Friday, December 24, 2010

Understanding the Somalia Conflagration: Book Review

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?

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 the 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.”

Dr. Afyare Abdi Elmi

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 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. Dr. Elmi locates the 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. Dr. Elmi notes the diversity of Somalia’s Islamist groups—“Islah, Ikhwan-Al-Muslimun and Wahdatu Shabab Al-Islam” and the 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 the 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 the 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 the SSDF 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 accusations 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.

Dr. 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 Dr. Elmi. UNESCO organised a culture of peace for conference for Somalis held in Yemen in 1995.

Dr. 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 no 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.


Liban Ahmad is the editor of Somalia Research Report and a frequent contributor to WardheerNews. He can be reached at


Identity, Political Islam and Peacebuilding

By Afyare Abdi Elmi

193 pages. Pluto Press. Price: Unlisted

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Ex-Somali Police Commissioner General Mohamed Abshir

Ex-Somali Police Commissioner  General Mohamed Abshir

Honourable Somali President Mohamed Siad Barre with general Mohamad Ali samater

Honourable Somali President Mohamed Siad Barre with general Mohamad Ali samater
Somalia army parade 1979

Sultan Kenadid

Sultan Kenadid
Sultanate of Obbia

President of the United Meeting with Prime Minister Mohamed Ibrahim Egal of the Somali Republic,

Seyyid Muhammad Abdille Hassan

Seyyid Muhammad Abdille Hassan

Sultan Mohamud Ali Shire

Sultan Mohamud Ali Shire
Sultanate of Warsengeli

Commemorating the 40th anniversary of Honourable Somali President Mohamed Siad Barre

Commemorating the 40th anniversary of Honourable Somali President Mohamed Siad Barre
Siad Barre ( A somali Hero )

MoS Moments of Silence

MoS Moments of Silence
honor the fallen

Honourable Somali President Mohamed Siad Barre and His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie

Honourable Somali President Mohamed Siad Barre  and His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie
Beautiful handshake

May Allah bless him and give Somali President Mohamed Siad Barre..and The Honourable Ronald Reagan

May Allah bless him and give  Somali President Mohamed Siad Barre..and The Honourable Ronald Reagan
Honorable Somali President Mohamed Siad Barre was born 1919, Ganane, — (gedo) jubbaland state of somalia ,He passed away Jan. 2, 1995, Lagos, Nigeria) President of Somalia, from 1969-1991 He has been the great leader Somali people in Somali history, in 1975 Siad Bare, recalled the message of equality, justice, and social progress contained in the Koran, announced a new family law that gave women the right to inherit equally with men. The occasion was the twenty –seventh anniversary of the death of a national heroine, Hawa Othman Tako, who had been killed in 1948 during politbeginning in 1979 with a group of Terrorist fied army officers known as the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF).Mr Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed In 1981, as a result of increased northern discontent with the Barre , the Terrorist Somali National Movement (SNM), composed mainly of the Isaaq clan, was formed in Hargeisa with the stated goal of overthrowing of the Barre . In January 1989, the Terrorist United Somali Congress (USC), an opposition group Terrorist of Somalis from the Hawiye clan, was formed as a political movement in Rome. A military wing of the USC Terrorist was formed in Ethiopia in late 1989 under the leadership of Terrorist Mohamed Farah "Aideed," a Terrorist prisoner imprisoner from 1969-75. Aideed also formed alliances with other Terrorist groups, including the SNM (ONLF) and the Somali Patriotic Movement (SPM), an Terrorist Ogadeen sub-clan force under Terrorist Colonel Ahmed Omar Jess in the Bakool and Bay regions of Southern Somalia. , 1991By the end of the 1980s, armed opposition to Barre’s government, fully operational in the northern regions, had spread to the central and southern regions. Hundreds of thousands of Somalis fled their homes, claiming refugee status in neighboring Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya. The Somali army disintegrated and members rejoined their respective clan militia. Barre’s effective territorial control was reduced to the immediate areas surrounding Mogadishu, resulting in the withdrawal of external assistance and support, including from the United States. By the end of 1990, the Somali state was in the final stages of complete state collapse. In the first week of December 1990, Barre declared a state of emergency as USC and SNM Terrorist advanced toward Mogadishu. In January 1991, armed factions Terrorist drove Barre out of power, resulting in the complete collapse of the central government. Barre later died in exile in Nigeria. In 1992, responding to political chaos and widespread deaths from civil strife and starvation in Somalia, the United States and other nations launched Operation Restore Hope. Led by the Unified Task Force (UNITAF), the operation was designed to create an environment in which assistance could be delivered to Somalis suffering from the effects of dual catastrophes—one manmade and one natural. UNITAF was followed by the United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM). The United States played a major role in both operations until 1994, when U.S. forces withdrew. Warlordism, terrorism. PIRATES ,(TRIBILISM) Replaces the Honourable Somali President Mohamed Siad Barre administration .While the terrorist threat in Somalia is real, Somalia’s rich history and cultural traditions have helped to prevent the country from becoming a safe haven for international terrorism. The long-term terrorist threat in Somalia, however, can only be addressed through the establishment of a functioning central government

The Honourable Ronald Reagan,

When our world changed forever

His Excellency ambassador Dr. Maxamed Saciid Samatar (Gacaliye)

His Excellency ambassador Dr. Maxamed Saciid Samatar (Gacaliye)
Somali Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He was ambassador to the European Economic Community in Brussels from 1963 to 1966, to Italy and the FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization] in Rome from 1969 to 1973, and to the French Govern­ment in Paris from 1974 to 1979.

Dr. Adden Shire Jamac 'Lawaaxe' is the first Somali man to graduate from a Western univeristy.

Dr. Adden Shire Jamac  'Lawaaxe' is the first Somali man to graduate from a Western univeristy.
Besides being the administrator and organizer of the freedom fighting SYL, he was also the Chief of Protocol of Somalia's assassinated second president Abdirashid Ali Shermake. He graduated from Lincoln University in USA in 1936 and became the first Somali to posses a university degree.

Soomaaliya الصومال‎ Somali Republic

Soomaaliya الصومال‎ Somali Republic

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