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Mogadishu: Whose City Is It Anyway?
By Hassan M. Abukar
Nov. 16, 2010

Ciise Axmed Dalabay
Iise Ahmed Dalabay, Chair of the elders of the Hawiye clans council

Several weeks ago, there was a duel on the airwaves between Sheikh Ciise Ahmed Dalabey (Chairman of Guurtida Beelaha Hawiye) and Sheikh Fuad Shangole, one of the top leaders of al-Shabab group. Mr. Dalabeey (Abgaal) started it when he gave a rousing speech before his supporters and demanded, among other things, that the Darod take their ‘man’ (then TFG Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke) from Mogadishu because the capital belonged to the Hawiye. I will summarize key points of Mr. Dalabay’s speech, in which he addressed larger and smaller clans under the 4.5 formula (Hawiye, Darod, Dir, Digil/Mirifle, and the “0.5” smaller clans) as following:

On the Darod: The HARTI group, and especially the Majertein, are asked to take their ‘man’, Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke,  away from Mogadishu and to their land –Puntland- because Omar Abdirashid has fleeced the wealth of the nation, failed to defend the land, and remained mum about the continuing deportations of many Somalis by the administration of Puntland. It is unacceptable that Omar Abdirashid would rule the Hawiye in their own land while President Farole of Puntland is forcefully deporting Somalis.

On the Digil and Mirifle: The Digil and Mirifle, and especially the Mirifle, are asked to remove Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan from Mogadishu because this politician has been nothing but a nuisance; a figure who relishes on conflicts. He should be brought to court and asked how he had managed the treasury of the country for the year and half that he was the Finance Minister. Our request, if not implemented, will be followed by use of force.

On Dir: The Dir from the North have established their own administration in Hargeisa and the Hawiye will work with them and support them. We will welcome their support too. The Northern Dir people are better off leaving Mogadishu and joining their brethren in Somaliland. The Dir of the South, and especially the Biyamaal, would get their rights. The Hawiye inhabit between Hobyo and Kismayo. In many parts of Somalia, we are the majority but there are areas we co-habit with other groups.

On 0.5: There is nothing good to say about the 0.5. These are smaller groups and those who live with us would be respected.

On TFG President: We want the president to implement Islamic courts, create a national army that is run by professional and honest Hawiye officers, and protect Hawiye port, airport, and properties. The Hawiye businessmen have been robbed and they should get their businesses back. In fact, we have all been robbed.  

On Al-Shabab Group: The Al-Shabab group should cease the fighting in Hawiye land because the Hawiye know how to fight. We made you who you are; Ayro brought you from nowhere. Sheikh Hassan Dahir and Sheikh Mohamed Dheere are still around and relevant. The Hawiye had fought against Mohamed Abdille Hassan, Ali Yusuf, and Siad Barre. We would defend ourselves. You, Al-Shabab group, only know how to detonate a bomb. We would build fortresses from Mogadishu to Ceel Buur then wait and attack you. Go to Bay and Bakool where defenseless people live and takeover their land.
Sheikh Fuad Shangole (pictured in the middle)

Fuad Shangole who was born and raised in Mogadishu but hails from the Awrtable lineage (Darod) responded to Dalabay’s speech by denouncing the latter’s claim that Mogadishu belonged to the Hawiye. “Who said that this land belongs to the Hawiye,” bellowed Shangole.  

Shangole said that the Al-Shabab Group came to existence to fight against tribalism.  He also urged people whose homes have been taken away from them to seek his assistance in getting their properties back. 

Given the current situation of Somalia, the issue of who does Mogadishu belongs to is a diversion to the real story; the story of a country that has become a byword for religious extremism and anarchy.  

Ciise Dalabay is a new tribal chieftain in the political landscape who has embraced his role with a convert’s zeal. He is already exhibiting a mania for disputation. A friend of mine, who used to be a high official in the Somali Football Federation and who also belongs to the same sub-clan as Dalabey, chastised me for magnifying the significance of the chieftain. “He is nobody”, my friend said, “but I am sure some people are pleased with what he is saying.” I have to agree with my friend that there are some people who think that Dalabey is making sense and that, perhaps, it is better that we re examine the tribal land delineation. Can clans claim their own territories, or are the Somalis so intertwined that dividing the land based on clan domination or numerical majority in an area becomes insignificant?  Dalabey’s willingness to carve out Somalia into clannish enclaves and his bravado for calling for an open warfare deserve condemnation. His bellicose rhetoric is nothing but a paragon of hate speech.  What is equally deplorable is Farole’s arbitrary deportations of many people from Puntland. I will only address the issue of Mogadishu in this particular article.

The history of Mogadishu, before the civil war, is a history of diversity and peaceful co-existence.  Once upon a time, no Somali lived in Mogadishu. According to Al-Shaikh al-Imam Shihab al-Din Abi Abdalla Yaqut al-Hamawi al-Rumi al-Baghdadi’s book, Kitab Mu’jam al- Buldan, in 1286 Mogadishu had residents “whose inhabitants were all foreigners and not Black: (Cited in Hersi 1977, P. 103). These foreigners originally came from Arabia and Persia and settled there.  Long before the Arabs and Persians made their way to Marka and Barawe, there were travelers such as Ibn Said (died 1286) who visited the Benadir coastline and found Marka the capital of Somali Hawiye clan. The Hawiye were a present force in Benadir in the 12th Century but they were not “the only occupants of the land” (Lulling 2002, P.16). There were other communities such as the Digil/Mirifle, the Biyamaal, Bantu, and, according to Lulling, the predecessors of the Eyle, “who in modern times are scattered bands of professional hunters,” who were already settled in these areas.  Cassanelli goes even further when he argues that,”The Digil appear to have been among the earliest Somalis to occupy the Benadir, probably in the first Millennium A.D (Cassanelli 1974, P. 6).

Ibn Battuta
The Moroccan Traveler Ibn Battuta

But Mogadishu was different in its demographic makeup. By the time the renowned Arab traveler, Ibn Battuta, visited Mogadishu in 1331; the city was ruled by a Somali who spoke both Arabic and Somali fluently. The city’s population consisted mainly of the descendants of earlier Arab/Persian communities and whom we call today “Benadiris”. Mogadishu residents were engaged in trade and the city was bustling with merchandise from all over the world. Ibn Battuta also noted that about 200 camels were slaughtered in the city every day and that the residents consumed large quantities of food to the extent that they were corpulent. Mogadishu, to Ibn Battuta, was a prosperous and booming town compared to Zayla, in which the Moroccan traveler had earlier visited and called “the dirtiest, most abominable, and most stinking town in the world”. Zayla residents had plenty of fish and they had a habit of slaughtering camels in the streets. “When we got there [Zayla] we chose to spend the night at sea, in spite of its extreme roughness, rather than in the town, because of its filth”.  But Ibn Battuta was impressed with Mogadishu and the hospitality he received as a religious scholar.

The outskirt of Mogadishu was inhabited by nomads who were Hirab or Darandolle. What made Mogadishu special and prosperous was the fact that it was not a self-sustaining town. It was a city that manifested economic interdependence as well as good neighborly existence. Somali pastoralists and the people in the inter river plains had stake in the prosperity of Mogadishu. There was a period during the Ajuran Empire in which Mogadishu was jointly run with the Mudaffar Dynasty.  One Ajuran Imam was ruthless to the Darandolle nomads and would not allow them to use certain wells. There were times that the nomads were also not allowed to stay in Mogadishu after sunset. Between 1600 and 1625, the nomads rebelled against the repressive rule of one Mudaffar leader and took control of the city. An Abgal king was installed in Shingani and subsequently became the head of both the Abgal and the city (Cassanelli, 1974, P. 36). Mogadishu’s rule changed hands and by the 18th century it found itself under the joint rule of the Geledi Sultanate and the Arab Sultan of Zanzibar. It was in 1892 when the Sultan of Zanzibar leased the city to the Italians. By 1905, the Italian colonial administration had made Mogadishu the capital of Italian Somaliland.

Mogadishu went through massive transformation in the twentieth century as many people, from the north to the southern tip of the country, made it their home and achieved a degree of harmony. It became the only cosmopolitan city in Somalia that could boast of being diverse and peaceful. Every Somali administration since colonialism made Mogadishu its capital. If there was a census in the city in 1990, I am sure it would have shown a melting pot. Perhaps, to the detriment of the development of other cities, Mogadishu received more attention and aid both from foreign countries and previous governments. 

Many years ago, I visited Washington D.C, which has predominantly Black residents, and I naively told an African-American cabbie of the city’s uniqueness for being a “Black city”. The cabbie looked at me with disgust and ruefully said, “Sir, Washington is not a Black city. It is an American city and the capital of all Americans”.  I was hoping that Sheikh Dalabey would be a purveyor of hope rather than despair; a unifier rather than an agent of schism and belligerence. Any Somali national has the right to settle any part of Somalia without fear and recrimination. One can safely say that non-Hawiye Mogadishu residents suffered tremendously in the Civil War whether it was losing life, limb, or properties. Perhaps, the Darod and the Benadiris were specifically targeted as people and became piñatas for the Mogadishu warlords (Aidid, Ato, Ali Mahdi, Yalahow, etc). Hawiye residents, in turn, also suffered in the hands of Siad Barre’s forces, the TFG governments under Abdullahi Yusuf (remember the Ethiopian invasion) and now under Sheikh Sharif and his AMISOM backers; not to mention the ruthless Al-Shabab (Shangole, Godane, and Robow) and Hizbul Islam (Hassan Dahir Aweys).  No one group in Mogadishu can claim to be the sole owners of the city and only victims. After all, Mogadishu belongs to all of us and, frankly, we all have been robbed!


Cassanelli, Lee Vincent, The Benadir Past: Essays in Southern Somali History, Ph.D. thesis; University of Wisconsin, 1973.

Hersi, Ali Abdirahman, The Arab Factor in Somali History, Ph.D. thesis, University of California, Los Angeles, 1977.

Luling, Virginia, Somali Sultanate: The Geledi City-State over 150 years, Transaction Publishers, 2002.  

Hassan M. Abukar  
WardheerNews Contributor

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* Mogadishu Memoir (Part IV): A Neighborhood in TransitionBy Hassan M. Abukar
* Hamarweyne, Mon Amour Hassan M. Abukar
* A Tale of Two Cities: A Personal Perspective By Faisal A. Roble
* Mogadishu: The Spy City of the Day By Faisal Roble

Hassan M. Abukar is is currently writing a book about growing up in Mogadishu in the 1960s and 1970s.


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