Saturday, August 23, 2008

Bloodshed in Kismayu

Kismayu is Somalia's southern port city and also the third largest city. Since 1991, when the central government collapsed, there has been bitter rivalry between warring clans for control of this strategic city bordering Kenya's northern border coastline. Before 1991, it was home to a squadron of the Somali Navy and infact had its port rehabilitated by George Fuller Company in the early 80s. Known for clean and beautiful beaches, tropical weather, serene atmosphere, and peaceful locals, Kismayu had her image boosted by the Italian colonial administration before Southern Somalia unified with the northern British Somaliland in 1960 to form what became known as the Republic of Somalia.

The city of Kismayu is located in the productive Juba Valley with surrounding towns of Jilib and Jamame collectively serving as farming centers while many other bordering regions produce the bulk of livestock for sale in Arabian markets. Thus, whoever is in control of Kismayu pockets all the hard currency generated by the port through taxation of goods and services. On the other hand, there is agressive charcoal burning desperately needed for Arabian fireplaces. Also, the area around Kismayu is rich in agroforestry while the coast, despite overfishing by unlicensed foreign fishing trawlers, is home for many fish species.

The combined forces of the militias of the United Somali Congress (USC) under the supreme command of General Mohamed Farah Aidid, together with the Somali National Movement (SNM) under the chieftainship of Abdirahman Tuur of the nothern Somali regions, and the Somali Patriotic Movement (SPM) led by Colonel Ahmed Omar Jess devised the initial plot in Ethiopia to overthrow the government of Major General Mohamed Siyad Barre with a view to establishing a power sharing government though everything fell in disarray.

Abdirahman Tuur moved to the northen part of the country in what is now Somaliland while Aidid and Jess continued to wreck havoc in the South of the country unabated. Within a short time, a new character emerged. It was General Said Hersi alias Morgan. General Morgan moblized an army of clansmen from the south, east, and the central regions in an attempt to curve a new administration for himself. For a while, General Morgan, who is son-in-law of the overthrown President, captured Kismayu. Thus began a prolonged period of josstling for power in Kismayu between southern Somalia's two most political rival clans-the Hawiye and Darod.

In the end, Colonel Jess and General Morgan became persona non grata as a more powerful force in the name of Juba Valley alliance under Colonel Barre Adan Shire in collaboration with a sub-section of the Hawiye clan, took over power in Kismayu laying foundations for a rule that lasted almost a decade.

In 2004, a Transitional Federal Government was formed in Mbagathi, Kenya, with Colonel Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed as interim President. Colonel Jess, Colonel Barre Adan Shire alias Barre Hiiraale, and General Morgan were appointed to the legislature as parliamentarians. General Aidid died in 1996 and is depicted in the movie black hawk down.

In June of 2006, a new breed of fighters under a Jihadist umbrella known as the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) overthrew the warlords that ruled Mogadishu for over a decade only to be routed by Ethiopia's intervention. It was this misadventure that brought back Colonel Barre Hirale to the peripheries of Kismayu again with a new alliance and political force. Since no condition is permanent in Kismayu and Southern Somalia, just recently, an amalgamation of guerilla movements aimed at introducing Islamic Sheria to all of Somalia and pledging allegiance to a cluster of alliances within Somalia, Djibouti, and Eritrea, and bitterly opposed to the presence of Ethiopian forces and the TFG in Baidoa, meticulously executed a resounding blitzkrieg that saw them put Kismayu in their newly created realm.

The whereabouts of colonel Barre Hirale remain a mystery though a few conflicting internet sources report him to have been sighted in the town of Qoqani or as others cite otherwise, in the village of Fafaxadhuun, where his militia exchanged a few salvos with the local inhabitants. He is said to be besieged and unable to venture into Baardheere-his clan's territory-for fear he might be perceived as an uninvited guest as religious funtamentalism has infiltrated every corner of his homeland and beyond. But the latest reports say he has two bullets to the abdomen and that he is in Baardheere town itself awaiting medical evacuation to Addis Ababa as the Kenya government has refused him entry on the grounds his presence may incite social violence.

As the clock ticks and as the deadline for the withdrawal of Ethiopian forces from Somalia approaches, Islamist forces seem to be expanding their tentacles. They have captured Kismayu; more firepower is being seen and heard in Mogadishu and its environs; Baidoa, the seat of the TFG, is shaky and the central regions seem be getting out of control. Whether Ethiopia redeploys her troops to retake Kismayu is yet to be seen. For now, despite the deaths of innocent civilians caught in the crossfire, the Sheikhs are busy cleaning the city with full force.

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