Insights Gained from the Jamaahiirta Popular Uprising’s Triumph over Northern Somalia

Insights Gained From The Jamaahiirta Popular Uprising's Triumph Over Northern Somalia

September 18, 2023

What transpired in and around Laascaanood city from December 6, 2022, to August 25, 2023, stands as a significant historical event in Somalia thus far in the 21st century. A group of brave and visionary young individuals, known as “Jamaahiirta” (meaning the masses in Arabic), took on the challenge of challenging the once mighty control of Northern Somalia over Laascaanood, the capital of the Sool region in northern Somalia, and subsequently, the rest of the SSC-Khaatumo territories. Initially, many dismissed their chances of success, considering their lack of weapons, organizational structure, or support from influential entities. However, after approximately two months of street demonstrations and careful planning, they achieved more than they had ever imagined and became a formidable opponent against Northern Somalia. In just a few months, the Jamaahiirta youth gained the support of all SSC-Khaatumo Garaads (traditional leaders), the majority of Dhulbahante soldiers who were part of the Northern Somalia army switched sides, all Dhulbahante members of the Puntland army joined their cause, and SSC-Khaatumo diaspora communities mobilized to provide support, ultimately driving out Northern Somalia forces from SSC-Khaatumo territories. In this article, I will explore some valuable lessons we can learn from this audacious undertaking.

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The Fragility of Entrenched Power Structures in Somalia:

Dreaming big, resilience, and challenging the status quo are significant factors in achieving success. The Jamaahiirta youth possessed all these qualities. They did not buy into the notion that Northern Somalia was invincible or incapable of being challenged. Through adaptability, perseverance, and media awareness, they consistently outmaneuvered Northern Somalia. They effectively exposed the weaknesses of Northern Somalia’s security forces, its unequal clan power dynamics, and the fallacies of its future prospects as a sovereign state. The lesson here is that entrenched interest groups, seemingly powerful entities, or prevailing power structures in Somalia are not as invulnerable as they appear. Instead, they thrive on the passive nature of the Somali public. Once they are confronted, they crumble like fragile eggshells.

The Somali Masses Hold the Key to Positive Change:

I am not advocating for a violent uprising of the Somali masses against their leaders. However, taking the example of Jamaahiirta, Somali people everywhere can determine their destiny through organization and the demand for positive change. The liberation of Hiiraan region from Al-Shabaab by its people through organized efforts is another noteworthy example. In many instances, we Somalis have allowed destructive actors to control our public affairs and subsequently complain about the consequences. We have supported warlords during the destructive period of the 1990s, allowed Al-Shabaab to terrorize us during the 2000s, and supported injustices that are clearly wrong. Just as the Jamaahiirta youth did in Laascaanood, we can steadfastly demand positive changes in our public affairs.

The Ineffectiveness of Brutal Crackdowns:

Northern Somalia’s decision to underestimate and ignore the demands of the Jamaahiirta youth proved detrimental to their ability to maintain control. The authorities made no effort to address the situation peacefully or engage in dialogue. Their heavy-handed approach only exacerbated the unrest. The lesson here is that public discontent can only be resolved through peaceful means and dialogue, or else it will escalate into armed conflict.

The Power of Clan Sentiments and Grievances as an Organizing Principle:

The conflict between Jamaahiirta youth and Northern Somalia facilitated the seemingly challenging task of unifying the Dhulbahante clan and the broader Harti clan. It is remarkable how quickly the Jamaahiirta youth, who were previously not driven by tribalism, united their clan in the pursuit of defeating Northern Somalia. After the declaration by Dhulbahante/Fiqishinni on February 6, 2023, to remove all Northern Somalia forces from SSC-Khaatumo territories, followed by 22 days of fighting, all Harti subclans spontaneously joined the cause in March 2023. One Puntland official reported that even President Said Abdullahi Deni, who initially had reservations about joining the battle, could not control his forces as they flocked to the battlefield without his authorization. In other words, the soldiers’ allegiance to their clan superseded their loyalty to the Puntland army. The lesson for all Somali entities is to exercise caution when awakening the deep-rooted clan sentiments; it is a precarious matter that should not be tampered with.

The Need for Consensual Administrative Borders:

The conflict between SSC-Khaatumo and Northern Somalia, as well as the dispute between Hiiraan and Hirshabeelle, serve as examples of the challenges faced when drawing federal borders in Somalia. While it may be impractical to solely rely on clan-based borders, it is equally impossible to disregard clan borders and dynamics. Every federal state in Somalia must respect clan dynamics to ensure functionality. Bringing together neighboring communities and constituencies within a single nation-state can only be achieved through consent and reconciliation. The lesson for all parties involved is the importance of revisiting the drawing board and devising a plan to establish functioning federal states within Somalia without perpetuating conflict.

For any inquiries, please contact Mahdi Warsama at [email protected]

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