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Misunderstanding the Somali Crisis Author(s): I. M. Lewis Reviewed work(s): Source: Anthropology Today, Vol. 9, No. 4 (Aug.

, 1993), pp. 1-3 Published by: Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland Stable URL: . Accessed: 25/01/2013 15:03
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Vol. 9 No. 4, August1993
Every twomonths


Misunderstanding the Somali crisis

The social and cultural dimensions of the crisis in Somalia, precipitatedby the overthrowin January1991 of the dictator, Mohamed Siyad Barre, have been widely misunderstood.This has inevitably affected the character and effectiveness of humanitarianintervention, not paradoxically however, always adversely. Thus, for a period of several months from mid-July 1992, the world's television screens presented a gruesome pictureof starvationand death - yet anotherAfrican 'famine' in which, in this case Somalis, featuredas victims and objects of inexorable natural forces over which they had no control.1 This extremely powerful, but misleading media coverage had the positive effect of thrusting the Somali crisis dramatically up the national and international political agenda to join Yugoslavia at the top. It even jolted the British Foreign Secretaryand EC colleagues into making a brief visit to Mogadishuto see the devastationat first hand. The humanitarianresponse might have been less sympathetic had reportersgiven greater prominence to the fact that the primarycause of the disaster was the ferocious fighting between the heavily armed clanbased forces of the so-called 'warlords', all dubious relics from the Siyad era, who seek to rule Somalia and have wroughtsuch devastationand suffering, especially among the less bellicose southerncultivators who produce most of Somalia's grain. Belatedly acknowledging the contributionof fighting to the disaster (which the classic Somali proverb, 'War and famine, peace and milk' appropriatelyprioritizes),journalists and agency 'experts' then too readily tended to characterize the general situation as one of total anarchy.Beyond mere rhetoric,this diagnosis reflects Eurocentricassumptions about the universalityof centralizedpolitical structures and a consequentinability to understand very differthe ent political units currently in play in Somalia. The superabundance deadly automaticweapons, supplied of to the dictatorSiyad by the West and the former Soviet Union has, of course, greatly contributedto the viciousness and intractabilityof the conflict. But excessive concentrationon the guilt of the superpowersis apt to distract attention from the vigorous arms trade, partly financed by aid misappropriations, which currently brings fresh supplies of weapons from Kenya and Ethiopia. The problem of these ethnically porous frontiers is additionallycomplicated by partisanSomali involvement at a very high level in the Kenyan power structure,where the Chief of Staff is a Somali with active clan links. This issue and the related matterof the unenforced internationalarms embargo has yet to be seriously addressedby the UN. Supplying arms is also linked to the other major cross-bordertrade which airlifts cargoes of the Kenyan- and Ethiopian-grown stimulant drug Qat (Catha edulis) to the militia fighters (and other consumers), who chew it to keep alert. Qat flights have regularly landed in Somalia when it was impossible to get food relief in. With its teeming Qat-chewing young gangsters3 (known as mooryaan, which some Somalis derive from marihuana), Mogadishu certainly gives a surface impression of anarchy. More generally, however, in a sombre demonstrationof the accuracy of anthropological analysis,4 Somalia has dissolved into its traditional segmentarydivisions, with heavily-armedclan militias, the most destructiveand ruthlessof which are those led by the four main 'warlords' whose vicious power-play

Misunderstanding Somali crisis (I. M. LEWIS) page I the

Competingclaims to Macedonianidentity:the MacedonianQuestion and the breakupof Yugoslavia 3


The Spanishbull-fight and kindredactivities 11


Contextualizingalternativemedicine: the exotic, the marginaland the perfectly mundane15

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I. M. Lewis is professor at of anthropology LSE and a well-knownexpert on Somalia.

has so disruptedefforts to restore peace and distribute war-crimes.11If this new departurewere to be taken humanitarianaid. All this affects southern Somalia in- full advantageof, especially in view of the civilian catensely. In markedcontrast,in the north-eastand north- sualties attributedto UN action, it would be necessary west, the reversion to clan structuresreveals the posi- to persuade the other warlords to lay down their weative side of traditionalsociety - all the more strikingin pons. Otherwise, obviously, Somalis would conclude the absence of significant UN and other externalagency that the UN was taking sides, a suspicion already intervention.In the north-east,in the organizationof the strongly held by some clans. Whetheror not UNOSOM 2 has the stomach to purlocally based Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF), traditional and modern political leadership sue that course to its logical conclusion remains to be have blended virtually seamlessly. In the north-west seen. There are, unfortunately,already disturbingindi(the former British Somaliland which, faced with chaos cations that, like Ambassador Robert Oakley who in the south, declared unilateral independence in May headed OperationRestore Hope, AdmiralHowe may be 1991) where the clan structureis more heterogeneous, seeking to cultivate other warlords as future national the local clan elders5have proved much more effective leaders. This, I fear, would be a recipe for disaster in peace-making than the embryonic modern govern- but, alas, not out of keeping with much of international interventionin Somalia. ment which lacks recognitionand resources. As those of us who form the Uppsala Life and Peace Instituteadvisory group (which I helped to establish in 19926), designed to help UN policy formationin Soma- Clearly, the Somalis should be left to choose their own lia, have consistently emphasized, it is above all this leaders, however long-drawnout the process. What the communitycan helpfully do, in additionto local level leadership which must be built upon if international viable political structures are to be restored in the supplying humanitarianaid as needed (but not to exsouth. UN intervention in Somalia has had an erratic cess) is to try to establish a secure environment in and cheq1uered career which cannot be explored in de- which local leadershipcan come to the fore and armed tail here . Suffice it to say that this policy was intro- militias will seem less necessary for survival.In helping duced in the field by AmbassadorMohamed Sahnoun, at the same time, in partnershipwith local Somali prothe Secretary General's first Special Representative fessionals, to reestablishbasic social services, attention who was ideally suited for the task but was strongly should be given to the ratherchaotic (even 'anarchic') critical of UN operations and left Somalia in October NGO aid scene which would benefit from being more 1992 after only a few months in office. His successor, effectively coordinated, and, perhaps, even regulated. who failed to understand importanceof the northern Certainly,the numerousagencies, many of which have the elders' initiatives and conspicuously lacked insight into worked heroically under terrible conditions, would the general Somali situation, evidently gave only token benefit from periodic reflective assessments of their imsupportto our 'bottom-up'approach.In the wake of the pact, intended and unintended,as various local Somali US- led OperationRestore Hope,8 however, the same interest groups seek to entrap them - often rathersucpolicy seems to be being pursued more resolutely by cessfully, since Somalis are such skilful politicians. Admiral JonathanHowe, the head of the second UN Without having space to attempt any comprehensive Somali operation(UNOSOM 2). While thus not paying catalogue of misunderstandings and missed opporsufficient attention to genuinely representative local tunities, mention must be made in conclusion of the leadership, both the Americans and the UN have paid extraordinary failure to appreciatethat Somali cultureis too much attention (until recently unfortunatelyposi- primarily oral and the most effective and influential tive) to the 'warlords'.9It was of course inevitable that medium is radio.13The spectacle of American helicopthese menacing figures had to be negociated with, not ters droppingleaflets, in the case of OperationRestore least to limit American and UN casualties. But the war- Hope couched in nonsensical pigeon Somali (and cerlords skilfully manipulatedthe new situation, success- tainly not written by anyone conversant with current fully maintainingand even enhancing their positions in Somali) is a remarkabletestimony to culturaland politiresponse to policies that were supposed to marginalize cal obtuseness as well as deafness to advice. The killing them. of the UN Pakistanisoldiers on 5 June occurred,signiHere, naturally,disarmamentremains the crucial and ficantly, round General Aideed's radio station - later most difficult issue. OperationRestore Hope engaged in wastefully blown up rather than requisitioned by UN some token action on this front, but essentially left So- forces. Coupled with the organic structuralfailings of malia unsanitized.10That the warlords had no serious the UN as an international political body, and the intention of implementing the Addis Ababa disarma- chronic weaknesses of its cumbersome bureaucracies, ment treaty,which they had signed at the end of March these technical errorsdo not bode well for the future in 1993, was dramaticallyillustratedby the engagementin Somalia, where the UN operationis alreadyexcessively which 24 Pakistanisoldiers died on 5 June while trying grandiose and hardly impressively efficient. Unfortuto secure the implementationof the agreement.Follow- nately also, relationswith the Somali public leave much ing Security Council authorizationon 13 June, this led to be desired, and UN officials seem to have done little to the US-reinforcedassault on the forces and arms de- to involve those Somali professionals who are still in pots of General Aideed, who was held accountablefor Somalia. It will be surprising, too, if the rather hapthe attackon the Pakistanis. hazardUN recruitment proceduressucceed in attracting By the end of June the situationhad become farcical. suitably qualified and committed expatriateadministraAdmiral Howe had declaredGeneral Aideed, still regu- tive staff, despite the high salaries offered to compenlarly holding press conferences in Mogadishu, an out- sate for the danger. Although the requirementsnecesslaw with a price on his head. The intrepidSomali xwjar- ary for restoring some form of Somali state or states lord had respondedby offering a rewardfor the capture could, I think, be best realized under an international of the Admiral!In common with a significantcurrentof trusteeship,it is difficult to be optimistic about the outSomali opinion and as a number of us had long advo- come. In an ideal world, the best solution might be to cated, the UN had now begun to play the card of accus- subcontractthe task to an appropriately qualified single ing Aideed (and by implication the other warlords) of country(for historicalreasons not Italy), ratherthan enANTHROPOLOGY TODAY Vol 9 No 4, August 1993

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trusting it to an ad hoc multi-national administration very useful and informativeHorn of Africa Bulletin. whose divisions and differences competing Somali in- 7. For preliminaryand incomplete accounts see K. Menkhaus and T. Lyons, 'What are the lessons to be learnedfrom terest-groupswill mercilessly exploit. O
I. M. Lewis 1. Thus, when I was interviewedfor a numberof television programmesat this time, the people who interviewedme told me that their producerswere only interestedin the 'famine angle' and would be unlikely to broadcastwhat I said about the conflicts which had caused it. 2. Qat leaves, which look like privet hedge, are chewed raw, traditionallyon religious or social occasions when a group of men meet to talk in the evening. The active agents are compoundsof the ephedrinefamily. 3. For an excellent, first-handstudy of contemporary Mogadishustreetgangs by a well-informedpolitical scientist see Ronald Marchal,'Formes de la violence et de son contr6le dans un espace urbainen guerre:les Mooryaan de Mogadishu',Cahiers d'EtudesAfricaines, no. 2, 1993. On the political economy of the militias, see the excellent first-handanthropologicalstudy by Marcel Djama, 'Sur la violence en Somalie; genese et dynamiquedes formations armees', Politique Africaine,47, 1992, pp.147-152. 4. See I.M. Lewis, A Pastoral Democracy, Holmes and Meier, New York, 1982 (first edition, OUP, 1961); A Histoiy of Somalia, Westview P., Boulder, Moder-n Colorado, 1988; Blood and Bone: the Call of Kinship in Somali Culture,Red Sea P., New Jersey, 1993 (December, forthcoming).See also D. Laitin and S. Samata,Somalia: Nation in Search of a State, Westview P., 1987. 5. Under the aegis of the British NGO ActionAid, Ahmed Yusuf Farahand I are currentlycarryingout researchon the effectiveness of the elders' peace-makinginitiatives. 6. This small group of about ten social scientists with in specialist expertise on Somalia is international composition and includes three social anthropologists.With the aid of the Swedish government,four meetings have so far been held jointly with the leadershipof the political division of the UN in Somalia. The first two meetings were attendedby the UN Special Envoy, AmbassadorMohamed Sahnoun.The Life and Peace Institutealso publishes the

Somalia?', CSISAfrica Notes, no. 144, January1993, Washington;R. Bonner, 'Why we went. How the United Nations turnedits back on Somalia', MotherJones Magazine, March/April1993. 8. See I.M.Lewis, 'Restoringhope in a futureof peace', Cooperazione,Rome, no. 123, March 1993, pp. 43-45; 'Somalia: beyond the warlords',Africa Watch,5. 2, March 1993; 'Somalia: operationrestorehope, a preliminary assessment', Africa Rights, May 1993. 9. See New YorkNewsday, 'Interviewwith Said Samatar', 11 January1993 and the same author'seditorialin the WashingtonPost of 2 December 1992. See also I.M. Lewis, 'Pacifying the warlords',The Times, 12 December 1992, and 'Out from the shadow of Somalia's warlords',The Guardian,letters, 16 January1993. 10. See Africa Watch and Africa Rights cit. 'Somalia: A HumanRights 11. See Amnesty International, Disaster', 5 August 1992 and the same organization's 'Somalia: Update on a Disaster- Proposals for Human Rights' 30 April 1993. in 12. Clearly, grain requirements Somalia need to be properlymonitored.There is some evidence that the policy of flooding Somalia with aid supplies may have started depressinglocal marketprices of grain to the point where farmersin the agricultural regions of southernSomalia no longer have an incentive in producingfor the market.Here, as in so many respects, there is an urgentneed to coordinate more effectively the chaotic aid scene. of 13. For a brilliantdemonstration the importanceof oral oral poetry, in politics, see Said S. culture,particularly Samatar,Oral Poetry and Somali Nationalism, Cambridge, 1982. Said Samataris Professorof History at Rutgers University. The consequentimportance,and popularity,of radio broadcastingand its political significance in Somalia is well-known. As I stressed at the early stages of the UN operationin my article 'In the land of the living dead' (SundayTimes, 30 August 1992, pp.8-9), control of the radio would be a crucial issue.



Macedonian identity

The Macedonian Question and the breakupof Yugoslavia

The author is professor of anthropologyat Bates College, Lewiston, Maine, and the author of The Death Rituals of RuralGreece and Firewalkingand Religious Healing: The Anastenariaof Northern Greece and the AmericanFirewalking Movement (both published by Princeton U.P.). He is curre 'tly writing a book on the internationalconfl ct between Greeks-and Macedoniansover which group has the right to identifyitself as Macedonians.

During the violent disintegrationof Yugoslavia, world attention has focused quite understandably the horon rors of the killing and the ethnic cleansing which have been taking place in Croatia and Bosnia. By contrast relatively little attentionhas been paid to Macedonia;in large part, I suspect, because the situation there has, until now at least, remainedso peaceful. Historically, however, Macedonia has often been a major source of conflict and instability in the Balkans. Even now it lies at the centre of a bitter dispute between Greeks and Macedonians over which group has the right to identify itself as Macedonians. This latest phase of the Macedonian Question involves two major issues: the human rights of the Macedonianminority in northernGreece and the international recognitionof the Republic of Macedonia. This controversy, in many ways a dispute over national symbols such as namns, flags and famous ancestors, has been largely confined to the arenasof international diplomacy and public relations. Nevertheless, the potentialfor violence is real, for the conflict between Greeks and Macedoniansis an expression of the same forces of ethnic nationalism and

irredentism- the desire to create ethnically pure and homogeneous nation-states- that lie at the heart of the more violent conflict that rages now between the Serbs, the Croats,and the Muslims of Bosnia. The Macedonian Question in Balkan history The Macedonian Question has dominated Balkan history and politics for over a hundredyears. During the Ottoman period, which lasted in Macedonia from the fourteenth century until 1913, the population of Macedonia included an amazing number of different ethnic, linguistic, and religious groups, including Slavic and Greek speaking Christians, Turkish and Albanian speaking Muslims, Vlachs, Jews and Gypsies. Toward the end of the nineteenthcenturythe populationof Macedonia was increasingly being defined from various externalnationalistperspectives in terms of nationalcategories such as Greeks, Bulgarians, Serbs, Albanians and Turks. Ottoman authorities,however, continued to divide the population of the empire into administrative units, or millets, on the basis of religious identity rather than language, ethnicity or nationality. The hegemony 3

ANTHROPOLOGY TODAY Vol 9 No 4, August 1993

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