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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 April 2007, 10:59 GMT 11:59 UK
Clan divisions behind Somali violence
By Noel Mwakugu
BBC News website, Nairobi

Somalis search the debris of their homes in the capital, Mogadishu
Mogadishu is turning to rubble in the offensive against insurgents
Weeks of indiscriminate shelling in Somalia have reduced the capital Mogadishu, once a thriving commercial hub, to rubble.

Bakara market - which was the city's centre of commerce - has almost been flattened.

Businessmen are counting their losses at a distance, as most of them are among the nearly 340,000 residents who have fled the violence since February.

Bodies of those killed in the crossfire are rotting on the streets while many who survived the carnage are nursing serious wounds in hospital.

But the private Medina hospital lacks adequate medical supplies to attend to the rising numbers of casualties - only those with complicated injuries are being treated.

Despite the mayhem, most world governments are watching in silence.

Ethiopia is looking for a partner so it can contain separatist forces in the Ogaden and the interim administration is the most likely choice
Analyst Ali Abdullahi

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been one of the few to call for an end to the violence.

Somalia's transitional government insists its offensive against the insurgents is needed to restore order to a country that has lacked a functional administration for the past 16 years.

But since President Abdullahi Yusuf's interim government was set up in 2004 it has not enjoyed popular support among Somalis.

Foreign fighters

BBC Somali affairs analyst Daud Aweis say the administration is divided and only strong international backing has enabled it to survive.

Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf
President Yusuf is not trusted in the capital

"The cabinet is largely a benchmark that has been used to gauge how influential a certain clan is in the government going by the portfolio being held by a clan representative," he says.

It is this feeling that has driven members of Mogadishu's dominant Hawiye clan to take up arms and resist the transitional government.

President Yusuf has been accused of favouring his Darod clan when appointing government officials; the suspicion among Hawiyes is that his administration is only aimed at ending their traditional dominance.

"These clan fighters also make up a large part of the insurgents because many are sympathisers of the ousted Islamists," our analyst says.

There have also been reports of foreign fighters being linked to the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) - the Islamic group which controlled large parts of southern Somalia until it was ousted last December with Ethiopian help.

Although exact numbers of these foreigners are unknown, the Somali government believes them to be behind many of the attacks on Ethiopian and government bases in Mogadishu.

Ethiopia has said that it has begun to withdraw its troops from Somalia but to many observers this seems unlikely.

Zeal

With the stakes so high and unrest in its own Somali region - known as the Ogaden - Ethiopia will not want to loosen its grip on its neighbour.

Somali analyst Ali Abdullahi says when the Islamists were in control in Mogadishu, their influence stretched to the Ogaden, providing cultural and ideological succour to separatist rebels there.

Everyone's agenda comes down to clan in the end
BBC's Daud Aweis

Earlier this week, Ogaden rebels attacked an oilfield killing Chinese and Ethiopian workers.

"Ethiopia is looking for a partner so that it can contain separatist forces in the Ogaden region and the interim administration is the most likely choice," Mr Abdullahi says.

"The zeal with which Ethiopia is carrying out the operation against the insurgents and clan fighters [in Mogadishu] is a clear indication that crippling their military power and influence is another way of countering rebels in Ogaden region," he says.

But while Ethiopia's intervention precipitated violence in Mogadishu, the UIC was far from a united front, he argues.

"This was just a group of businessmen and members of the Hawiye clan, whose goal was to get power and shield their interests through Islam."

It was only a matter of time before their agenda was exposed, he says, and fighting would have resumed in the city even under their rule.

Exploiting divisions

Analysts argue that unless the interim administration embraces the business community in Somalia and the country's intellectuals in the diaspora, it will fail to win backing at home.

The militia of the Islamic courts pictured last year
The Islamic courts' militia were mainly from the Hawiye clan

But the BBC's Daud Aweis says the likelihood of Somalis moving beyond their clan outlook and uniting behind one leader is slim.

He says sincere peace talks with all parties involved in the conflict are needed.

However, as Somalia's neighbours and the wider international community are exploiting clan divisions to their own ends, a real resolution to the crisis is unlikely.

"Everyone's agenda comes down to clan in the end. At this rate thousands of Somali people will continue to die over the same problems that have plagued the country since President Siad Barre's fall in 1991," our analyst says.


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