Thegobannimoview, Part II
Transforming our politics beyond sub-clan rivalry
Dr Aweys O. Mohamoud (AWEYS6@AOL.COM), Founder ofGobannimoInstitute,with commentary by Abdirazak Haji Hussen, Fmr Prime Minister of the Somali Republic
Like conflicts and wars elsewhere, rivalry is at the heart of both the collapse of the state and its continuing fragility in Somalia. The Daarood-Hawiye rivalry, and competition between them and the Isaaq shaped much of the post-independence politics of Somalia. The roots of these rivalries lie in the quest for power to have control over the state. My present article deals with a pernicious subset of this larger conflict. I argue that the enduring rivalry between Habargidir-Muddullood presents a particularly complex and difficult challenge for building peace, security and the state in Somalia. No less threatening to the legitimacy and effectiveness of the state is the strategic rivalry between Majeerteen-Mariixaan. I further posit that the contentious politics between these two pairs represent the putative Daarood-Hawiye rivalry and, if anything, the lessons drawn by these sub-clans have been largely dysfunctional. I use international relations theory and, in particular, theories of interstate rivalries to frame conceptual and methodological issues. However, my discussion is based on the historical record rather than abstract theorizing about Somali clan conflict.
It is fair to say that the three major clan families named above (i.e., Daarood, Hawiye, & Isaaq)are always searching for opportunities to gain power over their rivals, with hegemony or domination as their final goal. The access to power and wealth that comes with control over the state – the ability to dole out state jobs, to capture international aid and loans, to tax and deploy troops, [to print money and (if you fancy) arrogate yourself the powers to expropriate private property & real estate, and/or commandeer the major economic and financial interests of your country, be it foreign or domestic], all with the mantle of legitimacy of a recognized state – proved too attractive and fostered a zero-sum game among clans in Somalia.
There are, however, significant levels of internal heterogeneity and fractionalization within these big clans themselves, and not all of their subgroups would be intent on dominating others. In fact, most sub-clans and/or lineages in these clan families do not engage conflictually for political power and supremacy with most others. Instead, a small number of pairs of sub-clans are responsible for a vastly disproportionate share of total conflict and the consequent unnecessary death and destruction. The notion of ‘pairs’ or ‘dyads’ is important here because, as they say, it “takes two to tango”. I argue that a lion’s share of Somalia’s unending intra-state crisis can be traced to the enduring and strategic rivalry between Habargidir-Muddullood & Majeerteen-Mariixaan.I’d even go further to say that this historical and continuing rivalry has been an obstacle to political settlement in Somalia.Indeed, it’s my view that our myriad and interlocking political challenges can be eased off, if we fully understand and call this rivalry to account. Let’s call a spade a spade, andelect new leaders from outside of these dyads in August 2012 to usher in a new era ofcompromise, trust and cooperation in the political process.
What I am advancing here is not a theory, but reasonable assumptions based on evidence. After all, a theory is only as good as the evidence that supports it and the absence of that evidence will make it unrealistic or false. I advance these assumptions because they explain and make sense of a large number of traits that we see in these sub-clan rivalries. To my complete and utter surprise, this deadly sub-clan rivalry at the highest levels of our politics which, in my view, played (and still plays) a central role in the ‘identity and emotional framing of the conflict’ has never been adequately addressed, either in the Somali studies literature or in the endless diplomatic mediation of the Somalis.
It seems that we’re not alone in this, for scholars of war causality have virtually ignored rivalry dynamics altogether until quite recently. The normal tendency has been to either take each war as a singular event or all wars as being the same. In both extremes, the idea that the main participants in a conflict have a history and the fact that that history probably has some bearing on whether and when conflict escalates [or rather how it gets terminated] get overlooked or pushed aside.
That should no longer be an option for us. I suggest rivalry between sub-clans is an extremely fertile area where the space for research, information, and effective action is nearly boundless. Sadly, to cover this topic satisfactorily would require a volume of material which could never be squeezed into a single article, two or three, or even a book. Therefore, I have chosen a few examples that should hopefully illustrate the point. These examples would seek to embrace both political theory and practical contentious politics between these sub-clans.
My argument is that the roots of the continuing Habargidir-Muddullood rivalry lie in the deadly conflict between General Aideed and Ali Mahdi as to who would succeed Siyad Barre as President at the beginning of 1991. Both leaders saw control of Mogadishu as the key to national power and control. Although their traditional clan territories are contiguous especially in the Mudug area, there was no history of inter-clan fighting or enmity between these two sub-clans prior to this period. The months, following the removal of Siyad Barre from power, saw repeated attempts to resolve the political conflict, as well as an intermittent fighting between the two groups.I must add here the caveat that this is not an account of the large-scale and bloody reprisals committed against the Daarood and other civilians of whatever clan origin or none in Mogadishu or elsewhere by the Hawiye rebels who ousted Siyad Barre from power. It is also not an account of the destructive inter-clan warfare that ensued following the ouster of the dictator. My focus is on the narrow topic of rivalry dynamics between the two pairs of sub-clans.
From November 1991 to February 1992, the battle of Mogadishu raged, virtually destroying the city centre, pulverising the already fragile infrastructure, and inflicting heavy damage. Three months of continuous shelling, day and night, created massive civilian disaster and huge destruction of property. The complete collapse of any semblance of law and order, making the clan the only basis of authority and survival led to an attitude of “every clan for himself.” The result was further brutality, including the indiscriminate massacre of civilians and the indirect brutality of mass starvation.Their war reaching a mutually hurting stalemate, Aideed and Ali Mahdi agreed to a ceasefire line (Green Line) and division of Mogadishu into north and south zones. This ceasefire was negotiated by a U.N. delegation in Mogadishu on March 3, 1992.
The rest, as they say, is history. But my argument is that this conflict mutated into an enduring rivalry characterised by zero-sum perspectives on the part of Habargidir & Muddullood. The conflict became entrenched and societal and the parties view each other as highly threatening to their security and physical survival. It’s suggested that relative equality in power capabilities is necessary for a rivalry to remain enduring, since in a highly unequal power situation the stronger party will in general be able to impose its will on the weaker side and put an end to the conflict.Because of the two sides’ symmetrical power condition, Mogadishu has been reduced to rubble by a 16 year cycle of conflict involving local warlords and their militias primarily belonging to the two sub-clans.
Underlying our interest in the role of rivalry in this conflict is the simple idea that conflict within the constraints of rivalry works differently than conflict outside of rivalry. Conflicts associated with rivalry erupt with great deal more historical and psychological baggage than is likely in the absence of rivalry. Once the Habargidir & Muddullood became rivals, triggered by their leaders’ armed contest for power, these historical and psychological baggage of enmity came to the fore. Fear of the past and worries about future wrongs became their stable relationship. They developed a persistent, fundamental and long-term incompatibility of goals which manifested itself in the basic attitudes of the parties toward each other as well as in recurring violent clashes over a long period of time. The competition has become deeply ingrained in each sub-clan, both in the public psyche and in their leaders.
Enduring conflicts tend to have four major characteristics: (1) an outstanding set of unresolved issues; (2) strategic interdependence between the parties; (3) psychological manifestations of enmity; and (4) repeated militarized conflict.The bullet-hole-ridden city which Mogadishu has become is a real testament to the last point. But more importantly, they simply could not resolve the issue that caused the conflict in the first place, who gets the post of the fallen General Barre and who reigns supreme within the Hawiye, what I call the putative Hawiye leadership. The level of threat, hostility, distrust, and the stakes between them were too high for them to resolve their discord. Strategic interdependence between them as regards economic and social activities never ceased but, if anything, increased without bringing about political reconciliation. Prior to their conflict, this pair cooperated to remove Siyad Barre from power. As their rivalry evolved, there were even endless political alliances between various war-lords belonging to them who cooperated to advance their own position rather than end the conflict for the good of everybody. The psychological manifestations of enmity (including suspicion, mistrust, and demonization) between their populations was (and is still) there for all to see.
The roots of Majeerteen-Mariixaan rivalry equally lie in their competition to have control over the state, or national power. The important start date of their strategic rivalry would more likely be in October 1969 when President Abdi Rashid Ali Sharmarke was assassinated by a bodyguard, and Siyad Barre staged a coup that ushered in twenty-one years of dictatorship. Siyad used a narrow clan base while condemning and denying political space for other clan bases.
It is perhaps no coincidence that the first coup attempt against his regime, albeit unsuccessful, was staged by a group of Majeerteen clan officers in April 1978. After this abortive coup, those who had escaped arrest regrouped, forming the first clan-based armed opposition group (SSDF) in Ethiopia. The avowed goal of this organization was to replace Siyad Barre and, backed by substantial Ethiopian military personnel, attacked Somali territory. In response, Barre sought to eliminate his Majeerteen opposition by waging extraordinarily brutal counter-insurgency campaigns including arbitrary and lengthy detention and torture of political opponents, summary trials and executions, extrajudicial killings, army raids of nomadic communities and destruction of their property, animals, livelihoods and water reservoirs.
According to Lewis (1994), that the Majeerteen sought support in Ethiopia, Somalia’s traditional enemy, was both a sign of their desperation and a measure of the degree of disintegration of Somali national solidarity.That may have been the case, but I would argue that their move was also to do with the rivalry phenomenon between Majeerteen-Mariixaan. Rivalry contributes considerable psychological baggage to inter-clan disputes. Rivals are more concerned with hurting the other than maximizing their own value position. It is not surprising, therefore, that the interaction of rivalry and power contest between two sub-clans could become an extraordinarily potent cocktail for conflict escalation that proved to be the beginning of the end for Siyad Barre’s regime and, with it, the Somali state.
The notion of strategic interdependence between the Habargidir-Muddullood rivals we’ve noted above also applies to the Majeerteen-Mariixaan bilateral relationship. For instance, in their desperate fight for survival, Siyad’s family and clansmen sought to exploit the full segmentary lineage rivalry within the Somali nation by appealing to Daarood unity. Here the appeal, also addressed to the Majeerteen, was for Daarood solidarity to fight against anti-Barre forces in Mogadishu.
Three main types of strategic rivalry is identified in the literature: spatial, positional and ideological. Spatial rivalries are contests over the exclusive control of territories. Positional rivalries are contests over relative influence and status. Ideological rivalries are contests over the relative superiority of belief systems – whether they refer to economic or political beliefs. None of these main types is mutually exclusive, and rivalry may well encompass all three simultaneously.I suggest Majeerteen-Mariixaan rivalry emanates from the latter two, positional and ideological. They’re vying with one another as to who would have control over the state, and also who would be the putative leader of the Daarood clan. But also whereas the whole region occupied by the Majeerteen in the north-east have become effectively self-governing under the Puntland administration, the Mariixaan have so far not developed such an all-encompassing sub-state partly because of their non-territorial contiguity. Thus there seems to be an ideological rift between the two as to what would be the end game for the Somali political process, semi-independent states or unitary state with decentralised regions. As far as I am aware, they don’t have spatial rivalries because their territories are not contiguous. There is, of course, Majeerteen living in the Kismayo hinterland (far from their headquarters in the north-east), and various Daarood sub-clans including these two became engaged in a series of skirmishes for a time in the post-Barre power struggles of the 1990s. So Kismayo will still remain a hotspot where one side’s ambition will be seen as best countered by rival ambition. Also the strong positional grievances between them could still complicate matters in Kismayo.
Lastly, several common traits are in evidence in both sets of rivalry relationships. One is that the pairs have fought or conflicted repeatedly and regard their rival as enemy. Habargidir & Muddullood have exhausted all their material and human resources in their protracted armed conflict in Mogadishu. Majeerteen & Mariixaan have had a history of conflict and political score settling. The proposition is apt here that the more disputes and crises that arise between rival equals, the greater the likelihood of their viewing each other as rivals, and also forming alliances against each other.The latest point was scored, of course through alliance, by the Majeerteen when former PM M. A. Mohamed Farmaajo was kicked out and the current PM, Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, replaced him. As opposed interests predominate their bilateral relationships, both pairs could rightly be described as enemies.
The main reason that they conflict repeatedly is a second shared trait. Whatever the issues that strain their relationship, both pairs of sub-clans have been unable to resolve completely the source(s) of their conflict. The main problem is that you cannot resolve a positional rivalry: who gets the presidency or the pm ship at the same time as the other is not resolvable. Given the permanency of power politics in their bilateral relationships, therefore, the participants acquire a set of self-fulfilling expectations concerning their adversaries. The third common denominator then is a relationship framed in expectations and beliefs of hostilities towards each other.That, at least, has been the position of these pairs, as far as one can tell. The real white elephant in the room though is that we don’t acknowledge that this problem of sub-clan rivalry exists at all, so nobody (sokeeye or shisheeye) gets engaged to attempt to resolve it.
In all, the rivalry relationship between these sub-clans ischaracterized by extreme competition and psychological hostility, in which the issue positions of contenders are governed primarily by their attitude toward each other rather than by the stakes at hand.At the heart of this rivalry is sub-clan power struggle which is seen as both symbolic and transcendent. The origins of this rivalry, its emotional and political salience, the failure of politics to resolve it, the unwillingness of the parties to compromise, and its temporal persistence suggest that the rivalry relationship between these pairs of sub-clans is not likely to change anytime soon. The termination of the rivalry itself would require learning at a higher level, that is, a shift in goals as well as means.
Sadly there is no evidence that they learned even the basic lesson that rivalry and confrontation has failed in the past to achieve their goals and will likely fail in the future. I, therefore, call upon these sub-clans and their leaders to address themselves to the question of historical responsibility for what happened to the Somali people. We all know that what happened was cynically fomented by individual leaders in power so as to maintain their power, or by individuals not in power, so as to gain it. If clan or descent mean anything in Somali society, either in the present or in the past, these individual leaders primarily hail from our two pairs of sub-clans. We rallied to their cause because they provided us with a sense of importance. Our intense loyalty and highly emotional participation in a collective obsession undercut even the most basic rational and ethical considerations. We greeted them as saviours because they promised us unprecedented significance instead of insignificance. Only now do we painfully recognize how they had abused our loyalty and have taken us for a ride! But do we really recognize that?
The American social psychologist and researcher in conflict resolution, Morton Deutch has a good line on this: “while specific privileged groups are the beneficiaries of oppression of other groups and thus have an interest in the continuation of the status quo, they do not typically understand themselves to be agents of oppression”.Whether we understand it or not, or whether we believe that we’re ‘agents of oppression’ or not, I am not terribly confident that we’ve learned this one lesson: that we can no longer continue to hope that domination/submission will bring peace and justice to the Somali people, at home or abroad.
It is, therefore, incumbent upon our representatives in the new parliament to elect competent leaders in August 2012, from outside of these rival sub-clans, who can provide the political leadership, will and vision required toend the war and negotiate peace with our adversaries in order to create the conditions for mutually empowering state-society relations.
My next and final piece will be a joint article with the eminent Somali elder statesman and former Prime Minister Abdirazak Haji Hussen. We argue in that piece that it is only through knowledge, excellence, and virtue that the Somali people can change their present condition, and not through clan competition for power as has been bequeathed to us by our politicians. So lets’ elect imaginative leaders who have those qualities in abundance, but are also from outside of these rival sub-clan.
A brief note by Abdirazak H. Hussen
There is really not much I want to say here other than to thank Dr Aweys Omar Mohamoud for writing this excellent and timely piece. I owe much gratitude to him for involving me in his earlier writing ongobannimo. I wholeheartedly support his analysis of the problem, and his solution to it. The idea that we need to go beyond clan rivalry to find new and competent leaders with the character, morals and qualifications necessary to resolve our long-running conflict is, in my view,extraordinarily prescient.Ideas and original thinking are what move the world forward. There is something inherently human to think about new and better ways of doing things and to try them out in practice. If many of us were to use our God-given talent and think about new and better ways of putting our country right, Somalia would not be stuck in this bloody mayhem.I think we ought to take seriously what this learned man is saying. In my view, he gives us the gist of where we are - a divided nation trying to maneuver through the rocky shoals of political transition. Where we need to be is to create political and economic structures that are rooted in the needs of our people, and are inclusive enough so that all groups and individuals in our society are able to participate in public life on an equal footing. The key to that new form of politics is to elect new leaders from groups who have never been given a chance to lead their country while at the same time reconciling those who are long time rivals. That is the message of this gentleman, and we’ll be all the poorer for it if we didn’t pay heed to his insightful observations.
GobannimoInstitute is a trading name forGobannimoSomali Centre of Ideas Limited, registered in England with company number 7943558.
I am very fortunate indeed to have been able to draw on the experience, expertise and collaboration of the eminent elder statesman and former Prime Minister Abdirazak Haji Hussen in this and in my next article in the series. You can see a brief note of his in the table at the end of the piece. I also thank him for his support for my earlier writing ingobannimo. Mr. Hussen is a great believer in the Somali people’s common human capacity for reason to rebuild their state and, by extension, peace in their country.
All clan/sub-clan names are listed alphabetically and in pairs, threes, fours, or more. I believe that sounds less hostile to most Somalis than having their clan’s name singled out. Which means that one can criticize the clans alongside or in comparison with others, but not singly! I would welcome any views on this, as to why this is (or might be) the case!
See Call, Charles T. (2008) Conclusion: building states to build peace. In Call, Charless T. & Vanessa Wyeth (eds.) Building states to build peace. Boulder & London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, p. 372.
An exception to this position would be a ‘written evidence from Dr Alec Coutroubis and George A. Kiourktsoglou’ given to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry into ‘Piracy off the coast of Somalia’ on June 10, 2011. These experts describe the context within which piracy organization was created which is the “structure and domestic rivalry” of Somali society. In their view, this is one of the attributes of the Somali nation that has all along nurtured the environment in which piracy has come to flourish. See their evidence on pp. Ev 117-122 in this doc http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmfaff/1318/1318.pdf
See Colaresi, Michael P., Karen Rasler, & William R. Thompson (2007) Strategic rivalries in world politics: position, space and conflict escalation. Cambridge University Press, p. 278.
See Hirsch, John L. & Oakley, Robert (1995) Somalia and Operation Restore Hope: reflections on peacemaking and peacekeeping. Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace, pp. 14-16.
Stevenson, Jonathan (1995) Losing Mogadishu: testing U.S. policy in Somalia. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, p. 36.
See Vasquez, John A. (2005) The India-Pakistan conflict in light of general theories of war, rivalry and deterrence. In T. V. Paul (ed.) The India-Pakistan Conflict: an enduring rivalry. Cambridge University Press, p. 65.
See Moaz, Zeev & Ben D. Mor (2002) Bound by struggle: the strategic evolution of enduring international rivalries. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, p. 5.
Adam, Hussein M. (1999) Somali civil wars. In Ali, Taiser M. & Robert O. Mathews (eds.) Civil wars in Africa: Roots and resolution. Montreal & Kingston: McGill Queen’s University Press, p. 171.
See,inter alia,Amnesty International (1988) Somalia: A Long-term Human Rights Crisis. London: Amnesty International; Adam, Hussein M. (1995) Somalia: A terrible beauty being born? In Zartman, William I. (ed.) Collapsed States: the disintegration of and restoration of legitimate authority. London: Lynne Reinner Publishers; Colaresi, Michael P. (2005) Scare tactics: the politics of international rivalry (Chapter 4: Ruin before reconciliation: the Somali-Ethiopian rivalry). Syracuse University Press, pp. 45-94.
Lewis, Ioan M. (1994) Blood and bone: the callof kinship in Somali society.Lawrenceville, NJ: The Red Sea Press, pp. 224-225.
 See Colaresi, et al., op.cit., pp. 78-79.
See Vasquez, John A. (1993) The War Puzzle. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 309-26.
See Colaresi, et al., op.cit., p. 12.
This is in line with Senese & Vasquez’s definition of ‘enduring rivalry’. See Senese, Paul D. & Vasquez, John A. (2008) The steps to war: an empirical study. Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press, p. 75.
Deutsch, Morton (2006) Justice and conflict. In Deutsch, Morton, et al., (eds.) The handbook of conflict resolution: theory and practice (Second Edition), Jossey-Bass, pp. 43-68.