Understanding the Somalia Conflagration
Identity, Political Islam and Peacebuilding
Understanding the Somalia ConflagrationHarowo.com
Jul 14, 2011
Twenty years ago Somalia's central, dictatorial government was ousted. The ouster did not only lead to a change of regime but it also brought about state collapse in 1991. The armed opposition groups, whose forces brought the 21-year military regime to an end, had facilitated the break-up of Somalia into clan fiefdoms and regional administrations. Many attempts to reconstitute the Somali state through reconciliation conferences, held in and outside Somalia, have not succeeded. What can the international community do to help Somalis end the Somalia’s state of statelessness?- Liban Ahmad, editor of Somalia Research Report, Harowo.com
Dr Afyare Abdi Elmi, a Somali-Canadian academic who teaches at the Department of International Affairs, Qatar University, attempts to answer this and other relevant questions in his book Understanding the Somalia Conflagration: Identity, Political Islam and Peacebuilding. The author’s outlook was shaped by the works of the Somali poet, Mohamed Ibrahim Warsame (aka Hadraawi), and the late Sheikh Mohamed Mo’alim.
" The purpose of this book is to explain the specific nature and character of the conflict in Somalia and to discuss ways and means to resolve it," writes Dr Elmi who argues that “ as was clear from the outset of the civil unrest in the 1990s, none of the Somali factions could win the war by defeating other groups militarily.” Was it civil unrest or a civil war? As far back as 1987 professor Ahmed Ismail Samatar detected poor leadership and conflicting agendas in former armed opposition groups based outside Somalia, two subtle indicators showing that opposition leaders were no not up to the task to help Somalia develop democratic institutions.
According to Elmi , the causes of Somalia’s conflict are “complex and multiple… colonial legacy, unhelpful political culture, and a ready availability of weapons” ( page 2) but he contradicts himself in page 20: “ clan pride and the culture of taking revenge against any member of the perpetrator’s clan ( i.e. collective punishment) are not only causes of traditional clan wars but the cause of the recent civil war.”
Factual errors crop up in the author’s discussion of crucial stages in Somalia’s post-colonial political history. Afyare writes: “ It is true that civilian leaders in the period between 1960 and 1969 embezzled state resources, mishandled judicial cases and scholarships, or else used nepotism when hiring and firing government employees, acting in part from the fact that Somalia’s military regime committed heinous crimes against civilian populations.” Were the civilian leaders taking a leaf out of the military regime’s book or vice versa? When a military junta led by the late Major General Mohamed Siyad Barre overthrew a civilian government whose MPs were bickering over who was to replace president Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke who was assassinated in Las Anod, the Supreme Revolutionary Council called its predecessor dowladdii Musuqmaasuqa ( a corrupted government ) but Dr Elmi argues it is Somali people who gave the civilian government the label “dowladdii Musuqmaasuqa .”
Since 1991 many reconciliation conferences were organised for Somalis who didn’t agree on the initiative or the outcome of the reconciliation conferences either because of the countries who organised it or political leaders who participated in it. In 1998 Egypt organised a reconciliation conference for some Somali political leaders. The conference did not succeed partly because of the decision by Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed and the late Adam Abdullahi Nur to leave the conference. “When Somalis signed the Cairo Peace Accord, Ethiopia convinced Colonel Abdullahi Yusuf [Ahmed] and Aden Abdullahi Nur (Gabyow) to quit the conference. These leaders left Cairo and rejected the outcome of the conference. (page 25)” In page 23 Elmi pins the blame for the failure of Cairo Peace accord on “ Hussein Aideed [who] refused to leave Baidoa which his forces controlled. In addition, Ali Mahdi and Hussein Aideed failed to pacify Mogadishu.”
Egypt returned the favour when Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, then president of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia formed in kenya in 2004, paid a visit to Egypt to attend the funeral of Yaser Arafat. “Egypt received Abdullahi Yusuf coldly.”
Afyare writes: Arab countries and Somalia’s two neighboring countries, Ethiopia and Kenya, have always been rivals. Arab countries share a culture and religion with the Somali people. Ethiopia and Kenya, on the other hand, share geographical boundaries with Somalia and consider it an historic enemy. Kenya and Ethiopia also have political, economic and military ties against Somalia. Moreover, Ethiopia undermined Egypt’s effort to end the Somali conflict at the Cairo conference.”
Neither the African Union of which many Arab countries are members nor the Arab League criticised Ethiopia’s role in Somalia following the intervention or invasion ( depending on your viewpoint) of Ethiopian army in Somalia to back up the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia against the forces of the former Union of Islamic Courts in December 2006. Dr Elmi attempts to substantiate “Ethiopia-Kenya pact” against Somalia in an undated endnote number 20 of chapter 2 on page 149 ( “ Economic and security Pact between Ethiopia and Kenya.” Both Ethiopia and Kenya host Somali refugees. Like Somalia, Ethiopia had a change of regime in 1991. Unlike Somalia’s clan-based organisations, members of Ethiopia’s opposition, led by the current prime minister of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi, were made up of Ethiopia’s ethnicities. Somalis are now living with the choices opposition leaders made to have no a political programme beyond toppling the military regime.
Dr. Elmi discusses the impact of the misuse of shared clan identities ( abtirsiinyo) have on Somali politics and social relations. He argues Somali clans such as Madhibaan, Yibir and Jareer are discriminated because they are [numerically] “small”. Is this understatement reflected in his view that “clan and Islamic identities inform each other within the Somali context?” (page 116). There many numerically small clans who don’t suffer indignities to which Madhibaan, Jareer and Yibir clans are subjected.
The author suggests modification of 4.5 power-sharing formula on which the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia is based by increasing the number of clans “ to six or seven” but this “ will also have negative impact on the functionality of any new system. One way of reconciling the contradictory clan dimensions of clan identity” is to distribute parliamentary seats among clans but subordinate “the use of the clan identity to the other value of competency for the cabinet, senior bureaucratic positions and other important positions.” Is this competency-based approach dependent on the same clan-based quota used to distribute the parliamentary seats or will the prime minister have the choice to select cabinet members regardless of the clan they belong to?
Islamist movements that emerged in Somalia after the overthrow of the military regime had been building their support base as far back as 1960s. Elmi locates emergence of Somalia’s islamist organisations in the global Islamist movements. In pre-1991 Somalia’s islamist groups could not get a traction because neither the one-party , dictatorship nor clan-based armed opposition movements had a political platform with which Islamist groups were happy. Elmi notes the diversity of Somalia’s Islamist groups—“Islah, Ikhwan-Al-Muslimunand Wahdatu Shabab Al-Islam” and changes those organisations have undergone in light of state collapse and subsequent break-up of Somalia into regional administrations and clan-fiefdoms.
“The Salafi (Al Shabab and Hisbul Islam [before it merged with Al Shabab in December 2010) and Ikhwani orientations are not mutually exclusive, particularly in Somalia.” Why did the Union of Islamic Courts ban Islah meetings in Mogadishu shortly after Somali warlords were defeated in 2006?
Religious personalities such as the late Sheikh Mohamed Moalim and Sheikh Nur Ali Olow had impact on the evolution of Islamist groups in Somalia between 1960-1990. Dr Elmi argues that Islamist groups have not transcended the clan loyalties because “the overwhelming majority of Islamists are from Hawiye sub-clans.” Mogadishu is battle-ground for the TFG led by president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, and Harakat Al Mujahedin Al Shabab led by Abu Zubayr (aka Ina Godane).
Armed confrontations reminiscent of United Somali Congress power struggle between Ali Mahdi and General Aideed in 1990s , affect the lives of civilians in Mogadishu. Al Shabab calls the TFG “an apostate government” but Dr Elmi makes the suggestion that “the United States must realize that Islamists are the best political group and most of them have a national agenda.”
Discussing the emergence of Al Itihad Al-Islami (AIAI) and how it lost the war with Somali Salvation Democratic Front forces led by colonel Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, then head of emergencies in Mudug , Nugal and Bari regions in 1992, Elmi emphasises popular support AIAI enjoyed to be a dominant force in Nugaal and northeastern region’s districts before Puntland was formed in 1998. To understand 1992 war between SSDF forces and now defunct AIAI militants one has to consider the context in which the war had taken place.
Shortly after Siyad Barre regime was overthrown, United Somali Congress forces led by the late General Aideed attacked Galkacyo and massacred many civilians. SSDF was revived as an opposition, defensive group partly because of the USC attacks and partly because of the call from the prime minister United Somali Congress-installed interim government, Omar Arteh Ghalib, who instructed the national army units in Galkayo to surrender to USC forces in southern parts of Galkacyo and to SDDF forces in Northern parts of the same city. SSDF regrouped and recaptured Galkacyo. Bosaso, the port, was the major commercial hub that SDDF used to import fuel, medicine and materiel to counter attacks from United Somali Congress forces.
Al Itihad Al-Islami became a dominant force in Bosaso early 1992. AIAI leaders neither suggested ways to bring warring clans together to reconcile nor did they clarify their position on the ongoing clan warfare. They exposed themselves to accusation for sabotage. It was a fatal strategic mistake from which AIAI’s direct political action has never recovered. They didn’t communicate with the people who welcomed them and valued their input in the first place.
Elmi views peace education as key to “building a durable peace and functioning state in Somalia”. If Somalia’s post-1991 educational history is any guide the possibility of having a nation-wide, educational policy will prove a major headache for any Minister of Education for a united Somalia. UNESCO began to fund education projects in Somalia through its Programme of Education for Emergencies (PEER). Mogadishu-based educational NGOs are critical of UNESCO’s role to print textbooks for Somali schools. “Somalis calls these texts UNESCO texts and UNESCO officials do not like that.” Elmi quoted Mohamed Abdulkadir, a Somali educator as saying. The “Islamist” Formal Private Education Network in Somalia (FPENS) publish books in Arabic and make them available throughout Somalia. “ Students from [FPENS-managed] schools get scholarships from Arab counties particularly Sudan, Yemen and Egypt.”
The discrepancies in the textbooks used in Somalia is, according to Elmi, reflected in concessions UNICEF and UNESCO made to Somaliland when publishing social studies books because “ students in Somaliland… do not learn about the southern regions whereas students in the rest of Somalia do learn about the Somaliland regions.” Before 1991, science, mathematics, geography, history and other subjects were taught in Somali. The decision of FPENS leadership to publish textbooks in Arabic and adopt it as a medium of instruction and throw away all the work that Somali educators did ( to enable students learn in their mother tongue) and yet point finger at UNESCO is puzzling. “ We are all donor-driven. There is donor disinterest in the area of culture of peace,” Paul Gomis, former UNESCO country director told Elmi. UNESCO organised a culture of peace for conference for Somalis held in Yemen in 1995.
Elmi analyses Hadraawi’s peace caravan in 2002 and some of the poet’ post 1991 poetry. He sees Hadraawi’s initiative as a solid example about the role credible traditional leaders, clerics and Somali intellectuals can play in promoting a culture of peace but a major flaw in the poet’s peace caravan is, as Elmi argues, his failure to address “ the value of forgiveness”. Hadraawi’s peace caravan was a personal initiative, and the poet spoke at length about the need for reconciliation and change in outlook. Forgiveness was a key theme of peace caravan. Post-1991 events in Somalia convinced Hadraawi that it is not longer plausible to pin the blame on a person or a system but the focus ought to be on changing how people think about their political and cultural institutions. Understanding The Somalia Conflagration provokes debates on the role of peace education, Islamist movements, warlordism, regional administrations and neighboring countries in addressing Somalia turmoil. Facts and bias-free scholarship can be the platforms on which such debates ought to be conducted for the benefit of Somalis and students of Somali politics.