Somalia: Review of 2002

NAIROBI, 17 January (IRIN) - The year 2002 ended as it began, with Somalia still mired in conflict, insecurity and instability. Even areas which were hitherto relatively peaceful and stable, such as Baidoa in the south and Puntland in the northeast, became caught up in the violence. This created an acute humanitarian situation in some parts of the country.

As Somalia's descent into chaos and anarchy continued, efforts to find lasting peace and reconciliation geared up, spearheaded by the regional grouping, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD). In January, IGAD heads of state met in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, to discuss peace and reconciliation in Somalia.

After the IGAD meeting in Khartoum, which was attended by US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner, hopes were raised that IGAD, the EU and the United States were going to finally solve the Somali situation by completing the peace process started in the Djibouti town of Arta in July 2000. It was hoped they could bring about reconciliation between the Transitional National Government (TNG), the factions opposed to it, and regional administrations such as Puntland and Somaliland.

In a follow-up to the IGAD summit, regional ministers meeting in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, in February, agreed to set up a technical committee to prepare for a Somali reconciliation conference, to be held in the second half of April. However, the conference, which was to have brought together the TNG and other political groups was repeatedly postponed, as the mechanisms were not yet in place.

The much-delayed conference eventually convened in the western Kenyan town of Eldoret on 15 October 2002, with all IGAD member states in attendance. The negotiations, which were divided into three phases, have yet to produce the expected "broad-based and all-inclusive" government. One positive outcome of the conference so far has been an agreement by the Somali groups to suspend all hostilities for the duration of the talks.


But the year saw an escalation of fighting and violence. In the capital, Mogadishu, the violence continued unabated, with the most serious fighting erupting in May between forces loyal to the TNG and those of faction leaders opposed to it. The TNG lost ground it previously held, weakening it even further. The divided nature of the city led to an increase in abductions (UN staff being targeted several times), car-jackings, armed robberies and general banditry. For the TNG, 2002 was a year of indecision and missed opportunities of promoting reconciliation and influencing events in its own backyard.

In the self-declared autonomous region of Puntland, fighting erupted between forces loyal to Col Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmad and those of those of his rival for the Puntland presidency, Jama Ali Jama. Yusuf, who was forced out of Garowe, the region's administrative capital, and Bosaso, its commercial capital, in August 2001, was attempting to regain power. Yusuf has won major battles and has the upper hand militarily, but division within his subclan [Majerten] does not bode well for him.

Meanwhile, Baidoa, which has enjoyed relative peace since its capture in 1998 by the Rahanweyn Resistance Army (RRA) from forces loyal to the Mogadishu-based faction leader Husayn Aydid, was engulfed by fighting in July.

Tension had been rising in the town as a result of a deepening split within the senior ranks of the RRA, which controls much of the Bay and Bakol regions of southwestern Somalia. The split originated from a power struggle between the RRA chairman, Hasan Muhammad Nur Shatigadud, and his two deputies, Shaykh Adan Madobe and Muhammad Ibrahim Habsade. Baidoa, which changed hands at least three time between July and December, is now in the hands of Shatigadud's rivals. Hundreds were killed and thousands displaced by the fighting.

The return of Abdullahi Yusuf to full power in Puntland and the overthrow of Shatigadud by his deputies marked the only serious "regime change" in any part of Somalia in 2002.

There has been a lull in the fighting in Mogadishu, Baidoa, and Puntland, but observers believe that a resurgence is "not unlikely".


The fighting and insecurity, along with a lack of trading activities, have all contributed to an acute humanitarian situation in many parts of the country. Maxwell Gaylard, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, in August issued a press statement expressing "deep concern" about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in many parts of Somalia, particularly around Baidoa, Puntland and the capital, Mogadishu.

Gaylard warned that the fighting was preventing the UN, aid agencies and civil society groups from protecting communities caught in areas of conflict, as well as disrupting the delivery of humanitarian assistance to people already suffering from acute poverty, malnutrition and lack of access to the most basic of services.


Somalia became caught up in the US-led war on terrorism and the hunt for Osama bin Laden, widely believed to have masterminded the 11 September 2001 attacks in the US. Somalia was seen as a possible haven for terrorists, given its lawlessness, and the country was mentioned by the Bush administration as a possible target for US attacks. The closure of Al-Barakaat group by the US government, which accused it of having links with terrorism, devastated the country's fragile economy. The group, which was involved in money transfers, telecommunications and soft drinks, was the biggest employer in Somalia before it was closed down. Al-Barakaat has denied any links to terrorism, and offered to make its books available to US investigators.

Meanwhile, Western forces have established a base in the tiny Horn of Africa country of Djibouti to monitor the Horn in general and the Somali coastline in particular. Over 1,000 troops, mostly American and German, are currently based in Djibouti. The US Central Command, which is leading the fight against terrorism, is reportedly planning to set up a new regional military headquarters in Djibouti. Djibouti officials have consistently denied that their country will be used to mount attacks on other countries.


The self-declared republic of Somaliland has been the exception to the violence which swept through Somalia in 2002. Despite the death of its president, Muhammad Ibrahim Egal, in May, Somaliland confounded all the sceptics who claimed that "Egal was the glue" that held it together. To the contrary, there was a smooth transition, with Egal's vice-president, Dahir Riyale Kahin, taking over without much fanfare. Somaliland has remained a haven of stability in a country convulsed by instability and insecurity. It capped the year with local elections, which by all accounts went smoothly. Somaliland is due to hold parliamentary and presidential elections in March 2003.


Peace process:

The high hopes inspired by the convening of the Eldoret peace conference have yet to be brought to fruition and the general mood is one of pessimism. "We thought Eldoret would have better results than Arta, but now I don't believe it can even produce something like Arta," one of the participants, Muse Sudi Yalahow, said in a BBC interview. Some of the most important warlords have left Eldoret and those still there are bickering among themselves and accusing IGAD of mismanagement.

The ceasefire agreement has already been violated in Puntland and Baidoa, and in the absence of any means of enforcing the ceasefire, there is little chance of it holding.

The Mogadishu warlords and the TNG have signed an agreement to open the Mogadishu seaport and airport and to cooperate in fighting crime in the city. If the agreement is implemented, this could herald peace for the city.

For the TNG, 2003 will be a make-or-break year. If it expands its sphere of influence by entering into agreements with the Juba Valley Alliance (JVA) - which controls the port city of Kismayo and the Juba Valley area -, the RRA wing controlled by Madobe and Habsade, and all or at least most of the Mogadishu faction leaders, this will be the year when the TNG will have turned the corner and Somalis will be able to see light at the end of the tunnel. If, on the other hand, any of the above groups splinter further and the TNG is unable to bring law and order to the areas it controls, 2003 will be the TNG's last year as a meaningful body.


The year 2003 will most likely bring more fighting, thereby further dividing the Majerten, which is the dominant clan in the area, unless Yusuf opts for a negotiated settlement of his dispute with Jama. Yusuf's military successes bring to mind another powerful faction leader, Muhammad Farah Aydid, who won all his battles, but whose power quickly eroded in 1996 due to infighting within his subclan.


Both opportunities and dangers abound in 2003 for Somaliland. The political genius of Egal, who sustained Somaliland's hope of becoming an independent state, disappeared with his death, but the peaceful transition of power to Kahin was a good omen for Somaliland. The presidential elections scheduled for this year can either demonstrate Somaliland's political maturity, or lead to fighting, which will hurl it back into the civil war situation of 1994/95.

2003 will be a decisive year for Somalia. It could prove to be the year that Somalis finally decide to settle their differences and set up "an all-inclusive" government, or it could be the 13th year of mayhem and madness.


FOCUS on US strike threat:]

Truce agreement signed at Eldoret conference: []

Opposition group urges international community to help:]

Over 60 killed in latest Mogadishu fighting:'990]

Aydid addresses press conference in Addis Ababa:'690]

Interview with Barre Adan Shire, chairman of the Juba Valley Alliance (JVA):

Chronology of events leading to reconciliation talks: At: ]


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