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Powder-Keg in the Inferno
Nairobi, July 10, 2007 – THE KEY TO UNDERSTANDING and devising possible solutions to the 16-year-old Somali conflict is in tackling the complex clan rivalry that reigns supreme.
A brief background is necessary. Before the Berlin Conference that sliced Africa into zones of colonial occupation, the Somali territory was vast, for it stretched from what is today Djibouti, the Ogaden province of Ethiopia, whatever is now called Somalia, and the North-Eastern Province of Kenya.
In that massive geographical expression lived a people called the Somalis but who, in reality, identified themselves as a dozen different clans and as four dozen sub-clans.
The different clans and sub-clans never liked each other and would have taken the first opportunity to murder one another. The saving grace, however, was that the country they occupied was so large that they found no reason to go for each others' necks.
The Berlin Conference changed all that by carving the "Greater Somalia" into four different entities, namely -- French Somaliland (now Djibouti), Italian Somaliland ( Somalia), British Somaliland (the land west of Kismayu and north-eastern Kenya). The fourth entity was the Ogaden which was taken by Ethiopia, the only country never to be colonised.
The situation slightly changed after World War II when Italians were chased away and the Italian Somaliland made part of the British Somaliland.
One effect of the colonial domination of the original Somaliland was to temporarily suspend clan and sub-clan hostilities. As long as Somaliland was under foreign occupation, the Somalis were ready to forget their intra-clan rivalries and unite against a common enemy. The uniting factor then was a return to the "Greater Somalia".
Come the end of colonial occupation in most of Africa in early 1960s, the dream of the "Greater Somalia" still remained an antidote to clan hostilities. Through-out 1960s and 1970s, Somalis were dead set on a return to the original "Somaliland".
THEIR FIRST TARGET WAS Kenya's North-Eastern Province, then, together with parts of today's Eastern province, known as the Northern Frontier District (NFD). The result was the Shifta War that lasted between 1963-1970, and which Kenya won.
Humiliated by Kenyans, Somalis then turned to the next frontier, and invaded the Ogaden province of Ethiopia in the mid-1970s. After two years of combat, the Somalis were pushed back home without the Ogaden.
Come the 1980s, Somalis finally woke up to the reality that a return to the "Greater Somalia" of the pre-Berlin Conference was an exercise in futility. And that is where the rain began to beat on them.
Frustrated, they re-discovered the enemy-within and returned to pre-Berlin Conference era of clan and sub-clan enmity.
The major clans that make up Somalia are the Big Three -- the Hawiye, Darod, and Isaaq. Others are Rahanweyn, Dir, and Digil. Then there are the so-called minor clans, the Sheikhal, Ashraaf, and Midgan. Others in this category are Tumal, Yibir, and Eyle.
Siad Barre - the last Somali Head of State in the real sense of the word - somehow worked a formula to keep the country together. He, by use of state largesse, made sure that the clans stayed united either through inter-marriage, kick-backs or murder.
The bubble, however, burst in 1991 when Somalis saw through Barre's tricks and chased him out of town. Unfortunately, even as they got rid of him, they did not have a formula to bring sanity to their country.
Sanity to Somalia will only come when different clans accept that they can only make the best of their country by agreeing to live together.
Mr Mbuvi is a consultant on security issues.
Source: Daily Nation