Garowe, PUNTLAND — Today, politics in the Federal Member State of Puntland represents an ongoing struggle for power and influence between major subclans. However, as in other parts of Somalia, clan-based politics often intertwine with business interests. An example of this is the Aran Jaan group of politicians and businessmen which coalesced during the administration of former President Abdirahman Faroole. While each member of the group has always maintained their own business interests, its primary purpose has always been to exploit political connections for mutual economic gain.
Strategic Alliances and Controversies
This was first clearly demonstrated when Aran Jaan members established the ‘Puntland Development Group’ (PDG) in 2009 to take advantage of a UAE-funded contract awarded to the British Virgin Islands-based private security company Sterling Corporate Services (formerly Saracen International) to supply the Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPF) with food, fuel, transportation and salaries. While the purpose of the company was to make a profit for Aran Jaan members, many of whom were (and still are) members of the Majerten-Isse Mahmoud sub-clan, it was also a vehicle to create an alliance with individuals from the Ali Saleban sub-clan; an action that was achieved by sharing ownership with two Ali Saleban-owned logistics companies and clan elders from Bosaso.
At this time the Aran Jaan group appears to have established a working partnership with the US-based private military company Xe (formerly ‘Blackwater’) owned by Eric Dean Prince. This relationship seems to persist, with reports of the group currently partnering with the Hong Kong-based Frontier Services Group (FSG), another company connected to Eric Prince, for managing the Garowe International Airport.
These business ventures have not been without controversy. In 2018, amid accusations of embezzlement and bribing Reer Bari clan elders in Bossaso by PDG’s ownership, the Puntland Government renegotiated the deal with the UAE to support the PMPF. More recently in June 2023, Puntland authorities expressed dissatisfaction with FSG’s management of Garowe International Airport, citing non-delivery and inadequate development as the main reasons for considering the termination of its contract.
Key Aran Jaan Figures
A key figure linked to the Aran Jaan group and both the contract with SARACEN and the Frontier Services Group is businessman Mohamud Farah Warsame Shido, who is also a long-term associate of Khadar Abdirahman Faroole, the son of former President Abdirahman Faroole. Another prominent member of the group is Hasan Shire Abgal, a former Puntland Finance Minister (February 2019-May 2022) and presidential candidate. Both men have vocally and fiercely criticized President Said Abdullahi Deni and publicly opposed the election authorities’ decision to shift the presidential election date from January 8, 2024, to February 25, 2024. Nevertheless, their statements give no indication of accepting timely direct elections, as they oppose direct elections, believing they cannot win.
Ties to Election-Related Violence
The Aran Jaan’s ties to the political opposition have raised concerns about its role in election-related violence in Puntland’s capital, Garowe. Following this, the Puntland state prosecutor alleged that figures like Mohamud Farah Warsame Shido and Hasan Shire Abgal, linked to the Aran Jaan, played a role in the clash between Puntland State Forces and clan militia aligned with opposition leaders on the evening of May 16, 2023. Likewise, links between other Aran Jaan members and recent political unrest and violence are clearer.
General Jimale Jama Takar is the former commander of a force of 600-700 ‘Darawish’, official state paramilitary fighters, called ‘Danab’ (Somali: lightning). Originally an officer in the 21st Battalion of the Somali National Army, he gained experience fighting with the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF) during the civil war. A veteran of campaigns against al-Shabaab and the Somaliland Army, he was sacked by President Deni in April 2023 after openly siding with opposition political figures, primarily from Aran Jaan, and deploying his force to Garowe. Since that time, Gen. Jimale has not only issued inflammatory statements threatening violence over opposition demands regarding election timing and conduct, but his forces have also engaged in three major clashes with Puntland State Forces.
The Aran Jaan group stands accused of involvement in recent election-related violence in Puntland. On 18 May the Puntland Authorities ordered the arrest of Mohamud Farah Warsame Shido, Hasan Shire Abgal and two other politicians for allegedly being behind the fighting near Garowe Airport on 16 May 2023. However, although both men deny involvement in the incident, they have not distanced themselves from others directly responsible, such as Gen. Jimale.
The Complicated Future of the Aran Jaan
The close association of the Aran Jaan has put Puntland authorities in a difficult position vis-a-vis the group in the period leading to the 25 February 2024 elections. People might perceive action against the group as politically motivated. However, authorities have to ensure peaceful elections and take action against armed spoilers.
While some past criticism of the Aran Jaan group may have been politically or economically motivated, such as what openly occurred under former President Abdiwali Gaas, it will remain incumbent upon its members to answer these publicly or in a court of law. Associating with violence, especially before elections, will appear as critics’ vindication, suggesting the group aims to seize power for its members’ financial benefit.