Somali PM appoints former Al-Shabaab leader as minister of religion

Somalia has appointed the former deputy leader and spokesman of the Islamist group Al-Shabaab as minister of religions, Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre announced on Tuesday.

The announcement marks a clear reversal of fortune for Muktar Robow, who has spent the past four years under house arrest after a falling out with ex-president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, better known as Farmajo.

Robow, 53, publicly quit al-Qaeda-linked militants in August 2017, with the US government at one point offering a $5 million bounty for his capture.

“After consultations that lasted over 30 days…I am very pleased to present Somali men and women whom I have selected based on their academic background, experience and equity,” Barre said. .

“I expect them to meet the needs of the country.”

Robow was arrested at the end of 2018, days before he was due to stand in the regional elections.

Farmajo’s government has accused him of “organizing a militia” in Baidoa, the capital of the Southwest Bay Area, and seeking to “undermine stability”.

His arrest sparked sporadic protests with protesters burning images of Farmajo, whom they accused of meddling in regional affairs.

His elevation comes weeks after recently elected President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud hinted at his government’s willingness to negotiate with al-Shabaab, saying it would only happen when the time is right.

Al-Shabaab has waged a bloody insurgency against Somalia’s fragile central government for 15 years and remains a potent force despite an African Union operation against the group.

Its fighters were driven out of the Somali capital Mogadishu in 2011, but continue to carry out attacks against military, government and civilian targets.

Barre was originally expected to appoint a cabinet within 30 days of his June 25 nomination, but said the delays were due to the country’s protracted electoral process that culminated in May with the selection of Mohamud as president.

Tuesday’s nominations include a deputy prime minister, 25 ministers, 24 ministers of state and deputy ministers in a 75-member team, with parliament to vote on the nominees.

The new government faces a host of challenges, including an impending famine and the overwhelming Islamist insurgency.

A crippling drought in the Horn of Africa has left an estimated 7.1 million Somalis – nearly half the population – battling hunger, with more than 200,000 on the brink of starvation, according to figures from the UN.

In July, Mohamud said ending the violent insurgency required more than a military approach.

Minnie J. Leonard