Saturday, 14 November 2009

Why is Mogadishu still burning? Muuse Yuusuf

Why is Mogadishu still burning?
Muuse Yuusuf
September 03, 2009

Mogadishu in 1970s: metropolitan and tolerant city

As you read this article or break your fasting, Mogadishu remains the focus of so much tension and hostilities. The few remaining brave residents are left anxious, confused and apprehensive. In the last 20 years or so they hardly had a good night`s sleep without being awakened by the roar of a mortar shelling or bomb explosions. Their ears perforated and deafened by unbearable and threatening noises. Their days filled with the sad news of the death of a relative, a neighbour, a friend or a stranger killed by strayed bullets or bombs. Since April, the city has witnessed one of the worst cycles of violence. Some 200,000 people fled the city, seeking refuge and shelter in places as far away as Kenya and Ethiopia.

Understandably, most Somalis are perplexed by what is happening in this ghost but once beautiful city. They are desperately searching for answers to the question: Why is the city still burning when residents of other cities can enjoy a good night`s sleep without being disturbed by explosions? And what can be done to end the violence?

Let us try to seek some answers from recent history by analysing the different stages of the violence, its actors, the magnitude and scale of each stage in the city.

Mogadishu: the pride of all Somalis

It was in 1960 when the city finally came under the control of a Somali government and became the capital city of a modern Somali state. The city has been the country`s political, social and economic power-house for a very long time. Major political and economic decisions that affected people`s life, for example the decision to go war with neighbour countries; the decision to launch the national literacy campaign and many more important decisions were all taken in the city.

Because of its status, Somalis from all the walks of life developed strong emotional attachment to the city. The few Somali elite and middle classes who were lucky enough to get education achieved their academic qualification in Mogadishu institutes and universities. As far remote as Zeylac and Ras Kamboni, Somalis congregated in the city, seeking employment, education or wealth. They heavily invested in it sometimes at the expense of the cities of their homelands. Anyone who lived in Mogadishu prior 1990s can still remember the land grabbing that existed; how one was considered wealthy if they owned a property in Mogadishu; how the city-sprawling with people-grew in size, and new names such as Huriwa, Xamar Jadiid were added to the names of the city`s old quarters of Xamar Jab-Jab and Xamar Wayne.

In its booming business days, prominent wealthy people like the famous Jirde Hussein from the Northwest region and the Uunlaay brothers had their business headquarters in the capital; one only needs to remember the Jirde Hussein building, one of the city`s famous landmarks.

Socially, during its harmonious days, the city was a home for all Somalis regardless of their regional backgrounds or clan affiliation. They lived side by side in peace and harmony. I invite those of you who lived there to join me in remembering how families from different parts of the country lived in and shared houses, how your neighbour was someone from as far away places as Hargeysa, Baydhabo, or Kismayo, and how children played and went school together happily, and education was available to them regardless of their background.

In its amorous times, lovers kissed and held hands in Mogadishu`s gardens and streets. They got married regardless of their clan affiliation.

In its festive and ceremonial mood, national festivals like the Prima Luglio - the Independence Day – were held there, and city residents celebrated.

In its spiritual times, sheiks and their disciples would have said their prayers at the famous Arbaca Rukun mosque with its white minaret up in the sky as though competing with the spires of the Italian Roman Catholic Cathedral over the dominance of the city`s clear blue skies. A tolerant city it was.

Simply put it, the city was a real metropolitan city, and Somalis were proud of heir beloved city.

Mogadishu as a ghost city

Unfortunately, the above beautiful memories started to come to an end in late 1980s when the military regime started to hunt down suspected sympathisers of the then armed opposition groups, namely SSDF SNM et al.

Although Mogadishu`s residents sometimes felt the regime`s repressive measures and no one can deny that, it was not until the armed opposition group forces entered the city in 1991 in order to dislodge the military regime that the city became a place for every thing that is miserable, evil and hurtful. In the last days of its demise bombarded residential areas indiscriminately.

First exodus

It was early 1991s when the city witnessed the first massive exodus of people when militias, motivated by clan hatred, hunted down and chased away hundreds of thousands of its residents from other clans. Having lived there for centuries, those persecuted communities realised that Mogadishu was not their permanent home anymore and that they had to start a new life somewhere, probably as far away as Bosaaso, Hargeisa, Kismayo and Baydhabo. Certainly many of the people, who now are contributing to the construction and development of Bosaaso and Hargeisa, are people who were kicked out of Mogadishu.

Simply put it, the first exodus was probably caused by a mixture of the chaos and anarchy that ensued the collapse of the regime and a deadly ethnic cleansing exercise by some militias [Read1].

Maybe those lineage groups who were expelled from the city would nickname the first exodus as “Barakacii Darood (the Darood Exodus instigated by Hawiye). Also the expulsion of Benadirs and Xamar communities from the city is very important point to mention, hence Benadirs` exodus by Hawiye.

A divided city

The misery of city`s residents did not end there but the bloodshed continued when communities from the same clan family that chased out other clans slaughtered each other and the word “dagaal-ooge” (warlord) was probably created in the Somalis political dictionary. During the warlord times, the most famous features that city`s residents had to endure were the Isbaarooyin (road blocks) erected by the infamous Mogadishu warlords in order to harass, kill, and extort money from the public.

However, to be fair on history, there was no massive exodus from the city during the warlord era after the city had been cleansed of the other lineage groups. The city just remained divided with occasional outbreaks of brutal violence by warlords and their militias.

In mid 1990s, international force led by American forces and militias loyal to the late General Aidiid and his militia caused mayhem in city. This conflict was probably caused by a super power determined to pacify Mogadishu and a warlord that was out to resist what he saw as an occupation forces. At this time there was no massive displacement of people although there were heavy casualties and civilian deaths.

Second exodus

In 2006, when Ethiopia invaded Somalia illegally, the TFG and Ethiopian forces on one side, and insurgents groups on the other side committed atrocities in the city.

If one analysis that conflict one could see how it had all hallmarks of sectarian and vindictive clan conflict – in which some communities were targeted and chased out of Mogadishu. Some leaders of those communities who were expelled from Mogadishu in early 1990s were in power, and using foreign forces and the politics of “war on terror” as a disguise they executed their vindictive clan violence to avenge for their clansmen [Read2].

This exodus was the second major displacement of people since 1990s. Hundreds of thousands of its residents fled the city, seeking refuge in remote places as Galgaduud and Mudug. Those few residents who lived and still live in Mogadishu would testify that the violence during this period was the worst that the city had ever seen since 1990s. If one compares it to the violence during the warlord era – in which the city was divided - it looks though the city was safer and less violent particularly in terms of displacement of its residents.

Some Mogadishu residents have dubbed this exodus as “Barakacii Hawiye” (the displacement of Hawiye-Habargidir caused by Abdullahi Yusuf).

That violence ended when Ethiopian forces withdrew from Somalia.

Third exodus

The third exodus was set off by the return of the leader of ARS-Djibouti wing to Mogadishu. Feeling left out of the power struggle and betrayed by his friends particularly the current president the leader used the presence of AMISOM, which he sees as an occupation force, as a pretext to launch a massive attack on the TFG-II. It was because of this man`s inflammatory and seditious speeches that fuelled the killings in Mogadishu since April [Several interviews with Hassan Dahir Aweys].

Again hundreds of thousands of people fled the city.

If one analysis the latest violence it looks though that-although religious rhetoric was used as a cover up - vindictive sectarian clan politics were not absent from the scene. For example, some districts in the city that were safer in most of the violence (Kaaraan, Cabdul casiis) - were targeted. Those fled from the current violence are reportedly to come from current president`s close lineage groups (Mudulood). In other words those communities who were seen as associates of the previous TFG-I led by Abdullahi Yusuf were targeted in the current cycle of violence. And some of Mogadishu residents call the third exodus “Barakacii Mudulood” (the exodus of Mudulood instigated by Hassan Dahir Aweys). Perhaps one needs to put this in the context of vindictive clan politics in which the leader of the ARS-Asmara wing, using some members of the Mudulood community as a proxy and theology as a disguise – was possibly out to avenge for his clansmen who were targeted and chased out of Mogadishu during the TFG-I-Abdullahi Yusuf era. [Read4]

Besides the in-fighting of the dominant clan family in the city, leaders of other lineage groups may have been causing the violence to continue. In non-polite social circles and gatherings, members of some lineage groups don`t hide their anger over the loss of properties and loved ones and the humiliation they had suffered in the city in 1990s. And sadly because of that anger they see the bloodshed in the city as a punishment against their persecutors, the “other”. Or put it brutally Mogadishu residents “the other” deserve the death trap in which they find themselves for the crimes they had committed against other lineages. It is not hard to see or hear how some politicians, warlords and now clerics of “other” lineages are fuelling the violence in Mogadishu, and how militias coming from Kismayo, Bosaaso, Gedo and Baydhabo, are siding up with one of the fighting groups in the city under the pretext of theology etc. Examples of that include:

(i) Hassan Turki`s militias that had recently joined other “Islamist” groups to fight the TFG;

(ii) Abdullahi Yusuf`s militias from Puntland to exact revenge on behalf of their clansmen;

(iii) Ahmed Godane, Shongole, and Mukhtar Roobow et al, the mad-dogs of Al-Shabab-Wahabiyah enthusiasts who are now executing their vigour and appetite for perpetual violence in Mogadishu in the name of religion.

The other reason that might have been prolonging the violence is the sheer size of the city, which makes it very hard for any group to control it. Remember the city has been a home for millions of Somalis, and compared to other major cities e.g. Hargeysa, Boosaaso, it is probably the only city in Somalia where no single clan (within a clan family) has total control over it. Therefore all groups including the current TFG vs. “Islamists” groups, previous TFG-I, Ethiopian forces vs. the insurgency, warlords vs. warlords and even the UN-American led forces vs. warlord have failed to subjugate the city to a single authority except the six months that Islamic Courts Union forces were in power.


In the above scenarios one could see how sectarian and vindictive clan politics – be it within the same lineage or different lineage groups - have been fuelling the non-ending violence in Mogadishu since the collapse of the central government. The violence reminds me of an article written by Dr Abdishakur Jowhar on the psychology of tribal wars and sectarian genocide. Let me share with you some quotation:

“Tribal war is not about politics….. tribal warfare is about revenge. Tribes don`t fight for principles. They fight to get even.” “Tribal wars are therefore particularly and intentionally full of atrocities. Victims of tribal wars may be skinned or burned alive. Their dead bodies maybe mutilated and displayed. The aim of tribal revenge is not to achieve balance, but to attain vindication and total submission or extermination of the other. A tribe that fails the bloody test of revenge takes the risk of finding its resources, land and homes plundered, women carried off and men bullied.” [Read5]

Although the solution to the endemic violence in Mogadishu has to be part and parcel of any reconciliation initiatives there are things that could and should be done to reduce the violence in the city:

Leaders of the dominant clan family in Mogadishu and “other” lineage groups that were expelled from Mogadishu in 1990s should refrain from fuelling the violence through their religious rhetoric as a cover up for their sectarian agenda.

Temporarily, relocate the seat of the government to other cities e.g. Garawe or Burco! In another words Mogadishu not as a capital city but just an ordinary city until such a time when Somalis are ready to decide on a capital city. This measure will ease the pressure on the city, in which fighting groups always perceive its control as an ultimate target to be achieved as though that would give them legitimacy, hence perpetual violence and bloodshed.

The TFG should appoint a national commission to (i) investigate the atrocities that took place in Mogadishu; (ii) prepare a list of all properties that had been confiscated from “other “ lineage groups in 1990s and 2000s in view of returning them to their rightful owners. This task could be delegated to the current Mogadishu`s Mayoral Administration.

The safe return of those residents that have been displaced in recent fighting should be given priority.

Rather than using the same rhetoric and slogans of “Al-Qaacida, terrorism, extremism, Jihad” the TFG should reach out to those opposition groups in order to engage them in a political dialogue. Genuine reconciliation and dialogue is the only way out of the civil war.

And finally, to all Somalis wherever you are, may I ask you to please respect Mogadishu residents` right for a good night`s sleep just like their fellow residents of other cities are enjoying that inviolable human right.

Muuse Yuusuf

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