Last updated: June 2022
The situation in Lower Shabelle should be seen in light of the situation in the neighbouring regions of Benadir/Mogadishu and Middle Shabelle.
General information about the region
Lower Shabelle region is located along the coast in south Somalia and consists of seven districts. The region’s capital is Marka.
The Lower Shabelle region is one of the most high-value and strategic zones of the country and the country’s most productive irrigated agricultural zone. Two of the most important roads, linking Mogadishu to Baidoa and to Kismayo, pass through the region. The airport at Bale Dogle has served for years as a base housing Somali special forces, US military advisors and trainers, and AMISOM peacekeepers.
The population of the region is very diverse and complex. It is comprised of three groupings: the long-term indigenous populations (55-60% of Digil, 30% of Hawiye, 10% of Bioyamaal clans inhabiting the region in pre-colonial era), historic migrants (Somali of all clans that gravitated into the region in the colonial era and during the few decades of independence for work or investment in farms) and civil war era armed settlers in the form of strong clan militias and their families. The Bioyamaal, although belonging to the Dir clan family, can be considered a minority clan in the region.
In 2014, UNFPA and Somali authorities estimated the population of Lower Shabelle region at 1 202 219 inhabitants. Apart from Mogadishu, Lower Shabelle has the highest population density in Somalia.
Background and actors involved in armed confrontations
The Lower Shabelle region is among the most affected regions by Al-Shabaab. The group has maintained an active network throughout the region and despite offensives to push it out of main towns, continues to launch attacks, control roadblocks, and tax local populations.
The region has therefore a strong security sector presence. AMISOM units were active against Al-Shabaab, and US advisors and special forces were present at Bali Doogle. The SNA, sometimes acting as a clan militia, has a strong presence as well.
In the overall fight against Al-Shabaab, Operation Badbaado 1 was one of the main military operations in the reference period. Originally launched in April 2019 this operation involved AMISOM, international, and Somali forces to recover bridge towns on the Shabelle river from Al-Shabaab. In this area, which is believed to be the site of Al-Shabaab’s explosive-making factories, as of mid-2020 the SNA and AMISOM have successfully recaptured four main towns (Jannaale, Sabiid, Bariirre and Awdhiigle). Al-Shabaab, was involved in 81% of the incidents in Lower Shabelle between 1 January 2020 and 30 June 2021.
Other actors also fight Al-Shabaab in the region, such as the Macawiisleey, a Hawiye-led clan militia organised on a voluntary basis and sustained by the local communities, mainly due to resentment over taxes imposed by Al-Shabaab.
A second and deeper source of conflict in Lower Shabelle revolves around clan clashes over land and water resources or business competition. There is an on-going rivalry between Hawiye and non-Hawiye clans in the area, both the Biyomaal and Digil, with the former controlling most of the rich farmland, and the latter claiming that they control and occupy it illegitimately.
Since late 2017, ISS has also been active around Afgoye [Actors, 6.1].
Nature of violence
While the incidents related to Al-Shabaab involved Somali Armed forces or Somali Police Force, AMISOM forces and civilians, the group mostly perpetrated hit-and-run attacks targeting Somali Security Forces and AMISOM.
Several (13 to 21) US airstrikes killing Al-Shabaab members and civilians were documented. South-West state, Lower Shabelle included, constitutes one of the three FMS (along with Benadir and Hirshabelle) where IEDs are regularly encountered [Security 2021, 2.2.4]. In 2020, Lower Shabelle was among the most affected regions regarding IED activities, which mostly took place on main supply routes. Lower Shabelle recorded the highest number of stand-off weapons incidents in 2020 countrywide. Mortar attacks targeting mainly AMISOM and local security forces were also reported in 2020 and beginning 2021. Al-Shabaab also used grenades and IEDs to target high-level federal and state officials, among them the Governor of Lower Shabelle.
The destruction of Al-Shabaab al-Furqaan Radio in the course of US air strikes on Kunya-Baro beginning of January 2021, reportedly, killed three journalists. Somali and US military forces engaged in an airstrike in the vicinity of Tortorrow, killing five to eight civilians on 21 September 2020. US forces denied their involvement in this incident.
Furthermore, children were injured and killed by the explosion of an ordnance.
Among others, security incidents related to clan conflicts do not always receive local media attention and hence might go under-reported in Somalia.
ACLED recorded 920 security incidents (an average of 11.8 security incidents per week) in Lower Shabelle region between 1 January 2020 and 30 June 2021 ranking the region first in terms of the highest number of security incidents. Out of those incidents, 707 were coded as battles, 159 as explosions/remote violence and 54 as violence against civilians.
Security incidents occurred in all 7 districts of Lower Shabelle with the largest overall number being recorded in Afgoye (448 events), followed by Lower Shabelle’s capital Marka (277 events).
Fatalities among civilians and non-civilians
In the reference period, ACLED recorded a total of 1 168 fatalities in the region. Compared to the figures for the population in the region as from 2014, this represents approximately 97 fatalities per 100 000 inhabitants.
Between January 2020 and May 2021, PRMN reported an estimated 410 000 new displacements from Lower Shabelle. In 2021, conflict or insecurity were the main driver behind the displacements. In 2020, floods were the main reason for relocating, mostly within the region. In 2021, of the 29 000 people displaced from Lower Shabelle, 14 000 departed to Benadir.
Further impact of the armed conflict(s) on the life of civilians
Although major towns in the region fall under the control of the government, the region is a kind of ‘lawless land’ where no state actor is fully in control of the rule of law.
Clan violence affected people’s lives and livelihoods and caused displacements. Clan conflicts were the reason that humanitarian programmes were suspended. In the first quarter of 2021, clashes between Al-Shabaab and clan militias in Wanla Weyne district resulted in the confiscation of livestock from pastoralists as well as the torching of their settlements and assets.
UNOCHA reported that conflict impacted trade flows and livelihoods, e.g. by disrupting cropping activities.
Looking at the indicators, it can be concluded that ‘mere presence’ in the area would not be sufficient to establish a real risk of serious harm under Article 15(c) QD in the region of Lower Shabelle. However, indiscriminate violence reaches a high level, and, accordingly, a lower level of individual elements is required to show substantial grounds for believing that a civilian, returned to the territory, would face a real risk of serious harm within the meaning of Article 15(c) QD.