With the departure of Prime Minster Hamza Abdi Barre for Umrah , a non-obligatory, but important pilgrimage of Muslims to the holy city of Masjid al-Haram in Mecca and absence of Deputy Premier and Minister of Justice the Somali constitution confers the authority to Minister of Religion affairs , Mukhtar Robow Al Mansour.
Mukhtar Robow is a former deputy leader and former spokesman of the Somali militant group Al-Shabaab.
In 2015, he defected from Al-Shabaab due to ideology issues after years of hiding in his hometown. In 2022, Robow was appointed as the Minister of Religious Affairs in the Somali government.
Robow’s nomination signaled President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s willingness to negotiate with al-Shabab, after he asserted that more than a military approach will be required to end the insurgency.
His appointment fuelled a debate with some chiding it while others lauded the move as a step towards reconciliation and smart way to battle against the group.
The United States had at one point offered a $5 million (€4.9 million) bounty for Robow’s capture, a bounty which was removed at the Somali government’s request. He was arrested in late 2018, shortly before he was scheduled to run for president of Somalia’s southwestern Bay region.
The former al-Shabab militant had spent the last four years under house arrest after he fell out with ex-president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, known as “Farmaajo.”
Analysts believe his absorption to the government will help tremendously in the fight against Al-Shabaab. Already, he has started engaging clerics who play an important role in preaching against violent extremism in the Horn of African nation which is struggling with instability .
Robow calls his role the “ideological front”, encouraging religious leaders and scholars to speak out against alShabaab in order to “reclaim the Islamic narrative and confront their flawed ideology”.
This approach was demonstrated at a recent Islamic conference in Mogadishu in which Robow argued that the government should police the teachings of religious scholars, and introduce a licensing system for imams in schools.