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Talking Point by M.M. Afrah©

Mr. William Chapman and his fellow African-Americans living in Toledo, Ohio, sees themselves as Somalia buff (Somalia enthusiasts) but say they do not get accurate information from the American media giants, especially about the origins of the Somalia crisis, and who were responsible.

Mr. Chapman went on: "We were recently introduced to your weekly online Talking Points at Banadir website by one of your countryman (a Somali Bantu) who, with a large group of refugees, arrived recently in Toledo as a convention refugee. Since then we became avid readers of your writings in plain English, which certainly gives us a window in which we can clearly watch the events that are taking place in that Horn of Africa country.

"In most of your Talking Points you had pointed out that the Somalis, particularly those in the capital, are the most heavily armed people in the world, and anyone with a gun made his own laws. But how did all these weapons end up in Somalia in the first place? Who was running the country before the armed militias made their presence felt in the streets of the capital?"


Mr. Chapman, here is a synopsis of what had happened in Somalia more than three decades ago.

Major-General Mohamed Siyad Barre assumed power in a bloodless military coup in October 1969 barely five days after the assassination of the elected civilian President, Abdirashid Ali Shermarke by one of his own bodyguards and clansman in the northeastern town of Las Anod. His Prime Minister, Mohamed Ibrahim Egal and his cabinet ministers were thrown in a detention center run by the crack Red Berets Southwest of the capital

The overwhelming majority of the Somali people who were weary of corruption, nepotism and embezzlements of public funds enthusiastically welcomed the coup, which General Barre dubbed as "the blessed October Revolution."

A Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC) with General Barre as its chairman was immediately set up to rule the country by consensus, but Barre, who promoted himself as Major-General, over-ruled many of the dissenting voices within the 21-member Council and even condemned to death by a firing squad some of the SRC members for criticizing his policies.

After that none of them had the guts to question him. They were thinking only of survival. Many of the SRC members were sworn enemies, but General Barre, with his incredible powers, kept them together. No bouts of shouting or table banging. They often allowed him to introduce unpopular policies to avoid his ire. Just toe the line in his modus operandi, or else…

A kangaroo court with a panel of military judges and prosecutors was set up to indict those considered anti-revolutionary elements. No appeal, no witness, no juries and no legal representations; the hearings were usually conducted behind closed doors. The verdict is always the same, long-term prison sentence or even death by a firing squad. The "National Security Court" reached that verdict, period.

General Barre adopted Scientific Socialism with the blessings of the Kremlin. He signed a 20-year treaty of friendship and cooperation with the then Soviet Union and scrapped the constitution and ruled the country with Presidential Decrees He nationalized all private industries, including banks, insurance, and electricity companies, and import and export businesses.

Poets, composers and entertainers came up with songs praising him to the heavens. These included, "Siyad, the Victory Bearer, Father of the Nation, Father of Knowledge, Father of the Revolution, May you hold onto the reins of forever."

After the Ogaden war of 1977 General Barre, who at first promised to fight corruption, nepotism, tribalism and Afminsharism (Political brokerage) became increasingly autocratic and paranoid and set up a plethora of spy agencies, including the dreaded National Security Service (NSS), Hangash (the military intelligence) Party Bureau for Investigations etc He surrounded himself with lackeys and yes-men whom the Somalis jokingly called Kobe-qaadeyaal. He gave juicy jobs to a network of son-in-laws, including defense, spy agencies and the police. His half brother was reputed to be Africa's richest man after Colonel Mobuto. He always "survived" General Barre's frequent cabinet reshuffles.

The spy agencies spent massive amount of money in order "to weed out" those considered anti-revolutionary elements. Even school children were ordered to spy on their own parents. People were routinely and noiselessly picked up at the crack of dawn to avoid any potential mêlée from neighbours or relatives. We journalists representing international news agencies called it the '3 O'clock Knock"

He survived several attempted coups by disgruntled army officers, including the man recently elected as President-in-exile, and a nasty road accident. He was flown to a hospital in Saudi Arabia, but left his hospital bed against the advice of his doctors and returned to his seat of power with slurred speech.

Acute shortage of basic necessities, such as cooking oil, sugar, pasta, clean drinking water and frequent power failure has become daily trait and the government-owned media were forbidden to indulge into this life-threatening phenomenon, or else…

Many journalists representing international news organizations gave up several futile attempts to bypass or use coded words in their dispatches from Mogadishu, after new "information specialists" (from where we did not know) replaced the old incumbents at the Censorship Board overnight

One of his lasting legacies is the writing of the Somali language in 1972, adopting the Latin script despite pressures from religious zealots at home and abroad. They, however, found out the hard way that no one could defy General Barre and get away with it. He introduced what he called Family Laws, giving women equal rights to men. This gave the Imams (preachers) more fuel to attack his family laws in mosques throughout the city during their Friday sermons. As a result, 11 of these Imams were executed by a firing squad behind the Police Academy in Mogadishu, the capital.

Then the popular uprising, spearheaded by young insurgents and the umbrella of the United Somali Congress (USC) had erupted like a volcano in full blast

The oppressed and impoverished population breathed a sigh of relief when these rag-tag young militias in beach sandals defeated one of Africa's best armed forces in terms of training, modern weaponry and numerical strength, and unceremoniously ousted the military despot after months of savage street battles. He fled the capital to his hometown in Garba-harey, southwest of the capital and later died in exile in Lagos, Nigeria.

The people welcomed the new cadres of leaders with singing and dancing on the streets of the partially destroyed city by soldiers loyal to the military dictator, using all kinds of weaponry in their arsenals, including the deadly Soviet-era Katyusha multiple rocket launchers, tanks, mortars, APCs and Mig bombers.

But the Euphoria did not last long. Few days later the militia of the United Somali Congress loyal to two main Mogadishu faction leaders, General Mohamed Farah Aideed and Ali Mahdi Mohamed (both are from the same Hawiye clan) quickly turned their guns on each other for the control of the capital. Thus, the country descended into bloody clan war. The trouble was that neither the two faction leaders in the capital was prepared to lay down their weapons as each wanted to fill the vacuum left by General Barre.

A group calling itself The Mogadishu Manifesto elected Ali Mahdi Mohamed as an interim President. Few weeks latter his rival, General Mohamed Farah Aideed returned to Mogadishu from (Mustahil, a small town in Ethiopian controlled Ogaden region) with a big bang and vowed to crush the Manifesto Group with his seasoned fighters, but failed it with disastrous consequences. An estimated 1.5 million non-combatants lost their lives in the worst clan warfare in the history of Somalia.

There were decomposed bodies all over the city. In Mogadishu people had no time to bury the dead as every one was running for the nearest cover.

Not to be outmaneuvered by the Manifesto Group, General Aideed, with the support of his own sub-clan, declared himself "president of Somalia" during a colourful ceremony in his stronghold South of Mogadishu. Thus, Somalia became the only country in the world with two presidents sitting behind a divided capital into north and south. Crossing the Green Line is tantamount to committing suicide. It has virtually become Somalia's killing field.

At the same time many of the USC rebels on both sides of the notorious Green Line, carried out genocide and ethnic cleansing in Mogadishu and its environs. In this way many non-Hawiye, people, including well-known personalities were short to death in cold blood.

That was not the Somalia I knew. The truth is that the Somalis have to blame themselves for the self-destruction.

And no one, not the United Nations, the Organization of African Union (now African Union), the Arab League, the Islamic Conference Organization, or the European Union stepped in, in time to prevent what the International Committee of the Red Cross described as the worst human tragedy since World War Two.

Officials from crisis management agencies told this author that had regional and international organizations, of which Somalia was a member, stepped in as soon as the former dictator was ousted from power the tragedy could have been averted, because the clan militias have been fighting over food rather than political power.

As they fought bloody street battles, they looted all the extremely lethal weapons that General Barre had accumulated during his more than two decades of autocratic rule. They destroyed the once beautiful city beyond recognition. General Barre's soldiers destroyed three quarters of the city, and the USC militia had finished the job. That's how the weapons ended up in the hands of these young militias. As if that was not enough, more deadly weapons illegally crossed the porous border with Ethiopia. Thus weapons became the local currency.

Many of us were ashamed and regretted of welcoming a bunch of looters, killers, rapists, arsonists and sadists. In Somalia death had become a habit. Some even wished the return of the military dictator to Villa Somalia, a Mediterranean-style building facing the Indian Ocean. At least there was a semblance of peace, they said.

It was mainly the lack of a real victory that sapped the morale of the population.

The figure of 1.5 million civilian casualties did not add up to any real gain because the warlords failed control of the capital and the rest of the country. General Mohamed Farah Aideed was killed during one of his bloody offensives against his rival soon after the Americans and the United Nations pulled out of Somalia in 1994. .

Since then the name Somalia virtually became unmentionable in the US and the rest of the Western. Media giants, like the CNN and BBC's World Service as well as the print media effectively kept away from Somalia coverage as much as possible.

Mogadishu, with its Mediterranean-style buildings, crime free streets, pulsating businesses, discerning shoppers, snow white beaches and Africa's longest unpolluted coastline was turned into a wasteland in the space of few years. There are several no-go areas in Mogadishu, where even journalists made of sterner stuff are reluctant to venture into for fear of being mugged and shot to pieces by former hardcore convicts who escaped from Mogadishu's Central Prison Death Row at the height of the civil war after pining down the prison warders, including the commandant, and then looted the prison armory.

Just as in the immediate aftermath of the American Civil War, a period of transition, Reconciliation, Recovery, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation is required to resuscitate Somalia.

The big question is: can the President-elect and his Prime Minister deliver? As you Americans prefer to shout during election season: "It's the economy, stupid!"

The country urgently needs seed money to get started with the 5Rs mentioned above until it could stand on its own feet, but there's still no quick fix on the horizon, as potential donors are dragging their feet on one flimsy excuse or another.

By M.M.Afrah©2005

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