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BY M.M. Afrah©

Readers of my Talking Point columns have been very generous in their remarks. Many write that they have been reading me for years and, although we have never met, consider me a friend and patriot. This is a charitable compliment, and I much appreciate it.

Like many of you, I am concerned about the serious problems facing Somalia. Hence, I took up the routine to address them, even after General Barre took over the reign of the country in a military coup in October 1969. It has been said: "If you keep going to hell you will eventually get there." I was convinced that we were well on our way to that destination from day one, and judging by the emails that arrive in my inbox, it is a philosophy that many of the readers share.

However, Somalia's current turmoil and anarchy is not the fault of the clan gunmen and their godfathers. It dates back during the Italian colonialists who were made up of fools whose main interests was to use slave labours to grow bananas and grapefruit for the Italian market. And, the first thing they did was to build the biggest Roman Catholic cathedral in Africa in the 1920s, again using slave labours, instead of opening public schools and colleges, and it gives me particular pleasure to take a poke here at them.

The achievements record during Italian Trusteeship in Somalia in the 1950s was virtually blank, and there was nothing to be conceited. Crucial institutions, such as medical or engineering schools did not exist during their administration-1950-1960. Roads became impassable during the rainy season and motorists were forced to drive across farms and bushes, avoiding the flooded roads. Old bridges and canals were falling to pieces for lack of spare parts, and whenever the rivers broke their banks, the riverine people were force to evacuate.

Admittedly, Italy has been recovering from the ravages of World War II and depended on the American Marshall Plan, but unlike the Germans, who took advantage of the Plan and rebuilt their devastated country, the Italians on the other hand were beleaguered by successive corrupt regimes which they did not recover to this day. The slogan Mani Pulito (clean hands) adopted by some potential candidates in order to win votes failed to materialize in Italy of yesterday and today. Wide scale corruption and lottizzazione (sharing out of the spoils) became the order of the day.

Recently I came across an article by a colleague of mine about the Italian contingent in Somalia during Operation Restore Hope spearheaded by the United States. I am reprinting this article with permission from my colleague, Gerard Prunier. The reader is the judge, the jury, the witness and the persecutor.

By Gerard Prunier
Dispatch from Mogadishu

"…The Italians had jumped on the intervention bandwagon from the very beginning. Their troops were assembled and ready to go as early as December 11. Here also was the reason of domestic political concern. As a former colonial master of Somalia Italiano (1885-1941) and then UN- mandated ruler of the same territory (1946-1960), Italy had had a special relationship with the country where intervention was taking place. But, the main point was that Italy had not stopped dealing with Somalia when it officially left in 1960. Quite contrary, it had become involved not only with the democratic regime (1960-1969) even more with the Siyad Barre dictatorship after 1969. And the involvement had not been a benign nature. Italy had delivered weapons to the dictator, its important economic aid had been a source of patronage to political friends both in Rome and in Mogadishu, the Mafia and the notorious P2 network had been involved, and manipulation of aid money had been used for financing the Italian Socialist Party, and for enriching some of its members. Former Prime Minister Bettino Craxi and his brother-in-law Paolo Pilletieri, the deputy mayor of Milan, had taken part in the dubious transactions, all of which made Somalia a major (and still contemporary) skeleton in the Italian cupboard.

The operation got off to a very bad start when U.S. presidential envoy, Robert Oakley declared on December 9 that it might be better if the Italians waited a little bit before coming "because they had left a pretty bad image." Thus, from the very beginning, Italy-a country that had been smarting from real or supposed humiliation since 1918 because of a feeling that, although a major power, it was not being taken seriously by the other members of the great powers club-started its participation in Operation Restore Hope with a chip on its shoulder.

This feeling was going to persist throughout and cause major problems of political and military coordination-Gerard Prunier in Mogadishu, 1993.


The dispute between the Italian contingent and the UNOSOM/USA was brought to the open by the Italians, who felt they were being sidelined in Somalia, their former colony. The then UN Under-Secretary, now Secretary General Kofi Annan, at a news briefing, to explain UN operations in Somalia, said Italy's commander, Bruno Loi would be sent home and his 2,400 men transferred out of Mogadishu for taking orders from Rome rather than the UN Command in Mogadishu.

In Rome, Defense Minister, Fabbio Fabri, reacted angrily, saying: "General Loi has carried out the instructions from the Italian government. He has never acted on his own alone," That remark went to the core of the dispute that the Italian contingent took orders from Rome, which Mr. Annan said was "unacceptable." He denied charges that the United States controlled the operation in Somalia, regardless of UN structures.
Senior American officials said that there had been difficulties with the Italians awhile. "They have different agenda. This is not standard operating procedures," the American officials said.

Other UN officials said Italian troops attempted to begin their own negotiations with General Mohamed Farah Aideed outside of the UN Command.

In another part of the city, seven Nigerian and three Pakistani UN soldiers were killed. The Nigerians were killed as they tried to take control of the checkpoint from the Italians who were withdrawing from Mogadishu amid a row with Washington over air strikes against Aideed's stronghold in the South of the city. Local residents said the Italians paid the militia and elders protection money, while the Nigerians failed to do so.

The Italians denied the accusation they paid Somali gunmen not to attack them. US helicopter gunships used missiles to destroy Aideed's stronghold, demolishing a number of buildings and killing a dozens of Habar-gedir elders who were meeting to discuss relationship with the United Nations and the Americans, and how to end the impasse. But, as in previous attempts, Aideed who was at the meeting, eluded the US Army Rangers by seconds without warning the elders.

Reports persisted that the Italians were tipping off the fugitive general about impending attacks on his stronghold, Newsweek magazine in its international edition reported that the Italian troops had helped General Aideed to evade capture. A US-run surveillance network had "more than often" intercepted members of the Italian contingent in Somalia warning the fugitive general about operations against his stronghold, the magazine said in its dispatch from Mogadishu.
The story of Italy's involvement in Somalia's affairs does not end there, even after leaving the country in a bad shape in 1960, and in the words of Robert Oakley, former US ambassador in Mogadishu "in a pretty bad image."

Juggling with Somali politics

Italy's envoy to Somalia, Paolo Rafaelli had admitted that the Italian government had sided with the Jowhar-based Transitional Federal Government, and said at a meeting with Mogadishu-based faction leaders and attended by European Union delegates, that his government will henceforth adopt neutral stand in Somali politics. He was reacting to accusations that the Italian government was supporting the Jowhar-based wing of the Transitional Federal Government led by President Abdullahi Yusuf against the Mogadishu-based wing led by Sheriff Hassan, the Speaker of Parliament.

Paradoxically, the Italian government, in an earlier statement bitterly denied allegations by some members of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia based in Mogadishu, and it termed as "baseless and unfounded." The report from the Italian Foreign Affairs Ministry said: "The grant sent by the Italian government to the federal government of Somalia is meant for the Somali people and not for an individual." Now their envoy retracts his own government's earlier statement of denial.

The Mogadishu wing dubbed as Group 101 have arranged for demonstration on July 4th in protest against the Italian government, but was promptly cancelled without explanations.

Obviously, the question of the grant to one side only is the core issue. Members of Group 101 say: "If the Italian government is honest broker it should have given similar grant to us as well," but that was not to be. One of the civic leaders in Mogadishu told me over the telephone the other day that it is not about the money; it is about the preferential treatment deliberately played by the Italians.

It is no wonder Italy is involved in the complex Somali politics again to make matters for worse to worst.

It is back to square one!

By M.M. Afrah©2005

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