Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia

Case Study of a Grassroots Peace Making Initiative

By Matt Bryden and Dr. Ahmed Yusuf Farah, UNDP Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia


The self-declared Republic of Somaliland’s hard-earned reputation for peace and stability relative to the violent chaos in the rest of the ex-Somali Republic was shattered in November 1994 for the second time in only three years. Ever since, the country has been gripped by a civil war that has displaced hundreds of thousands of people, thoroughly destroyed parts of the major towns, and shaking confidence in the Republic’s most promising post-war experiment in self-government. Unlike previous Somaliland conflicts, however, the roots of the 1994-96 civil war extend beyond the boundaries of the fledgling state, as far as Moqdishu, Nairobi, and the now-defunct headquarters of the UN Operation in Somalia. The Somali diaspora in Djibouti, Ethiopia, the Gulf, Europe and North America have been part and parcel of the struggle. Similarly, the array of participants in the effort to restore peace to Somaliland is as diverse and as dispersed as those of actors in the conflict; of necessity, the peace effort has been lengthy, diffuse, and complex.

From the Booraame conference in May 1993 until October 1994, Somaliland enjoyed a brief period of political stability and a remarkable economic recovery under the rule of a weak but popularly elected government headed by President Haji Mohamed Ibrahim ‘Igal. This brief period of stability was maintained mainly by the popular desire of the Somaliland community for peace, as witnessed in the Booraame conference rather than ‘Igal’s ‘modern’ administration, the same way the euphoria over independence kept peace from the beginning of 1991 until the late in the same year. However, the brief lull experienced by the self-proclaimed Republic of Somaliland under ‘Igal’s administration was brought to an end by the outbreak of a second round of violence, when in the middle of October 1994, a long standing dispute over the control of Hargeysa airport between government forces made up of a coalition of loyal clans and opposition militias constituted of the disaffected Garxajis clan (Habar Yonis and ‘Iidagale) finally escalated into a sporadic fighting.

Although primarily located within the territory of Somaliland, the scope and duration of the war came to have a profound impact across the border in Ethiopia. At the time of writing, the Somaliland conflict is responsible for over 80,000 new refugees registered in Ethiopia, and tens of thousands more "unofficial" refugees scattered between Gaashamo, Jigjiga, and Addis Ababa. Over 180,000 refugees from the 1988-91 civil war have had their repatriation to Somaliland delayed by nearly two years, partly because of renewed instability in their homeland.

Since October 1994, the development of the Somaliland conflict has been closely observed through a broad spectrum of contacts and from various perspectives. Requested by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) at the outset of the fighting to provide a report and recommendations on the first major influx into Ethiopia of Somaliland displaced fleeing the civil war, the UNDP Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia has tracked events closely ever since, analysing political trends and monitoring external involvement in the conflict.

Beginning in early 1995, the UNDP-EUE also began to take notice of various Ethiopia-based initiatives aimed at restoring peace. Although several such efforts were to emerge, most evaporated, and in late 1995 a decision was made to encourage and support the most persistent group, the "Peace Committee for Somaliland", in their endeavour to seek an end to the conflict. In the reduction of hostilities that has taken place since mid-1996, the Committee’s efforts - though by no means decisive - have contributed to an overall climate of conciliation, to the achievement of a largely spontaneous cease-fire and to the early stages of a dialogue.

This paper examines the grassroots peace process initiated in Somaliland by the Peace Committee for Somaliland, an independent and neutral group. It is mainly based on a series of reports produced by the UNDP Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia at various stages of the process in order to document it and keep informed interested parties who have provided assistance to the peace process.

Reasons for UNDP Involvement in the Peace Process

As previously mentioned, since the beginning of 1995 the UNDP-EUE has been requested to observe the internal and external peacemaking process underway in Somaliland and the peace initiative under the augur of Peace Committee for Somaliland which started its reconciliation work at the beginning of 1995, for several reasons:

The Ethiopian Somali National Regional State (Region 5) and Somaliland form a single economic and cultural zone in which people and goods move freely across a porous and practically notional international border. This provides a social network for co-operation and assistance at times of distress between kinsmen living on both sides of the border. However, it also creates the possibility for instability and other dysfunction prevailing on one side to spill over to the other side of the border. Such potential was brought to light as recently as May 1995 when inter-clan fighting involving battle wagons from across the border erupted between the Habar Je’elo and Habar Yonis near Gaashaamo area in eastern Ethiopia - the first Somaliland’s internal feud to take place inside Ethiopian borders. The Ethiopian security forces, in collaboration with local clans, managed to end hostilities, and the incident was among the issues that instigated the still ongoing inter-clan peace conferences between the affected ‘transnational’ clans.
Deadlock over a peaceful resolution to the conflict by the actors themselves has prolonged the return of the displaced to their urban centres in Somaliland. It also delayed repatriation of the residual refugee population still languishing in the refugee camps Eastern Ethiopia. Official peace missions dispatched by the government to the opposition controlled areas, and the Hartisheikh Peace Conference organised by the Council of Elders in the Somaliland government in July 1995, all came to naught. The opposition, on their part, have been hopelessly divided and disorganised from the very beginning, a fact that has hindered them from any credible attempt to settle the differences.
The stalemate necessarily led to exploration of alternative solutions and with consideration to prospects for external peace process.
Somaliland’s local level process provided better peacekeeping record than externally generated efforts. One such effort, the massive humanitarian and political intervention seeking to remake the fragmented Somali state, the United Nations Operation in Somalia (April 1992-March 1995), failed to remake the fragmented Somali state or restore stability to Mogadishu and other parts in southern Somalia which received most of the attention. During the period of turmoil in the south, Somaliland experienced relative stability mainly because of traditional peacekeeping mechanisms.  



Perhaps even more valuable than their contribution to establishing a dialogue between the parties to the conflict are the lessons the Peace Committee’s experience has provided on the nature of war and the nature of peace - lessons that apply, within the broader socio-cultural context, to political experiences not only throughout Somaliland and Somalia, but also in Ethiopia’s Somali Region, Djibouti, and in north-eastern Kenya. In this paper we will attempt to capture those lessons, measures of success as well as constraints upon the process, in the hopes that they will prove instructive for Somalis, for aid agencies, donors, and for partners and neighbours of the Somali people among the international community. It is further expected that this record will provide a tool for analysis of other Somali conflicts present and future, whose tragic consequences could be diminished through the informed and sensitive intervention of those seeking to restore peace.

Ethiopia’s Somali Region
 "Sidii ilkihiyo carrabku, kolkol way isqaniinaan"

For hundreds of years, the arid pastures that stretch eastwards from the base of the central Abyssinian plateau towards the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea have been a theatre of conflict between the rulers of highland Ethiopia and the unruly Somali nomads of the lowlands. During the great "scramble for Africa" of the 19th century, Ethiopia realised much of its expansionist ambition through a series of accords with the French, Italian and British governments concerning the division of Somali territory. At the moment of Somalia’s independence in 1960, much of the vast semi-desert known as the Ogaadeen had come under permanent Ethiopian control, but the strategic advantages of ownership of the land were at least partly offset by the difficulty to Ethiopia of bringing its Somali inhabitants to heel. In the four decades since, the relationship between the Ethiopian state and the Somali people as a whole has been at best complicated, at worst murderous. But, for better or for worse, the welfare of the two states has become inextricably intertwined.

Western Somalia: Secession or Self-Determination (1960-1978)

Somalia’s entrance onto the international scene in July 1960 spelt the advent of an uncertain and turbulent era for the Horn of Africa. Somali nationalists, fiercely irredentist in their pursuit of a united Greater Somalia, laid claim not only the French Territory of Afars and ‘Isses (later Djibouti), and north-eastern Kenya, but also "Western Somalia" - the Somali appellation for the territories of the Ogaadeen, Haud and Reserved Area still under Ethiopian control. Ethiopia’s hard-fought battle for these territories would be defended by the Emperor Haile Selassie with equal tenacity, and appeals to Ethiopian nationalism. In a 1956 speech at the Ogaadeen town of Qabri Dahar, he advised his Somali audience: "All of you are by race, colour, blood and custom members of the great Ethiopian family". His message not only quashed Somali hopes for self-determination, but neatly turned the tables on Somali unionists by evoking echoes of Menelik’s pretensions to an Ethiopian empire stretching to "the ancient frontiers (tributaries) of Ethiopia up to Khartoum, and as far as lake Nyanza with all the Gallas...[and]... the Arussi country up to the limits of the Somalis, including the Province of Ogaadeen." In Haile Selassie’s twentieth century imperial view: "As to rumours of a Greater Somalia, we consider that all the Somali peoples are economically linked with all Ethiopia and, therefore, we do not believe that such a state can be viable, standing alone, separated from Ethiopia."

The high rhetoric of competing national myths set the tone at which Somali-Ethiopian exchanges over the Ogaadeen would continue for years to come, but it conveyed the conflict in an abstract discourse that masked the real, human concerns at the heart of the dispute. Arbitrary designation of international boundaries had resulted in the haphazard partition of tribes, lineage, and grazing lands across the new borders. For the Somali tribes of the hinterlands, vital access to water, pasture and commerce were at stake.

The territorial dispute became most acrimonious in the case of the Haud and Reserved Area - territory claimed by Ethiopia but administered by the British in the aftermath of the Second World War. In 1954, the area was ceded fully to Ethiopian control, with the proviso that tribes from both sides enjoy the right to cross the frontier for grazing. In effect, the boundary divided "British tribes" (primarily Gadabursi, Isaaq, and Dhulbahante) from seasonal pastures in Ethiopia upon which they depended for their migratory patterns. The agreement spelt relief, however, for the "Ethiopian" tribes of the Ogaadeen, who had felt increasing pressure from these northern clans during the period of British control. Under Ethiopian administration, competition for the rich pastures of the Haud would become a source of growing friction and eventually conflict, between the Isaaq and the Ogaadeen.

In the heady days following independence, such parochial grazing disputes would be submerged in the tide of nationalist sentiment calling for the liberation of the Ogaadeen from Ethiopian control. Somali government attempts to internationalise the dispute through recourse to the United Nations and the Organisation of African Unity played on the OAU’s anti-colonial orientation by portraying Ethiopian control over the Ogaadeen simply as "black" imperialism. But Africa’s young countries, their own integrity potentially at issue over disgruntled minorities’ demands for self-determination, proved collectively more sympathetic to Ethiopia’s insistence on the sanctity of colonial borders. Frustrated in its pursuit of a multilateral solution, the Somali government elected to exercise a unilateral option through support to armed insurgents among Ethiopia’s Somali and Oromo populations, and the expansion of its military establishment, with Soviet support, to 20,000 members. By 1964, militarisation of the Ogaadeen dispute culminated in heavy fighting between the two countries, in which Ethiopia’s larger forces and superior air power quickly won the upper hand. Somalia was obliged to seek a cease-fire and to suspend its support for guerrillas, though the goal of uniting with the Ogaadeen was not yet abandoned.

The election of Mohamed Haji Ibrahim ‘Igal as Prime Minister in 1967, however, heralded a profound shift in Somalia’s foreign relations. Somalia repudiated the use of force as a means to resolve the nationalist question, and sought rapprochement with her neighbours. The issue of "Western Somalia" would be recast as one of "self-determination" rather than "liberation", and would remain more or less dormant until Siyaad Barre revived it at the beginning of the 1970s.

Siyaad Barre: Somalia’s Splintered Nationalism

Following his arrival in power at the head of a military coup d’etat in 1969, General Mohamed Siyaad Barre was careful to espouse a peaceful resolution of the dispute with Ethiopia over the Ogaadeen - a dispute that Ethiopia, at least publicly, no longer recognised existed. At the same time, however, Barre worked hard to build up Somalia’s military capability, and his government assumed direct control over the welfare and training of refugees from the liberation movements of the 1960s. By 1975 three main camps had begun to train fighters in the struggle for "national unity", and two fronts opposed to the new Ethiopian military regime, the Derg, received support and encouragement from Moqdishu. With Barre’s blessing, the Somali-Abo Liberation Front (SALF) and the Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF) maintained offices in the Somali capital, and from 1976 onwards co-ordinated their military activities within eastern Ethiopia. By 1977, the fiction of an internal guerrilla insurgency in the Ogaadeen had begun to evaporate as regular units of the Somali army, in and out of uniform (with shoulder flashes removed), participated in WSLF activities. In September the same year, formed units of the Somali army crossed the border and the Ogaadeen War began in earnest.

Somalia’s catastrophic defeat the following year, punctuated by Djibouti’s vote in favour of independence rather than fusion with Somalia, spelt the demise of Somali nationalism beyond Somalia’s borders, and also as a political force within Somalia. Henceforth, major political and social developments in the Somali Republic would be defined increasingly in terms of clan, a notion Siyaad Barre purported to have buried. Likewise, Somali interests in the Ogaadeen would come to reflect the priorities of individual lineage rather than an overarching "national" interest.

The Derg, reluctantly, accelerated this fragmentation through support for the various rebel fronts who sought refuge in Ethiopia during the 1970s and ‘80s. The first of these, the Somali Salvation Democratic Front, was originally formed by a coalition of Somali dissidents and Marxists in Addis Ababa in 1976. Following an unsuccessful uprising among Mijerteen army officers in Gaalka’yo in 1978, the SSDF came to be dominated by figures from the north-eastern Mijerteen clan fleeing brutal government reprisals in the area. When the SSDF was joined, in 1982, by the vanguard of the Isaaq-based Somali National Movement (SNM), Ethiopian exhortations that the two groups combine their structures and energies received only grudging lip service. Like the SSDF, the SNM’s early Central Committees were characterised by a broad clan representation pursuing articulated, "nationalistic" aims; in practice, however, the movement served primarily as a vehicle for Isaaq interests and developed an increasingly narrow Isaaq membership. While the SSDF favoured merger of the two fronts and consolidation of its own role as an "umbrella" leadership for Ethiopian-based Somali dissidents, the SNM was reluctant to cede any degree of its independence.

The SNM’s Isaaq roots militated against control by an essentially Daarod organisation like the SSDF, of whose political agenda the SNM were deeply distrustful. It became increasingly clear to the Ethiopian government that the divergent aims and methods of the organisations were partly a reflection of the clan affiliation of their members, and that mutual suspicion would discourage real collaboration. Competition between the two groups never reached a danger point, however, since SSDF infighting led the Ethiopian government to jail the Front’s leader, Colonel Abdillahi Yusuf in 1984, effectively paralysing the front and handing Somali rebel leadership in Ethiopia to the SNM by default.

The SNM’s Isaaq bias also coincided with the Derg’s aims in its battle with the WSLF, whose units remained active even after the Ogaadeen War. Somalia’s support to the WSLF’s mainly Ogaadeen membership had succeeded in arming Ogaadeen nomads on both sides of the border, and much of the area east and south of Jigjiga was beyond the government’s effective control. Incursions by armed Ogaadeen into Isaaq pastures had led to increasingly violent clashes between the two groups - an extension of the pastoral conflicts that had complicated negotiations over the Haud in the 1950s and ‘60s. Having generally kept aloof from the WSLF, Isaaq leadership within the government nevertheless decided to form a mainly Isaaq unit within the WSLF, known as Afaraad (the Fourth regiment). Supplied with government weapons and ammunitions, Afaraad served initially to protect Isaaq pastoral interests in Ethiopia and Northwest Somalia against resurgent Ogaadeen pressures. Afaraad fighting experience among the first Isaaq soldiers to defect to the SNM was not wasted on the Ethiopian government, who used early SNM units as proxies in the war against the WSLF. Through Ethiopian and Somali government sponsorship, parochial clan rivalry in the Haud assumed the guise of late-twentieth century liberation politics.

Somali fragmentation in Ethiopia mirrored developments across the border in Somalia, where the Barre regime discovered a common interest with Ogaadeen and Oromo refugees displaced to Somalia by the Ogaadeen War. Employing humanitarian support for the refugees as an incentive for their loyalty to his government, Barre incrementally promoted members of the refugee community to positions of authority in Isaaq areas. Refugee militia, raised and armed by the government, began to flex their muscles in traditionally Isaaq areas of the north-west, leading to clashes over grazing and looting of livestock. As SNM resistance stiffened in the late 1980s, Ogaadeen came to form the backbone of civil and military administration in the Northwest, ultimately serving as key agents of government repression in Barre’s brutal war against the Isaaq.

In mid-1988, violence in the Northwest escalated dramatically, forcing an exodus of hundreds of thousands of Isaaq to limitrophic areas of Ethiopia and radically altering the demographics of the area. Isaaq refugee concentrations from Jigjiga to Aware became camps for the SNM as well as a line of resistance against the WSLF. Isaaq presence throughout the Haud was heavily reinforced, creating tighter and more permanent commercial and political links with Somalia’s Northwest. The WSLF itself, weakened by factionalism, the defection in 1986 of the WSLF youth wing (later the Ogaadeen National Liberation Front or ONLF), and the shrivelling of support from Moqdishu, ceased to be a major player. In 1989, the formation of the Somali Patriotic Movement (SPM) under the leadership of Colonel Ahmed ‘Umar Jees and General Aden "Gabyo" would further divide Ogaadeen loyalties between those lineages fighting with Siyaad Barre and those against.

Siyaad Barre’s fall, in January 1991, triggered another major demographic shift as hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian (mainly Ogaadeen) refugees in Somalia trekked across to Ethiopia, and about half the number of Isaaqs moved back the other way. Further west, tens of thousands of Gadabursi, fearing SNM retribution for their collaboration with the Barre government, left their homes and camps around Booraame and settled as refugees at Teferi Ber and Derwanaaje in Ethiopia. Their rapid victory over Barre and its dramatic consequences caught the various Somali clan-factions unprepared. Having failed to formulate a common platform (beyond the commitment to overthrow Siyaad Barre, articulated by the leadership of the SNM, SPM and United Somali Congress (USC) at Mustahil in October 1990), the factions’ clan identities asserted themselves over national and political priorities. The Somali Republic splintered into a handful of clan-based territories, nominally ruled by their respective armed fronts. Over the next few years, most of these sub-states would prove unstable, as internal power struggles sub-divided factions even further. In one of the most extreme expressions of this fragmentation, Somali National Movement declared independence of the "Republic of Somaliland," then lapsed into civil war between opposing SNM factions seeking control.

The Ethiopian Somali Region: Post Mengistu

Barre’s fall was followed almost immediately by the overthrow of Mengistu’s government by the Ethiopian People’s Democratic Front (EPRDF), a transition that would herald revolutionary changes in the political landscape of the Somali region. Over the next few years Ogaadeen dominance of Ethiopian-Somali politics would be seriously challenged by other Somali clans, and the historically hostile relationship between the Ethiopian state and its Somali subjects would enter a new phase of rapprochement.

The first major change involved the fusion of three former administrative territories into one, ethnically homogenous Somali region. Amidst a proliferation of smaller groups representing a broad spectrum of Somali clans (‘Isse, Gadabursi, Hawiye, Gabooye, Reer Barre etc.), the ONLF emerged as the largest single group in the regional government, followed at a distance by the WSLF, then a huddle of minor clan parties. Inspired by their parliamentary majority, and Ogaadeen control of regional Presidency and Vice Presidency, the Ogaadeen touted an almost exclusively Ogaadeen identity for the region - a platform that alienated non-Ogaadeen groups and fostered co-operation between them.

Ogaadeen dominance turned out to be short-lived. By 1994, two Ogaadeen-led governments in the Ethiopian Somali region had failed to unify the region or to establish effective administration, and early in the year fighters of the ONLF became embroiled in violent clashes with EPRDF forces. Meanwhile, lobbying by non-Ogaadeen members of the Somali community had persuaded the central Ethiopian government that an alternative to Ogaadeen hegemony had to be sought. An alternative emerged in the form of the Ethiopian Somali Democratic League or ESDL, a coalition of smaller non-Ogaadeen clans united under the leadership of Dr. Abdulmejid Hussein, then the only Somali minister in the central government, and an Isaaq. In late 1994 the regional capital was moved from the principally Ogaadeen town of Gode to Jigjiga, a less remote, more cosmopolitan community situated in the traditional territory of some small, Daarod clans. In December, the last Ogaadeen President, Abdirahman Ugaas, was ousted in favour of the Secretary of the region’s Executive Committee, Iid Dahir, a key local figure of the ESDL, and an Isaaq like Dr. Abdulmejid. With the electoral confirmation of ‘Iid the following year as regional President and the head of an ESDL parliamentary majority, Ethiopian Somali politics shifted decisively out of the hands of the Ogaadeen and into a new coalition of Somali interests.

The ESDL’s leadership nevertheless emphasised the unity of the Somali community in Ethiopia, and took steps to accommodate the Ogaadeen within the ESDL umbrella. At the time of the 1995 regional elections, a new ONLF faction entered into negotiations - but not an alliance - with the ESDL, and a number of respected Ogaadeen figures took up posts in the administration in Jigjiga. A significant proportion of rural Ogaadeen, however, felt cheated and alienated by the ESDL’s victory; the Ogaadeen public was equally sceptical of a "Somali unity" they perceived to be associated primarily with clans of the Isaaq and the Dir, alleged newcomers who had exploited their "guest" status as refugees at the expense of their Ogaadeen hosts.

Beyond clan politics, the advent of ESDL administration represented an even more fundamental shift in regional politics. Unlike their predecessors among the ONLF and WSLF, the ESDL sought closer integration with Ethiopia, a platform attractive to members of non-Ogaadeen clans unenthusiastic about being subordinated within an independent "Ogaadeenia" state. Members of the Dir and Isaaq communities felt more closely associated with Ethiopia (especially the Dire Dawa area), Djibouti, or the newly independent Somaliland Republic, than with the Ogaadeen territories further south. The prospects of a neat amputation of the Somali region from Ethiopia was replaced by the threat of compound fracture, as individual Somali clans and lineages sought their self-determination in different directions. This profound paradigm shift in Ethiopian-Somali relations would ultimately bind the Somali community more tightly within Ethiopia, but emphasised the cross-border political, economic and social ties within individual clans. The region’s dependence on Ethiopia, and its interdependence with Somalia, found simultaneous expression.

Ethiopia’s nomination by the OAU as the leader in efforts to restore peace and security to Somali, and involvement in various Somali peace initiatives served to affirm the strength of this new relationship. Like other groups before and since, the Peace Committee for Somaliland would find Ethiopia, and the Ethiopian Somali Regional Government, a source of encouragement and support.

Administrative Map of the Ethiopian Somali Region
War in Somaliland: The Evolution of a Conflict

Current Situation

This current cycle of violence in Somaliland has now subsided, although not yet fully resolved. In the meantime it has devastated the urban centres and the surrounding areas of the Isaaq controlled regions in the heartland of the north-west, Hargeysa and Bur’o regions. The peripheral regions of Awdal and Sanaag, in the north-west and north-east respectively, escaped the ravages with ‘Igal's administration becoming fairly established in Awdal region and parts of Hargeysa region that are outside the opposition-operated area. Law and order as well as tax collection is carried out effectively in areas that come under the sway of ‘Igal’s administration.

Open hostility is not shown to ‘Igal’s administration in the remaining regions (Laasanod and Erigavo) where its writ is either weak or does not run at all. In Erigavo, in spite of the failure of the local Isaaq and Darood clans to form an inclusive regional administration, peace and stability are largely maintained by a body of contractual agreements produced by the 1993 Erigavo Regional Peace Conference. In the also peripheral region of Laasanod, inhabited by a single Darood clan (the Dhulbahante), traditional systems of governance keep a fragile peace. However, competition among the different sections has prevented the formation of an independent regional administration, in the same way competition among the different Isaaq and Darood clans hindered the development of a durable independent regional administration in the socially mixed, north-eastern region of Erigavo. The failure of Somaliland’s un-administered peripheral regions of Erigavo and Laasanod to form their own independent regional administrations illustrates the weakness of the traditional system of governance in building wider administrative structures.

Root Causes of the Present Conflict

Following its victory in the Northwest in January 1991, the SNM rapidly consolidated its control of the region and entered into peace arrangements with its non-Isaaq neighbours. At a national congress held in Bur’o in April and May of the same year, independence of the "Somaliland Republic" was hastily declared and the SNM’s leadership structure was transferred virtually intact to the government of the new state, with Chairman Abdirahman Ahmed Ali "Tuur" in the role of President. Ministerial and senior administrative appointments were shared out primarily to satisfy clan perceptions of relative importance, but were unsupported by infrastructure (most of which had been destroyed during the war) or by financial resources. The SNM’s highly evolved fund-raising structure had collapsed almost as soon as victory was realised, leaving the new government bankrupt and bereft of income. "National" assets, like a 3 million litre fuel stock in Berbera, were quickly liquidated to pay government debts and unspecified, discretionary expenses. National government comprised a handful of dingy offices in Hargeysa, operating on unpredictable schedules, without equipment, staff, stationery, or cash. Local government usually meant little more than a town council with some recourse to taxes on livestock and qaad. Security in Somaliland was only marginally better than in the rest of Somalia: thousands of former SNM militiamen, many of them undisciplined youth who had signed on only for the Movement’s last, great push, turned to banditry and extortion. Huge tracts of land across the country were sown with of mines and unexploded ordnance.

In January 1992, competing factional interests within the SNM were brought to a head by a government decision to remove several key figures - principally members of the Habar Je’elo clan - from their posts, to take control of Berbera port and its revenues, and to "unite" the national army, by force if necessary. Fighting broke out in Bur’o for one week in early January, followed by heavy clashes in the town of Berbera. The violence persisted until October, when a peace conference in the town of Sheekh succeeded in brokering a cease-fire. Final settlement of the conflict was left to a national conference held the following year at Booraame, where a coalition of clan and political interests succeeded in removing Tuur’s government and replacing it with an "interim" civilian administration led by Mohamed Haji Ibrahim ‘Igal, the last Prime Minister of a democratic Somalia.

The mandate, powers, and institutions of ‘Igal’s government were defined in an interim National Charter and enjoyed the consensus of the Somaliland community. Emboldened by a broadly popular mandate, the government forged ahead on the consolidation of state power through demobilisation and disarmament, and control of key sources of revenue, like Berbera port. Under ‘Igal’s leadership, Somaliland began to develop the institutional trappings of statehood that are generally absent throughout much of the former Somali Republic. Rudimentary ministries, a police force, parliament, judicial system and other basic features of governance began to emerge, almost entirely independent of support from the international community, whose efforts were now overwhelmingly concentrated in Moqdishu and the conflict-ridden southern regions. One of the most promising features of the ‘Igal administration was the provision of the National Charter for the institutionalisation of the "guurti" (or national council of elders) as a kind of upper house of parliament with some responsibility for domestic political affairs, including the settlement of internal disputes. The potential for violent civil strife thus seemed to have been significantly reduced, if not eliminated.

By mid-1994, discontent with the ‘Igal administration had begun to take shape among the Garxajis, and especially among the Habar Yonis clan, the lineage of former President Abdirahman "Tuur." Tuur himself had forsaken retirement in London early in the year to answer a joint invitation from UNOSOM II and General Mohamed Farah ‘Aydiid in Moqdishu, to resume his political career in the pursuit of a united, federal Somalia. Tuur’s remarkable public flip-flop on the question of Somaliland’s independence was widely rumoured to have been sweetened by a generous reimbursement of his expenses by UNOSOM. As an influential Habar Yonis leader, Tuur’s actions opened sharp rifts within the clan and raised acute suspicions in Somaliland government circles about his plans and those of his sponsors.

Two key Habar Yonis conferences, Liban I (1993) and Liban II (1994), further enunciated Habar Yonis opposition to the ‘Igal government, but also deepened the divisions within the clan. Liban I was organised in accordance with clan custom and simply set forth Habar Yonis grievances and demands - notably with respect to the share of seats accorded the clan in the national assembly and the government. Critics of Liban II, however, have argued that it was hijacked by political interests and should be considered invalid. Whatever the case, the conference proved disastrous for clan solidarity: a major Hargeysa section of the Habar Yonis/Isaaq, the Abdalla Isaaq, refused to attend and remained thereafter in the government camp; two other small sections of the clan reportedly withheld their endorsement of the final declaration. The conference’s ambiguous allusion to federalism, an agenda item pushed by a few partisans of Tuur and his coterie of political allies (which included such figures as Hassan Aden Wadadiid, Mohamed Salah, and ‘Usman Jaama’), only confused things further - most Habar Yonis either ignored it or rejected it outright, while a militant minority cited it as a general Habar Yonis sanction of their involvement with General ‘Aydiid’s Moqdishu government. Equally contentious was Liban II’s decision not to recognise Habar Yonis members of Parliament as representatives of the clan, which rattled the Habar Yonis’ common front with the ‘Iidagale, whose MPs still enjoyed a clan mandate. Representation of the Habar Yonis political platform as that of the "Garxajis" on this and other issues would later place their relationship with the ‘Iidagale under considerable strain. Throughout the war such internal disputes effectively checked the emergence of a coherent, united leadership among the opposition.

‘Igal’s position vis-à-vis the federalist challenge was emphatic. In September 1994, he publicly asserted that any attempt to coerce Somaliland back into association with the south would be met with force, stating : "If they come here from Moqdishu to force us back, we will bury them here." ‘Igal’s resolve anticipated the trouble ahead for him and his government. Disarmament and blending of clan militia forces into a national military force had been proceeding apace, but by September 1994 a number of major militia units had yet to give their consent, including two Garxajis groups in the vicinity of Hargeysa airport. In particular, the Hargeysa-based units of Kood Bur and Saddexaad (‘Iidagale and Habar Yonis respectively) remained cantoned near the international airport on the south side of town. Remnants of these SNM-era regiments continued to control Hargeysa airport in defiance of the government, demanding extortion landing fees and other charges from Somali and international travellers alike. Vocal and physical abuse of passengers, and hijacking of vehicles inside the airport perimeter had become routine. Even the efforts of ‘Iidagale elders to persuade the militia to surrender the airport to government control failed to elicit co-operation, confirming allegations that they received support and encouragement from members of the federalist group. By mid-October, the airport issue had become a matter of national and international record and an embarrassment to the Hargeysa administration.

The events immediately surrounding the outbreak of fighting at Hargeysa and the subsequent escalation of the conflict have been extensively documented and do not require elaboration here. It is perhaps worth noting that, at the time, the government’s expulsion of the airport militia on 15 October 1994 appeared to represent a manageable escalation of the crisis. Garxajis public opinion, including much of the ‘Iidagale leadership, grudgingly acknowledged the government’s claim on the country’s main airport, and seemed resigned to the outcome. The speed and violence with which the conflict escalated in November, however, following skirmishing at Helaayo and the government raid on Toon, defied public expectations of a rapid settlement of the conflict. Almost immediately, the dynamic of the dispute was radically altered as public opinion on both sides was jolted out of a essentially passive, detached perception of events, into subjective and emotive interpretation of developments.

The primary cause of the current fighting seems to exist outside Somaliland’s internal crisis. Externally based Garxajis politicians, head of the discredited first interim SNM administration, Abdirahman Ali (Tuur) and Jama Mohamed Kalib (Jama Yare), are largely to blame for rebellion of their armed militias against President ‘Igal and his administration.. Both of them openly oppose cession and advocate a federal link with southern Somalia. They co-operate with Aydiid’s SNA faction, and hold important portfolios in the government established by SNA- Jama is minister of foreign affairs, while Tuur is one of the vice presidents.

Two main political grievances are commonly suggested by the Garxajis politicians to rally support and justify the war. First, they claim that their clan is under-represented in the new Somaliland government in relation to their traditional foe, President ‘Igal’s Habar Awal clan that strongly supports his administration. The legitimacy of the issue of under-representation is difficult to ascertain. Rather belatedly the government increased the number of Garxajis representatives in the administration (as of September 1996 the Garxajis hold nine ministerial posts compared to 7 held by Habar Awal). This concession on its own did not bring about reconciliation and cessation of hostility between the warring parties. Discord within the Isaaq family of clans over the issue of representation is a residual problem inherited from the Isaaq based SNM struggle against Siyaad Barre’s despotic rule. To maintain solidarity against Siyaad formidable forces, the SNM adopted an egalitarian system that ensured distribution of SNM responsibilities among the numerically varying Isaaq clans. In this levelling scheme most of the major Isaaq clans received equal allocations in the committees that ran the SNM guerrilla movement. To the chagrin of the large Garxajis clan, this levelling system had to some extent been replicated in the distribution of political capital among the different Isaaq clans in the Booraame conference.

Second, ‘Igal’s administration is accused by disaffected Garxajis elements of bias towards the military faction, who were allegedly given more ministerial posts than the rival civilian faction. These two political factions pervaded the politics during the civil war and still represent marginally existing remnant political groupings. They consist of loosely organised elite camps primarily distinguished along professional lines. The military faction comprise ex-officials in the Somali army who defected to SNM in the course of the struggle, while the civilian faction are made of educated elements largely employed in the public sector in Somalia’s failed state. This allegation implies that ‘Igal deliberately favoured the military officials against whom the Garxajis harbour a grudge concerning the crucial part military officials are said to have played in the downfall of the Garxajis dominated first interim SNM administration.

The allegation made by the opposition regarding political favouritism to the military officials in the present administration seems to contain an element of truth. More military officials than civilians have been nominated to first cabinet formed by ‘Igal. However, the reasons underlying this move are not clear and does not indicate a deliberate policy designed to embarrass the Garxajis. On the hand, one may view it as a harmless decision aiming to incorporate as many military officials as possible in the administration so as to avoid the threat they could pose from outside the government - they had an influence on disillusioned heavily armed former SNM guerrillas.

Later on, as the threat to his administration from poorly armed and loosely organised rebel Garxajis militia receded, ‘Igal’s dislike and mistrust of the military officials became visible. In successive reshuffles carried out by the President after the outbreak of the present conflict, he purged from the cabinet most of the serving military officials. The reshuffle, undertaken in September 1995, caused the powerful military officials remaining in the administration to lose their important portfolios, ‘Cabdira’xman Aw Ali (Gadabursi Vice President appointed in the Booraame conference and Minister of Defence) lost the defence portfolio while Musa Biixi (Sa’ad Muse) lost the Ministry of Interior. This dealt a fatal blow to the threat of military insurgence to the priestly civilian dominated administration in Somaliland. To add injury to insult, ‘Igal shifted the blame for the conflict to the disgraced military faction (clan cas - literally the carriers of red flag).

To underline their rebellion the discontented Garxajis cite a cultural factor. Diverse economic interests pursued over time by the main protagonists, the Habar Awal and Garxajis, developed into distinct stereotyped perceptions: the Garxajis became renowned for their avid interest in politics, and belief in their prerogative to the reigns of power and authority. On the other hand, within the Isaaq and in the north in general, the rival Habar Awal clan has long been associated with the accumulation of material wealth and enterpreneurship.

The greater involvement of the already wealthy Habar Awal clan in the current administration is perceived by the discontented Garxajis as a new development that could threaten traditional Garxajis interest in governance. Therefore, greater access of the Habar Awal to political resources is thought to give an additional advantage to this wealthy foe, a trend that is thought to lead to marginalisation of the Garxajis.

Apart from the mainly unfounded political and stereotyped cultural distinctions cited by the Garxajis elite to rationalise their veiled and violent aspiration to power in the north, revenge appears to be an additional factor contributing to the rebellion of the Garxajis opposition. This analysis holds that the rival Habar Awal, staunch supporters of the present government, collaborated with the forces that brought down the previous administration associated with the Garxajis. Therefore, it is the turn of the Garxajis to take the ascendancy by working to bring down the current administration, allegedly dominated by the rival Habar Awal.

However, attempts by the Garxajis to restructure and reduce the war to inter-clan feuding between themselves and the rival Habar Awal has failed to shake the government coalition. Since the war started in October 1994, the conflicting parties are clearly defined in contrast to the shifting social upheaval prevailing in some areas in southern Somalia. The battle ground is also fairly restricted to the urban centres - Hargeysa, Bur’o and the surrounding areas, the central heartland inhabited by traditionally rival Isaaq family of clans. The implication of this fact is that it isolated the Garxajis and reduced the fighting to a low-intensity peripheral conflict that does not pose a threat to ‘Igal’s administration.

In turn, ‘Igal has persistently portrayed the opposition as a disgruntled group of externally based politicians belonging to the Garxajis clan. The government's claim that the rebellion of the Garxajis is not universally supported is apparently true. One section of the Isaaq in Hargeysa, the Kassim Isaaq from the beginning did not flee from Hargeysa and opted to co-operate with the government. The Habar Yonis in Erigavo region also did not directly participate in the conflict although it may have channelled assistance to the opposition. Thus, of the two Garxajis clans, the larger one, the Habar Yonis, did not fully participate in the conflict.

The unexpected explosion of the conflict in October 1994 indicates miscalculation of both parties in the conflict. Garxajis politicians based abroad seem to have used control of Hargeysa airport by the ‘Iidagale militia a pretext for destabilising and subsequently overthrowing President ‘Igal's government. This group, which included Abdulrahman Tuur, were at the time in high spirits and investing much hope in Aydiid’s consolidation of power in the south. By attempting to overthrow ‘Igal’s administration the federalists hoped to establish an administration in the north that would federate with Aydiid’s expected triumphant administration in the south.

The Somaliland Government was certainly embarrassed and frustrated by lack of progress in its effort to induce the ‘Iidagale militia controlling Hargeysa airport to surrender peacefully. Extending government administration outside Hargeysa town and ending the threat of a Garxajis coup d' etat, may have decided President ‘Igal to finally end the siege. It would seem that both sides were motivated by immediate gain in a power struggle between President ‘Igal’s and the disaffected Garxajis politicians co-operating with Aydiid’s faction. As a result, both parties failed to realise the clash over the airport could potentially escalate into a war of attrition.

Despite the government’s failure to achieve reconciliation with the opposition, it managed to sustain the support of non-Garxajis clans throughout the course of this protracted, low-intensity conflict. The main reasons for this are: 1) The unreasonable stubbornness shown by the ‘Iidagale militia controlling the airport. This sparked-off the fighting and generated a wider perception labelling the opposition as the guilty party; 2) Others regarded the violent Garxajis rebellion as a dangerous unilateral move to undermine the all-inclusive government established in Booraame by consensus. Thus, non-Garxajis clans thought that the rebellion has the hidden agenda of imposing Garxajis hegemony in the north, a fear that strengthened wider support for the government; 3) Other than promoting their own sectarian interests, the opposition did not present a better alternative than the present government, whatever its shortcomings. This resulted in widespread apprehension and anxiety that a Garxajis triumph could cause the return to the lawlessness, uncertainty and instability that plagued Somaliland in the troubled years of 1991-1993.

‘Igal's administration has fared better than the previous, precarious and unstable SNM interim administration. His instinct for crisis management succeeded in reducing the current cycle of violence to low-intensity fighting affecting localised urban centres and their surroundings. It refrained from carrying out a heavy handed war against the opposition lest this would antagonise the entire disaffected Garxajis clan and intensify the fighting. In addition, ‘Igal’s administration has also been effective in bringing the regions under its control, and in limiting the endemic mismanagement and misuse of power in Somaliland’s public sector, although his critics accuse him of running his fiefdom in largesse. These achievements have been realised largely because of imposition of centralised rule by a popularly elected President. Nonetheless, ‘Igal eventually concentrated power in his office and as a result undermined the various democratic government institutions endorsed in the Booraame conference: the council of elders (responsible for peace), council of peoples representatives (legislative council) and council of ministers (executive council).

In the Boorame conference, ‘Igal’s administration was given a clear mandate to draft a constitution and prepare Somaliland for democratic elections - a mandate which envisaged but has not delivered the transition from interim towards an effective and durable ‘modern’ system of governance. Critics argue that ‘Igal deliberately postponed the process to use, at a later date, the lack of an approved constitution as the excuse for an extended term in power. Rather belatedly, ‘Igal hired a Sudanese expert to draft a constitution for an executive-style presidency, although the legislative council of the Parliament had drafted a parallel one favouring parliamentary rule. This created a constitutional row, which resulted in the dismissal of the speaker of the parliament.

The council of elders, who are responsible for handling peace and cultural matters in addition to their advisory role to the administration, also failed to end the current fighting between government forces and the opposition. The most important peace initiative undertaken by the council of elders was the peace conference held in Hartisheikh in Eastern Ethiopia in 1995. This effort came to naught as the elders and lineage leaders of the Garxajis who endorsed peace subsequently failed to deliver peace from the independent armed opposition militias.

In administered parts of Somaliland, law and order are sufficiently enforced by uniformed security forces and taxes are collected regularly. The bulk of government revenue, about US Dollar 30,000 a day, comes from Berbera port, in the form of taxes on the export of sheep, goats, camels and cattle to Saudi Arabia and the gulf states. Despite increasing trend of livestock exports in the last two years, government revenues hardly cover 60 per cent of the annual expenditure. An account contained in the Economist confirms President ‘Igal’s authoritarian style of governance: "Critics accuse Mr. ‘Igal of behaving like a dictator. "He is the cabinet, customs manager, revenue officer- he is everything," says A’xmed Ma’xamad Siilaanyo, a member of parliament. Mr. ‘Igal, who rarely leaves his palace and calls his parliamentary foes 'obstructionists', offers no apologies; "My government has to have the power to run this country and build it from chaos".

Large amounts of the new currency, the Somaliland shilling, are printed abroad and imported to cover the large deficit. This naturally results in endemic inflation and the high price of essential imported food stuff and fuel. The ensuing economic strain particularly affected the most vulnerable segment of the society, the urban poor. To tackle the escalating price of food items and fuel, 'Igal resorted to state control mechanisms. At first, large consignments of food and fuel merchandise were imported by the authority for distribution to traders, but this stimulated hoarding, speculation and undercurrent trading, and thus failed to stabilise the commodity price market.

Currency laws and financial regulations introduced by the Somaliland Government affected the export of livestock and fell short of tackling the rampant inflation and ensuing uncertainty. In the absence of reliable economic and financial institutions, these currency and import/export regulations placed the government on a collision course with the merchant community and the relief and development organisations. The agencies were required to exchange hard currency in the official bank for fluctuating Somaliland Shilling, while the merchants were asked to surrender a portion of the hard currency earned from exported livestock to the bank. As of September 1996, the currency regulation affecting the agencies has not yet been resolved but those affecting export of livestock had been dropped. The government reintroduced the previous tax system of US Dollar 7 per head of exported sheep.

Sustaining the War: Prejudice, Myths, Excuses and Lies

Specific events, like the airport militia’s bombing of Hargeysa market, or the national army’s expedition to the ‘Iidagale village of Toon, are much mooted as catalysts for escalation of the war. Interpretation of these events inevitably differs across front lines, but it seems clear that these highly charged symbolic episodes heralded a new phase in the conflict, where highly emotive, subjective interpretation of events replaced objectivity and reason in the rationale of parties to the conflict. Clan stereotypes, myths, misinformation and propaganda acquired much greater importance once both sides had really drawn blood. Motives that had previously justified grumbling and suspicion were suddenly transformed into retroactive justification for violence.

In reality, the choice of violent confrontation seems not to have involved clans at all, but remained instead the prerogative of a narrow politico-military elite in both camps. Once the battle was joined in the field, however, political leaders deftly manipulated clan loyalties in order to broaden support for the conflict, as each side portrayed the other as the aggressor. The notion of Garxajis solidarity, for example, overruled the political disarray and discord between and within the Garxajis’ constituent clans. Prior to the outbreak of conflict, the Garxajis leadership had yet to take a unified stand on any issue, or present a common platform. Only the Liban conferences, which were never endorsed by the ‘Iidagale, articulated any kind of opposition manifesto. A united opposition leadership never emerged, enormously complicating the prospects for dialogue and for reconciliation once fighting had escalated.

In addition to overt appeals to clan loyalty, more subtle political stratagems also helped to aggravate and prolong the conflict:


Stereotypes among the Isaaq go far to explain the role in which each major clan was cast in the conflict. In one illustrative folkloric tale, the three eldest sons of Sheikh Isaaq divide up their father’s inheritance between them. His imama, token of leadership, goes to Garxajis; Awal receive the sheikh’s purse, and Ahmed (Tolja’ele) inherits his sword. The story is meant to characterise the supposed inclination of the Garxajis towards politics, the mercantile acumen of the Habar Awal, and the bellicosity of the Habar Je’elo. Historical anecdotes have been invoked to reinforce these clan stereotypes: the Habar Yonis allegedly dominated posts as interpreters for the British during the colonial period, and thus acquired pretensions to intellectual and political superiority; Habar Awal dominance of the import-export trade via Djibouti and Berbera is virtually uncontested; and Habar Je’elo military prowess, though hardly unique to the clan, is cited in accounts of previous conflicts.

Such myths have been freely exploited on both sides: opposition sympathisers have typically cited the complicity of a Habar Awal Presidency with Habar Awal business interests in conspiring to dominate Somaliland. Habar Awal merchants are said to have underwritten ‘Igal’s Presidency, paid for the new Somaliland Shilling, and planned the slow strangulation of Garxajis livestock traders through exclusive control of Berbera port. In its crudest form, this stereotype found expression in the circulation of the "Subeer Awal Manifesto" - a forged letter, allegedly authored by ‘Igal, calling on his kinsmen to secure their interests within Somaliland through exploitation of their political and economic influence.

Stereotypes typically portray members of the Habar Yonis as unsophisticated nomads who exploited British favouritism to attain positions of early political influence; they are accused of having since acquired a belief in their own intellectual superiority and their inherent right to rule, entirely out of proportion with their importance and capability. Other clans thus characterise the Habar Yonis as inveterate trouble-makers, insatiable in their quest for political power, never content with anything less than the lion’s share. Conventional wisdom among their adversaries in the present conflict argues that they therefore needed to be taught a lesson.

These myths are reinforced by numerical arguments pertaining to one clan’s status relative to others. Garxajis belief in their absolute numerical superiority within the Isaaq is key both to the Garxajis sense of justice in militarily dictating their terms to "the rest" of Somaliland, and also to their sense of being victimised by an unfair "maryalool" coalition. Paradoxically, however, Garxajis support for "regional autonomy" as a principle of local government might actually undermine their numerical strength by dividing them between far-flung constituencies in which they enjoy nowhere a majority. Other Isaaq clans are highly sceptical of the Garxajis (esp. Habar Yonis) calculations of their numerical might.

Such arcane arguments must await a systematic census in order to be fully resolved, but in the meantime they directly influence Isaaq political behaviour. Habar Yonis grievances in the recent conflict relate directly to the approportionment of seats in the national parliament and government, according to a formula inconsistent with Habar Yonis importance. In fact, power-sharing arrangements within the Isaaq differed significantly from that between the Isaaq and other clans. Non-Isaaq were awarded parliamentary seats in proportion with their representation in the 1959 parliament; Gadabursi and Warsengeli seats were then increased by contributions from the Isaaq and Dhulbahante respectively. Within the Isaaq, however, the 1959 figures were superseded by the division of seats between clans at the 1990 SNM Congress held in Balleh Gubadleh. There, places were assigned equally to each of the eight sons of Sheikh Isaaq, leaving the Habar Je’elo with four, while the Garxajis and Habar Awal received one share each. That this formula was the child of political expediency, and unrelated to the relative size of Isaaq clans, is generally uncontested.

The Federalist Myth

Another key myth manipulated by leaders on both sides was the federalist dimension to the conflict. Federalist figures on the Garxajis side claimed full support from their clans for their association with General Mohamed Farah ‘Aydiid’s Moqdishu-based administration. ‘Aydiid himself was attracted to the idea that Garxajis militia could be described as SNM/SNA soldiers waging war on his behalf, regardless of evidence to the contrary. External observers, particularly among the Nairobi-based aid agencies and journalists, tended to accord this version far more credit that it deserved. In fact, the federalist platform enjoyed virtually no support among Garxajis within Somaliland, and most of the militia saw themselves as fighting only to unseat ‘Igal and his government; suggestions of their loyalty to ‘Aydiid (or even Abdirahman Tuur and co.) were explicitly rejected. Indeed, the very idea of a common Garxajis platform, beyond visceral opposition to ‘Igal and his government, was an illusion. Interviews with Habar Yonis and Iidagale refugees in Ethiopia suggested that a large majority rejected federalism as an aim of the war, and resented the involvement of their own clansmen within the federal clique. Nevertheless, logistical and financial support from the federal lobby was accepted by the Garxajis militia, who had no other base of support to which they could turn. Outside Somaliland and Somalia, the Garxajis diaspora tended to be more radical than their war-affected kinsmen. While the latter generally rejected association with the south, financial support from the diaspora was forthcoming despite, and in some cases because of, the linkages with Moqdishu.

The federalist challenge, however illusory, also served the purpose of those on the government side. The existence of the Moqdishu clique conveniently allowed the government to portray the conflict as one between pro-Somaliland forces of the government and anti-Somaliland stooges of General ‘Aydiid, rather than an internal conflict between clans. It would have proven far more difficult to sustain support for a civil war, and the National Charter would have obliged the government to defer to the "guurti" for resolution of the conflict. Instead, reports of SNA flags and Habar Gidir fighters captured by government forces during early fighting in Hargeysa served to fuel public indignation and support for the war. The menace of federalist forces from the south made any opposition to the government seem traitorous. Snared in a fiction of its own design, the opposition failed to win the sympathy of any other clan in Somaliland.

As the conflict wore on, obfuscation would continue to hamper initiation of a dialogue. While Garxajis leadership insisted on negotiations between clans, the government and its supporters consistently called for a dialogue between the government and its political adversaries (excluding those with posts in a foreign government, i.e. Moqdishu). Both sides would exploit this distinction in order to side-step dialogue for months on end. The recent schism between ‘Aydiid and ‘Usman ‘Aato in Moqdishu, followed by ‘Aydiid’s death, dealt a serious blow to the credibility of the Somaliland federal lobby, and thus removed a key obstacle to dialogue.

Among the Somaliland public, attitudes towards federalism have been tempered by the persistent thread of scepticism that any of Somaliland’s leading political figures wholly supports independence for Somaliland. Behind the nationalist rhetoric that pervades both camps lies gnawing suspicion that neither side’s leadership is truly sincere. Garxajis opposition fighters therefore feel free to claim, despite their leadership’s presence in Moqdishu, that they are fighting in support of independence, and that it is ‘Igal who wishes to take Somaliland back to Moqdishu (his inclinations have not changed since engineering Somali unity in 1960, the argument goes). Others, unable to make up their minds, prefer not to take sides, accusing all the present leaders of surreptitiously seeking their fortunes in a united Somalia.

And Lies ...

The presence of the ‘Iidagale militia at Hargeysa airport finally concentrated all these myths and prejudices on a single issue. Like the ‘Isse Muse at Berbera in 1992, the ‘Iidagale felt that they were being unfairly singled out for special treatment. If the government truly intended to nationalise key assets like the airport, the argument ran, then it should take control of national facilities across the country all at once, and not focus exclusively on Hargeysa airport. While such reasoning was not entirely unreasonable, by late 1994, Hargeysa airport had become one of the most lawless and dangerous places anywhere in Somaliland. Militia men practised extortion on the pretext of collecting passenger and landing "fees," and routinely abused those who failed to comply. Valuable business interests in cigarettes and qaad were heavily "taxed," and the airport’s reception of foreign delegations - some of whom were caught in pointless firefights - became an embarrassment for the government.

The militia’s conviction in holding the airport was underscored by propaganda that the government was allowing thousands of dollars a day from Berbera port to flow into the pockets of its ‘Isse Muse guardians. Since they considered the Hargeysa airport to be ‘Iidagale territory, they felt justified in extracting their own reward. An attempt by ‘Iidagale elders to persuade the militia to relinquish the airport to government control was thwarted partly on the basis of a rumour that they had all taken money from ‘Igal prior to the discussions. Several members of the delegation were beaten by their own clan militia.

Throughout the war, such propaganda continued to play a key role in shaping popular attitudes. In Bur’o, for example, in April 1996 during the Habar Je’elo ‘Aynabo conference, rumours were circulated in order to dampen Habar Je’elo enthusiasm for peace. Reports that the opposition leadership had recently completed a conference at which they called for a 6 month extension of the conflict was routinely cited as a cause for continued hostility. In fact, opposition leaders had fallen out with each other and dispersed - information that was readily available to government intelligence services. Similarly, Garxajis everywhere were incensed by the relative poverty of international humanitarian assistance to their area - a situation they attributed to ‘Igal and his attempts to embargo their territory. In fact, ‘Igal’s initial reluctance to allow relief into opposition areas was quickly overcome by aid agencies: the most effective obstacles to assistance were actually manufactured by the Garxajis leadership in Somaliland, who chose to refuse any and all aid coming from government areas. Those agencies who managed to work in opposition areas found their militia undisciplined and unreliable, often making threats and extortionate demands. Garxajis leaders preferred to blame ‘Igal for the aid imbalance, rather than to re-examine their own policies or reign in their fighters. Finally, military rumours were employed by both sides to distort reports of fighting and military potential. Exaggerated reports of victory routinely circulated in both camps, raising hopes that the war might soon be over. In fact, from mid-1995 onwards, the war rarely moved beyond a stalemate. Government military superiority was thwarted by the political risks of carrying the war into Garxajis territory, while opposition forces never managed to capture and hold any ground, except the western outskirts of Bur’o. Hard-liners on both sides nevertheless insisted on seeking a military solution.


Evolution of the Peace:
The Peace Committee for Somaliland



First attempts to contain the Somaliland conflict came almost simultaneously with its escalation in November 1994. Alarmed by the prospects of the fighting spreading across the Ethiopian border, the Region 5 administration led by President Abdirahman Ugaas intervened pre-emptively with communities under its jurisdiction. According to Ugaas, additional troops were deployed to prevent heavy weapons or armed groups crossing the border, while warnings were issued to members of the combatant clans that any violence on Ethiopian territory would be dealt with decisively. Neighbouring clans uninvolved in the conflict were enjoined not to become engaged, even (or especially) if provoked by one of the parties to the dispute.

The aid community, partly by accident and partly by design, also helped to contain the conflict. UNHCR was most immediately concerned by the influx of Somalilanders into Ethiopia, and was approached at the outset by opposition leaders seeking humanitarian support for their displaced kinsmen. Soliciting humanitarian aid was one of the early priorities of the opposition leadership to their communities, as a means of clearing the decks for further fighting. Forewarned by Jaama’ Yare’s lobbying in Addis Ababa, UNHCR commissioned a situation analysis of the situation in Somaliland, with a view to shaping its response in Ethiopia accordingly. The paper, produced by the UNDP-EUE (Bryden, 12/94), recommended that modest amounts of aid be channelled equally to displaced groups within Somaliland and across the border in Ethiopia, and that those who crossed the international boundary should not be rewarded simply for having done so.

These recommendations were initially the source of some contention within the aid community in Ethiopia; other agencies understood the recommendations to amount to an embargo of sorts on the new arrivals. In any event, the modest level of assistance finally financed and provided did not significantly exceed help reaching displaced communities on the Somaliland side, nor did it provide the kind of surplus that might have been useful to political and military leadership in either camp. It would seem unlikely that the low-level inputs of aid agencies for the new arrivals contributed materially to the conduct of the war, while they did provide a safety net for the displaced.

Early Local Peace Initiatives

Two separate local peace initiatives began to take shape almost simultaneously in early 1995. In March 1995, Dr. Hussein Bulxan, an American Somali originally from Hargeysa, visited Djibouti and Hargeysa to test the waters for a peace initiative led by expatriate Somalilanders. Bulxan’s initial plans for a "Committee" produced declaration of goodwill from groups in Hargeysa and Djibouti, and in April, during his visit to Addis Ababa, a much larger group of Somaliland professionals and "intellectuals" began to coalesce around the idea of a peace initiative. The majority of participants in the discussions were Isaaq and therefore directly concerned by the Somaliland conflict. It was agreed that the group should remain informal and its membership unrestricted. A list of prominent emigre Somalilanders was composed, and plans made to invite them to Somaliland and the Horn of Africa in order to campaign for peace. Priority was to be given to the violent conflict in Hargeysa, rather than Bur’o, where tensions had yet to reach the boiling point. Finally, the group, through a four-man committee, approached the UNDP-EUE to seek financial support for its project. EUE undertook to introduce the group to potential donors, and invited them to come up with a written proposal.

At the same time, the EUE was approached by another group, the Region 5 Community Development Association (R5CDA). The group, led by Mohamed Mursal Shil and Dr. Farah Hussein, had been actively involved in a major community conference among the Ogaadeen clans, recently concluded in Qabri Dahar. The group’s contribution to the Qabri Dahar process was confirmed by the EUE through discussions with various elders who had organised and participated in the meeting. The R5CDA claimed to have been approached by representatives of both parties to the Somaliland conflict who had requested mediation.

The R5CDA’s status as a mediator hinged primarily on its identity as a Daarod, and primarily Ogaadeen, organisation. Ogaadeen clans have frontiers and close relations, within Ethiopia, with most major Isaaq clans. Like most such relationships, the Isaaq - Ogaadeen rapport is ambivalent, characterised by trade, intermarriage, and recurring conflict. However, the participation of many Ogaadeen in displacing the Isaaq from the north-west under Siyaad Barre scarred the relationship deeply and still imbues Isaaq perceptions of the Ogaadeen with suspicion and hostility. Given the absence of neutral interlocutors within Somaliland, however, an appeal to the Ogaadeen appeared possible, but not probable, and it was agreed to pursue the matter further.

The R5CDA was advised that any support for its efforts would be contingent upon the endorsement of key players in the conflict. It was also advised to co-ordinate its efforts with the nascent Peace Committee for Somaliland, in order that they not work at cross-purposes. Neither group was enthusiastic about this relationship. In support of its mediatory role, R5CDA brought forward various personalities from concerned clans, but no clear message from either the government or the opposition leadership was forthcoming. During the course of these exploratory contacts, however, a delegation from the Somaliland government arrived in Addis Ababa, including several key figures concerned with the war effort. Their views on the prospects for peace initiatives were sought, and the R5CDA’s efforts regarding Somaliland were specifically and categorically rejected, although they were encouraged to continue their work in Ethiopia. The Somaliland delegation emphasised that peace, like war, was a matter for Somalilanders to decide. Although the EUE continued to maintain contact with the R5CDA on other matters, no additional support was sought for the proposed peace initiative. The R5CDA, however, managed to secured funding from other sources, but never played a role in the peace process.

Progress with the Peace Committee was more positive, however. Although they received no specific endorsement from the Somaliland government, they insisted that as Somalilanders, they had the right to work for peace, whether the leadership on both sides agreed or not. As members of the communities involved in the conflict, their actions could not objectively be described as external interference. The EUE therefore cautiously encouraged their efforts and introduced them to interested embassies and other potential donors. The Committee independently obtained the permission of the Ethiopian government to continue its activities on Ethiopian soil.

In May 1995, Bulxan returned temporarily to the United States, leaving the three remaining members of the co-ordinating committee to manage the group’s affairs. The lack of funding, and ordinary obligations of its membership delayed further action by the Peace Committee for some time. In October 1995, key members of the Committee reconvened in Addis Ababa in order to launch their initiative in earnest.

The Peace Process

In the predominantly pastoral northern society, local level peacemaking is anchored to the pervasive segmentary lineage system which also defines economic cooperation and political solidarity between kin based social units. A 1993 ACTIONAID study examined the political structures that underlie peacemaking/peacekeeping process in the north. It suggested that in a period of turmoil and uncertainty and in the absence of an effective centralised state clans and sub-clans have had recourse to their traditional political structures. Thus, traditional system of governance replaced modern administration at the time in the north where it still functions in unadministered regions. Despite a period of eclipse under two decades of Siyaad Barre's centralised rule, lineage elders regained prominence. Emphasis has been given to the appointment of clan heads, sultans-a secular political office, sanctioned by religion. At the time of the study there were more than twice the number of sultans in Somaliland than at independence. The lineage leaders who lead smaller units within the clan, dia-paying heads (Akils), have also been found to be alive and well.

In the inter-group peacemaking process, lineage leaders play a central role. Lineage leaders and prominent elders (in principle all married men) are often based in towns and refugee camps. They are also deeply involved in the rural economy and typically own livestock. All clans in Somaliland and some of the large sub-clans now have their own Supreme Council of Elders, known as "guurti". Today, as in the past, they deliberate policy and take decisions for these groups at democratic meetings in which oratory and poetry play an important role. These councils dispense a dual role as legislatures and executive, with responsibility for everyday questions arising within the clan and also for arbitration between different clans.

Past and current inter-clan negotiations in the north generate peace agreements containing regulations binding upon the reconciling parties. The terms of the peace agreements are set out formally as traditional contracts or treaties (xeer) and include the usual Somali provisions of compensation for death and injury in subsequent breaches of peace. Solemn oaths sworn by the signatories in the presence of traditional men of religion (wadaads) who open and close the peace conferences with their blessings and readings from the Qoran seal traditional contracts. Thus, mechanisms for establishing peace depend on joint committees representing the reconciling parties, empowered to implement agreements reached by joint councils of elders.

The Peace Committee for Somaliland: Achievements and constraints

In a series of consultations held in Djibouti, Addis Ababa, London, Copenhagen, Washington, Toronto, among other Western cities, Somaliland intellectuals living abroad discussed means and ways of doing something about the devastating civil strife troubling their home area. From these consultations emerged an agreement on the need for an external mission to seek a peaceful solutions to the current fighting. The basic plan for the external peace mission was formulated in a consultation held in Addis Ababa in early April 1995. Citing the Proposal of the Peace Committee, the basic plan read: a) Since the traditional elders have been slow or ineffective in containing the current conflict, a new team of peacemakers should be quickly sent to the ‘Igal government and the forces opposed to it; b) The team should consist of individuals widely known and highly respected in Somaliland and Eastern Ethiopia; c) Individual members of the team should have reputation for fairness, intimate knowledge of the problems producing armed conflict, neutrality to the warring parties and commitment to peace; d) The composition of the team should reflect the population of Somaliland, although commitment to peace and fairness must supersede the criterion of representation; e) To keep it manageable and efficient, the team should not exceed 15 (fifteen ) persons.

At the Conference of Somaliland Intellectuals Abroad convened in London at the end of April 1995, the Addis Ababa plan was discussed thoroughly. This conference decreed the formation of a Council for Peace and Development in Somaliland and also called for an immediate action that could end the current strife. The outcome from the London group received further reinforcement and approval from the National Reconciliation Committee and other groups from Somaliland found in the Scandinavian countries, the United States and Canada.

To join efforts with local Somalis in the war-affected region and actively involve them in the peace process, a team of Somalilanders travelled to Addis Ababa in October 1995, using their own limited individual resources. Upon further consultations with Somalilanders in Addis Ababa, the formation of The Peace Committee for Somaliland was formally established as an independent committee of individual volunteers. The Proposal of the Peace Committee for Somaliland defined the goals of the group in the following terms: 1) To achieve immediate cease-fire; 2) Prepare a framework and venue for dialogue that seeks a negotiated settlement of the differences underlining the conflict; 3) Prepare a report on lessons learned that could be useful in preventing or mitigating similar conflicts in the region.

As indicated by the foregoing data on the evolution of the current peace process, Somaliland intellectuals abroad originated the idea and play a central role in the activities carried out by The Peace Committee for Somaliland. In line with the modest objectives cited in the above, the primary function of the Peace Committee in the reconciliation process could be fittingly described as that of a facilitator or a catalyst. Hence, their main achievement thus far could be considered as acting the starting point for the inter-group negotiations that are underway in Somaliland.

Launching the Peace Process

Acting not as peacebrokers but as facilitators, the Peace Committee started their work in the region with preliminary consultations involving Somalilanders in Addis Ababa in late 1995. Widespread support for the good intentions of the Committee expressed by the participants in these consultations gave impetus and encouragement to the external members of the mission. This promising start was further secured by the incorporation of some respected Somalilanders to the mission from Addis Ababa. They accompanied two parallel missions dispatched in November 1995 to home areas of the warring parties in Eastern Ethiopia and the Republic of Somaliland. From urban centres at the local destinations prominent personalities joined the "peace caravan" led by the Peace Committee for Somaliland.

The Peace Committee actively participated in the preparatory ground work, including consultations held in Addis Ababa and the two missions sent to contact the warring parties. As the process assumed momentum and progressed to the second stage involving actual reconciliation of the embattled clans aligned on the opposite sides, their role became that of a facilitator. Once, the process of restoring peaceful relations between the hostile clans was affected through a series of inter-clan peace conferences, the process could move to its final stage- solution of political differences and formation of a representative administration through a grand national conference attended by genuine representatives of the local clans in Somaliland.

Individual clan conference
Clan Date Venue
 Gadabursi  April/May 1996  Booraame
Habar Je’elo/’Ceynaan  


 March/April 1996  

September 1996



Inter-clan peace conference
Reconciling clans Date  Venue
 Habar Je’elo/Habar Yonis  June 1996  Gaashaamo 
(Eastern Ethiopia)
 Habar Je’elo/Habar Yonis  July 1996  Duruqsi (Somaliland)
 Habar Je’elo/Habar Yonis/Cise Musa  July 1996  Warabeye (Somaliland)
 Sa’ad Musa/’Iidagale, other clans in Hargeysa  

Habar Je’elo/ Habar Yonis

 June 1996  

Sept. 1996

 Camp Aboker (Eastern Ethiopia)  

Beer (Somaliland) 


The Peace Committee for Somaliland concentrated their effort in Hargeysa area. They did so because they thought problems prevailing there were easier to resolve than those in Bur’o town and surrounding area. To the contrary, the negotiation process in Bur’o spontaneously developed and progressed faster than anybody’s expectation. Today, local level peacemaking between the protagonists in the Eastern war front, Habar Je’elo and Habar Yonis, has advanced faster than its counterpart in the west. The latter process has just started with the Camp Aboker peace conference that was sponsored by the Peace Committee. Sponsoring the slow and cumbersome negotiation process is a time consuming and expensive venture as illustrated by the experience of the Peace Committee- a lot of time was invested in organising the Camp Aboker conference which also consumed substantial proportion of the limited resources.

The third round of the Habar Je’elo/Habar Yonis peace conference convened in Duruqsi village inside Somaliland in July 1996 produced the most comprehensive accord so far. This agreement represents a typical traditional contract entered into by reconciling parties to regulate matters that are of common interest. The following is an English translation of the Duruqsi accord:

Initial Constraints

The Peace Committee had no sponsor when they first agreed to undertake the peace mission in Somaliland. Meagre resources possessed by individuals who volunteered to participate in the process hindered securing the participation of many prominent figures from abroad - individuals respected by their lineages in Somaliland and eastern Ethiopia, but who were not able to pay their tickets to Addis Ababa. Later on, as the process took-off and gained momentum, the Peace Committee solicited regional and international support. It was important for supporters to be cautious in order to avoid the ‘commercialisation’ of the peace process, a fact which would certainly put an end to the committee. Shortage of funds and the ad hoc nature of secured assistance severely restrained the planning and organised progress of the activities of the peace group, although they had surely benefited from the modest but reliable assistance.

The mission of the Peace Committee was initially greeted with mixed reaction. The Ethiopian central and regional authorities were enthusiastic, providing logistical and moral support to the Peace Committee. A high calibre delegation from the regional authority even participated in the Camp Aboker meeting. They also provided transport and funded some of the peacemaking events, e.g. two days continuation of informal dialogue by the participants of the Camp Aboker Peace Conference that convened in the Kabribayax district of Jigjiga zone. Such endeavours reflect the keen interest of the regional administration and Ethiopian central authority to see restoration of peace and stability to the culturally and economically linked Somaliland.

The Somaliland government’s initial reaction to the Peace Committee mission, on the other hand, was rather dubious. In November 1995, the Minister of Foreign Affairs released a pre-emptive press release in Hargeysa denouncing the "Peace Proposal" prepared by the committee. This initial hostile reaction was, however, followed by a warm welcome from President ‘Igal in a luncheon held at the presidency. A committee headed by the vice president, ‘Cabdiraxmaan Aw ‘Cali, was formed to work with the peace group. ‘Igal’s administration subsequently provided token financial assistance amounting to US$ 5,000.

The initial mixed response may signify the unpreparedness on the part of ‘Igal’s administration in dealing with the first serious independent and neutral mediation group since the war started late 1994. Despite the positive attitude adopted subsequently by the administration and the gesture of support, the Peace Committee reported a deliberate undercurrent of the opposition to their efforts. Some members of the Council of Elders in the administration were accused of working to confuse and prevent some Habar Awal elders in Hargeysa from participating the Camp Aboker Peace Conference.

The various Garxajis committees in place at the time the Peace Committee made initial contacts were made of ad hoc groupings organised solely for the purpose of waging war. To locate and engage the leadership of the opposition proved an elusive exercise, and delayed the progress of the peace process in Hargeysa area in particular. The internal leadership crisis of the Garxajis was complicated by interacting factors relating to clan politics and regional issues. In terms of traditional politics, Garxajis solidarity rarely existed in modern times, and their co-operation against the Somaliland forces happened mainly as a result of pressure from externally based politicians trying to replace ‘Igal.

Discord among the Garxajis leadership over independence or federation with Somalia represents a dividing regional issue. The difficulty here is the divergence between the opinion of the majority of Garxajis clansmen and their political leaders. Garxajis kinsmen support secession as much as non-Garxajis clans loyal to ‘Igal’s administration do. In contrast, some Garxajis politicians advocate a federal arrangement with Somalia.

Most leaders of the opposition in Somaliland suspect the Peace Committee of having obtained massive assistance from the regional and international community for the cause of peace. Therefore, they expected cash hand-outs and generous entertainment in exchange for co-operation. Additional distractions also had to be, including association with the government and favouritism of one party or the other. In Somalia in general, the absence of reliable local media other than small radio stations known to advance sectional interest, made propaganda and false information thrive. ‘Clan entrepreneurs’ in northern Somalia and faction leaders heading armed militia in southern Somalia continue to disseminate false and often inflammatory information by word of mouth in order to perpetuate unending violence.

Lessons from Engagement

The Peace Committee for Somaliland have succeeded in demystifying the business of settling differences peacefully through dialogue rather than through violence. Their mission eclipsed the hate and warmongering rhetoric that pervaded the atmosphere before their arrival. Even marginalised externally based Garxajis politicians captured the new reconciliatory mood generated by the peacemaking process and no longer advocate the continuation of war even though they still aim to change President ‘Igal and his administration.

Formal and informal discourse either sponsored or galvanised by the work of the Peace Committee managed to demolish those usually inadequate and dubious excuses advanced for perpetuation of violence by the warring parties. This lifted barriers to a negotiated settlement and certainly strengthened the widespread but suppressed desire for peace. Thus, the essential preparatory grassroots peacemaking activity undertaken by the Peace Committee at the beginning of their work paved the ground for the progress of formal negotiation. It also had the effect of resurrecting the morale and confidence of the public damaged by sinister politicking designed to perpetuate the violence.

Building upon the ground swell of support for the peace process, the Peace Committee sponsored the first reconciliation conference for the clans involved in the fighting affecting Hargeysa area. (The first conference towards this end was convened in Camp Aboker in July 1996 and the second round took place in Somaliland between August and October.) The team also functioned as a catalyst to a parallel peace process underway in Bur’o area, the second epicentre of conflict. The fourth round of the latter negotiation process has been successfully completed in August in Waraabeeye village inside Somaliland.

As the Duruqsi accord indicates, the spontaneous inter-clan peace process rapidly progressed the aims to restore relations between the clans in Bur’o region; moreover, it seeks the formation of a representative and inclusive regional administration. The reconciling regional powers, Habar Je’elo and Habar Yonis, who are engaged in inter-clan negotiations, plan to involve other relatively smaller groups in this region at the concluding stage. Agreements concluded under the Duruqsi accord include an article guaranteeing the security of the lives and property of Habar Je’elo and Habar Yonis clansmen throughout the customary territories of the negotiating clans. This article and the remaining body of contractual agreements finalised in the now concluded series of inter-clan conferences, brought to an end looting and also facilitated the free movement of people and goods across clan boundaries. Faith in the success of the peacemaking process in Bur’o region generated a hasty return of the displaced urban clansmen from rural areas inhabited by their kinsmen. However, the menace that newly implanted mines pose to lives and livestock in Bur’o town led the joint central committee of the two clans to suspend their future movements until this issue could be dealt with.

A major obstacle the Peace Committee encountered was absence of a credible Garxajis leadership to deal with - a crisis that had already started with the disintegration of the Garxajis supreme war committee and before the Peace Committee’s contacts at the beginning of 1995. Several factors led to the disintegration of the old Garxajis war committee and the formation of relatively dynamic and independent Habar Yonis and ‘Iidagale committees:

Assistance from the Garxajis diaspora significantly boosted to the war efforts of the opposition, underpinning the power-base and authority of the political and military leadership and enabling a continuation of the war with little or no co-operation from the traditional lineage leaders. Termination of this external support, largely due to the intervention of the Peace Committee, and a dismal military performance led to a resurgence in the influence of the elders and traditional leaders. The increased authority of lineage leaders, in turn, made possible the development of a leadership anchored to political segments of the opposition and facilitated the progress of inter-clan negotiations underway in Somaliland under the aegis of the Peace Committee for Somaliland.

That the efforts of the Peace Committee were neither conclusive nor decisive in bringing peace to Somaliland was as much a product of design as accident. The Peace Committee asserted from the beginning that a lasting peace could not be achieved through persuasion, threats, or bribes, but only through broad, gradual transformation of attitudes on the part of the parties to the conflict and the communities they claimed to represent. The Committee planned only to facilitate or contribute to a peace process, but not to lead it.

Central to the Committee’s thinking was that objectives should be limited to the achievement of a cease-fire and the debut of dialogue. This was not only intended to obviate accusations that the committee harboured longer-term political ambitions, but also corresponded with real limitations on the Committee’s actions. In essence the Committee addressed itself to immediate causes of the conflict and immediate solutions. The root causes are much broader and more complex, requiring a different and more comprehensive type of engagement.

In practice, the Committee was not able to maintain a perfectly neutral, impartial stance, nor could it maintain its own internal cohesion, but it nevertheless succeeded in many of its aims. Today, while a general cease-fire is being consolidated and both sides have exchanged their war-mongering with dialogue, the original aims of the Committee have been achieved and its work is mainly over. But the work of peace-building in Somaliland and Somalia must go much farther if relapses into violence are to be avoided and peace is to endure.

Lessons of War

The combination of Somali political culture and post-colonial state structures has proven historically unstable.

Somalis everywhere are characterised by a segmentary-lineage political culture, expressed through affiliation of individuals with major clan families, which are in turn divisible-almost infinitely-into lesser lineages. Such structures permit an individual to possess multiple simultaneous identities, and thus to change allegiances in terms of these identities with extraordinary speed and fluidity. Social organisation in Somali society is non-hierarchical, and has not traditionally lent itself to the formation of formal institutions with specific functions, nor, by extrapolation, to the establishment of any kind of state structure at all.

Since the advent of imperial expansion in the Horn of Africa, Somalis have also been obliged to accommodate foreign paradigms of the "state," notably those proposed by Ethiopia, Britain, Italy and France. But since the decades of self -government that followed independence, these structures have demonstrated themselves to be neither stable, nor self-sufficient. These systems, and the political and social norms they represent have been artificially maintained only through the commitment of their foreign sponsors. At no time have they been assimilated and managed by the Somalis. Instead, clan identity, in its various forms, has historically proven more robust than political or religious constructs. It has proved easier for politicians to mobilise supporters on the basis of clan affiliation and interest than by appealing to the more abstract political or social concept simplified by statehood. The recent war in Somaliland, has neatly demonstrated how the "Call of Kinship" (as Lewis has called it)-"Tolow!" can be manipulated with devastating effectiveness.

Perceptions of the state as "ethnocratic," (Fukui and Markakis,1994) whether true or not, fuels competition for access to state resources on the basis of ethnic, or clan origin. Although this may hold true for numerous states, where power and wealth are disproportionately located within a single ethnic group, Somalia’s volatile political environment, profusion of weapons, and low threshold for violence make the practice of ethnocentric politics exceptionally destabilising. In particular, the ethnic factor in conflict offers a promising environment for opportunistic leaders to mobilise their constituents; an appeal to clan loyalty is an extremely powerful tool in Somalia, far more so than conventional political platforms, religious or class grievances. Thus, even in the absence of a political objective or a steady support base, even the most unsophisticated political figure is able to manipulate blood ties.

Where political objectives become fused with clan grievances, the mix is especially potent. In Somaliland’s recent experience, the ambitions of a small political clique were easily translated into expressions of clan interest-especially once the threshold of violence had been breached. By "drawing first blood" leaders are better able to mobilise public opinion in defence of the clan, and to transform general concern over an issue into a powerful, emotive appeal for solidarity. Even before serious clashes had taken place in October 1994, Jamma’ Mohamad Qaalib had made the rounds in Addis Ababa, clearly "clearing the decks for further fighting"(Bryden 1994), but made no obvious headway in convincing his kinsmen of the justice of his federalist cause. The assumption that they would rally to him on the basis of clan ties must be inferred, even if it cannot be proven. Once the war began in earnest, it became clear that the forces of the Garxajis were committed to the defence of their clans-not to a federal Somalia, but their engagement to the conflict had been primarily engineered by, and served the purposes of the federal clique.

More importantly, however, the dynamics of the 1994-6 conflict differed little from that of previous conflicts-notably the Somaliland civil war of 1992. Although it would be a mistake to draw parallels too closely, in many respects the root causes of these two conflicts (and others throughout Somalia) may be traced to the structure of the government, power-sharing, and access to state resources. In 1992, as in 1994, the government was perceived by major clan interest groups to represent a narrow clan support base. And, like its successor, the Tuur government had begun to organise a national army, one of whose task was to assume control of a major national resource: Berbera port. That the dispute involved Berbera port rather than Hargeysa airport hardly matter; the defence of these installations by their clan "proprietors" was justified in almost exactly the same terms:

  [Our area] is one of the districts of the Republic of Somaliland and is therefore subject to its rules and regulations.

These articles are drawn from the "Isse Muse defence of Berbera in August 1992 (see Farah and Lewis,1993) but could have equally applied to the "Iidagale claim to Hargeysa airport. The common threads are clear: the endorsement of Somaliland’s independence; a feeling of exclusion from the national apparatus of power; a sense of injustice at the hand of the state; and a desire to settle the conflict through traditional (the "Guurti")rather than political means. In both cases, the conflict is thus portrayed in ethnocentric terms, asserting clan identity before other forms of political or economic solidarity.

The political dynamic in other Somali territories today is not hugely different: in Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia’s Somali region, and even north-eastern Kenya, opposition is routinely expressed in terms of exclusion or disenfranchisement of a given clan, or the over-concentration of power and wealth within a given clan. What generally differs between these cases is the potential for such disputes to degenerate into violence-not the substance of the disputes themselves. In Somalia’s neighbours, however, stability is primarily provided by external engagement in the system, by either a foreign power or a "central" government, but stability is not inherent to the system itself. Over the long-term, devising a political system that can accommodate ethnocentric Somali politics will be the major challenge throughout the Somali areas-not only in Somalia and Somaliland.

Somalia’s Roving Elite Represent a Destabilising Factor on the Political Scene

From 1994-1996, northern and southern politicians "federated" with each other in a Somali state possessing neither territory, nor population, beyond a few city blocks of southern Moqdishu, and adjacent rural areas under military occupation. The federation existed principally in the ambitions of a few wandering political figures, and in the mind of their leader, General Aydiid -men who had little or no possibility of realising the proposed "federation" and who therefore posed little or no danger to the relative peace and stability that has returned to much of Somalia. Far more threatening is the credibility that international actors might lend to such a scheme through their association with Aydiid and the "federal" government. In brief, the influence of Somalia’s roving elite derives far more from their interaction with the international community than from their real authority among the Somali people.

Alienated from grassroots inclinations for accommodation and compromise, these politicians represent little more than their own interests, typically proposing solutions that would centralise state authority (in their hands), consolidate the cult of the individual, and underwrite their pretensions to leadership with the generosity of donor resources. In a nutshell, they represent no change from what Somalis had struggled to overthrow when Siyaad Barre was in power. A settlement of the Somali crisis that fulfils the expectations of such leadership is likely to prove no more acceptable, stable or enduring than the Barre regime before it.

The conduct of international actors in this regard is central to a settlement of the conflict; by responding to these elite, foreign governments and international organisations emphasise the role of individuals at the expense of the community and legitimise their leadership whether or not they possess the endorsement or the mandate of their constituents. By the same token, they implicitly acknowledge-and encourage-the tendency of these figures to appeal to clan loyalty, since they have no other way of demonstrating their political relevance. Predictably, the result is beneficial only to political opportunist, who are able to demonstrate their relevance to their clans by attracting the attention, and sometimes the resources of the international community, and who signal their importance to their international sponsors by appealing to clan loyalty.

Disturbingly, this kind of relationship seems also to fulfil the desire of certain international actors to demonstrate their own relevance on the Somali scene. That by doing so they complicate the prospects for lasting settlement is secondary to their need to act. Instead, international players like the UN, OAU, and IGAD should avoid the temptation to convoke these figures at national "reconciliation" conferences, or in any other way offer a substitute for legitimacy at home.

Continuing Conflict Partly Reflects Popular Failure to Envision Alternatives to a Centralised State

The aims and methods of political elite, like many (probably most) of the Somali people, are rooted in anachronistic perceptions of the Somali state. Somali’s political leaders and their administrative machines have long been alienated from the realities of the Somali nation. Although indigenous traditional power structures have failed to discharge the obligations of modern government, so have the elite’s conceptions of modern statehood failed to accommodate the centrifugal forces inherent in Somali political culture.

Barre’s system of centralised authority and chronic addiction to donor resources was maintained through a potent combination of patronage, internal repression and deft manipulation of clan politics. In today’s resource-poor donor climate, it is practically inconceivable that a similar configuration of resources and state authority could again emerge. Nevertheless, Somali political leaders seem tenaciously desirous of a rigidly hierarchical presidential system, with power centralised (at the top), and institutions devoid of any real independence. ‘Igal’s consolidation of power in Somaliland has unswervingly followed such a course, ostensibly because of the need to maintain law and order. It has also nourished the opposition that has paralysed his administration and may yet lead to his replacement. This kind of authoritarian, exclusive centralisation of power, easily open to abuse and exploitation by clan interests, is broadly unacceptable to Somalis and creates tension and conflict at the national level. A profound paradigm shift, in which alternative configurations of state organisation replace this retrograde blueprint of Somali statehood, will be necessary before lasting stability can be achieved.

Lessons of the Peace Process

 Process vs. Product

Success should not be measured in conferences and agreements, but "in whether or not a viable and sustainable peace process has been initiated that can proceed without a high level of international engagement." (IPA, p.20). Markers for judging the process should be qualitative, not quantitative. At the local level, markers of success should indicate the emergence of locally endorsed civilian administration. These could include: engagement in a dialogue by parties to the dispute; a high degree of investment in the process by local communities themselves; conclusion of inter-clan traditional contract (xeer) by duly nominated and mandated councils of elders; participation of these councils in the establishment of local administrative structures rather than externally appointed authorities.

Confidence Building

In order for international actors to engage constructively in local peace-making endeavours, a relationship of mutual confidence with an interlocutor to the process is essential. In the case of the Somaliland Peace Committee, contacts were maintained over a 9-month period before any kind of financial commitment was made to the process. During this nine months, the Committee demonstrated its own commitment, neutrality and effectiveness through investment of its own resources, and through high level contacts with various parties to the conflict.

Investment in the Process by Parties to the Conflict

UNOSOM’s experience, among others, has demonstrated that peace cannot be bought. Financial inducements cannot and must not become the only incentives to engagement in a dialogue. The two parallel dialogues in Somaliland are illustrative of this dynamic.

The dialogue in the west, beginning with the Camp Aboker meeting, was energetically promoted by the Peace Committee for Somaliland many months in advance. Agreement in principle on the need for dialogue was secured from all major actors, and the ‘Iidagale stepped forward to host a conference in their own area. The question of resources had yet to be discussed. The key political hurdle - agreement to open a dialogue - had already been cleared. Once fund-raising for the conference began, expectations of the Peace Committee exceeded the group’s ability to deliver. Peace entrepreneurs on all sides sought financial support from the Committee for preparatory meetings, transport costs, and other expenses that would normally be borne by the participants and their community. In some cases, groups and individuals repeatedly procrastinated in attempts to win more funding from the Committee, repeatedly delaying the main meeting. At this point, the Committee’s access to funding became an impediment to the process they had helped to catalyse.

Having met at Camp Aboker, the delegates agreed to reconvene in August, somewhere in Somaliland. This second meeting would take place under the auspices of the clan elders, regardless of participation or support from the Peace Committee. Responsibility for finding the necessary resources would be solely that of the participants. Thus the objective of promoting a real dialogue between warring parties was achieved.

The other dialogue, concerning the Bur’o theatre of conflict, emerged spontaneously and without external resources. Several meetings were conducted in quick succession, demonstrating the integrity and independence of the process. However, during the Duruqsi meeting, the convenors approached the Peace Committee for their support of future meetings, the duration and scope of which were threatened by lack of funds. Though unable to identify substantial funding, through their continued participation and encouragement the Peace Committee were able to play a valuable role in sustaining a proven and serious peace dialogue through to its conclusion.

Peace Committee members, both the core membership and the ad hoc participants, volunteer their time and frequently had to cover international travel from Europe from their own resources. Contributions, particularly in the early stages, were modest in the extreme and it was only after the Committee had established their bona fideness that a number of other institutes and groups made additional resources available. The UNDP/EUE’s role over the last two years was, first, a long period of discussions, meetings and general advice and support; second, through grants made available from the Swiss Government, a series of small donations to cover specific events, meetings and trips; third, arranging introductions for the Committee with other interested donors; and, last, monitoring not only the peace process but also the overall situation in Somaliland. This monitoring role, although more costly than the actual EUE cash contributions to the Committee, was critical to the success of the overall venture as it provided a mechanism for both an independent verification of the Committee’s work and a way to keep all interested parties informed of the events in Somaliland.

Local peace initiatives do have an important role to play in resolving conflicts and the donor community should support all such legitimate efforts; however, conflict resolution is a growth industry and, as with any industry there are the honest and the unscrupulous. A clear understanding of the main issues involved in the conflict as well as a mechanism for monitoring the peace initiative are as important as contributions to the peacemaking effort.

Four key elements: Flexibility, Inclusiveness, Discretion and Transparency

One of the Peace Committee’s greatest strengths has been its lack of rigidity. At no time has it become the exclusive domain of a few individuals, a clan or a political faction. Although a core group has existed since the beginning, membership in this core group has been diverse, and members have come and gone freely. Effective membership has fluctuated from over a dozen (especially during the preparatory, consultative period) to four or five, following the Camp Aboker meeting. At times, members have proposed formalising the Committee membership, primarily as an aid to internal discipline, but these proposals have consistently been defeated. By retaining the fluid nature of its membership, the Committee has thus managed to avoid attempts to pigeon-hole it as serving special group or individual interests. Nearly two years since its inception, the Committee’s bona fides now seem to be widely accepted within Somaliland.

Another pillar of the Committee’s perceived neutrality has been its operational flexibility - the ability to engage any group anywhere in the interest of peace. For the first few months, the Committee emphasis on the Hargeysa conflict was generally overlooked. However, when the Bur’o dialogue suddenly emerged, the Committee was exposed to charges of favouritism for ignoring the eastern clans. Despite its lack of resources, the Committee travelled to meet the organisers of the eastern process. This has not entirely erased suspicions that the Committee is inclined to favour the Hargeysa process, but it has indicated their readiness to be involved in the east as much as the west.

Another hard-learned lesson of the Peace Committee has been the need for discretion. While the group was engaged in preliminary contacts with various parties to the conflict, several members of the Committee approached the BBC and the local media to report on the contacts. Without exception, the reports created a backlash, shaking confidence in the committee and impeding their discussions. Although the embarrassment caused to various parties may have ultimately been an incentive to participation, it seems to have been outweighed by its negative impact. Since then, discretion has been strictly enforced by committee members.

Finally, the management of funds by the committee has been the object of speculation since the outset. Early reports of the committee’s plans were accompanied by rumours about the source of their financing - even before any external financing had been received. Donor funds received by the committee have since been scrupulously accounted for. Donors may see not only their own contributions, but a list of contributions from other donors in order to ensure there has been no duplication or "double funding." One of the few damaging attempts to undermine the Committee’s credibility involved an alleged indiscretion concerning acceptance of funds from the Somaliland government. Although the amount involved was relatively small (no more than US $5,000), discrepancies over whether or not the funds were actually received left a stain on the Committee’s otherwise excellent financial record. Perhaps more damaging was the allegation that the Committee accepted any money at all from a party to the conflict, suggesting that it was in the pay of particular interests.

After the Peace Process: What kind of Peace?

Siyaad Barre’s collapse, and the subsequent failure of various Somali factions to form a government, can be explained in terms of the contradictions between indigenous Somali political culture and the country’s colonial and post-colonial experience of statehood. Successive governments-both colonial and Somali-managed to impose an occidental state structure upon a traditionally acephalous (or "non-state") people only at considerable cost to foreign donors and creditors. Post-independence Somali administrative systems tended to be highly centralised and maintained political equilibrium either through their scope for patronage or, increasingly, through coercive powers exercised by the national security and military apparatus (also largely foreign equipped and financed). Social services and the national development budget were heavily supported by external assistance. The premise of this system-that legitimacy derives primarily from access to state resources (in this case foreign aid) -has yet to be challenged by the mainstream Somali factions.

The fall of the Siyaad Barre government symbolised both the failure of this type of regime, and its decisive disappearance from the Somali scene. In the absence of superpower competition in the Horn, and today’s resource-poor donor climate, no future Somali government can realistically expect to have the resources at its disposal necessary to resurrect the old system, nor to invent one with similar characteristics. Indeed, such a government will probably have no choice but to recognise the reality towards which Somalia has been evolving for several years-a highly decentralised state and deregulated economy, in which political association and authority emerges from consensus. A future regime-in either Somaliland or Somalia-that fails to recognise these profound changes from the past will, given Somalia’s low threshold and high capacity for spontaneous, organised violence, in all likelihood meet with armed resistance.

Another major obstacle to compromise has been the "zero-sum" calculation that most clans apply to the composition of a future government. Power-sharing formulae have so far been exceptionally unimaginative, with "power-sharing" essentially defined by the proportion of posts and seats assigned to various factions. The portfolios, powers and responsibilities of individual posts remain vague and undifferentiated, and little (if any) effort is made to distinguish between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. The assumption that power emanates from the centre, where resources, particularly foreign aid resources, aggregate, is underscored by the proclivity of faction leaders to stock their administrations with posts created simply to fulfil clan demands for representation.

Negotiations about new constitutional arrangements for Somaliland (or Somalia) might then be more appropriate than the conventional leadership contests that have taken place in the past. By emphasising constitutional reform over factional power sharing, discussion about what a new government would look like would precede talks about who would lead it. The role of individuals in a future government would thus be down-played, while the structure and function of the new state would be accentuated; concomitantly, the importance to the peace process of political blocs and coalitions would supersede that of individual leaders. Furthermore, in proposing alternatives to an executive presidency, and centralised state authority, a constitutional forum would diminish the attraction of the presidency and offer alternative paradigms to the standard seat-sharing arrangements of past formulae.

A national government that is perceived to award any single clan undue influence will prove inherently unstable in the long term unless it satisfies the needs of major factions to feel at once autonomous from and proportionately represented at the centre. If this is not achieved during leadership negotiations, or shortly thereafter, accords will rapidly unravel. An interim administration would therefore need to consolidate its position at some juncture through constitutional reform and more equitable sharing of power. However, these leaders and clans who manage to win interim leadership will probably be among the most reluctant to see any diminution of their status through constitutional change. Such negotiation should therefore take place before the next "interim" authority in Somaliland is established rather than after. Mohamed Haji Ibrahim ‘Igal’s flagrant attempts to manipulate the "Somaliland" constitution and to prolong his term of office represent a vivid case in point.

Finally, and perhaps, most importantly, constitutional dialogue will bring any agreement closer to the satisfaction of the "lowest common denominator". Somaliland’s integrity can be challenged and its claims to sovereignty undermined simple by the active opposition of a single clan-particularly among the non-Issaq clans. If the members of these clans are to feel confident within a "Somaliland" numerically dominated by the Issaq, they will need to feel assured that their rights and privileges will be respected. A government in Moqdishu could provide no better guarantee.

Constitutional discussions are almost irrelevant to whether Somaliland ultimately remains independent or reunites with the south, but they are central to the restoration of peace and stability: they represent the minimal acceptable formula for power sharing and peaceful co-existence between diverse groups, the non-negotiable demands that their exponents have articulated for participation in a future national polity. Whether they remain germane only to Somaliland, or to a larger Somali state, a future government will be bound to respect them or to suffer the consequences - consequences with which Somalis are by now all too familiar.

Bibliography and Further Reading

Lewis, I. M., 1961
A Pastoral Democracy: A Study of Pastoralism and Politics Among the Northern Somali of the Horn of Africa. London, Oxford University Press.

Drysdale J., 1964
The Somali Dispute, pall Mall Press, London and Dunmow

Fitzgibbon L., 1985
The Evaded Duty, Rex Collings Press, London

Markakis J., 1987
National and Class in the Horn of Africa, Zed Books Ltd, London and New Jersey

Samatar A.I, 1988
Socialist Somalia: Rhetoric and Reality, Institute for African Alternatives Zed Books Ltd,
London and New Jersey

Farah, A. Y. (with I. M. Lewis), 1993
Somalia: The Roots of Reconciliation, "Peacemaking Endeavours of Contemporary Lineage Leaders: A Survey of Grassroots Peace Conferences in "Somaliland", a research commissioned by ACTIONAID

Lewis I. M, 1994
Blood and Bone: The Call of Kinship in Somali Society, The Red Sea Press, New Jersey

Markakis, J., 1994
Ethnicity and Conflict in the Horn of Africa; edited by Katsuyoshi Fukui,
James Currey London Press, Ohio University Press, Athens

Farah A.Y., September 1994
Roots of Reconciliation: The Capacity of Lineage Leaders in Peacemaking in "Somaliland". A Paper Presented to the Challenge for Peacemaking in Africa: Conflict Prevention and Conflict Resolution. A Conference Organised by International Alert in Collaboration with Ad Hoc Committee for Peace and Development. Held at ECA Hall, Addis Ababa, September 12-15,1994

Bryden M., November 1994
Briefing Paper: Situation in "Somaliland"; a report prepared for UNDP/EUE.

Bryden M., December 1994
Situation Report: Mission to "Somaliland", a report prepared for UNDP/EUE.

Brons M., Doombas M., Mohammed Salih M.A., 1994
The Somali in Ethiopia: The Quest for Alternative Futures

Van Brabant, K., 1994
Bad Borders Make bad neighbours: The Political Economy of Relief and Rehabilitation in the
Somali Region of Region 5, Eastern Ethiopia, Overseas Development Institute, London

Farah A.Y., January 1995
Search for Peaceful Solution to the Fighting in ‘Somaliland’: An Interim Report, a report prepared for UNDP/EUE.

Farah A.Y., March 1995
Understanding Present Political Situation in "Somaliland". A Consultancy Report to SCF (UK), Addis Ababa, Examining the Root Causes of the Conflict between the Government and the Garxajis Opposition.

Farah A.Y., October 1995
Prospects for Peaceful Solution to the Conflict in "Somaliland", A special report prepared for UNDP\EUE.

Bryden M., 1995
Mission Report to Djibouti and "Somaliland", a report prepared for UNDP/EUE.

Bryden M., 1995
Somaliland and Peace in the Horn of Africa: A Situation Report and Analysis, a report prepared for UNDP/EUE.

Farah A.Y., March 1996
Report on the Peace and Development conference, Jigjiga, 10-13 March, a report prepared for UNDP/EUE.

Jan A., April 1996
Peacebuilding in Somalia, a briefing document of the International Peace Academy, based on a field trip to Somalia and Kenya by the author.

Farah A.Y., July 1996
Camp Aboker Peace Conference, a report prepared for UNDP/EUE.

Farah A.Y., July 1996
Agreements of the Third Round of the Habar Je'elo, Habar Yonis
Negotiations Convened at Duruqsi, a report prepared for UNDP/EUE.


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