For years he was the spokesman and deputy leader of al Qaeda inspired al-Shabab, Africa’s deadliest terror group.
Now Mukhtar Robow is running for office in Somalia, a country struggling to emerge from decades of war.
While Robow’s own campaign slogan is “Security and Justice,” his new public profile appears to present a choice between the two: Embrace al-Shabab defectors for the sake of security or hold them accountable in the name of justice.
But a rift within al-Shabab, between parts of the group seeking to establish a global caliphate and others like Robow who were more focused on national issues, set him on a new path.
Robow’s transformation from militant leader who publicly praised successful suicide attacks to candidate for office was the result of the government’s program of encouraging al-Shabab defections.
Hussein Sheikh-Ali, a former government adviser who helped negotiate Robow’s move, said it took three years to convince him to change sides.
Sheikh-Ali, who is also the director of the Hiraal Institute, a security research group in Mogadishu, believes Robow’s transformation is genuine.
Now Robow is running to become the president of South West State — one of six federal regions set up to help establish a functioning government.
A new report from the United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia says about 20 other senior members of al-Shabab have defected “at Robow’s instigation.”
Ahmed Madobe, a former Islamist warlord who ran a powerful militia that fought against al-Shabab for control of the region and its lucrative port in Kismayo, reentered mainstream politics and was elected president of Jubaland State in southern Somalia in 2013.
While local authorities cleared his candidacy, the central government has announced Robow cannot run because he remains under international sanction.
Rashid Abdi, the Horn of Africa director for International Crisis Group, acknowledged that Robow’s candidacy poses a moral dilemma.
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