19 May 2007 04:23


  • [SW Column] (A. Adar} Political turmoil in Puntland  :  :Posted on [17 Jan 2002]

Opinions expressed in this column are those of the contributors and not necessarily those of SW.


Political turmoil in Puntland  

by A. Adar January, 15, 2002


In 1998, the north-eastern region of Somalia formed its own regional government and proclaimed itself as the Administration of Puntland. Unlike Somaliland, the Puntland Administration has declared neither independence nor intention to secede from Somalia. The regional administration, which bears some resemblance with the demised Somali government, controls Bari and Nugal regions and part of Mudug, Sanaag and Sool regions. The Puntland Administration has instituted a semblance of a government: elected parliament, executive branch, independent judiciary and operational police force.

The Puntland entity accommodates a number of clans affiliated to the Harti confederacy. The Harti confederacy consists of Majertain, Dhulbahante, Warsengeli, and Deshishle clans belonging to Darod tribal family. Other non-Harti Darod clans residing in Puntland include: Leelkase and Owrtableh. Both of these clans inhabit the Mudug region of Puntland. In the south, Puntland’s territorial control ends at Galkacyo, the Capital of Mudug region – a city occupied by both Majertain and the Sa’ad sub-lineage of the Habargedir sub-clan.

Col. Abdillahi Yusuf, an astute and seasoned politician and a long-time opponent of Siad Barre’s regime has been elected as the first president of the regional administration. Col. Yusuf has been instrumental in the formation of the Somali Democratic Salvation Front (SSDF), the first armed opposition movement against Siad Barre’s regime. He hails from the Omer Mohamud sub-clan of the Majertain clan family, which is dominant in central Somalia. Traditionally, Omer Mohamud used to be in command of the Majertaini politics. However, since the port city of Bosaaso gained prominence as a regional economic hub in the past decade, the political weight of Osman Mohamud, another sub-clan of the Majertain clan family, increased ostensibly.

Until recently, the territory of Puntland has been calm and peaceful and a remarkable economic recovery prevailed. The Bosaaso port became the major conduit for commercial imports destined to Somaliland, Southern Somalia and the Somali region of Ethiopia. A booming construction, telecommunication and transport businesses flourished within Puntland while trade with the Gulf Arab States increased in proportion. The regional administration took a number of initiatives towards the reconciliation of rival factions squabbling in southern Somalia. But, all of a sudden, the steering wheels got stuck in Puntland and all the positive developments became derailed overnight. 

II.The roots of the current Turmoil

A politically motivated troubling unrest, with the potential to unravel the erstwhile prevailing stability has been propelled forcefully in Puntland in mid 2001.  In May 2001, some of the prominent clan elders in Puntland demanded the authorities to hold elections for a new parliament at the expiry date of the tenure of the Puntland Administration that was due at the end of June. However, the regional parliament, contrary to the call of the elders and allegedly “acting on provisions stipulated in the constitution”, unilaterally extended its term of office for another three years. The decision to extend the term of the legislative body, which also automatically extended the term of the Puntland Administration, led to a legal wrangling between Col. Yusuf and the chairman of the Supreme Court, who insisted that the parliament has no legal jurisdiction to extend its life span. As a result, a section of the clan leaders and opponents of Col. Yusuf rallied behind the chairman of the Supreme Court. This was followed by a mutiny in Bosaaso where a group of the police force allegedly manipulated by politicians affiliated to Al-Ittihad rebelled against the Puntland Administration.

Subsequent to an uneasy standoff, Col. Yusuf mobilized troops from Garowe, the capital of Puntland, to quell the rebellion in Bosaaso, in August 2001. Brief skirmishes took place between the mutinous police force and the troops dispatched from Garowe, led by Col. Yusuf. Owing to the strength of the rebellious forces and the fact that a section of the population of the area has been mobilised and equipped with arms, Col. Yusuf’s troops were pushed out of Bosaaso and forced to retreat to Garowe. Likewise, Col. Yusuf quickly lost control of Garowe as his power base has intensely been shaken by the events of the Arta peace conference held in Djibouti last year, which served as important catalyst in the eventual unseating of Col. Yusuf. The hasty and sudden abandonment of Garowe, the regional capital, has been explained by Col. Yusuf and his entourage as an outcome of a plot contrived by Al-Ittihad, an extremist Islamic movement that has been included in the list of terrorist organizations whose assets have been frozen by the Bush Administration, recently. Deposed, Col. Yusuf eventually took refuge in Galkayo, the capital city of Mudug region, where half of the population is from his sub-clan, Omer Mohamud of Majertain clan family.

Ever since his flight from Garowe, Col. Yusuf had been claiming that he has lost power to the fundamentalist Al-Ittihad organization. Although Islamists have made successful reappearance in Puntland through socio-economic occupations, opponents of Col. Yusuf insist that they have made no noticeable inroads into the already uneasy regional political arena. Col. Yusuf has, however, been consistent in his claim that he has been undermined by Al-Ittihad, which according to him run training camps in the Bari region of Puntland.

A conference of clan leaders opposed to Col. Yusuf that has been taking place in Garowe since August has finally elected Col. Jama Ali Jama as the new president of Puntland on 15 November 2001. Col. Yusuf rejected the election of Col. Jama as unconstitutional coup d'état. Earlier, Col. Yusuf issued several stern warnings to the conference and had in fact indicated his determination to launch a military assault on Garowe if the gathering of the clan leaders forms a new administration.

III. Col. Yusuf staged a comeback

Three months after his flight from Garowe, Col. Yusuf made a successful comeback to the regional capital in 23 November 2001. Col. Jama, the newly elected president, has been forced to flee to the port city of Bosaaso, a stronghold of his clan-based supporters. The political rift between the two archrivals effectively split the Puntland into two with no functioning administration that could claim undisputed jurisdiction over the whole region. At present, Col. Yusuf wields uneasy control over Garowe city, which is neither secure nor completely under his control. Col. Jama, in the other hand, controls the northeastern part of the region, including Bosaaso.

Certainly the battle for the control of Puntland is far from over. Col. Jama is reportedly mobilising clan militia in Bari, northeastern region of Puntland, while Col. Yusuf is resolved to take control of the entire region. Empirical observations indicate that whoever controls Bosaaso, the economic nerve-center of the region, would eventually control Puntland.

Like Col. Yusuf, Col. Jama is also from the Majertain clan. He hails from the Osman Mohamud sub-clan who are dominant in the Bari region of Puntland, whose capital is the port city of Bosaaso. The hostilities between the two are not only political in nature but maintain an important aspect of clan-contention between the two sub-clans.

Colonels Jama and Yusuf have been comrades-in-arms of the now defunct Somali military. They have both studied in the military academies of the former Soviet Union, although Col. Yusuf has been senior to Col. Jama and also been trained in Italian military schools. Col. Yusuf commanded the Somali army division that invaded the Bale and Sidamo provinces of southwestern Ethiopia in 1977. Col. Jama has been the governor of Kabri-dahar region of Ethiopia for a period of eight months during the Somali military’s invasion of eastern Ethiopia in 1977-78. Both of the colonels played a lead role in the abortive military coup against Siad Barre in 1978, staged by a group of disgruntled officers hailing from the Majertein clan. The two colonels have been among the few who had survived amongst the coup plotters. Soon after the attempted coup, more than a dozen military officers were summarily executed. Col. Yusuf fled to Ethiopia, where he, afterwards, stablished a Majertein-dominated Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF). The Somali government, on the other hand, held Col. Jama in solitary detention without trial during the period between 1978 and 1990. The frustration and ordeal of solitary detention induced him to become a born-again Muslim, subscribing to fundamentalist Islamic ideals. (Col. Jama was an ardent Marxist-Leninist, prior to his arrest).  Due to the radical shift of his persuasion and religious outlook, Siad Barre refused to grant amnesty to Col. Jama, although he had pardoned most of the political prisoners arrested as a result of the failed coup.

IV.  Conclusions

The current standoff between forces loyal to the one time comrades is likely to trigger a destabilizing internecine hostilities that could damage the economic recovery process and the peace and stability which the people of the region have accustomed to in the past decade. It could lead to the development of unravelling power vacuum that could be detrimental to the process of governance and sustainable peace and reconciliation. Any drawn out hostilities could trigger spill over to the neighbouring areas and communities. And what more? The probable beneficiaries of such a scenario will be none other than the Islamic extremists, who are accused of sowing the seeds of discord and are fanning and fuelling the present confrontation.

The current political gridlock in Puntland has been adversely aggravated by the National Transitional Government in Mogadishu (TNG), which is alleged to be meddling in the affairs of areas of relative stability and recovery in Somalia such as Puntland and Bay and Bakool regions. The TNG has been also accused of being engaged in subversive manoeuvres against the breakaway state of Somaliland and the Somali region of Ethiopia. The minister of information of the TNG has repeatedly warned that his government will take unspecified detrimental actions against the government of Ethiopia, which is translated to entail upsetting the prevailing peace and stability in the Somali region of Ethiopia.

Col. Yusuf enjoys more popularity and credibility than Co. Jama within Somalia and in the Horn region. However, Col. Yusuf’s acumen will be judged on how he handles the current split within his constituency clan family and how successful he turns out to be in resolving peacefully his political differences with his opponents. Col. Yusuf should rise to the occasion and project himself as a polished statesman who can take Somalia out of the quagmire and mayhem it finds itself mired in. Lessons learned from the Somali civil war of the past decade had underlined the fact that clan conflicts are not resolvable militarily and through the barrel of the gun. Hence, if the current situation in Puntland is not satisfactorily resolved through tact and commonsense, its ramifications would certainly be long lasting. If appropriate solutions are not prompted, any further continuation of the current deadlock would not be beneficial for Col. Yusuf’s standing in the political climate of Puntland and may imprint indelible mark in his eventual role in Somali politics. Col. Yusuf is shrewd enough to avoid the likelihood of such a scenario. 


Copyright © 1999 by somaliawatch.org.  All Rights Reserved.  Revised:  19 May 2007 05:11 AM. Webmaster HomePage