A Return to Clan-Politics (or Worse) in Southern Somalia?
Published on: Mar 27, 2007

The new speaker Aden ‘Madobe’ has some Islamic credentials and like his predecessor is a businessman turned politician/warlord, though unlike his predecessor he does not have strong business links with Mogadishu. He was one of the founders of the Rahanweyn Resistance Army (RRA) in 1995, formed in response to the occupation by General Aideed’s Hawiye forces of the Rahanweyn regions Bay/Bakool and Hoddur. The Rahanweyn are second only to the Majerteen in the clan make-up of the TFG militias/army.

The political head of the TFG military apparatus and another piece of the TFG’s clan mosaic is the former Kismayo warlord and Juba Valley Alliance chairman, Colonel Barre Adan Shire ‘Hirale’. A Marehan from the (non-Harti) Darod clans, Barre ‘Hirale’ was a colonel in the Somali army, and close to the former dictator Siyad Barre. After Siyad’s fall, Barre Hirale fought intermittently over the key strategic port of Kismayo with another former ally, General ‘Morgan’, another Darod (but Ogaden) national army officer turned warlord. To counter-act Morgan’s influence Barre established an alliance with Yusuf Mire Seeraar from the Habr Gedir-Ayr, in a sometimes uneasy political and military front, the Juba Valley Alliance (‘JVA’). However the JVA split with the rise of the Islamic courts, whose Habr Gedir credentials were enough to convince Yusuf Seeraar to switch allegiance. Barre Hirale lost Kismayo and failed to take it back militarily until the Ethiopian intervention, which he had originally opposed until the rise of the Islamic courts. He will be keen to safeguard his continuing interests in Kismayo that—ironically enough—are threatened by a TFG-imposed, and locally unpopular, administration.

Barre Hirale’s appointment as Minister of Defence is an example of both the ideal power-sharing formula of the TFG, but also the reality of clan ‘horse-trading’ that is the basis for the TFG. The inclusion of the Marehan to a key government portfolio will be interpreted by others as a loss to their clan interests, in this case for example, the other large Darod group, the Ogaden. Nevertheless, the defense portfolio is also balanced by the appointment of a deputy Defence Minister, Salad Ali Jelle. Salad Ali Jelle is Abgal—and in the past allied to the military adversaries of Barre Hirale’s former allies—now associated with the Abgal faction of Mohamed Dheere, Governor of Jowhar, and Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi.

There are various other important players in the TFG from the non-Darod Hawiye clans that dominate Mogadishu and much of south-central Somalia. For example the new Interior Minister Mahomed Sheikh Mohamoud Ga’ma Dheere is Habr Gedir—Salaban. Mahomed Sheikh replaced Hussein Aideed, who is Habr Gedir-Sa’ad, and though Hussein Aideed retained a ministerial post, his demotion will be interpreted by him and his Sa’ad clansmen as a snub. The inclusion of a Habr Gedir Saleban is designed to appease the Saleban sub-clan whom Salad Ali Jelle effectively accused of being behind the ‘insurgency’. But Hussein Aideed’s demotion may also bring a temporary closing of ranks of the Habr Gedir against the TFG. ‘Colonel’ Abdi Qeybdiid, another Habr Gedir Sa’ad warlord, has also been left out in the cold.

The Habr Gedir elders recently met in Mogadishu and effectively declared their public opposition to the TFG and their policies.12 There is particular unease concerning the influx of hundreds of militias from the President’s Puntland region into the Hawiye territory. One politician has warned of the return of clan-based armed conflict similar to the one in 1991-2. In some quarters the TFG is a nightmare scenario of a Darod revenge for the ‘cleansing’ of Darod clans from Mogadishu in 1991.

It is probably true to say that the TFG is not universally reviled across Somalia, but the majority of the Hawiye who dominate the rump of the economically and strategically important southern areas of Somalia do not recognize it—at the moment, at least—as their government. Even the partial Abgal support for the TFG is falling away. The Abgal warlord Mohamed Dheere—who gave up his Parliamentary seat for the Prime Minister—has been disenchanted by the TFG imposition of a centrally appointed administration on his Jowhar ‘fiefdom’.13

A recent visitor to Mogadishu has characterized the TFG as ‘in residence, but not in power’.14 The problem is that the TFG was never a bottom up institution, whereas what preceded them, the Islamic courts—for all their faults15—were at least formed in the seething cauldron of Mogadishu politics. Indeed the lack of Hawiye ownership of the TFG was acute before the rise of the Islamic courts. Moreover, the fact that the Islamic courts had public leadership from the two main ‘Mogadishu’ Hawiye clans, the Abgal and Habr Gedir, goes some way in explaining their widespread support among the Hawiye.

The current stalemate in Mogadishu between the TFG and Hawiye clans warns of another imminent political failure, one that risks a bloody denouement. The disenchantment of the Hawiye is growing while the TFG—beyond a little window dressing—has done little to reach out to them. For the moment the TFG is still playing the zero-sum game, attempting to turn the clock back and ignoring the reality of politics in southern Somalia, especially the hugely symbolic capital city, Mogadishu.


1 ‘Somalia: ICRC counts the cost to civilians’, IRIN, 27 February 2007; ‘Somalia: IDP camp hit in attack on presidential palace’, IRIN, 14 March 2007.

2 ‘Somalia: Premier says government facing insurgency’. Source: KBC Online text website, Nairobi, in English 13 February 07 [BBC Monitoring, AF1 AFEau 130207/is]

3 ‘Somali ex-warlords reportedly behind attacks on government troops’. Source: Somaaljecel website in Somali 22 February 07 [BBC Monitoring AF1 AFE ausaf 220207/nan]

4 ‘Somalia subclan slams deputy defence minister over Mogadishu attack claims’ Source: Somali Union of Islamic Courts website Qaadisiya.com, in Somali 13 February 07 [BBC Monitoring AF1 AFEau 13207/aa-sm]. The Defence Minister has become known in some quarters as ‘Comical Ali’, an allusion to Saddam Hussein’s spokesperson in the last days of that regime.

5 ‘Somalia: Mogadishu residents set up vigilante groups to counter insurgents’. Source: Radio HornAfrik, Mogadishu, in Somali 1600 gmt 21 February 07  [BBC Monitoring AF1 AFEau 210207/ai]

6 ‘Somali PM’s brother-in-law shot dead in Mogadishu’. Source: AFP, Garowe Online, 27 February 2007; ‘Somalia: Militia commander executed in Mogadishu’, Garowe Online, 28 February 2007.

7 ‘Somali warlords rearm amid high tension in the capital’, Source: Shabeelle Media Network website, Mogadishu, in English 22 February  07 [BBC Monitoring AF1 AFEau 220207/om]

8 See Alex de Waal’s contribution to this web-forum.

9 Virginia Luling, ‘Genealogy as Theory, Genealogy as Tool: Aspects of Somali ‘Clanship’, Social Identities: Journal for the Study of Race, Nation and Culture, Vol. 12, No. 4, July 2006.

10 See the heated exchanges between I. M. Lewis and Catherine Besteman in the pages of Cultural Anthropology, especially Volume 13 (1998).

11 http://www.aayaha.com/viewpage.php?articleid=4087

12 ‘Somalia: Dominant Mogadishu Area Clan Opposes Planned Reconciliation Meeting’, Source: Somaaljecel website in Somali 5 March 07 [BBC Monitoring AF1 AFEauwaf 050307/job].

13 ‘Somali faction leader rejects new Shabeelle region administration’, Source: Radio HornAfrik, Mogadishu, in Somali 0500 gmt 25 February 07 [BBC Monitoring AF1 AFEau 250207/da/sg]

14 Personal contacts.

15 See Roland Marchal’s contribution to this web-forum.