Report of the Somalia Commission of Inquiry (CANADA)



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


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 40C in a range between 17 and 45C. 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 Structure

Somalis18 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.

Clan-families, tracing 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.


Historically, Somali 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 War II.


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 independent-minded Somalis.29

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.

Superpower rivalry 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) War38

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 towns.

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 1992

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 prominent role.53

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 Bossasso

Bossasso, Canada's 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

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 40C. If humidity is taken into account, it may feel like 50C 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.


  1. For further 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 Services, 1997).

  2. 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.

  3. James Wyllie, "Somalia, State Disintegration and Regional Stability", Jane's Intelligence Review (February 1993), p. 71

  4. 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.

  5. DND, NDHQ, Analysis of Area of Operations Report, p. 19.

  6. David D. Laitin, Politics, Language and Thought: The Somali Experience (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977), p. 21.

  7. 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 relief efforts.

  8. 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.

  9. 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).)

  10. DND, NDHQ, Analysis of Area of Operations Report, p. 8.

  11. See Africa South of the Sahara, 1993, 22nd edition (London: Europa, 1992) for more detail.

  12. 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).

  13. DND, Land Force Central Area Headquarters, CFB Toronto, The Somalia Handbook, p. 9.

  14. Samuel M. Makinda, Security in the Horn of Africa, Adelphi Papers No. 269 (London: Brassey's 1992), p. 34.

  15. Somalia Handbook, p. 9.

  16. 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.

  17. "Report of the Assessment Mission to Bari, Nugaal and Mudug Regions of Somalia", p. 26.

  18. Although The 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).

  19. Aman, as told to Virginia Lee Barnes and Janice Boddy, Aman: The Story of a Somali Girl (Toronto: Knopf, 1994), p. 295.

  20. 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.

  21. Aman: The Story of a Somali Girl, p. 295.

  22. 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.

  23. Lewis, A Pastoral Democracy, p. 6.

  24. Aman: The Story of a Somali Girl, p. 295.

  25. Testimony of Dr. K. Menkhaus, Transcripts vol. 7, p. 1277.

  26. Aman: The Story of a Somali Girl, p. 300.

  27. Aman: The Story of a Somali Girl, p. 291.

  28. 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).

  29. Saadia Touval, Somali Nationalism: International Politics and the Drive for Unity in the Horn of Africa (Cambridge: Harvard University Press 1963), p. 7.

  30. Lewis, Modem History of Somalia, p. 98.

  31. Italy nevertheless 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. 71).

  32. Immigration and Refugee Board Documentation Centre, "Somalia -- Executive Summary", p. l2.

  33. 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.

  34. Said S. Samatar, Somalia: A Nation in Turmoil (London: Minority Rights Group Report, 1991), p. 17.

  35. Omaar, "Somalia: At War with Itself", pp. 230-231.

  36. Makinda, Security in the Horn of Africa, p. 26.

  37. 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).

  38. 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.

  39. Makinda, Security in the Horn of Africa, p. 29.

  40. This practice was curtailed by Congress after 1989 (Omaar, "Somalia: At War with Itself", p. 231).

  41. The Isaaq clan accounts for about 20 per cent of Somalia's total population (Makinda, Security in the Horn of Africa, p. 31).

  42. Makinda, Security in the Horn of Africa, p. 66.

  43. 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.

  44. See Wyllie, "Somalia, State Disintegration and Regional Stability", p. 72; and Omaar, "Somalia: At War with Itself", p. 233.

  45. Omaar, "Somalia: At War with Itself", p. 233.

  46. 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.

  47. 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.

  48. DND, NDHQ, Analysis of Area of Operations Report, p. 17.

  49. 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. 1307-1308).

  50. DND, NDHQ, Analysis of Area of Operations Report, p. 19.

  51. The Somalia Handbook, p. 5.

  52. Kenneth Menkhaus and John Prendergast, Political Economy of Post-Intervention Somalia, Somalia Task Force Issue Paper #3 (1995), p. 7.

  53. Omaar, "Somalia: At War with Itself", pp. 233-234.

  54. Omaar, "Somalia: At War with Itself", p. 233.

  55. Omaar, "Somalia: At War with Itself", p. 234.

  56. Africa Watch 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", p. 234.

  57. DND, "Int Report OP Cordon RECCE" [Intelligence report on a reconnaissance conducted for Operation Cordon], p. 1.

  58. DND, NDHQ, "Analysis of Area of Operations Report", September 9, 1992, Annex A, p. 2.

  59. Analysis of Area of Operations Report, September 9, 1992, Annex A, pp. 1, 2.

  60. 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).

  61. 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. 1284-1285).

Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada 1997