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Genocide, war crimes....: who committed what and against who?

by Muuse Yuusuf
Saturday, August 18, 2007


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The Mogadishu carnage in April this year has again re-ignited the debate about atrocities, war crimes, and genocide that took place in Somalia, a debate that has been on-going since 1980s. In this article I will highlight the different stages that the debate went through, the characteristics of the main conflicts that had caused them, and some of the lead characters involved in the conflict. Also, I will attempt to put the debate in the context of past and future reconciliation projects in view of explaining what needs to happen if Somalis are to achieve genuine reconciliation which hopefully will lead to a lasting peace in Somalia.


The first stage of the debate concerns the violence during the military regime from late 1970s up to 1991. At the time, the characteristics of that debate were mainly about the military regime committing atrocities against some particular communities in the Northeast and Northwest of Somalia. At the height of the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF) and Somali National Movement (SNM) military campaigns, the Siyad Bare’s government, using the state machinery, launched a massive military offensive against those communities. Although most Somalis suffered under the regime, communities in those regions endured some of the regime’s worst brutal actions, particularly those in the Northwest when the military regime air-bombed big cities such as Hargeysa. During that conflict, thousands of people many of them civilians were killed and thousands of them were displaced.  At the time – the talk in the town was a government at war with its people, and the media was full of stories of atrocities and war crimes perpetuated by the regime. The names of some lead characters such as General Mohamed Ali Samatar, the late General Mohamed Hashi Gani, and General Mohamed Hersi Morgan, also known as the butcher of Hargeysa, were all familiar names at the time.


Also, it is worth mentioning the mayhem caused by the SNM and SSDF militias during that conflict and throughout the civil war until after the formation of the so called “Puntland” and “Somaliland” entities. Lead characters of these armed movements, such as Abdullahi Yusuf, who led the SSDF, played big role in the destruction of properties and the killings that took place particularly in the Northeast region and in the Mudug region. The fighting between the remnant of SSDF during and after the formation of “Puntland” caused unnecessary death. 


The SNM’s inter-factional fighting caused many deaths in Northwest, the late Mohamed Ibrahim Egal, Abdi Rahman Ture etc were the lead characters talked about at the time; SNM’s violent suppression against some communities in the Awdal and Northern regions is still vivid in the memory of those who had witnessed it.


The second stage was during the height of the civil war from 1991. This period is particularly important for the South in which the most violence took place. The Mogadishu city witnessed the first sign of civil war when the USC forces entered the city in 1991. The military regime’s last days in Mogadishu thousands of civilians lost their lives because of the fighting. The massacre by United Somali Congress (USC) militias against defenceless communities such as the Benadirs, Reer Xamars, and other communities including those from Siyad Bare’s clan family  is one of the often mentioned atrocities. During the USC split into the late General Aidid and Ali Mahdi factions the city witnessed one of worst violence, and there were heavy casualties because of the indiscriminate shelling of residential areas. In America’s Restoration of Hope project many civilians were again killed; the American forces were involved in the violence.


The killing in Mogadishu did not stop there but it continued with the merciless and brutal fighting instigated by the infamous Mogadishu warlords namely: Musa Sudi Yalahow, Mohamed Qanyare Afrah, Osman Atto, Hussein Aidid, Bashir Raghe, Abdi Qeybdid, Issa Botan Ali and the rest.  The last fighting in Mogadishu before the Ethiopian invasion was the one between the Islamic Courts and the warlords under the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism (ARPCT) in which warlords were chased from city. Lead characters in this conflict included Sheikh Dahir Aweys, Yuusuf Indha-cadde, Mohamed Dheere et al.  Innocent civilians were murdered by the indiscriminate shelling.  At time the talk in the town was about war crimes and atrocities committed by the warring factions.           


The fighting which was initiated by some armed political factions such as the Somali National Front (SNF), the Somali Patriotic Movement (SPM), the Somali National Alliance (SNA)/USC, the Rahanweyne Resistance Army (RRA) which took place had led to the starvation of hundreds of thousands of civilians (est. 300,000) in the riverine region in deep south in what was known as the triangle of death.  At the time names such as the late General Aidid, General Mohamed Hersi Morgan, Mohamed Omar Jees, Hassan Shaatigudud and others were mentioned as the main lead characters. Baydhabo was among the main cities which had witnessed mayhem around that period, and again when the Rahanweyn Resistance Army (RRA) disintegrated into factions loyal to Hassan Shaatigudud, Mohamed Ibrahim Habsade, and Sheikh Adan Madoobe etc. Many civilians lost their lives.


The fighting between the now defunct Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) and the TFG/Ethiopian forces also caused the death of many misled militias and innocent civilians.


Now, some of my readers would ask themselves this: Why this writer is boring us recounting    stories, which took place a long time ago, events that had been forgotten? My answer is this:


           First of all by narrating some of the atrocities that took place I am inviting anyone who reads this article to join me to remember and pray for the souls of all of those hundreds of thousands of civilians who were murdered by the indiscriminate shelling and starvation.


           Secondly, to provoke thoughts on the heavy moral question – which still haunts this nation collective social and moral conscience, which is:  why those innocent civilians were killed? And who was/is responsible for their death?


           Thirdly, why in Somali politics it is so easy to forget the past so quickly?


           And fourthly, how can anyone talk about national reconciliation when no one (those in power) has yet to admit or accept their role in the above atrocities and when the murderous Ethiopian military forces, the Mogadishu warlords, the Garawe/Boosaaso warmongers, the Baydhabo war instigators, the Hargeysa SNM-junta, the corrupt politicians and generals of the previous military regime who instigated, ordered, participated in the atrocities are still around?


As most readers would agree with the writer one of the main characteristics of the civil war in Somalia has been the indiscriminate shelling of residential areas by the warring factions or cutting of food supplies which sometimes led to mass starvation. It seems though that those fighting (mainly misled militias) were not out to eliminate their enemy – the other militias and their leaders – but were out to carpet-bomb civilian areas thus causing high civilian casualties. In most conflicts, more innocent civilians died than the misguided militias. Also, although most of those misled militias had probably been killed in the fighting, ironically they were survived by their political masters who seem to be untouchable, immune, above the law and are not bothered by their consciences. Today, if you ask one of the main lead characters during the military regime or during the civil war (warlord etc.) about their role and responsibility towards any of the atrocities that took place, they would be quick to reply: emphatically No, No, No. But, the question is who was/is responsible for the atrocities? Is it the misguided militias who were themselves victims and who had lost their lives in the fighting? Is it the women and children who were the main victims? Any intelligent person can work out the answer to those questions.


As highlighted earlier there were lead characters in most of the conflicts although this short article might not have accounted for all of them. Some of the lead characters had passed away; therefore one can only allow their souls to rest in peace, although they might have experienced their true feelings about the role they had played in the conflict at some point in their lives. Also, it is up to people and history to make judgement about the role that the deceased from the late Mohamed Siyad Bare had played in the conflict. However, as you read this article quite a lot of the above mentioned lead characters are not only still alive and kicking but ARE ACTIVILY ENGAGED in the murky politics of this poor nation. And this is where the problem kicks in: what to do with these characters and how can a nation is supposed to move forward when there is so much blood had been spilt and when no one (those in power) seems ready to accept and admit the role they played and then make themselves available for justice?


Now let me come back to the question of the so called 14 or so reconciliation conferences, which were held outside Somalia. From the open intelligence sources, any intelligent person can work out what might have happened in those “reconciliation conference.” Basically, these conferences probably went like this: the same lead politicians who were involved in the violence would organise a conference. Once the venue had been booked and the bill was paid by a third party, the same lead characters would congregate in the host country. They would stay in stylish 4-star hotels and would indulge themselves in lavish life style: eat plenty of food and drink wine, or those who claim to be Muslims enjoy chewing the narcotic plant – Qat while the poor citizens in many parts of Somalia face starvation. Then imagine the main item on the agenda? Power-sharing!!!! Who will be the president, the speaker, the foreign minister, the finance minister and so on......endless and inflated ministerial portfolios?!!! As usual argument would then break out and characters would end up fighting with chairs and tables as they did in Kenya. These are probably the things that were being discussed in the so called reconciliation conferences: useless negotiation about power-sharing, the formulation of fraudulent charters while legitimate questions such as who was responsible for what and what should be done about that were left aside, forgotten, and buried in the sand. The lead characters also seem to hijack these conferences from respected, untainted and well meaning personalities including traditional leaders, intellectuals and educators, the Sheikhs, the women and peace loving groups. In the equation of the problem were those international actors that would manipulate the conferences in order to maximise their national interests, for example Ethiopia.

These international actors seem to cajole and flatter those lead characters who they perceive as capable of executing their agendas.  


Instead of dining and wining in stylish Nairobi hotels, discussing about useless power-sharing and fraudulent national charters, the lead characters should have been doing a soul-searching to ask themselves the big question which they will have to face one day:  how many thousands of civilians were murdered because of their orders, because of their political manipulation, because of their war mongering tactics, and because of their endless lust for power and wealth. Unless they can clear their names and consciences about what had happened, until they admit their roles and then face trial for their actions, any action they might take be it good or bad is doomed to fail and will always remain futile in the eyes of the peace loving majority of the Somali people. People and history will always remember them as criminals, warlords, war-mongers who reduced the entire nation to rubble because of their irresponsible and cruel actions. 


In Somali politics it seems though it is easier for politicians and those in power to say “Allaha naxariisto intii dhimatay” and then send condolences to victims’ relatives as the current president of the weak and unpopular Transitional Federal Government (TFG) had done after the end the recent Mogadishu conflict. Although nothing is wrong with that, however there are hard questions that relatives of those who died in whole conflict would like answers. It would seem though that this is probably what the lead characters in the “reconciliation” conferences had been saying to each other every time they met. By saying “Allaha u Naxariisto intii dhimatay” they use that emotive phrase as a tool to make them feel good about themselves, and as a ploy to distance themselves from what had happened and to wash their hands off any wrongdoings. Once they had exchanged these emotive passwords and buzzwords they then would hug each other to kiss and make. Then they would declare that they had forgiven each other, and are now reformed and reconciled characters. They then would indulge themselves in the boring and nonsensical discussion about power-sharing with its inflated ministerial portfolios up for grabs. Basically, by using these tricky words, some of these personalities seem to have been getting away with murder. Anyone with intelligence could see how the so called reconciliation conferences were everything but genuine. And the lead characters’ actions after leaving the conference prove the point. Immediately after returning to their terrorised communities, they would start hurling insults at each other and then the fighting would pursue. So it is obvious from their actions that, as they attended the conference and got away with murder and as there is no one who can stop them from re-offending and can hold them accountable for their actions they would get on with heinous and wicked actions. 


It seems though that it is hard for the lead characters to come out and ask themselves some legitimate and moral questions, questions that must be haunting their psyches and will continue to do so, questions about responsibility and accountability in what took place in Mogadishu and elsewhere. Is it the military regime, the Ethiopians, the TFG, the resistance force, the warlords, the Islamic Courts, the generals and corrupt politicians from the military regime, the leaders of the multiple clan based armed groups such as SNM, SSDF, USC etc? And if so who should face trial and for what? and how this should be conducted? Where does the buck stops or where does responsibility lie: with those who were giving orders? and where at the top of the command chain?


As our nation seems to suffer from amnesia, let me try to identify the command chain and those central characters who were/are involved in the last month’s carnage in Mogadishu. It goes like this: Ethiopian/TFG militia/soldiers with orders from their political masters: Abdullahi Yusuf (president), Ali Gedi (Prime Minister), Salad Jeelle (Vice Defence Minister), M. Gacmadheere (Interior Minister) and the clannish elements - all of them controlled by their political patron, Meles Zenawi. The opposing side’s line of commands seems something like this: resistance forces, nationalists, Islamist militias, global Jihadists, thugs, clannish elements which probably were receiving orders by multilayered personalities and characters from the now defunct UIC and other political organisations.


Now, how can anyone talk about reconciliation when images of those innocent civilians killed in the recent fighting are still flashing back to our memories and when Mogadishu buildings are still stained with their blood and when those who had committed the atrocities are still around, sleeping and dining in Mogadishu, or as it has been happening lately are politicians so clever they are now able to manipulate and hypnotise peoples’ memory in order to get them forget about what had happened in less than a month? It is really shame and sad to see the same lead characters that caused so much mayhem and destruction are again portraying themselves as good and reformed characters??? Just look at some of the lead characters who are supposed to lead the proposed national reconciliation conference. The same old warlord persona leads. For Gods sake, what has happened to the consciences of the majority of peace loving and honest people? Has their characters been tarnished by the civil war? 


There are some examples in which genocide and atrocities were committed in conflicts, for example Rwanda, ex-Yugoslavia and South Africa. However thanks to the determination of the international community and the tireless efforts of some strong, honest, and peace-loving personalities from these countries – some of the main culprits, war instigators and war criminals were being brought to justice inside or outside their countries in order to answer some legitimate questions. This is exactly what needs to happen in Somalis if this nation is to come to terms with the past and move forward to a healthier, prosperous and peaceful future. The need for clarification of accountability, responsibility, the chain of command within the context of the atrocities which took place as early as 1980s until now, is the crucial point, and in my view that is the missing link from comprehensive national reconciliation.


Conclusion, it is sad and disheartening to see some of those characters who committed some of the worst atrocities are being portrayed as heroes of peace in the current “reconciliation” conference in Mogadishu.


Muuse Yuusuf
[email protected]

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