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Last update: August 2023

The situation in Lower Shabelle should be seen in light of the situation in the neighbouring regions of Benadir/Mogadishu and Middle Shabelle.

Main COI references: [Security 2023, 2.2.3., p. 99-106; COI Update 2023, 1.1.1., p. 6; 1.3.4., pp. 16-19]


General information

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 population of the region comprises three groups: 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 2021, UNOCHA estimated the population of Lower Shabelle at 1 347 932 inhabitants.

Background and actors involved in armed confrontations

Lower Shabelle is among the most affected regions by Al-Shabaab. The region is highly militarised and characterised by the presence of Somali military forces, African Union, and US forces. Despite military offensives against the group, Al-Shaabab maintains an active network throughout the region and continues to launch attacks, control roads and impose taxes on the local population. The group was involved in 915 out of the 960 security incidents reported in Lower Shabelle between 1 July 2021 and 30 November 2022.

African Union / federal state forces control the towns of Marka, Baraawe, Afgooye, Qoryoley, Wanla Weyn and Awdhegle.

Control of the rural areas surrounding the towns is either contested between Al-Shabaab and the coalition of African Union / federal state forces or unclear. The south and south-west rural areas of the region remain under the control of Al-Shabaab.

The SNA succeeded to take control of formerly Al-Shabaab held villages near Afgooye, Janale and Awdheegle towns. Macawiisley is also active in the region, fighting against Al-Shabaab.

After the start of the government-led offensive against Al-Shabaab in August 2022, the group reportedly redeployed to Benadir and Lower Shabelle. [COI Update 2023, 1.1.1., pp. 5, 8]

ISS presence has also been reported.

Another source of conflict in Lower Shabelle stems from clan clashes over land and water resources or business competition. Rivalry between Hawiye and Biyomaal and Digil clans in the area continues while Al-Shabaab exploits this fighting to its own benefit by aligning with one of the rival clans.

Nature of violence and examples of incidents

Lower Shabelle was the most affected region in Somalia in terms of IED activity. Al-Shabaab also used mortar attacks and suicide attacks to target federal and state officials.

Large scale military operations caused the destruction of Al-Shabaab bases and other infrastructure.

Civilian lives were lost during AMISOM and SNA military operations.

Two security events in Afgoyee district were attributed to ISS.

Clashes between clan-based forces and with Al-Shabaab took place in Lower Shabelle.

Illustrative security incidents include, for example, a suicide attack on the Marka district headquarters carried out by Al-Shabaab on 27 July 2022, killing at least 11 people, including the district’s Commissioner. On 9 September 2022, an airstrike conducted in Mubarak reportedly killed between 3 and 10 civilians, including a child. On 9 February 2022, during the parliamentary elections, mortars targeting a polling station in Baraawe hit a residential area and killed four civilians. On 10 August 2021, seven civilians, including five farmers, were shot and killed by AMISOM soldiers following an ambush by Al-Shabaab.

Incidents: data

ACLED recorded 960 security incidents (an average of 13 security incidents per week) in Lower Shabelle region between 1 July 2021 and 30 November 2022, ranking first in terms of number of security incidents. Out of those incidents, 743 were coded as ‘battles’, 165 as ‘explosions/remote violence’ and 52 as ‘violence against civilians’. In the period from 1 December 2022 to 14 April 2023, 175 security incidents were recorded in Lower Shabelle representing an average of 9.2 security incidents per week. Out of those incidents, 126 were coded as ‘battles’.

Geographical scope

Security incidents occurred in all 7 districts of Lower Shabelle with the largest overall number being recorded in Afgoye (512 events), followed by Lower Shabelle’s capital Marka (292 events).

Fatalities among civilians and non-civilians

In the 17 months between July 2021 and November 2022, ACLED recorded a total of 1 004 fatalities in the region, ranking it second in terms of fatalities. In the 4.5 months between December 2022 and mid-April 2023, ACLED recorded a total of 267 fatalities in the region. Compared to the figures for the population in the region as from 2021, this represents approximately 94 fatalities per 100 000 inhabitants for the whole reference period.


Between July 2021 and November 2022, 83 350 individuals were newly displaced from Lower Shabelle due to conflict or insecurity, according to PRMN. Of these, some 14 % were displaced within the region, while the remaining 71 626 individuals were displaced to other regions, mainly Benadir.

Between December 2022 and March 2023, 11 559 individuals were newly displaced from Lower Shabelle, according to PRMN.

Further impact on civilians

One humanitarian access incident was documented by UNOCHA during the reference period. Clan-related conflicts in Lower Shabelle have been affecting lives and livelihoods.

Incidents affecting civilians in the region included a case of a girl being gang-raped by government soldiers.

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 in order 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.