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Somali President Offers Jihadi Group Amnesty Option For 60 Days


By now, you've heard about the two bombings in Egypt, which killed more than 40 people attending Palm Sunday services at two different churches. ISIS claimed responsibility. It was another painful reminder that terrorism is a global problem. So we want to go elsewhere in Africa now where the president of Somalia has declared that his country is at war with another jihadi group, Al-Shabaab.

But the president's proposal to fight includes a feature that's different from what's being debated elsewhere. He is offering amnesty to Al-Shabaab militants who agree to put down their arms. We're joined now by NPR's East Africa correspondent Eyder Peralta to talk about the latest in Somalia. Eyder, thanks so much for speaking with us.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Always a pleasure.

MARTIN: So could you just remind us of what's been happening in Somalia lately?

PERALTA: Yeah, so Somalia's capital Mogadishu has had a really tough go of it lately. Al-Shabaab has detonated five bombs in the past few weeks. The last one happened just this afternoon, and it looks as if it was an assassination attempt. Al-Shabaab used a car bomb to target the convoy of the country's new army chief. So facing these constant attacks, Somalia's new President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo came out in military fatigues to say he'd had enough.

In about two minutes, he announced a big shake-up. He named new commanders to the army, security and police. And he named a new mayor of Mogadishu. And while he was very much pushing a military operation here, he also gave militants a way out. He announced a 60-day amnesty and said that Somalia was ready to offer them education and jobs.

MARTIN: Is there any sense of where he got this idea - a precedent for this or whether it might work?

PERALTA: So that's the big question. And it's really hard to answer. You know, there are those observers who really like President Farmajo. Remember, he was the popular favorite, the least corrupt of the presidential candidates. And those observers saw Farmajo's election as a huge blow to corruption. And corruption in Somalia goes hand-in-hand with Al-Shabab - one, because they essentially campaigned against it. You know, they always tell Somalis, why should you trust a corrupt government? And two, because corruption, in some ways, allows them to operate in the country.

The outgoing security chief dropped a bombshell this week when he said Al-Shabab was importing its bomb-making materials right through the Mogadishu port. So those who think that this will work argue that Farmajo's legitimacy and the goodwill he has with most Somalis makes Al-Shabaab weaker. But there are those, of course, who disagree.

I spoke with Mohamed Haji Ingiriis. He studies Somalia at Oxford. And he's one of those who doesn't have much hope. He says he didn't hear any detail about what is a really complex problem. And all of this, he says, has been tried before. The previous president offered amnesty, and that didn't work. He took a tough military posture, and that didn't work. And he says that, also, Farmajo might not be the great anti-corruption crusader that he's made out to be. Let's listen to a bit of what he told me.

MOHAMED HAJI INGIRIIS: Most of those who have been appointed were part of the system over the last 10 years or more than so. So Farmajo was expected to appoint a new Cabinet, yeah, and new administrators and new technocrats that have not been part of the system, who are clean from the war on economy and the insecurity in Mogadishu. But repeating the same people again and again, I don't think it will result in a good result.

PERALTA: Even the guys he appointed during the shake-up, he says, they're all old-schoolers.

MARTIN: But have we heard anything from Al-Shabaab?

PERALTA: Yeah, and it's really what you would expect. They never liked Farmajo because they feel this is a process driven by the West. So they were defiant. One of the Al-Shabaab-linked news sites quoted a spokesman saying that Farmajo's actions are just to please the West. And that will, quote, "damage his reputation, if he had one." And after the attack today, they put out a statement saying they were prepared to continue attacking Mogadishu.

MARTIN: Well, that's NPR's East Africa correspondent Eyder Peralta. Eyder, keep us posted, please.

PERALTA: Thanks, Michel.

MARTIN: Eyder's joining us from Nairobi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.