Dadaab Returnee Conflict Assessment

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General Findings

• The anticipated return of up to 250,000 Somali refugees from Kenya into southern Somalia in 2017 or
later is not expected to trigger or exacerbate large-scale communal or political conflict in the short term.
But in the longer term the return will intensify pressure on some very dangerous and unresolved faultlines
in Somalia, related to land, identity, rights, and demography.

• The February 2017 ruling by a Kenyan court blocking closure of Dadaab refugee camp has slowed
but not stopped the process of repatriation. But the Kenyan government has a variety of means at
its disposal to create “push” factors to incentivise return, even if the camps are not formally closed.
Reduced rations and basic services are leading Somali families to continue to repatriate in 2017.

• The March 25 IGAD “Nairobi Declaration on Somali Refugees” could constitute a major policy shift if
fully implemented, and offers Somali refugees options in Kenya beyond camp life.

• The impact of the returnees will be felt almost entirely in a few urban centres of southern Somalia,
especially Kismayo. Their return will accelerate an already dramatic rate of urbanisation in contemporary
Somalia, and highlight sensitive conflict issues related to exclusivist clan claims on Somalia’s cities.

• The return is occurring in a challenging and non-permissive environment in southern Somalia. Al
Shabaab continues to hold the rural areas where most of the refugees originate. Much of the region
remains chronically insecure. Urban unemployment is exceptionally high. And a severe drought has
impacted the main areas of return.

• The prospect of an AMISOM withdrawal in 2018-20 will create new uncertainties over security in areas
of return.

• Many of the returning refugees are members of the Digil-Mirifle clan and/or are Somali Bantu from
Lower Jubba, Middle Jubba, of Bay regions. They are socially and politically weak groups. They pose
little immediate threat to existing power relations in cities such as Kismayo and Mogadishu, which are
dominated by more powerful clan-families (the Darood clan-family in Kismayo, the Hawiye clan family
in Mogadishu). But the returnees will be more vulnerable to predation.

• The returnees will accelerate a major demographic shift in Mogadishu and Kismayo, increasing the
percentage of Digil-Mirifle and Somali Bantu residents. Chauvinistic elements in the dominant clans
could press for forced evictions of Digil-Mirifle and Somali Bantu to their “home territories.”

• This demographic challenge exposes the fact that Somalia’s current political order has never resolved
fundamental debates over identity and territory in the country. Right by blood – membership in a clan
– dominates discourse over who may live and claim access to protection and resources in Somalia’s
major cities. In Kismayo and Mogadishu, this means that the returnees of Digil-Mirifle and Bantu identity
will be exchanging refugee status in Kenya for status as “guests” with limited rights in their own country.

• The returnees are also helping to expose the fact that the designation “IDP” carries a very different
meaning in Somalia then it does in international humanitarian parlance. In Somalia, IDP is code for a
Somali from a low status group who is living in a city dominated by a more powerful clan and who is poor
and squatting or renting in a slum.

• The vulnerability of the returnees is magnified by the fact that many of the returnee households are

• Humanitarian aid has long been a major target of diversion and corruption, especially when that aid is
directed at socially weak groups. Assistance aimed at returnees will be no exception.

• Where aid programmes for the returnees gives them a significant if temporary advantage over host
communities and IDPs, communal tensions could spike.

• Local government officials in all of the main areas of return are likely to try to leverage the returnees in
order to demand more aid programmes from the international community.

• Employment will be a source of competition between returnees, IDPs, and host communities.

• Returnees may seek to use their financial packages to purchase land in areas of return, but this will vary
by location. High land prices in Mogadishu will make it difficult to afford there; land prices in Kismayo are
high but possibly within reach; land in Baidoa is affordable and already returnees are purchasing plots there. In Kismayo and Mogadishu, disputes over urban real estate are endemic and sometimes deadly. The returnees will face real risks of being dispossessed of land they have purchased.

• The risk of some returnee youth being recruited into Al Shabaab is real. Predatory or abusive behaviour
by members of host communities against the returnees, played out along clan lines, will create grievances
easily tapped by Al Shabaab.


• Kismayo will feel the general impact of the returnees more than any other location, as the total number of
returnees – expected at 80-90,000 – could nearly double the city’s current population. This will increase
demand for basic consumer goods, land, potable water, and access to basic services like education and
health care. As of June 2017, an estimated 57,000 returnees have arrived in the city, including 24,000
in the first half of 2017.

• Since the take-over of the city by the Ras Kamboni militia in 2013, and the ensuing rise of the Jubbaland
state administration, the city has enjoyed improved security. The city’s security reflects a “victor’s peace”
by one clan, but it has been a relatively generous victor’s peace, in which other clans have been allowed
to reside and resume business, take positions in the local administration, and enjoy representation in
the regional government. Political stability in Kismayo involves a delicate political balancing act by the
authorities to keep a potentially fractious group of clan constituencies minimally satisfied with the status

• The Jubbaland security forces and its intelligence agency are effective and feared, and have kept
the city largely safe from Al Shabaab terror attacks. This has come at a cost of free and open political
discourse. Returnees may not be in a position to speak frankly about their situations.

• In the short-term, the returnees will not impact Kismayo’s security or foment serious communal conflict.

• Local businesses and landowners are likely to benefit from the influx of newcomers; poorer households
will suffer from increased prices of land, rent, and possibly basic consumer goods.

• The returnee arrival could eventually transform clan demographics in Kismayo, creating a situation in
which the empowered Darood clan-family could be outnumbered by the weaker Digil-Mirifle and Bantu.

• The mainly Digil-Mirifle and Bantu returnees will join an existing population of Digil-Mirifle and Bantu in
Kismayo, which constitute a large IDP population residing in over 40 IDP camps, all crowded slums with
temporary or sub-standard housing.

• In the long-term, the existence of a large population of Digil-Mirifle and Bantu crowded in slums and IDP
camps and treated as an underclass will constitute a dangerous underlying source of conflict and an
easy recruiting tool for Al Shabaab.

• Few of the returnees are original residents of Kismayo. Most are from the Jubba Valley, Dinsor (Bay
region), or Gedo region. Most are expected to stay in Kismayo permanently rather than attempt to
continue to their rural home areas.

• Of all the major areas of return in Somalia, Jubbaland authorities have been most engaged in preparing
for the returnees, including allocation of a large stretch of government land on the outskirts of the city for
a new “village” where at least some returnees will be provided lots of land and homes.

• The most likely source of tensions, based on our survey data, is between existing IDPs and returnees in
Kismayo. Local authorities, especially clan elders, are also concerned about the possibility of communal
tensions arising from what may be perceived as disproportionate assistance going to returnees in a
context of considerable hardship among local IDPs and the host community.


• Mogadishu and its immediate environs are the site of chronic low level insecurity punctuated by periodic
major terrorist attacks. The attacks, mainly targeting international and government installations and
hotels and restaurants frequented by government officials, do not constitute a major threat to returnees
and IDPs, who generally live far from these sites. Returnees and IDPs are, however, very vulnerable to
criminal violence and predation by uncontrolled security forces.

• The returnees pose very little threat of exacerbating or triggering communal violence in the short term,
as they are unarmed and mainly from weaker clans.

• Security in Mogadishu has generally been commoditised, with residents paying for protection in one
form or another.

• A proposed drawdown of AMISOM forces in coming years will have disproportionate impact on
Mogadishu, and could facilitate expansion of direct Al Shabaab control into parts of the city.

• Mogadishu currently houses an exceptionally high number of IDPs – about 369,000 – of whom nearly
half are Digil Mirifle and/or Bantu.1 Because of high costs of rent and land, most of the returnees will end
up locating into one of the more than 1,000 IDP settlements in and around the city.

• Returnees will tend to seek residence in IDP camps where family and/or fellow sub-clan members are
located for support and security.

• IDPs have been a lucrative and valued commodity in Mogadishu, as bait to attract humanitarian aid
which can be partially diverted by IDP camp managers.

• Some camp managers, in anticipation of returnees carrying resettlement cash, have evicted IDPs to
make room for the returnees.

• Corruption is high in Mogadishu and government agencies focused on the returnees and IDPs are no

• Mogadishu is sufficiently large that it can absorb the returnees without the kind of dramatic impact it is
likely to have on Kismayo’s land values and access to services and jobs.

• Land prices are very high in Mogadishu, and title to land is chronically contested. Returnees from weak
social groups run a strong risk of losing plots to land-grabbing if they attempt to buy land.

• Mogadishu’s government officials are generally not as preoccupied with the returnees as are officials in
Kismayo and Baidoa.

• Returnees who end up pushed into the peri-urban IDP camps, especially those in the Afgoye corridor,
will be more vulnerable to Al Shabaab taxation, recruitment, and intimidation.

• The new mayor of Mogadishu is currently driving changes in district level administration and security
that could, if successful, produce an improved formal security sector across the city, which will be of
considerable benefit to returnees.


• Baidoa city has not been the site of significant political or communal violence and is relatively stable.
There is little risk that their return will exacerbate conflicts or trigger communal violence.

• The city is surrounded by countryside in which Al Shabaab operates with varying degrees of freedom.

• Baidoa is the least problematic location for the returnees. Returnees heading to Baidoa are all from the
local clan-family in the area, the Digil-Mirifle, and so will be treated as full-fledged citizens, not outsiders
or guests with limited rights.

• The main concern expressed by Interim South West Administration (ISWA) officials and clan elders is
that the timing of the returnees is exceptionally poor and an unmanageable burden, due to the impact of
the drought and the spike in numbers of destitute rural dwellers now moving into Baidoa.

• Because cost of land and living is low in Baidoa compared to Mogadishu and Kismayo, returnees to
Baidoa are able to purchase land or rent homes without difficulty.

• Limited options for education and employment in Baidoa have already led to some secondary migration
by youth returnees to Mogadishu.

• The main longer-term security threat in Baidoa is the prospect of an AMISOM withdrawal and ensuing
Shabaab advances into larger towns and even Baidoa itself. It is not clear, however, that Ethiopian
forces would withdraw entirely from the area even if AMISOM as a peacekeeping force does.
Shabaab-controlled hinterland of southern Somalia.

• Most of the returnees are originally from rural farming and agro-pastoral communities in southern
Somalia. Intention surveys suggest that a significant percentage of the returnees are originally from a
cluster of districts in or near the Jubba Valley – especially Jamaame, Jilib, Buaale, Saakow, Bardhere,
and Dinsoor. Those are all areas controlled by Al Shabaab.

• Returnee reluctance to return directly home is the result of a combination of concerns – fear of Al
Shabaab forcibly recruiting their young men or executing returnees suspected as collaborators and
spies; lack of any basic educational and health services in these remote rural settings; information that
their farmland has been occupied and claimed by armed newcomers; and, after years in Dadaab’s
quasi-urban setting, a reluctance to return to farming as a livelihood.

• Of those who have returned to Al Shabaab controlled area and then fled, at least a few have had
family members killed as suspected spies, while others encountered more mundane problems related
to livelihoods.

• Al Shabaab has a reputation for enforcing fairer land ownership and rights than do other local authorities,
and so some returnees may opt to proceed directly to their farms in hopes that Al Shabaab will adjudicate
any land disputes in their favour.

• In the event the Jubba valley and other areas of rural southern Somalia are opened to large scale returns,
conflicts over land are likely to intensify, as empowered outsiders seek to engage in land grabbing.

• Current government negotiations with a former Al Shabaab leader, Mukhtar Robow, could lead to
improved security in parts of rural Bakool region where Robow retains command of some militia.

Policy considerations

• The impact of returnees will vary significantly by area of return. Policy responses must be tailored to
each local context.

• Kismayo will be under the most pressure from large-scale refugee returns, and so should be a top
priority for targeting of assistance.

• International donors should support and encourage Somali political and civic leaders to resolve, in
legislation, the question of residence and citizenship rights for Somalis in each federal state and city. Otherwise the returnees risk become a permanent underclass with no political rights in the cities where they are relocating. The citizenship status of returnees in areas of return will become a very sensitive  conflict trigger if direct, universal elections are held in 2020.

• Local administrations must prioritize the establishment of more robust, trusted, and enforced land
titling systems and mechanisms for land dispute resolution, and ensure that their systems and laws are
compatible with national land legislation. Land disputes are explosive in Somalia’s main cities.

• Jubbaland authorities should prioritize the development of policies and enforcement mechanisms to
prevent land-grabbing and manage endemic land disputes in the Jubba valley, in anticipation of that
territory being liberated from Al Shabaab. Returnees are major stakeholders in how land claims and
disputes are managed in the Jubba valley.

• Urban planning and expansion of critical infrastructure such as potable water and sanitation systems
are critical, especially in Kismayo, which is poised to nearly double its population if the full number of
returnees relocate there. This needs to be a top priority for both regional authorities and external donors.

• Basic social services such as education and primary health care need to be expanded to reduce the risk
of competition and conflict between returnees and host communities.

• Regional authorities and civil society leaders in Kismayo and Mogadishu should consider public
awareness campaigns designed to provide host communities with accurate information about the
returnees, create a welcoming environment for returnees, and combat discriminatory or predatory
behaviour towards returnees from weak or low status social groups.

• The international community needs to revisit how it defines, understands, and interacts with IDP camps
in Mogadishu and Kismayo.

• External actors should continue to provide support and encouragement to the Kenyan government’s
new commitment to integrate Somali refugees into Kenyan society. Any slowdown in repatriation of
Somalia refugees will help to buy time to better prepare for the returnees and reduce potential conflict
pressures their return could produce.

Full report here