In recent months, African Union, Kenyan, and Ethiopian troops, alongside a coalition of Somali militia, have “liberated” many major towns from the al-Shabab militia.
Al-Shabab has shown little resistance, strategically abandoning its former bases and training camps, and adopting guerrilla tactics in the face of larger and better-equipped armies. Though many towns have been cleared of the militants, the bush in between remains insecure.
Mired by the death of key leaders, infighting, revenue losses, and fleeing of foreign fighters, there is no doubt that al-Shabab has weakened. Most fighters have retreated to the port city of Kismayo, the Islamists’ last bastion and financial centre.
But prophesying the end of the fighters underestimates their agility. Al-Shabab still wreaks havoc using land mines, car bombs, and improvised explosive devices.
And the expulsion of the group from Kismayo could create a dangerous a power vacuum, testing the uneasy alliance between various Somali factions.
Places such as Ras Kamboni and Baidoa are microcosms of the largely unseen Somalia outside of Mogadishu. Observers say it is regions such as these that will test the transition from failed state to stable democracy.
Despite the hardship Somalis face outside Mogadishu, the disappearance of al-Shabab from cities and towns is a sign of hope after decades of despair.