Building Peace From Below?

May 05 00:12 2017 Print This Article


A preliminary report by Bernhard Helander

in cooperation with Mohamed Haji Mukhtar and I. M. Lewis

Based upon original field research by Mohamed Haji Mukhtar

Commissioned by the Life & Peace Institute, Uppsala

April 1995

The most essential finding of this study is that the District Councils do not stand on their own. They cannot be regarded as autonomous bodies and it has been impossible to view them in isolation from the political context in which they exist. A general feeling among the Bay and Bakool regions’ inhabitants – including many of the councillors – is that the District Councils are the creation of UNOSOM and that they will disappear when UNOSOM leaves the country.

One often-quoted indication of that this is so, is that no agreed-upon procedure exists for replacing councillors that leave their seats. That, however, is not the same as to say that the District Councils in Bay and Bakool region are without significance or that they lack functions within the current political climate. This brief preliminary report seeks to position the District Councils within their extremely vibrant political context. In a final section some remarks of a more general nature are presented.


This report presents the preliminary findings of the first independent study of the District Councils in Somalia. Commissioned by the Life and Peace Institute in Uppsala, this report is based upon recent original field research in the Bay and Bakool regions of southern Somalia by Professor Mohamed Haji Mukhtar, Savannah State College, in cooperation with Professor I. M. Lewis, London School of Economics, and Dr. Bernhard Helander, Uppsala University. (In the following these persons are referred to as the “study group.”)

The District Councils (DC) that the United Nation’s Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM 2) began implementing shortly after the Addis Ababa peace accord in March 1993 were said to form part of a “two-track approach” to Somali reconciliation, where grass-roots were to be actively involved in the peace process in addition to the high level peace talks among the militia leaders.

The District Councils were also to provide local administration and would be part of a institutional build-up and help in coordinating foreign aid programmes. In addition, District Councils were to form the lowest level of recruitment into the Transitional National Council.

Since the onset of District Council-activities in May 1993, the Life and Peace Institute have been working closely together with UNOSOM’s Political Division on various aspects related to the planning and implementation. LPI organized a workshop for a group of Somali and international academics who, together with representative of UNOSOM’s political division, discussed drew up plans for how the implementation ought to proceed, what the principal difficulties may be expected to be, and how these could be solved.

LPI also recruited three Somali “liaison officers” that were seconded to UNOSOM’s Political Division and assigned the task of assisting in the process of forming the councils. In addition, LPI provided the means for education of the District Councils’ members and was also instrumental in the search for funds to equip the newly formed councils with basic office equipment.

However, during following year, i.e. from May 1993 to May 1994, the role of the District Councils became more and more unclear. While given a prominent role in UNOSOM’s rhetoric, it became increasingly unclear what role, if any, that was actually played in the Somali political reality by the councils that had been established.

This study, the field phase of which was conducted during July, August and September 1994, aimed originally to clarify what the District Councils are and what they are not. There were principally four major dimensions of questions that formed the point of departure for this study:

1. To examine to what extent the District Councils set up by UNOSOM are able to function as platforms from which local voices can be articulated.

2. To examine to what extent the District Councils are able to identify and resolve local conflicts.

3. To examine to what extent traditional or other spontaneously organized peace-initiatives are made part of, or incentive for, the political developments in the districts and beyond.

4. To examine the district council’s degree of independence vis-à-vis UNOSOM, the militias and other influential actors.

These ambitions formed a point of departure for a report that, as it was planned, would basically be fact-finding in nature. The terms of reference for the study group, worked out by the group and the Life and Peace Institute, did not specifically mention that recommendations on policy regarding the District Councils should be offered.

However, by mid-October it became clear to the study group that UNOSOM’s mandate would not be extended beyond March 1995 and this implied that the nature of this report drastically changed. One of the principal questions — broth from the perspective of future LPI involvement in Somalia and, more importantly, from the perspective of Somali political realities — became whether the District Councils would be able to stand on their own in post-UNOSOM Somalia.

While this issue had already been addressed during the field phase it required the study group to carefully consider the shifting political circumstances that this study would now be applied to, and, in consequence, a set of substantial recommendations have been added.


This study rests on field research carried out in two out of Somalia’s twelve regions, the Bay and Bakool regions. The selection of these two regions as the focus was guided by both pragmatic concerns as well as principal considerations. The study group’s ambition throughout has been to provide an independent review of the District Councils carried out by accomplished academics with a thorough background in Somali studies.

When it also became apparent that a Westerner for security reasons would be unable to carry out the ambitious study programme, that limited the number of candidates considerably. A Somali researcher, however, would for security reasons not be in a position cover a very large number of regions.

Faced with the choice of either redesigning the approach so as to be able to approach a large number of regions, or, to focus on a more limited selection of regions that could be regarded as representative, the latter alternative was chosen.

The choice fell upon the Bay and Bakool region for one simple reason: it was generally argued that these were the two regions where the District Councils had been most successful. This view was shared by both UNOSOM, LPI, the LPI liaison officers as well as by people outside UNOSOM who were often very critical of the entire District Council approach.

Consequently, the study group reasoned, if positive traits of the District Councils existed, these ought to be most pronounced in these two regions. Conversely, if negative traits were discovered there, these would be even more pronounced elsewhere.

The qualitative methodology employed draws inspiration from the so-called Participant Rural Appraisal set of techniques. However, this set of very visible techniques was complemented by basic anthropological field techniques such as extensive interviewing of key-informants and participation in meetings and other settings crucial to the current developments in the two regions.

The most valuable methodological aspect of the study was the fact that the field researcher himself is an accomplished researcher (historian) who is from the area and well connected with some of the politically most significant actors. In addition, while the research itself was carried out by only one person, the design of the study as well as the debriefing was a team work in which anthropologists with a long-standing expertise on the area participated.

Both during the briefing and the debriefing of Professor Mukhtar, the team could benefit from comparing notes with the situation recorded in the 1960’s by professor Lewis and during the 1980’s recorded by Dr. Helander.

The field phase followed a rigorous research design which is reproduced here as an appendix. The aim of the design was to standardize the approach and to be able to check the methodology by varying the techniques employed. Thus, for instance, while in roughly half of the districts studied the researcher first approached people that were associated with the District Council, in the other half he first concentrated on people that were not.

While this two different techniques have produced no detectable difference in the material, the idea was to minimize and control the impact made by the very presence of someone asking questions about the district council.

In order to answer the question whether the District Councils in Bay and Bakool regions represents a viable, grass-roots approach to reconciliation it is necessary to view them within the context of the larger political developments in these two regions.

The same perspective must also be taken into account in order to understand whether the District Councils are representative of the local population or not and, furthermore, the current effectiveness of the District Councils can only be determined if their actions are seen within the context of the actions of other political bodies exerting influence on the events in the regions.

In the following pages we attempt to present an outline of the District Councils’ relations to other political bodies, their representativity, their functionality and the problems they have encountered. This outline is based on a selection of four out of the ten districts in the two regions. These four districts, however, represents accurately the range of variability with regards to a number of crucial parameters that can be expected to affect District Councils as (see table 1).

NameEcology/EconomyClan compositionPopulation density
BaydhaboUrban commercial centre plus agricultural areaLarge number of different clansHigh
Bur HakabaRural agricultural areaSingle clan dominanceHigh
DhinsoorRural agricultural and pastoral areaSingle clan dominance, contested by other clansLow
HuddurUrban commercial centre plus agricultural and pastoral areaLarge numbers of different clansHigh

The study region

The Baay and Bakool regions were the ones most seriosuly affected by the consequences of the civil war in 1992. The famine which ensued killed hundreds of thousands of people and forced others in to internal exile to camps surrounding the major southern population centres. The population of Bay and Bakool region is made up chiefly of clans belonging to the two groups known as Merifle and Digil.

Their two regions constituted a united administrative zone — known as the Alto Giuba — until the Siyad Barre’s regional reform 1973. At the time it was widely felt that the reason for dividing the region was to hand over the Bakool region into the hands of the Daarood clans. This was also discernible in the results from the elections during the 1950’s and 60’s where the four parliamentary seats for Huddur, originally held by Merifle gradually fell into the hands of Daarood representatives.

Throughout the military regime of Siyad Barre, key administrators on all levels came from other clans than the local ones. This fact, combined with Digil/Merifle’s historical experiences of having been marginalized politically, contributed into initially shaping very positive attitudes towards the District Councils.

Some informants remarked that “this is the first time ever that the Digil and Merifle have been allowed to rule over themselves.” However, the question remains whether the district councils actually do rule things, or whether governance is located elsewhere in the plethora of overlapping and cross-cutting political bodies currently existing in the Bay and Bakool regions.

It is extremely difficult to assess the number of inhabitants of this region. No modern census has ever been made fully available and it is reasonable to assume that the following figures are underestimated. A detailed study of the Bay region in the mid 1980’s set the number of rural inhabitants at 431,938 (BRADP 1984). However, one should also add the town of Baydhabo that had at least 25,000 permanent dwellers.

Bakool region had according to the 1975 census 161 000 inhabitants (GSDR 1984). Lower Shabeele had according to the same source 348 000.

A brief political history

Since the ousting of Siyad Barre in January 1991, the Bay and Bakool regions have experienced a series of consecutive occupations by militias belonging the powerful Daarood and Hawiye clans. Their own political party, the SDM, has been to weak to organize armed resistance against such incursions and as a result has had to ally itself with powerful outside organizations in the hope of gaining protection and arms.

As a result the SDM was split into one Ali Mahdi oriented branch and one Aideed oriented branch. In January 1993, following the first Addis Ababa agreement, it was decided that SDM should seek internal reunification before the March reconciliation conference.

Delegates from all Merifle clans (in Somalia and abroad) and from some Digil clans convened in Boonka, outside Baydhabo, for that purpose in early March, 1993. Most Digil clans were unable to attend the meeting due to the fact that they remained under occupation by SNA.

The Boonka meeting was extremely successful and represents a landmark in inter-riverine history. A unification was obtained between all the clans participating and a new chairman of SDM was unanimously elected. The meeting also appointed a committee of clan leaders to be in charge of the daily affairs of the areas under control.

This committee is made up of all 25 Merifle clans plus one of the 7 Digil clans (the Dabarre). Some clans have more than one representative since they are resident in more than one place. Provisions have also been made to accommodate the remaining Digil clans, they majority of whom live in the Lower Shabele region when they see it fit to join.

This committee, known as “The Supreme Committee” (Guddiga Sare) or, perhaps more correctly, “The Committee of Clan Chiefs” (Guddiga Malaqiiyada), has since the Boonka meeting taken an unprecedented lead in the administration of the two regions. There is hardly any event that goes unnoticed by the Guddiga Malaqiiyada (GM).

However, the outcome of the Boonka meeting was never accepted by UNOSOM. In consequence, the two previous chairmen of the Aideed and Ali Mahdi wings of the SDM were allowed to continue to represent the inter-river region despite their lack of constituencies, and the Bonka meeting became regarded as a third, illegitimate, branch of SDM. In daily parlance this branch has become known as SDM-Boonka.

Some of the institutions that were created by the Boonka meeting or which, like the GM, played an instrumental role in bringing about the meeting, has become seen as related to that branch of the party as well, at least by outside observers. While the GM existed prior to the Boonka meeting, they have still become subjected to that attitude, although they remain both institutionally and personally distinct from the central committee of the party.

In the current political life of Bay region the GM has an outstanding role. There is no single force having the same authority, possessing similar skills, enjoying the same popular support or that can boast a similar record of successful actions. The GM is involved in nearly every single dispute or act of violence that involves members from more than one clan. Since settling of blood disputes traditionally has been the domain of the clan chiefs (sing. Malaq ) in cooperation with the elders (akhiyaar), the GM functions as a natural extension of traditional jurisdiction in such and other conflict-related matters.

The GM does not have regular meeting days or a particular place in which to assemble. The reason is that the members are constantly on the move seeking information about various disputes or intervening and negotiating. However, the role of GM goes beyond that of traditional elders. Never before in its entire history has the clans of the inter-river areas been able to act concertedly to the same extent as the GM currently facilitates.

When UNOSOM’s political office approached the three SDM branches to obtain names of persons that could be put up in the District Councils, the SDM-Boonka (the only of the three branches who at the time effectively remained present with an organization based in the region) in turn consulted with the GM in order to get their view.

It is the view of this report that UNOSOM would have been unable to create a single District Council in the Bay and Bakool regions unless the GM had assisted the process. In all other matters relating to reconciliation, build-up of police force, a recreation of the criminal courts, etc., the GM has played an equally significant role — often in the background — providing advice, anchoring decisions in the different local communities and many other crucial tasks.

Having noted the authoritative role currently played by the GM, some of the unclear aspects of this body has also to be recorded. It is unclear what the limits of the GM’s constituency currently are. To some extent it appears to be limited to the Bay region because the chiefs of the clans in Bakool region have a similar organization on their own.

The Bakool region’s GM also incorporates the chiefs of the Daarood and other non-Merifle clans that inhabit that area and this is reported to have met some resistance from the GM of Bay region. However, in some respects it appears that the GM of Bay region also has some degree of influence over the Bakool region; after important decisions have been taken in Baydhabo the GM has several times sent mission to Bakool to inform leaders there.

In summary: the formation of the GM, the Boonka meeting and the more recent (March 1995) SDM unification meeting with the pronunciation of the autonomy for the Bay and Bakool regions thus representone type of political trend towards increased high-level agreement among the Merifle and Digil clans of the area. At this level common interests vis-à-vis other clusters of clans are clearly articulated and the leadership are clearly able to strike accords and agreements that reinforce and consolidate the two regions as a unified political arena.

Yet, there is another significant trend in the political life of the region. This is the articulation of the clan-level of identity. This trend is situated at a lower level of the political life of the area. It has to be appreciated that throughout its known history, Merifle clans have always allowed for immigrants to settle with them and to become adopted as full members of the clan.

This has never been the question of peripheral events but, rather, the institution of adoption — allowing relatively free movement throughout the area inhabited by Merifle clans — is so central that in some clans the number of adopted members have overshadowed that of original members. In the past the clan identity as such was also simply one of a set of identities that a person had.

Equally important to whom a person was considered to be, was one’s residence. In many daily contexts the ties to a community of residence actually were counted as more important than those one held to a clan.

There are actually some inter-clan communities in the inter-river area that, until a few years ago, were entirely based upon the residential ties of its members, and where the assertion of clanship ties occasionally could be seen as a breach of the community spirit. Examples of such areas include Baardheere and Daafeed, the latter sometimes referred to as Shaan Dhaafeed , “the five [of] Daafeed,” thus implicitly depicting the number of clans forming part of that cluster.

Today, following more than three years of civil war, much of that has changed. The clan level of identity has assumed a significance it probably never held in the past and “true descent,” rather than adopted one has come to be the idiom by which communities establish themselves. Subgroups of larger clans living in different communities are now in many cases regarded as different political bodies, each having its distinct leader.

Furthermore, some groups that in the past were regarded as “religious groups” not requiring a secular leadership on their own are now organized as the other clans. This is particularly notable for the Asheraf and the Heledi. Particularly the Asheraf has in the past always enjoyed a special status regardless of where they lived, frequently occupying central positions in the religious life of their various host communities.

Today, the Asheraf have moved towards establishing themselves as an “ordinary” clan and have their own malaq representing their interests in the GM.

There is one particular category of people in all clans that may possibly have become affected by this emergent clan focus. That is all the masses of people who, originally descended from other clans, had become adopted into host clans. This study has unfortunately not been able to provide full insight in the possible change of status of these so-called sheegad groups of the Merifle clans.

While, as we have mentioned, larger groups of “alien” clan members that for decades have been living among other clans as fully integrated members now have begun to form political communities of their own, there is a lack of information about smaller units of adopted people. In the past, even without major social upheavals and long before the current “clanist” trend, it could happen that individuals and households adopted into a larger community or clan, while formally enjoining a secured status as protégés of that community, still faced rather precarious circumstances in times of drought and shortage.

Often such groups had to migrate yet again to, for instance, seek employment as wage labourers in other areas. While no authoritative study of this has yet been made, the study group is of the opinion that many of the internally displaced Somalis that to this day remain in the camps around larger urban centres, to a large extent are people that lack strong community ties and who therefore can only present vague claims on agricultural land in their home areas and that they may therefore resist attempts to be resettled.

It deserves to be emphasized that this is another problem than the theft of agricultural land that many groups (e.g. the so-called Goosha) have experienced in and around the river basins.

The articulation of the clan-level of identity has also meant that conflicts have arisen between clans to an extent that probably not has been the case previously. Clans are competing over political influence in whatever arenas that are available. From the perspective of the District Councils this has meant that the only firm criterion put upon representativeness of District Councils has been to what extent all clans in a certain area are represented.

Political competition between clans is not restricted to that which surrounded the creation of the District Councils but permeates every aspect of daily life in the Bay and Bakool regions. This is also apparent in the lore of sayings and proverbs which have arisen since the onset of the civil war.

While in the past there existed a plethora of such sayings that portrayed members of other clans in, usually, less favourable light as being cowards or having bad livestock, the sayings that are current all relate to the civil war; the Eelay are portrayed as looters, the Leysaan as power hungry, the Hadaamo as merciless etc.

This newly arisen clan-consciousness among the Merifle has also led to the formation of grievances and alliances among the clans of a more permanent nature. One concern of the Eelaay clan is that they have lost control of Baydhabo, a city where they, in terms of their majority, always have exerted a high degree of influence.

Together with many other clans they feel that they have lost a great deal of influence to which they ought to be entitled.

Another example is the general feeling that the Leysaan have carved out more than their fair share of political power in the current life of the region. The Leysaan clan currently holds both the chairmanship of the GM and also holds influential roles in the SDM-Boonka. In late 1994 there was an assassination attempt against one Leysaan member, Dr. Yusuf M. Amin “Badiyo” who is the General Secretary of SDM-Boonka.

Currently a kind of anti-Leysaan coalition have arisen counting members from the Maalin Wiine, Harien and Jiron clans.

All clans have their own, armed, militias. The armament frequently includes so-called technicals manned by the Merifle equivalent to the moriyaan of Mogadishu who in the May dialect are referred to ashalaal-ma-antey (“those who don’t eat pure food”). The militias appear to a high degree to be controlled by their respective clans, at least those that belong to the Merifle clans. There are some examples of how such militias occasionally can be utilized to safe-guard the general, inter-clan security.

When, for instance, UNOSOM troops pulled out of Huddur this left the city and region in a vacuum regarding security. The local police force was judged insufficient and unreliable to block the wave of looting and fighting that was feared, however, the chiefs of the local clans agreed to supply an equal number of men from each clan militia and these troops proved so able that the WFP — who had evacuated together with UNOSOM — returned after only one day.

The increased articulation of clan identities in combination with the level of armament possessed by the clan militias, have imposed a restriction on movement in the Bay and Bakool regions generally. Well-known members of any clan, including occasionally the members of the GM, cannot travel on their own without armed escort.

Even Professor Mukhtar during the field phase of this project — although he remains a most respected member of the Baydhabo community — found it difficult to travel freely and to visit whomever he liked. The current attitudes of clanship boundaries in the Bay region is such that nowhere are people anymore able to socialize and meet on the spur of the moment without taking into account the descent of the people with whom they want to meet.

This, again, goes against the traditional outlook of at least larger urban centres in the area. Even during the early 1990’s students and youth could mingle freely without much thought of clanship identity. Where clanship labels where uttered it mattered little as markers of social boundaries but was more a question of comparing differences, much like school children would pay attention to individual differences in bodily traits such as weight and height.

In summary, the extreme focus on clanship as a social divider on the grass-root level is a new phenomena in social and political life of the Merifle clans. It is thus paradoxically a trend that goes against the increased unification which exists on higher levels.

The District Councils

Bay and Bakool were the first regions were UNOSOM turned to in order to set up the District Councils. It was in these regions that the councils became “operational” first and it was also the regions that first saw the process move on towards the establishment of Regional Councils. It is significant that these two regions were chosen as a starting point because the District Councils formed part of a bottom-up UNOSOM strategy for reconciling warring factions.

However, although there are communities in Bay region that have been conquered three times by Hawiye and Daarood militias, and while hundreds of thousands of Merifle members were victimized during the famine of 1992, the Merifle clan militias were not in any sense of the word to be considered warring factions.

The procedure for setting up the councils had a fairly uniform appearance in all the districts of the two regions; arriving mostly by helicopter, the head of UNOSOM’s political division, Dr Leonard Kapungo, would approach local people encountered in the district centre and with the aid of one or two of the LPI Liaison Officers request the inhabitants of the district compile a list of members of a 21-seat council.

A point of time, usually a week after the first visit, would be agreed upon when UNOSOM would return to collect the list. In the meantime, UNOSOM consulted with “the parties,” i.e. the two wings of the SDM. However, since neither SDM-USC or USC-SNA had any mentionable following locally (the leaders reside in Mogadishu) these consultations cannot in any single case be established to have significantly altered the list of council members.

UNOSOM also consulted with the office of SDM-Boonka in Baydhabo and the Boonka group, in turn asked the GM for advice. The latter group, containing all the clan leaders from the region, naturally had a great influence on the selection process.

Unfortunately, it appears that Kapungo in some cases did not rely on the assistance of the Af-May speaking member of his team but that both he and the Somali members of the team had to seek local interpreters.

Throughout the selection process Dr Kapungo is described to have insisted on a fair division of seats among the constituent groups of the districts. In particular, he is reported to have encouraged that “minority groups” and “Bantu-people” should be given seats. In one or two cases he is said to have pointed to people and told them that since they were “Bantu,” they should have their own representative.

In brief, the opinion of the study group is that the selection process, and in particular the role played by UNOSOM leaves much to be wished for.

However, in several of the 10 districts studied it was clear that people felt a pride in having their own district council. This attitude is understandable given the fact that during the former military regime of Siyad Barre, the councils were appointed by the government and the key positions always occupied by people from other areas. There existed widespread feelings, both among ordinary people and among council members that the councils had been too much a creation by UNOSOM and that the councils would vanish when UNOSOM pulled out.

The study also revealed that the council members generally had a better-than-average schooling so that the members to the councils cannot be said to have been appointed on clan-balance criteria alone. Nevertheless, there was in several districts a dissatisfaction with the councillors that had been appointed. In several districts informal alternative bodies had been formed by people who felt that they would be in a better position to represent their district.

It is notable thatsuch grievances also existed within a single-clan district (Bur Hakaba). Few people in any district could name more than a handful of the council members.

With regards to the internal functioning of the councils it is clear that several of them did not meet on a regular basis. This was explained by the fact that they had relatively few tasks. Most councillors expressed the desire to be given tangible tasks, such as control over the police force. In at least one of the districts (Dhinsoor) most council members were more or less permanently out of the district and had gone to Baydhabo.

Few District Councils could point to any major task that they had carried out. While they wanted to play a role in reconstruction and disarmament they were aware of that these were tasks that fell outside their competence and that people expected other organizations (such as the GM) to take a leading role in.

Councillors also expressed a desire to initiate a taxation system but in districts who claimed that they had tried to do this, it had been found impossible for a variety of reasons. In one district (Baydhabo) it was claimed by one of the council members that they council had constructed some wells.

These wells were, however, never pointed out and it remains unclear whether they were not in reality the private property of that councillor.

There was one particular field in which all District Councils boomed with activity. Any person could apply for funds from UNOSOM for various projects. The only requirement was that the proposal had to bear the seal of and be signed by the District Council. At the time of the field phase of this study there was everyday in front of UNOSOM’s headquarters a long line of people with such proposals awaiting the approval by UNOSOM.

A major activity for the District Councils was to sign and stamp such proposals. There is a natural suspicion that this procedure was accompanied by a small “commission” to the councillors but this could not be established.

In summary, the councils appear in many cases to enjoy local goodwill and represent a fair amount of competence. However, they have been very peripherally involved in the practical affairs of their constituencies and have not in any single case been able to take a leading role in either administration or reconstruction.

Other significant political forces

There are currently in the Bay and Bakool regions a number of groups that have a very distinct influence on the course of events in the regions. Examples of such groups are primarily Islamist (“fundamentalist”) groups of various types and certain larger companies within the business community.

One of the militarily strongest such groups is the more than 400 strong militia controlled by Sheikh Ali Harin. Now styling himself Amir — a traditional Arabic title that means “commander” — this member of the Harin clan and former preacher in a Baydhabo mosque, claims to have an agenda that goes beyond mere Digil and Merifle interests. He claims to be ready to act when UNOSOM leaves the country.

His programme is a blend of Somali nationalism and radical Islamism. However, his movement — which has an emblem combining the Somali flag with an Arabic inscription calling for the application of the Shariya — does not appear to be related to any of the other Islamist movements which currently exist in Bay region and elsewhere in southern Somalia. Rather, his ambitions are widely feared and all persons contacted during this study argued that Sheikh Ali Hariin is going to create a lot of confusion.

Sheikh Ali himself said that he was confident that he would receive a gradually increasing support from those Islamist groups which now exist within every Somali clan. He also said that he was opposed to the GM because they do not apply the Shariya. His militia is not allied to any other militia and the forces which have been funded by the Sheikh’s call for sako-payments (a religious tax) appears to have recruited members from various different clans.

The militia was involved in some recent fighting in Dolo were another Islamist group clashed with troops loyal to the local District Council.

In Baydhabo there are two major Islamist organizations the Daar al-Hadith (“the land of the tradition of the prophet”) and the Daar Huneyn. The name of the latter refers to an incident in the Islamic history where a people perished due to their self-confidence. The tone of the message that these two groups are promulgating is of the type that Somalis need to repent and turn away from secular tribalism in order to form a nation again.

The two groups co-reside in the compound of Baydhabo’s former secondary school and have also occupied the old (Christian) chapel close to the spring. The Daar Huneyn have opened a school on the premises where currently they house 800 children of all ages from infancy to preteen. Many of these children are orphans that were assembled by members of the movement.

Apart from the school, there are two well-kept libraries on the premises with titles both in Arabic, English and Italian. Occasionally the local community is invited to attend lectures given there. The curriculum of the school is strongly Islamist and the opinions regarding the school and the organizations differ widely among the Baydhabo residents.

One often overlooked force on the political scene is that represented by the business community. Many indispensable items are provided to the markets throughout Somali by well-organized companies, many of whom operate on a inter-clan basis and that often have a vested interest in stability and peace — if only to help boost the demand for the products they are importing.

There is not limit to the type of goods that these companies are able to supply. Everything from building equipment and spare parts to cloth and chemicals may be and is imported. Some products — like khat — have a higher profile than others. The khat imports to Bay region alone amounts to 137,000 dollars. From Wilson Airport in Nairobi there are at least 16 daily flights taking khat to various places throughout Somalia.

One such Nairobi-based company which operates primarily in Bay region is called El-Ahli. It is run jointly by, primarily, members of the Leysaan and Asheraf clans. Another, extremely successful, company goes under the name of Puntabia. The latter has offices in Jiddah and Nairobi and are currently seeking to expand in the air transport market.

Ordinary people may sometimes reveal a confusion between deals and agreements struck in business circles and political agreements. It is not uncommon to pick up rumours of a “peace treaty” between a Merifle clan and, say, the Marehan. What is often at the heart of such stories is an agreement between two businessmen belonging to the respective clans.

While the El-Ahli currently do not appear to be active in the arms trade, others are. The markets in every population centre throughout the Bay and Bakool regions, as well as in the rest of southern Somalia, are well-equipped with both lighter and heavier weaponry and ammunition.

Concluding remarks

Bay and Bakool regions feature two type of political trends. On the one hand there is a tendency towards increased inter-clan cooperation in matters of political urgency and jurisdiction. This type of tendency exists on a high level of traditional leadership and appears to be dependent of the personal relations between the elected clan leaders.

This tendency is also represented by the recent attempts to merge the three SDM wings and by the declaration of autonomy. On the other hand, locally the main tendency goes in an opposed direction, towards increasing divisions. Clans that in the past had little difficulty to cooperate and coexist are now increasingly hostile.

In local communities the most important social asset is nowadays the clanship identity of a person.

While the two trends – local division and high-level cooperation – may appear paradoxically opposed they are both to be seen as consequences of the increasingly important focus on segmentary clanship in the area. Following the principal logic of this system, it is only at higher genealogical levels that cooperation is possible.

It is, however, exceptional in the political history of Somalia to find segmentary solidarity so articulate as in the current Digil/Merifle case.

It is the opinion of this study that district councils will find it increasingly difficult to operate. At this point they appear out of phase with the main thrust of political developments in the area. The local administration of disputes, resources and social affairs are firmly in the hand intra-clan institutions at various levels. Inter-clan cooperation is increasingly a matter that is handled outside of the local communities.

It may even turn out that the existence of District Councils may threaten to upset the smooth cooperation which exist at higher segmentary levels if they, as local organizations, stand forth and claim part of the authority that is currently in the hands of the elected clan leaders and the GM.

view more articles

About Article Author

Writer Team
Writer Team

View More Articles