Orienting question: How can we understand the violence in the Jubba Valley in relation to questions of political authority and violence more broadly in Somalia’s recent history? Was the violence in the valley during and since 1991 a new form, distinct from pre-1991 experience, or is it a continuation of the type of violence imposed during the Barre regime? I will argue that Jubba Valley villagers have experienced more acute forms of the violence that plagued them prior to 1991, but also are experiencing a new variation (from Al Shabaab).
1. Minority Demographics in the South
Jubba (and Shabelle) River Valley settlements were created and populated by sedentary farmers of various and diverse ancestries, including populations who predated Somali arrivals, people who call themselves Reer Shabelle who moved into the valleys from Somalia-Ethiopia border region and are affiliated with the Ajuraan sub-clan, slaves, and Boran/Warday. The label ‘jareer’, which refers to certain racialized physical features, distinguishes those with non-Somali ancestry from those with more Somali ancestry, identified as ‘jileec’.
Prior to the onset of Somalia’s civil war, jareer Jubba and Shabelle valley villagers did not speak a common dialect or share a common kinship system or history. Many villagers in the lower Jubba River Valley continued to identify with their pre-enslavement east African ethnicities such as Yao and Makua. Mushunguli, in the lower Jubba valley, still spoke Zigua over a century after their Zegua ancestors from Tanzania had arrived as slaves into Somalia. Other minorities included Shabelle, Makanne, Eyle in Shabelle and inter-riverine areas and tiny groups of Boni in the Lower Jubba Valley. Other minorities with separate ancestries, languages, and histories lived along the coast, completely separate from the riverine minorities, including Bajuni, Reer Brava, and Reer Xamar (Few scholars include the Rahanweyn clan among minorities since the creation of armed militia in 1996 and the 2000 power-sharing formula where Rahanweyn were counted as equal to the other 3 Somali clans).
2. Experience of Minorities During the 1980s Barre Era
In the 1980s, ethnicity and relations between jareer riverine farmers and jileec pastoralists remained diverse. Along the Shabelle, riverine villages often had a client-like relationship with nearby pastoralists. Along the Jubba Valley, lower Valley villagers maintained pre-Somali identities and languages inherited from their enslaved ancestors. In Middle Jubba riverine villages Somali clan affiliation was common (Bartire, Laysan, Biyomal, Ajuraan), as were alliances with Somali pastoralist families in the bush (for example, minorities paid but never received diya). Some Darood families settled into Jubba Valley farming villages on the west bank and some Hawiye and Rahanweyn on the east bank.
Discrimination and racism against jareer was the norm in the Jubba Valley, including hate speech and physical abuse, and jileec pastoralists said Barre’s laws against slavery kept them from re-enslaving Valley villagers. Jareer in cities held the lowest status jobs and had few economic opportunities and no political representation.
Because the government claimed ownership and sole authority over the legal distribution of land, land expropriation spread under land reform laws supported by foreign development agencies (especially USAID). In Lower Jubba, large concessions expropriated riverine land, employing jareer on sugar, rice, and banana plantations at poverty wages. In Middle Jubba, the new land tenure system requiring land registration enabled state-linked urban politicians and businessmen to expropriate riverine land cultivated by local farmers.
Foreign intervention and aid supported the planned transformation of the valley for commercial agriculture, to be managed by the newly created Ministry of Jubba Valley Development. As a result, state-associated politicians and businessmen who shared the knowledge of development plans for the Valley used the Valley as a base of personal accumulation, claiming land titles which they used for loans, claiming state-funded machinery, and sometimes obligating local farmers to work on their farms. Local villagers felt powerless to protest, particularly since some of the expropriators were in the military or were local state officials and used the threat of violence to subdue complaints (Thus, I agree with de Waal that by the late 1980s elites subscribed to the view that “some form of the security rentier state was the [enduring] norm”).
As militias fought to control territory, none protected the unarmed riverine farmers and coastal populations, even in areas where the latter had local alliances with nearby sub-clans. Southern minorities were extremely vulnerable during 1991-2 because their assets were desirable and easily claimed, they lacked strong protectors and meaningful clan alliances, some were seen as having been protected by Barre’s laws, and they lacked support networks outside the country.
Human rights observers describe a campaign to eject coastal minorities from the country as ‘foreigners’ by militias who then claimed their property. Along the middle Jubba river, Darood (west bank) and Hawiye (east bank) militias fought back and forth across the river, each side preying on jareer farmers by taxing them, kidnapping people for ransom, forcibly marrying local women, appropriating belongings and food, and abusing elders. Some jareer farmers assisted the occupying militias because of their clan affiliations and to protect themselves. Human rights workers described the Jubba Valley as a “shatter-zone” and “a graveyard” during early 1990s. The heavy demands by militias and drought led to an untenable situation of starvation and fear, causing jareer throughout the valley to flee to Kenya. Warlords and their militias took over plantations along lower Shabelle and lower Jubba and forced jareer to work in slave conditions.
The situation in 1991-2 suggested that occupying militias intended to claim riverine resources by force in order to benefit from potential future foreign investment. Their trepidations against riverine farmers were justified by racist ideologies that positioned minority farmers (and coastal populations) as either ‘foreigners’ or legitimately subservient to jileec ‘overlords’ because of their foreign/slave ancestry. Their claims to riverine farmland reflected a belief that local control would be rewarded, either within a new state formation or by returning foreign assistance organizations or both.
Because of violence and displacement, a ‘Somali Bantu’ minority political consciousness emerged in the Kenyan refugee camps that encompassed Mushunguli, reer Shabelle, Warday, Eyle, and other jareer and some Asharaf and a new “Benadiri” identity that encompassed reer Brava, Bajuni, reer Xamar, and some Asharaf. These overarching ethnic groups did not previously exist. Somali Bantu and Benadiri gained international recognition as vulnerable minority groups and some received resettlement opportunities in the US from Kenyan refugee camps.
However, within Somalia, Somali Bantus and Benadiris did not gain political recognition, rights of self-determination, or control of their territories. The 1993 Jubbaland agreement allowed occupiers to remain on the land they had appropriated from jareer and did not include minority representations or interests at all. (See as well de Waal on Gabaweyn in upper Jubba, who lost their land first to Hawiye, and then to Marehan, who were allowed to keep it in under terms of agreement).
The closing of the Kenyan refugee camps inhabited by Bajuni and UNHCR 1995-6 repatriation efforts brought some Bajuni and jareer/Bantu back to Somalia, but many either returned to Kenyan camps or fled north into Puntland because of ongoing insecurity in their homes and because their property had been claimed by occupiers. Tens of thousands now live in IDP camps along the Afgoye corridor and in the north where they are repeatedly violated and lack rights. Human rights groups report that rape is widespread in IDP camps by majority clan men and other authorities against minority women, who have no recourse.
Some reports suggested that the rise of the Islamic Courts Union brought security in some coastal and riverine areas, but other reports suggest the ICU also acted as overlords in riverine areas by demanding heavy taxes. The Ethiopian invasion in 2006 produced huge insecurity throughout south-central districts and allowed dominant clan occupiers to return, followed by Al Shabaab. The rise of Al Shabaab has had serious consequences for riverine minorities, who are once again subject to control by outsiders who impose extreme punishments for failure to pay ‘taxes,’ obey cultural and religious rules, or for trying to flee. Local religious and cultural practices are not allowed and punished. Those who receive remittances are under scrutiny for being allied to West. Somali websites accuse Bantus of participation in Al Shabaab, either by choice or by abductions and complicity. Somali Bantus in the diaspora say Al Shabaab extorts resources from local populations.
The inclination of foreign interveners to support and work with warlords sidelines minorities because the “local” leaders claiming to represent local or regional interests are not minorities and do not represent interests of minorities. The current struggles over the form and authority of ‘Jubbaland’ is a case in point. A focus on clan and clan-based militias as key to future peace and stability overlooks minorities, who have much more complicated social location than is easily captured in “clan” identities, which leave out minorities altogether. The 4.5 powersharing agreement was obviously unacceptable. Furthermore, a key dimension of the political jockeying between militias, “clans” and “leaders” in the south is the desire to lay claim to the potentially valuable riverine land, seen as of future international interest. Since the most dangerous part of the country is South-Central Somalia where minorities live, it is very difficult to get information other than through family-based diaspora channels. The pervasive use of anti-minority hate speech in the diaspora and on Somali websites is an alarming indication of how local jareer-jileec inequalities have blown up into diasporic hostilities.
6. Concerns for future governance
Recognizing that the most insecure and contested areas are those inhabited by minorities (whose interests were basically unrepresented in the 4.5 power sharing agreement, which minorities see as a vehicle to ensure dominant clan hegemony over their homelands), future governments must make a commitment to minority rights explicit in the constitution and in law, with policies and programs put into place and public statements that recognize the existence and rights of minorities and that confront hate speech and discrimination. Measures that confront impunity and the history of human rights abuses against minorities cannot be ignored. The fact of land expropriation, both under Barre and since by dominant clans who have invaded riverine and inter-riverine areas, must be addressed, perhaps with a system for laying claims, adjudication, return of land, and future security. “Jubbaland” is an area of concern because of Al Shabaab/warlord contestation over Kismayo, generating a struggle for control with implications for minorities throughout the valley as those currently jockeying for control are not minorities. Minority IDPs need protection, especially women who are at high risk of rape by majority clan members and by local officials in IDP contexts. Finally, what will be the role of minorities in the diaspora, who support a vast number of minorities within the country, and who are now educated, multilingual, with global connections?
7. How to understand the violence in the Jubba Valley in relation to questions of political authority and violence more broadly in Somalia’s recent history?
Is Jubba Valley violence a new form of violence, distinct from pre-1991 experience? Or is it a continuation of the type of violence imposed during Barre regime?
I argue it is both. The Barre regime simultaneously forbade enslavement and forced subjugation of riverine minorities to dominant clans AND enabled urban political and business elites to appropriate riverine land. The former emboldened riverine farmers to attempt to manage their own political affairs, to negotiate as villages with neighboring pastoralist clans for compensation for physical injuries and livestock destruction of farms by pastoralists. Pastoralist clans in the middle valley area clearly articulated their understanding that Barre’s laws against slavery offered minorities protection (unwelcome in their eyes).
Violence during the 1980s took two forms:
- Violence based in racialized inequalities. This form of violence was characterized by physical abuse by pastoralists against farmers, which farmers explained as individualized and personal and which pastoralists explained as their right. Farmers worked together to demand compensation for injuries and losses, which they sometimes achieved at modest levels. This violence thus occurred along lines drawn by kinship ancestry and race, where dominant clan Somalis could abuse minority riverine farmers, including those with whom they shared a clan affiliation.
- Violence of the rentier state. This violence was perpetrated by those allied with the state against minority farmers – the violence of land expropriation and demands for poorly compensated labor, sometimes backed by armed force.
Violence during 1990s was a continuation of these experiences:
- Opportunistic Violence. Local pastoralist clans armed by and/or allied with militias invaded and attacked riverine villages, demanding food, labor, and women, reasserting what they believed was their rightful position of dominance vis-a vis minority farmers. This was opportunistic violence enabled by state collapse and regional insecurity.
- Militia Violence. Militias fought for the right to claim control over riverine land as act of state-building. When militia leaders proclaim themselves the President of Azania, or Jubbaland, they are making a state-focused political calculation in the model set by Barre. They wish to control riverine resources, receive international political recognition, and be granted foreign aid.
Currently there is a third form of violence that is distinct from these two prior forms (e.g the violence of racism/kinship and the violence of the rentier state). This third form is the violence imposed on riverine farmers by locally-based, loose networks of Islamic fundamentalists, some of whom are foreigners, some of whom are newcomers from dominant Somali clans, and some of whom are riverine villagers themselves. This seems to be an entirely new political formation, not based on racism and clan membership, not oriented toward Western-based financial support or political recognition within “the international community”, and not oriented toward becoming a new rentier state (although Al Shabaab members to lay claim to resources in the form of a tax. But their primary concern seems to be control of mobility and cultural practice).
In sum, the Jubba valley has it all:
- Violence on basis of clan and racialized identities. The patterning of this violence is fluid, shifting, and complex, and is sometimes wielded by organized militias and sometimes opportunistically. But in the context of this violence, race normally trumps clan, as dominant clan Somalis exert violence against minorities in order to assert social supremacy and control of resources.
- Violence of rentier state, where the Jubba Valley is seen as valuable in political and material terms, and the contestation for power is about who will be seen as recipient of foreign aid and investment.Violence of state-building.
- Violence in the valley is also being used to destroy contenders for power, directed at Al Shabaab or by Al Shabaab in order to build a new political order.
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