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Unity by Peaceful means is an Exploit that Deserves a Millennium [1]

The Roobdoon Forum

August 15, 2005


In severely divided societies, ethnic [clan] identity provides clear lines to determine who will be included and who will be excluded.  Since the lines appear unalterable, being in and being out may quickly come to look permanent.  In [clan] politics, inclusion may affect the distribution of important material and non-material goods, including the prestige of the various [clan] groups and the identity of the state as belonging more to one group than another. [2]


                 Donald L. Horowitz, Professor of Political Science at Duke University.


The Somali communities were never before approached on a democratic basis.  Nevertheless, in four months in 1993, fifty nine district councils were formed, as well as five regional councils.  Aideed had wanted to use this to control the eventual Transitional National Council.  When he couldn’t, the Pakistani soldiers were killed.  In January 1994, the district council and regional council formation process halted.  It now exits only on paper. [3]


                             Former UNISOM official, Human Rights Watch interview,

                                                                                  Nairobi, January, 1995.


At the time the above observations were made, the Puntland Regional State of Somalia did not exist.  And today, it is still too early to assess the contributions of this new Regional State, in terms of creating or maintaining harmonious inter-clan relations among its component clans and sub-clans.  Our pre-occupation then is with the evaluation of the Administration’s recent attempts and proposals for the district council-making procedures in Bossaaso district, and its near-future implications on the Puntland State as a single geo-political entity.  In this retrospect, there are landmarks to warrant a cursory performance appraisal.


Has the Puntland Administration been able to satisfy those yearnings, aspirations, and fears expressed at its inception, especially among its minority groups?  Our approach to this question is an empirical investigation of the patterns of electoral allocations – particularly the distribution of seats in Bossaaso district councils.  This is with a view to determining which sub-clan actually gets what and why.


The focus of this paper is how the electoral seats allocated to Axmed Harti clan hamper the process of democratizing our society; and therefore, the Roobdoon Forum calls for greater entrenched district-council power sharing.  Axmed Harti clan (otherwise known as the indigenous clan of Bossaaso and its environment) constitute a significant percentage of the total population of Puntland State. They are mainly found in Bari-Karkaar region.


I.  Historical Background


We, the Forum, are aware of some “triumphalist” clannish quasi-historiography in the making since the collapse of the Somali State.  The city of Bossaaso, through its demographic history, was a city established and populated mainly by Axmed Harti sub-clans.  The 1990s Somali civil war has brought rapid refugee influx, and the city population has more than quadrupled in less than ten years, ensuing sub-clan tensions and clan clash possibilities.


Bossaaso is a historical settlement and seaport for nearly two centuries (see footnote). [4] Throughout its historical period, the seaport was commercially dynamic.  The city, traditionally known as Bandar Qaasim, is socio-culturally identified as Axmed Harti enclave, an identification similarly given to Abgaal clan in Muqdisho and its environs by the current Transitional Government of Somalia – by appointing its mayoral office to a member of Abgaal/Mudulood clan, without universal suffrage.  The genesis of this clan-territorial identification originated from the nomadic culture of the Somalis, whereby a sedentary settlement, even if it becomes a metropolitan, is still identified as the constituency of the earliest communities who laid its foundations.


We do not wish to resort to the ancient history of Bossaaso and its inhabitants for the simple reason of proving whose ownership/ or constituency it was in our history.  However,  as is the case in Kismaayo (another contested seaport in southern Somalia), Maxamed Harti elites often not shy away from pushing back the history of Kismaayo to decades or more, in order to justify and form the ownership rights of that constituency.  For that reason only, we will not avert to address what is largely hitherto, an Axmed Harti’s neglected theme – namely the conceptualization of territorial ownership through alien (i.e. colonial) discourse and maps.  In his monograph which was published in 1909, an Italian traveler, Giulio Baldacci, affirms Axmed Harti sub-clans (Gabtaanle and Deshishe) as the founders of Bossaaso (also known as Bandar Qaasim) when he states:


About 3 ½ hours’ walk from Bet Nur, we came to Bander Kasnin (also called by the Arabs: the native name is Bosaso), which was built about sixty years ago, the Kaptallah (a seafaring tribe, now almost extinct) being the first to build few huts there.  They were joined by, not long after, by the Deshishe. [5]


For centuries, Axmed Harti coastal people (Bossaaso inhabitants) exploited marine resources for food and an early engagement in overseas trade, linking parts of Somalia with the Arabian Peninsula, Persia, and Sub-continent India.  After few decades of stagnation and bad governance, the seaport again recuperated; its trade has grown in scope.  Its geographical advantages now include: its proximity to the “the Manhattan of Arabia” (Dubai).  Thus, in the clan-based contemporary politics of Puntland, the control and management of this vital seaport seemingly became the primary functions of the sub-clan-oriented President, Maxamuud Muuse Xersi.  For the President, Axmed Harti’s numerical strength in the district of Bossaaso served him as a major opposition platform to rally against Bossaaso inhabitants and a threat to the economic gains of his sub-clan.  This unconstructive outlook has recently been a major obstacle to harmonious inter-clan relations that Bossaaso enjoyed for a decade.


In the 1990s, the International Community became aware of the very crest of the great immigrant wave towards Bossaaso.  For the first time, the city’s tradition of tolerance was noticed by the Western press, dominating the headlines of many prominent newspapers.  Canada’s national newspaper, the Globe and Mail (May 17, 1996) reads its International News: “Somali city a refuge from anarchy”. The newspaper elaborated well why Bossaaso became the ultimate “final destiny” for many people:


Left to fend for itself, Bosasso has become a refuge from anarchy.  Even those from other clans other than Darod, who have long dominated the northeast, say they are welcomed.  “These people if you tell them you are hungry, they give something,” said Abdalla Essa, a wrinkled old man who came from Mogadishu six months in a shanty town along the garbage-strewn shore of the shimmering blue Gulf of Aden.  Gabriel Ali, 37, a builder who lost eight relatives in the war, braved highway bandits to move to his family from the capital.  “In Mogadishu, if you work and get some money they take it by force or kill you.  But here, I can keep what I earn,” he said.  Now he earns about $100 a month. [6]


Consequently, at the turn of the new millennium, ½ of Bossaaso’s inhabitants are displaced people and immigrants seeking opportunities, and the fraction is increasing rapidly – as long as Bossaaso is viewed as save, hospitable, and an economic opportunity district.  Not only to judge the headlines of Western media but also the large refugee influx that the city has welcomed from as far as Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda [7] deserves to be acknowledged.  In the midst of anarchy Somalia, Bossaaso inhabitants wholeheartedly received their brethren.


II. The District Council System: a development asset or an impediment


In the past 15 years, Somalis have paid dear prices and suffered unprecedented catastrophe.  Since the collapse of the Somali State, many regions have tried the path of re-organization of some sort to form a Central Authority; and subsequently, the northeastern regions of Somalia set the course towards that direction.  The compatriots, especially the elders and intellectuals, from those regions have increasingly longed the Somali unity and thus decided to establish a regional central authority as a stepping stone for the task of national unification – believing that Somalis will ultimately unite as one people.  In 1998, the compatriots of Bossaaso played a major role in the formation of a regional state named Puntland.  Their focus was to create a “bottom-up” side approach to restore democracy, freedom, progress, and prosperity of Somalia’s recovery base.  As Richard P. Werbner concluded his research on Small Man Politics and the Rule of Law, “Protection against misrule and oppression can never be automatic, a matter of necessary constitutional devices only.” [8]  The elders of Bossaaso, the traditional authority structures, agreed therefore on all the efforts for political participation; and early this year, the formation of district councils began.


Theoretically, the system is intended to allow the formation of local structures which reflect the composition of the local population.  Political scientists refer to the system as a form of “proportional representation” and therefore view it as a form of democracy.  The establishment of local councils, whose members selected through a “broad based selection in accordance with Somali tradition”, was first introduced to Somalia by the United Nations’ UNISOM operations in 1993.  “It is important to note”, as Yemi Osinbajo affirms, “that the concept of councils in this form was unknown to Somali law before the war.” [9]  At first, the concept of district council possessed a resonance, and in fact made many Somalis very excited.  However, in 1993, when the United Nations’ UNISOM program attempted to use this system as a basic building block to restore the Somali State, the system collapsed immediately.  Human Rights Watch observed that:


The lack of consultation with traditional authorities in each district, and the way council seats were allocated to various communities – allocations that among other things sometimes failed to take into account recent major population movements, leaving the original inhabitants of a district potentially without a representation.  More commonly, district councils were seen to have been easily packed or intimidated by war leaders of the more powerful clans. [10]


Another unimpressive experiment on this system has been the formation of local structures in Puntland Regional State, particularly the State’s largest city, Bossaaso.  The administration of Puntland considers the allotting affairs of the system as perfect, successful democratization process; and therefore, any district or clan that opposes this plan is a renegade district/clan. Puntland’s Minister of Municipal and Rural Development, Cali Cabdi Awaare, is recently exercising controversial powers over who can be a district council in Bossaaso, claiming to fulfill a constitutional decree.  His arbitration and judgment activities regarding on the selection of local councils seem limited to Bossaaso; the decree which focuses the establishments of local structures overturned only the existing traditional power-sharing of Bossaaso district.  Surprisingly, Garoowe, the capital of Puntland (and the place that ought to be a “neutral” place for all Puntlanders) and Galkacyo was not affected by this decree.  Both these cities, despite their large number of newcomers, mainly allocated council seats to its traditional/original inhabitants.  Clearly, Minister Awaare has been given a go ahead signal from the top brass officials of Puntland; and he seems to enjoy overriding the proposals of traditional Bossaaso elders and implementing the allotting affairs solely to Bossaaso district.  The people of Bossaaso are concerned about the effects that this unbalanced representation could have on businesses and outside investment, which are vital to Puntland economy. 


Furthermore, the besieged and odd minister, Awaare, has even tried to calm the uproar by pointing out that the new council seats will stay, and arresting prominent figures in the community.  This is the dilemma that the inhabitants of Bossaaso are experiencing; and also, this allocation of district seats system is attributed to the failure of United Nations program in Somalia in the early 1990s (see Human Rights Watch Report, April 1995, p.33).  Therefore, how do we cope with these crises?


Firstly, there are now some fundamental questions that we must seriously address our minds to, if the idea of council formation is not to become another “UNISOM farce” – failure.  The question that has informed us of the handling of Bossaaso local structures is the real problem that we need to address: how do we ensure that the process is safe from manipulation of the current ruling clan in Puntland?  Secondly, is the current process of selection merely a clan hegemonic exercise (“vengeance” clan-politics) or will it gain ground and take off?   These questions will supply us a scale for weighing the problems and prospects of clan-legal basis for the establishment of local districts in Puntland.  In fact, the short history and controversies surrounding the concept of proportional representation in cities such as Bossaaso provide us with a chart for navigating the murky waters of district council manipulation process.  Some scholars stress that the concept is passing fad; that is, “in the long run, its usefulness is highly questionable because it crystallizes and perpetuates communal differences plus the fact that, in cases where communities are not geographically divided as in Cyprus, it is unworkable.” [11] Yet, the concept cannot and should not be dismissed as completely worthless.  In at least one form, district council formation may have some values – for example, the problems of sub-clan tensions and suspicions, often at the lower levels, may not have serious political implications on the power of the Central Authority.  Now, what could be the prescriptions for Bossaaso?


Puntland Administration should vow to defend the independence and the integrity of clan territories; and at the same time devise (and not simply import foreign ideas) a comprehensive policy to help and protect the electoral rights of groups that have recently being overwhelmed by major movements of population in the towns such as Bossaaso.  The recent district council selections in Bossaaso harmed the chances of Axmed Harti power-sharing by unfairly diluting their council votes in mayoral electorate.  Therefore, the Administration should strive for the direct elections (i.e. universal suffrage) of all mayoral and governorship offices, and all council seats in all Puntland regions and districts.  If the Administration is not ready yet for one-person-one-vote, as we expect, then it should maintain the traditional way of power sharing and should respect historical aspects of clan territories.


III. The Emergence of a New Civil Society: The Roobdoon Forum


As political philosopher Frantz Fanon pointed out, “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.” [12] Hence, many concerned Puntlanders have been lately exchanging ideas and thoughts relating to the salvation of the unity and prosperity that Puntland is relatively enjoying.  People began to assemble a network in Bossaaso and elsewhere in the Diaspora, very soon increasing from a group of few to hundreds.  After e-mail and telephone exchanges, the Axmed Harti in Diaspora decided to hold a flurry of brass meetings and teleconferences, as students, elders, women, and intellectuals of the community discuss the new “vampire” administration of Puntland and its implications.  In Bossaaso, people already gathered to resist the injustices of the Administration, which appears not noticing the unfolding of kacdoonka Bossaaso (Bossaaso uprising).  However, numerous Somali websites have continuously covered the cycle of unrest and agitation pouring in the streets of Bossaaso. [13]


Clearly, the expectations generated by the founders of Puntland Regional State have been confounded.  There is a widespread feeling that the current Administration has patently failed to be fair to all Puntlanders.  Moreover, there is a general consensus that stresses this new social organization can curb the inefficiencies and clannish nature of this Administration, and can also exploit the more progressive forces of Puntland societies.


Roobdoon Forum is also aware of the approaches taken by many Somali civil society – assuming that Somali political culture can be equated to that of the Northerners (the West).  Although we are pushing for change in the right direction, we don’t call ourselves a “sunlight civil society”, a term referring to a civil society that contributes positively to its community – the term was coined by a Northern (Western) scholar Gordon White. [14] In our environment, what we lack most is rain (Roob) and not sunlight; thus, the Roobdoon Forum (the rain-seeking/making Forum) [15] just advocates and prays to rain – the Forum translates, with careful analysis, the present condition of Bossaaso inhabitants.      


The new advocacy group, the Roobdoon Forum, simply highlights the nature of Bossaaso uprising – an uprising that translates of local people simply taking charge, with full powers, and assembling all relevant sectors to discuss countermeasures, and start a dialogue with the current Administration.  Too be truthful, Bossaaso elders stated that they are exhausted in negotiation and their advices have met deaf ears.  They therefore informed the forum that there is not much to say for an Administration that initiates a campaign that stresses vengeance politics.  An Administration which constantly demands in their meetings that other clans (Axmed Harti etc) should inform themselves about the importance of regional stability and the feelings of a certain group (probably the ruling sub-clan), and then does not even know what Axmed Harti grievance is about!!  Not to mention the fact that Axmed Harti elders had informed to the Administration more than once issues that concerns them. 


Furthermore, certain clan affiliation with Puntland administrative sectors is clear.  The men who acquired nearer blood lineage with the President came to fill positions of power, seeking in a number of ways to differentiate themselves from their lower ranking co-workers and assuming the task of the administration as sub-clan family affairs.  The individuals and organizations controlling all major Puntland government posts are ‘well-tied’ to exercise power within civil servant ranks.  The clipping of real authority and clan status (and nothing in between), and the reliance by the President on his sub-clan officials to be the sole decision makers for their fellow Puntlanders, formed a hegemonic structure, whereby the relations between different clans are likely to be a powder keg.  Should we not consider this a dereliction of duty on the part of the President, Maxamuud Muuse Xirsi?


The Roobdoon Forum thus announces that its members expressed alarm and dismay at the “junta-type” activities made by the Administration’s security forces, which have come in the wake of opposition comments (printed or posted on the internet media).  The security forces have so far arrested or detained temporarily prominent elders and journalists. It seems that the Administration passed judgment on the motives of the elders and journalists.  We regret that Puntland President failed to comment publicly on these issues.


We wish to assure Puntland Administration in this public manner that the Roobdoon Forum has no ulterior motives, but it has an obligation to its people in Bossaaso and its environment to perform the role of an effective and constructive social organization that is pushing for change.  The Forum has a public duty to ensure that those entrusted with public power use it lawfully.  We want the Puntland Administration to clarify its position on whether it is right for any journalist to be punished or detained for a long period of time when no one has been found guilty.  In addition, the Forum representatives put forth the following specific demands:


ü       Since the constitution of Puntland state that people have rights and government has capabilities, the government should adhere to it and exercise self-government. Since its top official were elected by the Legislative Body and national policies are decided by public opinions, all Puntlanders (including Bossaaso inhabitants!) should enjoy all the rights and freedom guaranteed by the constitution and everyone is equal before the law.

ü       The release of all journalists who were arrested, since freedom of expression is by no means an anti government activity.

ü       The Puntland security forces should refrain from persecuting/or detaining temporarily the participants of protests and freedom of expression in peaceful means.

ü       We propose the continuation of negotiation between the two sides, so that all sides could relinquish previous ill will and jointly accomplish the great task of Puntland unity and prosperity.


The only way to promote “unity by peaceful means” is to implement and promote the following empirical approaches to clan accommodation, drawing some of these approaches from the techniques of conflict regulating measures argued by political scientist Eric Nordlinger [16]:


v      Thwart the plots and actions of subverting another group/clan in order to dominate/or displace; replace hatred with benevolence; replace clan hegemony ambitions with mutual co-operation; replace totalitarianism with freedom; and replace dictatorship with democracy.

v      Abandon the current distribution venues for sharing Bossaaso district seats, which has been spurned by Axmed Harti and many other clan groupings, but oddly is currently adhered to by the Puntland Administration.

v      The need to scrub the new drawings of regional boundaries (for example, the recent splitting in Bari and Sanaag regions) around clans which created new minorities with ties to another group that felt separated. We regard these new regions as a factor that intensifies the conflict.

v      The need for the de-politicization in the spheres where conflicting sub-clans agree not to involve government because it might touch on clan values.

v      The need for “compromise” that entails mutual adjustment of interests and “concession” (by a “stronger” to a “weaker” clan).

v      Revive Somali and Islamic culture, restore morality and ethics, protect the traditional clan territory system, and establish a harmonious society.

v      Completely erase and cleanse the pernicious influence of one sub-clan in Puntland Administration.  Abolish all the control and ration systems of monopoly policy makers; abolish privileged rights of some groups, and realize the goal of equitable distribution of government posts.

v       Finally, practice democratic constitutionalism and restore people’s land rights, according to both the constitution of Puntland State and the existing traditional, clan-based land claims.


In conclusion, Puntlanders be aware of the clannish opportunists masquerading as politicians, who champion the cause of dismemberment of the Puntland unity, creating systemic tension and friction within neighboring clans, all in their bid to consolidate and promote their ulterior economic and political interests.  Puntlanders should inform their leaders the need to bring government nearer to the people, the need for unity, and the need to reduce clan tensions.  All of these sums up opportunities for political, spiritual, and economic development coupled with greater share of government resources.  Remember, Puntland unity by peaceful means is an exploit that deserves a millennium.




[1] In this paper, all Somali personal names, clan names, and places are in Somali script.  In Somali script: the letter x is comparable to the Arabic ح; for example, Ahmed becomes Axmed; c = ع; Ali becomes Cali;  q = ق ; Mogadishu becomes Muqdisho.


[2] Donald Horowitz, “ Democracy in Divided Societies,” in Nationalism, Ethnic Conflict, and Democracy, edited by Larry Diamond and Marc Plattner (John Hopkins University Press, 1994), 35.


[3] Human Rights Watch Africa, “Somali Faces the Future: Human Rights in a Fragmented Society,” (New York, April 1995), Vol. 7, No. 2. : 33.


[4] See the writings of the few European travelers who succeeded to penetrate the Somali Peninsula,

mentioning the seaport of Bandar Qaasim as early as 1843:

W. Christopher, “Extract from a Journal by Lieut. W. Christopher, Commanding the H. C. Brig of War 'Tigris,' on the E. Coast of Africa. Dated 8th May, 1843,” Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London, Vol. 14 (1844): 102.

I. N. Cruttenden, “On East Africa,” Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London, Vol. 18 (1848): 138.

W. Desborough Cooley, “On the Regio Cinnamomifera of the Ancients,” Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London, Vol. 19 (1849), 189.

C. P. Rigby, “On the Origin of the Somali Race, Which Inhabits the North-eastern Portion of Africa,” Transactions of the Ethnological Society of London, Vol. 5 (1867): 93.


[5] Giulio Baldacci,   “The Promontory of cape Guardafui,” Journal of the Royal African Society, Vol.9, No. 33, (Oct., 1909): 60.


[6] Alan Zarembo, “Somali City a Refuge from Anarchy,” The Globe and Mail, Friday, May 17, 1996.


[7] Stephen Buckley, “No Government? No Problem, Somali Port Finds,” The Washington Post, Sunday, March 3, 1996, A1.


[8] Richard P. Werbner, “Small Man Politics and the Rule of Law: Centre-periphery Relations in East-Central Botswana,” Journal of African Law, Vol. 21, No. 1, Honour of Isaac Schapera (Spring, 1977): 39. 


[9] Yemi Osinbajo, “Legality in a Collapsed State: The Somali Experience,” The International and Comparative Law Quarterly, Vol. 45, No. 4 (Oct., 1996): 916.


[10] Human Rights Watch Africa, “Somali Faces the Future: Human Rights in a Fragmented Society,” (New York, April 1995), Vol. 7, No. 2. : 33.


[11] Catherine D. Papastathopoulos, “Constitutionalism and Communalism: The Case of Cyprus”, The University of Toronto law Journal, Vol. 16, No. 1 (1965): 129.


[12] Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (New York: Grove Press, 1968).


[13] See Wardeernews.com (editorial, 7th of July, 2005); and Biyokulule.com (July 12, 2005).


[14] Gordon White, “Civil Society, Democratization, and Development,” in Democratization in the South: the Jagged Wave, edited by Robin Luckham and Gordon White, (Manchester University Press, 1996), 198.


[15] In the event of great drought, a roobdoon event is arranged and certain sheiks must be asked to lead it.  When these sheiks arrive, many people of the village or area assemble and follow the religious instructions and prayers assigned to them by the sheikhs.  Usually, the participants are instructed to walk on the streets of the village, while chanting prayer rituals and asking Allah to let rain fall.  Many Somalis believe that this event of rain-seeking/making rarely fails.


[16] Eric A. Nordlinger, Conflict Regulations in Divided Societies (Cambridge: Center for International Affairs, Harvard University, 1972), pp.21-29. 


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