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Look no further: Experts call for overhaul in Somali spy chief’s hiring process  

Somali government which grappling with a deadly insurgency by the Al-Qaeda linked Al Shabab group is expected to appoint a new intelligence chief in the next few weeks after the sacking of the agency’s chief following series of deadly attacks by militants, largely in the capital.

By John Thiongo, john@alleastafrica.com

NAIROBI – The old-fashioned system involving the appointment of Somalia’s intelligence chief presents such an obstacle course with the country’s leaders often resort to candidates from outside the agency’s pecking order more willingly than those inside seen by many better equipped with the necessary experiences in the modern counter-terrorism strategy.

Somali government which grappling with a deadly insurgency by the Al-Qaeda linked Al Shabab group is expected to appoint a new intelligence chief in the next few weeks after the sacking of the agency’s chief following series of deadly attacks by militants, largely in the capital.

However, the scenario in which the spy chief’s appointment is conducted had been a subject of controversy for some time in Somalia, with many called for the government to consider picking skilled officers operating inside the spy service for the top position rather than turning to candidates from outside, a move which security experts said could mark a turning point in improving agency’s overall performance.

“Having a fresh chief means starting from the scratch to adjust with the system’s functionalities in contrast with the serving senior officers, hence exposing immediate loopholes of which Al Shabab would be happy to exploit.” said Ahmed Mohamed, a Somali security expert by phone from Mogadishu.

In the past, new intelligence chiefs have struggled to establish their authority over the agency in the face of challenges by resistant senior officers, apparently angered by the fact of having an outsider as their boss, creating a familiar rush of adrenaline as they watched new dynamics unfold around them.

Unlike their peers within the other Somali army bodies, serving senior intelligence officers have never made to the agency’s top position usually taken by outsiders in decades, thus creating morale problems among long-serving senior officers who have complained that they’re stuck in dead-end positions with no hopes for promotions.

“When you shut out the officers who are familiar with the ongoings, you’re creating grievances that you can find hard to disentangle in the long-run.” said Yusuf Samatar, a retired former Somali intelligence colonel.

“Therefore, the current setting involving the selection of the intel chief is counterproductive and further fuels rivalry that could compromise the joint effort and coordination to defeat terrorists.” He noted.

In recent years, Somalia’s intelligence service, hampered by significant shortcomings, including what security experts called ‘unsatisfactory response and failure to gather sufficient and advance information about potential attacks by Al Shabab has seen subsequent sackings of its chiefs over security lapses.

However, security experts pointed out that absence of intelligence lack of information sharing among top leadership due to long-running rivalry among senior officers and leadership as a key factor.

“Deepened discontent that resulted from lack of career track for some officers is another key challenge messing up the whole structure,” said a senior African Union intelligence officer who coordinated with the Somali intelligence on condition of anonymity.

“In every workplace, everyone has one eye on their current job and another on the next opportunity, but the conventional tendency of looking outside for the agency’s chiefs is pushing others over the edge.” He said.

TESTING THE NEW WATER

Meanwhile, attacks by Al Shabab remain a major concern for Somali intelligence officials who say that the vast numbers are difficult to defend especially attacks by suicide bombers who mingle with the crowds.

However, Timothy Njuguna, a Nairobi-based security expert says that difficulties in co-ordinating intelligence work within the agency in the face of a growing threat by extremist fighters are throwing up far bigger security hurdles for Somalia.

“It’s a high time for Somalia to capitalize on the losses of Al Shabab by using the most talented officers. Chipping at their morale will mean cause serious setback.” He said.

Despite being ousted from most of its key strongholds, Al Shabab continues deadly guerilla attacks including complex attacks on army bases across large parts of the south and central Somalia despite efforts by the country’s intelligence to prevent attacks.

However, security officials played down the attacks’ strategic impact, attributing militants’ increasing attacks with the ongoing offensive rather than a ‘security lapse’, further fuelling the debate about the government’s preparedness in quelling such attacks.

(Additional reporting and editing by Judy Maina in Nairobi, Kenya) 

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