertaken outside of Somalia, as in other contexts of jihadi media production 38 . Regardless of the potentially transnational character of this media production and consumption (true of online Somali news media in general), it is clear that the material is engaging with a particular narrative of life and conflict on the ground in Somalia. Important for this analysis is the way in texts present the interplay between meta – narratives of global or transnational mi litant Islamist struggle and micro – level religious or cultural politics of everyday life in south central Somalia. S pies, stonework and the suuq The videos uploaded by Al Furqaan onto their Y outube channel from late 2013 were araawe and Buulo Mareer in Lower Shabelle Region) were all captured by AMISOM/SFG forces in 2014, while Lower Juba remains largely under HSM control at the time of writing. In each to the advancing forces without significant urban resistance. HSM forces melted away into the hinterland to harry the occupying forces and disrupt supply lines both for the new occupiers and the remaining civilian populations. Foreseeing losses of territo ry that year may have spurred HSM and affiliated media organisations to produce this wave of material to serve as propaganda for their period of administration. This would invite comparisons between the economic or humanitarian conditions of these towns be fore and after the SFG takeovers; conditions which would be inevitably worsened by the the provision of basic services to local populations in the wake of its territoria l advances. How the sto ne stoves of Ceel Buur are is a mundane 11 minute documentary about traditional stone work and trade in this town in Galgaduud in central Somalia 39 . However, read in the context of HSM narratives engaging tropes of Islamic and Somali ethno – nationalist identity, the video serves as a sophisticated piece of propaganda designed to frame the Somali state (and battles for it) in a way that glorifies and e mpowers HSM militancy and governance. The

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