It was a wet Wednesday morning, as the dead grass was starting to soak and praises of Allah were chanted after a very difficult dry season. Nomads near Madarshoon town of Western Bari were celebrating as prior days of rainfall was cooling the thirsty land and sharpening the aromas of the bush. Then came the sound of rocket propelled grenades and anti-aircraft weapons echoing through the Golis Mountain range, resuming the battle of the hills, which the Garowe administration long celebrated its victory. The offensive was launched by militias loyal to an insurgent leader Atam, briefly recapturing his fortress before retreating to the mountains that stare down on the contested Galgala.
International headlines rushed to convey unreliable information in their quest to retain subscribers by complying with their “timeliness” expectation. Also adding to the uncertainty, is the absence of communications infrastructure due to Puntland’s recent decision to shut off the town’s phone network. As an editor for the single broadcasting outlet in the conflict setting, i understand that the international community lacks vital knowledge about this issue, given the mosaic of complex conflict relations apparent. Thus, this article focuses on increasing the knowledge base about the factors and dynamics at play in discussing the Galgala conflict. My aim is to provide a picture of conflict related factors and structures that are relevant for ending the prolonged suffering of the effected masses.
Overview of the conflict
In the face of the Somali state collapse, traditional elders in Bari region (conflict setting) filled the leadership vacuum post-civil war by performing conventional government functions and maintaining law and order. Fast forward to 1998; at the grand conference where Northeastern Somali clans established a power sharing arrangement, mainly sponsored by the Garowe community (Majeerteen). As a result, a regional administration was formed that ensured relative peace. The power sharing drafted to guide this new administration grew unpopular among the Dubeiss (Warsangali) who traditionally settled in Bosaso and villages that overlap alongside the main road that links Bosaso to other major centers.
This in turn, manifested itself in violent conflict and rivalry for political dominance in and around the Bosaso environ. The fragile stability was fractured as marked by daily assassinations, originating from clan avenges. Puntland further exercised exclusionary policies under the guide of divisive rulers who intended to invoke loyalty by manipulating clan identities to acquire power.
These imbalances of power had set the stage for a bloody confrontation to take course in 2006, when former Puntland governer Mohamed Muuse Hirse (Ade) granted mineral exploration rights to an Australian mining company around the Bosaso environ. The move triggered uproar from the locals (Dubeiss/Warsangali) who then mobilized militias led by Mohamed Said Atom. On the aftermath of the conflict, Mr. Atam seized control of Galgala and nearby settlements in the Golis mountain range.
Politicization of the conflict
On his announcement of war, many expressed anxious sentiments towards all the hype and chest beating for destruction. The militarization of the Galgala issue reflects Faroole’s (governor of Puntland) dependence on the use of the gun to achieve his goals, with little regard for basic rules of governance, raising questions of his ability to rule without coercion and armed force. Elders of Bari and Sanaag provinces made notable efforts to intervene in order to get each side to save human and capital loss. The plea for Consensus was bypassed; demeaning the role of tradition and the kinship relationship between the brotherly communities.
The governor’s decision to turn his back on numerous peace overtures is largely branded as a tactical policy to politicize the Galgala conflict. The question that arises is what political gain can one acquire from escalating a potentially explosive situation? Let’s revisit the political literature applied by Puntland following the Karin skirmish. Faroole used three significant terms; “Terrorist,” “Alshabaab,” “Radical,” sketching his primary political strategy. Even when Atam insisted that he was no-way linked to any of these terms, the administration (Puntland) continued to market these terms as a campaign ad for their offensives. After nine months of accusations, the regime has not provided single evidence backing their claim. The political rational is simple, considering the amount of attention the transitional government (Mogadishu) receives with their committed assurance of fighting Islamist militants. Puntland’s strategy was to duplicate the “Mogadishu formula” in order to generate increased aid and gain political significance.
Quest for Natural Resources
According to the Sydney Morning Herald; a newspaper published in Sydney Australia, Range Resources paid an attractive up-front and residual payments to secure exclusive mineral rights in the Majiyahan/Galgala area. Hughes describes the monetary gain from the buyers side (Range) as a result of this transaction. He notes, “Shares in Range Resources, which plans to fund the deal through a $3.45 million rights issue, were heavily traded after the announcement, and jumped about 30 per cent to more than 4 ¢. They closed on Friday at 3.8 ¢.”
More mysterious foreign deals were struck as Puntland took full control of Galgala and other Western Bari settlements late last year. On December 2nd of last year, the Associated Press reported the creation of a well-armed and private militia force being trained in Western Bari (conflict setting) region of Puntland. Saracen International was hired to train 1,050 men in Puntland by a mysterious donor with no clear mandate. Saracen’s CEO Bill Pelser, was linked to a South African mercenary outfit credited with defeating rebel forces in Sierra Leone in return for mineral concessions.
The International community was concerned about the mercenary trained force and the possibility of a more effective combat force in Somalia that might fall under the control of a warlord seeking to become the new dictator of Somalia. As a result, Puntland latter suspended the deal with the mercenary firm Saracen International.
The untold suffering of the masses
“Among the calamities of war may be jointly numbered the diminution of the love of truth, by the falsehoods which interest dictates and credulity encourages.” Samuel Johnson (1758)
Between August 20 and September 13 of 2010, Puntland offensives in Western-Bari region displaced an estimated 1,800 families from Galgala, Bari region, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Theses offensives were inherently destructive and yet unreported due to Puntland’s harsh media practices. The application of anti-aircraft weapons, the destruction of homes, farms and blockades of critical roads are some examples of the destroying impact these offensives had on the civilian masses of Galgala and Western-Bari.
The voiceless of Western-Bari, the farming villagers and travelling nomads have suffered and continue to suffer severe economic reverses, as a result of indiscriminate shelling, security sweeps and road blockades. The blockades of critical roads that link Western-Bari and Sanaag towns to the main road have restricted traditional economy, causing deterioration of food security for the population. “If this Puntland imposed embargo is maintained, many children could die from chronic malnutrition,” says Dr.Abdulkadir Isse, a family physician in the town of Maraje of Western Bari.
Puntland officials argue that they have warned locals to evacuate prior to the offensives, but locals don’t have adequate transport to flee with. Mohamed Cisman Cali, an elder from Af-urur told SPR that villagers want to flee the conflict but are unable due to lack of transportation. The elder added that Puntland was unwilling to extend aid, “we only received empty promises from Puntland.” Humanitarian agencies also failed to act because of fear to be targeted, according to U.N. sources. U.N. Personnel were warned of attacks, and the possibility that they may be mistaken for foreign mining companies.
Atam recaptures Galgala, A call for a policy change
On Wednesday May 11th; militants loyal to Atam seized the town of Galgala after heavy fighting erupted for hours that morning. “We remained patient for months and waited for them to departure upon elder’s request,” Mohamed Said Atam, opposition leader told Somali Public Radio the following day. After a needless war that left a searing tragedy, the political setting today is identical to that of the day Puntland offensives began last July. So many lives wasted, so many homes destroyed, so many date palms and other fruit trees torched, so many families displaced, why? What objective was accomplished?
There is something important to be learned from the recent Galgala experience: that massive military attacks, inevitably indiscriminate, are not only morally reprehensible, but useless in achieving the stated aims. Even the victories of great military powers turn out to be elusive, let alone that of a weak clan enclave. Presumably, after attacking Galgala and other settlements in Western Bari, the governor of Puntland was able to declare that Atam and his militias were defeated. But more than six months later, Atam’s militias are back active in settlements where they initially controlled.
Beyond the futility of armed force, and ultimately more important, is the fact that war results in indiscriminate killing of innocent people. As this conflict resumes, it’s up to the governor of Puntland to continue his inept aggression or to turn to dialogue. The administration must look for ways other than war to achieve its goal. I urge concerned parties including the Transitional Government, Relieve Agencies and the international community to be wary of this conflict as the lives so many innocent are at stake.