Report of the
Somalia Commission of Inquiry (CANADA)
THE SITUATION IN SOMALIA
This chapter is about the
political and socio-economic context in which the Canadian Airborne
Regiment Battle Group (CARBG) carried out its mission to Somalia. It
describes the region's geography, culture, political, and social
structure, and surveys significant events leading to the civil war and
the end of Siad Barre's regime. It also examines the situation in
Somalia when the United Nations intervened and the social and
political conditions in Belet Huen when the CARBG was deployed.
An understanding of the
Somalia context is necessary for evaluating the suitability and
operational readiness of the Canadian Airborne Regiment (CAR) and
CARBG for service in Africa, as well as for judging the
appropriateness of their training for the mission and the adequacy of
Canadian military intelligence. Information about Somali society helps
in the evaluation of decisions and actions taken in theatre and
clarifies how cultural differences between CARBG members and the
Somalis may have affected the conduct of operations.1
A PROFILE OF SOMALIA2
Somalia occupies a
strategic position in the Horn of Africa. In addition to ties with
other African countries, it has close religious and historical links
with the Arab and Islamic world and has a seat in both the
Organization of African Unity (OAU) and the Arab League. At the time
of the CARBG's arrival, Somalia had a population of approximately six
million, including refugees.3
Most of Somalia consists
of dry savannah plains with streams flowing only after rain. Much of
the country has sandy soil with little agricultural value; the scant
33 per cent of land is that is arable in the Haud Plateau. Leafless
shrubs, scrub and some grassland make up the typical semi-arid
vegetation. Forested areas are found along the Shebelle and Juba
rivers which provide the only drainage. Between these rivers lies the
richest land in the country, where there is agriculture and livestock
farming. Elsewhere, herding of sheep, goats and camels predominates,
with widely separated permanent settlements built around wells. Only
15 per cent of the population live in urban areas.4
At the time of the CF's arrival in Somalia it was estimated that of
600,000 city dwellers, approximately 350,000 lived in Mogadishu, the
capital.5 Other main centres are Hargeisa,
capital of the northern region, and Berbera and Kismayu, the principal
northern and southern ports.
For most of the year, the
climate is very hot and humid with mean daily highs of 30 to 40°C in
a range between 17 and 45°C. In the northern plateau, the hottest
months are June through September while along the northeastern coast,
October and November are hottest. Annual rainfall is less than 500
millimetres in the desert region and 500 to 1000 mm in the steppe
region. In the north-east, there are two wet or monsoon seasons -- one
is from April to July and the other from October to November -- during
which major flooding often occurs, making cross-country movement
difficult. During the two dry seasons, with their irregular rainfall
and hot and humid periods, droughts are common.
Winds can reach almost
hurricane force. Between June and September, the swirling dust and
sand create difficulties for vehicle and equipment maintenance,
requiring special lubricants and fuels. Vehicles create huge dust
clouds, restricting visibility to a few metres and making travel
difficult. Sand irritates skin and eyes, endangering soldiers
separated from their units. Desert conditions of radiant heat,
humidity and wind create climatic stress on the body.
The Somali economy derives
from its semi-arid climate and an environment featuring frequent
drought and highly localized rainfall. Cattle, goats, and sheep are
herded, but camel ownership is considered the "most noble Somali
calling".6 Although competition for
scarce resources often creates conflict over wells and pasture lands,7
the Somalis are united by the traditions of a herding lifestyle.
Most of the economic
production in modern Somalia is based upon the traditional practice of
pastoral nomadism8 except in the southern
region where higher rainfall and river water permit mixed farming and
agropastoralism.9 Only 1.3 to 3 per cent
of the land in Somalia is irrigated and cultivated, while the rest is
used for grazing.10 Although livestock
and livestock products make up the majority of Somalia's exports,
bananas are the primary source of foreign exchange.11
Arab states are large importers of Somali products. Along the Juba and
Shebelle rivers, bananas are grown on plantations, and the area also
supports important subsistence crops such as maize and sorghum.
After the country's
independence in 1960, economic growth failed to keep pace with the
rise in population caused by the influx of refugees.12
This was a result of the country's heavy dependence upon agriculture
and herding which are affected by drought. Somalia's largest industry
is processing agricultural food products;13
apart from that, there is little industrial development. Except for
tin, the country's minerals are not developed, although international
companies have prospected for oil. During the 1980s, devastating
droughts, the Ogaden War with Ethiopia, and the civil war that
followed threw a failing economy into ruins. By the 1990s, Somalia was
classified a "least developed country" by the UN.14
The external debt at the time of UN intervention was $1.9 billion,
with repayments estimated at 120 to 130 per cent of export earnings.
The inflation rate exceeded 80 per cent.15
Following the civil war,
the towns between Ethiopia and the port of Bossasso in the Mudug
region showed some increased economic activity, while the surrounding
countryside showed signs of serious economic collapse.16
In the south, economic collapse followed inter-clan warfare. In towns
visited by an assessment team in September 1991,17
many economically active persons were women engaged in petty trading,
often separated from their husbands or widowed by war. Government wage
employment (mostly benefitting men) had collapsed.
Culture and Social
are descended from herders who entered the Horn of Africa at least two
millennia ago. By the seventh century, the indigenous Cushitic peoples
had mixed with Arabs and Persians on the coast forming a Somali
culture with common traditions, faith, and language. The official
language in the country is Somali. Arabic, English, and Italian have
also been used in government agencies. In addition to a common
language, Somalis share the Islamic faith, most being Sunni Muslim.
There are two major occupational groupings: the nomads (the Samale)
and the cultivators (the Sab). These groups are further divided into
clan-families, which are in turn divided into clans and lineages.
The pastoral clan-families
constitute about 85 per cent of the population.19
The remaining southern clan-families are associated with mixed
pastoralism and farming,20 and their
identity is linked more to the villages in which they live than to the
clans to which they belong. They are also politically weaker and
inferior in social status to the pastoral clans. These agricultural
communities constitute an appreciable portion of that Somali
population which is ethnically and culturally distinct. They do not
have the same warrior tradition as the nomads, are not as heavily
armed, and were never as involved in the workings of the central
government. Because their lands became a battleground during the civil
war, they became principal victims in the ensuing famine.
their genealogy back 30 generations to a common ancestor, form a
federation of kinship groups, yet these clan-families rarely operate
as a unit. Common interests and mutual aid occur among smaller kin
groups such as the clan (whose members trace their membership back 20
generations) or groups united by lineage (6 to 10 generations).21
As Somalis themselves put it, while a person's address may be in
Europe, his or her genealogy is in Somaliland. "By virtue of his
genealogy...each individual has an exact place in society...[and can]...trace
his precise connection with everyone else."22
According to one CF document, Somalis are identified according to
their clan-family and the area from which they originate. "The
first thing they want to know when meeting anyone, even foreigners, is
where you are from and what clan you belong to."
According to Dr. Kenneth
Menkhaus, clan identity is fluid and complex enough to allow
genealogical links to be recast according to the political needs of
the moment: "A different clan identity could be highlighted or
suppressed depending on the situation." This is "a source of
tremendous frustration" for outsiders, particularly foreign
military. Clan identity "made for political units that were very
unstable, very fluid and this was so frustrating for the international
forces and civilian diplomats who were part of the intervention
because they could not get a clean fix on political units in
Somalia...this fluid situational political identity serves the
interest of Somalis...but it didn't serve ours very well and it was a
source of misunderstanding."
A politically significant
sub-unit is a man's diya group. Diya is blood money --
usually measured in camels. It is "a corporate group of a few
small lineages reckoning descent from four to eight generations to the
common founder, and having a membership of from a few hundred to a few
thousand men."23 A diya group
is sworn to avenge injustice against one of its own members if no
exchange of camels is agreed upon, and to defend each other materially
or aggressively when members of that group themselves do wrong.24
As Dr. Menkhaus states, "this practice of blood
compensation...did mitigate spiraling violence, it did allow...clans
to negotiate an end to bloodshed and it also serves as a deterrent for
personal vendettas and murder...". International forces needed to
understand that the diya system creates a sense of collective
rather than individual guilt; when Canadian soldiers hung placards
around thieves' necks, this tactic could be perceived as humiliating
an entire clan rather than punishing a few individuals.
Clan elders play a
critical role in mediating and adjudicating disputes using Somali
customary law (xeer).25 They are
acknowledged experts in the process of conflict-resolution
negotiations. As Dr. Menkhaus testified, "Military units would
treat a conflict as a discreet event, they'd bring in the clan elders,
they would sit down and make a peace, there would be a document to
prove it, and then there would be peace and we could all go away, when
in fact that wasn't the case. In Somali political culture, conflict
management never ends, they are always in dialogue, they're always
meeting and it took us quite a long time to understand that to be
effective in helping them manage their conflicts." Accords and
arrangements struck without ratification by the clan are not viewed as
legitimate and are rarely upheld. Thus, peace conferences held at a
distance (in Nairobi, Addis Ababa, or Mogadishu) that were not vetted
by the local populations were not considered binding.
Kinship is passed on from
a father to his sons and daughters, much as family names are
transmitted in Canada. A woman remains a lifelong member of her
father's group and at marriage does not adopt her husband's name.
Bonds of blood are permanent; they supersede those of conjugal
relationships which can terminate with divorce. To Somalis,
non-Somalis and foreigners are inferiors and subject to suspicion
because they are not bound by Somali descent and kinship.26
Marriage with non-Somalis is discouraged.
According to Somali custom,
women's social status is inferior. Both sexes believe that gender
inequality is normal and natural. Women submit to males and they do
much of the hard physical work. Boys and unmarried men tend the camel
herds, while married men engage in trade, clear wells, and manage
camels. Only senior men have the right to dispose of family property.
Women's security depends on their relationship to their fathers,
husbands, brothers, and uncles. Male kin are expected to watch over a
woman should she leave her husband.
Clan relationships are
both unifying and divisive. The lineage ethic of Somalis is described
by Dr. Menkhaus as emphasizing one's primary obligations to look after
the interests of one's clan members, even at the expense of other
Somalis. Those Somalis responsible for famine relief faced conflicting
obligations: the relief organization's commitment to distribute aid
evenly to famine victims, and the clan's pressure to respect family
obligations by diverting relief supplies to the clan.
Dr. Menkhaus summed up the
lineage ethic by quoting a well-known Somali saying: "My cousin
and I against the clan; my brother and I against my cousin; I against
my brother." Within this system, alliances among lineages can be
formed after fighting among them, and kin who are supportive in one
situation can be predatory in another.
THE HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
OF THE CONFLICT IN SOMALIA
society has been organized around mobile lineage units averse to
centralized authority. The word Somali appears in no Arabic
documents before the sixteenth century, yet documents refer to
identifiable clan-families as early as the fourteenth century.27
This may mean that Somali political unity is fairly recent, or more
fiction than historical fact -- a point relevant to events since World
In the diplomatic
jockeying that followed the construction of the Suez Canal, Somalia
was arbitrarily divided into spheres of foreign influence.28
Aggressive advances into the Ogaden area by Ethiopia spawned a
nationalist movement led by the religious sage Sayyid Mohammed Abdille
Hasan. In one of the last African resistance movements against
European colonialism, he opposed centralized 'infidel' rule over the
Under Italian rule, the
capital, established in Mogadishu, doubled in population between 1930
and 1940. Trade and commerce were strictly controlled by the Italian
Fascists who barred Somalis from participation in profitable sectors
of the economy. Towns grew, large-scale plantations were set up, and
basic health and educational services were established. By 1930, the
Italian colonial system of rural administration included an armed
rural constabulary of 500, and a police force of 1,475 Somalis and 85
Italian officers and subalterns.30 Except
at the lowest levels, there were no Somalis in the colonial
government. In 1940, Italy joined the Axis powers, and the U.K. and
Italy confronted each other in Somalia. After the Italian defeat,31
Somalia was placed under British military administration until 1949,
Italian police officers were replaced by Somalis, and a police school
was opened to train Somalis for higher ranks. Somali self-government
was fostered by the British, and in 1948 a portion of western British
Somaliland was given to Ethiopia.
The UN Trusteeship
At the end of World War
II, Somalia enjoyed prosperity and progress under a 10-year UN
trusteeship from 1950 to 1960. Advances were made in education;
irrigation farming was extended; and wells were drilled. Plantation
agriculture was revived for cotton, sugar, and bananas. Somalis
replaced expatriates in the civil service. Party politics (heavily
influenced by kinship) were introduced in municipal elections in 1954,
and the first general election of the legislative assembly by
universal male suffrage was held in 1956.
On July 1, 1960, British
Somaliland united with Italian Somaliland to form the independent
Somali Republic. A multi-party constitutional democracy with a
national assembly of legislators was established, but loyalty to kin
and clan continued to define Somali politics.32
Patronage and the numerical strength of clan coalitions were more
important than personal merit since political parties identified
themselves with clans and sub-clans. Some Somalis remember this time
for its political freedom, others for its increasing corruption,
clanism, and political gridlock. The newly independent country had to
combine two judicial systems, currencies, military and civil service
organizations, systems of taxation and education. Somalia became
dependent on foreign aid that served to enrich the civil service and
military,33 while poverty remained
endemic among the masses.
During the Cold War,
Somalia acquired economic and military aid by playing the superpowers
against each other. The state became a major source of wealth, with
money redistributed along clan lines. By 1969, in a population of four
million, there were 64 political parties representing 64 lineages and
sub-lineages,34 all seeking a slice of
the national pie. This pattern reappeared during the international
relief effort in Somalia when clan members on local councils tried to
corner foreign assistance.
The Military Coup
In 1969, Major-General
Siad Barre, commander-in-chief of the armed forces, seized power and
established a socialist military dictatorship lasting nine years. His
government suspended the democratic constitution, dissolved the
national assembly, disbanded political parties, and banned
professional associations. Leading civilian politicians were arrested
and detained for years.35 Civic
organizations not sponsored by the government were banned. As
president, Barre was supported by a 25-member Supreme Revolutionary
Council (SRC) of army and police officers. In 1972, the government's
new constitution established a national assembly, but allowed Barre's
followers to create a political system without constitutional,
legislative, or judicial restraints on the exercise of executive
power. The National Security Service's agents and informants stamped
out dissent. The regime nationalized most industry, banks, insurance
companies, and the press, censored the media, denied visas to foreign
journalists, and created a personality cult featuring Barre as 'Our
Father'. Through a program of 'scientific socialism', management of
the economy fell to government agencies.
Because Barre's inner
circle of advisers came from only three clans, his government was at
times referred to as the MOD (Marehan, Ogadeni, Dolbahante).36
To control the other clans (the Majerteen in 1979, the Isaaq in 1988,
the Hawiye in 1989-1990), the regime became increasingly repressive.
Barre declared war on tribalism. He dismantled institutions that
traditionally resolved conflict. In 1973, he forbade private social
gatherings -- engagements, weddings, and funerals -- unless held at
government orientation centres. Many people, frustrated by these
repressive measures, emigrated or turned to violence.
During the 1970s and early
1980s, the United States and the U.S.S.R. (along with Cuba)37
competed for influence in the Horn of Africa because of its proximity
to the Middle East. At first, the Soviet Union and East Germany
supported Barre's scientific socialist regime. However, when a Marxist
government gained control of Ethiopia, the United States pulled out,
and the U.S.S.R. moved in to support Ethiopia during the Ogaden War.
Angered by this move, Barre threw out Soviet military advisers, closed
down Soviet military facilities in the country, and looked to the West
for aid and military support. To ensure the security of oil supplies
in the Gulf, the United States improved its relations with Somalia,
took over the Soviet base at Berbera in 1980, and negotiated access
for U.S. Central Command to the military facilities of Somalia.
supplied arms to power groups in the region, fanning regional
conflicts. The Horn's per capita consumption of weapons was higher
than in any other part of Africa. In the mid-1970s, at the height of
the Soviet-Somali friendship, Somalia had the best-equipped forces in
Black Africa. Soviet military equipment made the Ogaden War possible
for Somalia, but Cuba helped the Ethiopians repel the Somalis.
The Ogaden (Ethiopian)
Somalia's defeat by
Ethiopia led to the collapse of the MOD alliance, leaving little
common ground for clan co-operation. The army began to experience
organizational problems partly because of its rapid increase in size
during the 1970s in anticipation of the war. Discipline became
increasingly difficult to maintain since pre-war recruitment had
occurred along clan lines -- particularly the Ogadeni, Marehan, Hawiye,
and Majerteen clans.39 Consequently,
after the war, distinctions between clan-specific military units and
clan militias became blurred. The United States became Somalia's
largest source of economic and military aid, established a military
and naval facility at Berbera, provided weapons, held frequent
consultations with the Somali regime,40
and helped Somalia resist an invasion by Ethiopia in 1982.
The Civil War
After the Ogaden War,
hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian refugees from the Ogadeni and Oromo
clans poured across the border. They settled in the north where the
Isaaq -- the largest clan in the region41
-- accused the Barre regime of favouring refugees over the local
population. In 1981, a group of Isaaq-clan exiles formed the Somali
National Movement (SNM). From their bases in Ethiopia, they conducted
hit-and-run attacks on the Somali army. On May 27, 1988, the SNM
attacked Burao and the northern city of Hargeisa. Unable to defeat the
guerrillas, the army killed tens of thousands of civilians in northern
By 1988, the Barre regime
was accused of genocide against rebel factions in the north, and the
West froze foreign aid. The United States stopped supplying weapons to
Somalia in 1989, and the Soviets ended shipments to Ethiopia in 1991;42
both encouraged local governments to resolve their own disputes.
During the next few years guerrilla warfare, led by emerging factions
opposed to the government, spread to the centre and south of the
country.43 By the end of 1990, the entire
southern region of Somalia was at war. Then on January 19, 1991, the
United Somali Congress (USC) forces under General Mohammed Farah
Aideed entered Mogadishu, forcing Barre to flee. However, factions
continued to fight each other for power, with hundreds of 'freelance'
soldiers and looters contributing to the violence.
The north feared that a
government dominated by southern clans would exclude it from power.
After consultation among provincial leadership groups, the Republic of
Somaliland was declared on May 18, 1991, with Abed al-Rahman Ahmad Ali
Tur of the SNM as president.44 After
several years of internal warfare, there were attempts early in 1991
to reconcile the various armed organizations. A National
Reconciliation Conference in Djibouti endorsed the leadership of an
interim government and gave the presidency to one USC leader, Mohammed
Ali Mahdi. General Aideed maintained that the USC should be allowed to
nominate its own candidate -- himself. In August, Ali Mahdi was
confirmed as president to end the war, establish a civil
infrastructure, and adhere to USC policy for reconstituting a national
army.45 The Djibouti Agreement was
overshadowed by tensions between two rival factions of the USC, which
escalated into full-scale warfare in Mogadishu46
in November 1991 as General Aideed's faction stepped up its effort to
oust Ali Mahdi.
The central government was
dissolved and clans fought for control of the country. Because of the
collapse of the central government, only local clan elders or heads of
factions provided leadership and administrative control, and regional
rules varied with the clan in power. All regional governments lacked
efficient communication and transportation, and leaders were under
constant attack from rival groups.
The armed clashes and
other serious problems occurred primarily in the south, where General
Aideed and Ali Mahdi emerged as the two most powerful leaders.
Although most Westerners understood that Ali Mahdi and General Aideed
were from the Abgaal and Habar Gidir sub-clans, few realized that both
sub-clans were further divided into lineages that did not support the
faction leaders, and that both leaders were in constant negotiation
with other groups to maintain their precarious positions.
Fighting centred on
heavily damaged Mogadishu and the inter-riverine agricultural zone
between Mogadishu, Kismayu and Bardhere, which quickly became a famine
zone. By March 1992, the International Committee of the Red Cross
noted "horrifying" levels of malnutrition -- approaching
nearly 90 per cent of the population in the area surrounding Belet
Huen and in the camps of displaced persons around Merca, south of
Mogadishu. Lawlessness, the destruction of infrastructure,47
and droughts combined to create enormous problems. In Mogadishu, only
a third of the population had clean water.48
Clan fighting and banditry prevented adequate distribution of food aid,
and Somalia fell into a form of anarchy characterized by roving gangs
of bandits and loosely organized clan militias, all fighting for
control of key towns and regions. Because the militia men were unpaid,
an economy of plunder emerged.49
In a desperate attempt to
contain the famine, relief agencies were forced into 'security'
arrangements with the local militias, who demanded food and salaries
from the convoys and compounds they protected. The militias fought for
control of famine relief supplies which they diverted and resold to
finance arms purchases. When it was clear that the international
relief effort was fuelling the fighting that had caused the famine in
the first place, the international community considered armed
intervention as a solution.
The Situation in Somalia
when the UN Intervened in 1992
The General Context in
These conditions of
political upheaval, combined with the effects of civil war and a
severe drought, had created havoc.50
There was a breakdown in the social structure. Police services had
fallen apart.51 Official reports noted
that political security in all parts of the country was uncertain and
was likely to be subject to rapid change. These reports did not note,
however, that in the absence of formal state and judicial systems,
traditional law and the role of clan elders were working to mediate
conflicts, as were the Islamic courts, which, with the help of armed
and disciplined young men, were able to impose the sharia law.52
Although Western media
reduced the complexity of the war (in the 1990s) to clan conflict, the
situation also involved a power struggle between General Aideed and
Mohammed Ali Mahdi, as well as conflict among groups of heavily armed,
impoverished boys and men. The Mahdi camp supported the presence of UN
peacekeeping forces, whereas General Aideed, fearing that the UN might
recognize the existing government, preferred national reconciliation
leading to a new government in which his faction would play a more
United Nations Actions
The UN and its agencies
withdrew from Mogadishu after Barre was overthrown. It provided no
assistance in 1991.54
In mid-December 1991,
prompted by harsh criticism from the Red Cross and the U.S. State
Department, the UN sent Under Secretary-General James Jonah to
Somalia. This led to an arms embargo on Somalia and encouraged member
countries to provide humanitarian aid. By mid-February 1992, the UN
called negotiators for Ali Mahdi and General Aideed to New York and,
after only two days of negotiations, declared a cease-fire. However,
the fighting in Mogadishu continued. Later that month, representatives
from the UN, the OAU, the Arab League, and the Organisation of the
Islamic Conference (OIC) visited Mogadishu to work out the details of
the ceasefire.55 A UN force of 50 unarmed
observers was authorized by the UN Security Council to help enforce a
UN-brokered cease-fire in Mogadishu between Ali Mahdi and General
Aideed.56 The cease-fire was relatively
effective at that time, but there was still banditry and looting by
uncontrolled factions both in Mogadishu and throughout the country. As
well, extortion and security problems complicated the delivery of
humanitarian aid. By July 1992, the UN envisaged a long-term role in
Somalia, including such actions as re-establishing a police force. A
letter from the UN Secretary-General to the Security Council provided
the justification for invoking Chapter VII, with its "take all
necessary means" language.
Regional Conditions in
original assignment in Somalia, is in the north-east, close to the Red
Sea coast. It was inhabited by a single, relatively cohesive clan, the
Majerteen, whose elders and leaders exercised authority, and it was
relatively peaceful compared to the south. The Democratic Front for
the Salvation of Somalia (SSDF) was the sole faction controlling the
area. The Majerteen had a cosmopolitan view of international forces
and welcomed international intervention bringing foreign assistance
and goods. Thus, when Canadian officials conducted their
reconnaissance survey of Bossasso and the northeast region as a
possible site for Canadian peacekeeping forces, they found a
permissive environment for a conventional Chapter VI operation.
Bossasso was a secure, busy, well-administered city with no clan
violence. Business and trade continued, and the local market was
active.57 Policemen patrolled the streets.
Because of the relative calm, the port (under SSDF control) became the
most active in the country. Local vehicles were available for hire.
The power station had enough fuel to operate for two to six hours a
day, primarily to run the fish plant and for emergency operations at
the hospitals. However, spare parts and fuel were scarce, and the
medium-sized airport was reported to be in poor condition.58
There were many refugees
in Bossasso, fleeing the civil war in the south. One NDHQ report
stated that refugees had swelled the town's population of 7,000 to
77,000, straining local resources. Many refugees were living in
makeshift huts, though the Somali national from whom this information
was received reported no starvation, which was confirmed by a report
from NDHQ stating that conditions were "considerably better"
than in the south.59
Regional Conditions in
Belet Huen is in a
frontier area where two very distinct forms of production (pastoralism
and agriculture) adjoin. During the first three to four months of the
year, when the most notorious incidents involving the CF occurred, the
temperature can exceed 40°C. If humidity is taken into account, it
may feel like 50°C or more. Belet Huen is a strategic gateway between
central Somalia, Ethiopia and southern Somalia. The country 5 only
north-south highway runs from Mogadishu along the Shebelle River to
Belet Huen. From there, the highway runs north to the central regions
of Somalia and west into Ethiopia. According to Dr. Menkhaus, Belet
Huen was a critical choke-point for the traffic of arms from Ethiopia
and the movement of men from the Mudug region in central Somalia (where
General Aideed's Habar Gidir clan was based) to Mogadishu. Belet Huen
was an area of considerable strategic importance in the Somali
political context and thus an area of fierce political competition,
with local clans struggling to control the region. The CARBG was
confronted with shifting clan alliances and clan-based claims on
political authority and economic assets.
When the Barre regime was
pushed back toward Mogadishu during 1989-1990, troops retaliated with
a scorched earth policy, looting and assaulting local populations as
they retreated. Belet Huen and surrounding areas along the Shebelle
River were particularly hard hit by Barre's supporters. This left the
region vulnerable to famine and food shortages by mid-1991, in
contrast to the north-east of Somalia, which remained free of famine
and most armed hostilities. Famine victims from Rahanwein flocked to
Belet Huen where an international airlift relief operation was mounted.
The Hawaadle clan, a
relatively small clan of the Hawiye clan-family, was the dominant
social group in Belet Huen. It exerted strong control over politics
and the police and was thus able to secure most of the contracts from
international aid organizations. Clan members attempted to maintain
control over relief supplies, political representation, and the
economic assets of the region. This led to discontent among the other
clans, which wanted control over the highway, a major conduit of
manpower and military hardware from Ethiopia and the central regions
of Somalia to General Aideed in Mogadishu.60
Thus the Belet Huen region
was known for extortion and intricate clan rivalries.61
Banditry and extortion were much more common in Belet Huen than in
Bossasso. International relief agencies had to exercise considerable
diplomatic skill to navigate the clan tensions that affected every
part of their operations. The town was considered a challenging
position in Somalia for a UN military force.
information on the culture of the Airborne, see Chapter 9 in this
volume and the research study by Donna Winslow, The Canadian
Airborne in Somalia: A Socio-Cultural Inquiry, study
prepared for the Commission of Inquiry into the Deployment of
Canadian Forces to Somalia (Ottawa: Public Works and Government
We are indebted to Dr.
Kenneth Menkhaus of Davidson College in North Carolina for his
extensive testimony before the Inquiry on October 23, 1995 (Transcripts
vol. 7, pp. 1266-1412). Dr. Menkhaus has been an adviser to the
United Nations with respect to the situation in Somalia, and much
of the discussion in this chapter concerning Somalia's political
situation, history, and social and clan structure is based on
information provided by Dr. Menkhaus.
"Somalia, State Disintegration and Regional Stability", Jane's
Intelligence Review (February 1993), p. 71
Department of National
Defence, National Defence Headquarters, "Analysis of Area of
Operations Report: Somalia", August 25, 1992, p. 9. This
figure varies because of the nomadic lifestyle of many Somalis.
DND, NDHQ, Analysis of
Area of Operations Report, p. 19.
David D. Laitin, Politics,
Language and Thought: The Somali Experience (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1977), p. 21.
Control of territory
means access not only to grazing but also to other sources of
income. For example, before colonial occupation, a clan controlled
access to its territory. Outside traders -- Somali and non-Somali
-- who wished to pass through a clan's territorial stronghold had
to pay protection money to a member of that clan. This practice
appears to have been revived in modified form during international
In 1989, livestock
products accounted for about 49 per cent of the gross domestic
product. Exports of livestock products rose after 1969, reaching a
peak of $132 million in 1982, accounting for about 80 per cent of
the foreign exchange that year. This sector, along with the entire
economy, was dislocated by the suspension of imports in 1983 by
Saudi Arabia, Somalia's largest customer. An agreement with Egypt
failed to compensate for this loss, and earnings from livestock
exports fell in 1984. In 1985, earnings recovered, and they
increased again in 1986-87, but they declined in 1988 and 1989,
owing to the fighting in the north, where most livestock is raised.
The livestock sector was also affected severely by drought in the
mid-1970s as well as in 1984-85.
See I.M. Lewis, The
Modern History of Somalia: Nation and State in the Horn of Africa
(New York: 1980), p. 7 (revised edition of The Modern History
of Somaliland from Nation to State (Boulder, Colorado:
Westview Press, 1965).)
DND, NDHQ, Analysis of
Area of Operations Report, p. 8.
See Africa South of
the Sahara, 1993, 22nd edition (London: Europa, 1992) for more
The gross national
product in 1990 was $946 million U.S., or $150 per capita. During
1980-90, GNP grew at an annual rate of 1.1 per cent, while per
capita GNP decreased by 1.8 per cent per year (Africa South of
the Sahara, 1993, p. 755).
DND, Land Force
Central Area Headquarters, CFB Toronto, The Somalia Handbook,
Samuel M. Makinda, Security
in the Horn of Africa, Adelphi Papers No. 269 (London:
Brassey's 1992), p. 34.
DND, Director General
Intelligence, NDHQ, "A Report of the Assessment Mission to
Bari, Nugaal and Mudug Regions of Somalia, 17-30 September
1991", pp. 25-26.
"Report of the
Assessment Mission to Bari, Nugaal and Mudug Regions of
Somalia", p. 26.
Somalia Handbook distributed to Canadian troops states that
98.8 per cent of the population is made up of the Somali ethnic
group, with one per cent Arab and few foreigners (p. 8), other
sources indicate that the area between Mogadishu and Kismayu,
especially the district of Kismayu and the lower Juba River valley,
is home to a significant number of non-Somalis. They include
people of Arab descent who live in the towns of Merca and Brava,
as well as descendants of slaves from eastern and southern Africa
known as Gosha who have established communities in the forests of
the lower Juba River valley. The Arab population of Kismayu fled
the city soon after the fall of Barre's government in January
1991. In the battles during the first half of 1991, non-Somalis
were among the chief civilian victims of the warring parties. In
addition, the low caste status of the Gosha may have influenced
the amount of relief supplies they received ([Canadian]
Immigration and Refugee Board Documentation Centre, "Somalia:
Inter-NGO Committee for Somalia (UK) (INCS-UK) 1991 Reports --
Executive Summary" (Ottawa: March 1992), p. 8).
Aman, as told to
Virginia Lee Barnes and Janice Boddy, Aman: The Story of a
Somali Girl (Toronto: Knopf, 1994), p. 295.
According to the
documents, the five major clans, are, in order of numerical
strength: the Darod, which inhabits the southwestern and
northeastern regions; Siad Barre is a member of this clan; the
Hawiye, another nomadic tribe living in the central eastern region;
the Isaaq, the third nomadic tribal grouping living in the central
region; the Dir, in the north-west; and the Rahanwein, the main
non-nomadic clan grouping practising agriculture in the south.
Aman: The Story of
a Somali Girl, p. 295.
I.M. Lewis, A
Pastoral Democracy: A Study of Pastoralism and Politics among the
Northern Somali of the Horn of Africa (London: Oxford
University Press, 1961), p. 2.
Lewis, A Pastoral
Democracy, p. 6.
Aman: The Story of
a Somali Girl, p. 295.
Testimony of Dr. K.
Menkhaus, Transcripts vol. 7, p. 1277.
Aman: The Story of
a Somali Girl, p. 300.
Aman: The Story of
a Somali Girl, p. 291.
Britain secured most
of the northern littoral. France took the north-west headland that
is now Djibouti. Italy, which had earlier established itself on
the Red Sea in Eritrea, acquired control over most of Somalia's
Indian Ocean shore. The southernmost part of Somali territory,
much of it now in Kenya, also went to the British. Ethiopia,
reacting to the European presence and seeking, unsuccessfully, an
outlet to the sea, moved east, seizing the important Somali
pastureland of the Ogaden steppe (Aman: The Story of a Somali
Girl, p. 292).
Saadia Touval, Somali
Nationalism: International Politics and the Drive for Unity in the
Horn of Africa (Cambridge: Harvard University Press 1963), p.
History of Somalia, p. 98.
maintained commercial links with Somalia and was the only country
involved in mediating regional conflicts in the late 1980s and
early 1990s (Makinda, Security in the Horn of Africa, p.
Refugee Board Documentation Centre, "Somalia -- Executive
Summary", p. l2.
The government sought
to quadruple the size of the army, which was 5,000 strong at
independence. The United States, because of its ties to Ethiopia,
helped to upgrade the Somali police force. In 1962, the U.S.S.R.
gave Somalia loans and sophisticated weaponry and sent military
advisers. Thus armed, Somalia engaged in border wars with Kenya
and Ethiopia (Laitin and Samatar, Somalia: Nation in Search of
a State, p. 74; "UK Intelligence Report, 7-1991", p.
4721; and Rakiya Omaar, "Somalia: At War with Itself", Africa
Watch (March 1992), p. 231.
Said S. Samatar, Somalia:
A Nation in Turmoil (London: Minority Rights Group Report,
1991), p. 17.
At War with Itself", pp. 230-231.
in the Horn of Africa, p. 26.
The former U.S.
military base in Eritrea was part of the network of U.S. and NATO
military communications. When the U.S.S.R. established a naval
presence in Somalia and a base at Berbera beginning in the late
1960s, the move was regarded as a threat to Western security
interests in the region (Makinda, Security in the Horn of
Africa, p. 63).
Colonial rule had
divided the Somalis into five entities: Italian Somaliland in the
south, British Somaliland in the north, some Somali communities in
Djibouti, a large number of communities in the Ogaden under the
rule of Ethiopia, and another large group in northeastern Kenya.
This separation of kinsmen was a source of some grievance, and the
Somali flag contains a star with five points representing the five
states into which Somalis found themselves divided during
colonialism. Independence had brought together Italian and British
Somalia, but this was not satisfactory. Somali foreign policy at
independence became obsessed with the return of Ogaden until it
actually sparked a border war with Ethiopia.
in the Horn of Africa, p. 29.
This practice was
curtailed by Congress after 1989 (Omaar, "Somalia: At War
with Itself", p. 231).
The Isaaq clan
accounts for about 20 per cent of Somalia's total population (Makinda,
Security in the Horn of Africa, p. 31).
in the Horn of Africa, p. 66.
For example, the
United Somali Congress from the central region, led initially by
General Mohammed Farah Aideed with support from the Hawiye clan,
declared war on the government.
"Somalia, State Disintegration and Regional Stability",
p. 72; and Omaar, "Somalia: At War with Itself", p. 233.
At War with Itself", p. 233.
The infamous 'green
line' divided Mogadishu, with Ali Mahdi dominant in the north and
General Aideed in the south. See Wyllie, "Somalia, State
Disintegration and Regional Stability", p. 71.
At the time of the UN
intervention, there was little infrastructure left. There were
airfields at Hargeisa and Mogadishu, and all ports and roads were
in poor condition. DND, NDHQ, Analysis of Area of Operations
Report, p. l.
DND, NDHQ, Analysis of
Area of Operations Report, p. 17.
According to Dr.
Menkhaus, You had on the one hand the young men who had no
training because the educational system had collapsed in Somalia
10 years before, that were more powerful in their community in the
chaos as long as they had a gun... They had made more money in the
chaos looting and extorting than they had ever made before, and
they had a strong interest in seeing this continue. They had
leaders who had a strong interest in an economy of plunder.
Warlords [is what] we have come to call them...and in a few cases
this is a legitimate term for people whose power base rested on
fear and instability -- the threat of attack by another clan
against their owns--s-which elevated their status in their
community. They were making good money extorting international
relief agencies, extorting other clans and so on. There were
entire Somali clans who came in and conquered vast, very valuable
real estate in Somalia, and they had a continued vested interest
in this whole economy of pillage (Transcripts vol. 7, pp.
DND, NDHQ, Analysis of
Area of Operations Report, p. 19.
Handbook, p. 5.
Kenneth Menkhaus and
John Prendergast, Political Economy of Post-Intervention
Somalia, Somalia Task Force Issue Paper #3 (1995), p. 7.
At War with Itself", pp. 233-234.
At War with Itself", p. 233.
At War with Itself", p. 234.
reported that the UN's insistence that the warring factions
respect the cease-fire agreement before it provided food, medicine
and other necessities was misguided, as the war in Mogadishu was
fuelled by hunger (Omaar, "Somalia: At War with Itself",
DND, "Int Report
OP Cordon RECCE" [Intelligence report on a reconnaissance
conducted for Operation Cordon], p. 1.
"Analysis of Area of Operations Report", September 9,
1992, Annex A, p. 2.
Analysis of Area of
Operations Report, September 9, 1992, Annex A, pp. 1, 2.
The arrangement made
during the civil war was that the Hawaadle clan could enjoy
pre-eminence in Belet Huen and were given by General Aideed (also
from the Hawiye clan-family) the right to control the airport in
Mogadishu. This was a very lucrative opportunity and one that a
relatively small clan such as the Hawaadle would not normally have
had, except that the Habar Gidir and General Aideed needed their
acquiescence. Since they were not formal allies, the Hawadle clan
was very careful to stay as neutral as it could in the civil war,
but prominent members enjoyed special opportunities because of
their geographic position (Testimony of Dr. Menkhaus, Transcripts
vol. 7, p. 1284).
A number of smaller
Hawiye clans, including the Jajele, Galgaal and Badi Addo, inhabit
the west bank of the town. They were not pleased that the Hawaadle
monopolized opportunities in the town but were unable to do much
about it. To the north of the town the powerful pastoral Habar
Gidir clan (also members of the Hawiye clan-family) was dominant.
It did not need to control Belet Huen directly but required the
acquiescence of whoever was controlling the town to allow for the
free flow of men and weapons. To the north and west, the Marehan
and Bah Geri clans of the Darod clan-family controlled land
north-west of the city leading to Ethiopia. This is significant
since this was Siad Barre's clan-family. There were Ogadeni
clansmen to the west and in Ethiopia who also wanted access to the
road (Testimony of Dr. Menkhaus, Transcripts vol. 7, pp.
of Public Works and Government Services Canada 1997