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





Suicide of a Nation

Somalia descends into inferno of chaos

 By Paul Watson

February 16, 1992

The Toronto Star


MOGADISHU -- Something has snapped in Somalia. After three months of civil war that has killed and wounded at least 30,000 people, the country's soul is dying. People here are so used to staring into war's hideous face that too many have lost the horror. The brutal fighting is now their chief entertainment.


Some 400,000 terrified Somalis have fled for their lives. Many live in the desert in tiny beehive huts made of scrap metal and cardboard bound together with rope and rubber straps. Thousands more civilians have stayed in Mogadishu, braving machinegun fire and artillery barrages that batter the city each day.


In a residential district controlled by the guerrilla leader trying to oust Somalia's interim president, hundreds of people turn out to see the street battles close up. Even kids ignore the sharp crack of assault rifles, crowding sidewalks near the frontline to watch tanks blast the next neighborhood. As the country commits suicide, spectators cheer each explosion while families of the dead and wounded weep.


It is the Hobbesian vision come true, a society collapsed into anarchy, a savage, pitiless world where life has become nasty, brutish and short. People who once loved and laughed and hoped like all of us now think only of staying alive one more day, of saving enough strength to survive another. It's a miracle that so many still can.


The barbarity is beyond exaggeration. Somalia hasn't had a government or police for more than a year. Most people haven't had a job or a regular paycheque for even longer. Thousands of convicts who escaped from jail amid the chaos run amok with assault rifles and machineguns, shooting anyone who gets in their way. The few drivers still on the road have to fill the back seat, and often the open trunk, with armed guards for protection.


At night, the city is pitch black except for the intermittent flash of artillery. There hasn't been any electricity for months, nor is there any running water in most of the city. Looters hacked down all the hydro wires, dug up the water mains and sold them in neighboring countries along with the cars, computers, phones, light fixtures and truckloads of other booty they stole at gunpoint.


Thousands of refugees living in the desert around Mogadishu can draw water from wells but they have no food and can't afford to buy any. Most are trying to survive on tea and scraps of bread.


In the small section of Mogadishu still controlled by the country's nominal president, Somali surgeons operate on war casualties in abandoned houses. In one living-room operating theatre, a woman was lying unconscious on a wooden table while a surgeon rooted around in a gaping wound in her abdomen picking out bits of shrapnel.


A wide-eyed little boy was wandering around the operating room, stretching up on the tips of his bare toes to see the man with half his cheek blown off. The windows beside the operating table were wide open so glass wouldn't fly across the room if an artillery shell exploded nearby.


No one on the surgical team wore a mask. There's no point worrying about germs in a room about as sanitary as a garage. A rattling old fan whirled next to the operating table, bothering a swarm of flies just enough to keep them out of the open wound. While a volunteer nurse mopped up pools of coagulating blood, more victims lay moaning and bleeding on the floor.


The skilled Somali surgeons do their best, Western relief workers say. But they have no training in war surgery and often make terrible mistakes, such as sewing up wounds that should be left open to drain. Gangrene often sets in and victims end up losing limbs, or dying when they could easily have been saved.


The international Red Cross, the only relief agency that crossed the frontline to put physicians into northern Mogadishu, was converting an empty prison into a well-equipped field hospital.


But the Red Cross workers had to flee the area Thursday after guerrillas bombarded the only airstrip. Dozens of people were killed or wounded as the mortars rained down in the stepped up assault. Some of the bombs hit the very houses where surgeons were trying to keep the wounded alive.


Fierce fighting resumed in Mogadishu yesterday morning, just hours after representatives of the two main warring factions signed separate commitments to stop fighting after talks at the United Nations.


On a continent synonymous with civil war and starvation, Somalia was supposed to be different. It's an African oddity, a country where everyone belongs to the same ethnic group, speaks the same language and adheres to the same religion: Islam.


Yet that common cultural thread wasn't enough to prevent the country from unravelling into a tangled mess of rival sub-clans ruled by petty warlords.


Ali Mahdi Mohamed, a hotel owner named interim president of Somalia at a meeting of guerrilla groups last July, says he's defending his government against a coup.


Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed, the guerrilla leader who helped oust former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre a year ago, insists Ali Mahdi is a crook who must be arrested and put on trial.


Ali Mahdi says he would gladly meet Aideed in court and vows to fight to the end keep the general from seizing power.


"We lost thousands and thousands of people for democracy," Ali Mahdi said during a recent interview in his northern enclave. "We will not accept again a military dictatorship


The combined destruction of the battle to remove Barre and the past three months of urban warfare has left about 80 per cent of Somalia in ruins, according to Ali Mahdi.


Even if he and Aideed ever agree on a formal ceasefire, it's hard to imagine their followers simply falling into line and laying down their arms. Most of them aren't disciplined troops dressed in uniforms. They're wild warriors who fight for pillage, pleasure and some perverted sense of honor.


Thousands of gunmen cruise the city day and night like barracudas on a hunt. Most have a crazed glint in their eyes from chewing bundles of ghat, a bitter plant that delivers a sharp amphetamine kick. Even little boys no older than 10 carry loaded rifles and give orders at checkpoints in this bizarre war zone.


Only foreign troops could restore order and disarm Somalis, maybe by buying their weapons with food, Ali Mahdi argues. But Aideed refuses to accept outside intervention, probably because he holds the upper hand in the battle for control of Mogadishu. Besides, the general says with a wry smile, Somalis are very attached to their guns.


"Traditionally, Somalis love very much weapons, horses and camels. Most of our people are nomads, over 70 per cent in rural areas, and the weapons can be used for self-defence. Many times people also give rifles as a gift or dowry to a family when they are asking to marry."


For centuries, Somalia was a desolate land of nomads with little to offer the world except camels and frankincense, one of the Magis' gifts to the newborn Christ. But during the Cold War, Somalia had something new for sale: naval bases for superpowers competing to control access to the Red Sea's oil shipping lanes.


As the Soviets and Americans bid for Barre's favor, one of the poorest countries on Earth built up a massive army and air force equipped with some of the best killing machines on the market. Now the fighters and bombers are wrecked and rusting on the tarmac, so the guerrillas found a new use for four-barrelled anti-aircraft guns that can pump out about 600 rounds a minute. They shoot them at people.


Somalia's acting U.N. ambassador, Fatun Mohamed Hassan, begged the United Nations Security Council last week to hurry up and do something, anything, to end the madness.


"Let me assure the council that any measures - even if coercive - to resolve the current crisis in Somalia cannot and will not be interpreted as interference in our internal affairs," he said. "The Somali people (are) pleading with you to stop the bleeding of their country."


� Copyright 1992 The Toronto Star


U.N. warrior has nightmares about Somalia

 By Peter Smerdon

February 16, 1994


MOGADISHU, Feb 16 (Reuter) - He landed a gung-ho warrior to save Somalia from warlords looting food aid. He leaves a year later for home next month, bitter and troubled by what he saw.


The United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM) set conditions for a journalist to interview its peacemaker. He could speak candidly but had to be identified only as a U.N. military official. His country, rank and job were not allowed to be given.


Looking back uncomfortably on his year in a land he hardly knew before arriving, he says he has nightmares about the Somalia experience.


The Security Council has finally scaled back its grandiose drive for aggressive peacekeeping. UNOSOM will limp on for a year after the United States and other mainly Western forces pull out by the end of March. But the alarm bells for renewed civil war are already ringing.


The original aim of UNOSOM to push reconciliation and reconstruction was, the official says, the logical next step for this war-shattered Horn of Africa country after the end of the famine, which prompted U.S. intervention.


But then came problems. Warlord Mohamed Farah Aideed and his Somali National Alliance (SNA) opposed U.N. intervention.


"There was a (U.N. and U.S.) lack of recognition of what problems there were. Has it been a total failure?...To the SNA people, UNOSOM would have failed whatever happened," he says.


"In that regard conflict was inevitable. It started as a political and propaganda conflict and then became a military one, which was inevitable because the SNA wanted it that way."


"We began taking casualties on June 5 (last year) and took them at the rate of one per day," he says. "The SNA of course took vast numbers of casualties and the militias were strained to breaking point.


"But they had the advantage of time. They could protract the conflict...They knew the coalition members couldn't afford politically to take casualties in Somalia. The populations at home weren't prepared to accept casualties for this mission."


He says U.S. forces again miscalculated by thinking they could easily overcome Aideed's 200 rag-tag militiamen. And as the U.N. body count kept rising, its will to fight waned.


"We could have captured Aideed. A military solution has a cost and when the conflict began it wasn't clear what the cost was," he says and pauses. "It became very clear on October 3."


"We learned the cruelties of war. Compared with the Gulf War this was a real war. It was up front and personal, right in front of your eyes," says the official, who accompanied units in combat.


"In the Gulf War it was watching a TV screen and the bombs going in. You didn't have to think what happened to the people in the building when it was hit.


"But here, you saw the faces close up of the people in the building. You saw the women and children killed, and the women and children used as human shields. You saw them dragging American bodies through the streets. There was nothing hidden.


"All the ugliness of war was right there slap in your face. And there is a certain ugliness to war...It was much more distasteful in Somalia than any other U.N. action up to now.


"And the SNA knew that. The SNA knew that just to keep killing would unify the world (to pull its U.N. forces out)."


He has special hatred for Aideed, who for four months evaded a U.N. manhunt featuring Wild West-style $25,000 reward posters for his capture. After 18 U.S. servicemen were killed in a battle on October 3 the United Nations abandoned the search.


"Was the decision to capture Aideed flawed? When it was made a full understanding of the consequences was not realised... They certainly had the capability to take casualties among U.S. forces.


"We couldn't overcome them with just firepower," he says.


The U.N. retreated from its ambitious role-model for peacekeeping operations in world troublespots after President Bill Clinton ordered a total U.S. withdrawal by March 31 and tried to court Aideed to talk peace.


The official says: "All the propaganda in the world will never erase the fact that Aideed is a criminal, a murderer and a warlord. He killed thousands of his own people even before the U.N. arrived here.


"If you ask a Somali about Aideed he doesn't say he has built hospitals. He hasn't done a single thing for the people. They know he is a murderer. He got off lightly. And in the end it never mattered that he got away with murder here."


Asked whether he believed the Somalia mission could never have succeeded, he says everything depended on the U.N. will.


"There will always be the potential for battles as long as there are Somali terrorists who still don't want UNOSOM in Somalia," he says. He accuses the U.N. of awarding building contracts to a SNA-controlled corporation to appease Aideed.


Asked if withdrawing U.S. forces would hit back against a large attack, he says he thinks they would only leave faster.


"The response to a massive attack would only be political. I don't think that we are going to destroy anymore. We're on our way out. We aren't going to kill anyone, anymore."


© 1994 Reuters Limited









Somalis loot U.N. barracks near the Mogadishu port





                                                        Roobdoon Forum               Back to Main Page