PUNTLAND: The Galgala Conflict and its Long-term security Implication on the Region

PUNTLAND: The Galgala Conflict and its Long-term security Implication on the Region
 By Mohamed A. Elmi
August 03, 2010

Prior to the release of the transcript about the VOA interview with Sheikh Mohamed Said Atam, I shared the same anxious sentiment Puntland leaders expressed about the would-be Islamists aspiring to impose their own rule system around Galgala mountains. The international media, within the confines of their limited sources of information, leaned heavily on the assertions of Puntland. My own search for truth, observations and assessments of this conflict give another picture. Owing to the tendentious definition propagated by Farole, the president of the self-autonomous region of Puntland, many outside the community as well have also developed a narrow conception of the nature of the conflict.  It was a hasty and emotional definition, one that dovetails Puntland’s internal issues with the larger geopolitical security of the region.

President Farole

As an instrumentalist leader, Farole came on air and spared no chance to galvanize the people (read as clan) of Puntland and rally them for an immediate response against the threats of “al-shabaab” in the Galgala/Bosasso area. He proclaimed that Sheikh Atam and his militias are dark forces with training camps in Bosaso environs and they are thus bent on destroying the state of Puntland. He urged everyone from all walks of life to bear and carry arms and defend Puntland and its important economic lifeline, a reference to the port city, Bossaso.  Elders of Bari and Sanaag provinces made initial efforts to intervene in order to get each side to alter or adjust its behavior. The appeal for Consensus and compromise was subordinated and the deployment of coercive instruments was promoted through the sub-division and sensationalizing of the public.

To the locals, the conflict was triggered by the play out of deeply-embedded grievance against a controversial decision that granted mineral rights to foreign companies. Other regional experts also allege territorial rows between the sub-clans of Warsangeli (Dubeiss) and Majerten sub-clans in the region of Bosasso. Many villages settled by both sub-clans straddle alongside the main road that links the commercial city of Bosasso to the hinterland and other regions outside the control of Puntland State. Moreover, ever since it was established with the backing of the United States, the Puntland Intelligence Services (PIA) devolved into a decline mode. A clan-centric conception of its hierarchical structure and composition took on a prominent role to be ensued by harsh policies of preemptive targets and rendition. While forestalling the political evolution of Puntland into a strong form of good governance, it further widened the schism between these sub-clans---the source of its legitimacy and power.

The Connection between Majihan and Galgala Conflict

The daily newspaper Sydney Morning Herald reported on April 21, 2006 a bloody conflict between the clan militias of Sheikh Mohamed Said Atam and the former president of Puntland, Mohamed Muse Hiris (Ade) over the mineral exploration rights that Puntland had granted to Range Resources. The article also informed the investors of the desperate hunt for oil and minerals in conflict zone areas of Africa. The actors of both conflicts are of the same men but the arena in which it has been played has changed as well as the outcome. The Morning Herald stated, ”In a sign of just how desperate oil companies are becoming to replace reserves, a mystery "oil major" has signed a letter of intent with Range Resources. Range has the rights to 50.1 per cent of the oil and minerals in the semi-autonomous state of Puntland in Somalia - a place that oil majors like Houston's Conoco abandoned in the face of civil war 15 years ago.The civil war is over in that part of Somalia. But the Warsangeli clan is upset at the Puntland Government's handling of the Range deal and Somali sources report 10 people have died in clashes with the president's militia in the last month.

On July 29, A Petition signed by 21 prominent Chiefs of Puntland released this statement. “Since the July 26, 2010’s violence took place in our region, we request from all parties to the Galgala conflict to refrain from further armed confrontation and wait for the outcome of our Peace and Fact Finding Mission to the armed group in the Galgala Mountains. We will report back our findings, which will either be genuine peace overtures or a declaration of war against Puntland by the armed group in the Galgala Mountains.”

On his declaration of war, Farole appeared to be a man with no sense of mission to advance the interest of the state of Puntland or end this conflict. He became an obstacle to those who acted out of profound conviction to bridge the gap between two brotherly communities. He had committed a series of errors that hampered his approach to resolving this issue. First, he broke an earlier agreement in Galgala. Second, he bypassed the Elders' intervention and request to resolve this issue in a peaceful approach and traditional conflict resolution methods. Then, he declared an all-out war on the inhabitants of Galgala and labeled the region as a "terrorist haven" by appealing to the world to come to his aid. He also galvanized the ordinary persons on the streets of Galka’ayo, Qardho and Garowe to rise and pick up any form of weapons, an occasion that was reminiscent of the 1990s bloodbaths in Mogadishu and the Lower Shabelle.

His list of gaffes and policy miscalculations continued without the least fear of economic and political consequences. Two days prior to the battle of Karin, Farole ordered the deportation of hundreds of IDP's under the false pretext that they are a potential threat to the city of Bosasso. Though condemned by international human rights organizations and UNHCR, this move was interpreted to be his ill-designed strategy to solicit a public support for his campaign of "full security crackdown", an excuse to justify his war on the people of Galgala and western region. 

Puntland has never been under attack. The people of Galgala of Bari region and by extension of Sanaag have made significant contribution to the Puntland’s competitive position and progress as an islet of peace in a sea of anarchy, secessionism, or the imported ideology of Islamic Revival.  They bolstered its peace and bargaining power at the national level. And they harbor no ill designs to commence renewed hostility nor do they wish to destroy the fragile peace Puntland has sustained or its economic infrastructure. Clearly, as it is evident from the Petition signed by the Elders, they intend not to exacerbate further the division within its disparate communities. It is their country that Puntland declared unjust war under the false pretext of "terrorism" in order to further cement its domination of the region, subjugate its inhabitants and exploit the mineral rich areas of Galgala and Majihan.

Mohamed A. Elmi
San Diego, CA




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