Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, is a city living a clandestine nightmare that even Dante could not imagine. But on this day nothing could conceal the truth as told by dead bodies piling up on its streets. Every freshly killed body, every dead body thrown into the impromptu mass graves; every one of these belongs to only one Somali tribe and no other. Over 1000 bodies of civilians have been found so far; and every last one of them belong to the same tribe- the Hawiye. The dead do not lie. And this is the story they tell; the story of the curse of tribal cleansing yet again; the story of yet another reenactment of the first phase of the Tutsi genocide. Words like terrorists and fundamentalists are nothing but a new version of the old terms of vermin and cockroaches that have served as a short hand for mass murder and as a mechanism for making genocide palatable to an unsuspecting humanity. This day truth is unveiled by the dead. We must listen to this truth for tomorrow it will be too late except for regrets, mutual blame and hand wringing.
Abdi-Noor Haji Mohamed is playwright, author and a poet who was on the run with his family in tow, like the estimated 100,000 thousand civilians who were crushed out of their houses just in the last two months of this year. Abdi- Noor found himself running to no where. The soft spoken polite writer does not curse the authors of this calamity. He merely wonders in his article on Hiiraan Online “Why do African leaders spend millions of dollars in killing their own people who were already dying from hunger and disease”. He sings to his daughter Maria:
“In the dusty lands of the Horn
they are fighting a dirty war
But in the shadows of despair
Their children are dying from hunger
Are they leaders of a nation?
Or are they killers of a nation
Is politics a shield to hide from reality?
Or is it a license to kill the innocent?
In the eyes of fear shock is the sparkle”
There is good. And there is evil. Today evil erupted with viciousness and visited carnage upon Abdi-Noor and his family and the two million people that live with him in this city of sorrows. The massacre of civilians must not be allowed to continue. We must confront evil and call mass murder by its name. We must banish hatred and revenge once and for all. On this day the curse of God will descend upon the living that bear witness and choose to remain silent. Any citizen, anywhere in the world, who has the moral courage to stand against genocide must speak out today loud and clear and repeat the words of solidarity made famous by President Kennedy “Ich Bin Ein Hawiye” “Ich Bin Ein Hawiye”: I am a Hawiye citizen. I am a Hawiye citizen.
The First Genocide
This is not the first genocide that has happened in this cursed city, nor is it the first time that innocent Somalis faced murder and mayhem in its streets simply because they belonged to the wrong tribe at the wrong place. The first genocide unfolded in its ruthless streets in 1991 right after the fall of the Siyad Barre regime. In that year Hawiye militia burned, raped and killed any person of Darood origin regardless of age, regardless of gender and regardless of their role in the defunct regime. It was enough to be Darood to be massacred in Mogadishu’s first days of infamy. The Darood who has lived in the city for hundreds of years were totally cleansed out of it, their property confiscated and their blood spilled. This is a horrible tragedy of Somali political life that has deeply wounded the self identity of the broken nation. This first genocide has become the driving force and the central reason for the intractable failure of the Somali state. It is not much spoken about in polite circles but it is the poisonous undertones of any dialogue between the members of the Hawiye and Darood tribes. Somalis who belong to other tribes find it convenient to ignore and forget this first tragedy because the curse of the blood they allowed to flow without protest has haunted them all these years. And because each tribe has its own horror stories to tell, horror stories that blind them to the blight that has visited all of them and that could only be confronted together. The current genocide, the second in this city, is still going strong. And just like the one before it Somalis other than the victim tribe members are conveniently oblivious to it. This one too will haunt the Somali race everywhere for generations to come. It will be one more nail in the coffin of a dead nation.
The Transformed Nature of the Mogadishu War
The rhetoric of the war on terror has no explanatory power of what is happening in Mogadishu today. There are of course international and regional dimensions to this war. There is Bush’s global war on terror, and there is Meles Zenawi’s subcontracted armed intervention in Somalia. But that is not why 1000 civilians who are exclusively of one Somali tribe were murdered in the streets of Mogadishu.
There have been sporadic battles fought between the remnants of the defeated Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) and the Ethiopian forces ever since the Union of Islamic Courts was overpowered and roundly defeated by the Ethiopian Army in January of 2007. These night attacks of masked men were small and inconsequential.
From the time of the defeat of the UIC there were active negotiations between the Hawiye tribes on the one hand and the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia (TFG) and the occupying Ethiopian Army on the other. The crucial issue of disarming the city was on the table. Hawiye elders expressed fear that they will be left unarmed and at the mercy of another tribe who may have revenge on its mind. It did not help at all that the Ethiopian installed Somali president brought with him to Mogadishu his own militia- a fiercely loyal, battle hardened and exclusively from the president tribe, the Darood. The Hawiye were suspicious to say the least given the bitter history.
The new phase of the war started on March 24, 2007 as Abdillahi Yusuf decided to force the issue and forcibly disarm the opposing militia. There was of course a subtext to Yusuf’s grand design- that of intimidating and terrorizing the unruly population of the city to submit to his will. The indiscriminate bombing of clearly civilian areas with Multiple Rocket Launchers fired by the president’s militia from his palace in villa Somalia was no accident. It was a war on the pubic and it is consistent with Yusuf’s belief that legitimacy is born at the barrel of the gun; and that fear not consensus is the necessary ingredient of national stability.
It is important to note that over the last 4 decades Yusuf has led an insurgency of one kind or the other. He has shown an obstinate commitment to taking power by whatever means necessary. Unfortunately for him the exclusive reliance on tribal forces and his lust for absolute power rendered him incompatible with nation building even as a reincarnation of Siyad Barre (the last dictator of Somalia) in a more brutal form. The president’s takeover of Villa Somalia is nothing more than a transient home invasion.
On March 24, 2007 the spokesman of the Hawiye declared that the tribe will protect itself openly. The battle was joined. The Spokesman further announced that the tribal militia would shoot anyone who covers his face in the battles to come as a coward and as a part of the enemy within. It was a declaration of tribal war. But it was more. It was a tribal rejection of the masked men of the UIC. The dynamic of the war was transformed and the legitimacy of leadership that was enjoyed previously by the UIC has come fully into the hands of the Hawiye elders. The tribal elders were now the protectors of the people and their spokesmen. The UIC already dead was now buried.
The two sides of this war will of course use whatever rhetoric necessary to advance their cause. Regional and international forces will exploit the situation to settle their own scores while Somalis provide the potentially dead and the potentially dismembered. The naked truth of tribal warfare will remain the essential dynamic of this war. And when peace comes, and it will have to come one day, it will be a tribal peace too.
The Way Forward
No person of sound mind will dare to predict or prescribe a solution for the Somali crisis. This much is clear however. The solution to the Somali crisis will not be more war, more hatred or more vengeance. Nor will it about a strong man massacring his way to a Machiavellian peace based on fear and intimidation and corrupted “reconciliation conferences”. The African soil is littered with the carnage caused by strong men whose main weapon was the creation of inter-tribal death squads and hatred in search of personal power and personal glory.
The solution to the crisis will not cost money. Indeed money poured from foreign sources will only fuel the crisis as combatants engage in deadly maneuvers to guarantee their share on the basis of established reality on the ground. The $100 million dollars generously set aside by the US government will essentially pay for the Ethiopian subcontract on the local version of the war on terror. It will lead to more Somalis dying not less. It will also lead directly to the strengthening of remnants of Alqaida elements that will then have monopoly on the moral high ground of defending women and children from the massacre of the crusaders, infidels and their running dog apostates. Tell me if such a language will not appeal to you if you have just witnessed the murder of your family and the killer is holding a gun to your head. Is it not rational to ask why it is necessary to repeat the policy that lead to the mess in Iraq and Afghanistan in Somalia again. Do we not learn from history?
The solution to the Somali crisis will not require anything other than a genuine work of Somalis to broker an end to the cycle of genocide between the two Somali tribes of Darood and Hawiye. Like it was the case between the French and Germans in the European wars of the past, there will be no peace in Somalia until there is peace and reconciliation between the Darood and the Hawiye.
It is clear in my mind that such reconciliation is unlikely to take off without disengaging the forces in the battle field, without preventing Abdillahi Yusuf from massacring his way to power by devilishly nurturing hatred between the Hawiye and the Darood. It seems to me that removing Yusuf and his tribal militia from the city of death is the first step towards genuine reconciliation. Only free men who are not under the barrel of a gun can engage in genuine reconciliation.
The second step of reconciliation is to accept a verifiable just, democratic and free society as the basic guarantee to safety from domination and genocide. The same formula has worked for the breakaway nation of Somaliland. There is no reason to assume that it will not work for Somalia.