Somalia’s government-led forces have captured an al-Shabaab stronghold on the Indian Ocean coast, the defence minister said on Monday, in one of their most significant victories since launching an offensive against the Islamist group last year. The forces took the port town of Harardhere as well as the nearby town of Galcad in central Somalia’s Galmudug region, Defence Minister Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur said on state-owned television.

Harardhere was a major base for pirates hijacking merchant ships until 2011. It was later taken over by al-Shabaab, which first rose up against the government in 2007 before pledging its allegiance to al-Qaeda. 

The government’s recent successes are borne out of its ability to key into the general frustration Somalis increasingly feel towards al-Shabaab. This is important because the armed group which has proven resilient in the past made so much headway amid political instability and uncertainty surrounding power succession in the country.

However, the inauguration of a new government in 2022 ended the infighting among political leaders in Mogadishu and they were handed a platter. As terror attacks on civilians in the country and neighbours such as Kenya mounted, clans rose up in arms, forming militias and vigilantes to counter the terror elements. This, in conjunction with the efforts of a regional task force, has led to a renewed offensive against the group which has led to the recapture of such places as Haradhere.

Going forward, the government’s major challenge will be in winning over the civilian population in areas which have long been in the group’s possession. A major point of concern in the government’s counter-terror plan is how it hopes to sustain its gains. Right now, it is riding on the waves of popular anti-al-Shabaab sentiment. But Somalia is infamous for oscillating between periods of a surge in pro-government and pro-rebel popularity.

A failure to improve the lives of residents in newly liberated areas may see a resurgence of the group in an attempt to test these not-so-new realities in one of the world’s most fragile and fractured states.