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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Issaq in Somalia

View Group Chronology

Somalia Facts
Area:    637,657 sq. km.
Capital:    Mogadishu
Total Population:    6,842,000 (source: unknown, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

The condition of the Issaq in Somaliland is generally much better than it was before secession. Yet, the Issaq remain at risk from two fronts. First, occasional fighting by sub-clans could break out into widespread violence, and Egal’s death means that his role in neutralizing sub-clan rivalries within Somaliland is gone. Issaq who support reunification with Somalia will remain at odds with those who support continued independence until it is formally recognized internationally. Second, southern clans clearly are against the independence of Somaliland but are currently in no position to take back this territory. If one clan ever achieves complete control over the South, or if a stable peace deal is reached amongst the main clans, its leaders may turn their attention to regaining the North.


Analytic Summary

The Issaq in Somalia are one of six major clans that do not differ greatly from each other in regards to their customs (CUSTOM = 0), Islamic faith (BELIEF = 0) or Somali language (LANG = 0).

In the 19th century, Somalia was colonized by Britain and Italy, and the Somali people were divided between not only these two colonial powers, but the Ethiopians as well. Today, there are ethnic Somali minorities living in Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti. At independence in 1960, British Somaliland and Italian Somalia merged to form the Somali Republic. The various clans in the country lived in relative peace for nine years after independence. However, in 1969, President Shermaarke, a member of the southern Darood clan, was assassinated by a disgruntled soldier of the rival Majeerteen sub-clan. His Prime Minister, Muhamed Ibrahim Egal, an Issaq from the North, attempted to take control of the country. He was hampered by fighting amongst parliamentary members and cabinet ministers. Amid the confusion, General Mohamed Siad Barre staged a bloodless coup on 21 October 1969 and gained control of the country.

Siad Barre ruled Somalia from 1969 to 1991. He was skillful at playing one clan against another, and was able to hold off any real threat to his administration until the late 1970s when he went to war with Ethiopia over its Ogaden territory. Siad Barre's troops invaded in 1977 and they quickly gained 90 percent of Ogaden. However, the Ethiopian government appealed to the Soviet Union for help which was quickly granted. The Somalis were soundly defeated in 1978, and this defeat greatly weakened Siad Barre's regime.

In May 1988, the Somali National Movement (SNM), formed in 1981 by Issaq exiles in London, launched a rebellion against Siad Barre's regime. The Northern Issaq had long been dissatisfied with Siad Barre and were no longer willing to be ruled by southern clan members. Siad Barre's troops retaliated in the North by killing large numbers of civilians, raping women and destroying entire towns. By 1989, the SNM was joined by several new rebel groups in the South in their fight against Siad Barre. Civil war lasted in the country until January 1991 when Siad Barre was forced to flee. During the civil war, it is estimated that 50,000 people, mainly civilians, were killed in the North and close to one million became refugees, fleeing either to Ethiopia or other parts of Somalia. Unfortunately, the country did not find peace after the flight of Siad Barre. The United Somali Congress (USC), supported mainly by the Hawiye clan, claimed the post of president for one of its leaders and other clans objected. Fierce clan fighting broke out, and the country has been without a functioning central government since 1991.

Shortly after the flight of Siad Barre, in May 1991, the Northern Issaq proclaimed their independence from the rest of Somalia and elected Ahmed Ali Tour as president. The North managed to function as an independent state and did not face the same anarchy and clan fighting that the South did during the 1990s. This is partly due to the fact that the Issaq did not exact revenge on minority groups in the North who had supported Siad Barre.

Since 1991, the Issaq have occupied the de facto independent Republic of Somaliland in the northwestern portion of Somalia, which was formerly British Somaliland (GROUPCON = 3). Often the subject of repression during Siad Barre’s, the Issaq took the opportunity of Somalia’s collapse to secede from the state. As a result, the Issaq have largely been able to avoid the death and anarchy that plagued Somalia for much of the 1990s, although sub-clan fighting between those who supported Ali Tour and those who supported Mohamed Hajo Ibrahim Egal did occur sporadically in the early 1990s.

To date, the international community has not recognized Somaliland’s independence, but because of their de facto independence and virtual monopoly of control in Somaliland, the Issaq face no discrimination either economically or politically (ECDIS06 = 0; POLDIS06 = 0). Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal was elected president of Somaliland in 1993, re-elected in 1998 and remained in power until his death on 3 May 2002. The vice president Dahir Riyale Kahin was declared the new president shortly afterwards. There is no evidence to suggest Issaq protest (PROT01-06 = 0), Issaq rebellion (REB04-06 = 0) or government repression (REPGENCIV04-06 = 0; REPNVIOL04-06; REPVIOL04-06 = 0) in recent years.



Huliaras, Asteris. 2002. "The Viability of Somaliland: Internal Constraints and Regional Geopolitics." Journal of Contemporary African Studies 20:2.

International Crisis Group. 2003. "Somaliland: Democratisation and its Discontents." Africa Report No. 66.

International Crisis Group. 2006. "Somaliland: Time for African Union Leadership." Africa Report No. 110.

Lewis, Ioam M. 1997. "Clan Conflict and Ethnicity in Somalia: Humanitarian Intervention in a Stateless Society." In David Turton, ed. War and Ethnicity: Global Connections and Local Violence. San Marino: University of Rochester Press.

Lewis, Ioam M. 2002. A Modern History of Somalia: Nation and State in Northern Africa. Middlesex, UK: Btec Books.

Lexis/Nexis. Various news reports. 2000-2006.

U.S. State Department. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Somalia. 2000-2006.


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Information current as of December 31, 2006