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Who is a war criminal in the former ‘Republic of Somalia’?

Somalia seems ending its 24 year old conflict, began to accuse some ex-combatants of war crimes and regard others “clannish Heroes” of the highest honor and even martyrs. Despite absence of independent war crime tribunal for the architects of Somalia’s deadly war like Rwanda’s community courts locally known “Gacaca” or South Africa’s Truth Commission. This debate, however, resurfaced when General Sicid Morgan indicted war criminal appeared in most celebrated event of Somalia’s presidential inauguration. His presence muddied the new turn of history and upset Somalilanders. He commanded 24th battalion in Harysaga that razed much Hargaysa’s residential areas to the ground. The global media dubbed him “the butcher of Hargaysa” for his wanton destruction of cities mainly inhabited by issaaqs until driven out by London-declared resistance movement known as SNM under the auspices of Abdirahman Ahmed Ali.

He has been hiding in Kenya-Somalia porous border waging war to capture Kismayo of which he lost control. He’s the highest profile war criminal alive today. But so far never asked any forgiveness,; his supporters claim he was rightly  defending his country from “enemy” determined to tear it apart like happened today. So he was right to storm Hargaysa with anti-aircraft missiles indiscriminately when fleas entered the residential areas. The debate about war crime is inconclusive because of absence of UN run regional court for war crimes and shrouded by the clannish sense of honor when it comes to the trial of the war criminals, in their perspective. They are living heroes legitimately massacred their arch foe tribe.


In what once formerly known as “the Democratic Republic of Somalia” – nothing democratic about wanton massacre of Somalilanders—includes Somaliland and Somalia. The atrocities differ in both in size and intensity . Somaliland, in the eyes of its proponents has been occupied by Somalia for more than two decades and borne the brunt. Somali unionists often throw a debate that what happened in Somaliland also occurred in Somalia!( referring minor skirmishes between Daarood and Hawiyes whose arms mainly consist of Russian AK rifles in contrast Russian war jets and national army pound civilians fleeing from warzone.


Somalilanders argue what happened to them was atypical of Somalia’s clan vs clan war games with machetes. Anyone claim to be there of any similarity intend to rewrite history by trivialization of Somaliland large scale massacre.


The West decides of which insurgent is a terrorist and which isn’t. Sheikh Sharif, the recent presidential candidate and a recent western returnee, had been once the most wanted man like Mullah Omar of the Taliban, now; he’s the nice guy after his tour in the US and the UK. This job is beyond the scope of Somalia judicial system. But what distinguishes a petty murderer from war criminal? In Somalia, these loaded terms: warlord and war criminal are interchangeably used for the same person who participated in state waged massacre against his people and sometimes inter-clan warfare. The Morgan’s presence of many Somali suffering people consider the rebirth of ‘new Somalia’ picked up again raised the ire of world renowned journalist Regah Omaar of the ITV on his twitter account in exchange of heated words with Somalia’s outgoing administration minister Abdirahman Aynte, also former Aljazeera analyst and a colleague. The latter tried to defend his government for allowing Morgan to come in of which further upset Mr. Omaar. He compared Morgan with Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia. Their short-lasted debate set off serious debate of who actually is a war criminal. Some were agreed upon like Morgan but others may fall short of the legal definition of war criminals since they took part in the civil war after the government collapsed.


Little doubt, Morgan involved in the massacre of innocent Somalilanders in 80s when he was in charge of brutal military campaign to cleanse one ethnic community from their territory.  The debate on war crimes, however, is much deeper and more complicated than my piece. It needs research by criminologist from elite schools of law and war crime. For instance, Awdalians suffered in the hands of SNM during the last days of the Siyad’s fall and that made them bitter. In Borama, “Mujahid”, respected title awarded to SNM surviving warriors, sounds to them like a war criminal. Muse Bihi ex-Somali pilot and SNM fighter retains his Mujahid title no matter how offensive to Soolians or Awdalians. “it hurt us “ said Borama resident whose family members killed in onslaught. But many consider his boldness as “insensitive” to Awdal victims whose families killed in stray bullets. On other hand, others accuse Awdalians of “oversensitive” to clean joke titles whose lifetime elapsed.


Last week, Muse Bihi Abdi of Kulmiye presidential candidate gave ultimatum to president Farmaajo of Somalia and his backers like Siciid Morgan- stay out of Somaliland business for you are war criminals or meet your waterloo. Well that is the pot calling the kettle black! Many argued. However, since there is no regional court tasked to chase war criminals, the arbitrary labeling and politically motivated attacks against cleaner leaders not only damages the social cohesion among Somalis but also decriminalizes the warlords and war criminals.


Ex-Somalia war criminals mostly died naturally, partying in Nairobi nightlife. Will Farmaajo ever able to dare to hand over indicted war criminals to ICC in The Hague or the poor’s ecstasy for his overinflated expectation to return the good old days of “unity and dignity” would evaporate and things would return to business as usual: daily suicide bombing stares everyone? Only time will tell.

Abdirahman M. Dirye is a Somaliland Activist and Political Commentator, and Senior Editor at Africa’s Desk of Democracy Chronicles. He may be reached by E-mail at: Mrdirye@gmail.com