From Warlord Enclaves To Banana Republics

Somalia is slowly recovering from a long coma that made it infamous around the world. The old and new stigmas or their effects that linger, and against which the country is still struggling, are: warlordism, the failed state label, the much-hyped sea pirates and the Al-Shabab terror.

While pirates are now non-existent – except  for the UN Security Council – there  are exogenous attempts to promote a Somali confederation of semi-autonomous clan enclaves ruled by a new type of warlords.

Western satisfaction with Somali chaos

In 2006, the international community was content with Somalia being divided into clans and fiefdoms until the Islamic Courts appeared in Mogadishu. Then western nations, suddenly feeling “threatened”, realized Somalia needed not be left alone.

They were very fine with warlords who were only interested in getting rich and powerful at the expense of their country’s desolation and their own people’s misery. The UN Security Council didn’t care whether Somalis were destitute, killed, starved, raped, robbed, exploited, tortured or harassed by these warlords.

Many in the industrial world, including China and Russia, valued these warlords as good buyers of their small arms and other military supplies. They sold death through a myriad of arms dealers while officially keeping the country under an arms embargo. The Somali warlords obtained quick, untraceable money by providing these nations with dumping grounds for their toxic waste and unrestricted access to the country’s land and sea resources.

In 2006, confronted with the Islamic Courts rise and their civic work, they did what they knew best, arm and finance even further these warlords that crippled Somalia. The West, the Americans essentially, organized the last warlords to kill Somalis’ hope in the bud and return Somalia to the failed state status that served them so well for the previous 15 years.

The American backed Warlords Alliance’s attempt suffered a crushing defeat to the satisfaction of the Somali nation who long bore the brunt of these ruthless armed to the teeth criminals. The Islamic Courts may have scared the Christian world but for Somalis life was much better after fifteen years of insecurity and chaos.

Ruling Somalia by proxies

Fast forward another fifteen years, a new breed of warlords dubbed presidents is holding Somalis hostage yet again. They parade a militia they call their army and display their own flags. They control, through a myriad of vassals, huge junk of the country, name their lieutenants “ministers” and organize elections they are sure to win. In short, states within the state.

Like the Old warlord class, who retired after being defeated, the new class wants perpetuate the state of disunity, fight any attempt to build a stable central government with strong security forces and don’t mind setting the country on fire and blood to get what they want.

Some of those regions under the new warlords’ yoke, Jubaland, Puntland and Somaliland particularly, were conceptualized and sustained in Washington and London but were left to essentially the Ethiopians’ TPLF to manage Somalia by proxies. This strategy is typically favored by the United Arab Emirates who deal separately with Puntland and Somaliland.

After the TPLF downfall, Jubaland slowly passed to the Kenyans who now have most of the region under their control. Kenyan troops were in that region since 2011 when they invaded Somalia with assistance from France and the US, countries who through the UN security Council sanctified them by imbedding them in AMISOM, the African troops in Somalia funded by the European Union.

Jubaland and Puntland

Now, since the countdown of the Kenyan presence in Somalia started with AMISOM on its way out, Ahmed Mohamed Islam nicknamed “Madobe” (meaning “the Dark”), the Jubaland “president” since 2013, an ex-Al-Shabab leader and an ex-Al-Qaida affiliate, knows the territory is slowly slipping away from his grip as the Federal government troops now control one third of Jubaland.

Ahmed Madobe has always been caught in the worst moments of the Somali upheaval and has always landed on his feet. Since he became adept at flipping his jacket always on the safe side, he is praised as a worthy leader and enjoy cordial relationship with the Americans who one time put a price on his head.

During a press conference, Madobe did not mince his words when he said that Jubaland, which he called a “small country”, is his and that he will do with it what he wants.

Said Deni, the Puntland strongman, was “elected” to be a “president by a bought-out clan assembly in Garowe in 2019 and has since made that regional state a police state tied to the Emirates.

After two years in power, hyperinflation and widespread corruption plague the region to the point that the public is angry and his use of underpaid police to suppress any public demonstration is no longer possible.

His plans to auction Puntland to the Arab Emirates would have helped fill the coffers, but as that project was thwarted by the nationalist agenda of the current federal administration, Deni and his warlord friends decided to embark on a campaign to oust President Farmajo from Villa Somalia.

Somaliland separatism

In the north, Musa Bihi, a deserter from the Somali National Army who became a clan militia leader with a bloody legacy and then “president” of the “Republic of Somaliland”, was orphaned after the TPLF was ousted from Ethiopian power. He found however a big brother in Ismail Omar Guelleh, the Djiboutian strongman.

Since Farmajo came to power, Bihi feels his end is near and his decisions are increasingly messy, authoritarian and one-sided. The population of this region is tired of his nepotism, corruption and his police state, and now more and more young and educated people are fleeing the region to go to the South.

Another darling of the Arab Emirates, Bihi also finds that he must get rid of President Farmajo for the trafficking to resume. Believing himself to be the president of a neighboring state of Somalia, he does not however hesitate to pull the strings behind the curtain in federal election issues.

There is a distinction to be made between the population living in Somaliland, Puntland and Jubaland regions whose only goal is to hold on until a legitimate central government is formed and these leaders whose sole purpose is to kill in its infancy all attempts to unify the country.

United in division

Deni, Madobe and Bihi – in the shadows – are united in their vision of Somalia and are ganging up to reverse the progress made towards a stable and stronger central government. They want to have a say in how the federal administration is working and who get elected but deny any federal official to look into the way they run their regions.

A strong central government in Mogadishu is their worst nightmare as these new warlords subject their population to a massive propaganda campaign about their legitimacy as their leaders and everything that comes from the nation’s capital is to their disadvantage.

While Somaliland declared its independence but still send MPs to Mogadishu and receive funding from the federal governments, Puntland’s Deni uses veiled threats of secession if Mogadishu meddle into his business. Meanwhile, Madobe, the weakest of the three, enjoys the protection of Kenyan troops and does not oppose Kenya’s stated plans to cut Jubaland from Somalia.

Right now, they are now on survival mode, like the Warlords Alliance, and wouldn’t mind replaying the 2006 “Battle of Mogadishu” as long as they have foreign support. But Mogadishu is different now and ex-warlords, like the current Benadir governor Omar Filish, learned their lessons and are seriously offended when the new warlords and other sorcerer’s apprentices raise the specter of a civil war if the president doesn’t give in to their whims.

If these warlords-presidents fail again, and they will surely fail because Somalia is a different place now, the now favorable conditions for warlords to thrive should be reconsidered. Among them, the autonomy they enjoy now should be reduced, their use of the 4.5 clan division system should be abolished and their say in the federal matters, including elections, put to a full stop.

Finally, the international community should think twice before making the same errors as in 2006. They shouldn’t interfere with how Somalis want to govern themselves, it’s their sovereign choice. Also, foreign representatives’ attempts to promote an undemocratic process or clan enclaves, or a confederation of banana republics, would permanently damage relationships with Western countries or with organizations like the United Nations.

AbdiQani Badar

AbdiQani Badar is a historian, political commentator and avid writer. He has written extensively on Somali issues and historical events.