When the Somali civil war broke out in 1991, the country’s tribes quickly formed heavily armed factions based on tribal allegiances. In the South of Somalia, heavy fighting broke out between the Darod tribe which was allied with the President Siad Barre, and the General Aideed led Hawiye tribe which formed the ‘United Somali Congress’ (USC) faction. Both factions were heavily armed due to connections in the Somali National Army and in the case of the USC, years of arms collections and preparation.
The Digil and Mirifle (D&M) tribe aligned itself with the SDM faction, because they were excluded from prominent positions in the Somali National Army, they lacked the means to protect themselves from the USC faction and marauding militias vying for control in the power vacuum that followed the ousting of the dictator. In what later become known as the ‘triangle of death’, the South Western city of Baidoa became a city of death. An estimated 500,000 people died in the USC enabled famine in 1992. According to estimates, the monthly death rate in August in Baidoa was 3,224, this figure later rose to 5,979 people a month, or nearly 200 a day.
The USC militias upped the looting and rampage campaign when the US Marines landed in Mogadishu, to commence the “Operation Restore Hope” campaign. Not only did General Aideed’s militias rob and murder the people of Baidoa, they also imposed a policy of genocide by blocking food shipments from reaching Baidoa and other regions in Southern Somalia. The USC’s tactics included forcing relief agencies from using their trucks and drivers to transport food aid and emptying the trucks en-route. As a last resort, the United Nations along with the US command decided to airlift supplies to the Baidoa, the USC militias seized control of the Baidoa airport and imposed an extortionate fee- $5,000 per flight and a percentage of the food aid.
To explain why the USC faction harboured such intense animosity for the peace-loving people of the D&M, it is essential to provide a historical context. Baidoa is arguably the most naturally rich city in Somalia due to it being the capital of the most productive agricultural region and home to Somalia’s most skilled farmers and labourers. The city’s inhabitants, the ‘Rahanwein people’ ( the largest clan in the Digil & Mirifle tribe), boast a unique history in Southern Somalia due to its separate language of “Af-Maay” which is incomprehensible to the vast majority of Somalis.
Another key distinction between the USC faction and the D&M people is that the latter boasts a history of self-rule prior to Italian colonisation. ‘The Geledi Sultanate’, ruled much of Southern Somalia in the 18th and 19th century. The USC engineered this genocide because they feared that the Rahanwein people could easily fill the power vacuum in the South, the the Digil and the Mirifle’s history of autonomy, large population of skilled laborers and vast fertile land made them a formidable group in Southern Somalia.
Therefore, it is imperative that the Digil and the Mirifle people create a federal state in Somalia, not only to protect their interests and unique history, but also to create peace and prosperity for three regions in Southern Somalia: Bay, Bakool and Gedo – with the capital of this state based in the city of Baidoa, or as we call it; “Baydhabo Janaay”. This region, often synonymous with death and famine, can easily become Somalia’s breadbasket.
By creating this federal state, we, the people of Bay, Bakool and Gedo, will no longer be the grass the two elephants stomp over when fighting, we will mold our own destiny!