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Armed rebellion in Kismayo

by Abdisahal Jama "Urufeey"
Saturday, July 28, 2007

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The history of Somalia without its association with Islam and Arab influences is like European history without Greece and Rome. Somalia has transcendent historical and cultural ties with Arabia, and Persia, in large part due to geography and the spread of Islam. Although these ties are somewhat shaped differently in modern times, the most fundamental tie is the entrenched culture of clans. With the influences of Arab and Persian merchants and subsequently European colonizers, Somalia was divided into regions ruled by clans with the most inhabitants. Land was distributed by way of clan settlement. Wherever the majority of clans inhabited became their property or settlement throughout time. This was pretty much intact up and until the Somali civil war in 1991.

The violent eruption of clan warfare in Mogadishu forced many Somali clans to flee back to the security of their "traditional homelands." This intensified the idea of grabbing and occupying territories inhabited by competing clans, or more directly, unarmed clans. In the 1990s, this example was evident in the USC militia occupation of Baidoa. More recently, a newer militia group borne during the civil war, the Jubba Valley Alliance (JVA), conquered and occupied the southern port of Kismayo for seven years. This leads us to the modern-day power struggle between two prominent sub-clans of the Darod clan-family, the Marehan and the Majerteen, who have been vying for control of Kismayo for over a decade now. What remains to be closely examined is the relationship these two warring sub-clans have with the port city of Kismayo.

Early history

Early historical documentation on settlements along the Somali coast indicates that Arab and Persian merchants came to the area around 694 AD. Many towns, including Mogadishu and Kismayo, sprang to life around this time and were bustling in trade and culture. The original communities to inhabit these regions were the Hamari people, who settled in the area more than 1,000 years ago, according to authentic sources.

Nomadic people from the interior did not push towards the Indian Ocean coast until around the 16th century. Groups of nomadic families settled in the area around the port of Kismayo, with increased addition of large nomadic communities to the region arriving during the time of the Ajuran Sultanate, according to various texts. The integration of the coastal and nomadic communities over a period of time was relatively peaceful and amicable, united by their Islamic faith and fueled by aspirations of economic development and opportunity.

Today's quagmire

Today's troubles in Kismayo are related to the arrival of these nomadic clansmen, who traveled from distant semi-arid lands in search of grazing land and economic advantages. Without a doubt, the breakdown of central government in 1991 was catalyst for the emergence of armed clans who traditionally inhabit semi-desert terrain to forcefully conquer and occupy other clans' territories, for economic and strategic gains. Thus, violent competition for scarce resources has been a process of never ending struggle in southern Somalia. And historically, the majority of Somalis are nomadic pastoralists where communities are always on the move seeking better grazing land. Kismayo, as such, has transformed over time into a multi-clan settlement. But instead of strength in diversity, the multitude of armed clans of the region fought among each other for dominance over the area's fertile land, port, and other resources.

In recent times, Kismayo and the Lower Jubba region was ruled by the JVA militia - a military-political alliance between Marehan (Darod) and Habar Gedir (Hawiye) sub-clans. These two sub-clans share a common region in central Somalia, Galgadud, where their militia pact was inked in the late 1990s to oppose the rule of Gen. Mohamed Hersi "Morgan," a Majerteen (Darod) warlord, in Kismayo. Gen. Morgan had proposed a "Jubbaland" regional administration, which was seriously opposed by the Marehan who felt excluded.

Both sub-clans are migrants to the Jubba valley region. However, the most notable recent migration began around 1998, peaking in 2004 with thousands fleeing drought in southwestern regions, such as Gedo. The Marehan-led JVA profited from the city's revenues during their seven-year rule, stimulating clan animosities that led to much unwanted violence between the Marehan clan and other clans of the region.

Violent antics aside, what historical legitimacy do either the Majerteen or the Marehan have in Kismayo, or the Jubba valley for that matter? Let's not forget that both communities are migrants to the region who arrived in different periods of time and under different circumstances. And although both clans support the Somali transitional federal government (TFG), the competition for resources continued amongst the government's military leaders until one clan militarily expelled another. This is to say that Kismayo today is like Kismayo under JVA yesterday, or under warlord Morgan's militia in the mid-1990s.

What needs to be noted is that these warring clan-military leaders fought on the same side as TFG troops against the Islamic Courts forces in January. And when the Ethiopian army withdrew to Mogadishu, the TFG commanders were left in charge to manage Kismayo. But soon enough these commanders reverted to their old tricks of clan domination, and before the TFG could react, Majerteen clan soldiers were routed out by their old Marehan rivals.


The legitimacy of the TFG is in question as long as it is dependent on Ethiopian support. Both the Marehan and Majerteen warlords competing for Kismayo fully know that the TFG is struggling to control Mogadishu, and has other priorities including the reconciliation conference, disarmament and building government institutions. The timing has made it a perfect opportunity for any armed clan to rise in Kismayo and be recognized as the dominant clan, and the Marehan clan rose to the occasion.

The TFG cannot afford to keep the strategic port city of Kismayo in the hands of opposition groups (the Marehan clan militias chased the TFG-appointed administration from Kismayo in April). The Kismayo uprising could serve as an example to other rebellions against TFG rule in other regions, and gives strength to ongoing rebellions in places like Mogadishu. We have already seen one example in Lower Shabelle region where the TFG was forced to replace the governor.

Only TFG intervention will change the current circumstances, since both competing clans claim their allegiance to the government. First things first, the TFG-appointed Lower Jubba administration and supporting troops must be allowed to return and govern from Kismayo without any preconditions. Secondly, to avoid similar catastrophe, the TFG must reshuffle its troops and redeploy TFG soldiers who are involved in the Kismayo fighting to other regions. Fresh TFG troops characterized by clan diversity would win public support and prevent violent clan competition from flourishing in the Jubba regions like in the recent past. This also ensures that there is no one or two clans dominating the region's military and resources. Third, the TFG must restructure the region's administration and distribution of resources, and give fair share to various unarmed clans who originally inhabited the Jubba valley. This step will ultimately build public confidence and ensure that Kismayo remains one of the most culturally diverse cities in Somalia

And last but not least, the TFG must correct its past mistake. How did they loose control of Kismayo so easily after bitter battles with the Islamic Courts? More importantly, why did they allow the Ethiopian army to leave before the TFG military was trained and integrated? Imagine, Kismayo is the third largest city in the country, and only second in importance to Mogadishu in the south. One would think that TFG leaders would recognize the value this port city has for the country, and that failure here would ultimately reflect failure elsewhere.

Abdisahal Jama "Urufeey"
E-mail: [email protected]

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