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Analysis: Clan Rivalry Threatens Somali Reconciliation Efforts
Despite the fact that majority of Somalis share one ethnicity, one language and the Islamic religion, a dizzying division of sub-clans dominates the every day life of a Somali person. Somalia's largely pastoral 11-million population has a long history of clan disputes, typically over land, grazing rights or water, with each major clan divided into subclans which are further divided into more subclans, some hostile to one another, even within the same major clan.
First modern political movement
The year 1943 was a first in modern Somali history. In that year, the Somali Youth League (SYL) was formed to fight for independence from colonial rule and one of its main objectives was to eradicate what it termed tribalism among Somalis. It wanted to ensure that the name Somali became the identity of everyone in Somalia, no matter what clan they belonged to. The idea was backed by many, but doubts about its practical implementation emerged soon after independence in 1960.
Power sharing disputes, based on clanism, erupted and finally led to an unofficial pact of sharing government positions and institutions on a clan-based formula. For example, Mr. Adan Abdulle Osman from the Hawiye clan became president, while Dr Abdirashid Ali Sharma'arke from the Majerteen subclan of the Darod clan secured the premiership. The formula also applied in the security institutions, where Gen Daud Abdulle Hersi from the Hawiye became commander of national forces, whilst the position of police commander again went to a member of the Majerteen subclan, Gen Muhammad Abshir Muse.
To the north, Somaliland was independent for four whole days, between the end of British colonial rule and subsequent unification with the former Italian colony of Somalia on 1 July 1960. With unification came expectations. Somaliland was hoping for either the presidency or the premiership, but saw these positions go to southern Somalia.
Muhammad Ibrahim Egal - later second president of the self-declared republic of Somaliland between May 1993 and May 2002 - was the prime minister of Somaliland for those four significant days and was at the time appointed national defense minister, but the power sharing formula failed to win the hearts of the northerners. Military officers in the national Somalia National Forces, SNF, of Somaliland origin, notably from the Issaq clan, led an attempt at secession in 1961.
For the first nine years after independence, Somalia's so-called democratic political system was rife with corruption and nepotism, which resulted in tribalism being synonymous with politics.
On 15 October 1969, a government soldier assassinated the second president of the republic, Dr Abdirashid Sharma'arke, in Laascaanod, northern Somalia while on an official visit. The motive behind the assassination remains unknown, but many say it was clan related.
A power struggle to replace the departed president erupted in parliament. Again most of the dissension was based on clan differences among legislators. Finally the row became an opportunity for the SNF led by Maj Muhammad Siyad Barre to take power in a bloodless coup on the eve of 21 October 1969.
In the beginning of his 21-year dictatorial rule, Siyad Barre condemned tribalism as the most serious impediment to national unity and as a disease against development. The government meted out prison terms and fines for a broad category of proscribed activities classified as tribalism. Local dignitaries, known as "peacekeepers", were appointed to represent government interests, replacing traditional headmen.
In order to strengthen efforts against tribalism in the country, the military government decreed that all marriage ceremonies should occur at orientation centers [centers created by Siyad Barre to educate people about government policy]. From time to time, Siyad Barre himself presided over these ceremonies and contrasted the benefits of what he termed socialism to the evils he associated with tribalism.
Re-emergence of clan politics
At first many Somalis were encouraged by the Siyad Barre regime, because it launched many developmental projects useful to people who had suffered from chronic nepotism and corruption in the first nine years of Somalia's independence. But in 1975, the image of the government again revealed favoritism to certain clans. For example, 10 of the 20 members of the Somali Revolutionary Council, the highest political organ in the country, were from Siyad Barre's Darod clan, with the Digil or Rahanweyn - a group of sedentary inter-riverine clans - totally unrepresented in the Council.
In 1978 After the end of the Ogaden war between Somalia and Ethiopia, a group of military officers, most of them from the Majeerteen subclan of the Darod, carried out an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the government of Siyad Barre. Barre took this event as a threat against the revolutionary regime and decided to form clan political alliances. Despite his prior intention to stamp out clan politics, the government was commonly referred to by the code name MOD. This acronym stood for Marehan (Siyad Barre's subclan), Ogaden (the subclan of Siyad Barre's mother), and Dhulbahante (the clan of Siyad Barre's son-in-law Brig-Gen Ahmad Sulayman Abdalla). Members of these three clans held most of the important positions in the government.
The first rebel movement formed after the failed coup was also based on clan lines, as were many other factions established later on. This was somehow beneficial to Barre's regime, which thrived on a weak opposition divided along clan lines.
In May 1986 Siyad Barre was seriously wounded in a car accident near Afgooye district, 30 km from Mogadishu. He was flown to Saudi Arabia for treatment followed by a one-month convalescence period during which he recovered sufficiently to resume the reins of government. But the accident unleashed a power struggle among senior army commanders, elements of the president's Marehan clan and related factions, whose infighting practically brought the country to a standstill.
Broadly, two groups contested for power, a constitutional faction and a clan faction. The senior vice-president, Marshal Muhammad Ali Samantar and three other high-ranking members of the ruling Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party (SRSP) led the constitutional faction.
Opposed to the constitutional group were elements of the president's Marehan clan, especially members of his immediate family, including his brother, Abdirahmaan Jama Barre, his son, Col Maslah Muhammad Siyad, and the formidable Mama Khadiija, Siyad Barre's senior wife. By some accounts, Mama Khadiija ran her own intelligence network, had well-placed political contacts and oversaw a large group that prospered under her patronage.
When Gen Barre returned home from Saudi Arabia, he backed the group led by his wife. He removed Marshal Samantar from the post of vice-president as well as in the Defence Ministry and created a new job for him as prime minister. But it was tokenism, since Siyad Barre retained all power of appointments in government.
Later, as the president reached his early seventies and was suffering from chronic diabetes, he suddenly promoted his son, Maslah Muhammad Sida, from the rank of colonel to brigadier-general, apparently to prepare him to take power if anything happened to the president.
"I regret becoming president of Somalia" - Barre
Experts of Somalia affairs believe that the Barre's regime was the best opportunity for Somalia to liberate itself from the chronic affliction of clanism or tribalism, since Barre was a powerful man who was feared by many Somalis in the early years of his regime.
On the other hand, there is a group of politicians and observers who believe that Barre was confused himself on how to run the country taking the clan issues into account. One of these politicians told BBC Monitoring of an encounter he had had with the late president. In the meeting, according to the politician, Barre said: "I regret becoming a president of Somalia because of these difficult clan issues. I do not know what to do and it is too late. Now I am in a place from which I cannot go back''
In order to ensure that no one opposed his regime, Barre carried out military actions against some Somali clans he considered enemies, first against the Majeerteen subclan (of the Darod clan), then against the Isaaq clans of the north and finally against the Hawiye, who occupied the strategic central area of the country, including the capital. The disaffection of the Hawiye and their subsequent organized armed resistance eventually caused the regime's downfall on 26 January 1991.
A few days after he was deposed, Barre managed to meet with all the subclans of the Darod in order to make sure that the Hawiye did not succeed in ruling the country. Although his idea was accepted, every subclan of the Darod formed its own factions.
One faction of the Hawiye clan, the United Somali Congress (USC), which toppled Siyad Barre, itself suffered from clan rivalry as a bitter power struggle erupted between the two main Hawiye subclans, the Habar-Gidir and the Abgaal. These two major Hawiye subclans are very much in evidence in today's crises. For example the more radical de-facto leader of the Union of Islamic Courts, Hassan Dahir Aweys, is from the Habar-Gidir subclan, while the former chairman of the court's Executive Council, Shaykh Sharif Shaykh Ahmad, is an Abgaal.
Meanwhile, in northern Somalia, the Somali National Movement (SNM), mainly supported by the Isaaq clan, declared independence, with no international recognition.
The major clan family in Somaliland is the Isaaq. The second dominant clan family and also the clan family of the current president, Dahir Rayale Kahin, is the Dir clan and its subclans are Issa and Gadabursi. There are other clan families in the north such as the Warsangeli and Dhulbahante - both sub-groups of the Darod clan system - that do not recognize the self-declared republic of Somaliland. The Warsangeli and Dhulbahante mostly reside in the disputed Sool, Sanaag and Togdheer Regions of eastern Somaliland. The Isaaq live in Waqooyi Galbeed, Togdheer and some parts of Sool and Sanaag Regions. The Gadabursi clan family live in the Awdal region and Gabiley district of western Somaliland.
For the last 16 years of civil war, the clan system took on a new image as every single clan formed a political, armed movement with the letter "S", which stands for Somalia, included in each faction's acronym. (For example USC, for Hawiye). In this case it was very easy to identify everyone if you know the name of the faction he belonged to.
The most important thing to know is that, in all Somali reconciliation efforts, clan-based politicians often do not mention the real problems, likening the disputes to political disputes anywhere in the world. But without trust among the clans, there cannot be peace in Somalia.
Era of Union of Islamic Courts
The year 2006 saw the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) dramatically kick out the warlords in Mogadishu and then spread their rule to some other parts of southern Somalia. The UIC succeeded in restoring law and order in the areas it controlled. Yet, some Somalis doubt whether the movement is clean from the clan affliction.
With allegations coming from Western countries that the UIC has links with Al Qaidah and is hosting international terrorism suspects, Ethiopian forces helped the interim Somali government topple the UIC saying the UIC was a threat to their security.
Now Somalia is trying to regain its nationhood by another cycle of reconciliation talks, welcomed by the international community, despite UIC players considered vital for an everlasting solution remaining in exile in Yemen or Europe.
The powerful Ayr sub-clan, thought to be responsible for much of the UIC's military strength, is also claiming exclusion from the current government dominated by rival clans. With so many clans and subclans, so many conflicting interests, a history of failed negotiations, broken agreements and deep-rooted hatred and suspicion of whomever is in government, it is unlikely that reconciliation talks called for by the government will succeed.
Source: BBC Monitoring