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Spies, stonework, and the suuq: Somali nationalism and the narrative politics of pro-Harakat Al Shabaab Al Mujaahidiin online propaganda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)247-265
JournalJournal of Eastern African Studies
Issue number2
Early online date26 May 2016
Accepted/In press15 Apr 2016
E-pub ahead of print26 May 2016


King's Authors


Since 2013, media affiliates of Harakat Al Shabaab Al Mujaahidiin (HSM) have been producing and disseminating online documentary-style videos presenting daily life in areas of south-central Somalia under the militant group’s control. In the context of their wider ‘jihad’ waged against foreign occupiers and an ‘apostate’ Federal Government, these videos feature narratives of nationalist economic self-determination as alternatives to aid dependence and the allegedly nefarious interference of external powers in Somalia. This paper analyses the iconography of these videos in the context of the ‘narrative politics’ of a fragmented modern Somalia. If HSM has, at times, been characterised by a broad ideological divide between factions with an ‘internationalist’ jihadi outlook and those with a more pragmatic ‘nationalist’ worldview, then the discourses of this latter faction require detailed analysis not only for a clearer understanding of the internal dynamics of the HSM insurgency but also in regards to the wider role of narratives of Somali ethno-nationalism in ongoing processes of state reconfiguration. The paper argues that although HSM no longer benefits from the popular nationalist kudos it previously enjoyed in its resistance to the Ethiopian invasion of 2006, it nonetheless operates in a discursive battlefield where narratives around malign foreign intervention – based on exploitation of socio-political divisions of society and the dependence brought by external humanitarian aid – transcend the movement itself and find expression in the wider public spheres of news media and popular commentary.

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