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  • Clan Cleansing in Somalia, the Ruinous Legacy of 1991 by Lidwien Kapteijns
  • Faisal A. Roble (bio)
Clan Cleansing in Somalia, the Ruinous Legacy of 1991, by Lidwien Kapteijns Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012; pp. 320. $69.95 cloth.

If the epic poems of Guba, “instigator” in Somali, documented the internecine small-scale clan wars in the Hawd and Reserved Area in the 1890s–1920s, Clan Cleansing in Somalia undoubtedly serves as a repository for the historical origins and the memory reconstruction of mass violence in post-colonial Somalia. This time (1978 to the present), though, the warfare was carried out with the “changing use of clan-based civil war” as a technology to achieve political objectives. In the tradition of Jackson and Roseberg, who viewed ethnicity and religion as potent resources for political gains in African politics in their seminal work Personal Rule in Black Africa: Prince, Autocrat, Prophet, Tyrant, Kapteijns illuminates the use of clan technology for political ends and its unavoidable consequences of communal mass violence and the ensuing state collapse in 1991.

Based on three interrelated characteristics, Kapteijns presents a persuasive empirical as well as normative sociopolitical analysis to enable her to sketch a plausible portrait (with all its variations) of contemporary mass violence in Somalia: [End Page 157]

  1. a. Mass violence in Somalia started with the politico military regime of Mohamed Siyad Barre in the late 1970s was carried over by subsequent warlords, and still continues to a limited degree in the southern regions of the country. The Barre regime carried state-sponsored mass violence against civilians in the North (Somaliland) and in Northeast (Puntland) to punish civilians to dissuade them from supporting two armed movements: the Somali National Movement (SNM) and the Somali Salivation Democratic Front (SSDF), respectively. The culprits in the massacres carried out during Barre’s regime, in the name of the state, are his executive team, his inner circle advisors, and his top military aides (from many different clan backgrounds) who have yet to account for their deeds.

  2. b. Those opposition fronts that sought to replace Barre’s regime, including SNM and the United Somali Congress (USC)-Somali Patriotic Movement (SPM) Jees wing, waged war on civilians at differing but small scales. In the North, the so–called “Mopping Up Operation in Awdal” and armed attacks on refugee camps by the SNM, and (in the case of USC-SPM Jees wing) the notoriously painful massacre of over 100 prominent civilians in Kismayo in December 1991 as witnessed by Jane Perez of the New York Times, are glaring examples of massacres carried out by politically motivated opposition fronts against civilians.

  3. c. The United Somali Congress (USC) led by the late Mohamed Farah Aidid is singled out in the book for its unique history of shifting the paradigm of war in 1991 by instigating large-scale communal violence targeted against members of the Darood clans in Mogadishu and in Southern Somalia. Whereas in the early years of Somalia’s civil war mass violence was committed by and in the name of the Somali state, with small-scale attacks on civilians by the militias of armed opposition fronts, the USC leadership committed “clan cleansing” in the name of the Hawiye clan by presenting Daroods (among other things) as “allochthonous … outsiders with no rights to reside in the capital.” This, “key shift,” as she calls it, led to armed USC militia killing civilians of particular clans, and/or the USC leadership intentionally arming neighbors against the clans portrayed as outsiders. “The violence was in the form of communal violence in which common people targeted other common people [End Page 158] on the basis of a particular construction of the group identities of both,” writes Kapteijns. (232)

The events that took place in the 1991 time frame encompass not only the clan cleansing that targeted “the” Darood but also the large-scale clan-based brutalization of civilians. Needless to say, within a short period of time, about 400,000 mainly middle-class urbanites, who hailed from the Darood clan, were chased out of Mogadishu and other towns of south and south central Somalia, their properties looted, with women raped and about 30,000 civilians...


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