Sheikh Aḥmed ʾAbdisamad of the Iʾtisam Islamist movement this week blamed clans that he said were “Loma Ooyaan” (“No one Cries for them”, in English) for supporting the Shabab in a bid to take revenge on the bigger clans (such as Habar Gidir – henceforth HG, Hawiye, whom the Sheikh used as an example) that they feel oppressed them earlier in the Somali Civil War. The Sheikh also says that he heard such sentiments from clan elders he met years ago.
The issue of clan politics and the insurgency is a sensitive subject that I was really looking for a way to talk about, but couldn’t find the right time. Thank you, Sheikh Aḥmed ʾAbdisamad.
The Sheikh, being from Galkaʾyo, seems not to understand who is considered Loma Ooyaan (LO henceforth). In Mogadishu, these are the people from unarmed clans who were very badly mistreated by the clan and warlord militias, especially in the first decade of the civil war. These are mostly the Reer Ḥamar people, the Yemeni Somalis, the Bantu Somalis, and other minority peoples. Despite their very different origins, the warlords lumped them all into one group and gave them the status of half a clan, and gave them a “unifying label” – the “Others” (now it is generally considered an insult to be labelled an Other). Other clans who were not armed in Mogadishu were not known as LO, but they were nevertheless mistreated.
Since the Sheikh raised the issue of some clans (consider them LO, or not) who want to settle scores with HG, let us examine why the latter have many enemies. I shall talk about other clan politics vis-à-vis the insurgency when their time comes.
The HG are from Central Somalia, and sent their clansmen in droves to the south in 1990-1 when the dictatorship that held Somalia together crumbled in the face of rebellions in almost every region in Somalia bordering Ethiopia. By 1999, they had ruled at least for one year every region in southern Somalia (maybe except Gedo, which had very little to offer them anyway). But by then, they were routed in Beled Weyne, Hiiraan region; and suffered major losses in their defeat in Baidoa by the RRA, with Ethiopian support.
Two major colonies would be in their hands until recently: the Lower Jubba and Middle Jubba colony which they jointly ruled with the help of their allies in the Jubba Valley Alliance (JVA) ,which they lost to the Islamic Courts in 2006; and the Lower Shabelle region, whose last ruler was the now-TFG-General, Indha Adde, which they also nominally lost in 2006. However, the IndhaʾAdde admin and militias stayed on even during the Ethiopian occupation, playing a significant role in the insurgency. There was always an understanding with insurgent groups not to attack patrolling Ethiopian units, to give an impression that no insurgents were present in the region.
The Shabab – many of whose members were native Lower Shabellans – were not happy with the IndhaʾAdde administration in Lower Shabelle region, and announced their displeasure by starting assassinations of regional officials in late 2008, before fully annexing the region without a major fight, following the fleeing of IndhaʾAdde militias in the face of advancing Shabab fighters.
The Shabab are very genuinely popular with most Lower Shabellans, for a number of reasons. The most important reason is that the locals have gotten back their land from people from “stronger” clans, not necessarily HG. I visited Bulo Marer in late 2007, and a friend of mine from the town pointed to a lush mango plantation in the horizon and told me about the place. It was owned by somebody from Puntland, but was being occupied by somebody from ʾEl Buur in Central Somalia (not a HG town, btw). He told me that all the good plantations had been taken by people from central Somalia.
And yes, the problem is not only in the countryside. Many people from Puntland and Somaliland have their southern homes taken over by southern clans. Same with LO clans in southern Somalia.
This huge problem was in fact a major reason that youth wanting change to come about were joining the Islamist militants in the second decade of the Somali Civil War. My friend from Bulo Marer was evidently motivated by a desire to get rid of the warlord/clan system that had mistreated unarmed and minority clans, especially in the south.
The Islamic courts did give back many houses and farmland, only to be taken back by the squatters when the Ethiopians came; the Shabab again reversed the process, and only people who are not interested have their homes occupied. Even Siyad Barre’s daughter got her land with the help of the Lower Shabelle Shabab administration.
Despite their policy that did not favour colonists from Central Somalia and their unpopularity with people from that region, the Shabab posted people from Bay & Bakool regions as policemen in Dhusamareb and Guriʾel, while at the same time assassinating dissidents in the region. The result was catastrophic for them. Warlords whom they chased from the south such as ʾIrfo and ʾAbdi Waal, teamed up with clan elders, and with a religious veneer, declared the ASWJ, massacring the Shabab policemen.
The HG were very represented in the insurgency prior to these events, but are now not very much represented in the Shabab. ASWJ is not the reason: it is an effect of the Shabab-HG fallout in the south. (Yes, now the ASWJ brand is used by other clans in other regions. I am talking about the original group from Central Somalia).
The thirst for revenge by many of the southern clans appears to have been satiated, but the Shabab still recruit clansmen from formerly little or unarmed clans. The near-past is a memory that makes them easy recruits.
I remember somewhere in late January or early February 2007 when Sheikh Aḥmed ʾAbdisamad gave the leaders of my group a talk (we were partly subsidised by the Iʾtisam), telling us that we should not be disheartened if we saw the Ethiopians and the TFG in more Mogadishu neighbourhoods and road intersections (as they were planning), and that we were defeated in December 2006, not in the coming days. Long story short, he told us about plans to give the war a “Hawiye face”. We all agreed with him that that was a brilliant idea. No group was to take another name publicly besides Muqaawamada – “the Resistance”. Everybody kept their words except some media-savvy guys. Yes, the Shabab.
Many people are fighting to defend their land and homes from previously stronger clans, not necessarily for the Shabab vision for Somalia. It is a marriage of convenience. The Sheikh is right about the vendetta part, but wrong about the reason for the vendetta.