In this article, I will examine the linkages between organized armed ethnic groups’ land grabbing, and land transfer by the Somali Federal government and its regional states, where regional states are key actors in recent large‐scale land transfers. As i argue in this paper and my 2015-piece “Somalia’s Land grabbing from the original Settlers” that institutional and violent mechanisms of land grabbing must be understood as historical processes of state formation and market reconfiguration. This paper provides an analysis of these processes through an examination of agribusiness‐related land grabs in the fertile land of Gosha (Jubba) and Shabelle regions of southern Somalia.
Land grabbing has been going on for centuries, it is a violent process very much alive today. Hardly a day goes by without reports in the press and family members about struggles over land disputes, as armed ethnic groups swindle farmers out of their land entitlements in Somalia. And wherever you look, the new particular interest groups contracted with foreign companies and states, promoted as an answer to “investment,” seems to rely on throwing people off their land. Both micro and macro scales of land grabbing results displacement of indigenous communities and disappearance of their identities over time, because land is not only a fixed asset essential to produce sufficient amount of crop and animal to secure supply of food, but it is the foundation of identities (language, culture, & history) of communities living on the land.
From the early 1900s until Somalia’s independence in 1960, large spaces of land along the Shebelle and Jubba Rivers were appropriated for concessionary development and large-scale private production of bananas and sugar. In 1975, Land Legislation transferred control of tenure rights on all Somali lands from traditional authorities to the Government of Somalia Democratic Republic (GSDR). This legislation allowed landholders to register limited amounts of land as stance leaseholds, with usufructuary rights (the right to use a property/land and enjoy its fruits) for 50 years, and renewable. 1975-Land Legislation and other policies that closely linked with GSDR programs aimed at establishing a modern corporate agriculture, displaced landholders, and increased tenure insecurity for remaining landholders without leasehold rights (Roth, 1988).
While land grabbing was common in Somalia during the Siyyad Barre regime, today, regional states under the new Somalia’s “federal” system seem to grab the land in the name of regional states, and the federal government has in giving away land. A fundamental underlined question is can the federal government and its mini-states ignore customary rights and hand away land that is very much in use by Gosha and Shabelle people, pastoralists, squatters, and other groups who remain largely unrecognized by the regional clan-based “governments?”
This practice mainly involves invasion of indigenous people of Gosha and Shabelle by well-funded and armed clans that contracted with companies and individuals for agricultural production under the new “federal” system. These land acquisitions differ from most foreign agricultural investment of the past because, as the Food and Agricultural Organization’s (FAO) notes, “the investors are resource seeking instead of market seeking.” From 2004 to early 2009, at least 2.5 million hectares were transferred in five African countries alone (Brookings, 2010). In June 2015, Somali federal government has offered nine million hectors of land to Egyptian government to “develop model farming,” however; the report did not disclose the exact location of the land (Elbalad, 2015).
A detailed picture of who is seeking land, where, for what purpose; and for how much money, is provided in the Annex: In Somalia, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Egypt are the countries that most people have been hearing about, with news reporting that these countries are buying farmland in Somalia’s river valleys (Jubba and Shabelle), but there are many more countries involved. A closer look reveals an impressive list of “food security” land grabbers. High-level officials from regional mini-states and politicians have been lobbying for diplomatic treasure hunt for fertile farmland in places in Somalia. In essence, UAE, Qatar and Egypt land grab strategy is a conservative one: these governments are hedging its bets and maximizing its options for their countries’ long-term food supply by taking over Somalia’s fertile farmland. In 2016, the executive leader of Wagosha Movement of Somalia, HE. Eng. Yarrow Sharif Aden has warned the UAE and others over their illegal involvement and land grabbing deals in Jubba Valley of Southern Somalia.
Following the report that Somali government offer land to Egyptian government, Somali government stated that the “unexploited” nine-million hectares of land will help “benefit the locals.” There is a myth that there is “unused” or “un-owned” land in Somalia and most agricultural land deals target quality farmland, particularly land that is irrigated and offers good access to markets. Such discourses about “empty land” and “un-owned” are deeply and dangerously misleading. Of concern is that the land leased by Siad Barre regime and current federal government and its member regional states to foreign governments and companies was previously occupied by poor local and indigenous Gosha and Shabelle (Bantu) populations who have had zero control over such land transfers. These groups do not have adequate representation under the 4.5 political power-sharing formulas. These groups are subject to marginalization because they are not fully integrated into the clan-based political system or into other aspects of socioeconomic life in the country. Gosha and Shabelle (Jareerweyne) and other minority clans in Somalia do not benefit from the clan protection system in the country.
Proponents of land grabbing may argue that “foreign- investments” can support economic development in host states while boosting domestic food security and economic. But this notion disregards land users’ rights and further marginalizes already vulnerable groups: small-scale farmers, pastoralists, and indigenous peoples who are being displaced from their land and from resources essential to their survival. This is not about “anti-private” investment or belittling the contribution modern agriculture has made and continues to make, but a call for the federal government, its member states and their backed transnational companies that do not harm and follow the ethical and sustainable business principles for the country and its people.
Changes to land use without consultation of traditional owners of the land – mainly by forceful displacement of indigenous people, can, in the long-term, result in the disappearance of human communities traditionally identified with that ancestral land. Both expansion of amorphous towns & cities, without meaningful integration of indigenous peoples and large-scale transfers of rural land to investors, are the major political strategies of the government and its regional member states of Somalia under the dominant clans (4.0) in the government to achieve the target of the systematic eradication of rural communities living around cities and at vicinity of agro-industries, mainly in Somali Bantu/Jareerweyne people in Jubba and Shabeele regions. Conflicts arising from land grabbing have become very complex disturbing the daily lives of the oppressed peoples of Somalia, because the peoples are undemocratically represented by the federal government and its member states.
Violation of Human Rights
Heavily armed ethnic groups in Somalia’s river valleys (Jubba and Shabeele) are escalating its violations of human rights under the Somali governments’ name through the implementation of a very dangerous policy of land grabbing. The violations of civil and human rights during the process of land grabbing include both direct and systematic crimes against humanity. Human rights violations directly carried out by the clans include physical mistreatment like beating, raping, detaining, torturing and killing during the forced evictions of rural communities from their ancestral land. Report of the 2016-UN Monitoring Group on Somalia indicates that the genocidal plan systematically designed by particular clans and their regional administrations using the unfair “land use policy” as a tool in Jubba and Shabelle to achieve the political goal of complete ownership of the land through silent eradication of the indigenous communities in the long-term.
The effort of human rights organizations to defend victims of the land grabbing in particular, and the politically motivated human rights violations in general, are full of challenges. International and local human rights organizations have frequently produced reports of violations of constitutional rights of peoples of Somalia particularly Somali Bantu ethnic led by the four dominant clans (4.0) since early 1990s. However, the defenders of oppressors have not paid attention to any of the independent reports.
Finally, Indigenous Gosha and Shabelle people in particular, and all oppressed peoples of Somalia in general, are struggling to reverse this policy of systematic genocide waged on them by successive clans of Somalia. The United Nations in particular, and the international community in general, should actively engage in establishing independent commissions of justice for both at regional and federal levels of Somali government to investigate the negative effects of unfair land grabs that threaten the existence of indigenous human communities in order to enable victims of land grabbing to access fair justice. Also, those involved of human eradication must be held accountable and prosecute to the full extent of the law.