Clan cleansing in Somalia: Fallacious argument by reckless author

Mohamud M Uluso - At the beginning of this year 2013, Professor Lidwien Kapteijns, who teaches history at Wellesley college in the United States, published a book titled, “Clan cleansing in Somalia: the ruinous legacy of 1991.”
Editorial Keydmedia Online
Clan cleansing in Somalia: Fallacious argument by reckless author

The book’s publication coincided with the release of spiteful YouTube on an inaugural commemoration ceremony with the same title, held in Toronto, Canada on January 28, 2013, by members of Darod clan Diaspora and with the publication of a rabble-rousing interview with the author in the WardheerNews Website.

The book became a reference for attacking President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud for his appeal to all Somalis to forgive and not dwell on the past and concentrate on the future for the interest of the present and future generations.

Moreover, after years of reconciliation, the public discourse among Somalis degenerated into clan fervor, antagonism, self-importance and derogatory tones. These developments persuaded me to read the book and assess its contribution. Below is my brief commentary.

The book inspires hatreds, persecution and virulent campaign of deprecation aimed at Hawiye clan as a result of  deliberate misrepresentation of the whole truth of 1991 civil war in Somalia. It cancels out the efforts of thirteen years of reconciliation and peace processes for restoring national unity, shared governance and prosperity among the wonderful but abused people of Somalia. Finally, it undercuts the planned opportunity for exploring the contested history of the past through the constitutional Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Article 111I ) agreed upon by all Somalis.

The book which comprises 308 pages divided into an introduction, four chapters and bibliography peddles genocide (clan cleansing) allegation against Hawiye clan (USC), feeds the conspiracy of Irirism (Hawiye and Isaq alliance) and stokes Darod rage and grievance for revenge opportunity.  The author argues that “Hawiye (USC) - aided and abated by Isaq- adopted a policy that defined as mortal enemy all Somalis encompassed by the genealogical construct of Darod clan and targeted for elimination and expulsion from Mogadishu, central and southern Somalia during the period between January 28, 1991 and December 1992.” It concludes with the gloomy assertion, “publicly largely unacknowledged and scholarly largely ignored, the legacy of clan cleansing continues to undermine the unity with which Somalis [Darod clan] might resist those [Hawiye clan] who benefit from continued violence and civil war. This is a crucial area of drift sand in which attempts at social reconstruction continue to founder.”

As the author claims, the basis of the adopted policy is that Hawiye clan has been brainwashed by the myth of associating Darod clan with the regime of Mohamed Siad Barre, Darod leader, as well as by a “minted” hate narrative against Darod clan.  The assumption here is that enemy clan construct mentality originates from and ends with Hawiye clan.

Using computer terminology –“Key Shift”, a modifier for letters into capital, professor Lidwien argues that the following three observations explain the change of the civil war definition into genocide definition:    

  1. The violence against Darod clan was a political instrument carried out outside of the institutions of the state. This implies discrimination between the United Somali Congress (USC)-Hawiye organization and the other 12 clan military and political organizations[1] listed in the footnote and mostly formed before 1991. SSDF (Darod organization) was one of the combatants  in 1990-1992 civil conflict in Mogadishu and southern Somalia.  
  2. Hawiye leaders encouraged, ordered, enabled and allowed ordinary Somali people [Hawiye, Isaq, Digil and Mirifle, Bantu, and Benadir] to humiliate, rob, maim, kill and expel the other Somali people [Darod] now constructed as the clan enemy who had to be eliminated and expelled (p.3). This guilt verdict contradicts the statement in page 142 which suggests further investigation if Hawiye leaders knew, ignored or could not stop the alleged “genocide.” Also, the author quotes the 41,000 persons killed in the four months of fighting between Hawiye factions, but failed to find the death toll in the clan cleansing campaign.
  3. The Hawiye and allied militias hunted down only Darod clan members, while Hawiye “henchmen” of Mohamed Siad Barre government were not targeted for violence. Instead they received welcome heroes from USC (Hawiye clan). This argument shows that Professor Kapteijns  is either completely at loss to comprehend the Somali civil war or has her own prejudice.

Although the tales in the book do not fit to its emotive title, the author insists with arbitary interpretation that the following theoretical definition of Alexander Laban Hinton on genocide is applicable to the events of 1991:

Those cases in which a perpetrator group attempts, intentionally and over a sustained period of time, to annihilate another social or political community from the face of the earth. (p.5)

For clarification purpose, there is difference between “civil war” and “genocide (clan cleansing).” According to Stathis N. Kalyvas analysis, in the case of civil war, rival factions intend to control rather than eliminate the enemy’s constituency from the existing or new state. The political and social interactions from January 1991 refute the fallacious allegation of clan cleansing in Somalia. Nevertheless, the author decided to first incriminate Hawiye and Isaq clans and then to ask the whole truth later.

Against the recognition that “political violence targeting civilians on the basis of their clan background has deep historical roots and common practice as technology of power in Somalia”, professor Lidwien had became fixated on 1991-1992 period of the continuum century history of clan based political violence in Somalia probably for name recognition over its polemical argument with the renowned scholar I.M. Lewis as laid out in her article, I.M. Lewis and Somali clanship: A critique. She uses the slogan, “to problematize, periodize and document” 1991 period. No other scholar, researcher, practitioner, politician, diplomat, and human rights expert has found any evidence for  genocide in the last 23 years. The reading of the following statement in the book should prompt everyone to question the motive(s), and judgement of the author:

The most discouraging discovery I made during the research for this book was how divergent and even diametrically opposed the memories and interpretations of what happened  in 1991 are among what were then (and in some ways still are) the different Somali parties to the conflict. In other words, the mythical clan hate narratives are alive and well and continue to underline and shape Somali political and social realities. (p 233)

In addition to the factual errors, the selective narratives, contradictions and confusions rife in the book are probably attributable to the author’s impulsive dismissal of the theoretical framework of balanced clan identity approach as an important analytical tool for the civil war in Somalia. For example, professor Lidwien uses the word “absentee” for Hawiye members who fled their houses in Galkaio district after being attacked, killed and expelled by their Darod clan neighbors in 1989 while she describes the “absentees” of Darod in Mogadishu as “genocide.”

Another major blunder of the author is the omission of checking the reliability and motivations of the notorious “clannish fanatics and beneficiaries of nepotism” listed as her source of information. The use of fictional stories is not adequate for historical proof.

The author utterly failed to see the inteconnected relationships, consequences and realities produced by the civil war events that took place between December 1990 and December 1992, and then to establish the relationship of that period with the pre-1990 or post 1992 historical events. It did not occur to the author to consider the existence of security dilemma and political power struggle between Hawiye and Darod as clans in the wake of the civil war outbreak in Mogadishu. Barry R. Posen explained in his seminal paper the dreadful consequence of “security dilemma” condition in time of ethnic (clan) conflict. Practically, the author disregarded her ethical obligations as a historian and researcher and chose to play the role of an “angry prosecutor/judge” against “presumed guilty defendant” without court rules.

Professor Lidwien Kapteijns scanned the political violence which took place in many parts of Somalia before January 26, 1991-the day president Mohamed Siad fled Mogadishu- with distorted conclusions. Ironically, she equates the policies of Mohamed Siad Barre regime and the SNM (Isaq) leaders whom she blames for provoking the government forces in the urban areas. In her “Irirism” conspiracy, the author ignored to examine the harmonious cooperation between Dhulbahante and Warsangeli of Darod subclans and Isaq clan in 1991.

There is no dispute about the physical and human destruction, the traumatic experience suffered by members of Darod clan in 1991 as result of the civil war. Allah said: “And fear the Fitnah (affliction and trial, etc.) which affects not in particular (only) those of you who do wrong (but it may afflict all the good and the bad people), and know that Allah is Severe in punishment.” (8:25). But, genocide claim borders to blind megalomania and malevolent intent.

Throughout the book, the author castigates all international diplomats, poets and singers, politicians, anthropologists, journalists, scholars, researchers, human rights practitioners, and activists, who studied, commented, or wrote about Somalia for their “cowardice” of not catching and publicizing the 1991 genocide campaign perpetrated against Darod clan. The poets of the poems reviewed in the first chapter of her book, and the authors- General Jama Mohamed Qalib, Hussein Adam Tanzania, I. M. Lewis, Rakiya Oomar, and many others are in the castigation list. The only exception is Mohamoud Togane who received praise for composing his satirical poems of Hawiye and Darod clan hate narratives against each other. But the hate narrative against Darod clan served the scope of the author.  

Nevertheless, some of the historical facts in the book are sufficient to disprove author’s fallacious argument of genocide (clan cleansing). The first exhibit is the self-explanatory Manifesto document[2] signed by 114 leaders from all clans. Hawiye leaders played a leading role in the Manifesto civil action. The next exhibit is the extraordinary efforts of Somali leaders like Hashi Wehelie, Haji Muse Boqor, Mohamed Said Gentleman, Engineer Jirde, Haji Ahmed Rage, Osman Gedi Rage and others who foresaw the disastrous consequences of civil war in Mogadishu and courageously tried to the best of their ability to avoid it. Unfortunately, those leaders paid their lives because a mortar shell launched from the presidential palace  Villa Somalia killed Hashi Wehelie, Haji Muse Boqor and others and seriously wounded many others. This incident foiled the prospect for a political compromise.

Additionally, as confirmed by many sources, Hawiye (USC) leaders in Mogadishu desperately wanted to prevent the war in Mogadishu. For whatever reasons, late General Mohamed Farah Aidid had planned and advocated first for attrition confrontation against the government forces in Mogadishu and then for a disciplined controlled confrontation if necessary. But the spontaneous popular uprising in Mogadishu provoked by the nightly mass executions and looting committed by Mohamed Siad Barre and Mohamed Said Morgan forces in the face of traumatized Hawiye leadership had catapulted everyone in disarray.  The elements of civil war were in place before december 1990.

Around January 3, 1991, Western diplomats appealed to the opposing forces for a cease fire to allow the civilians  to leave Mogadishu. Majority of Mogadishu residents left their houses in the first two weeks of the conflict.

Astonishingly, the author accuses all Hawiye clan including those who she describes sneeringly “so called Hawiye moderates” as accomplices of genocide against Darod clan.  In particular, Hawiye prominent personalities whose reputations are ruined include former father of the Somali Republic president Adan Abdulle Osman (puh), former President Ali Mahdi Mohamed and his wife Nurta Haji (puh), Dr Hussein Bod (puh), General Mohamed Nur Galal, Col. Abshir Kahiye (puh), Adv. Hassan Dhimbil Warsame, and Ambassador Ahmed Mohamed Hassan Darman (puh).

Former President Adan Abdulle Osman

Professor Lidwien smears former President Aden Abdulle Osman, whose beloved wife-first lady was from Darod clan, for his appeal to the public on Radio Mogadishu for peace and order in the following statement:

Calling of armed rebels and other citizens to fight mercilessly against what he called “a few disgruntled elements bent on killing people for clannish motives,” he too spoke largely in euphemistic terms.

It is unconscionable to associate president Adan Adde with euphemism and dishonesty behavior. His efforts were part of a larger peace efforts on the part of Hawiye clan leaders to stop the mayhem of the civil war. 

General Mohamed Nur Galal

It is a malicious lie to write in the book that General Galal supervised the killing of soldiers in Jigjiga, Ethiopia. Also, it is not true that he controlled any militia let alone 1,500. Militia clans were independent forces sharing only common security dilemma. The Italian diplomat, Claudio Pacifico, wrote in his memoir- Somalia- Ricordi di un Mal D’Africa Italiano (1994) that from the first day of uprising on December 29, 1990, it was clear to all that no one had control over the volunteer fighters in Mogadishu (p. 386).

Although he was a marginalized high-ranking military officer, General Galal did not join opposition factions.  When the war started,  he confidently remained in his house near the Ministry of Defense until the forces of President Mohamed Siad Barre visited him for reconnaissance mission on January 2, 1991. Few hours later, the forces came back, ransacked the house, and tortured members of his family for his whereabouts. At that moment, he was hiding nearby former deputy minister house and in the night fall he moved to the Hawiye controlled side of Mogadishu. This is when he decided to offer his military skill to the opposition forces for his survival. This confirms what Claudio Pacifico stated in his memoir but professor Lidwien decided to disregard the truth.

Parenthetically, without proof, the author accuses the Italian diplomat Pacifico for pro Hawiye. This partly reveals her frame of mind in studying the history of Somalia.

Adv. Hassan Dhimbil Warsame

Another Hawiye leader being blemished in the book is Adv. Hassan Dhimbil Warsame who is a successful businessman, a lawyer, and one of the signatories of Manifesto. His mother is from Darod clan. He agrees that many members of Darod clan as many non-Darod clans suffered violence at the height of the civil war. But he categorically rejects the baseless accusation made by Abdulaziz Nur Hersi against him. According to Adv. Hassan, the truth about the specific incident is that Abdullahi Holif (puh), Abdulhamid Islan Farah, Abdullahi Matukade (puh) and other SSDF (Darod) leaders were holding a meeting in a house in an area later taken over by USC (Hawiye) fighters. When Hassan heard the capture of SSDF (Darod) leaders, he rushed to the frontline house of the divided city of Mogadishu at his own risk to rescue his maternal uncles and close friends and to secure their freedom and safety. He fortunately succeeded. The elders witnessed the tense and dangerous confrontation for their unconditional release. Hassan is disappointed about the shameful narrative attributed to his maternal uncles by Abdiaziz Nur Hersi. He is looking forward to getting out the truth.

It is worthwhile mentioning here that an act similar to what Adv Hassan Dhimbil did in Mogadishu was done by SSDF (Darod) leaders like General Mohamed Abshir Muse in Kismaio.

Dr. Ambassador Ahmed Mohamed Darman

Dr. Mohamed Ahmed Darman, who passed away last year (puh), became ambassador of Somalia to Tanzania, Ethiopia and China and Consul General to New York and Yemen (Aden). He never became ambassador to Iran. He ran for parliamentary seat in 1963. He served his country and people honorably. The northeast coastal communities of Somalia, travelers and Somali residents in Aden were particularly grateful for his exceptional service and support during his assignment in Aden, Yemen. His family’s disappointment is that although Dr. Darman had deep knowledge about the events discussed in the book and lived in America, the author never attempted to contact and ask him for truth. This is another example of the one-sided source of the book.

Clan enslavement in Somalia

Apparently, Professor Lidwien Kapteijns had restricted her contacts to limited number of Somali friends so that she finds hard to  understand the complexities and dynamics of clan conflicts, politics and mistrusts. Professor Said Sh Samater offers simple truth to professor Lidwien Kapteijns: Somali clanism is a force in the land to be reckoned with.[3]

The author accuses of hypocrisy the honest, well respected public servant and freedom activist late Col Abshir Kahiye (puh). The following three stories could shed light on some aspects of those complexities of clan enslavement.  The first story is recounted by former US Ambassador, Peter Bridges, to Somalia in 1984-1986 in his book, the Safirka (the ambassador) (2000):

I made few Somali friends I felt I could trust completely. This was a police state, and I had to assume that what I said would reach Siad Barre. There were exceptions, one of them a well-placed man who came, like Siad Barre himself, from the largest family of clans, the Darod.  My friend was part of a small circle of well-placed Darod people who as the president was informed, met to discuss ways to advance particular Darod interests. (p.135)

The second story is told by late Boqor Abdullahi Boqor Muse to Michael Maren who transcribed in his book, “The road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity (1997).”

One time was punishment for something his father did. Abdullahi Boqor explained: “in 1983 Siyad called the Harti (Majerteen, Dhulbahante, Warsangeli subclans)  elders together at villa Somalia  in Mogadishu  and told them about a plan for Darod to control the country. “If you put half a million Ogaadeen in Beledweyne the Hawaadle will be a minority,” he told them. It was his plan to move the Ogaadeen into all the strategic areas. The Warsangeli and Dhulbahante agreed to go along with Siyaad, but my father refused. “He refused because the Majerteen are friends with the Hawiye. We do business with them.  The Warsangeli and Dhulbahante don’t have anything to do with the Hawiye. My father had many meetings with the elders of the Hawiye. He wasn’t going to betray them.”

Michael Maren who worked in the Beletweyne Refugee camp pointed out that Abdullahi Boqor’s brief explanation showed him how the events placed into motion thirteen years earlier (1981) resulted in the present chaos in Somalia. One should trace the result further afield, but professor Kapteijns had fixed target.

The third story is reported by the Italian diplomat Claudio Pacifico in his memoir (1994):

In the unleashed final bloodshed battle, it has been returned, as in any tribal (clan) war, to the principle of looting the properties of the enemy. As a result, the government forces and supporters took vengeance in looting the local population (Hawia and Rer Hamar) whom they considered to be at war with, while they had gladly spared or did not loot the houses of westerners (foreigners). (p.401)

Clan separation in Mogadishu

At the outbreak of the civil war in Mogadishu, government officials from Hawiye clan living in areas controlled by the forces of President Mohamed Siad Barre were attacked and looted. Others faced the threat of being killed if they remain in their houses. That is why Hussein Kulmiye Afrah, Abdulqasim Salad Hassan and Abdullahi Addow fled their houses and sought refuge in the Hawiye controlled area for their survival. General Mohamed Ali Samater and other Ministers left Mogadishu in the first or second week of war. The opposition was delighted to see the crumbling of the government.

Correspondingly, Darod officals in Hawiye area were targeted by Hawiye fighters. That is why the jailer and the jailed[4] or the torturer and the tortured[5] of Darod clan were comfortable of being together and organizing military and political fight against Hawiye and other clans. This explains the clan logic. The clan identity which is double edged sword is permanent. Allah says, “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).” (49:13)


The book is toxic and deserves collective denunciation. It does not help the interest of Somalia. The conclusion of the book is against Somali culture and Islamic values. It stokes long term memories of reciprocal hatred, contention and vendetta for colossal mistakes made collectively and individuals in the past.The past serves lesson for the future. Repair of civil war comes through truth and reconciliation process. Not repeatng past injustices is key to better future.

When injustices replace justices, anarchy replaces order, then clan logic and institutions dominate social relation and replace state mediation. The best way to address the Somali problem is to adhere to Allah’s commandment: ““And obey Allah and His Messenger, and do not dispute (with one another) lest you lose courage and your strength depart, and be patient. Surely, Allah is with those who are As-Sabirin (the patient ones, etc.).” (8:46).

Fair Competition between individuals and groups must be differentiated from injustice, abuse of political power, nepotism, favoritism and corruption. Somali clans share common destiny.

Mohamud M Uluso -

[1] The list of political and military organizations  formed by major clans before 1991:

  1. Majerten: Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF)
  2. Isaq: Somali National Movement (SNM)
  3. Hawiye: Somali United Congress (USC)
  4.  Ogaden: Somali Patriotic Movement (SMP)
  5. Digil and Mirifle: Somali Democratic Movement (SDM)
  6. Gadabursi: Somali Democratic Alliance (SDA)
  7. Marehan: Somali National Front (SNF)
  8. Bantu: Somali African Muki Organization (SAMO)
  9. Dhulbahante and Warsangeli: United Somali Party (USP)

10.  Lelkase: Somali National Democratic Union (SNDU)

11.  Isse: United Somali Front (USF)

12.  Benadiri Baravani: Somali National Union (SNU)

13.  Dir :Southern Somali National Movement (SSNM)

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[4] Abdirizak Jurile and Mohamud Jama Dhigic Dhigic

[5] General Gani and Boqor Abdullahi Boqor Muse

Editorial 29 April 2022 13:51

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