Somalia: Update to End August 1996

  • Author: Gérard Prunier
  • Document source:
  • Date:
    1 September 1996


International withdrawal from Somalia in early 1995 has caused an almost immediate end of interest in the war-torn former republic. Media coverage has been very scanty ever since while foreign presence was reduced to a score of NGOs and to the International Red Cross. Once in a while, brief flashes of news filter through, usually about armed clashes between groups of vaguely identified "tribal militias" or because of the brief kidnapping of some international aid worker. But behind this gray screen of indifference lays a complex reality which has kept evolving on its own, far from the easy "explanations" of Western journalists and international civil servants.

The main fact one has to remember about present-day "Somalia" is that the country which used to carry that name has ceased to exist. This is not only, or even mainly, because of the war, which has now settled at a low level of intensity anyway. Rather it is because while various areas of the former country have developed their own forms of self-organization, others on the contrary have sunk further into violence, thus deepening the differences between them.[1] One could almost say that "Somalia" today exemplifies both the two possible meanings of the word "anarchy", that of the ninetheenth century revolutionaries who believed in "the self organization of the popular masses to achieve free government" and the ordinary meaning of the word, referring to a state of persistent violent civil strife.

Thus, any attempt at understanding the present state of former "Somalia" must be strongly regionalized in order to be able to look at problems in their real context and not in a "national" context which is relevant only in some very rare cases. It can still happen, such as in the episode earlier this year when General Mohamed Farah Aydeed supported the Habr Garhajis clan based revolt against the distant Somaliland government[2] or when, as a quid pro quo Somaliland President Mohamed Ibrahim Egal sent weapons to the Rahanweyn Resistance Army fighting against Aydeed in Bay and Baqool Provinces[3] But these exceptions do not invalidate the rule central to studying contemporary Somalia: everything should be put back into its regional context.


Perhaps, the "South" is too broad of a category in defining this geographical area since it is composed of several sub-units which all have their clan related, political and often economic logic. Thus from north to south:

a)         The former Galguduud Province and part of Hiran Province constitute a hinge area between the Northeast[4] and the South. This is an area where several clans and sub-clans (the Marehan, the Ayr and Saad/Habr Gidir/Hawiye sub-clans) meet, often in conflict.[5]

b)         The South of Hiran Province, the Middle Shebelle and the North of former Baqool Province make up a second area of interplay between the various Hawiye clans and sub-clans (various branches of the Abgal and the Habr Gidir, the Hawadle and the Murosade).

c)         Mogadishu itself and the Benadir area which surrounds it are still another unit, sharply divided between the warring branches of the Hawiye United Somali Congress (USC), the Somali Salvation Alliance (SSA) of Ali Mahdi Mohamed and the Somali National Alliance (SNA), now led by Mohamed Farah Aydeed's son, Husein Mohamed Farah Aydeed.

d)         The southern part of Baqool, Bay, Gedo and the northern half of the Lower Shebelle and Lower Juba Provinces constitute a fourth sub-unit where the local Digil and Rahanweyn clan families as well as the non-Somali natives (Wagosha) fight with outside invaders, be they SSA or SNA militias or Ogadeen nomads obeying the Aden Abdullahi Nur "Gabeeyow" faction of SPM. The prize of this fighting is the control of the banana and rice plantations of the inter-riverine region.

e)         Kisimayo and the surrounding areas of Lower Juba up to southwestern Gedo make up a fifth zone which since 1992 has been a battleground between Mohamed Said Hersi "Morgan" (a Majerteen who has managed to unite the Marehan, the local Harti clans[6] and the Ogadeen outsiders, with "Gabeeyow's" help), and Omar Jess (an Ogadeen who has, mainly unsuccessfully, challenged Morgan's hold on Kisimayo from a pro-Aydeed position.

This quick (and simplified!) description of the situation shows that "The South", although a valid concept, has to be sub-regionalized to make sense.[7] If we try to examine the evolution of the situation in the South during the year since the original Writenet paper on the Somali situation,[8] there are a number of elements which should be taken into account.

1.1 The Legitimacy Contest

At mid-1995, General Mohamed Farah Aydeed's former aide and finance provider Ali Osman Atto managed to take control of their common organization, the Somali National Alliance (SNA) by way of an administrative internal coup.[9] Ali Mahdi immediately extended his welcome to the new SNA leader.[10] Aydeed then answered the challenge by having himself "unanimously elected" President of the Republic by a handpicked conference.[11] The result was to push Ali Osman Atto into a closer alliance with Ali Mahdi[12] and to create such tension as to render the renewal of military operations unavoidable.[13] Fighting quickly broke out in Mogadishu[14] but Aydeed managed to keep it under control in the short run. His main aim was to acquire the various trappings of a "real" government and he set about doing it, first moving to create a "national army" (xoogga dalka) out of his clan contingents[15] and then trying to disarm the population in the areas under his authority.[16] The exercise was far from convincing and General Aydeed's "army" remained largely his old militia under another name.[17] Undaunted, he nevertheless proclaimed a "government" complete with 31 full ministers, 33 deputy ministers and 34 secretary generals.[18] This new "cabinet" was largely dominated by Aydeed's own Habr Gidir clan.[19] If the aim of proclaiming a government was to settle the political situation, then it had exactly the opposite result. As soon as Ali Osman Atto and Ali Mahdi had coordinated their forces, fighting erupted again in Mogadishu.[20] Aydeed reacted vigorously and, far from putting himself on the defensive because of the attacks he had to face in the capital, he went on the offensive and, in a major military move which was to determine the shape of the military confrontation for the next year, he took the town of Baydhabo on 17 September 1995.[21] This led to an extension of the fighting to the Ballidogle area south of Mogadishu.[22] Around Baydhabo, the Rahanweyn clans who had been mercilessly looted by both the "liberation" and "government" forces during the 1991-1992 fighting,[23] rallied themselves against this new Northern invasion, the first one they had known since the foreign intervention of 1992. From October 1995 Aydeed's forces in Bay and Baqool Provinces were under constant attack and have remained so to this day without either side being able to win a decisive victory.[24]

If General Aydeed's plan was to win a large territory in the South to bolster his claims to representing a "national government", then he failed. In spite of more or less securing his access to Dolow and the Ethiopian border[25] and retaining a precarious hold on Merca[26] he never managed to extend his control outside a triangle running roughly between Mogadishu, Baydhabo and Brava, that is about 15 per cent of the territory of the former Republic of Somalia. Within that area he suffered constant attacks from the locally-based Rahanweyn Resistance Army (RRA) and "governed" mainly by reducing the local people, especially the non-Somali Bantu minorities, to a slave-like status, making them work on the local banana plantations to earn export revenues.[27] His attempt at capturing Kisimayo from "Morgan" ended in failure,[28] leaving the whole extreme South in the hands of the loose coalition between "Morgan", "Gabeeyow" and Ali Osman Atto who has gone into rice cultivation and moved militarily to the South to have access to the only income-generating agricultural area in the country. The latters' methods of dealing with the natives are not any softer than those General Aydeed used to employ.[29]

1.2 The Clan Mélée

Although the fighting during this past year has mainly been between political camps (mostly General Aydeed's forces versus those of the other warlords or versus the self-defence forces of the Southern riverine populations) the general state of insecurity in the South has created a lawless environment in which various clan-based conflicts have occurred. Even the main conflicts between "organized forces" should not be seen as war between two regular armies, but rather as the segmented confrontation of allied clan groups, which can at any time turn away from "modern" warfare and revert to traditional clan fighting. This means that in each conflict a variety of elements are relevant, such as honour, blood money, access to pasture, economic rivalries and family vendettas. It also means that each conflict is unique and linked to particular circumstances and can occur without lastingly affecting the larger fighting patterns. We can thus have a multiplicity of unconnected "small wars" fitting more or less, or at times not fitting at all, within the larger picture of the "political" conflict.[30]

Some of the main clashes occurred between the Ayr subclan of the Habr Gidir and the Marehan clan around Mataban, north of Belet Weyn in July 1995.[31] This was a fight for pastures which occurred as a side effect of the general conflict which had considerably weakened the Marehan.[32] In a similar vein, in January 1996, the Murosade and Abgal battled it out in Mogadishu[33] apparently as part of the "political" fight between Aydeed and Ali Mahdi's forces, but in fact because of diverging clan-related economic interests in controlling trade in and out of the capital.

From the clan point of view the fighting around Kisimayo was extremely confused. It started in November 1995 when Mohamed Hajji Aden, Aydeed's "Vice-President", tried to prevent some foreign fishing boats belonging to companies which had signed a fishing agreement with General Mohamed Said Hersi "Morgan" from fishing as they had agreed. The fighting divided the Harti clans among themselves according to whether or not they were part of the fishing agreement.[34] But later, when Aydeed's forces attacked the town in January 1996, clan loyalties proved stronger than political alignments. Ali Osman Atto, who had sided with Ali Mahdi, sent his men to defend Kisimayo which was in the hands of "Morgan", an Ali Mahdi ally. But because of their clan background, his men changed sides in the middle of the battle and fought for the Aydeed's camp.[35] This caused temporary discord in the Ali Mahdi camp, "Gabeeyow" accusing Ali Osman Atto of being a "traitor". The rift was healed as quickly as it had developed.

The fighting between Aydeed's forces and the Southern riverine people was slightly different, because the Southerners are "different" Somali and the usual rules of clan fighting do not fully apply to relations between the camel nomads and the settled agriculturalists who are strongly mixed with Oromo and negroid blood.[36] The cultural gap is even bigger between the "pure" Somali and the Bantu peasants who still live among the Digil and Rahanweyn clans.[37] Here the fighting was more sustained, less open to negotiation, more violent, as befits a confrontation not between cousins as in the case of camel nomads fighting, but between groups who are largely strangers to each other.

After Aydeed's forces had captured Baydhabo in September 1995, the local Lisan Rahanweyn clan almost immediately mounted a counterattack.[38] It failed but they never gave up and were soon joined by other clans. Since the Rahanweyn political organization, the Somali Democratic Movement (SDM) was hopelessly riven by conflicts between its pro-Ali Mahdi and its pro-Aydeed wings, each with its clan implications, the whole clan-family moved to create a new organization, the Rahanweyn Resistance Army (RRA) which, regardless of clan affiliation, made a common front against what was perceived as a "Hawiye invasion".[39] This led to the reunification of the two rival branches of SDM which were threatened with extinction by RRA activity if they persisted in their quarrels.[40] Renewed Rahanweyn strength eventually led to an uneasy "peace" in the Lower Juba, Bay and Baqool Provinces by June of this year, Aydeed being too preoccupied with his fighting against Ali Osman Atto and Ali Mahdi's combined forces in and around the capital.

1.3 The Impact of Aydeed's Death

General Mohamed Farah Aydeed was injured on 24 July 1996, in the course of fighting taking place in Mogadishu between his forces and those of his erstwhile ally Osman Atto, then defending the territory of a small pro-Ali Mahdi warlord, Musa Sudi. Aydeed later (1 August) died of heart failure while doctors were trying to operate on him.[41]

There were immediately rumours that his death might help futher the possibility of at least a cease-fire, or even of a peace conference. Yemen and Sudan were the quickest to make a move.[42] Not to be outdone by an initiative which was perceived as "radical" and close to Islamist positions, the "American camp" countered with the offer of a conference to be held in Saudi Arabia.[43] The UN felt that something was possible and asked the warring parties to "use the new situation" created by Aydeed's death.[44]

This optimism was short-lived and within less than two weeks it became obvious that the SNA, which was riven by rivalries, had chosen to "elect" Aydeed's son Husein in order to avoid a confrontation among its main commanders and that this choice in practice meant the continuation of the war.[45] Fighting went on around Afgoye and Ballidogle between Husein Aydeed's SNA and the combined forces of Osman Ali Atto and Ali Mahdi. Further south, the RRA did not let up and fighting intensified around Hoddur.

This does not mean, however, that the SNA is solidly behind Aydeed's son, quite the contrary.[46] But the rivalries between the main SNA commanders are held in check by the fear that any open fighting among them would lead to an explosion of their coalition and final defeat at the hands of a very large array of forces (Ali Mahdi's SSA, the Ranhanweyn RRA, "Morgan" and his men in Kisimayo, Osman Ali Atto and his SNA faction). Aydeed had managed to antagonize so many different forces that unity is, at least in the short term, and absolute necessity for his successors.

1.4 The International Dimension

Since the withdrawal of the international intervention forces in early 1995, the Western powers have largely lost interest in Somalia. But, albeit in a low key, the Somali crisis remains a regional issue in which various neighbouring countries keep intervening in various ways.

For a variety of reasons, some of these countries supported Aydeed. This is the case of Kenya where President Daniel Arap Moi had openly called for the various Somali factions to unite behind "the new President".[47] Although he later denied it,[48] President Moi made his support clear in various ways, such as when he arrested Ali Osman Atto during a visit to Nairobi,[49] or when he let weapons purchased by Aydeed pass through Kenya.[50] Libya also supported General Aydeed's side and was the only government to recognize his government as the "legitimate government of Somalia".[51] This support led the Ali Mahdi camp to denounce Libyan action when it materialized through arms deliveries.[52] After some early denials, the Libyans finally agreed to make their support public.[53] While the Kenyan support for Aydeed remains somewhat mysterious (it is probably linked with a feeling that a "strongman" is needed in Somalia to control the Northern Frontier district of Kenya, a Somali-populated and perennially troubled area of the country), Libyan backing fits within a larger geopolitical pattern. Colonel Gaddafi saw in General Aydeed the man most likely to antagonize the Americans and the "American camp" in East Africa. It was also a way of keeping in the good books of the Sudanese fundamentalist regime which also provided General Aydeed with a discreet support, a necessary alliance for a regime hard-pressed by its own home-grown fundamentalists.[54] Although more exotic, Malaysia's support for General Aydeed also fits within the same geopolitical logic since Kuala Lumpur has been a discreet but steady ally of Khartoum during the past three years.[55]

These choices almost automatically put the Ali Mahdi/Osman Ali Atto coalition within the so-called "American camp". In order to court moderate Arab support Osman Ali Atto has travelled to Ryad[56] and to Cairo[57] where he seems to have received a fair welcome. These developments have been regarded with great misgivings by the Ethiopian leadership. Through the declarations of Foreign Minister Tekede Alem it was clear that they considered a strategy of supporting an Ali Mahdi/Osman Atto/Ibrahim Egal/Mohamed Abshir solution to the exclusion of Aydeed as a dangerous game to play and likely to backfire by throwing Aydeed into the arms of Khartoum. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi pleaded with his US and European visitors not to isolate Aydeed for fear of completely radicalizing him.[58]

It is not yet clear what sort of change in regional attitudes Aydeed's death will cause. The likelihood is that his SNA faction, while still a force to reckon with, will be perceived as having much less of a disruptive potential than before and that the highest priority in terms of security will be given to watching the activities of the Islamist groups.

The attitudes of international "great powers" have been less tactical, but, rather, more globally motivated, aiming not at supporting this or that faction leader (although in practice actions taken did end up having that effect) but trying to achieve more lasting changes to the approach towards some kind of a viable pan-Somali form of authority. It quickly became obvious, from the experience of the repeated failures at achieving a consensus "government" during the UNOSOM period that the only form of authority which could possibly accomodate the Somali form of quasi-anarchy would be one of extreme decentralization.[59] Of course this course of action clashed head on with General Aydeed's vision of a united and centralized Somalia under his authority, leading the European Union to write in a memo about the Somali problem that "[t]he main stumbling block remains a few Somali leaders who refuse to participate in the peace process ... among them General Aydeed who pretends to represent a government".[60] But in the present situation, given the lack of funds, the lack of diplomatic incentives and the constant fighting,[61] important political initiatives of the international community in Somalia are unlikely.

1.5 The Islamist Factor

There are many small Islamist groups in former Somalia,[62] and they are far from always working hand in hand. The best answer so far to a number of irrational Western fears about Islamists being the main beneficiaries of the Somali conflict has been given by the journalist Mauro Merosi when he wrote:

"Of course fundamentalists are gaining ground all over the Horn of Africa .... But the basic reason why fundamentalism has had little success so far (in Somalia) is tribalism[63] .... A Hawiye fundamentalist in Somalia is (and will be for a long time) considered with suspicion by a Darod fundamentalist. They share the same faith and the same political aims; but they cannot forget their different genealogies. This is the basic weakness of fundamentalism in Somalia and this is the reason why, among the various possible scenarios for the country's future, the Islamist one is the least likely".[64]

Although this assessment reflects a basic truth, it does not mean that the various Islamist groups, and especially the largest one, al-Ittihad (the Union), are not very active. But the problems underlined by Merosi are there. Even apart from the purely clan-based problems the various Islamist groups tend to enter into alliances with the main (secular) political contenders which can lead them to clashes with each other.[65] They also get caught in the contradictions between clan loyalties and Islam and religion is far from being the automatic winner.[66] Furthermore they have to integrate geopolitical problems because of their international connections, even entering into complicated deals with some of their foreign sponsors in order to secure financial support.[67]

But regardless of these difficulties, Islam being the only unifying factor in the Somali free-for-all, it remains a strong symbolical element in the power/legitimacy game. Ali Mahdi was the first to realize it and create shari'a courts in late 1994 in order both to look like a good Muslim and to try to control the considerable increase in crime which has been a concomitant of the war. He managed his second target better than his first. Mogadishu-North became, by all accounts, much more quiet and law-abiding than Mogadishu-South. But his Islamic credentials remained somewhat open to question. When Osman Ali Atto developed his own faction and became a senior partner in his association with Ali Mahdi, he decided to introduce his own Islamic courts.[68] But, interestingly enough, the reasons given for this new policy had absolutely nothing to do with religion. They were explicitly linked with a need to restore law and order. Feeling marginalized on the Islamic front, General Aydeed did a quick about-turn which, in many ways, brought him in agreement with the policies of his foreign supporters. After declaring E.U. representative Sigurd Illing persona non grata[69]69 and criticizing the aid community for its alleged hostility[70] he created his own Islamic law courts.[71]

In 1996, the growth of al-Ittihad and its terrorist activities inside Ethiopia[72] reached a point where the Ethiopian authorities had to react with force, attacking al-Ittihad's rear bases near Lugh in the Somali province of Gedo.[73] But the fighting was not simply one of a regular army against the forces of a terrorist Islamist group. Given the nature of Somali society it had to have a clan dimension and the Ethiopians found ready allies in the Somali National Front (SNF), a Marehan organization led by General Omar Haji which had been roughly treated by the Islamists.[74] It also quickly became clear that the Islamist group had strong ties with the late Aydeed's SNA and, after briefly protesting against the "attack on Somalia",[75] the anti-SNA camp quickly set up a coordination and monitoring unit to work with the Ethiopian Army.[76]

This cross-border attack is important inasmuch as as it shows that the Islamist threat is now probably more dangerous outside Somalia than inside. After leaving Khartoum to escape the inquiry into the attempted assassination of President Hosni Mubarak in June 1995, the international Islamist militant Usama bin Ladeen, who is a strong suspect in the bomb attacks agains U.S. troops in his native Saudi Arabia, spent some time in May-June 1996 in Mogadishu arranging tactical links between Aydeed's SNA and al-Ittihad al-Islami. The main target was Ethiopia.[77]

1.6 Other Factors

Among the side-effects of war, the main problem remains food. The level of the 1995-1996 fighting is considerably lower than the 1991-1992 level and the famine is accordingly less severe, especially since this time round the Southern agriculturalists are better organized to defend themselves. But one has to remember that whatever money has been invested in agriculture in southern Somalia since late 1994 has been invested in rice and banana plantations whose production is entirely targeted for exports.[78] Control of those plantations has become one of the main causes of the fighting in the southernmost part of the region. As a result food is at best in limited supply, at worst extremely scarce.[79]

If we were to try to sum up the situation of the southern part of the former Somali Republic we could say that so far no stable form of administration has imposed itself. Four main warlords - Husein Mohamed Farah Aydeed, Ali Mahdi Mohamed, Osman Ali Atto and Mohamed Said Hersi "Morgan" - rule various parts of the zone without any of them having a solid control beyond a very small core area of 5 to 10 per cent of the former national territory. Territories adjacent to these core areas are "free", a word which can mean anything from fairly quiet (Galguduud, parts of Hiran) to constant battleground (most of Bay and Baqool till last June, Mogadishu and the Benadir now).

The top warlords are in turn followed by a second tier of middle-echelon war band leaders (Omar Jess, Mohamed Abulkader "Zoppo", Mohamed Aden Nur "Gabeeyow", Mohamed Hajji Aden) who each more or less control third-echelon field leaders. One should be very clear about the fact that this system does not in any way correspond to the "traditional" Somali fighting arrangements. It constitutes what was known in traditional Somali war vocabulary as gaashaanbuur, "a pile of shields", i.e. an ad hoc alliance without any durable clan significance. Thus the present generation of warlords is hardly suited to become peace leaders in a different context, since they have no traditional authority. But in the present context, fighting is likely to go on till a new round of exhaustion and famine sets in, slowing it down. The decentralized political structures proposed by the international community[80] cannot realistically be thought of as applicable yet. Their endorsement by Somali intellectuals,[81] although encouraging, should not be mistaken for real (and effective) political will.


The self-proclaimed "Republic of Somaliland" bases its claim to independence on the fact that, in compliance with the OAU colonial borders rule, it became independent in June 1960 within the borders of the former British Somaliland and it has now gone back to those boundaries, although between 1960 and 1991 it had existed as part of the Somali Republic. Off and on fighting has plagued the administration of the self-proclaimed republic because the election of "President" Mohamed Ibrahim Egal in May 1993 by an assembly of elders was never accepted by the losers in the clan contest.[82] The situation became quite serious in the second half of 1995,[83] fighting eventually extending right inside the capital Hargeisa in August.[84] In the West, the Issa militia based in Jibuti used this opportunity to try to take over the Zeyla-Garissa-Loyada area and eventually failed after about eight weeks of sporadic fighting.[85] After one very large battle in and around Burao which caused more than 150 casualties in January 1996, the fighting practically died down during the spring, but without any sort of formal peace negotiations to make this temporary peace permanent.[86] Nevertheless the chairman of the Council of Elders, Sheikh Ibrahim Sheikh Yusuf Sheikh Madar, has convened a meeting which could conceivably result in the formalization of the peace process,[87] especially since the rebel leaders have suffered a reversal because of the death of Mohamed Farah Aydeed, their Southern backer.

Somaliland has many of the trappings of an independent State: a national anthem, a flag, a currency, an Army, a Parliament, a local administration which is often surprisingly efficient, a customs service and a (modest) budget. The economic base is the export of camels and sheep to Saudi Arabia, a rather lucrative activity for a population which is not believed to exceed one and a half million people.[88] But it does not have a constitution and it is unlikely to get one as long as "President" Egal and his Parliament disagree on its very basic essence: the Parliament wants a Westminster-type parliamentary democracy while the "President" favours an American-style Presidential one.[89] In any case international bodies are nowhere near recognizing the reality of the country's independence.[90] Knowing that the OAU is the key to general recognition the government has recently sent two high level delegations to tour 23 countries in Eastern, Western and Southern Africa to prepare the ground for debate.[91]

Interactions with the South are few and they are not friendly. Eidagalley leader General Jama Mohamed Ghilib "Yare", a former Director of the National Police, left his clansmen in a difficult situation after the August 1995 attack in Hargeisa when he went to the South and accepted a "ministry" in Aydeed's "government". Both he and former President Abd-er-Rahman "Tur" (who also entered Aydeed's "government") were tried in absentia for high treason,[92] while the government's enemies in Salahley were not far from sharing the same feelings for exactly the opposite reason i.e. his "desertion" after he had led the revolt against Hargeisa.[93] Aydeed's help for the Habr Yunis/Eidagalley dissidence was reciprocated by the Hargeisa authorities who sent weapons to RRA leader Abdulkader "Zoppo" then fighting Aydeed between Baydhabo and Hoddur.[94] But in neither case is the action likely to prove decisive. The clans who remain hostile to the Hargeisa authorities in the North do not do so in order to obey the orders of a leadership which has fled to the South and has thereby made itself largely irrelevant. It opposes the Hargeisa government because it has chosen a military solution to the conflict rather than negotiation,[95] because it is not very efficient and because "President" Egal's increasingly autocratic manners and failing health (he is over 70) tend to paralyze any form of openness and adaptation. but the situation is far from being entirely negative. If the East of the country is still in a state of semi-rebellion, it is ready to talk to government emissaries if that is what the government wants to send rather than troops. And the centre is quiet, having moved into a modest sort of economic prosperity based on the sheep and camel exports to Saudi Arabia, its pre-war market.

The death of SNA leader Mohamed Farah Aydeed opens a window of opportunity for negotiations in the North. Neither Abd-er-Rahman "Tur" nor Ismail Buba have the popular following to keep running a guerrilla in Somaliland without the support of the SNA. Husein Aydeed and his closest aides do not seem very interested in providing such support just in order to preserve the fiction that SNA represents a "national" government. The main question remains not Southern interference, which is now unlikely, but rather "President" Egal's openmindedness and capacity for forgiveness. If he proves to be obdurate, the Council of Elders might have to apply some form of pressure on him and his close circle.


This area is the real "success story" of the former Somali Republic. It is in a rather special position both in terms of ethnicity (it has only one clan and although that clan is subdivided into three main branches, cooperation mechanisms are fairly efficient) and in terms of organizational history (the whole area was the first to revolt against Siad Barre's dictatorship back in 1978 and has always identified with the same organization, the SSDF). The Northeast which comprises the former provinces of Mudug, Nuugal and Bari, is the only part of former Somalia to have been completely at peace since the fall of the dictatorship in January 1991. In accordance with the French proverb which says that "les peuples heureux n'ont pas d'histoire", there are very few published sources on the Northeast since 1991 and this brief account is based on a few texts and on interviews with Somali who have families in the area.[96]

The special situation of the Northeast is due to the fact that in the spring of 1991 it had to face an invasion of the Hawiye[97] from the South. Since the local clan militia representing the various Majerteen subclans, the SSDF, was weak, it abdicated a great part of its power into the hands of a Committee of Elders (odayal) which was put temporarily in charge of fighting the invasion. The two "strongmen" of the SSDF, Colonel Abdullahi Yussuf and General Mohamed Abshir, who could easily have slipped into the kind of deadly rivalry known in the South between Aydeed and Ali Mahdi, were gently brought to cooperate through a mixture of persuasion, social pressure and at times direct threats. As a result the Northeast developed a very peculiar type of administration: the SSDF administrative network (maamul siyaasadeed, i.e. "political administration") is parallelled at every level by a maamul guddi or "traditional administration". Both work together. But the local Committees of Elders are thus able to keep some control over their younger, better educated but also more hotheaded colleagues. This is not sufficient to make everything work perfectly, but it has so far been capable of preventing conflict between the various branches of the Majerteen (Osman Mahmood, Issa Mahmood, Omar Mahmood and Ali Suleiman who between them make up 85 per cent of the area's population) as well as between those and the minority clans, whether non-Majerteen (Warsangeli, Dolbahante) or belonging to very small branches of the Majerteen (Siwakroon, Ali Jibril).

The total population is estimated at 700,000 people in the Northeast with 40 per cent (i.e. around 300,000) living in the capital of Boosaaso. In fact Boosaaso being the only large city where there has been no fighting since the fall of Siad Barre[98] it has been the scene of an unprecedented economic boom while the South was falling apart. In 1986, there were only 10,000 inhabitants in Boosaaso. The port city started to develop when the Mogadishu-Belet Weyn-Galkaio-Garoe tarmac road was built in the late 1980s by the FAI (Fondo Aiuti Italiani, the special entity then created by the Italian Government for economic aid). But its real population explosion coincided with the death of Mogadishu (and hard days for Berbera) as commercial ports. Today Boosaaso is a modern city, with a good electrical supply, a police force, shops replete with goods, (expensive) satellite telephone and fax connections, working banks, air conditioned hotels with CNN picked up from satellite dishes and a crude but effective network of public transport. Cattle traders are in constant touch with their Middle Eastern customers and the authorities dream of being able to modernize and enlarge the harbour which is crammed to full capacity. De facto independent (probably more so than Somaliland), the Northeast has discreetly refrained from any of the symbolical trappings of an independent state and remains content with playing a low key role of commercial intermediary. Apart from this commercial role, the economy is mostly based on cattle exports to the Arab countries and to a certain extent on selling fishing rights[99] and on piracy,[100] although in this last activity it is often difficult to tell which pirate ships come from the Northeast and which ones come from Somaliland since none are registered and all crews are Somali, usually from the Warsangeli clan, a traditional source of sailors and seafarers.

Thus we can see that there is no single situation in ex-Somalia today, whether in terms of the various forms of authority (or absence thereof), in terms of human rights, in economic terms or in terms of security. There are three "countries" in fact, two mostly at peace (Somaliland and the Northeast) and one at war (the South). But even within those, sub-regions find themselves in different situations. We have made that very plain in the case of the South. But even in the peaceful Northeast, there are differences: the presence of Boosaaso makes the former Bari province much richer and more economically active than either Nugaal or Mudug. In Somaliland there is almost perfect security in the "heartland" between Borama, Hargeisa and Berbera, while things are apt to be more dangerous in the East, around Burao-Las Anod. Thus any vision of "Somalia" is now outdated and has to be replaced with a much more detailed/regionalized view of the local conditions in any area under consideration.


The views expressed in the papers are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of UNHCR.


[1] The Economist, "A Society Without the State", 16 September 1995

[2] Africa Confidential, "Somalia: Aydeed again", 16 February 1996

[3] Xinhua Press Agency [Mogadishu], "15 People Killed in Convoy Ambush in Somalia", 25 March 1996

[4] See below, 2. THE NORTHEAST

[5] Sub-clan is simply a designation having to do with the genealogical and hierarchical place of a group, not with its size. Thus a full clan can very well be less numerous than a subdivision of a larger clan. For theoretical and practical illustrations of this point see I.M. Lewis, The Somali Lineage System and Total Genealogy: A General Introduction to Basic Principles of Somali Political Institutions (Hargeisa: Colonial Council, 1957 and I.M. Lewis, A Pastoral Democracy (London: Oxford University Press, 1961)

[6] The Majerteen are part of the larger Harti unit of the Darood. See further I. M. Lewis, Peoples of the Horn of Africa (London: International African Institute, 1955)

[7] The situation is much less complicated in the two other main sub-regions of former Somalia, Somaliland and the Northeast.

[8] Gérard Prunier, Civil War, Intervention and Withdrawal: The Somali Crucible (1990-1995), WRITENET for UNHCR/CDR, July 1995

[9] Le Monde, "Le Général Aïdid aurait été évincé par ses partisans", 14 June 1995

[10] BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, "Ali Mahdi's SSA Welcomes New USC/SNA Leadership", quoting Radio Mogadishu, 14 June 1995. Radio Mogadishu is the pro-Ali Mahdi radio.

[11] BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, quoting The Voice of the Somali People, 15 June 1995

[12] BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, "Ali Mahdi and Osman Ato Issue Joint Declaration", quoting Radio Mogadishu, 16 June 1995

[13] Ken Menkhaus, "On the Brink of War?", 17 June 1995 (electronic format - Internet Somalia @ vita. org. and Africa Confidential, "Rival Elections", 23 June 1995

[14] Reuters [Mogadishu], "Clashes Erupt in Somali Capital", 3 July 1995

[15] Agence France Presse [Mogadishu], "Le Général Aidid commence à constituer une armée nationale", 17 July 1995

[16] BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, "Pro-Aydeed Radio Says Weapons Collection is Going Well", quoting Voice of the Masses of the Somali Republic, 18 August 1995. This is the pro-Aydeed radio station in Mogadishu.

[17] Libération, "Mohamed Farah Aïdid peint en vert son parc automobile militaire", 20 July 1995

[18] BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, "Aydeed-appointed Government Sworn In", quoting Voice of the Masses of the Somali Republic, 18 June 1995

[19] For a detailed analysis of this government, refer to Africa Confidential, "Fighting On", 8 September 1995

[20] Le Monde, "Six personnes tuées à Mogadiscio", 19 August 1995; Agence France Presse [Mogadishu], "Les combats entre clans ont fait 17 morts depuis samedi", 27 August 1995; La Lettre de l'Océan Indien, "Scènes de guerre à Mogadiscio", 4 September 1995

[21] Agence France Presse [Nairobi], "Les forces du Général Aïdid ont pris Baidoa [the old Italian spelling of Baydhabo]", 18 September 1995. See also BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, quoting Somali Voice of Pacification (the pro Osman Atto radio) and Voice of the Masses of the Somali Republic, 17 September 1995; and Le Monde, 19 September 1995

[22] Agence France Presse [Mogadishu], "Des partisans d'Osman Atto s'emparent d'un aréoport controlé par le Général Aïdid", 11 October 1995; Agence France Presse [Mogadishu], "Le Général Aïdid a repris le controle de Ballidogle et garde celui de Baidoa", 12 October 1995

[23] See Prunier, The Somali Crucible

[24] See below, 1.2 The Clan Mélée

[25] Libération, "Somalie: une victoire pour le Général Aïdid", 5 March 1996

[26] BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, "Fighting Erupts in Merca Between Militias Loyal to Aydeed", quoting Radio France Internationale, 30 April 1996

[27] BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, "Influx of Bantu Somali Refugees Leads to Appeal for Help from UNHCR", quoting Kenya News Agency, 13 June 1996

[28] BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, "Attack by Aydeed Forces on Kisimayo Has Been Repulsed", quoting Radio Mogadishu, 11 January 1996

[29] Africa Confidential, "Aydeed Again", 16 February 1996

[30] For the anthropological background to this situation, see Lewis, Pastoral Democracy

[31] Le Monde, "Trente-deux tués en Somalie dans des combats", 9-10 July 1995

[32] The Marehan are the clan of former dictator Siad Barre and as such had to pay a heavy price in the 1991-1992 war.

[33] Agence France Presse [Mogadishu], "31 morts 60 bléssés dans les combats à Mogadiscio", 29 January 1996

[34] Agence France Presse [Mogadishu], "Quatre morts, 7 bléssés lors de combats entre factions rivales", 25 November 1995

[35] Agence France Presse [Mogadishu], "Crise entre Ali Mahdi et Osman Atto", 14 January 1996. Although personal enemies Aydeed and Ali Osman Atto belong to the same clan (Habr Gidir) and to the same subclan (Saad), only their lineages (Reer Jalaf in the case of Aydeed and Reer Hilowle in the case of Osman Atto) being different. Thus their men were all Habr Gidir and they joined forces against the Harti and Ogadeen who were fighting on the "Morgan" side, in spite of their leaders' choice. In accordance with the conflict specificity and limited time-span typical of Somali clan fighting patterns, they split up again to follow their leaders once they had moved away from Kisimayo and were not confronted any more with a coherent common enemy from the clan point of view.

[36] For a contemporary reassertion of Rahanweyn identity, see Abdi Mohamed Kusow, "The Somali Origin: Myth or Reality?" in Ali Jimale Ahmed (Ed.), The Invention of Somalia (Lawrenceville: Red Sea Press, 1995), pp 81-106.

[37] See Catherine Besteman, "The Invention of Gosha: Slavery, Colonialism and Stigma in Somali History" in Ali Jimale Ahmed (Ed.), pp 43-62

[38] Reuters [Mogadishu], "At Least 15 Killed in Somalia Fighting", 11 October 1995

[39] Agence France Presse [Mogadishu], "Les miliciens d'Aïdid accusés d'avoir tués 134 membres du clan des Rahanweyn", 19 October 1995; BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, "Faction Radio Reports 35 Members of Aydeed's Militia Killed in Central Baydhabo", quoting Radio Mogadishu, 2 November 1995; BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, "Faction Radio Reports More Fighting Between Baydhabo Clans' Forces and Aydeed's Men", quoting Radio Mogadishu, 2 November 1995

[40] BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, "Two Organizations Unite for Peace and Decide to Confront Aydeed", quoting Radio Mogadishu, 6 May 1996

[41] Africa Confidential, "Aydeed's Legacy", 23 August 1996

[42] BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, "Yemen Ready to Host Meeting for Somali Leaders", 4 August 1996, quoting Radio Sana'a; BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, "Sudan's Islamic Peoples Congress Mourns Aydid, Welcomes Cease-fire Initiative", 4 August 1996, quoting Sudanese News Agency [Khartoum]

[43] Ash Sharq al-Awsat, "Ali Mahdi Ready to Negotiate with Aydid's Successor", 5 August 1996

[44] Le Monde, 8 August 1996

[45] Le Monde, Jean Hélène, "Les Somaliens déçus que la mort du Général Aïdid n'ait pas débouché sur des pourparlers de paix: la faction du chef de guerre a repris le combat contre les partisans d'Ali Mahdi", 18-19 August 1996

[46] Africa Confidential, 23 August 1996

[47] Agence France Presse [Nairobi], "Le Président kenyan appelle les factions somalies à négocier", 28 June 1995; Agence France Presse [Nairobi], "Le surprenant soutien du Président Moi au Général Aïdid", 29 June 1995

[48] BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, "Moi Says He Does Not Support Any Somali Faction, Wants Negotiated Solution", quoting Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, 6 July 1995

[49] Reuters [Nairobi], "Kenya Releases Somali Militia Chief", 27 July 1995

[50] Agence France Presse [Mogadishu], "Des armes de contrebande pour la Somalie transiteraient par Nairobi", 14 April 1996

[51] BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, "Faction Leader Aydeed's Radio Says His Government Has Been Recognized by Libya", quoting Voice of the Masses of the Somali Republic, 24 September 1995

[52] Agence France Presse [Mogadishu], "Ali Mahdi dénonce l'aide militaire de la Libye au Général Aïdid", 25 October 1995; La Lettre de l'Océan Indien, "La Libye aux Côtés d'Haideed", 28 October 1995

[53] La Lettre de l'Océan Indien, "Kadhafi avoue son aide à Haideed", 10 November 1995

[54] See below 1.4 The Islamist Factor

[55] La Lettre de L'Océan Indien, "La Malaisie derrière Haideed", 1 June 1996

[56] BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, "Faction Leader Ato Visits Saudi Arabia", quoting The Voice of Somali Pacification, 16 November 1995

[57] BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, "Somali Faction Leader Osman Ali Ato Visits Egypt", quoting The Voice of Somali Pacification

[58] La Lettre de l'Océan Indien, "Somalie: nouvelle stratégie européenne", 27 April 1996

[59] For this see the remarks by Mauro Merosi in his Somalia (Rome: SEAM Editrice, 1995), pp 187-188, and Pietro Petrucci, "All' rizzonte, un stato federale", Nigrizia, May 1996

[60] Quoted in La Lettre de l'Océan Indien, "L'Union Européenne n'apprécie pas Haideed", 20 April 1996

[61] Fighting between Aydeed's faction and a variety of other groups is still going on. See Libération, "Reprise de violents combats en Somalie", 27-28 July 1996; and Libération, "Combats en Somalie", 29 July 1996

[62] For an analysis of their origins and respective strengths, see Mohamed Abdi Mohamed, "De l'Islam traditionnel à l'Islam intégriste: analyse du cas somalien" (Unpublished paper, University of Besançon, February 1995)

[63] This author can not agree with the term used here. The proper word would be "clanism", the Somali clans having nothing to do with tribes as the whole of the anthropological literature on Somalia makes abundantly clear

[64] Merosi, p. 191

[65] Agence France Presse [Mogadishu], "3 morts, 7 bléssés dans les combats de Mogadiscio", 18 November 1995. This particular bout of fighting was between al-Ittihad and al-Islah (the Reform), the first group having sided with Ali Mahdi while the second supported Aydeed.

[66] Agence France Presse [Mogadishu], "Assassinat de six Imams à Mogadiscio", 12 September 1995. These killings occurred in South Mogadishu (i.e. Aydeed's fief) where these Imams were trying to enforce religious penalties according to shari'a on common law criminals. The criminals were supported by their clansmen in a most violent fashion. The same thing happened shortly after in Mogadishu North (i.e. Ali Mahdi's sector) were shari'a courts are official and where an amputated thief was freed from jail at gunpoint by his relatives.

[67] La Lettre de l'Océan Indien, "Nouvelle donne islamiste dans la Corne", 9 December 1995. al-Ittihad agreed to receive a number of unwanted former mujahedin of various nationalities who had fought in Afghanistan and who had already been transferred from Sudan to Yemen under the suspicion of terrorist links. The deal was negotiated between Khartoum, Sana'a and al-Ittihad to avoid diplomatic embarassment for the Yemeni and Sudanese governments.

[68] BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, "Election Leader to Introduce Sharia Law in South Mogadishu", quoting The Somali Voice of Pacification, 27 April 1996

[69] Xinhua Press Agency [Mogadishu], "Aydeed Declares European Union Envoy Persona Non Grata", 5 June 1996

[70] Reuters, "Aydeed Clamps Down on Relief Agencies", 14 June 1996

[71] Africa Confidential, "Talking Sharia", 5 July 1996; La Lettre de l'Océan Indien, "Surenchère islamiste d'Haïdeed", 13 July 1996

[72] Africa Confidential, "Ethiopia: Café Assassins", 19 July 1996

[73] Le Monde, Jean Hélène, "L'Ethiopie exercerait en Somalie des représailles contre les Islamistes d'al-Ittihad", 12 August 1996; Africa Confidential, "Warning from Addis", 23 August 1996

[74] The Daily Nation [Nairobi], "Kenyan Border Town Hit by Stray Bombs from Somali Clashes", 10 August 1996

[75] BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, "Ali Mahdi Calls on Ethiopia to Withdraw, Condemns Attack", 10 August 1996, quoting Voice of the Somali People

[76] BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, "Somali, Ethiopian Officials Hold Meeting to Discuss Border Security", 17 August 1996, quoting Voice of Somali Pacification

[77] Personal interviews with Sudanese opposition members, who wish to remain anonymous. Paris and London, June 1996

[78] Africa Confidential, "Aydeed Again", 16 February 1996

[79] Agence France Presse [Mogadishu], "Des enfants meurent à nouveau de faim", 15 July 1995; BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, "WFP Resumes Food Distribution in Kisimayo", quoting Kenya News Agency, 28 July 1995; Libération, Jean-Philippe Ceppi, "Le spectre de la famine plane sur la Somalie", 28 July 1995; Alan Rake, "Chaos and Famine in Somalia", The New African, July/August 1995

[80] The best account of these ideas can be found in I. M. Lewis [et al.], A Study of Decentralized Political Structures for Somalia (London: London School of Economics, August 1995). This is the work of a small group of consultants headed by Professor I.M. Lewis and has been used as a basis for discussion for the past year.

[81] Reuters [Nairobi], "Somalis Endorse Decentralisation at Kenya Meeting", 23 June 1996

[82] "President" Egal belongs to the Habr Awal clan of the Issaq. His opponent Abd-er-Rahman "Tur" is a Habr Yunis. So the Habr Yunis and their clan allies the Eidagalley have fought the new government with variable success for the past three years.

[83] Alan Rake, "Fighting Flares in Somaliland", The New African, June 1995; Le Monde, "Les combats s'intensifient en Somalie", 12 July 1995

[84] BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, "Reports of Fighting South of Hargeisa Airport", quoting Radio Hargeisa, 14 August 1995

[85] BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, "Somaliland Forces Repulse Militiamen Attacking from West", quoting Radio Hargeisa, 9 August 1995; BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, "Somaliland Radio Says Armed Forces Repulse Attack, Kill 35", quoting Radio Hargeisa, 27 October 1995; La Lettre de l'Océan Indien, "Combats près de Zeyla", 4 November 1995

[86] John Drysdale, "President" Ibrahim Egal's political adviser. Personal interview, Washington DC, January 1996; Le Monde, Jean Hélène "Des combats interclaniques font une soixantaine de morts au Somaliland", 18 January 1996

[87] BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, "Council of Elders Decide to Hold Congress of Clans", 6 July 1996, quoting Radio Hargeisa

[88] Africa Analysis, "Dateline Somalia", 2 June 1995

[89] Africa Confidential, "Somaliland: Shrinking Horizons", 16 February 1996

[90] BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, "USA Will Recognize Somaliland only after OAU Does So, Says US Official", quoting Radio Hargeisa, 30 January 1996

[91] Reuters [Hargeisa], "Somaliland Lobbies for Recognition", 17 June 1996

[92] Agence France Presse [Mogadishu], "Ouverture du procès par contumace du premier Président du Somaliland", 18 October 1995

[93] Africa Confidential, 16 February 1996; Galeri Gurrey Hussein. Personal interview, Paris, March 1996

[94] Xinhua Press Agency [Mogadishu], "15 People Killed in Ambush", 25 March 1996

[95] In Somaliland, unlike the South, traditional structures are still very much alive and have been used to set up the present government by consensus and not by force. The present confrontation is due to blocking of the consensus seeking process rather than to its absence, as is the case in the South. See Ahmed Yusuf Farah, Somalia: The Roots of Reconciliation: A Survey of the Grassroots Peace Conferences in Somaliland (London: Action Aid, 1993).

[96] Federico Battera, "Rinasce la periferia", Nigrizia, September 1995 and Todd Pittman, "Why the Lights Shine in Somali Boom City", The East African, 4-10 December 1995 are the only articles that have been identified. But the basic document is Ibrahim Abdi Shire, "Etude du développement de la production maraichère dans la région de Boosaaso (Somalie)" (unpublished Master's thesis, University of Montpellier, March 1996). Far from being only concerned with vegetable production as its title would lead one to believe, it is a detailed history of the Boosaaso area of Bari Province sine the late 1980s.

[97] This is the clan family to which both Aydeed's Habr Gidir and Ali Mahdi's Abgal belong.

[98] With the exception of a very brief skirmish between an Islamist group and the SSDF during the summer of 1992; see Mohamed Abdi Mohamed.

[99] La Lettre de l'Océan Indien, "Accords de pêche tous azimuths", 30 September 1995

[100] Le Monde, Jacques Isnard, "La marine française traque le pirate en Mer Rouge", 12 April 1996


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