Zooming into the Past                          



M O G A D I S H U   C I V I L   W A R S




Zooming into the 1990s interviews and statements, given by the spokespersons and leaders of Somali factions, enables us to prove that clan-animosity account of the Somali civil war has not been given the scholarly attention that its magnitude warrants, even after sixteen years of clan-warfare.  This clan-animosity feeling can in fact be derived from faction joint communiqué and statements; and therefore, posting selections of these public relation statements should be a matter of concern to all Somalis – particularly, to those who are in the field of Somali Studies.


After all, clan factionalism disguised in English acronyms (formed from three or four initial letters which include the sacrosanct letter “S”) are now facts of life for Somalis.  The words and deeds of the turbulent faction followers have ordained to presuppose that faction spokespersons assumed a monumental role in fuelling clan-hatred.  As a result of that, the Forum rushes in to investigate and share with you excerpts of faction communiqués, hoping to find solutions to the current tragic political situation in Somalia.  From our perspective, these selections are indeed those that Western scholars/(Somalists) most neglected, or could offer hints to the causes of the civil war.



F E B R U A R Y    1 9 9 0 s


Somali gunmen drive through the streets of Mogadishu




A young Somali smokes and holds a weapon as he and his friends sit on a car


Children pulling a donkey cart watch a carload full of armed militiamen pass through the streets of Mogadishu





On Mogadishu's 'Green Line,'

Nothing Is Sacred


February 14, 1993

The New York Times


Mogadishu Green Line


MOGADISHU, Somalia, Feb. 13 -- The clocks at the Cathedral of the Croce del Sud stopped at 9:45.


The cherubs looked ever skyward as fire sent the roof crashing in shards to the floor. White spaces where gilded crosses once hung tell of plunder, and the sepulchers of the bishops remembered only as Zucchetto and Colombo have been emptied.


The remains of the bishops may be lost somewhere along the so-called "green line" that divides northern and southern Mogadishu between warring factions. The area between them has become a ghost town, haunted by the memories of splendor and of failure. The hopes of the one-time residents have been crushed and twisted beyond repair, like the metal gates to the local palaces of commerce, art and religion. 'It Sparkled'


"Before the church burned, it had beautiful golden colors, and colored tiles," said Tahlil Omar Hassan. "It sparkled . . . like New York," offered Abdi Yare Huyogo, a 12-year-old who stood on the carpet of broken tiles nearby.


"It was like flowers," Abdul-Ahi Ulo Sahel called down from the perch where he hacked away at the church's remaining beams for firewood. "It had gold and brass. It was bella, bella," he added in the Italian that still peppers the Somali language.


Long the epicenter of the fight between two clan militias for control of the Somali capital, the line dividing Mogadishu is also a microcosm of Somalia's past and future. Its streets are littered with the fallen monuments of both colonial and indigenous masters; its bombed and ransacked buildings stand as testimony to the latest blood rivalry for control.


The United States Marines at the command post at the one-time Commercial Bank of Somalia speak by way of comparison of the destruction and tension in Beirut as they patrol Mogadishu. But Mohammed Jirdeh Hussein, a Somali businessman whose family owns several office buildings along the dividing line, remembers the days before the fighting started and looks beyond what is lost to what may be. At the now-closed Hotel Croce del Sud, the former assistant manager and receptionist await the return of the owner, an Italian named Tomas Briata. Last Spoke in April


Mr. Briata last spoke to the men in April. In a call from his Padua, Italy, home to the Italian consulate, Mr. Briata told Ali Mohammed Roble, the receptionist, and Abdul Rahman Salam, the assistant manager, to watch over the hotel.


"We are waiting for him to come, and he is coming," said Mr. Roble, a 50-year-old who had worked in the hotel from the age of 15. There are no guests, but Mr. Roble wears a beige safari uniform. He sweeps the courtyard where cafe tables once surrounded the fountain. He shows off the hotel rooms, proud that only three of 40 were hit by bombs.


"In front of our hotel there were trucks firing," said Mr. Salam. "The bandits came with guns, saying, 'Give us all the dollars you have saved here.' "


"We'd say we didn't have dollars. We don't even have food," Mr. Salam recalled, and shuddered. "So they'd take our watches, whatever we had in our pockets." Looters took all the mattresses, beds, cutlery and linens. No Pay and No Mail


The men, as desperate as they are loyal, have not received salaries since April. There is no mail service here. The only telephones are the satellite phones foreigners bring, and the cost of using those is exorbitant.


"Tell Briata we are in this condition," Mr. Roble said, as he unfolded a paper with the owner's phone number. "Tell him of our sacrifice."


Mr. Briata left Mogadishu on an Italian military plane, after a mob of police officers, soldiers, bandits and beggars climbed the hotel's walls on a looting spree in the last days before the final fall of Mohamed Siad Barre, the ousted Somali dictator. Mr. Briata, his employees and the handful of guests fought off the intruders' guns and knives with machetes. Mr. Briata, 60 years old at the time, was thrown from the hotel's second-story window and broke two vertebrae, his daughter-in-law, Tracy Briata, said from Padua in a telephone interview.


The family escaped, but lost computers, paintings, furniture -- virtually all its personal belongings, she said. They carried no suitcases when they fled.


"I am trying desperately to find a way to come back, but I have no money," Mr. Briata said in halting English before passing the phone to his daughter-in-law. He said he would seek other investors, or perhaps help from the Italian government. But most of all, he would need to know that the bloodletting will not begin again. Selling the Past


Some Somalis are beginning to show enterprise again. At the foot of the Italianate arch erected in the center of the old city in 1928 for a visit by Mussolini that never materialized, Aden Sidou Rage ventured to sell a rare prize: glass negatives that depict these streets in the 1930's. He kept them in a brown plastic pouch, the kind now used for the American military's field rations. The photos show men in fascist uniforms sipping tea and espresso along the piazza and at the Cafe Nazionale, last a camera shop, now a mass of concrete debris.


The same construction boom that built the arch also erected the Cathedral of the Croce del Sud. Named for the navigator's polestar of the Southern Hemisphere, the Cathedral has been stripped nearly bare. The plaques praising the eternal "strength of the Catholic faith and Italian virtue" have been defaced by the graffiti: "No church anymore," and, "You have to believe in the existance (sic.) Of the prophet Mohammed" are two of the slogans in English.


Three men stealing what remained of the wooden beams said that although the church had been splendid in its day, the time for cherubs and stained glass Virgins was over. "The church already burned," said Hassan Ali Hassan. "It's finished."


They said they had been displaced and wanted to sell the beams as firewood. Asked why they did not cut branches from trees, Ali Abukar Osman, a 30-year-old father of two, said the trees would be needed "later on, for fruit and for shade."


"We hope the church will be rebuilt again," said Mr. Hassan.


Then why take it apart? "If it's restored, they'll need to take out all the burned parts," Mr. Osman said, and laughed. "We're helping with the demolition." Watched the Church Burn


Mr. Hussein, the Somali businessman whose family owns property along the "green line," watched the church and much of the rest of the neighborhood burn during the fighting that ousted Mr. Siad Barre and ultimately hurled the country into anarchy.


"I remember the day the fighting started," Mr. Hussein said. "It was December 26, 1990. I called my wife and told her the fighting had begun.


"By 10 A.M. the next morning, the shooting was on again. I told my father to go home," he said. "And we never opened again."


Standing amid a sea of charred cashier's checks and other notes at the burned-out hulk of what was once the country's central bank, Mr. Hussein said that everything closed -- "Not just us, the whole city."


Mr. Hussein said he negotiated with local militia members to spare his family's complexes. "It cost a lot," he said. "Not only in money, but physically, being through so much." The buildings managed to stay largely intact, no minor miracle in this city of decay and destruction. 'You Wait, Totally Impotent'


Time has passed excruciatingly slowly for Mr. Hussein. "You wait, totally impotent," he said. "You can't make sense of it. You can't stop it." He walked over streets rippled from the tanks that had rolled here, and looked at the new U.S. Marine checkpoint nearby.


"This was really a bolt from the blue, and it's just the right thing at the right time," the businessman said. "Because we couldn't build up on our own. We were totally destroyed."


But at the checkpoint, where the sounds of Phil Collins mix with the Koranic chants of children attending school again, U.S. Marine Cpl. Matthew Banks faced ghosts of his own. Reminders of Beirut


"When I look at this place, I see Lebanon," he said. "It looks just like Beirut."


He is not the only marine to complain of a familiar sinking feeling he first knew eight years ago, when the United States deployed marines in an effort to establish stability in the Lebanese capital. But they ended up pawns in a long-term factional battle, with 241 killed.


"We're constantly reminded of Beirut," Corporal Banks said. Before they came to Somalia, senior officers said that the rules of engagement in Somalia -- unlike Beirut -- would allow marines to shoot to kill whenever they felt their lives threatened. But Mogadishu still brings memories of Beirut.


"I think we're getting too involved in something we know very little about," he said. "This is like going back eight years."


Map of Somalia, indicating Mogadishu.


© Copyright 1993 The New York Times Company. All Rights Reserved.


Somali Violence May Delay U.S. Withdrawal

 Daniel Williams; John Lancaster

February 26, 1993

The Washington Post


An upsurge of violence in Somalia this week has prompted U.S. military planners to consider slowing the withdrawal of U.S. troops and leaving a larger number of combat troops in Somalia than originally planned, U.S. sources said yesterday.


The possibility of a greater U.S. combat presence to augment a planned international peacekeeping force under United Nations command raises the prospect that the United States may attempt to play a more significant role in maintaining order in Somalia than anticipated.


"I think recent events indicate that it is going to be a lot more difficult to get out of Somalia," a senior U.S. military officer said. "What you'll see is a residual force of some considerable size for an extended period."


For the second straight day, roving bands of Somali gunmen yesterday defied U.S. and allied troops in Mogadishu, firing on U.N. offices, the U.S. diplomatic mission, foreign relief offices and hotels housing foreigners. Three U.S. Marines and two Nigerian soldiers were wounded in yesterday's fighting.


Until this week's outbreak of fighting and rioting, the Pentagon expected to begin a full-scale withdrawal in a matter of weeks, leaving behind a residual contingent of as many as 5,000 U.S. troops, mainly in support of a larger U.N.-led force.


A senior Pentagon official cautioned yesterday that no decision had been made about increasing this longer-term U.S. commitment to Somalia, but he said the option would be discussed with U.N. officials in talks over the timing of the U.S. withdrawal and the size of the follow-on force.


"We've had things we're prepared to throw on the table," the official said, adding that to leave more combat troops in the country is "within the realm of what we're prepared" to consider.


U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali said late yesterday in New York that unrest will not complicate the planned transition to a U.N. command, in which most of the 17,000 remaining American servicemen and women would go home.


"I believe that the situation has been very much exaggerated . . . and that the U.N. will be able to do our transition according to the schedule which has been established," he told the Associated Press.


Among the administration's stated objectives in intervening in Somalia last December was creation of a "secure environment" for delivery of food to starving Somalis. Such security, it was hoped, would give peaceable political activists room to emerge from under the shadow of militia violence.


Yesterday, U.S. officials, discussing the Somali situation privately, said they expect further serious outbreaks of violence. As a result, they also expect the transition to a U.N.-led peacekeeping operation will be delayed beyond its scheduled completion date in mid-April.


Nonetheless, some officials regarded the turmoil as a symptom of success, not failure.


Arms at the disposal of Somali militias have been reduced by U.S. raids on arms caches, the officials said, and access to new weapons is hindered by foreign control of major ports and roadways. Clan militias, while a threat to each other, are no match for troops from the United States and other countries now in place.


"The warlords are getting nervous," a State Department official said. "They are having their feathers plucked. They realize over time that their power is slipping away.


"But," he said, "anybody who thinks the U.N. won't be tested doesn't know Somalia."


U.N. forces will have to "show their teeth" to keep the volatile Somali militias at bay, the official added.


When U.S. troops first arrived in Somalia, Boutros-Ghali urged them to disarm the warring clans before withdrawing. American military commanders declined to guarantee full disarmament, although several raids on arms caches took place.


U.S. officials had been critical of the United Nations for slowness in recruiting other countries to send replacement troops and naming a military commander to head the U.N. force. A Turkish general has since been picked to take command.


About 17,000 U.S. soldiers are in Somalia along with about 14,500 troops from 21 other countries. The number of non-U.S. troops has been expected to grow to about 20,000.


A U.S. military official said yesterday that Somalia is currently too unstable for U.N. peacekeepers, who have a reputation for passivity under fire. "We have an unstable situation in Mogadishu and in just about all the other towns," said a senior officer with access to classified intelligence reports. "I think what we're seeing now is what we were afraid was going to happen.


"I can't see how it would facilitate" the transfer of operational control to the United Nations, he added. Each day of reduced U.S. troop strength, however, creates a problem for American forces left behind, he said.


"Whether we go in there and enforce peace is very much a function of whether you've got the troops over there to do it," he said.


For the moment, delivery of humanitarian relief, the primary objective of the U.S. intervention, is at a standstill. Moreover, the American goal of getting unarmed Somalis to take the political lead in the tumultuous country is in doubt with the assertion this week of gun-barrel authority by Mohamed Farrah Aideed, a militia commander in Mogadishu who aspires to supreme power.


Periodic negotiations among Somali leaders have proceeded slowly, and no results are expected anytime soon. Aideed's outburst is unlikely to encourage unarmed Somalis to talk freely, especially if they oppose Aideed's ambitions.


"Alternative leadership will not come out unless there is evidence they are not at the mercy of warlords," said Terrence Lyons, an analyst at the Brookings Institute here.


The emergence of such leaders will take time but an American preoccupation with a speedy withdrawal had given the impression that U.S. interest in Somalia is limited. When then-President George Bush announced the dispatch of U.S troops to the east African country, Pentagon officials said most of the forces would likely be home by the spring.


"Americans like to think we can roll up our sleeves, set things right and get out. But the only way to foster what we want - a government accepted by the Somalis - will take time," said I. William Zartman, an expert on conflict resolution and director of African Studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.


© (Copyright 1993)


Ali Mahdi Terms Latest Fighting "Most Savage"

 London BBC World Service in English 1515 GMT

February 17, 1992

[From the "Focus on Africa" program]


[Text] The presence in Somalia of a United Nations relief team appears to have had no effect on the two factions battling for control of the capital, Mogadishu. Although representatives of Interim President Ali Mahdi Mohamed and his. rival, General Aidid, signed a cease�fire agreement in New York last Friday [14 February], the shelling of residential areas is continuing, taking a heavy toll in civilian lives. Earlier today, Ali Mahdi


Mohamed told a press conference in Mogadishu about the latest fighting. Sayid Baha was there and telexed us this report:


[Begin studio announcer recording] Speaking to journal�ists at his residence at (Kaaraan), Ali Mahdi described the last five days of fighting as the most savage since fighting broke out last November between the two factions of the United Somali Congress. He said an estimated 800 people have been killed and several hundred injured in the last five days. Ali Mahdi accused Gen. Aidid of deliberately starting the new upsurge in violence in a bid to undermine the United Nations peace process. He said Gen. Aidid has on numerous occasions explicitly rejected several UN cease-fire offers and very much doubted whether he would respect the recently con�cluded UN-sponsored peace plan.


Commenting on the war situation, Mr. Mahdi said that the war was continuing in many parts of the city with both sides using heavy artillery. He said, and I quote: I very much regret the loss of life of innocent people, particularly when there is not a glimmer of hope for peace. When asked about the claims of Gen. Aidid that the general's forces had captured his official residence, he smiled and told journalists that they were attending a press conference at his official residence and that they could be the judge of the general's claims. [end recording]


"Sporadic Shelling" Reported in Mogadishu

 Paris AFP in English 1020 GMT

February 18, 1992

[By David Chazan]


[Excerpt] Nairobi, Feb 18 (AFP)-Sporadic shelling shook some Mogadishu districts Tuesday, but fighting seemed to have died down after a day of heavy artillery duels in the north of the Somali capital, relief officials said here. The officials, in radio contact with Mogadishu, said occasional shelling was still to be heard around the Kaaraan, Shibis and Yaaqshid neighbourhoods.


Mogadishu has been wracked by fierce fighting in the past five days despite a U.N.-brokered truce agreed by representatives of the main two rival factions in New York last Friday [14 February].


U.N. officials who had discussed relief operations with one of the warlords, General Mohamed Farah Aidid, were unable Monday to fly over the chaotic and divided city to meet his opponent, interim President Ali Mahdi Mohamed, because of fierce fighting around an airstrip used by Ali Mahdi.


Relief officials were increasingly pessimistic about the chances of halting the carnage in Mogadishu, which has killed up to 5,000 people in the past three months.


Some of the fighting was over food, which has grown increasingly scarce and outrageously expensive where available. The International Committee of the Red Cross estimates that 4.5 million of the arid East African country's eight million people risk famine.


The two factions control no more than about 4,000 of the estimated 20,000 well-armed youths roaming Mogad�ishu streets, according to military experts in the region. 


Somalia as UN departs:

A future of doubt Sense of lawlessness prevails as foreigners prepare to go

 Tom Ashbrook

February 15, 1995

The Boston Globe


MOGADISHU, Somalia -- Mog, they call it. Rhymes with rogue. A short, soldier's nickname for a hard place, like Nam for Vietnam. Mog. Short for something too bad to fully name.


The big UN transport planes carrying passengers in from Kenya like to come in over the ocean, away from the red desert and shell-pocked casbah alleyways and cranked-up guys with great, long guns. Fewer problems that way.


"It's not dangerous," shouted a British cameraman above the din of the plane's big engines early one recent morning. He pulled a tall bottle of Finlandia vodka from his knapsack and took a long draw.




"The Somalis are a magnificent people, full of pride and dignity," effused a young Euro-relief worker no longer in Somalia. "In Somalia, every man is a king. And every woman a queen."


Oh, yes. But of what?


Driving past the last United Nations guards at the fortified airport gate feels like a sudden, dusty lurch into time travel. Past or future depends on your outlook.


Optimistic? Then this is surely the past, grimy and violent and wrapped in rags and waiting to be swept away. Dirty children crawl on the airport gate. A mob of mangy donkeys pulling water barrels crowds a roadside pipe, waiting to fill up and deliver door-to-door.


In the right part of town, you can hear the tok-tok of wooden camel bells at work. For centuries, Mogadishu has been a coastal trading cousin of Lamu and Zanzibar, and you can still feel a lingering Arabian Nights magic in its surviving minarets, archways and crests of blown sand that lip in over doorsteps. Yes, this is surely the past: African coastal city under siege, circa 1520.


Pessimistic? Then this is the future. Welcome to Blade Runner-type anarchy, where a rocket-propelled grenade launcher seems to rest on every tenth threadbare shoulder, grounded nomads live in urban huts made of garbage and the only telephone service is by satellite.


Good ol' clan boys with AK-47s on their laps sit through long, hot afternoons getting pumped chewing khat leaves flown in from the base of Kilimanjaro and joking thinly about whom they could grab for ransom tonight.


If you're looking for it, there's devolution in every crumbling wall and distant mortar round.


"The UN is leaving. Things are winding down and people here want to maximize their profits," said a UN staffer with a wink, warning wryly to watch out for roving kidnappers.


Somalis know they have no choice but to get by on a bad block in the global village. One way and another, they live and even hope. Sometimes, gifts show up.


Late last month, a Ukranian ship, Captain Smirnoff, pulled into the Mogadishu port from Mombasa, its decks jammed with 100 Japanese cars for sale, at $2,000 a pop.


The town was electrified. It's a long way to the nearest dealership. In Mog terms, this was a first-class auto-expo. Banana trucks were cleared out off the wharf and the buying began. The cars were gone in one day -- each purchased with cash, manned with gunmen and whisked into the back streets.


There are other good omens. Mohamed Farrah Aidid, the warlord who thumbed his nose at US troops and lived to tell the tale, is said to be down on his luck. And that seems to be fine by most Somalis.


Aidid made his first fortune by stripping Somalia of every speck of metal he could lay hands on and selling it, which is murder on a nation's infrastructure. Then he found a patron in the old Somali millionaire who used to run Conoco's oil exploration here.


But the old patron stepped on a mine, got his heels blown off and lost his zest for war. And some of the wind has gone out of Aidid's sails.


"Better for us," said a Mogadishu businessman hoping for fewer warlords and more peace and quiet and business deals. It's time now to ship sheep and goats to Saudi Arabia for pilgrims heading to Mecca.


"And we have lobsters. Plenty of good lobsters," said the businessman. "Do you think they would sell in Boston?"


In the United States, where night skies are often overlit and hazy, Muslims learn of the crescent moon that announces the beginning of Ramadan by telephone chain.


In Mogadishu there is no possibility of that, and no need. The city's few lights are powered by private generators. The night sky is dark and full of stars.


On the night Ramadan began, the sun dropped over Africa and, in no time, a perfect crescent moon rose over the city, with a perfect twinkling star off its toe.


It could be seen from any rooftop. Small green lights blinked on around minaret towers. Muezzins droned their call to prayer in a low hum of loudspeakers.


In the dark waters offshore, the ships of a gathering flotilla waited to take UN troops away and leave Somalis to settle their own affairs.


In the dark homes of Mogadishu, Somalis also waited.


© 1995 New York Times Company.








Somalis loot U.N. barracks near the Mogadishu port





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