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Last update: August 2023

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

Main COI references: [Security 2023, 2.4.2., pp. 128-135; COI Update 2023, 1.1.1., p. 5, 1.3.4., pp. 16-19; Security 2021, 2.4.2, pp. 103-104; Actors, 7.4, p. 92]


General information

Middle Shabelle region is located in the south-east of Somalia and consists of four districts. The region’s capital is Jowhar.

Middle Shabelle is mainly inhabited by Hawiye clans, including the Abgaal, Hawadle, Murusade, Galjaal or Gaaljeel, Baadi Adde sub-clans. Other clans/groups present in the area are the Bantu Shiidle, and other minority clans [Security 2021,, p. 104]. Shiidle, a Bantu minority group is residing east of the Shabelle river and around Jowhar town. 

In 2021, UNOCHA estimated the population of Middle Shabelle at 857 395 inhabitants.

Background and actors involved in armed confrontations

During the reference period of July 2021 and November 2022, the main conflict dynamics in Middle Shabelle included the ongoing confrontation between Al-Shabaab and anti-Al-Shabaab forces, including clan militia. Since August 2022, the government offensive against Al-Shabaab intensified, following the announcement of State President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud of a ‘total war’ against Al-Shabaab. Al-Shabaab attacks on AMISOM/ATMIS forces, especially Burundian forces, were also reported, as well as inter-clan disputes over land.

According to a Somali media source, in December 2022 Middle Shabelle was one of Al-Shabaab’s strongholds and the group controlled large parts of Hirshabelle state, including rural areas and main supply roads, having as a result that state and federal officials and anyone refusing to submit to Al-Shabaab was able to travel to most of the state’s cities only by air. Al-Shabaab maintains a ‘heavy presence’ on the road between Jowhar and Balad, making difficult the access to the capital by car for regional officials. Reportedly, several members of the regional parliament have been killed over the past years.

Adan Yabaal district and town have reportedly been under control of Al-Shabaab since 2016 until early December 2022, when SNA and clan militia forces took control of the district. According to the AMISOM/ATMIS this district acted as a ‘training ground’ for the group before its liberation in early December 2022 by SNA and clan militia forces, including the Ma’awiisley. Control over other parts of Middle Shabelle region was reported to be mixed or unclear. Al-Shabaab, was involved in over 88 % of the incidents in Middle Shabelle between 1 July 2021 and 30 November 2022.

After the start of the government-led offensive against Al-Shabaab in August 2022, the group was also reportedly concentrating on retaking areas they lost in Hirshabelle region. Also, more than half of 170 non-violent transfer of territory events from Al-Shabaab to the Somali government forces in 2022, such as Al-Shabaab vacating its bases, occurred in Hiraan and Middle Shabelle regions. [COI Update 2023, 1.1.1., pp. 5, 8]

Ma’awiisley forces supported the SNA in the fight to regain areas under the control of Al-Shabaab. Reportedly, locations have been returned to the control of government forces in October and November 2022. Hawadle sub-clan militias have been supporting the SNA’s offensive against Al-Shabaab since the summer of 2022. The Abgal, the dominant group in Middle Shabelle region, and the Hawadle, a Hawiye sub-clan, have reportedly joined forces with the SNA in September 2022, following an attack by Al-Shabaab on a humanitarian convoy on 2 September 2022.

Nature of violence and examples of incidents

Illustrative security incidents include, for example, the killing of at least four civilians on 14 February 2022, when their vehicle ran over a roadside bomb in Jowhar district. Reportedly, no group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

An artillery attack by Al-Shabaab on an ATMIS base in May 2022 reportedly killed two civilians, a mother and her son. Local media reported on an attack on a military checkpoint in Balad town in Middle Shabelle in May 2022. Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that it had killed seven soldiers in the incident.

According to a source, a bomb attack by Al-Shabaab on the Nur Doob hotel, which is located near Hirshabelle State’s presidential palace, in Jowhar city in July 2022 killed at least five persons, including hotel employees and security guards, while 14 others were injured. A second attack close to the same hotel, in August 2022, reportedly injured six civilians, including two children. No group claimed responsibility for the attack.

In the context of a tribal conflict in November 2022, a family of five was killed in the War Sheikh area of Middle Shabelle.

In November 2022, a traditional clan elder, who was involved in mediation efforts in a conflict between two clans in Cadale district, was reportedly killed. Clan disputes were also reported in the same district in July and August 2021 in the context of the parliamentary elections, when Abdalla Arone and Nugaale Arone Abgal sub-clan communities claimed the right to seats in the parliament.

In November 2022 interclan clashes were reported shortly after control over the area was retaken from Al-Shabaab.

In December 2021, a bomb attack by Al-Shabaab on a restaurant in Jowar city reportedly killed one civilian and injured several others, including regional officials and security personnel.

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

Incidents: data

ACLED recorded 237 security incidents (an average of 3.2 security incidents per week) in Middle Shabelle region between 1 July 2021 and 30 November 2022. Out of those incidents, 145 were coded as ‘battles’, 75 as ‘explosions/remote violence’ and 17 as ‘violence against civilians’. In the period from 1 December 2022 to 14 April 2023, 75 security incidents were recorded in Middle Shabelle, representing an average of 3.9 security incidents per week. Out of those incidents, 40 were coded as ‘battles’.

Geographical scope

Security incidents occurred in all 4 districts of Middle Shabelle with the largest overall number being recorded in Jowhar district (111 events), followed by Balcad District (87 events) for the period between July 2021 and end of November 2022.

Fatalities among civilians and non-civilians

In the 17 months between July 2021 and November 2022, ACLED recorded a total of 1 000 fatalities in the region. In the 4.5 months between December 2022 and mid-April 2023, ACLED recorded a total of 919 fatalities in the region. Compared to the figures for the population in the region as from 2021, this represents approximately 224 fatalities per 100 000 inhabitants for the whole reference period.


Between July 2021 and November 2022, 37 743 individuals were newly displaced from Middle Shabelle, according to PRMN. Almost half of them (47.43 %) were displaced within the region, while the remaining 19 843 individuals were displaced to other regions, including Benadir and Lower Shabelle.

In a joint report on conflict-induced displacements, UNHCR and NRC quoted local communities claiming that locations, such as Aden Yabal, Basra, Warmoy, Yaaqle, Mukay, Xawadley, and Masaajid Ali Gaduud were ‘hotspot locations’ in the context of fights between non-state armed groups (NSAGs) and clan militia, with many locals fleeing forced recruitments of children by armed groups as well as taxation, threats and targeted killings.

Between December 2022 and March 2023, 37 726 individuals were newly displaced from Middle Shabelle, according to PRMN.

Further impact on civilians

In the period between January and March 2022, UNOCHA documented two humanitarian access incidents. Al-Shabaab reportedly used checkpoints to extort money from the local population.

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 Middle 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.