The History Somalis Don’t Want to Talk About

Mohamed Farah Aideed, the butcher of Mogadishu who spearheaded the USC's murder campaign against the Darood clan

The Hidden Chapter of Somalia’s Civil War: The Clan-Cleansing in Mogadishu and South-Central Somalia, 1991-92

In January of 1991, militiamen of the United Somali Congress (USC) entered Mogadishu and drove out the longtime dictator of Somalia, Siad Barre, from the capital. Many Somalis rejoiced at the USC’s victory because the insurgent group had claimed to be fighting for a free and democratic Somalia. However, it soon became apparent that the USC and its leaders had a different agenda—one that included exterminating tens of thousands of people.

The USC targeted for extermination the Darood-clan family, a large and diverse clan- family consisting of four main sub-clans and comprising approximately thirty to forty percent of the Somali population.1 Seeking to expunge the Darood from Mogadishu and large swathes of South and Central Somalia, the USC engaged in an organized “clan cleansing campaign” that ended in the systematic murder of approximately 30,000 Darood and the expulsion of 400,000.

This episode of systematic violence is common knowledge among Somalis but “its real nature has not been publically acknowledged and has been ignored, concealed, or misrepresented in scholarly works and political memoirs.” 1 In her extensively researched book Clan Cleansing in Somalia: The Ruinous Legacy of 1991, historian Lidwien Kapteijns marshal an impressive body of evidence detailing the nature of the USC’s clan cleansing campaign, including its motives, organization, and the hate narratives that drove it. In this essay I will discuss her work, and also use her work as an interpretative framework to demonstrate how omissions, denials, and/or misrepresentations of the USC’s clan cleansing have become a part of the discourse on the Somali civil war.

Historic Context

Before delving into the USC’s clan cleansing campaign, it is important to first understand the political and historic context in which it arose. The USC was founded in Rome in 1989 by Ali Mahamed Osooble Wardhigley, a man of the Hawyie clan who had become disgruntled with Barre’s dictatorship. When it was founded, the USC became one of several insurgent groups that sought to topple the Barre regime. The other two prominent ones at the time were the Somali National Movement (Issaq-clan) and the Somali patriotic Movement (Darood-Ogaden).

Barre faced numerous opposition groups because his government had grown corrupt and extremely violent. He had taken power in 1969 in a coup d’état and had at first enjoyed considerable public support, having replaced a democratically elected but nevertheless deeply corrupt and ineffective civilian government. His first years in power had seen the codification of a written Somali language, the construction of schools and hospitals across the country, and the establishment of many national institutions. However, Barre’s popularity took a nosedive after Somalia lost an irredentist land war with Ethiopia in 1977. Barre “was widely held responsible for both political and strategic mistakes that left Somalia weakened and humiliated.” 2After this defeat, Barre’s internal legitimacy largely evaporated and he resorted to brute violence to remain in power.

From the period after the war until its overthrow in early 991, Barre’s “government” turned into a predatory clique that “devoted most of its energy to diverting the enormous sums of foreign aid flowing into the country into the pockets of well-placed elites in the regime.” 3Busy enriching themselves, Barre’s criminal gang did care to competently administer the state and this period saw massive institutional decay in the country. The school system, for example, went into disarray as unpaid teachers stopped showing up to class . To keep his government in power, Barre kept a brutal security apparatus that had the “power to rape, kill and loot freely” and these forces were used against all of Barre’s enemies, real or imagined. 4 This sometimes included entire clans. Barre also sharpened clan rivalries by using divide and conqueror techniques that pitted various clans and sub-clans against one another, all in an effort to redirect anger from his rule.

Barre’s clique was made up of his own relatives and in-laws and also “patrimonial servants” who in exchange for giving Barre their loyalty received the benefits of being associated with a corrupt, predatory state. 5Barre happened to be born to the Marehan sub-clan of the Darood but his clique “included individuals from most clan segments.” 6To Barre, what was important was personal loyalty to his regime—not clan affiliation. However, “whatever the political reality, what counted eventually was the popular misperception” as the French-born Somalia expert Daniel Compagnon puts it. 7 And the popular misperception was that the Barre regime favored, elevated, and worked on behalf of Darood-clan family. This misperception would have tragic ramifications for many innocent people after Barre’s overthrow.

Barre Overthrow: Clan Cleansing Begins

Barre fled Mogadishu on the night of January 27, 1991, after being dislodged by USC forces. His government’s collapse was precipitated by multiple factors, including the bankruptcy and disintegration of the Somali state due to his corruption and mismanagement, the cessation of foreign aid after Somalia lost its strategic importance at the end of the Cold War, and the military successes of the multiple clan-based insurgencies that arose in the country to oppose his rule. When the USC captured Mogadishu, many of the city’s residents hoped that the insurgent group, which at the time was the most heavily armed and powerful, would bring about national renewal and change.

The USC did not live up to those hopes and instead unleashed a level of violence that rivaled and even exceed Barre’s. As soon it captured the city, the USC began to slaughter all members of the Darood clan family living in Mogadishu. Kapteijns writes that all Darood “irrespective of their individual histories, came to be seen as enemies to be killed and driven out.” 8The USC had not previously publically declared any hostility against the Darood clan, and had claimed to be fighting simply to dislodge the corrupt and predatory regime of Barre. Notwithstanding his membership in the clan, many Darood had been brutalized by Barre and opposed his rule, and many supported the USC as it captured the city so it should come as no surprise that many “were caught unaware by the USC pogrom.” 9 One of the Darood people killed in this violence was Dr. Abyan, a prominent pro-democracy activist who had been a longtime dissent against the Barre regime. He was shot outside of a house where USC leaders were meeting, some of whom knew him personally and had collaborated with him in his opposition to Barre but not one of them moved to safe his life. 10

In Kapteijns’ book she emphasizes how the USC leadership organized this anti-Darood violence in a systematic way. Basing her analysis off victim testimonies, she writes:

The vignettes presented in Chapter 3 contain clear evidence of the organized nature of the clan cleansing: how gunmen were sent to houses where Daarood families or individuals were known or reported to live, sometimes looking for their victims by name; that some houses were marked with the “D” of Daarood, thus publicly declaring them fair game; that many civilians (men and women) were collected from their houses and brought to USC commanders for further directions as to what needed to be done with them; how those who survived such abductions were keenly aware that they owed their survival to accident and to the perpetrators’ desire to maintain deniability; how victims were rounded up in large numbers in the compounds of certain hotels or at traffic circles or checkpoints before they were killed. All these cases point at the organized nature of the violence and the direct or indirect impact of orders issued by men in charge. 11

The systematic nature of the Mogadishu violence was also identified and decried in a statement issued by a group of Somali American expatriates based in Washington, D.C. In the statement, dated March 1991, the group wrote the following: “individuals who infiltrated Mogadisho under disguise and visited the residence of some Darood individuals confirmed [the] systematic killings of Darood civilians [by USC forces].” 12 As we will see, later accounts of this violence have attempted to portray it as sporadic and disorganized, the result of criminal elements going loose or aggrieved citizens taking personal revenge out of their own volition. However, this misrepresented narrative does not correspond with the available evidence and is a form of clan cleansing denial.

The USC’s clan cleansing campaign forced hundreds of thousands of Daroods to flee the city, with the majority fleeing to refugee camps in neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia or returning to the clan’s traditional settlements. However many of these refugees were soon imperiled after the USC expanded the scope of its clan cleansing campaign, deicing to hunt the Darood in their traditional territories in the far southern provinces of the country. On April 23, 1991, USC forces captured the southern port city of Kismayo, a Darood city that was host to approximately 600,000 refugees that fled the violence in Mogadishu and its environs. There the clan cleansing commenced once again with a heightened level of violence and barbarism. 13Other locations where the clan cleansing took placed included the province of Gedo, which was close to Kismayo, and the provinces of Lower Shabeele, Middle Shabelle, Bay, and Bakool. Amnesty International documented the violence in Gedo in a July 1992 report. The reports says that “[USC] forces proceeded to systematically round up people of the Darod clan [and killed them]” after capturing the city of Bulohawo in Gedo. 14Witnesses reported to Amnesty that Daroods were “bayonetted, clubbed to death with rifle butts, or thrown into boiling oil” by USC forces. 15 The reports says that these horrific claims were “consistent with other reports of abuses” by the USC forces then under the command of the infamous General Mohamed Farah Aidid. 16

It is beyond the scope of this paper to document in detail all the atrocities committed during the USC’s clan cleansing campaign. However what has been established thus far is that a clan cleansing happened, that it took place in an organized and systematic manner, and that the majority of its victims were members of the Darood clan. In the next section, I will examine how these atrocities by the USC have been ignored, misrepresented, or denied in the literature produced after the war. 17

USC militiamen loot government arms storehouse
12 Dec 1992, Mogadishu, Somalia — Somali warlord General Mohammad Farah Aidid (left, in jacket and tie) and rival Ali Mahdi Mohammed (center, in white) stand together to declare a truce. — Image by © David Turnley/CORBIS

Silence, Denial, and Misrepresentation


As Kapteijns points out, “Silences, misrepresentations, and denials have been part and parcel of episodes of large-scale violence such as genocide and ethnic cleansing” and the situation is no different in the context of Somalia. 18 The written discourse produced after the Somali civil war is rife with omissions, clan cleansing denials, and misrepresentations of the conflict that distort the truth. In this section I will analyze several examples of written works that are representative of this disturbing trend.

In her book Hostages: The People Who Kidnapped Themselves, Mariam Arif Gassem, a Somali lawyer and accountant and [hawiye clan] Mogadishu-resident during the USC’s clan cleansing campaign, writes that she authored the book to inform “well-meaning humanitarians” about the situation in Somalia.” 19In her descriptions of the violence in Mogadishu after the fall of Barre, Gassem completely obscures the role of the USC in organizing and leading the slaughter of the Darood. She admits that clan-based violence took place in Mogadishu after Barre’s overthrow, writing “the city witnessed rising turmoil and insecurity. Many innocent people were murdered in their homes for tribal reasons…” 20However at no point in her account does Gassem mention the fact that Daroods were singled out almost exclusively for extermination. 21 Gassem also claims that these killings were committed solely by “criminals, crazy men, young militia boys and other irresponsible elements” that gained access to weapons abandoned by Barre’s forces after his defeat. 22However she does not mention the well-know fact that many of these criminals, especially the young militia boys who were killing and looting, were in fact trained, directed, and indoctrinated by the USC to target the Darood. 23Beside her egregious failure to tell the truth about the USC leadership’s involvement in the clan killings, Gassem appears to romanticize them, calling Aidid, the USC leader cited in the Amnesty International report above, “a brilliant officer and competent war strategist” who enjoyed the “favor” of “Most Mogadishu citizens.” 24Gassem also completely glosses over the clan killings in Kismayo, writing simply that the USC captured the city after defeating “Darod aggressors.” 25 It is fair to say that Gassem’s account contains all the typical examples of post-civil war discourse—omission, misrepresentation, and clan cleansing denial.

In his political memoir From Barre to Aideed: Somalia The Agony of a Nation, Hussein Ali Dualehdiscusses at length the build up to Barre’s ouster by the USC and the inner- USC power struggle that developed after Barre was overthrown. However he devotes comparatively little time to discussing the USC’s actions toward the Darood. When he does discuss this chapter of the civil war, Dualeh misrepresents what transpired. For example, Dualeh writes that hundreds of thousands of Daroods fled Mogadishu after USC captured the city because they “simply felt insecure” after “a Darod president had been ousted.” 26This egregious misrepresentation fails to mention the fact that Daroods fled as the result of systematic violence directed towards them by the USC after Barre’s ouster; they did not flee simply because their clansman lost power as the author implies. In a chapter of the book entitled “Why Darods were Victimised in Mogadishu,” Dualeh undercuts his earlier assertion by admitting that Daroods were targeted specifically for violence. However he only acknowledges this fact in the chapter title and a single sentence at the conclusion of the 9-page chapter. Dualeh spends the rest of the chapter rationalizing the slaughter of the Darood by claiming that the entire clan was complicit with the Barre regime. He claims that Barre “embarked on [a] plan of putting the political and economic power of the country in Darod hands” and that sometime around 1981 Barre had a meeting with prominent elders and politicians of the Darood clan where they agreed to “rally the clan as a whole behind Barre” in exchange for high-level positions at all levels of the government.” 27For these conspiratorial claims, Dualeh furnishes no evidence whatsoever. And by treating the entire Darood clan as a monolithic group that was in cahoots with Barre, his narrative appears to closely follow the “clan hate narrative” that the USC used to motivate the perpetrators of the clan cleansing during the atrocities, and to justify their actions afterward on. Similar to Dualeh’s narrative, the USC’s clan hate narrative also similarly painted the Darood clan as a monolithic group conspiring with Barre and who all benefited politically and materially from his rule. 28 However, as was discussed earlier, the reality was that the Barre regime was a corrupt clique that valued personal loyalty to the dictator and not clan affiliation. Ironically, Dualeh is an example of this: despite not being of the Darood clan, he served the Barre regime as an ambassador to Kenya and Uganda as he freely admits in his book. 29In this regard, he benefited far more from Barre than the average Darood clansman, who shared the fate of most Somalis under Barre—political oppression and material impoverishment.

Perhaps the clearest example of clan cleansing denial and misrepresentation can be found in the voluminous writings of the budding academic Mohamed Haji Ingiriis (Hawiye-clan), currently a doctoral candidate in history at the University of Oxford. In his article “Somalia and Rwanda: The Psychology and Philosophy of the African Conflicts” published in the journal Conflict Studies Quarterly in January 2016, Ingiriis completely denies that any clan-based violence took place in Somalia during the civil war, writing “nothing that resembled [clan] cleansing happened in Somalia, notably in Mogadishu during the height of the 1990s wars.” 30To support this claim, Ingiriis advances no evidence whatsoever and instead relies on shockingly bad logic, such as claiming that Aidid could not possibly be involved in killing Darood people because Ingiriss watched a YouTube video where Aidid claimed to be a man of peace and this “conclusive visual evidence” disproves the allegations against him. 31Ingiriis envelopes his clan cleansing denials in an extended discussion of the Rwandan genocide where he makes seriously concerning comments implying that Western academics consciously participated in a conspiracy to manufacture elements of the genocide, writing “…authors in post-genocide Rwanda had aligned themselves with the guiders on the ground or fabricators in the field.” 32 On the same vein as this absurd and offensive claim, Ingriss accuses Kapteijns of having “affiliated herself with [a] particular clan-group” meaning the Darood and this “led her to re-emphasize the gossip [of the Darood]. 33Despite the unprofessional nature of his work, Ingriss has somehow managed to publish his clan-cleansing denials in multiple academic journals, and has written two books. He has become the intellectual guiding light for Somali clan-cleansing deniers.


Since Barre’s ouster from power in 1991, Somalia has been without effective national government. One of the major obstacles in the way of a forming an effective national government is the abiding legacy of the USC’s clan cleansing campaign. The clan cleansing left deep mistrust and resentment among Somalis in South and Central Somalia, and it is unlikely that these feelings will be overcome and true reconciliation achieved unless the events are acknowledged and the organizers are brought to justice (so far, nobody has been held legally accountable for these events. Similarly, all members of the Barre regime have absconded without judicial reckoning).

Unfortunately one obstacle to addressing the legacy of the clan cleansing has been the tendency of some in the Somali community to deny, misrepresent, or justify what happened. As has been shown, this tendency is especially apparent in the literature published after the war by some Somali authors. This is a disturbing tendency because these fraudulent accounts can be found in many academic libraries and are cited as sources in many academic papers and manuscripts. In this regard, these accounts represent a major source of false information.

With the publication of Kapteijns’ book in 2013, the first and most extensive book on the USC’s clan cleansing campaign, there has been an increase in awareness of the USC’s clan cleansing campaign among non-Somalis. Although Kapteijns has been attacked by some segments of the Somali community for putting this information out there, many other segments have welcomed the publication of her book, as has the academic community. Many believe that only through a healthy, honest discussion of the clan cleansing atrocities of 1991-92 can the journey toward justice, reconciliation, and national revival begin.





  1. “Clan Cleansing in Somalia: The Ruinous Legacy of 1991,” University of Pennsylvania Press, Accessed June 5, 2016, 
  2. World Peace Foundation’s blog, “State-sponsored violence and conflict under Mahamed Siyad Barre: the emergence of path dependent patterns of violence.” Written by Daniel Compagnon. of-path-dependent-patterns-of-violence/ 
  3. Ken Menkhaus, “Understanding State Failure in Somalia: Internal and External Dimensions,” in Somalia: Current Conflicts and New Chances for State Building, ed. Axel Harneit-Sievers and Dirk Spilker. (Heinrich Böll Foundation: 2008), 31 
  4. Daniel Compagnon, “Political Decay in Somalia: From Personal Rule to Warlordism,” Refuge, 12, no. 5 (November-December 1992): 8-13
  5. Compagnon, “State-sponsored violence and conflict under Mahamed Siyad Barre: the emergence of path dependent patterns of violence.”
  6. ibid
  7. ibid
  8. Lidwien Kapteijns, Clan Cleansing in Somalia: The Ruinous Legacy of 1991, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), 135.
  9. ibid
  10. Compagnon, “Somali Armed Units: The Interplay of Political Entrepreneurship & Clan-Based Factions,” 78.
  11. Kapteijns, 222.
  12. “Genocide in Mogadisho: Mogadisho After the Ouster of Barre’s Dictatorship,” Washington, D.C., March 11, 1991. Text found online at:—–%26gt%3BThe+Genocide+Files.
  13. Kapteijns,174.
  14. Amnesty International 1992, “Somali Tells of Month-Long Massacre.”
  15. ibid
  16. ibid
  17. The clan-cleansing ended in late 1992 due to several factors, including an inner USC power-struggle, the emergence of an armed Darood opposition, and the arrival of U.N/U.S forces. See Kapteijns, 188.
  18. Kapteijns 154
  19. Mariam Arif Gassem, Hostages: The People Who Kidnapped Themselves, (Nairobi: Central Graphics Services Ltd, 1994), Introduction.
  20. Gassem, 79.
  21. Non-Darood residents of Mogadishu were left largely untouched during the clan cleansing campaign, see Kapteijns, 145. However it’s important to note that USC militiamen often did direct opportunist violence, including rape, murder, and robbery, against minority groups such as the Cad Cads (descendants of Arab and Persian traders), and Somali Bantus. These atrocities were not, however, carried out in the same systemic nature as the murder campaign against the Darood.
  22. Gassem, 77.
  23. Kapteijns, 153.
  24. Gassem, 73, 81.
  25. Gassem,81
  26. Dualeh, 126.
  27. Dualeh, 149-50.
  28. Kapteijns, 193.
  29. Dualeh, about author section.
  30. Mohamed Haji Ingiriss, “Somalia and Rwanda: The Psychology and Philosophy of African Conflicts,” Conflict Studies Quarterly, Issue 14, January 2016, pp.10.
  31. Ingiriss, 19.
  32. Ingiriss, 7.
  33. Ingriss, 11.