Clan supremacy, corruption, and external actors are just a few of the things preventing Somalia’s emergence as a stable and functioning state.
There are seven major challenges standing in the way of building a strong, prosperous and united Somalia. They are like seven snakes wrapped around the nation — and Somalia won’t move forward unless we, Somalis, untangle them all.
The supremacy of the clan is a cancer to Somali society. It’s eating away at the nation. It’s structured like an onion — there are sub-clans, sub-sub-clans and so on till your cousin becomes someone else.
There are several major clans and a few dozen minority clans. The big ones fight among themselves; vying for power. They also discriminate and abuse minority clans.
To most Somalis, allegiance to your clan is the primary focus of loyalty. Other factors, such as Islam and nationhood, are abstract secondary ideas — a matter of convenience.
Every large clan claims to be the most beautiful, the most intelligent, and the most powerful. We are clan supremacists. Therefore, powerful clans feel they have the God-given right to control and dominate others.
This is Somalia’s greatest weakness as a nation. It creates conflict, injustice, and mistrust. Our enemies exploit this to divide and rule us. We, Somalis, have to realise that in the modern world, clan cannot be a substitute for a nation.
Corruption is rife in every sector and at every level. It’s a societal problem. Nothing will get done without paying bribes; whether you want to get a document from the local authority or run for the highest offices in the country. Officials ‘invest’ in their future and they have to make a profit — a big profit.
Stealing money from an individual is seen as being against ‘Somali culture’ and even ‘un-Islamic.’ Stealing public funds, however, and taking or giving bribes, is often seen as a clever move. We see people praising corrupt individuals. “So and so is very clever. He was holding his government post for a few months. Look, he’s built a big house for himself, bought cars and established a big businesses.”
It’s a rare occurrence when someone asks how the money was attained. We are unwittingly condoning corruption instead of condemning it.
The business community: Somalia hasn’t had a functioning central government for nearly three decades. A lack of regulation has created ‘dodgy’ millionaires in every sector.
For instance, there are some who import expired goods cheaply; turning Somalia into a dumping ground for all sorts of hazardous products. In particular, expired food and medicines are causing death and suffering amongst the population.
These irresponsible businessmen do not value human lives. They sell products at inflated prices to inflate their bottom line.
Paying tax and contributing to the common good is not in their mission statement. For them, any form of authority or regulation is unwelcome. They work with groups, Somalis or otherwise, that knowingly prevent the materialisation of a functioning Somali state.
They know how to silence their critics. Government officials, including ministers, fear for their lives and cannot even mount a challenge. Most of them want Somalia to remain a lawless place. They don’t know any other way. To them, profit comes before the interest of the Somali nation.
Al Shabab is the most visible problem in the international arena. The al Qaeda-linked group controls large parts of southern and central Somalia. They want to establish their so-called ideal Islamic nation. Al Shabab militants regularly carry out bombings and targeted killings. Somalis, as a result, are losing their lives and their livelihoods.
The bigger issue, however, is that Al Shabab is being used as a means to achieve other goals. Forces from Ethiopia, Kenya, several other African nations, America, Britain and many unknown actors all operate within Somalia — and all have separate agendas. Certainly, Somalis don’t believe they are there to help.
The rebuilding of the Somali nation is seemingly becoming an anti-Al Shabab project. We are at the frontline of the so-called ‘War on Terror.’ War can be a profitable business and to some, Somalia is ‘a good project’ and ‘long it may continue.’
Our leaders must be brave enough to seek dialogue with Al Shabab and to bring this conflict to an end.
Neighbouring countries, in particular Ethiopia and Kenya, are currently part of the African Union forces fighting Al Shabab. Nevertheless, their hostility towards Somalia predates the militants.
They dedicate energy and resources to prevent Somalia from becoming a strong and prosperous nation. Why? Ethiopia and Kenya both occupy territories inhabited by Somalis; the Ogaden and the NFD (National Frontier District) respectively.
These are artificial boundaries that separate families. Widespread abuses against the Somali populations under Ethiopian and Kenyan authorities are well documented. Naturally, Somalis want their basic human right to unite and live under one flag as a nation. Somalia fought disastrous wars against these countries to regain the control of the Ogaden and the NFD.
Ethiopia and Kenya fear a powerful Somalia and feel it is in their interest that Somalia remain weak and divided. But if we are to ever achieve a lasting peace in the region, then Ethiopia and Kenya must accept the redrawing of the artificial boundaries set by European occupiers. Let Somalis live in peace as a family.
Western governments led by the US and the UK, have been doing more harm than good in Somalia. Historically, European colonisers divided the Somali nation, and later gave the land and people to their Ethiopian and Kenyan allies. This created a state of permanent hostility between Somalia and its neighbours.
Then came the arming of Somali warlords, who raped and murdered innocent Somalis. Today, it’s about fighting Al Shabab. Western governments repeatedly claim that they give millions of dollars to ‘help’ Somalis. But they cannot show a single school, hospital, road or anything concrete that they have done. It’s usually ‘we work in the security sector.’ If pouring more weapons into Somalia or assisting those sabotaging the nation is ‘help’, then Somalis can’t afford it.
The downing of two American Black Hawks in 1993 still haunts US foreign policy circles. Now America has mainly outsourced on the ground fighting to Somalias tradition foes, Kenya and Ethiopia.
The downing of two American Black Hawks in 1993 still haunts US foreign policy circles. Now America has mainly outsourced on the ground fighting to Somalias tradition foes, Kenya and Ethiopia.
Finally, there’s ‘The Nairobi Mafia,’ a term used by Somalis to describe a coalition of diplomats, journalists, so-called experts, consultants, international NGOs, former Somali warlords, and businessmen. These people work in cahoots and are the go-to guys for Somali affairs.
In fact, they have been running Somalia from their Nairobi offices for many years; advising and influencing key international players. With thousands of workers, the industry is the biggest employer in Somalia (many of them are not Somalis and don’t live in the country). Most of them earn a handsome salary, live in big villas and lead a comfortable life. Hence, they regard the establishment of a Somali authority as a threat to their livelihood. They discredit and dehumanise any Somali who attempts to challenge their power.
Untangling all these snakes will be a huge challenge. But Somalis have had to overcome unimaginable obstacles in the past and I am confident the new generation will prevail.
More airstrikes, less aid not enough to secure Somalia
The end-of-2017 U.S. decision to suspend military aid to the Somali national army until the federal government can demonstrate better accountability and performance of its forces is appropriate.
However, as I saw during my December research in Somalia, even combined with the significant increase in U.S. air strikes against the jihadi group Al Shabab, the U.S. policy is inadequate.
To mitigate terrorism threats and foster stability in the country, the United States must do what the Trump administration explicitly disavows: Focus on internal governance and state-building and insist on far broader accountability of Somalia’s federal and state governments and powerbrokers toward their citizens. Otherwise, the brutal Shabab or its mutation will remain entrenched.
In 2016, Somalia received about $250 million from the international community for its security sector, following years of similar contributions. Yet, its army is not able to engage even in joint patrolling with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces, let alone hold territories nominally cleared of al Shabab.
The Somali National Army (SNA) rosters have some 29,000 individuals on its payroll, of which some 12,000 may actually be soldiers with some capacity to fight. The rest are ghost soldiers, widows and the elderly. Despite the massive international aid, the military’s training remains inadequate, and equipment is siphoned off to clans and al Shabab.
Because of theft and corruption, soldiers’ salaries are not paid regularly, though Somalia’s current president Mohamad Abdullaji “Farmajo” Mohamad managed to cut the salary arrears from six months to two. As with many aspects of Somalia’s social and political life, the soldiers’ primary loyalties are not to the state, but to fractious clans.
Somali national security forces do not take the fight to al Shabab; but neither, any longer, does the supposedly 22,000-strong AMISOM. For some two years, it has remained in static positions, often locked-in garrisons.
It too struggles with effectively holding territory, with various clan and warlord militias and semi-official police forces most frequently performing that function. Often they extort local populations, engage in retaliation against rival and minority clans or steal land and other economic resources.
Still, when AMISOM withdraws from territories, as happened in 2017 and with further “conditions-based” withdrawals slated by 2020, security tends to deteriorate significantly and al Shabab fills the void. Its return exacerbates insecurity as the group punishes collaborators with AMISOM and the government.
Although much weaker than in 2012, al Shabab still controls significant territory and regularly conducts attacks in much of the country, including in Mogadishu. The intensified U.S. air strikes on al Shabab’s massing forces and vehicles significantly complicate its operations.
But they mostly disperse the militants, including to Mogadishu, with the same security vacuum left behind. Reliance on flipped and washed-out Shabab commanders, such as Ahmed Madobe in Kismayo and recently Mukhtar Robow and their militias, may bring immediate tactical gains. But if the politics and governance this unleashes remains predatory, discriminatory and capricious, the gains are ephemeral.
Although only numbering between 2,000 and 3,000 fighters, and despite its brutal and unpopular backward version of Islam, al Shabab remains deeply entrenched. Systematically, it outperforms the national government and local powerbrokers in the provision of order and brutal, although not corrupt, justice.
Meanwhile, official Somali political processes and public institutions remain in the pockets of powerful clans, which discriminate against their rivals and advance narrow parochial interests. They are also pervaded by corruption and usurpation of public resources for private gain.
Thus, even Mogadishu residents often prefer to approach al Shabab for the resolution of land and other disputes: Its decisions are widely seen as swift and not corrupt. Using al Shabab-controlled roads is predictable and safe at least for those who don’t collaborate with the government. Buses, taxis and trucks are charged a flat fee upon arriving at a Shabab checkpoint and given a receipt. Their cargo is safe.
Roads controlled by Somali national forces or militias feature many unpredictable fees and robberies are frequent. Thus Somali businessmen, including those based in Mogadishu, often hire al Shabab for security provision for their businesses.
Al Shabab also adroitly exploits widespread clan discrimination, aligning itself with weaker clans and providing them with protection and resource access. Its domestically-oriented recruitment propaganda emphasizes very specific local grievances and cases of power abuse and resource theft, not ideology.
For the United States to robustly weaken al Shabab, it must induce the Somali government to be accountable to the citizens, to deliver public services and to minimize clan discrimination and the exclusion of minority clans.
Priority must be given to reducing corruption in the justice system and in public and commercial contracts and to expanding access to resources for less powerful clans and individuals.
At the end of the day, al Shabab will need to be integrated into Somali society through accountability and reconciliation processes to which the various clan militias and flipped powerbrokers will also need to be subjected.
Vanda Felbab-Brown is a senior fellow in the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution.
A Trump decree is killing innocent civilians in Somalia
US President Donald Trump loves signing executive orders. During his first year in office, he has signed dozens of controversial orders on a wide variety of subjects, ranging from national security to trade.
Some of these executive orders, such as the ones on the Muslim travel ban and the Mexican border wall, received a lot of media attention and triggered protests around the world. But many other decisions by the president, causing death and destruction in faraway places like Somalia, went considerably unnoticed.
Only weeks after taking office, Trump signed a directive declaring parts of Somalia an “area of active hostilities”. This declaration relaxed some of the rules aimed at preventing civilian casualties when the US military carries out counterterrorism strikes in Somalia.
The Pentagon claimed that this order expanded its targeting authority “to defeat al-Shabab in Somalia” in partnership with the African Union and Somali forces. But, in practice, what this order did was little more than allow US soldiers to “kill at will” and with impunity within the borders of Somalia.
This is illegal, immoral and counterproductive.
An illegal order
The US aerial bombardment of Somalia started during George Bush’s “war on terror”, but the number of civilian casualties was minimal back then. Since the current US president “relaxed” the rules of engagement, the number and scope of these attacks increased dramatically, leading to many civilian casualties.
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, there were 32 to 36 reported US drone strikes in Somalia between 2001 and 2016. In 2017, 34 air and drone strikes were carried out, killing more than 200 people.
Al-Shabab, an al-Qaeda-linked militant group, is the official target of most US drone strikes in Somalia. Its ultimate objective is to overthrow the government in Mogadishu and establish a new state in its place. Several African nations have been battling the armed group for over a decade, but Western nations, including the US, are now overtly leading the fight.
In the process, Washington appears to be relying on backdoor dealings and violating the sovereignty of an independent nation. It is not clear who authorises the air and drone strikes the US is conducting.
Somalia is not the “failed state” it once was – it is no longer a playground for uninvited foreigners. Today, there’s an internationally recognised administration in Mogadishu with functioning judicial, legislative and executive branches, and this administration, not Donald Trump, should be the one “authorising” the measures that can be used in the fight against al-Shabab in the country.
Somalia’s constitution clearly states that the country’s sovereignty is inviolable. Its legislative and executive branches are responsible for the security of the nation and only they can decide on military action. Without their approval, attacks are in violation of the nation’s sovereignty and are therefore illegal.
Immoral attacks on innocent civilians
The US cites its national interests and security as a pretext to conduct attacks on alleged al-Shabab bases in Somalia. No one is denying some of those killed as result of these strikes are indeed al-Shabab fighters, but the vast majority of the victims are civilians.
We know this because al-Shabab usually confirms the deaths of its senior commanders and fighters. We have witnessed this when Sheikh Ali Jabal, a senior al-Shabab commander in Somalia, was killed in a US strike in August last year. “The cowardly American enemy planes tried to strike him,” the group said in a statement circulated on social media. “The first missed him and the second hit, making him a martyr.”
Al-Shabab leaders do not try to hide the deaths of the group’s commanders and members, because they know that this would be a hard and futile task. Information about these deaths can easily surface through the clans and communities their fighters hail from.
So, when we see statements by US forces declaring that they killed dozens of “terrorists” in Somalia and hear no confirmation from al-Shabab leadership about these deaths, we question the validity of US claims about the identities of the victims.
Most civilian deaths do not get global attention because the attacks take place in al-Shabab-controlled areas. This makes it impossible for journalists and international human rights groups to investigate.
Sometimes local media publish photos and names of the civilian victims of US attacks. But even this depends on the victim’s clan. If a victim belongs to a minority clan that holds no political power, the government will easily dismiss them as “terrorist sympathisers”.
On August 17, 2017, the US launched three precision air strikes in the southern town of Jilib. US Africa Command released a statement claiming to have “killed terrorists”. However, the victims, seven of them, were civilians from the same family. Photos of their bodies and the remnants of their house were widely published in Somali media. But the victims belonged to a minority clan that has no power and influence in Somalia, and their relatives’ desperate plea for justice perished soon after they buried their loved ones.
A few days later, another US-led military raid took place in Bariire village, 45km from Mogadishu, killing 10 people, including children. Again, the Somali government and the US claimed that they only “killed terrorists”. This time, however, the victims hailed from an influential clan. Survivors and relatives challenged the false official claims about the attack.
To prove their case, family members took an unprecedented step and transported the victims’ bodies to the capital city to put them on display. Due to the pressure, government officials met relevant clan elders, apologised and agreed to pay compensation.
Despite the solid evidence and a confirmation from the Somali government, the US administration still insists that victims of this attack were not civilians. By denying facts, the Trump administration is damaging US reputation as a nation that respects human rights and the rule of law.
A counterproductive campaign
The US military campaign in Somalia will not yield any results.
Bombs dropped from the sky will certainly take out a few al-Shabab commanders; two of their former leaders were already killed by the US. They may also force their operatives into hiding or restrict their movements. But killing a few commanders and fighters isn’t going to bring the demise of the group.
After all, al-Shabab’s success is not based on individuals – it’s based on an ideology and you cannot defeat an ideology with bombs.
Somalis won’t be outraged over the fight against al-Shabab and the killing of the group’s fighters. People in the country understand these men have signed up to kill or be killed.
But the indiscriminate killings of civilians is antagonising Somalis. This gives legitimacy to the militant group as a resistance movement, especially within communities living under its rule. Every innocent person killed by the US is a gain for al-Shabab. Victims’ family members and fellow clansmen will seek retaliation. To them, revenge is an act of justice.
Most of the victims of US military operations in Somalia are farmers and nomads who have no animosity towards the American people. US bombardment is forcing many to flee their homes. In recent months, we have seen “drone refugees” arriving in Mogadishu’s overcrowded camps for the internally displaced. Children are traumatised by the constant fear of bombs falling from the sky.
Mr Trump, your bombs are breeding the next generation of suicide bombers in Somalia. Fight al-Shabab but stop terrorising innocent Somalis. To achieve any success, you must respect international and Somali law, reverse your immoral actions and rethink your strategy in Somalia.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.
Why grassroot reconciliation can speed up rebuilding of Kenya’s neigbour Somalia
I was at a restaurant in Mogadishu in 2014 when a man approached me and unexpectedly confessed to having been part of the gang that attacked my home in Mogadishu in 1992 in which my 18-month-old daughter, Yasmin, was brutally killed.
The man then fervently and remorsefully begged for my forgiveness, saying the matter had troubled him for many years. Initially, I felt so much anger with memories of my lifeless daughter flooding back to my mind. I felt like killing him on the spot to revenge my daughter’s death.
But after some moments of silence, I felt some calm return to my heart. I then told him I had forgiven him. The man hugged me and we both couldn’t hold back tears. Immediately after the incident, I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I felt whole again. This personal incident, if nothing else, strengthened my conviction about the need for reconciliation to heal Somalia.
No doubt, Somalia is making modest progress in rebuilding itself from the destruction wrought by decades of catastrophic civil war but the crucial agenda of grassroots truth, justice and reconciliation is not receiving the attention it desperately deserves.
The civil war not only precipitated the meltdown of state institutions and destruction of infrastructure and the economy, but also the unravelling of the social and cultural fabric of the country. Without deliberate efforts to rebuild the shattered trust and goodwill and address deep-seated grievances between individuals, families and communities at the grassroots level, reconstruction efforts will not be sustainable and durable.
Somalia is one of the few countries in Africa with a homogenous population that shares language, religion, bloodlines and culture but the widespread violence, human rights violations and injustices during the civil war exacerbated social divisions and disharmony mainly along clan lines.
Until now, not much has been done to repair those relationships, build bridges and address underlying grievances thus eliminating common spaces for dialogue, accommodation and coexistence. There have been many conferences since the early 1990s ostensibly to bring about reconciliation between various segments of the Somali population but they have hardly had any impact in the grassroots.
This is partly because the initiatives have largely been dominated by politicians and clan leaders, including warlords, without much involvement of the people in the grassroots who should be the main drivers of such initiatives in a bottom-up way. In fact, the conferences have been more about power-sharing between clan leaders than fostering genuine grassroots truth, justice and reconciliation.
The searing impact of the Somali civil war has been so widespread that it is difficult to find a Somali national who is not nursing deep-seated grievance and trauma due to the killing of loved ones or loss of property or dignity. That’s why the time for Somalia to have its own indigenous process of truth, justice and reconciliation is long overdue.
The process will give space to the people to explore the full extent of the crimes and violations that occurred in the civil war and continue to occur; come to terms with the pain, anger and grief as well as look into appropriate avenues of justice, compensation, forgiveness and reconciliation.
‘When the incident was reported by local media, similar incidences also emerged in various parts of the country. That’s why since then I have been keen to use that personal story with a hope of promoting grassroots reconciliation in Somalia. However, there is a pressing need for a more structured process so that the Somali nationals can explore the dark past together and come to terms to it.
Somalia can benefit from the experiences of countries such as Rwanda which deployed traditional methods of justice and reconciliation to address the aftermath of the 1994 genocide. Somalia too has rich traditional and religious systems that can be tapped to successfully address to rebuild the shattered social fabric in the war-torn country.
Before Somalia can take its rightful place in the community of nations, it must bravely face and address the horrors and dark corners of its history during the civil war through a grassroots truth, justice and reconciliation process.
By Ambassador Mohamed Ali Nur
Ambassador Nur (Americo) is a former Presidential candidate in Somalia (2017) and former Somalia envoy to Kenya (2007-2015) firstname.lastname@example.org
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