The Epicentre of the Cycle of Somali Conflict
By Samiya Lerew
Lower Shabelle is one of the richest, if not the most fertile, regions in Somalia. During the Italian colonial era, part of Lower Shabelle was in Banadir, and the farmland area was part of the Agrarian Administration. Up until 1st July 1960, the Italian rule of Italian Somaliland partitioned into four separate administrations. First, the Banadir Administration which consisted of the coastal area, Mogadishu, Merca, and Brava. Second, the Agrarian Administration. The third was Jubaland which was annexed in 1924. The fourth was Mudug, known today as Galmudug and Puntland. The Italians found the inhabitants of Mudug to be difficult to govern; all the inhabitants of Mudug were pastoralists. In July 1960, all four administrations, combined with British Somaliland became the Somali Republic. Up until 1969 Lower Shabelle was in the Banadir Administration. It enjoyed stability and had various industries, all of which are now gone.
The hinterland of southern Somalia is unique in East Africa, having the only fertile riverbed that is situated parallel to the coastline. It has been the food-basket of Somalia before the civil war and still is to this day. However, this made Lower Shabelle (and the regions to the South of Mogadishu) a prime target for the predator powers, namely dominant clans from the Mudug region. Successive Somali governments, people in business and elites from Mogadishu and central Somalia (including clan militias from the central regions), have been involved in numerous land-grabbing schemes that pushed Lower Shabelle into the present-day chaos and Shabaab-influenced wars.
Before the colonial era, the communities of Lower Shabelle possessed a long-standing ethos and knowledge of agriculture, soil quality, methods of irrigation, methods, and tools to measure the land (jibaal, darab, moos) and agreed-upon strategies for land use within families and the broader community. Everyone was entitled to and had legal rights to own property. Respected elders endorsed land transactions and approved by the traditional judges (qaaddi).
After the outbreak of the civil war, land-grabbing intensified under the umbrella of lawlessness and social chaos. Farms occupied by new clan militias from the central regions, who lacked both the skills and expertise to produce or even market their produce. Lack of knowledge, skills and native customs led to the occupying army conducting numerous inhuman atrocities. Currently, forced labour (chiefly slavery) is common among the armed militia in Lower Shabelle more than at any point in the past 100 years of Somalia’s history. They brought the weapons of the Somali National Army with them and, to this day, continue to displace local communities from their farms. In the past five years, the local communities organized a semblance of resistance against these militias. With the advent of the local community uprising, the clan militias hatched some new strategies, one of which has been to form alliances with the extremist group Al-Shabab. Most of these militia clan members work as government soldiers; they routinely switch uniforms (government soldiers to Al-Shabab fighter and vice versa) all for the sake of clan empowerment.
As a result of the above background, the priorities of Lower Shabelle are distinctly different from those of the Somalia Federal Government mainly because of one significant reason: the societies of Lower Shabelle and meta-studies did on the Somali conflict have confirmed that the farms and land of these communities are confiscated in the name of the Somali government. However, they end up in the hands of individuals and groups closely associated with high ranking officials of the state. This has been the case in the past and holds true to this day. As such, these communities have decided to embark upon a journey to pave their own roadmap and take control of their destiny.
Lower Shabelle as part of Southwest State
Lower Shabelle became part of Southwest State in 2014. Following intense negotiations, the natives of the region thought it would be better if they became part of Southwest Region. Sharif Hasan was the first president of the state. The people of Lower Shabelle, Bay, and Bakol, became disillusioned with Sharif Hasan and demanded that he should be replaced. Sharif outmaneuvered everybody; he placed his own right-hand man in becoming the next regional president so that they could switch places later on. One year later they did just that.
Sharif Hassan, the president of Southwest region of Somalia, is known to be a very sharp-minded man and highly intelligent; an African Machiavellian. However, he has never had any form of primary or secondary education. His predatory skills meant he out-lived his peer group, became a notorious master of elimination. His understanding of what a state should be is that of medievalism totalitarian rule. Anyone who disagreed with him ended up either dead or was forced to flee.
Unfortunately for him, the very skills that gave him such political longevity are now his nemesis. He had eliminated people of value and only uneducated, palm-greasing, self-serving individuals and criminal cartels remain as his partners, said Munye who did not wish to give his real name. Munye continued, “The guy is clearly a criminal minded man. He thinks that the state of the Southwest is there to serve him alone. This is clearly the outcome of not only forgiving criminals but making them as generals, presidents of regional states-man and in charge of aid distribution“. Munye did not mince his words.
Interview with Ali Baab
It was Ali Baab who struck the worst blow. Ali said, “Sharif was ‘sakiin‘” (meaning sharp blade) “but now he is Sharif ‘masaar’ “(meaning chopping axe). Ali continued “before Sharif sakiin was small time crook but now he is a runaway criminal“. I asked Ali if he had any proof of his claims. Ali replied, “Yes I do. You see, Shariif made me the foreign representative for the UK and EU, representing the Southwest State of Somalia, and by pulling the right strings, he will make anyone anything they want for the right price“. If he gave you such a prestige title, why go against him? I asked.
Ali replied, “The title comes with no money, the only thing which makes it useful is to whip him, I shall whip him with his own cane“. After bursting into a loud laugh, Ali Baab stated “I am speaking on behalf of Lower Shabelle people’s voice; I am very much concerned the deterioration of the situation in our region. Day after day the living conditions of Lewer Shabelle people is getting worse and worse. The root causes of their troubles are as follows; lack of security, lack of justice, extortion, low agricultural productivity due to farm-land theft, aggravated by drought. The deadliest of all is the land erosion catastrophe which is the direct result of Sharif Sakiin, he used fruit baring trees as charcoal, as a cash cow, for export. Shariif Sakiin has chameleon army who switch themselves from government soldiers to shabab, from Shabab to lime business keepers, and then back to his soldiers again. Sharif could not have achieved this without the protection of AMISOM. AMISOM think they are protecting a state leader, but they are assisting and protecting a harden criminal; they need to grow wise to his tricks”.
Ali paused for a while, gathered his thoughts and continued “Sharif Sakiin receives a lot of aid from various International bodies but not a drop of that money ever gets to trickle down to the people of Lower Shabelle. Furthermore, the current population who are now dominating and oppressing the natives are not from Lower Shabelle, most of them are from Hawiye clan and some Darod calling themselves as Ogaden from Ethiopia. The parasite immigrants are pastoralists who’s culture is not compatible with agrarian culture or that of fishermen. Hence they impose their harsh way of living onto the natives.
“And finally, it is about lack of democracy. The way he conducted an election is to set up the natives of Southwest region against each other, the guy is divisive. He thrives on getting clans or tribes or communities to fight with each other and have constant dispute burning among themselves.” Ali paused for a while, had a sip of water and continued “This is the proof, you see, one of Lower Shabelle clans named Biimaal could not take the level of oppression that the parasite clans were imposing on them, so they fought back and almost defeated Indhoadde’s ‘a warlord’ army. This army works as Al -Shabab by night and militia soldiers by day; most of them are fighting to take over the town of Marka because of drug and charcoal trade. Marka has a seaport, albeit a broken one. It works for those wishing to conduct illicit exportation. Sakiin pretends that he helps Biimaal men, he chooses the worst man one can imagine to represent the Biimaal, this guy diverts all aid to himself and then Sahrif claims that Biimaal are fighting among themselves. Divide and rule policy which is gone out of hand.
“Finally, the entire Southwest State administration is just himself, his briefcase and his secretary who happens to be his daughter. The reason why he gets away with it, is that neither the central government, nor the UN office in Mogadishu, Green zone, is doing anything about it. Sharif Sakiin has to go and go without a delay” Ali concluded.
Perpetuation of conflict:
Aid diversion is part of war economy, almost all of the local NGOs operating in Lower Shabelle belong to the dominant clans. They profit from aid diversion and sometimes they hire militia men to cause rape, displacement and hanger. On the 11th May 2017 UK hosted a major conference in London; prior to the conference the country experienced one of its worst droughts the country has ever known. Many Somali diaspora based in London went great length to appeal to the British government to help the raging drought. Ultimately the British government decided to give aid through its usual consortiums and directly to the Somali government. The UN monitoring group on Somalia and Eritrea published its report clearly stated how aid was diverted and used it by all those in charge as means to enrich themselves. Below is the report:
Diversion of humanitarian aid 128
- Building on lessons learned from the famine in 2011/12, the humanitarian community scaled up its response to the drought with a greater consciousness of the risks, supported by a new set of risk management and monitoring mechanisms. Nevertheless, the Monitoring Group received credible allegations and acknowledgement of humanitarian diversion from government officials, the staff of non-governmental organizations and the United Nations, and beneficiaries, relating to:
(a) The theft of aid funds by members of drought committees;
(b) The extortion by gatekeepers and “land-owners” of camps for internally displaced persons, who were sometimes government officials;
(c) Orchestrated humanitarian distributions involving the payment of “appearance fees” to beneficiaries who were then forced to leave behind the aid they had received;
(d) The control of SIM cards and connivance with money vendors and traders to divert cash-based aid and circumvent monitoring mechanisms;
(e) Collusion between host communities and gatekeepers to establish “rice tents” (i.e., fake camp dwellings for internally displaced persons) to register for assistance;
(f) The abuse of State security and administrative power to extort humanitarian operations.129
- Al-Shabaab also exerted control in places ostensibly under Federal Government jurisdiction, taxing humanitarian organizations and beneficiaries, demanding that access be negotiated and, in some cases, interfering in organization management.
(UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea. 2nd Nov 2017)
Just before the publication of the report, the minister of Humanitarian aid distribution, Maryan Qasim, resigned on the 15the Nov 2017. She was disgusted how some high ranking officials were using aid as untoward means and what she called a “chaotic nature of the ministry,” which she was unable to do anything about it.
The infamous 4.5 system is ill-suited Southwest region especially Lower Shabelle. What works well in north of Somalia does not work in the south. The notion of ‘one people with one language, one culture, one religion’ is completely false. 4.5 is based on camel herding pastoralists’ mythology, that somehow they are superior to some other people; this mythology inserts unacceptable level of social injustice in Lower Shabelle, one that forces the natives to rebel. 4.5 system also invited the pastoralist into someone else’s land with the understanding that it is their right to take whatever they want. Over the years the predator clans have become arrogant and unwilling to compromise. For the pastorals to compromise is to lose face among their pear groups. To be defeated and annihilated is more bearable.
- Eno eloquently and quite intelligently dissected the fallacy of oneness in his extensive work on Sowing Seeds of Subalternity in Somali Studies. (Dr M.A. Eno 2017)
Organic governance is very much needed. People of Lower Shabelle should govern themselves and they should be in charge of security of their own region. To make matters much worse, the natives of Lower Shabelle who are now residing in IDP camps in Mogadishu are being forcefully being removed with nowhere else to go to. Resettlement back into the region is one way to solve their problems. IRF International Relief Foundation is well equipped to deal with the resettlement program.
This picture was posted on Harun Maruf’s twitter account 2nd Jan 2018.
Southwest regional president Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden
Shariif Sakiin has to go and go quickly without delay. Lower Shabelle is the wealthiest and most resourceful region, as the country goes back to being a member of World Bank, it desperately needs to service its debts. Sakiin’s understanding of governance is self-aggrandizement and despotism. Sakiin plays ball with Shabab and does whatever he can to undermine the central government.
Alternatively, Lower Shabelle would have to stand on its two feet and become a state of its own.
By Samiya Lerew
(UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea. 2nd Nov 2017)
Dr Mohamed A. ENO. April-June 2017
ENO, M.A., 1994. Sowing Seeds of Subalternity in Somali Studies: A Literary Perspective of the Social, Political and Cultural Dimensions.
Mr Munye: Interview 11th Nov 2017.
Mr Ali Bab: Interview September 2017
Harun Maruf: Verified account @HarunMaruf