Baidoa at Boiling Point for a Reason!
by Hassan Adam Hosow
Wednesday, September 04, 2013
Just like the Somali nomadic pastoralists if Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last British ruler of India, had had a proclivity towards and glorification for violence, Mahatma Gandhi would have been hanged in public; his nonviolent movement would have been strangled at birth; and all of us would have been afforded equal opportunity to ridicule him as one of the most ludicrously naïve political leaders to have ever set foot on earth. In a country where the law of the jungle was made the norm in all aspects of urban life, Somalia’s nomadic pastoralists from the north and central provinces managed to raise to political and economic predominance through violent means at the expense of peaceful southern Inter-riverine agricultural communities who suffered from all colors of neglect and marginalization under successive governments of Somalia.
On August 31, 2013, mass protests gripped Baidoa over the Addis Ababa agreement between the federal government of Somalia and Ahmed Madobe’s Juba administration. The traditional elders of Inter-riverine regions made a decision to withdraw all their federal MPs and suspend relations with the central government. As spokesman Malaaq Ali Abdirahman Shiino told the media, their move was provoked by President Hassan Sheikh Mahamoud’s decision to give Sheikh Ahmed Madobe, “Jubba area, an integral part of their ancestral land”. While Malaq Shino’s statement communicates the immediate underlying reasons for Baidoa’s recent popular uprising, the Addis Ababa agreement was only the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Definitely, Baidoa reached its boiling point but not as President’s Spokesman Mr. Abdirahman Yarisow put it “because of a typical tribal intolerance with anything new”; rather, the Addis Ababa agreement was a major addition to a mountain of cruel injustices against the Inter-riverine agricultural communities which has been building up since the era of Somalia’s struggle for independence.
The Hizbia Dastur Al Mustaqil Al Somal (Somali Independent Constitutional Party) based in Inter-riverine areas, had been for more than 20 years (1947-1968) the true opposition party in the country. The Hizbia platform included strict constitutional definition of Somali citizenship; the necessity of undertaking a population census; and adoption of federal form of governance. In the eyes of Inter-riverine people, these issues were necessary foundation blocks for the creation of harmonious Somali state. The Hizbia’s call for federal system was motivated by fear, later justified, that politicians from nomadic pastoralist clans would dominate the Somali state. Due to his insistence on the adoption of a federal system, HDSM’s leader Ustaad Osman Mohamed Hussien was assassinated only days before his scheduled address at United Nations Headquarter in New York on May 09, 1952 to make his case. The Somali Youth League rejected a proposed census in 1956 because of fear that it may show the Hizbia constituency far outnumbered the official government estimate. (Look at the attached UNDP Population Statistics).[i] The Hizbia was clearly disenchanted in 1956, when the victorious Somali Youth League formed the first Somali cabinet consisting of three from the Hawiye including the Prime Minister, two from the Darood and one Dir. Though twenty of the sixty elected members of the Legislative Assembly belonged to the Digil &Mirifle tribe, they were not even given a single ministerial portfolio. Out frustration, The Hizbia insisted on decentralization. The SYL rejected the call for decentralization which resulted in Hizbia’s decision to boycott the general elections of 1959.[ii]
Hizbia’s boycott offered The Somali Youth League unchallenged power to run the State’s political life. During this period the subjugation and suppression of the Inter-riverine society was on the rise. It was a period of territorial grabbing. As the prominent historian, Prof. Mukhtar states, “During 1960-1969, when Somali Youth League dominated the political life of independent Somalia, Digil-Mirifle found themselves increasingly marginalized and discriminated against in education and state employment, and the Inter-riverine region suffered actions of state. The Somali Government collaborated with former Italian concessionaries to take over the majority of shares in the banana, sugar and livestock estates in the South. This was followed by a policy of forcing small farmers of the region to sell their land to state officials and Army Officers. ….the “land rush” stripped thousands of small farmers of their lands and pushed them into the bush. Because of nomadic background, the new landlords not only lacked the knowledge of farming but also like their Italian predecessors, were also harsh and exploitative. Like Italians as well, they spoke a language called Mahatiri that was alien to the region. (Mukhtar, 1996).
The marginalization machine did not stop at the political level. Despite the invented myth and the impression given to the international community that Somalis are virtually homogenous, the fact is that the Inter-riverine people are socio-culturally and linguistically different. In order to help create homogeneity, The Somali Youth League cancelled all Maay language programs which Radio Mogadishu used to broadcast until 1959 elections.
On October 21, 1969 the army led by General Mohamed Siad Barre seized power that brought an end to years of civil administration. This represented a turning point in Somali contemporary political history, but to the riverine society, it was another episode of disenfranchisement of their people. Their sufferings under Barre’s dictatorship were of particular kind and went beyond redemption. The Digil & Mirifle were excluded from participation in top levels of government. For instance, they had no single member among the 25 members of the military junta, and also the Central Committee for The Somali Revolutionary Party in 1976. Culturally, Gen. Barre did not settle for the early cancellation of Maay Programs broadcast by Radio Mogadishu. In 1973, he developed Mahatiri orthography naming it ‘the Mother tongue’! Furthermore, the school curriculum was based on Mahatiri and Inter-riverine people had to master Mahatiri language in order to qualify for government jobs.
Furthermore, their land tenure systems were ignored and their property rights violated as Siad Barre transplanted citizens from other parties of Greater Somalia into their area. Barre’s Regional Reform in 1973 is a good example of this. The original eight provinces of Somalia were divided into 18 regions. The declared logic was to make them easier to administer; however, the hidden agenda was to create lands for favored clans. The infamous Co-operative Laws No 70 of 1973 and the land law No.73 of 1975 were further attempts to deprive the Inter riverine peoples of their land. By mid 1980s, there was no single piece of arable land along the two rivers but claimed by the state sponsored projects.
After the fall of Gen. Mohamed Siad Barre’s dictatorship rule, tribal armed movement such SNM, SSDF and USC filled the vacuum. There were movements mostly based on local clan affiliation that emerged originally as spontaneous reactions to the oppressive regime of Siad Barre. Each movement was fighting for particular clan interest. In January, 1991, Siad Barre was defeated and Mogadishu fell in the hands of Gen. Aideed’s USC militiamen. Barre’s forces (SNF) retreated to Baidoa and other Inter riverine areas as main base of operations for almost a year. With all food and material supply lines cut from Mogadishu, leaders of SPM and SNF namely Gen. Mohamed Hirsi Morgan and Gen. Mohamed Hashi Gani decided to loot Inter-riverine farmer’s livestock, seeds and grain storages in order to feed the militiamen (see the video for proof)[iii]. The militiamen also destroyed water resources and the infrastructure.
The Inter-riverine people were trapped between the warring militiamen of SNF in the Southwest, Aideed’s USC in Mogadishu and Morgan SPM in Kismaayo. These genocidal actions were the cause of the infamous massive famine that hit in the Inter-riverine areas in 1992. This time Baidoa was dubbed with “The City of Death” but the locals call this unforgettable period ‘Xawaal Jawaan”. According to a UN World Food Program report around 500,000 of the Inter-riverine people perished by Dec. 1992. In Bardere alone death toll was 385 per day, and monthly death rate in Baidoa was 3,224 in August and after a month, it rose to 5979 people. In his turn, the triumphant General Aideed contributed to this cleansing when his militiamen prevented food shipments from reaching the man-made famine hit belt. Aideed’s blockage continued until the US marines landed on the shores of Mogadishu. While Somaliland has been crying over the death of 50,000 at the hands of Siad Barre government’s military led by Morgan, the Inter-riverine people lost half a million lives through systematic starvation at the hands of Siad Barre militiamen.
During the UN intervention in Somalia Baidoa reverted to its former name “Janaay” and recovered from the man- made disaster .Peace and stability prevailed in the town; business activities were growing fast. This fast recovery caught many foreign individuals by surprise. Mr. Stephen Jackson, Director of International Famine Center, At University College Cork Said, “In Baidoa, Somalia in 1992, I think what stuck in my mind more than anything was the sight of grain markets carrying on a busy trade, not 100 yards from where I was watching people dying in the streets of hunger, I suppose it was this more than anything which convinced me that famines are always man-made disasters.”
In the middle of 1995, the progress reached its climax when pan Digil and Mirifle congress was convened In Baidoa that culminated in the formation of the first autonomous state in Somalia. Just a few months after the formation of the autonomous Riverine State, General Mohamed Farah Aideed attacked Baidoa on Sept 17, 1995 in addition to Lower Shabelle regions were his militiamen controlled since the fall of Siad Barre. The short- lived experiment of self-rule was strangled at birth. Aideed’s militias introduced to the area all forms of repressive tribal domination and it is out of scope of this article to tell them in details. On January, 1996, Huddur fell in the hands of Aideed’s militias.
As peacefulness and nonviolence is perceived by fellow nomadic tribes as a sign of weakness, local politicians and former National Army officers sensed the necessity to form a resistance movement. Rahanwein Resistance Army emerged; it was an active and virile army committed to liberate the Inter-riverine lands from the non-Inter-riverine tribal militiamen. On June 26, 1999, after four years of fierce battle over the control of Baidoa and neighboring regions, RRA decisively succeeded to free some of Inter-riverine regions from Aideed’s tribal militiamen and it became a force to be reckoned with.
Unlike peaceful Hizbia party, RRA was a fierce tribal army that developed all characteristics of nomadic pastoralists’ militiamen in other regions of Somalia. Their top leaders spewed violent vitriol. Late Col. Shatigudud’s favorite quote was: “What was taken by force can only be regained by force”. Unfortunately, the adoption of violent resistance by RRA easily earned the Inter-riverine people the necessary qualifications to join the Major Clans Club. The infamous formula for power-sharing 4.5 was born at Arta Conference in the Republic of Djibouti in the middle of the year 2000 and Maay language was recognized as an official language in the Constitution. The federal system of governance which was rejected half a century ago was adopted in 2004 at the Reconciliation Conference in Kenya. This is a concrete proof that Somalia is a country where violence earns respect and status.
Due to a long plight of suffering under successive governments of Somalia and violent tribal militiamen, the Inter-riverine people have no faith in any government. However, their peaceful culture leads them to comply with government policies. When President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud came to power, he asked the traditional elders of Digil & Mirifle to delay their plans for the creation of Southwest state consisting of Lower Shabelle, Lower Jubba, Middle Jubba, Bay, Gedo and Bakool. They were the first major clan to accept the government’s National Stabilization Plan which required the appointment of interim governors for all regions of Somalia. Unlike these elders, Sheikh Ahmed Madobe ignored President Mohamud’s call to comply with the NSP. He went on to create Jubbaland on a land claimed by Digil Mirifle elders as their own constituency and he crowned himself as its president.
Well, Addis Ababa agreement threw the compliant elders under the bus while it exalted the violent noncompliant as the president of Jubba Administration only after few months following the removal of Gen. Sharif Sheikhuna as the top Police Chief.
Baidoa reached its boiling point and will most likely resort to violence and unilateral formation of a Federal State if the government continues to reward the violent noncompliant at the expense of the peaceful. In the eyes of Inter-riverine traditional elders, the Addis Ababa agreement was a major addition to a mountain of cruel injustices against the Inter-riverine agricultural communities which has been building up since the era of Somalia’s struggle for independence. Instead healing scars of the past, the federal government is rubbing salt in into Inter-riverine people’s wounds.
Hassan Adam Hosow
Edmonton, Alberta, Canadahosow@ualberta.ca