Solutions to Somalia's Crisis Center on Trust Between Clans

UN official focuses on bridging the gaps between local leaders of rival ethnic groups

PEACE in Somalia, still a distant goal, must be based on building trust and confidence between its many clans, not just between the two most prominent warlords.

This is the view of most Somali and Western analysts here. And it is the strategy the United Nation's special envoy to Somalia, Mohammed Sahnoun, is pursuing.

"I'm talking to all the factions, leaders in all regions [of Somalia], the elders of all clans and sub-clans, some intellectuals ... and religious leaders," Mr. Sahnoun said in an interview at Mogadishu's airport.

He says he is working to unite clan leaders at the local level as well as the national level on the main issues of power-sharing in a future government and ending armed clashes between rivals.

Somali political analyst Hashi Abdullah endorses such a broad approach to peace negotiations. "Our Somalis have that tradition of talking. We say talking means to agree together," says Mr. Abdullah, vice chairman of the Conference on Somali Peace Initiative, formed by Somalis living in Nairobi, Kenya.

One indication that long and broad talks can pay off is the agreement UN officials reached earlier this year with rival sub-clans of the Hawiye clan in Mogadishu to distribute relief food through the port capital to all parts of this city. There have been periodic disputes here since then, but the framework for cooperation has not disappeared.

Much of the international media attention - and the current UN negotiations over sending an additional 3,000 UN troops to Somalia - has focused on the two most prominent Somali warlords, Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed and Mohamed Ali Mahdi. Both are of the same clan, the Hawiye, but from different sub-clans.

Several Somali and foreign analysts suggest that neither leader is as strong as he seems, and that both depend on the uncertain support of their rivals.

"None of these warlords is truly in control of their people, or maybe not even the majority of their gunmen," says a Western diplomat knowledgeable in Somali clan politics.

Both General Aideed and Mr. Ali Mahdi are now bargaining with other clans and sub-clans to try to strengthen and broaden their inter-clan coalitions. Such maneuvering, the diplomat says, could either bolster prospects for peace talks or leave each side even more wary of the other side's strength.

Either way, before the key issue of power-sharing can be addressed, analysts say confidence must first be built between the dozens of clans and sub-clans.

Somalia must "revive the nation on the basis of clans," says Ahmed Moumin Warfa, a Somali political analyst and a former professor at the National University of Somalia, which is now closed.

Clans are factional divisions in Somalia. The word "clan" is used because Somalia is composed of one people, with the same language and the same religion, Islam. But beyond these common ties are deep-seated, historic divisions.

"Clan wars over water and grazing lands gave rise to feuds passed down for generations," notes Seifulaziz Milas, a Mozambican consultant here to UNICEF, in a recent paper titled: "The Somalia Emergency: Causes and Consequences."

The relative clan unity during the struggle against Italian and British rule soon melted into post-independence rivalries that allowed Mohammed Siad Barre to come to power in 1969. Mr. Siad Barre played one clan against another, while gradually increasing the power of his own, the Marehan - a sub-clan of the Darod.

Originally popular, Siad Barre later ignored rural development and soaked the country's coffers for himself and his sub-clan. Clan-based armed factions, especially the Issaq clan in the North, fought a protracted guerrilla war against Siad Barre. Fighting also broke out between the Issaqs and sub-clans of the Dir and Darod clans, which the Issaqs claimed supported Siad Barre.

In recent years, Aideed's Habar-Gedir sub-clan of the Hawiye scored many victories over the Siad Barre forces. Then, in December 1990, the Abgal, another Hawiye sub-clan, rose up in Mogadishu.

When Siad Barre was ousted in January 1991, the Abgals named one of their own, hotel owner Ali Mahdi, as interim president of Somalia, before Aideed could reach the capital.

This set the current lines of conflict, with Mogadishu divided between Aideed and Ali Mahdi.

Aideed spent most of this year in the central town of Bardera. That put him between Mogadishu and remnants of Siad Barre's forces, which are still active in Western Somalia near the Ethiopian border. (Siad Barre fled Somalia earlier this year.)

Aideed returned to Mogadishu Saturday. His presence in the capital, says Abdi Hussein Momen, a professor at the Somali Institute of Development and Management, could stir rivalries between the sub-sub-clans of Aideed's Habar-Gedir sub-clan.

It could also complicate international efforts to protect food supplies. Aideed yesterday called on the United States to withdraw 2,100 Marines stationed off the port to aid UN security troops.

Ali Mahdi, too, has problems. Though his Abgal sub-clan is less divided than Aideed's Habar-Gedir, he is merely "a hostage; a symbol," being used by others around him, says another international relief official who analyzes clan politics.

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