restricted access Clan Cleansing in Somalia: The Ruinous Legacy of 1991 by Lidwien Kapteijns (review)
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Reviewed by
Kapteijns, Lidwien, 2013. Clan Cleansing in Somalia: The Ruinous Legacy of 1991. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 308 pp. $69.95 (cloth).

In Clan Cleansing: The Ruinous Legacy of 1991, Lidwien Kapteijns sets out to offer an analysis of what she considers as the "unspeakable" moment: the 1991-1992 Somali clan wars. This is an attempt to bite off more than what one could easily chew; however, Kapteijns narrates the partial effects of the clan wars, rather than the causes. On the eve of the ignominious ouster of Major-General Mohamed Siad Barre and his authoritarian military regime, traditional ferocious wars between the Hawiye and the Daarood clan-families, two of the five largest clan-families, degenerated into Hobbesianism, whereby rivalry over grabbing government spoils acquired a unique dimension. At last, the Hawiye fighters, under the banner of the Somali United Congress, emerged as winners, while the Daarood forces, which had served as the bulk of Siad Barre's armies, lost in defending the regime.

Kapteijns offers a heavily politicized work. Consisting of a collection of articles, it presents the "clan cleansing" in an advocacy and activist approach, taking a highly partisan position in the analysis. Kapteijns's narrative begins with fact—that a war started in January 1991—but contaminates realities and distorts known facts before it ends with fiction, full of imaginary tales, not out of line with what one could aptly call only another narrative in the world of narratives. Indeed, it is not clear where Kapteijns's fact ends and fiction begins. This is not a criticism per se, but a factual reality, which leaves her reporting both partial and biased, as the study is indistinguishable from the clannish narratives of its informants, inasmuch as it intermingles with them in such a way that the narrators occupy the position of the analyst, yet one wishes she had been prevented from becoming trapped within her informants' motives.

Propagating what a single clan's narrators and informants told her, Kapteijns travels to nowhere else to verify the claim(s) made on the other side of the fence. In taking a clannish turn and trajectory, she wounds her case by ending up attacking too many clans and communities, only to assert and reassert that a particular clan was cleansed by a particular clan from the capital, Mogadishu. By this controversial statement, wherein characterizations are congruent with what one could differentiate as in-here clans and out-there clans, Kapteijns appears to fight fire with fire. Mostly using unnamed sources, she has not undertaken reliable archival research, nor has she done fieldwork in Somalia, particularly where the clan wars occurred. [End Page 112] Therefore, her work is laced with rumors, gossip, hearsay, and stereotypes collected from acquaintances in the United States. Reportedly, one of the informants (and narrators) is Abdiweli Gaas, the former first minister of Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed's interim government from 2011 to 2012. How can someone who was not in Somalia during the 1991-1992 clan wars act as a witness and an informant on an issue in which he or she lacks personal factual experience?

The conceptual framework used to analyze the notion of clan cleansing is the concept of the key shift, a Foucauldian term defectively adopted in this work. The Hawiye and the Daarood define this key shift differently. The former view it as colaadihii qabiilka (clan hostilities), while the Daarood call it ciribtirka qabiil (clan cleansing). Kapteijns picks up the latter, while reinforcing it on the way. Not only her work, but also previous analyses by Western analysts, had reinforced the trajectory of clannish interpretation, imagining that what happened in 1991 was clan cleansing—a slight alteration of the phrase ethnic cleansing, a term popularized less in scholarship than in journalism. The phrase itself is not a useful historical-theoretical scholarly term to understand tribal wars, let alone clan wars, since the latter are too complex to show who was killing whom or why, except the simplistic description that pervades the supposition that clan X was killing clan Y for nothing.

Following previous paradigmatic patterns in Somali studies, of aligning with one clan group to the detriment...