Chapter 9 – INDEPENDENCE, HUMANITARIAN INVASION AND SAILING INTO THE UNKNOWN
The road to the Somaliland (re-)declaration of independence
(a) Taking stock of the post-war situation
As we saw in the preceding chapter, the collapse of the Siyad Barre dictatorship was not followed by any form of embryonic new administration. On the contrary, the various insurrectional movements which managed to dismantle the last remnants of a ‘government’ were themselves simplified fighting systems without either ideology or administrative capacity. They were designed to destroy the dictatorship, and though they did the job, they did nothing else. None had thought about how to follow up on their own success.
Even though the situation was not much better in the north, what made the difference with the south was the presence of the SNM. Not the SNM as a political and military organization, although in this aspect it remained a factor. Unlike the USC, the SPM and other southern organizations in which the military completely overshadowed the civilians, the SNM had always been a civilian-led organization and had embryonic civilian-run structures. Its long history of congresses accompanied by a broadly accepted authority had created a civil culture and atmosphere. But was this a cause or a consequence? The SNM was a complex entity but, even if some of the fighters imposed themselves on civilians, most of the fighters remained civilians deep down because the SNM was an organic product of oppression. Bottom-up ‘insurrectional democracy’ had been part of its political DNA ever since its modest beginnings, both in the UK and among the various diaspora communities in exile.
Another advantage of the SNM compared with the more recent anti-Siyad Barre insurgent groups was longevity. The SNM had been a long-distance fighter, accumulating experience for most of the 1980s at a time when the pan-Somali dream was practically dead among the Isaaq since they had to pay the price of the ‘refugee invasion’ from the Ogaden in 1978. Caught in the iron vice of the Cold War, the SNM was in a poor tactical position. The SNM was no Vietcong, even its Calan Cas faction was not really ‘communist’, and it was not in the front ranks of the Cold War. It was a minor player. The help it received from the Communist bloc was meagre and incidental and completely subcontracted by Moscow to Ethiopia. By force of circumstance, it had to be self-reliant and it learned how to do so, over many years. It knew that victory, a real victory, would be a long-drawn-out affair and could not be a quick ‘fruit of the moment’ move. But the result was an extreme fragility, partly due to the instability of its recent allies, the newborn guerrilla movements of the south.
It is useful at this point to return to the prescient ‘Open Letter to the Nation’ written in November 1990 by Mohamed Ibrahim Egal, which was quoted earlier. ‘There has never been a more urgent need for compromise … The alternative is anarchy and descent into warring tribal fragments … The men who have brought down Siyad and his regime are the armed insurgents, not the politicians … There is no possibility that anyone could now grab power cheaply in the streets of Mogadishu …’ The man who had written this was in a strange position: a political leader of the north (from the Isaaq clan family), he had willingly adhered to the pan-Somali ideal, saw it head into dictatorship, paid for his mistake by years in jail, and was at the time an opponent without any organizational membership since he had not joined the SNM even though he had every reason to do so. But he had a clear vision of the situation and particularly of what could not be done. He was not self-deceiving, having personally shared most of the errors and illusions of the Somali political world. He wrote his letter just at the time when the irruption of the newborn guerrilla groups had totally changed the situation. They did not have the SNM experience and, even though they were also Somali, they were the carriers of a political culture substantively different from that of the northerners. They were the by-product of a reaction against (while still being influenced by) the Italian Fascist colonization and, later, by the well-meaning obfuscation of AFIS. Given the physical catastrophe that accompanied and followed the war, they saw their weapons as ‘normal’ shortcuts to power, without even thinking what power could mean in East Africa in the early 1990s. Egal knew this, partly because he had made another mistake by not joining the SNM. This is why he did not talk about it in his Open Letter. He was much more concerned—and rightly so—about the men who thought they could make a quick dash for power, and about those who thought they could stand in their way.
This was the general situation in the south where the active guerrilla forces, those who de facto occupied the ground, were barely a year old. But in the north ‘the new officers who arrived after the 1988 offensive had to make a choice about how to liberate the territory. Among them were men such as Colonel Ibrahim Ahmed Ismail, Colonel Musa Bihi Abdi, Ibrahim ‘Dega Weyne’ or General Ali Hussein. Hassan Kayd, who had been the leader of the 1961 coup in Somaliland, was the commander of the Sanaag eastern front. With the exception of Dega Weyne, the rest of the officers were newcomers … But the challenge to any SNM administration right after liberation was the proliferation of brigades (aags), which were based on different sub-clans and lacked any organizational structure. Each aag was independent from any other sub-clan and there was no joint command linking them together, even though the commanders were picked by the chairman. Though this was not a real issue during the fighting, it became a serious hindrance after the victory. The idea of having a united armed unit was opposed by Calan Cas and other military officers who had influence, because they had been with SNM since the early 1980s. By uniting the SNM army they would have lost the authority they enjoyed over the aags through their sub-clans. This was a dangerous trend because, for them, using their clans and sub-clans as levers to power was a tempting road to take.
As we saw in the previous chapter, when Abdirahman ‘Tuur’ had to deal with the one and only delegation the northern administration ever received from Mogadishu, his dilatory answer enabled him to buy time in dealing with the south. He decided to hold a meeting to consult about how to deal with the USC ‘government’. A first meeting was held in Berbera in March 1991 but it was inconclusive. So another was organized the following month in Hargeisa.
At the conference the most controversial resolution was to form a government in which the Isaaq would have 77 per cent of the delegates and the non-Isaaq only 25 per cent. Chairman Tuur protested and said that he was 70 years old and he wanted to spend the remaining years of his life peacefully in Hargeisa and not to be known at his age as the person who had divided the Somali. Suleiman ‘Gal’ was the only one who backed the chairman but the other ministers supported the controversial resolution. Many of us understood that it would be difficult to secede from Somalia and we were also aware of our organizational constitution that did not contain any mention of trying to achieve an independent entity. But then we had to ask ourselves, What was it we were fighting for? How could we get our rights back after thirty years of seeing them violated by Mogadishu? Abdirahman ‘Tuur’ talked to the participants of the conference and told them that he disagreed with their solution of making Somaliland secede from Somalia and that his own preference would have been to have a loose federation like the United Arab Emirates within which both Somalia and Somaliland could live as autonomous entities. But the participants did not change their minds and the initial resolution was finally accepted.
In fact the situation was very contradictory because the formulation ‘the resolution was finally accepted’ stood for something more complex. The Calan Cas faction was basically anti-Tuur, i.e. anti-unity. But it was also secretly in favor of keeping the various army brigades autonomous so that the sub-clanic militias could keep control of them. Tuur wanted a unification of the real (as opposed to the official) army command. Opposing Tuur—who was against secession—would mean supporting the idea of a unified army in the medium term.
But Colonel Halac and his colleagues from Calan Cas were already organizing themselves to hijack the conference by declaring an independent Somaliland. Most of them did not support the secession, but as chairman Tuur was for unity, they opposed Tuur’s stance, saying that he was aiming at a federal union with Somalia. They mobilized SNM combatants, and before any decision could be made by the participants, they threatened Tuur and his allies with their guns, asking them to approve the independence of Somaliland, and the conference finally agreed to become an independent entity known as the Republic of Somaliland. The delegations which had come from the non-Isaaq clans supported the resolution but they rejected the division of power to 25 per cent only for the non-Isaaq clans … So finally the next Burao conference approved the suggestion but did not specify whether it would be applied during the first two years during which government was under an SNM mandate or only after the SNM transfer of power to civilians in 1993.
In our next move after the Burao conference, we decided during a cabinet meeting to send a delegation from Somaliland to Somalia and start a dialogue. Five from the cabinet and five from parliament were selected for the mission to Mogadishu. All the members of the delegation were chosen from among those who still supported the union with Somalia. We wanted to give them the opportunity to explore what could come from a dialogue with their counterparts in the south. But they did not even meet with the new government in Mogadishu. They were just sent back with some used computer and office equipment and two billion newly printed notes in Somali shillings, which was supposed to be Somaliland’s share from five billion of newly printed Somali money. Obviously this showed that Mogadishu still considered Somaliland to be part of Somalia.
But this visit caused confusion and suspicion among the public. Rumors started to spread that the Tuur administration had thrown Somaliland to the wolves. The rift between the military factions increased, and added tensions developed among the sub-clans. The first plenary meeting of the parliament (previously the Central Committee of the SNM) ended in chaos and disintegration, and the government stopped functioning. Almost immediately major fighting started in Hargeisa and some clashes developed in Berbera and Burao. In Berbera the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC), which was running the only hospital in town, decided to evacuate when the shooting started. The Issa Musa and the Musa Abdallah started fighting over the spoils, mostly the vehicles left behind by the IFRC. In Burao the Habr Ja’alo and the Habr Yunis sub-clans started to loot their own common armory and began to fight each other with the proceeds of the looting.
Barely independent, the former British colony seemed to have fallen victim to the same post-dictatorship disease that had already spread among its southern relatives. A post-civil war civil war seemed to be starting.
(b) Trying to implement the Burao proclamation
Basically, the new conflict was caused by the ‘scavenger’ situation we mentioned in the previous chapter. This does not mean that there was no clanic factor involved in the outbreak of the 1992 civil war. In all the interviews gathered here, the respondents are forthright about the fact that ‘the SNM units were organized along clan lines’. But there was a difference with the south in the hierarchy of causalities. First of all, the term ‘clan’ is too imprecise. The ‘clans’ mentioned here are in fact clans and sub-clans of the same clan family, the Isaaq. The tense stand-offs between Isaaq and Dir (in Awdal) or Isaaq and Darood (Sanaag) resulted in one battle (Dilla) and some light clashes around Erigavo. But both of these situations matured fairly rapidly into peace, and that second-stage peace proved durable. There were none of the massive war crimes that took place in the south during the clan cleansing of 1991 by the Hawiye or the repeated massacres inflicted by almost everybody on the Rahanweyn in 1991–2.
In the north, the ‘clanic’ fighting was real but its cause was not a breach in deep clan relations but a much more superficial ‘slash and grab’ attitude.
The three bouts of civil war in the north—1992, 1993 and 1995–6—were largely cases of thuggishness rooted in misery. And their toxicity was largely mitigated by the fact that all combatants were real or purported members of SNM. The clan reality plus an opaque organizational superstructure, which was at the heart of the problem in the south, did not apply in the north. The basic cause of the fighting in the north—and here it is not certain that the term ‘civil war’ is apposite—was a combination of extreme material deprivation and too many weapons in too many hands.
Everyone was armed and lawlessness was the order of the day. Many people who had never taken part in the actual war against the Siyad Barre dictatorship now grabbed weapons and claimed to be real fighters so as to join sides and steal.’ But once this fighting-for-looting had started, it was easier to maintain if dressed up in clan loyalties and political grandstanding. The very proclamation of independence on 18 May 1991 could have been the basis for a ‘true’ civil war, complete with ideological preferences and political globalization. Some of the actors actually seemed to want to rationalize the conflict along these lines. ‘With the difference of ideas during the campaign for the leadership, several senior politicians were known to have links with Somalia, and we were divided into two groups, one that fought in the hope of independence and the other group which did not fight for that and which I called the Somali Firsters. It was now up to the constituents to choose between these two groups and to act accordingly.
But real as that cleavage might be, it was not along these lines that the fighting broke out. It had started as pure and simple theft for survival and then was amplified by clanic solidarity. In other words, the clans were not the cause of the fighting, but the reason why it spread and why it lasted. This is why both the spread and the duration were extremely variable. The first ‘civil war’ lasted a few months, the second a few weeks and the third almost two years.
At Baligubadle, the last candidate standing against Abdirahman ‘Tuur’ had been Mohamed Hashi Elmi, and most of the delegates of the Calan Cas group, who hated Tuur, voted for Hashi Elmi. Tuur only won by 145 to 140. But there were no complaints or protest and the final result was accepted by all. … This is how Abdirahman ‘Tuur’, who was against independence, became the first President of Somaliland and Hassan Essa Jama, who was a Habr Garhadjis and pro-independence, became his Vice-President.
But even though there was no criticism at the end of the Burao congress, the administration got stuck and everything was jammed. Small things got completely out of control. In Burao the civil war erupted when the Cimraan subclan of the Habr Ja’alo left the other Habr Ja’alo to join the government army, which at the time was made up mostly of Habr Yunis soldiers. Then the other Habr Ja’alo told the Habr Yunis to give back the vehicles the Cimraan had taken with them. This is how the conflict began. In Berbera, the fighting centered around the control of the harbor. The local Habr Awal clans did not consider the ‘government’ as an administration but only as a group of Habr Yunis who wanted to take the customs revenue from the harbor. To mobilize militiamen, you needed to appeal to their sense of tribe (i.e. clan). Tribes were keeping their weapons and the government was trying to demobilize the militiamen but no one at the time agreed to give up their guns. The war kept dragging on till it was finally half resolved through negotiations and peace-building conferences that were held in Sheikh and later in Borama towards the end of the Tuur administration. Traditional leaders convened these conferences and all Somalilanders were involved indirectly through the funding which came from businessmen, politicians or local communities. We had no foreign money.
These ‘peace conferences’ organized by clanic elders took place in the north and they worked, to some extent and locally. But, eventually, as we will see, they ended up by putting an end to the overall violence, something which did not take place in the south, where even today acts of violence still take place on a recurring basis.
(c) North–south: Two ways of dealing with the post-conflict conflicts
Let us be clear: the situation was not a question of ‘southerners bad and northerners good’, but rather one of how, when and why. We will come back to an examination of the northern versus southern parameters but for now let it suffice to say:
- The situation of violence and anarchy was roughly comparable in both north and south at the time of Siyad Barre’s flight from the capital.
- Clashes large enough to qualify for the term ‘civil war’ developed in both cases.
- In the south there was a pretence of normality leading to the proclamation of a new ‘national’ government. It was challenged both internally and externally.
- In the north the situation was radically addressed by a declaration of (re-) independence for the former British colony which had joined the former Italian colony in June 1960.
- In the south the ‘civil war’ went on unabated up to and during an international foreign military and humanitarian intervention in December 1992.
- In the north a series of local and Somaliland-wide peace conferences took place. Their success was limited and new instances of large-scale armed clashes kept occurring. But no international conference took place on the subject.
- After a large ‘nation-wide’ conference had been held in Addis Ababa (in January 1993), the UN signed a ‘peace agreement’ with an array of 15 different organizations, excluding the SNM. Many of those had little or no control on the ground. The agreement had no real impact.
- In the north a nation-wide shir led to a gradual re-establishment of government in Somaliland (January–May 1993). The last civil war did not stop immediately but it decreased in intensity. It would eventually stutter to a halt three and a half years later and was followed by territory-wide peace, starting at the beginning of 1997.
- Various attempts at local shirs in the south led to more inter-clanic conflicts. The UN clumsily tried to supervise them all, failed, ended up being a party to the civil war itself and finally evacuated the country in 1995 after a near-total failure.
- This evacuation opened a long cycle of complex insecurity which, in spite of renewed foreign-supported military aid (AMISOM), has not yet subsided at the time of writing
It would be beyond the scope of this book to provide a complete history of what happened both in former Somalia Italiana and in former British Somaliland during the twenty-five years that followed the collapse of the Siyad Barre regime. But the main question that has to be asked—and which the preceding paragraphs outline—is this: how is it that two segments of a contiguous geographical entity that shared the same language, the same everyday customs, the same overall culture and the same religion were able in one case to put an end to their civil conflicts—difficult as this may have been—and in the other case remained dependent on foreign support, both materially and diplomatically, while the party that had ended the war benefited from neither? Direct foreign support started by failing, and when it was later resumed, it ended up by creating a lasting dependency. So before trying to assess in a concluding chapter the internal reason for that state of affairs, we should first give a short summary of the facts and events that set the stage in 1991–7 on which the internal factors played themselves out.
(d) The south: An unprepared foreign intervention feeds the chaos
While the north was involved in its various peace conferences, the south, initially abandoned to its fate at the end of January 1991, became the focus of international attention. United Nations involvement in the Somalia crisis had started in January 1992 with the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 733, which called for an arms embargo, UN humanitarian aid and a ceasefire. However, there was little implementation of this resolution in practice. The subsequent Resolution 751 (24 April 1992) created the United Nations Somalia Mission (UNOSOM), which was to send 50 military observers to monitor a ceasefire accepted by the warring parties on 3 March 1992. The first observers (Pakistani soldiers) were deployed to very limited effect. Permanently threatened by all warring parties, and somewhat lost and isolated in a hostile environment, they remained holed up at the international airport, doing very little. In an effort to break this deadlock, and as a result of the alarming deterioration of the humanitarian situation after an offensive by General Mohamed Said Hersi, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 775 (28 August 1992), which provided for an increase in the number of observers and the creation of four ‘zones of intervention’. The resolution called for a humanitarian airlift but remained rather vague as to what the contents of the ‘intervention’ should be. The UN was hesitating on the edge of full-scale involvement.
What finally prompted President George HW Bush to announce a major American military intervention had to do with the provision of humanitarian aid in the worsening crisis. This came about after a major lobbying effort by a coalition of humanitarian agencies. While this author was travelling during the autumn of 1992 across the United States, it was fascinating to see how, through the efforts of syndicated press agencies, a series of articles on the tragic humanitarian situation in Somalia popped up as front-page news in city after city and in newspaper after newspaper. The campaign was well orchestrated. But there were several other considerations which contributed to this momentous decision. Firstly, with the end of the Cold War, large spending cuts were unavoidable in a now oversized military-industrial establishment. President Clinton, who had just been elected to succeed Bush, was rumored to be preparing a new social security plan, which he was likely to try to finance out of spending cuts in the Pentagon budget. For supporters of a large defense budget, the Somalia operation seemed attractive.
Secondly, there was an image component. The Iraq Desert Storm Operation, although very successful militarily, had drawn a great deal of political criticism. By contrast a large military intervention in order to save starving children in an underdeveloped African country would be a very good image-building device in a predominantly Muslim area where the US and the West in general were far from being liked. Thirdly, the US Army, after some initial reluctance, was finally happy to test in real life the efficiency of its Rapid Defense strategy, especially since it involved activating the military base on the island of Diego Garcia, never used for this kind of operation before.
The problem with the way the whole operation was conceived was that, while the technical details were very carefully thought out, its general policy framework was almost completely neglected. The US–UN forces, grouped under the United Nations International Task Force (UNITAF) banner, walked into Somalia almost completely unaware of what awaited them. This naiveté was not exclusive to America. As the US announced its decision to employ its forces in Somalia on the eve of Thanksgiving (25 November 1992), many Western nations jumped on the bandwagon, without any more serious planning than the Americans themselves. Bernard Kouchner, founder of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) and subsequently French Secretary of State for Humanitarian Affairs, declared: ‘The international intervention will succeed very quickly because we are faced here only with young teenagers with machine guns who are just going to run away.’ When this author, who was at the time a government adviser on African affairs, phoned the well-known Africa Unit at the Elysée Palace and asked what was the rationale for French troops to join the intervention, the unit’s director, former ambassador Bruno Delaye, answered:
I don’t know. But I phoned the President, and he said if the Americans are going, we have to go too, otherwise we’ll look stupid and cowardly. So we are going.’ And when I added a question about our planning for the intervention and eventual withdrawal, he answered: ‘There is no planning, only logistical arrangements. We don’t really know what we are doing. I just hope it doesn’t last too long.
This unfounded optimism was, at the time, widely shared and those who seemed to doubt that the mission was actually carefully thought out were not heeded. Henry Kissinger asked: ‘Could somebody explain in detail what exactly it is that we are trying to do, for how long and what are the limits to our involvement?’ Jane Perlez of the New York Times, who was based in East Africa at the time and who was one of the few journalists who had stayed behind in Somalia, monitoring closely the first rather inefficient moments of UN involvement, wrote: ‘What many aid and UN officials here in Somalia do not understand is why Washington did not prod the United Nations to sharpen its flailing military operation in Mogadishu before making the quantum leap of committing large numbers of American troops.’ In fact, if we think about Bernard Kouchner’s remarks, there seems to have been a fair amount of Western arrogance in the attitude which informed the whole thinking about Operation Restore Hope. The idea was that the whole Somali confusion was caused by a bunch of primitive teenage gangsters with automatic weapons, who were going to vanish into thin air as soon as Western troops with strong firepower arrived on the scene. Then food could be peacefully distributed and, hey presto, the state itself would be restored. None less than French Minister of Defense, Roland Dumas, thought along those naive lines:
The first phase of the action consists in opening up humanitarian access corridors, by force if necessary … once this is done … once the bands have been chased away and disarmed … in a second phase, the Blue Helmets will crisscross the country and prepare the third phase, the national reconciliation and the rebuilding of the state.
The steps he outlines are rather astonishing: first, force ‘opens up humanitarian corridors’ and somehow this results in ‘the bands’ being disarmed. This was a dream world because the US had absolutely no intention of being drawn into the dangerous business of disarmament. The UN Security Council Resolution 794 of 3 December 1992, which had created UNITAF, was very clear on that issue. The US government had been adamant that any mention of disarmament would be kept out. The aim of UNITAF’s mission was described as ‘a return to normal conditions’, an expression which could be taken to mean almost anything given the state of disarray during the last few years of the dictatorship. The confrontation between the US Representative to the United Nations and the UN Secretary-General had been rather heated. In a view which was more hopeful than realistic, Boutros Boutros-Ghali was in fact going to try, at least for the first weeks of UNITAF deployment, to get the mission to move towards disarmament. But even had ‘the bands’ been disarmed, it is difficult to see how this simple disarmament could have brought about the next two successive steps, the national reconciliation—of whom and with whom?—and then the ‘rebuilding’ of a state, when the root cause of the Somalia problem was that it had never had any cultural, social or political basis for a state. Experts who at the time had the temerity to question the whole non-political approach to an eminently political problem were dismissed as hard-hearted cynics who could not understand the nobility of this ‘purely humanitarian’ operation.
From the beginning, the UNITAF intervention displayed its main strengths and weaknesses in full view. Its main strength was the speed with which humanitarian aid was deployed throughout the area of intervention.
The UNITAF intervention took place in seven of Somalia’s fifteen provinces, representing about 35 per cent of the country’s territory and about 60 per cent of its population. Mogadishu was quickly secured, and the provinces of Hiiran, Bakool, Bay, Lower Shebelle and Lower Jubba were brought under partial but sufficient control for food distribution. Conflict and starvation quickly receded. From that point of view, after a period of a few months, one could cautiously say that the operation had been a success. But the problem comes when one tries to look at the political framework within which this felicitous change in the humanitarian situation had occurred. As outlined above, the US decision (and that of America’s allies) had been made in a very hurried manner. There had been no political planning before the landings and political improvisation was the rule from day one. On top of this, this improvisation took place without any input from knowledgeable persons, Somali, European or American. As a result, the first political steps taken by the intervention forces were highly counterproductive. As we have seen, the main fighting in Somalia had been between the faction led by ‘President’ Ali Mahdi Mohamed and the other USC branch under the leadership of General Mohamed Farah Aydid. Both had allied themselves in turn with other major provincial warlords (Omar Jess, General Mohamed Said Hersi, Colonel Yusuf Abdullahi, Mohamed Abshir), who themselves had their own local clan alliances. It was the ‘inter-clan’ violence spurred and used by these men which had destroyed whatever state there had ever been, ruined what was left of the already inadequate infrastructure, and led to the looting of property, especially food, which caused hundreds of thousands of refugees to flee and tens of thousands to starve to death. These men were scourges of God and man, and, if not the real cause, at least the main agents of the catastrophic violence that Operation Restore Hope had come to suppress.
Contrary to what was then often said or written, these men were not ‘clan leaders’. As we have noted, Somali clans were leaderless. They functioned according to a system of extreme democracy verging on anarchy, carried out by elders. As we have seen in the sections devoted to the north, the SNM had managed to enlist the help of elders, and at times to accommodate them even when those same elders went against the SNM. But strong leaders could temporarily emerge in times of war, with pragmatic trans-clanic alliances such as gaashaanbuur (‘pile of shields’). Such were the men UNITAF had to deal with. Their authority owed nothing to tradition. They were just warlords, a pure product of the disintegration of the state since 1978, and an expression of the anomie of a society in which traditional values had disintegrated and modern ones had failed to take hold. The Somali public expected naively that ‘the Europeans’ would hang them all or at least arrest them and throw them in jail.
Renowned international experts had warned about the danger of dealing with those men. I.M. Lewis, the respected Somalia historian and possibly the best Western expert on Somali society, accurately predicted the shape of things to come when he wrote at the very beginning of UNITAF’s deployment:
America must be aware of the dangers it faces. Peacemaking between Ali Mahdi and Aydeed and any of the other warlords can only be a short-term expedient and cannot in itself lead to the formation of a viable Somali government … As long as military support is available, the UN could organize clan assemblies and inter-clan meetings … This of course assumes an enlarged UN Administration. It also presupposes that these developments take place gradually, against an expanding background of peace, and may require years rather than months. Somali elders’ deliberations are always protracted and require great patience from those awaiting their outcome … If however the effect of U.S. intervention is to shore up the power of Aydeed, Ali Mahdi and other dubious figures … whom many Somalis consider to be war criminals, that will be disastrous and add further misery to the country’s long catalogue of man-made calamities.
And, indeed, clan assemblies and inter-clan meetings are time-consuming and rather trying for the limited patience of modern Western man. But the alternative adopted by US Special Envoy Robert Oakley and endorsed by the rest of the international community—to have Ali Mahdi and General Aydid theatrically embrace in front of the CNN cameras two days after the landings—could not and did not lead anywhere. It brought politics and diplomacy down to the level of showmanship. The US government did not seem to have any long-term strategy. Their main preoccupation was to stay out of trouble, ensure the distribution of humanitarian aid, have no contacts with the local population, pack up and go home as soon as possible. The US started to hint that it would like to be out of Somalia when the new President was due to be inaugurated, which meant a matter of a few weeks. This position, reflecting the lack of an overall agenda for Somalia, clashed sharply with the UN position. On the question of an eventual disarmament of the fighting factions, the differences were well apparent. Thus the UN Secretary-General could declare that ‘disarmament of the armed factions in Somalia remains an absolutely necessary condition to restore normal security conditions’, while on the same day US Forces commander General Robert Johnston could say that ‘my aim is not to disarm Somalia’. US Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger also reinforced the same message by declaring: ‘The purpose of the U.S. military presence in Somalia is to bring in humanitarian aid for those who need it and not to become a permanent police force or a permanent pacification force.’ With such reservations on the part of the US, which was both the main financial backer and troop supplier of the whole operation, things quickly started to go wrong. The UN organized two ‘reconciliation conferences’ in Addis Ababa, in January and March 1993. Those were vitiated from the start because they did not respect the Somali ways of peacemaking (shir) and tried to push through quickly arranged ‘solutions’ without really considering how representative the participants were or what motivated them. I.M. Lewis’s warning had not been heeded, and the UN was struggling to achieve too much, too quickly and by the wrong methods. This reflected a completely unacknowledged cultural gap, which seems to be a recurrent problem in Western diplomacy in trying to deal with ‘alien’ cultures. Elegant, well-paid and highly educated UN officials were not about to bend to the ways of a bunch of African nomads. The nomads, who ought to be glad that the world community had decided to ‘help them’, had to adapt to Western ways and make peace in a civilized fashion, i.e. not by reclining for months under trees composing poems and talking about past wars, but by sitting at tables in air-conditioned rooms and putting their signatures at the bottom of small pieces of paper.
The trouble was that the wild nomads had little idea or even understanding of what the ‘international community’ was so keen on. The lack of what one would call in Western parlance ‘due process’ invalidated in Somali terms the meaning of the whole process. They collected their per diem for sitting in Addis Ababa, went shopping, met their friends living in exile in the Ethiopian capital, and then went home. As one of the participants in the March 1993 conference was to remark: ‘The speeches were nice, the slogans were really good but the whole thing was quite meaningless.’ Participants in these conferences had no sense that they had actually pledged anything by putting their signature on the UN-sponsored document they had been asked to sign. Thus, trying to create a network of local administration committees on the basis of these ‘agreements’ was like building on sand.
In the meantime, the warlords and their associates had developed highly sophisticated techniques for siphoning off large amounts of money from UNITAF. UN personnel were housed and worked in expensively rented premises which belonged to prominent leaders of the various warring factions. The office personnel they employed, the guards who escorted their convoys, the drivers who drove their trucks, were all selected by the local armed factions and had to pay part of their earnings back to their organizations or clans. Thus, on many occasions when fighting did occur during that period, it was because of quarrels over UNITAF spoils. UNITAF unwittingly became the main provider of finance and equipment (through massive theft) for the warlords. Meanwhile, the US was growing impatient. Special Envoy Robert Oakley had declared as early as January 1993 that late March should be considered the deadline for American withdrawal. On 31 January, the US Military Command announced the first troop reductions. The UN was trying to preserve US involvement and, by early March 1993, relations were getting tense between the US government and the UN. Special Envoy Oakley explicitly reproached the UN for ‘dragging its feet’. The Americans started to withdraw unilaterally, and by late March 1993, when Resolution 814 was passed, US troop strength was down to 1,400 from a maximum of 26,000 at the beginning of Operation Restore Hope. UNITAF blended into UNOSOM 2. Whereas US troops had mostly gone home by the time UNOSOM 2 began in early May 1993, America’s allies kept their forces on the ground, even if some, like the French, discreetly scaled down their level of participation. UNOSOM 2 entered the scene empowered with authority under Chapter VII of the UN Charter to use force. This was going to cause a great deal of trouble in a context where the UN had started to play politics without really knowing what it was doing.
If the UN had no more notion of how tactically to approach the Somali political conundrum than the US had demonstrated, then, unlike the US, it had a grand strategic view. The UN’s basic idea was that it was necessary to restore some sort of a working Somali state and this implied, among other things, a reunification of the country. The various warlords had different views on this UN position. ‘President’ Ali Mahdi, definitely the better diplomat, understood the advantage he could gain from playing along with this generous UN illusion. As a result, during the UNITAF period, numerous links were forged between Ali Mahdi and his friends, always careful to humor the powerful foreigners, and United Nations personnel. The presence of several well-known figures from the previous regime around Ali Mahdi helped boost this relationship, as they were experienced in dealing with foreigners and were already personally known to many powerful UN figures. Correspondingly, tension grew between the UN and the Aydid camp, whose members came more and more to consider the ‘foreigners’ as the allies of their enemy, Ali Mahdi.
Tensions came to a head over the question of local councils and local negotiations. General Aydid had started his own round of consultations and negotiations, all the while loudly proclaiming that he should be left in charge of this process and that peace in Somalia would be achieved by Somali and not by foreigners, however well-meaning they were. At the end of May, he called a ‘peace conference’ in Mogadishu without the authorization of the UN. Three days later, UNOSOM 2 organized a local ‘peace conference’ in the southern harbor of Kismayo, to which it invited Ali Mahdi and from which it excluded the local Aydid representative, Omar Jess. General Aydid of course saw this move as another hostile act by the UN authorities, even more so when, on the same day, he was told by UNOSOM 2 that the financial support given to his unauthorized peace conference would be withdrawn and that he would have to manage somehow to pay for the delegates’ bills. In this tense climate, the pro-Ali Mahdi radio issued a perfectly explosive statement in which it said:
Since the objective of the organizations [the various factions Ali Mahdi had rallied to his USC branch] and UNOSOM is to establish a Somali Republic, it is necessary that all national assets and state institutions in the hands of individuals, groups and organizations should be handed over to UNOSOM … These include especially the mass media such as radio, centers of information and national institutions which are the causes of present instability.
The UNOSOM authorities had of course never officially stated that their aim was to ‘establish a Somali Republic’, even if in fact this policy had by now become common knowledge in Somalia. But in its unabashed support for UNOSOM and this policy, the ventriloquism of Ali Mahdi’s radio broadcast and the general anti-Aydid attitude were to have very serious consequences. At the very moment the broadcast was being aired, UNOSOM 2 Pakistani troops were trying to occupy General Aydid’s radio station and ammunition store, neither of which the warlord was likely to hand over, as he was called upon to do by his ‘enemy’. The operation did not go very well and 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed in the fighting. Within 24 hours, the UN had voted for Resolution 837, authorizing military operations against ‘those responsible for armed attacks against UN forces’. What the Somali quickly came to call ‘the UN War’ had started, and UNOSOM 2 had become just another clan, with its allies and its enemies, fighting to impose its supremacy. This war was to last for four months and cause thousands of casualties.
Resolution 837 had been railroaded through the General Assembly by painting a picture of General Mohamed Farah Aydid deliberately attacking UN forces unprovoked and ‘murdering’ 24 soldiers. An unpublished UN independent inquiry was much more prudent on the matter. Paragraphs 81–93 of the document describe the growing rift between General Aydid’s forces and the UN, and, in regard to the 5 June operation, paragraph 94 states: ‘Opinions differ, even among UNOSOM officials, on whether the weapons inspection of 5 June 1993 was genuine or was merely a cover-up for reconnaissance and subsequent seizure of Radio Mogadishu.’
A number of other mistakes were also chronicled, such as the refusal to take into account the Pakistani position (paragraph 100), or the failure to notify the Aydid leadership of the intended ‘inspection’ (paragraph 101–2). But this inquiry occurred months after the events. At the time, the UN plunged into a war at least partly of its own making, which led to such extremes as the US$25,000 price put on General Aydid’s head in an embarrassingly ridiculous parody of the Wild West, and the call by the UN Secretary-General for General Aydid’s physical elimination. Worse still, the whole confused attempt at full-scale war was to end in military failure in spite of overwhelmingly superior UN firepower. The increase in firepower was due to a return to the scene of US military units, a fact which seems surprising if we recall the hurried withdrawal only three months earlier. But much had changed during these three months, and for President Clinton re-intervention in Somalia could be seen as a way of recovering international standing at small domestic and financial cost. So the US armed forces had come back into the new ‘war’, even if at lower strength than in December 1992.
But this time, unwittingly, US forces had to take sides even before they arrived. The Aydid camp was solidly set against what it now termed ‘imperialism’ and ‘neo-colonialism’, i.e. foreign intervention, while in north Mogadishu, Ali Mahdi’s supporters demonstrated in favor of UN military operations which, they hoped, would crush their rival. Without even realizing it, the US had now become part of a war between two Hawiye clans, the Habr Gidir and the Abgaal. Throughout the summer of 1993, fighting escalated to more and more violent levels, to the point where, by the autumn, the US Congress was beginning to voice some doubts about the place of the US in the Somalia tragedy. The UN Secretary-General was desperately trying to retain the US forces, conscious that their withdrawal this time would be final and would put an end to the whole UN political project in Somalia.
In spite of the fighting (which was limited to Mogadishu and did not extend to the interior), the UN still sought to push its political agenda. UN Special Representative Leonard Kapungu flew to the breakaway ‘Somaliland Republic’ and deliberately tried to interfere in the situation by playing groups such as the USP, the SDA and the USF against the SNM. The result was a complete fiasco and Kapungu was expelled from Somaliland after several tragi-comic episodes.
The climax came on 3 October 1993, when a major assault on General Aydid’s positions in Mogadishu resulted in the shooting down of a US combat helicopter whose pilot was taken prisoner, while another crew member’s dead body was dragged through the streets. The gruesome video of the event was repeatedly displayed on television screens throughout the US during the next 48 hours. The US government’s decision was quickly made: American troops would withdraw.
At the global political level, the situation had become extremely difficult for the United Nations. Already, on 22 September 1993, Resolution 865 had called for a detailed plan, clearly setting out UN priorities and tactics. Resolution 878 (29 October 1993), passed in the aftermath of the 3 October military defeat, prudently extended the UN presence only to 18 November 1993, i.e. for three weeks. On that date, however, the mandate was extended to 31 May 1994, i.e. for another six months. But there was a definite feeling of exasperation among the participants. Most European countries announced plans to scale down their presence. By degrees, all European troops started to withdraw, a situation which was tacitly accepted by Resolution 897 (4 February 1994), which mentioned a scaling down of forces to a figure of 20,000.
At the civilian level, though, the UN administration was still trying very hard to push the district councils system which it had started to implement before the military crisis broke out. This had mixed success. In some areas of the south it worked reasonably well and helped people gain some control over their own local affairs, largely because of the UN’s financial help, even if the clan factors remained essential. But further north, in the Benadir and Hiiran areas, the councils were largely taken over by agents of the various militia groups, who used them for their own ends.
This was largely an anticlimactic period. By late March 1994, all European forces had withdrawn, leaving the UNOSOM exclusively manned by contingents from low-income countries whose governments had little or no interest in the Somalia situation. Initially, there were fears that Somali militias would attack these troops for which they had no respect. In fact, these fears proved unfounded. What did happen, however, was that these very poorly paid troops started to sell the expensive stores and equipment over which they had control, thus contributing further to the reinforcement of the various clan militias. This behavior also progressively turned the UNOSOM presence into an increasingly bizarre factor.
UNOSOM’s mandate had been renewed on 31 May 1994 for another four months by Resolution 923. When this period came to a close, the US, which had already withdrawn all its troops and even civilian personnel, insisted on terminating the operation for financial reasons. After a diplomatic struggle the operation, which was now clearly petering out, saw its mandate finally extended until 31 March 1995.
At the political level, the situation had not changed very much. The various faction leaders once more signed a worthless paper agreement, this time in Nairobi (on 24 March 1994), but they had not been either able or willing to reach any kind of real understanding. The clan division of the country remained, roughly as it had been before the international intervention of December 1992. In October 1994, feeling that UN withdrawal was imminent, General Aydid tried to convene a ‘national convention’ in order to quickly put together some kind of a ‘national’ executive which could try to inherit UNOSOM’s dubious ‘legitimacy’. But his faction was so weak internally that he never managed to bring his ‘national convention’ together and thus failed to produce any sort of government before the final UN withdrawal. By late February 1995, ahead of schedule, international forces had withdrawn from Somalia’s soil.
How did the self-proclaimed Republic of Somaliland survive?
As mentioned above, the region covering the former British colony of Somaliland had (re-)proclaimed its independence on 18 May 1991. After an initial period of calm between May and December 1991, there were repeated clashes between the government forces of Abdirahman Ali ‘Tuur’ and rebels backed mostly by the Habr Ja’alo and some sections of the Habr Awal clans, starting in January 1992. The situation was one of utmost confusion, the main cause of fighting being physical survival. Every group fell back on their lineages even though a government had been formed on 18 May 1991. But this government barely controlled the vicinity of the capital, and the rest of the territory was racked by what critics called ‘looting’ and observers called ‘survival theft’. The situation was further complicated when Colonel Abdullahi Yusuf, head of SSDF, attacked Bosaso, which had become a kind of ‘Islamist capital’. The militants of al-Ittihad al-Islami were defeated and fled across the Sanaag border into ‘Somaliland’, further complicating the disorderly picture. In December 1991, the confused fighting acquired a new and more sinister dimension, with new battle lines appearing for an organized attempt at controlling the Berbera harbor customs, the main source of financial revenue in the country. The fighting could be described as ‘clanic’—Habr Awal versus Habr Yunis—or, raised to a higher political level, rebels versus the ‘government’, but it was mainly about food, fuel and warehouse control. From there the fighting spread out to Burao, the region’s main cattle market and supplier of live animals for export to Saudi Arabia, via Berbera. Eventually the fighting was ended in two steps—the Kulanka Nabadeed (peace meeting) in October in Berbera followed by the Sheikh shir in November 1992—which slowly disentangled the security arrangements from the economic aspects. But it had all taken place over a largely torn clanic tapestry. On this point, it was fascinating to notice how non-Isaaq clans, both western Dir (Issa, Gaddabursi) and eastern Darood (Warsangeli, Dhulbahante), acted as umpires and facilitators among the Isaaq sub-clans. They knew they had lost the war and they now feared, in seeing the Isaaq sub-clans at each other’s throats, they might also lose the peace. It was here, in the furnace of those post-civil war conflicts, that a new type of Somali state perhaps began to be born. It was also the time a new female militancy appeared. The SNM was no EPLF and had no women fighters. But it was after 1991, during the post-conflict conflict, that female militants asserted themselves. ‘We have had enough of war,’ one told me in 1995, ‘now we have to impose peace.’
Many politicians in the north, aware of the fissiparous tendencies of Somali clan politics, felt that their ‘state’ needed to be put on a firmer footing. This led to a long (24 January 8 June 1993) and well-organized shir in the town of Borama, during which delegates from all over Somaliland converged on the Gaddabursi capital. There were 150 of them. The first debate was about institutions, with several proposals favoring parliamentary democracy and others a presidential regime. The presidential regime won out but it was accepted with an informal understanding that the presidency should alternate between the various main Isaaq clans and the two non-Isaaq clan families, Dir and Darood.
After this decision was made, the shir moved to electing the first President. Abdirahman ‘Tuur’, who had been the reluctant President of re-independent Somaliland, did not stand for office. There were several candidates, the best known of whom was Omar Arteh. But the former diplomat (and victim) of Siyad Barre bore a handicap in running for the Somaliland presidency: the fact that over the previous two years, he had been based in Djibouti, officially as the Foreign Minister of the Ali Mahdi government, practically as a kind of roving ambassador for Somalia’s unity. To switch suddenly from that pro-UN position and from being the favorite of the international community to standing as a candidate for the position of President of an unrecognized, self-proclaimed secessionist state was unexpected. His main rival was Mohamed Ibrahim Egal, his suffering and humiliated doppelgänger, still very recently himself a ‘unitarist’, a living embodiment of Somalia’s contradictions. But that particular shir almost self-consciously grew into what in a different political context would have been called a constituent assembly, the mother of all shirs, the road finally heading for the light at the end of the tunnel. Even if no constitution came out of the shirweyne (big assembly), this was what everybody wanted and time had to be taken later to discuss it. The situation was ripe for action but not yet for long-term legislation.
From June 1993 onwards, President Egal tried to stabilize Somaliland’s difficult economic and administrative situation. His election brought back a measure of political calm, and business, especially in the form of livestock exports, started to pick up. In 1993–4, livestock exports through the harbor of Berbera were estimated to be around US$140 million, a figure which compared favorably with pre-war levels. A small tax base was slowly rebuilt through export taxes in Berbera and semi-voluntary contributions from the wealthiest businessmen. At the end of 1994, the ‘government’ had collected US$13 million and was hoping for US$20 million in 1995. The capital of Hargeisa, entirely destroyed during the 1988 terror bombings and the subsequent fighting of 1988–91, began to be rebuilt. Smaller towns such as Burao and Sheikh re-established modest local tax bases in the US$10,000–$20,000 range.
Yet President Egal was a Habr Awal and his election disappointed the previous clan coalition (Habr Garhadjis), which had held power under Abdirahman ‘Tuur’. Trouble started brewing in April 1993 when, with the support of UNOSOM 2, the former President declared from his self-imposed exile in London that he was still head of the Somali National Movement and that he had renounced the idea of independence for Somaliland. A UNOSOM ‘grant’ of US$200,000 and a promise of help from General Mohamed Farah Aydid seems to have greatly helped him change his mind. This was, in fact, partly the result of a reversal of alliances in the south. General Aydid, the former arch-enemy of UNOSOM, understood that the United Nations still believed in the possibility of bringing together some kind of a ‘national government’ as a face-saving device before withdrawing. Trying to reposition himself in the good graces of the UN, General Aydid developed the scheme of ‘resuscitating’ Tuur and using him so as to appear himself as a ‘national’ leader in UN eyes, one who would oppose the secession of Somaliland, which he had previously accepted. This was meant to take the wind out of the sails of his political rival, ‘President’ Ali Mahdi, before the departure of UNOSOM forces, since both were competing for the material leftovers of the international operation and for the continuing political support of the international community. But by then UNOSOM had become a war factor rather than a peacemaker in the complex Somalia equation. In June it started an anti-Aydid campaign in the south and, in an internal report, had recommended the ‘disaggregation of the self-proclaimed “state of Somaliland” by supporting the hostile populations that border the Bari province’. Lansana Kouyaté, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General with UNOSOM, had gone to Sool and Sanaag and harangued the local Dhulbahante populations in favor of a unitary state. So when his political officer, Leonard Kapungu, flew to Hargeisa and directly asked President Mohamed Ibrahim Egal to renounce independence, threatening him with invasive military action, Egal answered him: ‘In that case, Hargeisa will be the Dien Bien Phu of the United Nations’. When Kapungu protested, Egal told him to leave within 24 hours. He immediately complied.
The UNOSOM support for Abdirahman Ali led to the expulsion of all UN personnel from Somaliland in late August 1994. A few days later, on 30 August 1994, the former Somaliland President arrived in Mogadishu where he met Mohamed Farah Abdullahi, leader of the anti-SNM branch of SDA, and Abd-er-Rahman Dualeh Ali, the USF president. The meeting was sponsored by General Mohamed Farah Aydid and the SNA, and it meant a clear declaration of war against the Egal government.
The situation soon became complicated by a distinct (if not completely unrelated) development in Somaliland itself. A group of Eidagalley fighters had been occupying the Hargeisa airport for the previous year, demanding large landing and take-off fees from aid aircraft and passengers and pocketing the money under the pretext that ‘Hargeisa belongs to the Eidagalley’. President Egal asked them to return control of the airport to the government but to no avail. In desperation, he had even gone as far as building a small airstrip 35 km from the capital and asking aid flights to use it instead of the ‘national airport’. In late September, he threatened armed action and the climate became very tense.
At the same time the situation in the south was moving towards a widening of political alliances, as both Ali Mahdi and General Aydid tried to establish ‘national governments’ before UNOSOM left. All political forces in former Somalia took sides in this race, even those in areas far removed from the authority of the Mogadishu warlords. Given the fact that Aydid had now decided to challenge Somaliland’s independent existence for his own tactical reasons, President Egal felt compelled to enter the fray. In October 1994, he refused to recognize the election of Colonel Abdullahi Yusuf by the SSDF congress, simply because he felt that Abdullahi Yusuf was now an ally of Farah Aydid and therefore a danger to him. Thus, tension spread over the whole territory of the former Somalia.
In these circumstances, President Egal could no longer tolerate the occupation of Hargeisa airport by the Eidagalley militia, even if they were not under the orders of former President Abdirahman ‘Tuur’. On 16 October 1994, Somaliland government troops stormed the airport, thus starting a new war. The conflict started badly for the government side. On 21 October, rebel troops entered Hargeisa town and started indiscriminate shelling. The Central Bank was looted and thousands of refugees streamed out of the city, where violent fighting raged until early December. Egal and his cabinet fled to Borama. As the battle gradually spread to the countryside around Hargeisa, the refugees fled all the way to Ethiopia, where about 80,000 arrived by Christmas 1994. Fighting at last slowly abated during January 1995.
But to the west of the capital, USF forces, manipulated by Djibouti, took advantage of the battles between the various pro- and anti-government Isaaq clans to try to wrench the Issa-populated areas away from Hargeisa’s authority. Their attempt ended in failure and their troops were badly mauled by forces loyal to President Egal, as had been the case in the past when similar attempts were made.
Skirmishes went on between government forces and the rebel Eidagalley– Habr Yunis coalition during most of early 1995. But the fighting moved progressively away from the capital, first to Salahley and then to the eastern part of the country. It was there, near the town of Burao, the local capital of the Habr Yunis clan, that a major eight-day battle was fought in late March and early April 1995. Both sides used significant force, including heavy artillery and tanks. There were at least 1,000 dead and the rebels suffered a defeat. Refugees started cautiously to come back to Hargeisa, whose population in July 1995 had returned to 80 per cent of that in November 1994. Economic activity slowly returned to near-normal levels. The rebel leaders (Abdirahman ‘Tuur’, Ismail ‘Buuba’, General Jama Qalib) were all in Mogadishu and none had dared come back to the north, even at the height of the fighting, which was carried out partly in their name but also, in a sense, independently of them. This is an important political point: even though President Egal had acted undiplomatically in terms of clan sensibilities and alienated the various Habr Garadjis sub-clans, it did not mean that these same clans sympathized with the reunification platform supported by the ‘official’ rebel leaders. Those who fought against the Egal government did so in their own name and not in support of the exiled leaders. Even President Egal’s opponents supported the secession, a fact Abdirahman ‘Tuur’ and his friends were so well aware of that they did not dare return to Somaliland for fear of being killed or arrested, possibly even by their own ‘supporters’.
In May 1995, the Guurti (National Assembly of Somaliland) decided to extend Mohamed Egal’s presidential mandate for another year. Even those MPs who were opposed to the President voted for the extension, because of a feeling that the situation, although stabilized, was still too precarious to allow for a major political change just then. Although the war had damaged the economy (the ‘new Somali shilling’ fell against the US dollar and estimates of government tax revenue had to be downscaled from US$20 million to US$15 million), livestock exports were still strong. The major obstacle to a more healthy stabilization of the country was its lack of recognition by the international community and, given the UN position, it did not seem that such recognition was at all on the cards for the near future.
But a key point seemed to have been reached: the international community had flunked its Somalia test woefully. In the south, after the ‘Black Hawk Down’ episode and the progressive evacuation of the ONUSOM troops, the whole ‘Restore Hope’ construction had come tumbling down, leaving no visible traces except abandoned warehouses and bombed-out buildings. As usual, the humanitarian NGOs were left behind to pick up whatever pieces they could. Politically, the disaster was complete: the former USC duel had ended in a draw and the lack of any visible government had opened what became later known as ‘the time of the warlords’ (1995–2005).
In that field of disaster, Somaliland, unrecognized, marginalized and abandoned, achieved what the whole rest of Somalia was still blindly looking for: peace. The last ‘post-war war’ of 1994–5 had taken place on three fronts: an Issa–Gaddabursi low-level conflict for the control of the commercial road from Djibouti; an Eidagalley–Sa’ad Musa fight over the control of the airport; and a Habr Ja’alo–Habr Yunis contest for the control of Burao and its surroundings. All eventually died down through a series of local shir processes. None of these had been set up by foreigners or financed by them, except for very modest contributions by humanitarian NGOs. The whole organizational and political process was borne by Somaliland, not so much from the central government, whose budget was low and administrative network limited, but from the local clan or sub-clan structures, which provided the essentials. Traditional processes were used and, at times, adapted. For example, the usual way of dealing with blood violence in Somali culture involved the payment of mag (blood price) to compensate a lineage for the loss (or even the wounding) of a member. There were no prisons and the death penalty would have simply meant adding one killing to another killing, which seemed like a stupid idea. But what to do in a situation of civil war using modern weapons? The payment of mag would have involved impossible amounts of money and huge numbers of camels. So the Somaliland clans generalized the practice of xaladhaley (lit. innocence), which was known to some of them, particularly among the Ogadeni. It was a ‘total wiping out of blood accounts’, whereby, beyond a certain number of mag-owing deaths, the slate was wiped clean. It was introduced in Bari to help settle the scores between Habr Yunis/Isaaq and Dhulbahante/Darood. It amounted to a form of creative emotional accounting.
Peace had returned to Somaliland. But did Somaliland exist? It depended on the point of view you chose to adopt.
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