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.
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.
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?"
FROM MY FILES
Mr. Chapman, here is a synopsis of what had happened in
Somalia more than three decades ago.
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
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."
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.
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
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.
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.
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."
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
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"
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.
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,
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
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.
the popular uprising, spearheaded by young insurgents
and the umbrella of the United Somali Congress (USC) had
erupted like a volcano in full blast
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
was not the Somalia I knew. The truth is that the Somalis
have to blame themselves for the self-destruction.
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.
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.
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.
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.
was mainly the lack of a real victory that sapped the
morale of the population.
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. .
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
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.
as in the immediate aftermath of the American Civil War,
a period of transition, Reconciliation, Recovery, Reconstruction
and Rehabilitation is required to resuscitate Somalia.
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!"
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.