Women wage war in Somali town split by terrorism


Mark Huband in Kismayo

The Guardian, 9 March 1993


THERE had been silence. Then came a deafening crack from a grenade thrown into a crowd of children.

Across the white sand children of 10 and 11 dragged injured children of seven or eight towards a Belgian military patrol working nearby. One screaming, terrified boy walked unaided, his trousers soaked with blood.

A military doctor set to work as a crowd gathered and yelled abuse – at the Somali National

Alliance of General Mohamed Farah Aideed, the Mogadishu warlord whose local allies some of the people accused of throwing the grenade, at the Belgians, at the Americans, at the United Nations secretary general. Nobody was spared.

But among those shouting abuse there were no men. They had been banished from the town by Belgian and American troops who arrived in Kismayo on December 26 as part of the international effort to guard relief food convoys.

In their stead, the women of Kismayo are waging the war. Weapons have been banned from the own by the foreign troops. One military source said that women smuggle in small arms under their long dresses. The grenade attack, which left 11 injured and was the third, in as many days, was probably the work of a woman from the Ogaden clan of Gen Aideed’s current ally, Colonel Omar Jess, who used to control Kismayo.

Col Jess is to be found these days wandering in a wilderness outside Kismayo, to which he has been banished – although he and the foreign troops would say to which he agreed to withdraw.

Two weeks ago he was attacked in Kismayo by a rival faction led by General Siad Hersi Morgan. Gen Morgan infiltrated the town and then attacked, taking both Col Jess and the foreign troops by surprise.

Both faction leaders eventually agreed to withdraw and hand over their heavy weapons to the foreign troops, although Col Jess has refused to hand over his machine guns until Gen Morgan does.

Meanwhile, Gen Morgan’s civilian supporters – members of the Mujetin and Marehan sub-clans – who arrived in the town during the fighting two weeks ago, have occupied houses and established their areas of control, breaking Kismayo into a patchwork shaken by terrorist attacks.

Clan rivalry is particularly bitter due to feelings of past betrayal. The Somali Ogadenis, the Marehan and the Mujetin, were once united under the banner of the Somali Patriotic Movement (SPM). Their aim was to fight under the broad banner of the Darod clan led by the deposed Somali dictator Mohammed Siad Barre, against the Hawardle clans which dominate Gen Aideed’s SNA. The SPM split over this issue in December 1991.

Now both the Morgan and Jess groups claim Kismayo. But within each political and clan grouping there are hardliners and conciliators, leading to further fragmentation of the clan and sub-clans.


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