Friday, 24 June 2016

Clan Cleansing in Somalia: The Ruinous Legacy of 1991 - Lidwien Kapteijns

Title: Clan Cleansing in Somalia: The Ruinous Legacy of 1991
Author: Lidwien Kapteijns
ISBN: 978-0-812-22319-4
Publisher: University of Pennsylvania
Year: 2013
Pages: 308
Photos/Maps: 0/1

The ongoing trials and tribulations of the Horn of Africa are well known; however, the history and cause of the degree of dislocation and ongoing state collapse is not nearly as well understood. Kapteijns has encapsulated in his four chapter analysis of the history, causes and ongoing legacy up to 1991 (the height of the genocide) a succinct and detailed synopsis of the Somalian tragedy.

His first chapter undertakes a study of the reaction of the Somali people to their environment through the medium of poetry. While interesting, it strikes the reader as odd and somewhat out of step with the rest of the book. For those who would see the resilient capacity of the human spirit to overcome incredible adversity, it is an interesting view.

The book really engages with the second chapter which discusses the reign of President Barre and the actions that he took during the 21 years that he ‘governed’,  that both secured his hold on power while concurrently undermining it and ultimately causing his downfall. The watchwords of his administration were corruption and division. He undertook a deliberate policy of dividing the clans in order to deflect attention away from his own dishonesty. By doing so he created the conditions of deep hatred and distrust of not only his government, his clan bt also the other numerous clans within Somalia. The author undertakes a noteworthy analysis of this period that sets a clear tone for the follow-on chapters that discuss the actual descent into societal chaos. The clear take away from the historical review is the setting of the preconditions for collapse and the incredible self-centred hubris of the clan leadership.

Chapter three is where the author discusses the collapse of the government, the fighting in Mogadishu and the absolute loss of any veneer of civilized behavior amongst the combatants. The outright dismissal of any notion of non-combatant and the use of terror aimed at clan cleansing (through the use of systemic rape, murder, torture, theft and starvation) is appalling. Kapteijns does not use sensationalism to pass on his points; the experiences through vignettes and fact as gathered by international agencies are presented in a stark, unvarnished manner that reinforces the horror. The capacity for base level violence and behavior amongst people and the self serving attitude from those that wish not the best for the people of Somalia but for themselves, is revealed in a manner that is all the more poignant for its  austerity.

Chapter four pursues a deeper analysis of the reasons for the utter breakdown of society and the deliberate targeting of non-combatants by the militias. It is a revealing study into the nature of human reaction when law and order is stripped away and the utter helplessness of the elderly, young and destitute is taken complete advantage of for personal gain. What is additionally disturbing is the revelation that regional powers took advantage of Somalia’s refugees as well.

As a means of understanding the background and psychology of the conflict between the government and the militias followed by intra-militia fighting, this book is a critical read. While it focuses solely upon the  events leading up to the utter slaughter of 1991, it presents a excellent synopsis of the conditions which have prevented a resolution of the Somali conflict to the present day. Kapteijns has done a superb job at explaining this tragedy in terms that are accessible to a wide audience. His bibliography is extensive and his research thorough. This is disturbing read but critical to the student of African history.

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