Zooming into the Past
Discontents and Open Letters Discounted
As early as late 1970s, there were a considerable number of elites who have already voted with their feet and moved to neighboring countries, oil-producing Gulf States, and the West. From exile, these elites often fairly articulated their discontents to the International Community; yet, their protest literature turned out to be an incoherent communiqué to the people under the heavy-handed regime of Siad Barre, failing to mobilize the masses towards the demand for change. A case in point is the signatories of these forwarded documents and protest letters – who are prominent community leaders, politicians, diplomats, elders, and business people (from inside and outside of the country). They have warned the Somali regime and openly expressed their feelings, declaring that they were against the continuation of Siad Barre’s authoritarian and ruthless system of governance, with one party system dominated by military men (and no transparent voting system).
Furthermore, these prominent members of the Somali community extended their discontents and warnings to an extent in which they have offered a conflict resolution recommendation, which they regarded it as an alternative to the status quo of authoritarianism and self-destructive conflicts – demanding first and foremost from Siad Barre to relinquish power to the people through peaceful means. In these expressions of grievances, dissidents promise to replace Siad Barre’s autocratic regime with a democratic government that reflects the full-representation of Somali society. However, as we know now, the regime discounted all the forthcoming discontents and prescriptions, considering all dissidents as a group of elites who are simply campaigning for selfish concrete gains for themselves.
Political Crisis in Somalia and Prospects for Peace in the Horn
Horn of Africa
Volume 5, No. 3 (1982), p41-45
This is an attempt to give a clearer picture of the internal political situation in Somalia and to provide a better understanding of the nature and goals of the opposition movement in the country, hoping that this might assist policy makers and the general public outside Somalia who are interested in the Horn of Africa.
On October 21, 1969 a coup led by General Mohamed Siad Barre overthrew an unpopular but democratically elected civilian government in Somalia. From the outset, there were many who expressed doubts about the future, because of their intimate knowledge of Siad Barre’s personality and character. But the Somali people, on the whole, responded enthusiastically to the call of the “revolution” for unity and self-reliance.
There were specific achievements such as the adoption of a script for the Somali language and the subsequent campaigns against illiteracy throughout the country. This accounted for the initial support enjoyed by the regime and helped it consolidate power. Once Siad Barre was confident of his power, he displayed his true colors. At every turn, he betrayed the confidence of the people. He preached scientific socialism but practiced scheming socialism; he espoused national unity but engaged in diabolically divisive clan politics; he advocated socio-economic development but in effect destroyed the productive sectors of the economy. He undermined the best features of Somali social and political institutions.
Today, the political situation in Somalia is rapidly deteriorating. President Siad Barre has increasingly resorted to more repression to desperately cling to power against mounting opposition within and without the country as well as within the regime itself. Tanks and armored cars were deployed against peaceful demonstrations against the regime in Hargeisa and Burao in March 1932. More than 30 people including women and children were shot in cold blood. Several hundred school children of 13 to 20 years old were imprisoned. So were a large number of intellectuals, businessmen, religious and political leaders.
In the past few years, trumped-up charges led to the execution of many people. In the Mudug region, countless numbers of nomads and villagers had their livestock and their precious watering points raided and deliberately destroyed by Siad Barre’s Special Forces, ostensibly for harboring ‘anti-revolutionary’ elements. In the farming communities of the Shabelle and Juba valleys, thousands of men below the age of fifty have been forcibly conscripted and formed into special units against uprisings in other parts of the country. Residents of big towns including Mogadishu are continuously harassed and intimidated by the dreaded secret services who one specially created for this purpose.
Recently seven prominent leaders including a Vice President of the state, the Vice-Chairman of the National Assembly (Parliament), cabinet ministers and senior officials of the ruling party were arrested. A far larger number of important personalities of a similar status sought political asylum abroad. This is a clear indication of the degree of political crisis within the regime itself.
Also, the economy of the country is in shambles. The resources of this poor nation are not mobilized for the betterment and welfare of the people, nor for its development: but to sustain the megalomania of Siad Barre through corruption, patronage and nepotism. The few development projects currently underway entirely depend on foreign financing. They are’ not free from manipulation and corruption either, let alone delays and mismanagement. The aid by the international community for the large refugee population in the country is a thriving source for government patronage and pilfering.
Public Administration in all areas is literally in ruins: incompetence, corruption and outright ignorance are its hallmark. This is not surprising since the sole criterion for appointment to public and even sometimes private positions according to Barre’s explicit directive is “loyalty to the President.” Efficiency, integrity and professional qualifications are considered irrelevant. The exodus of professionals, the skilled, and intellectuals continues unabated. Dispensation of justice has long become a farce and synonymous with political blackmail. Siad Barre is the head of all institutions including the judiciary. He ultimately decides all cases, regardless of their nature, not in conformity with the law, or the basic principles of justice but according to his whims, or the dictates of political expediency.
As for foreign policy, duplicity and adventurism are the hallmarks of his diplomacy. Somalia, under President Siad Barre, has become almost totally isolated in Africa. It is viewed with skepticism in the rest of the world. His naive, misguided, outmoded and almost childish attempts to play the superpowers against each other make him look like a clown. However, there is an element of a great danger to the stability of the region as a whole.
President Siad Barre himself introduced in substantial numbers the Soviets and the Cubans into the Horn of Africa. He claimed to have adopted Marxism-Leninism as the basis of his party policy which he incidentally still maintains. He tried to preach Communism for years in its most vulgar form and pressed the Soviet Union for a Friendship Treaty – the first with a Black African country. He tirelessly depicted the Americans in particular and the West in general as well as neighboring Arab countries as villains and the true enemies of Africa and the Third World.
Paradoxically, it is the same man who is now continually invoking the fear of a Communist take-over of the whole region, crying wolf all the time, and asserting that the Soviet Union, Cuba and Ethiopia will invade Somalia. He should not be heeded. His own people have utterly rejected him. He is unreliable, has no principles other than clinging to power at all costs. It cannot be emphasized enough that today Siad Barre himself represents the biggest factor of instability in the region.
The Opposition Movement
There is no dispute about the extent of opposition to Siad Barre’s continued rule in the country. The overwhelming majority of the Somali people want to see him go by all means. For some time, there were many who believed that a peaceful change was possible, hoping that the president would step down, or at least initiate some major reforms to make the system more democratic. The need for internal reform became even more urgent after the defeat of Somalia by Ethiopia in the 1977/8 war over Western Somalia (Ogaden), and the subsequent diplomatic setbacks suffered by Somalia in the OAU – monumental failures for which President Siad Barre and his inept brother Foreign Minister are largely responsible. According to public expectations and the view of the mainstream of the moderate opinion, the chances for peaceful change and internal reforms were enhanced by the closer links of Somalia with the West. It was believed – perhaps prematurely – this would bring about increased pressures and tendencies in Somalia to move towards more democratic forms of government, incorporating greater freedoms, and respect for human rights.
Needless to say, such hopes did not materialize. President Barre made it abundantly clear – in action and in words – that he had no intention to step down, nor was he prepared to share power with anyone. And to achieve this no cost would be too great. So he resorted to greater repression to maintain his autocratic rule. There has been more bloodshed and imprisonment in the country during the past two years than at any other time in the political history of Somalia. Moreover, it is precisely while these events have been taking place in the country that the United States in particular and Western countries in general seem to be giving their support and protection to Siad Barre. This is a matter of great disappointment to the Somali people as a whole, and a bitter shock for the moderate opinion in the country.
Under these circumstances, armed struggle is the sole option open to the opposition movement, and necessitated the use of Ethiopia as the only possible base. But the ruthless suppression of all forms of opposition inside the country and exploitation of inter-clan rivalry and suspicions by Siad Barre have so far prevented the emergence of a single organization unifying the whole opposition movement. However, there are already two organizations which enjoy wide support in the country, and initiatives are taking place for the opposition to close ranks for the sake of unity.
The Ethiopian Connection
Obviously, the Ethiopian connection has important implications for Somalia’s internal political situation, because of the longstanding Somali/Ethiopian dispute, and superpower rivalry in the Horn of Africa. All these issues are interrelated.
Internally, due to the harsh and repressive rule in Mogadishu, the Somali people face the need to seek refuge elsewhere. The long common border with Ethiopia, the traditional transhumance of the people, and the historical fact of the adjacent Ogaden area largely populated by ethnic Somalis make Ethiopia the obvious and easiest place of refuge for Somalis. While traditionally Somali nomads and their flocks have always moved to seasonal grazing areas across the de facto border, the situation today is taking on a new – and more than seasonal – dimension. Apart from the continuous defection of increasing numbers of public leaders, military officers and soldiers to the opposition in Ethiopia, whole communities are deeming it expedient to relocate outside the Somali Republic’s borders due to constant reprisals by Somali Government forces against clans suspected of opposition to the regime. This includes the wholesale destruction of villages and is especially true of the northern and central regions of the country. Clearly, as repression increases inside Somalia, so does the exodus.
In respect of the Somali/Ethiopian dispute, the people of Somalia – like the Palestinians and other peoples in similar situations – have always felt very strongly that history has not treated them fairly. They believe in the concept of a Somali nation and identify with it. This has always been beyond question. The scramble for Africa and the consequences of colonialism remain a cold legacy. There has been so much sacrifice in blood, in development, and in the displacement of people on a large-scale. Political developments in the Horn of Africa in recent years have further complicated the issues.
Djibouti has become an independent state; the OAU, the Arab League, the Eastern block and the West have all taken a position, either explicitly or implicitly, on the Somali/Ethiopian dispute. There has been so much blood between Ethiopia and Somalia over the years and there is no lasting solution in sight yet. External forces have their fingers in the pie for their own benefit. The only people who die and suffer are those of the region. They are sick and tired of fruitless wars, bloodshed and under-development. So it is time to face up to realities. There is a need for a lasting solution, and this is what the Somali opposition and Ethiopians are groping towards. The majority of Somalis and Ethiopians may well share this attitude. This needs encouragement and support.
As for global strategy and superpower politics in the region, it should be noted that geographically the Horn of Africa is a strategic area because of its commanding position in relation to the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean and the heart of the African Continent. Consequently, it has always been subjected to the interplay of competing international political forces. Today more than ever, and for reasons well known, it still remains the cockpit of superpower rivalry and confrontation. Regional aggrandizement and personal power ambitions at the local level have invariably aggravated the competition of foreign powers for supremacy. The destiny, interests and welfare of the peoples of the area have never been taken into consideration. The Somali people, in particular, who are largely the actual inhabitants of the Horn, have suffered disproportionately.
But whether or not we believe that time and events have or have not dealt justly with the Somali people, we are left with the realities of the situation in the Horn today. The events of the past two decades have helped to bring about a new consciousness among the people of the Horn. They are tired of the ravages of war. They are tired of hollow slogans and demagoguery. They are impatient with the lack of genuine development. The majority of Somalis and Ethiopians share this attitude as is shown by the considerable support inside Somalia for the Somali opposition movements on the one hand, and the acceptance of these movements in and by Ethiopia on the other.
It is therefore in the interest of the superpowers, the international community as a whole, and the peoples of the region to reduce tension and to work towards peace and stability. The existence of Somali opposition organizations in Ethiopia should not be underestimated or discouraged. It is the reflection of a deep and dynamic change in attitudes that have positive implications for Somali/Ethiopian relations. New initiatives for peace could be explored on present predispositions. The dynamics and developments of the situation in recent years and the dimensions of the internal political situation prevailing in Somalia present a unique opportunity for such initiatives.
Therefore, the events of the last two months in the area are a matter of grave concern to us. According to our information and assessment, the hostilities at the de facto border between Ethiopia and Somalia were initiated by Siad Barre as an act of desperation – in the face of mounting opposition and unrest throughout the country. He fears political reaction against the arrest of some highly prominent personalities in his government a month earlier. The aim was then to head off internal explosion by arousing a sense of Somali patriotism, and at the same time to secure the support of the West for his crumbling regime by invoking the spectre of a “Communist” take-over of Somalia. The rationale of a self-seeking megalomaniac such as Siad Barre is self-evident. But what is so disconcerting and baffling is the Ethiopian reaction. The Somali people, opposition or otherwise, and including the writers of this paper, do not accept or condone the occupation of the territory of the Somali Republic by any foreign troops – be they Ethiopian or other. Equally disappointing is the American reaction to the whole scenario. We believe that the support of the United States Government to Siad Barre to stay in power is entirely counter-productive.
Against the background outlined above, and in light of the current situation, the objectives of the opposition movement are essentially as follows:
We, therefore, call upon the international community to have greater appreciation of and comprehension for the viewpoint of the Somali opposition and to give greater consideration to the needs and aspirations of the peoples of the region as a whole.
Signatories of the Document
Abdirazak Haji Hussein (Former Prime Minister)
Ali Khalif Galaydh (Former Minister)
Garaad Ali Garaad Jama (Former Minister)
Yusuf Ali Ibrahim (Former Mayor of Mogadishu)
Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud Silanyo (Former Minister)
Mohamed Ahmed Abdilleh (Former Permanent Secretary)
Ahmed Mohamed Ducale (Former Chairman, Sub-Committee on Economic Affairs, Peoples National Assembly)
Ibrahim Megag Samater (Former Minister)
Somalia on the Brink of Civil Wars
Horn of Africa
Volume VI, #3 (1983/84), p40-42
In June 1983, several former prominent officials in President Barre’s regime gathered in Washington - some of them from as far as England and Canada - to lobby against the Somali Government. They met U.S. Government officials as well as members of both houses of Congress. Their thesis is that departure of President Barre is the key for national reconciliation, restoration of democracy and achievement of stability in Somalia.
Today, Somalia is on the brink of a civil war and national disintegration. In view of the failure of the “revolution”; of October 1969, and the progressive deterioration of the political situation in the country in recent years, there can be no doubt that the overwhelming majority of the Somali people view the continuation of the dictatorial and repressive regime of Siad Barre as a national catastrophe.
In their determination to get rid of an unpopular dictator and his family rule, the people have come out in open rebellion against the regime for the past several years. On his part, Siad Barre made desperate efforts to stay in power through increasingly ruthless repression, corruption and the manipulation of divisive clan politics. As the opposition gathers momentum, becomes more effective, organized and carries out its struggle against him to a new level – that of open and armed rebellion – so does he raise the level of repression through the imposition of martial laws, emergencies, mass arrests and public executions. This trend of events underlies the current domestic upheavals in Somalia and the growing instability in the region.
Accordingly, it is the view of the signatories of this statement that in order to avert national disaster, it is imperative that Somalia must quickly set itself on a course of national reconciliation, reconstruction and restoration of democracy. But to achieve this requires minimally the departure of Siad Barre. However, before we advance specific proposals in this regard, we must briefly outline recent events in Somalia to illustrate the process that has led to the current upheavals.
On October 21, 1969, a coup led by General Mohamed Siad Barre overthrew a lethargic but democratically elected government. From the outset, many had serious misgivings about his leadership because of their intimate knowledge of him. On the whole, however, the people accepted the revolution and enthusiastically responded to its goals of national unity and self-reliance. Specific achievements such as the writing of the Somali language and subsequent literacy campaigns throughout the country helped to mask President Barre’s true intentions to first consolidate his power and then to embark on the road to autocratic rule.
Indeed, it did not take long before President Barre revealed his true colors. For as soon as he felt securely in power, he began to betray the trust and confidence of the people. He preached national unity but openly engaged in diabolically divisive and sectarian clan politics. He advocated sound economic policies, exhorted people to self-reliance but subsequently destroyed the productive sectors of the national economy. Moreover, he subverted the constitution, curtailed civil liberties and the rule of law.
In short, President Mohamed Siad Barre has divided, confused and demoralized the nation. As his policies became ever more manifestly detrimental to the interests of the country, people began gradually to withdraw their support.
During 1981-83, mass discontent with the regime intensified to such an extent that it has become a national phenomenon. The series of antigovernment demonstrations during this period in Hargeisa, Burao, Erigavo, Borama and Sheikh in the north, the ambushes of military convoys in the Belet Uen and Mudug areas in the central regions and the series of bomb explosions in the capital itself provide good examples of the nation-wide manifestation of discontent with the regime. So do the mutinies that took place in the army and the very large numbers of defections of military officers, top civil servants, and politicians who either joined the opposition organizations or sought political asylum abroad.
The regime’s response to the people’s genuine grievances has been more repression. For the past few years, the northern and central regions of the country have been subjected to state of emergencies, and waves of arrests of businessmen, local leaders, intellectuals, students and others. The peaceful demonstrations in the north in 1982 led to scores of killings and hundreds of arrests. In January and February 1983, the towns of Hargeisa, Burao and Berbera were subjected to a dusk-to-dawn curfew and all traffic in and out of them were halted, leading to severe shortages of food and other essential commodities.
In Mudug and Nugal regions, the government conducted punitive raids against nomads and villagers suspected of being disaffected with the regime. Countless numbers of people and their livestock were raided and precious watering points were poisoned and deliberately destroyed by President’s Barre’s security forces. Many were forcibly relocated and dispersed to other areas. This scorched-earth policy had the aim of disorganizing communities and hence weakening, if not destroying, their opposition to the regime.
Even the capital city of Mogadishu has not escaped the iron-hand of Siad Barre. The dreaded secret services subject the residents of Mogadishu and other big towns to continuous harassment and intimidation. Nightly raids by armed soldiers followed by disappearances are not uncommon. Many of these people later turn up in the regime’s burgeoning jails.
But these high-handed and brutal measures did not suppress opposition to the regime or neutralize the resistance movements. On the contrary, it led to the disintegration of any semblance of political consensus within the Government leadership in the face of President Siad’s authoritarian response to domestic opposition, culminating in the arrest in June 1982 of seven prominent political personalities including a Vice President, a Vice Chairman of the National Assembly, Cabinet Ministers and top party officials.
Furthermore, the resistance movements became more intensified and developed to an armed struggle. Today, the armed struggle of the opposition movement is given focus and led by two opposition groups – the Somali National Movement and the Somali Salvation Democratic Front. Both of them have steadily been gaining strength as well as popular support. They are now inflicting serious damages to the regime through a series of spectacular raids and sustained harassment of Government forces throughout the country. The SNM Commando attacks on Mandera maximum security prison on January 2, 1983 releasing political prisoners, and on the highly fortified Headquarters of the Army in Hargeisa on April 6, 1983 illustrate the vulnerability of the regime and increasing effectiveness and sophistication of the armed resistance movements.
Characteristically, President Siad Barre responded by escalating the confrontation between him and the opposition by embarking adventurously on a program of inciting a civil war through the direct instigation of clan hostilities. He supplies arms given to Somalia for self-defence to different sections of the population along clan lines and sends in commando units as provocateurs. During the past eight months, at least three major tribal clashes instigated by the regime took place in the northern and central provinces of the country (Galgadud, Burao, Las Anod). These wars are still going on and have so far claimed over a thousand lives and many more were injured. The latest of these clashes occurred in the Burao-Las Anod area in the north. It is reported that over 500 lives were lost in the first 6 days of fighting in May.
Finally, it is to be noted that in spite of the gravity of the situation, these events hardly get reported anywhere at all. This is due to a deliberate policy on the part of President Siad Barre to keep the world in the dark about the true nature of events in the country. He has imposed a near-total news blackout about these matters. For instance, no journalists are allowed to visit the country except under government auspices and guidance, and recently they are barred altogether from visiting the northern and central regions.
Contact of local people including ministers and top officials with foreigners in regard to “political” matters is not only discouraged, but strictly prohibited by written presidential orders.
In the light of these circumstances, we propose the following steps:
I. President Barre will do well to resign - in which case he should be offered a safe exit to another country;
II. All political prisoners must be released;
III. The current government (without Siad Barre) should meet and open a dialogue with the opposition to negotiate the establishment of an interregnum government;
IV. Plans must be initiated for a democratically elected form of government in the earliest possible time.
Furthermore, we urge friends of Somalia and the international community to:
And moreover, we urge all Somalis to:
Signatories of the Document
1. Abdirazak Haji Hussein - Former Prime Minister
2. Ahmed Mohamed Mohamud - Former Minister
3. Ibrahim Megag - Former Minister and Ambassador
4. Mohamed Warsama - Former Minister and Ambassador
5. Ahmed Mohamed Dualeh - Former Chairman, Economic Committee of the National Assembly
6. Ali Khalif Galaydh - Former Minister
7. Omer Mohamed Ahmed - Former Diplomat (Counselor)
Next Week: Part II