The Police of Somalia, Somaliland, Puntland

Somalia Report Investigates Somalia’s Police Forces


As Somalia transitions from a direct conflict stance to a security management scenario it is important to look at the regions’ police infrastructure and history. The proper use of law enforcement will be critical to spread governance, promote investment and increase the quality of life for Somalis.

Xeer, a customary law when traditional law enforcement does not exist and prevalent across Somalia, allowed for protection of life and property, safe travel, mediation of trade disputes and even marriage. Elders were asked to participate as judges and the community would live by their rulings. The British (who arrived in the North) supported and integrated the use of Xeer and the Italians (who controlled the south) worked vigorously to remove the traditional system. It is important to remember that Xeer unlike Sharia, Islamic law, works on the system of redressing wrongs rather than through the use of corporal punishment. This explains the rather maddening process of today’s police arresting, courts trying and convicting and wrongdoers magically gaining their freedom under an appeal or clan based negotiation.

Understanding this may also be Westerners key to ending piracy, terrorism and political unrest. The traditional method for resolving grievances is to make amends acceptable to elders and then moving on. The western legal model, based on the feudal European system, relies on jails, punishment and irreversible punishments. Fines and negotiated resolutions are just one part of the legal process. In this article Somalia Report looks at the police forces inside Somalia and their role in this often confusing and evolving security situation.

History of Somalia Police Forces

The Somali Police Forces (SPF) serves as the country’s major civil law enforcement agency. In 1960 the merged regions of northern and southern Somalia previously known as British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland created the first SPF with approximately 3,700 policemen. At same time, the newly born republic of Somalia also established a more grass roots and less professional wing called the Dervish police force comprised of around 1,000 men to keep peace among the rural communities, many of whom clashed over water and grazing rights. The SPF headquarters was in Mogadishu, the country’s capital, with police stations across the eighteen districts of the city. In the age of Somalia’s longtime military ruler Mohamed Siad Barre, the skills of the SPF were further advanced through training, equipment and funds from the western countries particularly West German, Italy and the US as a counterbalance to the Soviet Union.

When Barre’s government collapsed in 1991 there were still semi-autonomous police forces working in the fairly stable local administrations inside Somaliland and Puntland. Later the Somali Transitional National Government (TNG), which was created at the Somalia National Peace Conference in Djibouti in 2000, reestablished the National Police Force with little effectiveness.

Today, there is not a unified Somali Police Force beyond paper. The Mogadishu-based TFG police force, made up of 5564 policemen, is stationed around all the districts of the capital while Somaliland and Puntland have their own forces. Working mini-states like Galmudug and Himan and Heeb also have their own police forces taking orders from their clan leaders instead of the central government in Mogadishu. Xeer prevails throughout the country.

In attempt to legitimize it and bring it up to recognized standards, however, the SPF in Mogadishu is getting increasing support, training and equipment from the international community.

A veteran Somali Police Colonel, Ahmed Muse Ali, who has been serving in the police since 1983, said that the government started improving the SPF’s training and skills by sending officials to western countries for further and advanced training and also expanding the SPF’s wings and operations. The SPF department was made of different units including Criminal Investigation Department, traffic, intelligence, patrolling, communications, training, health, fire and transportation.

“The requirement for a police job wasn’t very hard,” said Colonel Ali who was recruited in Mogadishu in 1980 and then sent to the Ukraine for further experience. “Applying for a police job one had to be between 17 to 25 years old, morally motivated and physically fit to complete a six month training course at Mogadishu National Police Academy,” he explained to Somalia Report.

Anyone who successfully completed the training would serve in the country’s police force in a renewable two-year contract. The Dervish Police were also given six-months training in tactics for riot control. Such recruitment rapidly increased the number of the SPF at a time when there weren’t many jobs available in the country. “At that time, the Somali Police Forces were operating all over Somalia to maintain the law and order,” said Colonel Ahmed Muse Ali. “When the country fell into chaos, then the effectiveness of police came to an end as clan militias overpowered it.”

Though the civil war paralyzed the SPF, Somalia’s TNG brought back the kind of police force in some parts of Mogadishu, but was later increased by its successor, the Transitional Federal Government (the TFG that governs today) which spread a number of police forces in Mogadishu after Islamic Union Courts were ousted from the city by Somali and Ethiopia soldiers.

However, the existence of the SPF was highly reformed by the current government which its police force took over the control of Mogadishu last year when Somali National Army (SNA) backed by African Union peacekeepers (AMISOM) expelled the Al-Qaeda linked group of al-Shabaab from the capital. Since then the SPF has been conducting their basic duties including investigation, protection, arrests, and patrolling the streets of Mogadishu.

Despite the reorganizations and civil wars in Somalia, December 20, 1943 is regarded by the TFG as the ‘official’ date for the founding of the police force and celebrated as the anniversary.

Security Today

In 2000 when the Transitional National Government (TNG) formed in Djibouti moved to Mogadishu, it recreated the Somali Police force led by warlord colonel Abdi Hassan Awale as the Somali Police Chief. However, the TNG police force was overwhelmed by the militias of Mogadishu’s powerful warlords which formed the Somalia Reconciliation and Restoration Council (SRRC) to block the TNG. In 2005, TNG’s successor of Transitional Federal Government (TFG) reformed the police force to operated in the areas controlled by the government. However, they were looking like more clan-based militias trained as rebels rather than than being a professional police force.

When al-Shabaab fighters were forced to withdraw from Mogadishu in August of last year, the Mogadishu-based police force was reformed to replace the TFG army in the city with an increasing international support and was recognized a the official law enforcement agency for Mogadishu.

Banadir Police Commissioner Ahmed Hassan Maalim told Somalia Report that Somali Police Force is growing and extending its operation outside Mogadishu.

“New police stations are currently operating parts of Bay and Bakool regions that the Somali National Army liberated from the al-Qaeda,” said Mr. Malin.

Ibrahim Mohamed, a Somali security expert who once served as an Army commander in the Somali former dictatorship in Mogadishu, said the situation today requires better trained police professionals who are capable to handle the security in the city as al-Shabaab mounts on-going hit and run attacks, including suicide bomb attacks and car bombs, and in one case, a donkey bomb.

“The situation needs much improvement, national security is every citizen’s own duty, but this government should come and put in a hard effort for improving the security developments. We understand that police has the role to prevent threats from spreading in the city. Why dont’ they take their responsibility of enhanced security around this city? It is all about inattention and misplaced priorities,” Ibrahim told Somalia Report.

“Do you think that such a large number of police forces can’t crackdown on this kind of insecurity? They need to have specific goals to counter these threats before they emerge. It takes almost ten soldiers to patrol every one kilometer in Mogadishu,” Ibrahim added.

The police forces stationed in capital Mogadishu safeguard government compounds and are camped in their police stations in Mogadishu’s eighteen districts. They now wear the blue shirt of Somali’s police uniform and are armed with AK-47s yet are rarely seen patrolling in the capital streets.

Today’s Mogadishu police stations are located in the districts of Bondheere, Daniile Hurwaa, Dhagkenley, Hawlwadaag, Hodan, Kasabalbalaare, Hurwaa, Karaan, Madina Police Station (Sandhiga Galbeed Police Station), Shangaani, Waberi and Wardhigley, according to the SNP website.

“We don’t see this is major threat, but it is really a minor one. You see the capital is now free from the enemy, but there is a kind of insecurity posed by terrorist peace spoilers. Our aim is to secure more and more of Mogadishu and throughout the country. Police operations are often successful and have foiled terror attacks in the capital,” said Abdullah Haaji, a police officer in Mogadishu’s main police compound known as School Policio.

“We don’t know who to blame for the lack of security. Although here in our district there is a police presence, insecurity is a major threat to the area. Since al-Shabaab retreated from here, there have been growing threats against civilians,” Jamaal Yusuf, a Somali resident in Shibis district, told Somalia Report.


Abdullah told Somalia Report that policemen and women are working tirelessly to quickly stabilize within short time, but needs public support.

“Police forces are in a good position to secure all districts in Mogadishu, but they need also the public support and bilateral cooperation as part of these ongoing security efforts inside Mogadishu and also other regions in the country,” Abdullah told Somalia Report.

To increase the quality and the level of police forces the Somali government has been hiring hundreds of women to provide better security protection in Somalia’s beleaguered capital. At least 150 policewomen are being trained in neighboring nations like Kenya, Djibouti, and Uganda,

Ayaan Ali, a Somali policewomen in Mogadishu, makes $200 dollars per month.

“I’m working here in School Policio where I always go to my assignments. I get up in the early morning at around 6:00 am local time and put on my uniform which is the blue shirt and black trousers. I sometimes spend days and nights in special operations in other areas of Mogadishu. I joined the police in 1986, I love the job and want to serve for my county as a policewoman,” she told Somalia Report.


Newly recruited SPF officers receive domestic and international training whereby veteran SP officers with the help of AMISOM’s police component handle the local recruitment. The police recruitment abroad mostly takes place in Djibouti, Uganda and Kenya as well as Ethiopia. As part of the Turkish involvement in Somalia issues, the Ankara offers training and capacity building for the SPF in Mogadishu in order to keep the country secure and to maintain law and order.

In August of last year, the TFG called on the international community to come train its forces. The same month, Somali police forces attended training at the international airport in the city. The 60 Somali police also underwent training in Uganda in December of 2010. In 2007, the UNDP trained nearly 600 police, with a focus on human rights.

SPF Equipment

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and United Nations Political office for Somalia (UNPOS) plays great role of developing and supporting SPF. UNDP has a program which is aimed to train a well and professional police of civilians based on peace restoration and gaining communist trust in order to emphasis human rights though both offer any weapons.

In May, Japan donated police equipment to the Somali government through the UNPOS. The police equipment donation consisted of 16 Land Cruisers, 2 ambulances, 2 lories, bullet proof vests and helmets. Speaking at a handing over ceremony in Mogadishu. The Japanese government also supports the Somali police in terms of the salary and allowances.

Police Commissioner General Sharif Sheikhuna Maye thanked Japan for the police equipment aid. “This equipment will add more value to the Somali Police Forces and their duties,” he said.

To boost morale, Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed promoted 141 police officials on May 11th of this year.

The weapons, however, are not without controversy. Due to an archaic 1992 arms embargo, weapons are not to be imported into the country yet Somalia, Somaliland and Puntland all have asked for and received international assistance with obtaining weapons. In February, the Somali president asked the international community to lift the arm embargo.


In addition to the Somali police, several breakaway and semi-autonomous regions boast their own police forces including the Somaliland Police Forces, which were part of the SPF before seceding in 1991. It was reestablished in 1993 from several rebel militias that helped with the collapse of Barre’s military government.

The Somaliland Police Force tasks include criminal investigation, criminal law, law enforcement, patrolling and traffic management and operates in towns like Hargaisa, Buroa, Borama, Erigavo, Sheikh and Ber Bera. There is also a Special Protection Unit (SPU) trained by the British and supported mainly by UNDP and is tasked to safeguard foreign expatriates as well as the offices and guest houses of international aid agencies. Every NGO office and guest house are manned by at least two SPU members but the number can be higher at larger installations.

n 2007 there was a standoff between SPU members and the Interior Ministry, due to alleged non-payments of their allowance by the ministry after it received from UNPD. The SPU normally received a stipend of roughly $40 USD on top of their salary from the UNDP through the Interior Ministry although that has since increased.

The Somaliland Police Force is currently being led by Sergent Abdillahi Fadal who, a few months ago, succeeded the late General Mohamed Sagadhi Dubbbad who passed away after a short illness. Fadal rose from the junior rank of a sergeant to the top echelon of the police force caught many by surprise include his fellow police officers.

Formerly he was an operations officer within the force and was elevated to the highest level on the basis of his clan, Arab, which the late Dubbad hailed from. As a result, his appointment was seen as re-filling an Arab slot with one of their own. Some argued the president’s decision was motivated by clan rather than on competency or merit.

On May 15th, Somaliland opened a 45-day criminal investigation, criminal law and law enforcement training session for 33 police officers from Somaliland police stations, in Hargaisa, the Somalia’s second largest city and capital city for the Somaliland.

Mandera Academy is the main training academy for the Somaliland Police Force. In mid-April 364 junior officers, mostly high school graduates were registered in Mandera Academy. Somaliland’s Interior Minister Mohamed Nur speaking at Mandera said that Somaliland plans to recruit about 500 junior police forces in this year.

On March 14 veteran British police officers completed training a recently introduced Resistant Reaction Unit (RRU), a special unit of Somaliland Police force, to provide emergency responses of fire, first aid, protecting and dismantling the explosions.

“This is part of our strategy of improving the Somaliland Police Force,” said Deputy Police Commissioner Abdurahman Liban. Though the Resistant Reaction Unit is currently operating in Hargeisa, Somaliland Vice President Abdirahman Abdillahi said RRU will also work as an anti-terror and riot controlling unit.

As same as the Somali Police Force in Mogadishu, UNDP supports training and building the capacity of the Somaliland police force.

The exact number of Somaliland police force is not public and there is no clear recruiting program which shows the number of recruits hired every year. It believed the force consists of some member from the defunct Somalia police force who hails from Somaliland, former member of Somali National Movement (SNM), and those recruited since 1993 and who are below fifty years of age.

The total number is thought to be roughly 50,000 across Somaliland and consists of custodial corps, and few traffic policemen. There are special squads who wear red berets that protect and escort the president and the vice-president and their families and guard their residences.

The average Somaliland police force earns $100 USD a month. The senior most among them earn slightly higher and the salaries come from the national budget which allocate a sizeable amount to the police force that covers salaries and other operation cost like fuel and cars.

In April 2011, following a request from the government, HALO Trust, a Scotland based demining organization, rehabilitated two armories belonging to Somaliland police force in Hargeisa. HALO extensively rehabilitated the old armory building at the SPU and constructed a new armory at the CID to replace a 20 foot shipping container that the CID had been using to store their weapons and ammunition.

At the handover ceremonies of the two rehabilitated armories the Deputy Police Commissioner of Somaliland, Abdi Rahman Liban, highlighted the importance of HALO’s wok saying, “HALO’s armory rehabilitation has significantly improved the security of the weapons and I hope HALO will continue to help the Somaliland Police.”

The Commander of the SPU also spoke thanking HALO not only for the improvements to the armory but also for the training of the police officers which has improved the control of the weapons at the SPU.

Puntland Police

The Puntland Police Force which is responsible for it’s own security and law enforcement in the semi-autonomous region was created in 1998 in Garowe, the capital of Puntland, and has only 2,600 policemen on payroll, according to the police commissioner’s office.

Armo Academy, which opened in 2005 with the help of the UNDP, is the biggest training camp for the Puntland Police Force. Thousands of policemen have graduated from the Academy since its establishment. In October last year, 1500 Puntland Police Force was trained in criminal investigation, protection of civilians, law and social interaction at Armo.

“They are equipped with the skills and knowledge of international police principles with a computerized police identity cards which cannot be forged,” said Colonel Ali Nor, the Puntland police commissioner.

“All Puntland police officers are financed by the Ministry of Finance of Puntland, their wages are paid through that ministry. Each policeman earns a monthly salary and their salaries are brought to their stations,” said a Puntland police officer.

Puntland supplies its officers with small arms and equipment, though it is not clear how or when they receive ammunition. While the source of the weapons remains officially undisclosed, one police officer who wished to remain anonymous told Somalia Report the majority of weapons come from Yemen, despite the arms embargo.

“Initially the police officers were not given guns and ammunition, but these days they are supplied with new AK47 and ammunition. Now every soldier has his own gun. The government bought weapons and other arms from Yemen by using business people that operate between Puntland and Yemen. Yemen then sends the weapons to Puntland by sea,” said the police official.

The international community is supportive of Puntland’s requirement to police itself. On April 3rd of this year, UNDP donated three vehicles to Puntland’s criminal investigation. In March of last year, the UNDP also hosted training for 50 police officers to improve police-community relations. In August, 300 policemen began training at Armo Academy.

Puntland is also home to the newly established Puntland Marine Police Force (PMPF) which focuses on anti-piracy operations, most recently conducing successful operations in Hafun and Eyl. The number of PMPF police is not included in the 2,600 regular police officers.

Changing Tactics: Paying for Tips

The Somali police have been engaging in new tactics to safeguard the country. The most recent plan is a cash-for-tips program, which has been difficult in a clan based culture where family and clan come before reporting crimes.

In an attempt to stabilize the city, the TFG for the first time is providing a reward of $500 dollars for information relating to top al-Shabaab leaders and $100 dollars for anyone who provides information on the whereabouts of lowly ranked al-Shabaab officials.

The TFG in its report released on April 18th and said that the main target in this operations are the leaders of the insurgent group and also their financiers. The identities of citizens, who are willing to cooperate with the TFG and provide any useful information regarding the al-Shabaab leaders, would be kept secret.

Mr. Mohamed Ahmed Nuur, a popular Mogadishu elder, confirmed the TFG would reward anyone who is willing to forward information about where the leaders of the militia are hiding and there would be reward that is set aside for information regarding explosive devices that are hidden in the cities.

“I think everything now is in the hands of the Somali population. It is up to us to either stabilize our country by reporting any suspicious incidents or persons to the authority. I have also not heard of al-Shabaab leaders who were caught by our forces apart from those fighters who surrendered. On the other hand, the reward funds are coming from a special fund from the TFG that was purposely set aside for this project.”

According to a TFG officer, Mr. Ibrahim Abdiqadir, this attempt of tackling insecurity in the liberated areas, would tremendously reduce the terrorism activities carried out by the al-Shabaab militia.

“Both the police and the military needs information relating to the al-Shabaab militia and their leaders as it is becoming difficult to distinguish people in this busy recovering city, so we are urging the Somali population to work much closer with the authorities,” he said.

Others, however, doubt the veracity of the program saying the public cannot be trusted as they fear any information they give out might be reported to Shabaab, which, in turn, will seek revenge.

In addition, others say it isn’t that hard to find Shabaab officials. According to Abdiqani Mohamed, a Mogadishu based politician, almost all al-Shabaab leaders apart from Ali Ahmed Godane, one of their top leaders, most act as supervisors in the areas that they control and are easily accessible.

“This step taken by the TFG is a good one in that it can instill fear in the targeted al-Shabaab leaders limiting them to intermingle freely with the population they control. They would be scared they are being spied on, so they would not be confident in their undertakings,” he said.

He also agreed that still there is a huge gap that exists between the public and the law enforcing agencies. Somalia Report asked whether there has been any al-Shabaab captured as a result of this program.

“We’ve not yet had of any leader of the Mujahidins caught so far using this strategy, but hear on a daily basis that there are breakaway parties because they are losing ground day-by-day. As a result, their leaders are becoming more vulnerable to the attacks. We are looking forward to eliminating them from the whole of Somalia.”

Somalia Report has discovered that after a month not a single Shabaab leader that has been arrested in Mogadishu.

In Dhobley in Somalia’s Lower Juba region, TFG forces through its spy agencies, arrested a former al-Shabaab lover level official on May 15th of this year, according to Mr. Abshir Abdullahi, TFG spokesman in the Lower Juba region. It should be noted that the suspect was a former al-Shabaab official as opposed to the targeted current officials. Today he is still in detention in Dhobley jail.

In another incidence, a Tanzanian linked al-Shabaab fighter was nabbed on May 12th as he was heading towards Kenyan border from Kismayo. Mr. Mohamed Ali Osman, an officer in Hoosingow, confirmed the arrest, but said it did not come about as a result for the cash-for-tips program.

Moving Forward

The al-Shabaab officials that were based in Afgoye are fleeing towards Marka town due to the intense pressure from the allied forces and the fact that they could no longer trust the public. Ali Mohamed Hussein an al-Shabaab insurgent who was controlling Banaadir district is one of the victims of public sensitization, Hussein seized to among the group 0n 17th may of this year according to an announcement released from Radio Mogadishu, a pro-government radio station that operates in the capital Mogadishu. Since them Hussein is soliciting for the Somali population to forgive him and try to forget the atrocities that the al-Shabaab have done to them no one knows his whereabouts.

After repeated allegations of police abuse by residents and internally displaced people, thousands of police have been trying to regain their credibility and earn the support of the locals. In a peace conference held in Bulisiyo School in the capital Mogadishu on May 21st of this year, the Somali population was taught the importance of peace and tranquility and that the police and citizens must work hand in hand. Once that is established then let the people decide whether or not they want to provide tips.

As mentioned in the beginning of this report, Somalis are being integrated into a constitution and typical western structures. This includes evidence gathering, public prosecutors, paid judges and even large jails that must meet European human rights standards. It is an imperfect system that does not account for the proven system of Xeer that did not include jails or complex punishments. Under Xeer there is no victimless crime as criminal liability is put on families or entire clans and there must be satisfactory compensation for crimes committed. If a clan disowns a person, he is banished. A “jilib” or clan must pay a blood price, an “oday” or judge its typically an elder who is selected to render decisions.

This system still functions in rural areas and is often at odds with regional or central police units. A pirate who feels he is righting a wrong may be supported by his clan, or a man settling a arguement in which he was wronged could not get redress or support in a traditional western police or court structure. Evidence gathering is often at odds with the will of the clan who rely on the persons previous conduct and status than scientific evidence or sworn affadavits from ill intentioned competing clans.

The police system in Somalia is rudimentary, under financed and under trained, but are willing to learn and improve. They are not supported by a court system that is equally underresourced.

 By Somalia Report: http://www.somaliareport.com

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