Zooming into the Past                          



M O G A D I S H U   C I V I L   W A R S




Zooming into the 1990s interviews and statements, given by the spokespersons and leaders of Somali factions, enables us to prove that clan-animosity account of the Somali civil war has not been given the scholarly attention that its magnitude warrants, even after sixteen years of clan-warfare.  This clan-animosity feeling can in fact be derived from faction joint communiqué and statements; and therefore, posting selections of these public relation statements should be a matter of concern to all Somalis – particularly, to those who are in the field of Somali Studies.


After all, clan factionalism disguised in English acronyms (formed from three or four initial letters which include the sacrosanct letter “S”) are now facts of life for Somalis.  The words and deeds of the turbulent faction followers have ordained to presuppose that faction spokespersons assumed a monumental role in fuelling clan-hatred.  As a result of that, the Forum rushes in to investigate and share with you excerpts of faction communiqués, hoping to find solutions to the current tragic political situation in Somalia.  From our perspective, these selections are indeed those that Western scholars/(Somalists) most neglected, or could offer hints to the causes of the civil war.



F E B R U A R Y    1 9 9 0 s


Somali gunmen drive through the streets of Mogadishu




A young Somali smokes and holds a weapon as he and his friends sit on a car


Children pulling a donkey cart watch a carload full of armed militiamen pass through the streets of Mogadishu





Nearly Everything in Somalia Is

Now Up for Grabs


February 21, 1993

The New York Times


MOGADISHU, Somalia, Feb. 20 -- The hand-written plea on the hotel's bulletin board was emblematic of a people adrift. "We have 12 flag poles outside and no flags," it said. "We would be grateful for any flags, either organization, corporate or national."


As the United States reduces its military commitment here, Somalia will begin to rebuild from close to scratch. After two years of civil fighting and banditry, nearly everything about Somalia -- its borders, its demographics, its leaders, its political system, even its flag -- is an open question.


"It is just a geographical land mass called Somalia," said Maj. Gen. Imtiaz Shaheen, who will soon depart as the chief of United Nations forces in Somalia, to be succeeded by a Turkish commander, Lieut. Gen. Cevik Bir. "To put it together, this is the challenge."


How Somalia is put together is likely to have implications for other African nations. The kind of political system created here could fuel or snuff aspirations in other regions. A change of borders in Somalia, where the people are ethnically homogeneous for the most part, could set off the disintegration of borders in more diverse trouble spots throughout Africa, military and political analysts here say. What Will It Become?


"Whatever Somalia becomes will be what the Somali people want it to be," said Leonard Kapungu, chief of political affairs for the United Nations operation in Somalia. It is a refrain echoed by almost every foreign political or military officer stationed here.


The main question, however, is who will speak for the Somalis. Or, as Ismat Kittani, the departing United Nations envoy, said in a recent interview, "which Somalis are able to speak freely?"


[ Guinea's delegate to the United Nations, Lansana Kouyate, has been appointed deputy special envoy for Somalia to take on Mr. Kittani's duties, Reuters reported. ]


Few expect an oasis of democracy to rise from the ruins. There is no talk of free elections in the near future. Foreigners, both Western diplomats and United Nations officials, warn against trying to impose a political system of a Western mold in Somalia. "Then, we'll just be back here again in a few years," a United Nations diplomat said.


The main forum for determining the country's political future has been the series of meetings in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, between leaders of the 14 warring factions. They are scheduled to convene a national reconciliation conference on March 15 that outsiders hope will begin the long road toward peaceful coexistence. Role of Warring Factions


United Nations officials say participation at the conference will be broad, but a 16-point agenda has already been drafted by the leaders of the warring factions, and it appears they will have a major voice in any power-sharing arrangement.


The policy the United States and United Nations have shared on Somalia has hinged on bringing together the leaders of the warring factions and groups representing other elements in society -- like women, intellectuals and clan elders -- and removing the overwhelming power of the fighting factions by containing their heavy weaponry inside designated areas. The weapons would eventually be used by a Somali national army.


Robert B. Oakley, the special United States envoy to Somalia, has been spending much of his time trying to cool the atmosphere and opening dialogue between different elements.


"He's just trying to knock heads together to get them to talk," a Western diplomat said.


Without access to their armaments, the factional leaders would presumably be on a more equal footing in their maneuvering for a say in the country's future political profile. Military officials, however, acknowledge that there is no way of knowing how much heavy weaponry may remain hidden in the countryside or in northern Somalia, which has so far remained outside the purview of foreign forces. Last week, the leaders ignored a deadline for revealing their armaments caches, but pledged to do so soon. Words With Different Meanings


These days the factional leaders speak the language of democracy, but the words have different meanings here. A United Nations official recalled talking with one of Mogadishu's leaders, Gen. Mohammed Farah Aidid, who insisted that he would win the most votes in a free election. "I told him, 'If you're holding a gun to a person's head, of course he's going to vote for you.' "


Ali Mussa Abdi, a columnist for the daily newspaper Qaran in Somalia, said, "Everybody will say he's for democracy and national reconciliation, but they each have to see the place where their interests and the interests of their clan will be served within that reconciliation."


Under Mohammed Siad Barre, the dictator who ran this country for 21 years with vast military aid from both Washington and Moscow, the spoils of power and important government posts went largely to his relatives in the Marehan sub-clan.


"People don't feel there will be a democracy and all people will be the same," Mr. Mussa Abdi said. "They feel that whoever becomes president will feed only his own people, and nobody else will have power."


Because of the country's clan-based tradition -- which though shattered by the rise of the warlords, appears to override all other affiliations -- close observers expect Somalia to become a nation of clan-based regions with a large degree of autonomy. The obstacle to that may be the enormous power retained by factional leaders, derived from the vast arms caches and finances. 'Plucking the Bird'


Mr. Oakley describes United States policy toward the warlords as one of "plucking the bird," quietly limiting their power, while not alienating them.


"You take one feather at a time, and the bird doesn't think there's anything terrible going on," Mr. Oakley told The Associated Press on Friday. "Then one day he finds he can't fly. We did that from the beginning."


Somalia's pastoral society allowed for a degree of democracy within clans, which could oust elders who failed them. The pastoral clan system also had its own methods for resolving disputes, like negotiating water rights, and levied specific damages for homicide and stealing.


Though clashes between clans would occasionally erupt, it was largely the weapons supplied by the superpowers during the cold war that led to the country's breakdown. In northern Somalia alone, a United Nations team estimated that the land mines buried off virtually every main road added up to a million. With at least some of the heavy weaponry now under surveillance, analysts hope, the clan structure may re-emerge.


Some foreign observers have argued that the American-led forces should use these months to break the power of the factional leaders rather than just contain their weapons. 'Below Level of Anything'


But doing so would require a far deeper role in rebuilding Somalia than outsiders are prepared to take. Right now, said the commander of the Australian forces, Col. Bill Mellor, the factions represent the only part of Somali society that is remotely organized.


Even the clans, he pointed out, "are so below the level of anything you can build on."


While the United Nations has officially said its extension into northern Somalia is unconnected to the region's political status, there appears to be a clear preference to maintain the country's traditional borders.


The traditional Somali flag, a five-pointed white star on a blue background, does not reflect current geography. The top point of the star belongs to the north, the universally unrecognized country of Somaliland, while the two left points belong to Djibouti, where the French Foreign Legion is based, and the Ogaden region of Ethiopia. In Somaliland, the heavily fundamentalist northeast region, the Puntland, considers itself a state within a state. Only the east and south of Somalia, represented by the two remaining points, are areas not in dispute.


Photo: As the United States reduces its military commitment in Somalia, the creation of a representative government has become vital to the country's recovery. Local authorities, like police officers controlling a crowd yesterday at a Mogadishu feeding center, will be part of this transition. (Associated Press) Map of Somalia, indicating Mogadishu.


� Copyright 1993 The New York Times Company. All Rights Reserved.









Somalis loot U.N. barracks near the Mogadishu port





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