The conflict between the Marehan clan, located in the town of Beledhawo in Somalia's Gedo region, and the Gurreh clan, located in the neighboring border town of Mandera, on the Kenyan side, has a long history, but may soon be resolved, according to local elders. The most recent fighting arose as a result of the constant aggression between the two tribes, which is believed to have its long-lived roots in the war that occurred in the town of Elwak over which the two tribes fought.
A History of Violence
The town of Mandera was recently hit by a series of murders, massive explosions, the killings of elders, and hit and run attacks at night, sparking fear among residents. These violent actions were blamed on the Marehan clan who live in the nearby town of Beledhawo since the Marehan are the residents of Gedo region and have many of their men in the al-Shabaab insurgent group, and were likely well trained and experienced in such violent actions.
In October 2011, six people died and dozens were wounded after individuals with links to al-Shabaab threw a grenade at a bus travelling in the town of Mandera. That same month, four people, including a police officer and a teacher, were killed while they were transporting examination materials for a school in Mandera. The following month, a soldier was killed and several others wounded after a landmine stuck a vehicle in which they were traveling. On February 2, 2012 Kenyan police narrowly escaped a potentially deadly improvised explosive device (IED) planted in the roadway. As a result of the attack, police arrested numerous persons of the Marehan clan on suspicion of having planted the device.
There have also been a number of murders inside the town of Mandera, where both tribes live, though the Gurreh clan is in the majority. On March 1, 2012, two men armed with pistols attacked and killed a local money exchanger in broad daylight in the main market of Mandera. The assassins tried to escape after killing the local man but the people of Mandera chased the killers on foot. The mob managed to capture one of the attackers quickly, whereupon they burned him alive in a public area as a large crowd watched. The second attacker was also caught, after a further short chase. He, too, was killed after being set on fire by the crowd.
"The murderers who killed the money exchanger tried to escape from the mob but they met their ultimate fate and were killed too after they committed the killing of the innocent man. We chased them as they ran for their safety but it was too late for them. They kept on firing at us but our main plan was to do or die, fortunately we captured one of them and he met his fate. The other murderer was saved by the police from the angry mob but he vanished after few minutes in the Mandera district hospital and the mob stormed into the hospital forcefully, took his body and burned him alive inside the town," a witness told Somalia Report.
Mohamud, a local resident, disagreed with the degree of violence shown against the killers, despite their heinous crime.
“It is not good to burn someone even if you are to kill them. You should kill them in the easiest way, like through the use of bullet, but to burn someone is a big mistake and violation of the human rights, but these al-Shabaab men are not any good why should they hunt innocent people and kill them?”
Following the violence resulting from the murder of the local money exchanger, the Marehan people who live in Mandera were attacked by the angry mob, led by members of the Gurreh clan who had a long standing enmity against the Marehan. The Gurreh-led mob then burnt down houses and business centers belonging to the Marehan clan.
Kenyan Soldiers Unloading at Somali Border
A local businessman, whose store was destroyed in the arson attacks, expressed his outrage at to why the homes and businesses were targeted.
“I am not the one who killed the money exchanger, nor have I fought with anyone, so why would they dare demolish my shop? Is it because I am Marehan? If that is why they did this to me then I will also do more violent actions that they are trying to do to me,” said the businessman.
There are many questions on the minds of both tribes. What do the Marehan and al-Shabaab have in common? Do all the Marehan people members belong to al-Shabaab? Al-Shabaab has no exclusive clan and people; they are people of all the Somali tribes with a common dogma and belief on which they are fighting. The Gurreh men in the al-Shabaab are no fewer than those of the Marehan in the al-Shabaab group.
“Every Marehan man is not al-Shabaab and every person who commits a killing in Mandera is not only Marehan and even sometimes it might not even be the al-Shabaab militia who carried out the killing, so I don’t know why the Gurreh keep on targeting and pointing fingers at the Marehan residents in Mandera whenever anything happens inside Mandera," Ali Sugow, an elder in Beledhawo town, told Somalia Report.
“I live in Mandera and whenever something happens the Gurreh target me and my fellow Marehan people. If they are ready to fight with the al-Shabaab or even with the Marehan why shouldn’t they go and face those who are killing the people? Why should they attack women and children in revenge? I totally condemn those who kill innocent people in Mandera. They have no tribe and so when they do something bad they shouldn’t claim that clan so and so did this and then attack those innocent people," he added.
As mentioned above, the conflict between the two tribes appears to be rooted not in the current spate of killings, but rather in the past actions as the two clans fought over Elwak district in Gedo region over the control of the town. The elders from both tribes tried to resolve their differences through talk and negotiations and not through violence but without much success.
This historical and current hatred between the two tribes has disrupted a number of things that were of mutual benefit to both groups. For example, trading activities between both groups came to a standstill as the conflict intensified and more and more innocent people were killed. The people of both towns must now trade with Mogadishu and Nairobi, and through these transactions were able to obtain many of the necessities of day-to-day life, though at a much more expensive cost.
For example, the people of Beledhawo depend on Mandera for vegetables since Mandera is a peaceful town compared to Beledhawo and therefore it is easier to farm and gather crops. This is largely due to the fact that there is a reasonably effective government in Mandera, which Beledhawo lacks. Due to this relative peace, farmers are able to plant crops, while in Beledhawo this is impossible due to the repetitive interclan and inter sector conflicts in the area. They also depend on Mandera for electronics and beddings.
The residents of Mandera, on the other hand, depend of Beledhawo town for foodstuffs that are cheaper than those from Nairobi, like sugar, flour, and charcoal. Now that the fighting between al-Shabaab and the TFG has escalated, even supplies from Mogadishu have greatly declined, harming both tribes.
“I have a retail shop in Mandera and I am from the Gurreh clan. I hate this conflict. It is not something that is good. It has disrupted business activities. I used to receive part of the commodities from Nairobi and others from Mogadishu that is brought to us via the border town of Beledhawo. I used to go to Beledhawo to buy what I don’t have in my shop and also to send my orders to Mogadishu, but now I fear I may be killed for revenge by the Marehan. My customers, most of them from Beledhawo, also don’t come to me and buy from me these days since this conflict flared up,” Jamac Abdinasir, a local businessman, told Somalia Report.
Local resident Qaali Ahmen added the following, related to the problems of the ongoing clan warfare.
“I don’t want to go to Mandera any more, whenever one goes he is easily arrested by the border guards who demand money, otherwise I could be taken to jail and accused of belonging to al-Shabaab. Mandera and Beledhawo are interdependent, but then there is a problem with the soldiers and the people who are evil minded and attack people for revenge without them committing anything from them.”
Eighty percent of the students in Beledhawo go to Mandera to attend either the public or private primary and secondary schools. These children most of the times have to contend with the harsh climate as they walk to school from across the border, but it even becomes worse when the conflict flares up. This leads them to miss more classes and bring about poor performance at their examinations. Their lives are even sometimes endangered when someone from the Gurreh is killed while they are in schools. They are molested and even sometimes attacked directly and beaten up by the Gurreh.
“I was in the classroom when I heard of the killing of the money exchanger. There was violence all over and I couldn’t imagine how I would get safely to my home across the border. I came out of the school, though it was much safer than being outside, but decided it was too dangerous to try and cross the border at that time. I decided instead to sleep with a relative and stay there until the situation cooled down," explained Abdi Gaabow, a secondary student from Beledhawo and who studies in Mandera
Peace on the Horizon?
Despite this history of violence, all hope does not appear to be lost as elders and other peace-seeking intellectuals from both the Marehan and the Gurreh clans have met several times in order to plan a way forward to end this conflict. They are also seeking ways to maintain peace and communal understanding between the two tribes.
“We met the elders from the Gurreh clan and we discussed the causes and the effects of the conflict, we agreed to resolve our differences through peaceful talks and not help the few elements in both clans who are against the peaceful co existence of the two tribes," Abdirahman, an elder from Beledhawo, told Somalia Report. "We feel such peaceful coexistence will not only benefit the people of both sides, but will also brighten the lives of future generation," he added.