is the state of the State in beautiful
Mogadishu, aka "Mog", past (and future?) capitol of Somalia?
This essay is based on surfing English language web pages. I have never
been to Somalia or spoken to a native Somali about any of this. If any
readers have information or analysis that contradicts any of this, please
Background: Who are the Somalis and why is there no State?
Ethnicity and Language
The Somalis are by far the largest ethnic
group in Somalia
about 6 million out of 7 million. The Somali
language has different dialects, with different degrees of mutual
intelligibility. In Mogadishu the dialect is "Af-Ashraaf",
which is somewhat different than Standard Somali. There are about 2
or 3 million ethnic Somalis in Ethiopia along the border, and less than
a million each in Djibouti and Kenya. Reports of the degree of bilingualism
in Arabic are contradictory, but it would seem that knowledge of Arabic
can get you around in Mogadishu, but those speaking only English or
Italian will have to get a local interpreter. The population of Mogadishu
is variously reported as between 500,000 and a million, or even 2 million.
The major minority groups there would appear to be Benadiri (lighter-skinned
descendents of Arab and Persian traders and land-owners) and Swahili-speaking
Clan Identity and Customary Law
Somalis are divided into a number of clans, and sub-clans, and the relationships
between the clans are complex. Some of the clans are minority ethnic
groups, and language
boundaries can cross clan boundaries. There are larger groupings,
"clan confederacies", about six in Somalia, of which the Hawiye
is important for Mogadishu. Different clans can have different status
within a confederacy, and presumably different subclans can have different
status within a clan. Clans follow a customary law, "Xeer",
which which recognizes private property and compensation
for victims of violence. It is adjudicated by clan elders, for both
inter- and intra- clan disputes. Anyone who has read about Chechnya
during their brief independence circa 1995 and their clans and "adat"
(customary law for various groups in the Caucasus) will get a sense
of deja-vu. In addition both nations are devastated, war-torn areas,
almost uniformly Muslim (Sunni) without being fundamentalist, where
foreigners are fair game for kidnapping and ransom. Great entrepreneurial
activity in the midst of destruction has been described in both Grozny
and Mogadishu. But while identity with a traditional clan is much attenuated
in modern Chechen society, it is fundamentally important to a Somali.
Some ethnic minorities are outside the clan system, which has serious
legal and security ramifications for these individuals.
History of Somalia in 500 words or less
After colonialism, with the British in the north and the Italians in
the south (including the city of Mogadishu), there was an eight year
democratic government, but the dictator Mohammed Siad Barre assumed
power over Somalia in 1969 and declared a socialist state. If you look
at a map
of Mog you will see the "Via Lenin". (Here is the only other
of Mog I can find). Siad Barre's government favored some clans more
than others. About 1987 internal opposition became militarized. Until
1974, Barre had been a client of the USSR, but then switched to being
a US client, who supported
him with military aid. By 1990 Siad Barre controlled only Mog, and
in January 1991 was overthrown. The two big opposition leaders were
Ali Mahdi Mohammed, leading the Abgaal clan, and General Mohammed Farah
Aideed, leading the Habr Gidr. Both the Abgaal and Habr Gidr were (and
are) clans in the Hawiye clan confederacy. Even before they booted Barre,
they started to fight among themselves. In fact, many clans and sub-clans
fought in the early '90s against each other, in some cases pushing enemy
clans out of their historic lands. This was the period where "warlords"
of clans arose; it would appear as an innovation to deal with collapsing
security, and not previously a part of Xeer or clan structure. In the
northwest the government of "Somaliland"
formed, and claimed its independence, in the northeast, "Puntland"
formed, with the position that it will join up with "Somalia"
again if and when it becomes possible. The north still has Xeer, though,
and as the south has continued to be ruled by the warlords, there is
that the north is more stateless than the south. (for more history see
and there is the ABC
News Timeline for Somalia, and the UN
Timeline for Somalia).
Speaking of States
Every few years since the mid '90s there have been attempts to form
a government out of most or all of the warlords, the latest one being
the "Transitional National Government" (TNG), aka the "Transitional
National Assembly" (TNA), aka "Arta" (the conference
creating the group was held in Arta, Djibouti), aka the "Arta group".
This organization is headed by a former minister of Siad Barre's, Abdiqassim
Salad Hassan, a witty and dedicated politician, and has been funded
at least in part by the Saudi government. It currently controls parts
of Mogadishu, and is in alliance with or in contention with the various
and other political figures of Somalia, who have their own views
Warlords and Militia
Prior to the fall of Barre, (this is probably very oversimplified),
Mogadishu, in Benadir province, was inhabited (exclusively?) by the
and the "people of Benadir", the Reer Xamar. In the fallout
of war between Aideed (Habr Gidr) and Ali Mahdi Mohammed (Abgaal), Mogadishu
was overrun and divided, creating the "Green Line" (a la Jerusalem),
with Ali Mahdi in the north half and Aideed in the south half. (This
may cause a bit of confusion because the Abgaal are normally described
as a "southern" clan of the Hawiye and the Habr Gidr a "northern"
one). This boundary has remained more or less stable since. Today, Ali
Mahdi Mohammed is still around. General Mohammed Farah Aideed, the bad
clan may not have seen it that way) in "Black
Hawk Down", died
in 1996 and was succeeded by his son, Hussein
Aideed, who is (or was?) a US citizen, a former US Marine, and former
student at a high school in California. One other important warlord
is Osman Hassan Ali, aka "Ali Atto", who had been a financial
backer of General Aideed. The journalist Thor Valdmanis of USA Today
has made reference to a fourth unnamed warlord in Mogadishu. Finally,
there are the forces of the TNG, with about 18,000 militia. Mogadishu
is of course surrounded by other warlords, probably with similar numbers
of troops. For example, one warlord recently boasted he could raise
up to 50,000 men, and it was reported that at the end, Siad Barre's
army was about 35,000 strong.
The warlords are (or can be) commanders of clan militia, but what this
means is not exactly clear. They seem to have to politic
a lot with clan elders, but are required to find their own financing,
which is often done by monopolizing lucrative businesses such as bananas
There is probably some sort of deal where the elders give the warlords
a free hand in certain areas in exchange for promises of emergency defense
services against other clans. The warlords (other than the TNG) do not
attempt to monopolize the use of force, and there are other militia
specifically associated with sub-clans, and some militia are controlled
by businessmen. Who the "business community" as a whole supports
is a never ending, ever changing, story.
In the vicinity around Mog the economy and security
situations improved from the famine period in 1993 until 2000, with
civil society re-organizing.
from weather and external shocks since then have included a livestock
epidemic, followed by a ban
on imports of Somali animal products in neighboring nations (a bit of
news). Another major drought
crisis is now forming to the west of Mogadishu. Because of 9-11,
the US government pressured the United Arab Emirates into severing
Somalia's only internet link, and the US shut
down the bank al-Barakaat's financial links, which has crippled
the ability of the Somali diaspora
to send remittances back home. The recent attempt of the TNG to create
consensus around a formation of sovereignty has polarized some of the
other players. In addition, the TNG ran into a cash flow problem that
has caused more destabilization
of the security situation, when they couldn't pay their own militiamen..
what is the quality of life like in Mogadishu today?
Some views are relatively positive:
City of Mogadishu (Banadir Star) 1999
amid chaos in Somalia (BBC) Thursday, 25 November, 1999
thriving despite war and neglect (BBC) Friday, 25 August, 2000
Rand comes to Somalia (Atlantic Monthly) May 2001
The land of opportunity (BBC) Thursday, 15 November, 2001
Others are more ambiguous:
Somalis ensure personal security by residing in clan "home areas"
(Global IDP) November 2000
Country Without Rule - No restrictions, no tax and no basic services
(Newsday) December 26, 2001
Some are scary:
A population stretched to its limits (AFP) December 21, 2001
Some are depressing:
shoeshine boy shot dead in Mogadishu (AFP) June 17, 2001
Mysterious Death of Ilaria Alpi (Postcards From Hell) (from early '90s)
And any search for Mogadishu
on ReliefWeb will find bad news.
From what I have read on the web, pretty much everybody longs for a
"stable" and "transparent" government that will
solve the security problem first, and bring choice goodies from the
international community second. This is understandable as long as "public
goods" are not seen to be available.
But there has been some private development of infrastructure, where
it was clear that a profit could be made. But there are areas that have
not been exploited. Let's look at money, courts, title registration
Since 1991 the "Somali shilling" has continued to circulate,
with a high inflation rate. Counterfeiting is a major problem , with
major influxes of fake notes in April
of this year. Before September the currencies circulating were reported
50% US Dollars
25% Somali Shillings
20% United Arab Emirates Dirhams
5% Saudi Riyals
is certainly available on the market in Mogadishu, but no one has
been coining on their own, or issuing a gold-backed currency.
In the early 1990's, a court system implementing sharia law was established
by the Hawiye clan. There were five court sites under the same administration
- these were not competitive between themselves or anyone else, there
not being any other courts established, as far as I can tell, even in
the business community. The sharia courts had their own militia to apprehend
criminals. The courts would not attempt to deal with inter-clan cases,
only intra-clan ones, and this was considered a weakness of the courts.
They were given some credit for reducing crime. The sharia courts have
now been "nationalized" by the TNG, with the cooperation of
their chairman, Shaykh Hasan Muhammad, who became a member of the TNG.
If some parts of the economy are so strong, why are there refugees living
in hovels? In Rule
by the gun in Mogadishu again:
"At one end of Mogadishu society, businesspeople do more than justice
to the Somali reputation for commercial acumen. In the most freewheeling
market in the world, they buy gold from the Middle East, trade everything
from electronics to weapons, and annoy neighboring countries by sending
cheaper, duty-free items across the border.
At the other end of the spectrum, thousands of Somalis - displaced by
the fighting - crowd into camps across the city. They live in shelters
patched together from rubbish, and eke out whatever living they can
by doing menial jobs."
The article also says that jobs are scarce for young men. Other articles
contradict one another about the extent of new construction. Why aren't
the young men getting construction jobs? We know that a "Pepsi
Plant" was built in a residential area of Mogadishu. Somebody
feels secure in his property rights (or
In an article
by Dr. Abdi Ulusso, he says that the Mudulood clan should handle government
functions in Mogadishu, according to customary practices, including
handling land registration. He then goes on to complain about people
getting rich off "speculated land", cheating on land deals
from the Barre days. It would be interesting to get a better sense of
where in the city construction is going on, and to understand who is
claiming what land and why.
It eats up 30% of profits. "Roofs" in Russia were skimming
only 10%-20% in the mid 90's in St. Petersburg. The population of Mogadishu
is terrorized by twice over, first by young, underemployed males with
guns and time on their hands and no money in their pockets. This was
worse in the early to mid-nineties, with banditti, in a very spontaneous
and entrepreneurial way, setting up "checkpoints" on roads
and extorting money from passers-by. One truck driver recently said
that the new government (TNG) checkpoint was not so bad, it only charged
half of what the "business man" checkpoint charged. But a
few years ago he had to deal with 50 checkpoints on his route. The business
community and/or sharia militia cleaned this up, but random armed robberies
and rapes and murders by small groups are still a big threat.
Second, there are militia battles. The story of "Two
Battles of the Pepsi Plant" encapsulates the main problems
of security institutions in Mogadishu: My take on this article is that
costs of battle are externalized onto civilians; militia cannot be sued
for collateral damage. There is no separation of rights of a possessor
from the rights of an owner, and adjudication is inefficient, because
of the number of adjudicators.
The number one thing that needs to be taken care of, and the conventional
wisdom here is correct, is the security situation, both in terms of
reducing petty and heinous crime and the spontaneous eruptions of rivalrous,
battling militia. The easiest and quickest way to do this would be to
get transferable rights to restitution implemented. Xeer is halfway
to this concept, but the victors at court are expected to collect restitution
themselves. It would take two subclans in Mog to make a bilateral agreement
to accept that rulings by their clan elders could be sold to third parties.
Sections of the business community may be suggestible to this scheme.
Minority ethnic Bantus, women, and foreigners may support this after
it starts working (those who have low or no status in the clan system).
If it works, more and more subclans will be making such deals, and it
may become the dominant system.
Evolving the role of clan elders.
I think we need to go all the way "down to the ground". Xeer
on the one hand good because it recognizes property rights, but it is
bad because it is so inefficient at adjudication - many clan elders
must discuss everything, and it's really inefficient for inter-clan
disputes. We should take a page from American History, where some western
pioneers resolved disputes by having side A pick a judge, side B picks
a judge, and then the two judges pick a third judge, keeping it simple.
To get it started in the context of clan culture, the first judge will
be an elder from A's clan, the second judge, an elder from B's clan,
and they will pick a third, whether elder, imam, foreigner or businessman.
Since all three get paid, there will be an incentive for already influential
clan elders to put their mark of approval on this, and this will also
raise their negotiating power vis-à-vis the warlords.
Here is an interesting quote:
"In Mogadishu, everyone knows everyone, especially when cars are
involved. I would drive around town with my crew and Osman, my driver,
would know who owned every vehicle on the road. He could tell from 100
feet away when an approaching car was possible trouble. The guys I traveled
with could eyeball almost anyone in the city and link him via three
or four degrees of separation to someone else who could then be identified
as friend or foe. In a city where everyone was armed and loyalties were
divided along the lines of extended families, survival depended on that
kind of information...
It was always my experience that whenever a crime was committed in Mogadishu,
if the people in power wanted to find out who did it, all they had to
do was spread the word. The criminals generally turned up."
The right people can be found, if incentives are correct. This would
create the stick against crime, that someone will come after criminals.
What about a carrot?
Title means property, property means jobs
Part of the security improvements in Mogadishu has been organization
of neighborhood groups. These groups could start drawing up their own
rolls of property claims, and then start agreeing to recognize each
others' lists, and to the transferability of title. Knowledge of security
of title, coupled with actual increased security, would mean more jobs,
not least of which would be construction. This would reduce the marginal
attractiveness of working as a militiaman, thus increasing the wages
of remaining militiamen, and make battle that much more expensive.
statelessness continue, and will it be considered a good thing by
the inhabitants? Obvious big questions are whether the TNG will succeed
or fail, whether the US will declare the TNG an ally or enemy, and what
a US intervention would entail in terms of targets and nation building.