The coup d’état that brought Siyad Barre into power in 1969 is called ‘ a bloodless revolution’. But his ouster was a bloodbath as a result of the violent war waged by armed opposition groups and the indiscriminate killings of civilians after state collapse. Some armed opposition groups took a leaf from the military dictatorship’s book and used large-scale violence against particular groups of civilians in the hope of trying to dominate the state. This is the core argument of Professor Lidwien Kapteijns, whose book, Clan Cleansing in Somalia: The Ruinous Legacy of 1991, was reviewed by Mohamed Haji Ingiriis in two 2013 publications. Ingiriis’ first review appeared in the autumn issue of the non-academic Journal of the Anglo-Somali Society; the second in the winter issue of Africa Today.

Apart from the name-calling that says more about the reviewer than the book’s author, Ingiriis asserts that Professor Kapteijns was biased in the respondents she consulted and that her book contains many factual and Somali spelling errors.  It is striking that he never engages with the main arguments of the book; simply denying its rich source base and concealing its nuanced approach and careful contextualization. The errors he points out are mostly typos in the footnotes and do not distract from those arguments.

To begin with the issue of bias, Somalis are not divided on the abhorrence of human rights violations committed during the military dictatorship. They attribute responsibility for these large-scale human rights violations to the top leadership and lower-level supporters of the former regime. This is also clearly argued in Kapteijns’ book, which spends one whole chapter out of four on this period. However, Kapteijns’ book calls special attention to the purposeful clan-based atrocities perpetrated after the collapse of the regime in 1991, atrocities that have remained ignored, distorted and denied since that time, even by scholars. She calls what USC forces and civilian supporters did in Mogadishu and beyond in 1991-1992 a campaign of clan cleansing, a legal term referring to the use of atrocities to expel civilians of particular group backgrounds from an area to try to make that area ethnically homogeneous. According to Mr. Ingiriis, this set of events was just a part of what he calls colaadihii qabiilka (clan hostilities). There are two things Ingiriis does not understand or mention in this context.

First, Ingiriis fails to grasp or is hiding that Kapteijns’ book does not think in terms of whole clans as actors. She attributes the clan cleansing campaign by the USC (with help of other smaller clan-based fronts), not to all Hawiye people, some of whom, the book shows, actually were actually rescuers of targeted individuals. She argues that seeing Daarood and Hawiye as single actors, as Ingiriis does in his review, is precisely the kind of thinking that helped bring about clan cleansing. Note also that the author spends a good part of Chapter three to document the atrocities committed by clan-based militias against civilians outside of the clan cleansing campaign.

Second, Ingiriis fails to ask the moral question that lies at the heart of the subject of the book. If responsibility for laying the foundation for clan-based atrocities must be attributed to the Barre regime, must the USC leaders of the period after Barre’s fall not be held morally and politically accountable for the atrocities of the clan cleansing during which people of Daarood backgrounds were purposefully killed, maimed or dispossessed in Mogadishu and other territories brought under USC control but that also caused great harm and suffering to other Somalis, including people belonging to the Hawiye clan family?

While Kapteijns is the first scholar to use the term of clan cleansing campaign for the events of 1991-1992, she is not the only scholar to categorise the atrocities of 1991-1992 as systemic political violence, not clan hostilities (Ingiriis’ term). In the words of Prof. Abdi Samatar of February 1991:

“The break-down of central authority and the reactionary nature of USC leadership has led to the dispossession of all Mogadishu residents who were not Hawiye, and the massacre of anyone who was Darod by birth. This has generated and intensified communal strife and hatred, thus creating new unnecessary and formidable obstacles to reconciliation.” .

Prof. Ahmed Samatar has characterised the human rights violations committed by USC forces in Mogadishu as a  “harrowing pogrom”. While Ingiriis simply declares Kapteijns’ conceptualization of this violence as clan cleansing not “a useful historical-theoretical term to understand tribal wars, let alone clan wars,” he never explains how she defines the term and why she felt compelled to adopt it. Moreover, he himself uses, without careful definition, the loaded term “Hargeisa Holocaust” for the military regime’s war crimes in the Northwest in 1988-1989.

This and other contradictions abound in Ingiriis’ attempt to distract from the real arguments in Clan Cleansing. Many of the “corrections” presented in the review are actually different interpretations and the corrections of typos and small errors are on several counts incorrect. Thus the reviewer wrongly puts Aadan Yabaal district in Lower Shabelle, misspells Wardhiigley, and wrongly corrects Kapteijns’ transliteration of the vocative in Ahmed Naji’s song “Xamar waa lagu xumeeyay”. (For the Somali grammar fiends, there is a difference between the grammatical form of the song’s title and a citation from the actual song lines in which Ahmed Naji not only conjugates the verb xumee ( to wrong) in the past tense but also uses it vocatively:  “O Mogadishu, you have been wronged!” (“Xamar waa lagu xumeeyayeey”.  In referring to Abdi  Muhummed. Amiin’s song Caynaanka hay (“Keep the reins of power”), Ingiriis himself conjugates the verb vocatively – haay — instead of giving the singular imperative hay.)  It is challenging to get Somali orthography right and most readers will agree that Kapteijns did a superb job in transliterating and translating Somali texts.  Is criticising her accomplishment another way to distract from the book’s compelling and nuanced analysis of a very contested subject?

These days competition for victimhood is fierce in Somalia but Professor Kapteijns’ book does not promote clan-based blame-games and explicitly calls on Somalis not to indulge in their own clan-based narratives of victimization. Instead she insists on political accountability for those who purposefully used violence against civilians to reach their political goals. She focuses on the campaign of clan cleansing because it has been ignored and denied. If reviews such as those by Ingiriis prove anything it is that this denial is alive and well in many circles.

Perhaps Kapteijns’ book may help open the door to an open-minded public discussion of large-scale post-1990 human rights violations. It may help Somalis to pose moral questions about such violations impartially, that is to say, by holding all parties to the same standards, as Kapteijns does in her book. Sadly, Prof. Kapteijns’ work is unpalatable to reviewers such as Mr. Ingiriis who simply blame the messenger for the message, continue the denial of the atrocities of 1991-1992, and insist on defending and associating themselves with the perpetrators of the atrocities that are the subject of the book.

By Liban Ahmad



  1. What this writer is trying to reach and sell? Who began the ethnic cleansing and atrocities, genocide and pogrom that happened in Somalia? Where was the humanity when heinous crimes were occuring? Moral questions? Why Siad Barre and his clan (darood) did not ask themselves these kind of questions when they were killing innocent people? Do moral questions stand when one retaliates? What Darood and their allies did to Somalis is somthing that history will not allow us to forget even if some of us try to forget. The wounds are not yet healed.

  2. Common Kuluc history repeated by itself . Hawiye did the same or worse to Darood! I think it is not only Somalia, but this happens many countries around the world, the oppressed turning into perpetrator. When anger and emotions are high we humans think revenge is justice.

  3. Truly the wound is under a healing process but at a snail speed, at least the process is underway and it is happening in Somaliland, Puntland and many other parts beyond, .

    To speed up the remedy, Somalis need to support the autonomy of Somaliland and let it off the hook of foreign deceit and manipulation that is plagued the Banadir region and then have patience with it and wait the immense payback from Somalilanders…

  4. Normally I have no time for Westerners who visit some african puss-bucket like ours few times and become 'experts' on the whole place overnight. These patronising fo…ckers annoy me no end. Afterall I have been in the West for over 15 years and I do not pretend to be an expert on the village I live in it let alone the whole country! And western nations and cultures are far less complex than African ones who have layers of loyalties and sub-loyalties and taboos and unwritten histories, hatreds and other social and political bric-a-brac that it can take a lifetime and patience to unravel them.

    However ocassionally a piece of work by a westerner has something to say. Kapteijns was one of them.

    • Well said kabocalaf, agree with you , it is stupid to claim that you understand complexity of country or continent because you worked or visited it.

  5. What the book does not say, for offending the esabslihed neo-euro liberal morals is this: the lesson learnt from the collapse of Somalia: be strong, oragnised, armed, ruthless and have hopefully be lucky enough to be led a ruthless visionary. You win. taht has been the history of all human history but it is not said in polite,. libearl Western europe anymore. I suppose their great gradfathesr did all the dirt work for them so they can afford to be so liberal and so..patronsining.

    We in somalilnd need to learn that lesson. Get armed. Be strong. Be ruthless. Have vsion. Hae agreat a leader.

    We have none of the above at the moment. our leader is more of Bob the Builder.