Galkayo Town – A Spate of Revenge Killings


Galkayo town is a key research hub for PeaceRep Somalia. Following a visit in February this year, Khalif Abdirahman published a blog post entitled ‘Galkayo: flourishing civil society and improving security’. While presenting a generally positive picture, reflecting on developments within the town since the 2017 Galkayo peace agreement, he also warned of revenge killings: ‘The city is still vulnerable to revenge killings, as both authorities are weak in policing and dealing with murder cases effectively. Murderers seek protection from neighbouring clans, and without effective policing and thus justice, the whole clan is targeted by the victim’s clan members, causing recurrent clan conflicts and creating an environment of fear and insecurity across the city.’

Sadly, this note of caution has materialised. A young medical doctor, Zakaria Jama, has been killed, amongst others, and one of the PeaceRep researchers, a member of the city’s youth committee, which has played an important role at times, including during the talks leading to the 2017 Galkayo Agreement, has been targeted, due to his clan identity and status as a peace activist. These revenge killings have the potential to lead to much more serious levels of conflict.

This blogpost precedes a longer research memo that will provide a more detailed analysis on the situation in Galkayo town.

Galkayo is an important location in Somalia’s political history, representing the boundary between two Federal member states – Puntland and Galmudug – two clan families (Darod and Hawiye), and two dominant sub-clans, Omar Mahmoud (Galkayo North) and Sa’ad (Galkayo South) – it is divided into Galkayo North and Galkayo South. The Lelkase (Darod) are a third and key clan in Galkayo, and part of Galkayo North, bordering the Sa’ad.

Following a long-standing ceasefire agreement, the 1993 Mudug Accord, a major outbreak of conflict developed in 2015/16, which in turn eventually led to the 2017 Galkayo Agreement. This agreement is a major achievement in Somalia’s recent political history, superceding the 1993 Accord and signifying the rebuilding of social relations across this border town. We wrote about the 2017 agreement here and here, during the predecessor programme to PeaceRep.

As Khalif reported in February this year, many positive developments have taken place in the city since 2017. There is far more movement and social intermingling between the north and south of the town. Joint policing and joint security operations between the north and south have contributed to the improved security and trust between local communities.

However, over the course of 2023, a spate of revenge killings has taken place. This has not involved the two major clans on either side of the border but has involved different groups in north Galkayo. This is in some ways a surprising development as northern Galkayo is under the authority of Puntland and long been considered the relatively safer part of the city, with investment and infrastructure greater than in the south. However, this has been changing, with investment in south Galkayo increasing in recent years.

Revenge killings are also normally associated with the rural areas, between pastoral groups, but which can then become manifest in towns, as prominent members of clans in dispute in rural areas are targeted in town. However, in this case, two episodes of revenge killings have developed in town. One was the result of an altercation between two town ‘drunkards’ – the local name is ‘cabtoi’, which typically refers to those who chew qat and drink alcohol. Members of the same two disputing clans had a dispute over the ‘gatekeeping’ of one of the town’s IDP camps, a profitable business. These cases escalated with elders unable to contain them. A separate case, between one of the clans involved in the previous case and another group, concerned a land dispute. This also escalated quickly.

Escalation has taken place for a number of reasons, including due to the role of social media and the encouragement by particular parties in the diaspora, as well as due to cases of mistaken identity and misinformation leading to the ‘wrong’ people being targeted. Unaddressed revenge killings can also evoke previously unsettled disputes and deaths, as emotions run high. The result is that several people have been killed, including businesspeople, a medical professional, and innocent bystanders. Many Galkayo residents have left town temporarily, moving to either Garowe, the capital of Puntland, or elsewhere where security is considered better.

One of the peace activists (working for PeaceRep) explained to BBC Somali service that, ‘in Galkayo the important people are being targeted, the eyes of the society. This starts from clan vendetta cases, beginning with the people who are known as drunkards (cabtoi), and then in vengeance the clans target the best of the society from the target clans, those who speak for society, those who have impact, those who are the eyes of society and intellectuals. This have gone stronger and revenge killings have gone out of hand so I decided to leave the city.  It is the first time, in more than twenty years, that I have been forced to leave the city. There have been many different situations and wars in this city but this time it is more frightening. This time it is more of a personal nature, you are targeted by people who are related to you, know you and know your home. This makes it more dangerous, and that is why so many people fled the city. You have heard the cases such as the doctors, the businessmen etc. This needs a resolution. The elders have made decisions that were less than adequate to calm down the situation. The most important members of society, including those who were working for NGOs, companies etc have left.  I was one of the last people to leave. The people who are fleeing are different, some are fleeing because they are connected to the families targeting each other and some are fleeing because of what is going on in the city.

Another person, on the same programme, commented that, ‘the doctors are not working and you can’t get a doctor in the city now because the trust between people and doctors serving them is broken as the assailants have presented themselves as patients’.

These developments reflect a number of wider issues. There is a deeper problem in Galkayo as in Somalia more broadly, concerning justice and security, that the police and courts operate on the basis that murder cases are beyond their ability to handle, unless there is an agreement from the respective clan elders of both sides. This can lead to a culture of impunity.

Secondly, there is a wider context of instability, insecurity and militarisation that is evolving in Puntland. This is largely centred around the conditions for a one-person-one-vote election for the Puntland Presidency, which would change the current rotation-based Presidential election system in Puntland. Visitors to Galkayo and Garowe are reporting tensions and the arming (for self-defence) of many people in town. Elders from Galkayo, who tend to intervene quickly during disputes, in order mitigate their escalation are more focused on election-related political discussions than on everyday security. In addition, the so-called ‘drunkards’ or cabtoi, are part of the fighting forces of clan militias and are needed in case of wider conflict; this is reportedly limiting the restraint that is being put on these individuals and groups. This is a predicament that is often mentioned in relation to the security sector, where other groups, such as Al-Shabaab and the President of Jubaland, Ahmed Madobe, for example, do not tolerate undisciplined ‘mooriyan’ – a well-known Somali term for disaffected young fighters.

At the time of writing, conflict is escalating between the Lelkase and the Sa’ad, a result of unrestrained revenge killing, which can ultimately threaten the 2017 Galkayo Agreement in its entirety.

Efforts are currently underway by a range of actors, including elders and government at regional and federal levels, to address the current spate of revenge killings and to try and develop new inter-clan peace agreements, but they are taking place in a complex and volatile environment. PeaceRep research memos are currently being prepared on the Galkayo context, elaborating on this blogpost, as well as the wider political and security conditions across the Somali territories.

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