The Lion’s Paw Rebellion fighting to remove Musa Bihi

Entrenched for more than three weeks in the Gacan-Libaax (Lion’s Paw) mountains, Garhajis clansmen, mostly young people, tired of Somaliland President’s shenanigans to postpone and tamper with the local elections, went on the offensive this week. The slap Somaliland forces received from the Gacan-Libaax Rebellion forced President Musa Bihi to back down and pause.

Who are the rebellious group

The young people organized as an armed militia, led by a veteran SNM militiaman called Oofwareen, hail from the biggest Isaaq sub-clan, Garhajis clan. This clan predominantly inhabits in Togdheer region but also part of Waqooyi Galbeed.

It is not coincidental the militia came from the Garhajis since the main opposition to President Musa Bihi, especially the formerly recognized opposition parties have leaders from that clan.

This rebellion came almost days after the Bihi-appointed Somaliland Election Commission released the election timetable which was rejected by the opposition as giving Musa Bihi an advantage.

Moreover, a year ago, Somaliland’s president unleashed the British-trained RRU to harshly quell riots born out of anger after he refused to hold election on time and illegally extend his term. The repression of unarmed opposition supporters made a dozen dead and score injured.

The opposition quest to stop Bihi’s stranglehold on Hargeisa politics was overshadowed by the Las Anod uprising and following violence against the SSC-Khatumo self-determination.

The start of the offensive

Until now armed with light weapons, the militia attacked Oodweyne Town on August 9. Oodweyne is a town located between Hargeisa and Burco, Togdheer capital, and close to the Ethiopian border.

In their offensive, armed with light weapons they overrun Dabagoryaale, a small town, took cash from a custom post, captured 4 guns from the local police and two pickup trucks belonging to Halo trust, officially a mine clearance NGO but accused of being involved in illegal mining in the area.

According to reports shared online by eyewitnesses, a policeman was killed in the shootout that followed their invasion of the town. This incident has alarmed Somaliland authorities who dispatched the British-trained Rapid Response Unit, a tactical police unit usually used against protesters.

On August 10, the RRU was sent to put an end to the rebellious militia camping in Gacan-Libaax mountains. The result was resounding as 27 RRU officers were left dead and over 30 were injured. The news prompted a widespread peaceful protests in Hargeisa, Burco and Erigabo.

Regime response

The secessionist regime first response was given by Musa Bihi himself. He stated during a public address 3 weeks ago that Somaliland is strong enough to withstand a disgruntled armed individuals.

Police chief during his press conference however said he was ordered not to engage the militia and his force felt there was no threat that could trigger a response. It is unusual that the Hargeisa-based secessionists leaders and Somaliland police and known for its heavy handed tactics on peaceful protest to feel that the Gacan-Libaax militia didn’t warrant a response.

Nevertheless, Somaliland’s interior minister, Mohamed Kahin, did not mince his words and immediately pointed the finger at opposition leader Abdirahman Irro, whom he held responsible for the actions of the militia. Irro and most of the militiamen are from the Garhajis clan.

Finally, the secessionist regime paid Garhajis elders to meet the armed rebellion and convinced them to lay down their weapons and come to the table. So far, the militia did not respond to these efforts and continues its online campaign.

Regime Escalation

Furthermore, the president of the senate, the tottering Saleban Gaal, set fire to a situation which threatens to create a large-scale conflagration in the region by saying “there was a community (the Garhajis clan) which is alone in war against all others”.

These words did not go down well as he singled out the Garhajis as being at odds with the rest of Somaliland.

Finally, the most worrying revelation came from of a man kidnapped by the Somaliland secret service who said to the media, surrounded by the elders of his clan, that Musa Bihi’s son offered him, in exchange for 100,000 dollars or a French passport, to impersonate a Gacan-Libaax militiaman and use Daesh/Alshabab rhetoric in front of a camera. The man said he accepted the proposal to be escape his captors.

Many commentators have interpreted the French connection in what, until now, appeared to be a Somali problem, as being directly linked to neighboring Djibouti’s interference in Somali affairs. Previously, Musa Bihi, Djibouti’s President Ismail Omar Guelleh and Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud formed an alliance against other clans in Somalia.

The momentum is on the uprising side

This uprising has emboldened others to take up arms. Garhajis from the Sanaag region has also declared they would join the Gacan-Libaax Rebellion’s struggle to remove Musa Bihi from the power he usurped.

Police officers and soldiers have from the Garhajis have also joined the uprising and deserted their stations or bases. The most important are the soldiers from the Goojacadde base where the artillery is stationed. the mortars and snipers who sow terror in Las Anod.

Goojacadde is infamous as it is the base the bulk of Somaliland forces are holed up in a futile hope of reconquering Las Anod. Despite its strong position however Somaliland forces are unable to retake the restive region and all their assaults are pushed back, even suffering high casualties.

SSC-Khatumo Support

Garad Jama Garad Ali, the fiery Dhulbahante supreme chief and the main force behind SSC-Khatumo self-determination, has welcome the Garhajis uprising and even guaranteed safe passage to any Garhajis members wanted to join the militia struggle.

Already today a video of Somaliland army deserter, a man known in the region, abandoned his post in Goojacadde and called on other Garhajis to do the same. He said he was treated well by the leaders of SSC-Khatumo and would soon join the Garhajis “freedom fighters”.

Eight months ago, Las Anod population have forced Somaliland forces to leave their city. However, their quest for self-determination from the secessionist administration has been met with daily shelling.

The unity of the Dhulbahante in the area and the relief received from the larger Harti clans helped them hold Somaliland at bay, but unfortunately they failed to provide protection against artillery and mortar fire from the Somaliland forces entrenched in Goojacadde base.

A divisive leader

The last few weeks, Musa has passed from a confidence in Somaliland abilities to withstand armed rebellions to a state of despair over the extend of discontent generated by his stubborn attitude to hold on to power.

Himself a former militia leader who committed atrocities against Borama, Dila in 1991 and in Burco in 1998, Bihi seems to be short on ideas as he placed high hopes in his might. The former SNM leader once said he won’t accept prayers, while he still can kill.

However, the burial of the 30 RRU officers could have been, as some say, a sobering moment. By sending traditional elders to negotiate with the rebellion, he wants to show that he has finally accepted that Somaliland remains a patchwork of clans. It’s ironic now that his clan’s bastion is threatened, he’s looking to use a different tactic than with Las Anod.

Somaliland, which prided itself on being a haven of democracy, freedom of expression and peace in the Horn of Africa region, has seen human rights abuses burst into the open and is rapidly becoming an autocracy run by one family.

Ahmed Said

Ahmed is a Somali civil servant and writes a lot about the affairs of northern Somalia where he hails from.