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.



M A R C H    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










By Richard Meyer


March 01, 1994


ABOUT $2 BILLION HAS BEEN SPENT TRYING TO rescue Somalia from itself. That's more than the country's 1988 GDP. Last year the United Nations was pouring over $2 million a day into the country. U.S. taxpayers were spending another $2.5 million a day to support our troop presence there.


And what do U.S. taxpayers have to show for it now that the troops are coming home? Somalia is a mess. There is no authority beyond what a gun or a clan provides. Economic activity is minimal. The biggest business is the U.N., followed probably by trade in kat, the narcotic of local favor.


To put it in blunt business terms, the two-year turnaround effort has left Somalia Inc. with inept and disaffected management, no capital and crippling labor troubles. Stockholders are bailing out and the board of directors can't seem to take any effective action.


"We are like a consortium of investors," says a senior U.N. official. "How many quarters can we continue in the red without getting out? How long are we going to hurt and bleed?"


Viewed from a helicopter, Mogadishu still has a "Road Warrior" quality to it. Armed caravans leave clouds of dust behind them as they make their way through a hostile desert. It is hard to tell exactly what is going on below: Are the people rebuilding their country or tearing it down again?


Whiplashed by the sight of starving babies one minute and murdered Marines the next, most Americans are not sure if we should be feeding the Somalis or shooting them.


Those close to the situation don't have a much better perspective. If the mortar fire or the hot dusty weather doesn't wear down the enthusiastic peacekeeper, the U.N. bureaucracy certainly will. U.N. workers complain about their mission, each other and, most of all, the Somalis. Some of the architects of world harmony seem downright racist. The Somalis can't be misted or are unable to govern themselves, they say. Darwinism as policy is now all the rage... again.


And yet just when abandoning Somalia starts to make sense, along comes someone like Osam Ali Yusuf. "I want to participate in the process of establishing a new Somalia and eradicating the old government," says the hopeful district council member from E1 Der Gargadad.


The wild emotional ride of Somalia has made evaluating the world's efforts there, and U.S. participation in the mission, difficult. But if the Somalia foray is evaluated dispassionately in terms of return on investment, a clearer picture emerges.


At first glance, the results look bad. But any good investor knows that proper analysis requires more than just a peek at the headlines. Especially in the business of rescuing a country, patience and a good eye for value is important.


Somalia is in many ways an undervalued asset. The fact is that starvation is almost gone and people are getting back to work. Even in Mogadishu, the capital and main source of unrest, life is returning to normal. Restaurants, grocery stores and an overseas telephone company have opened. Only in the southern part of the city, where most of the U.N. forces are located, are there regular armed confrontations.


"I would never delude anyone," says Leonard Kapungu, the U.N.'s chief political officer in Somalia. "There are guns and heavy weapons. It is not the peace I would want. But the country is very much at peace outside of South Mogadishu."


Kapungu's office, recently repaired from mortar damage, is one of the bright spots of Somalia. The cheerful Zimbabwean is organizing the local district councils that will go on to form Somalia's transitional government. Traditionally dressed tribal leaders line up to see Kapungu. Almost the entire country has sent representatives to his door.


Meanwhile, Somalis show up at the U.N.'s front gate to join the local police force. To be sure, anyone walking on the streets needs a weapon. One U.N. official tracks the country's stability by the price of guns in the market. But the U.N.'s efforts are constantly reducing the incentive to steal.


"People are trying to get back to business," says a local Somali journalist. "As security increases, business is getting stronger. No one wants to see war again."


Many observers are downplaying any success. Somalis, they assert, are engaged in a cynical game, saying just enough to keep the foreigners dumping money into their country.


To a certain extent, they are correct. Somalia is a latter-day catch-22, where there is a fine line between enemy and friend. People whom the U.N. employs, rents property from and trades with, for example, are often related to or actually working for Mohamed Aldid, the dan leader who had been attacking the U.N. compound.


But this is perhaps to be expected, given the sobering economic realities of Somalia. In the best of times, more than half of the people are nomads. Only 10% of the GDP has ever come from industry. Unless the rumors of oil prove true, Somalia will only become prosperous as a ward of the world, sucking up funds and producing little but jobs for foreign peace workers.


But strangely, that does not necessarily make Somalia a bad investment. "The American taxpayer must bear in mind that it costs less to maintain peace than to fight a war," observes Kapungu. "In a war, nobody counts expenses."


So if Somalia is unlikely to be the next Taiwan, the WalMart of rescued countries, putting money into the country makes sense as a way to minimize future losses.


"You just can't write off a whole country," says Abdul Rahman Turay, a U.N. economic adviser.


And the U.S. won't walk away. The troops are currently coming home, but our money and advice will stay. The U.S. has offered 8100 million to the country if stability is achieved. It is estimated that $100 million of U.S. equipment will be left behind on the U.N. bases.


Meanwhile there are lessons to be learned from Somalia that will make the rest of our time there--and any future Somalias--cheaper and less painful. "Somalia," says Kapungu, "is a classroom every day."


In hindsight, going into Somalia was not a mistake. As a "failed state," the country was facing starvation and anarchy on an unprecedented scale. Not to have gone in would have meant complicity in genocide, something the Western public would not normally tolerate. It also would have allowed the country to be co-opted by nearby terrorist states.


The problem was in how the world tried to save Somalia. The U.S. participated knowing full well that it would probably sustain casualties unacceptable to the American public. Our embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, came out strongly against our military presence. But the U.N. could not handle the mission without the help of the U.S. military.


Other contradictions were heaped upon that weak foundation. While the U.S. wanted democracy, other U.N. member states were far less committed to achieving that ideal. Italy is said to have backed Aidid. All this would matter less in a normal U.N. mission. The usual mandate is to go through existing governments. But since Somalia had no one in power, the U.N. was in the uncomfortable position of imposing a government.


To complete the theme of disunity, Indian and Pakistani troops, who will make up the bulk of the peacekeeping force after the U.S. leaves, are themselves kept apart at home by the U.N. All this leads many observers to the same conclusion: The U.N. must be reformed. "I am optimistic about the future of Somalia," says a U.N. official, "but I am pessimistic about the ability of the U.N."


A U.N. with better military capabilities and an agenda we can live with can go to places like Somalia and keep the peace without dragging the U.S. too far into the fray.


The debate on how to achieve a better U.N. structure will continue for years. But much can be done today without overhauling the U.N. charter. Simple management reform would go a long way to making a better U.N. Right now, bureaucracy eats away at the efficiency and morale of the organization and tests the patience of the member states.


A U.N. with a more disciplined management team would make missions like Somalia easier and less costly to execute. It would also help to foster better government in the countries the U.N. enters. Currently, the U.N. is a bad model for states that are trying to reform. "The U.N. is the last bastion of central planning," says a Western diplomat.


That won't do. It is a great economic irony that the Somali schilling is now stronger in anarchy than when a government existed. It would complete the absurdity if the U.N. encouraged creation of the same type of government that brought it them in the first place.


© Copyright Financial World Partners 1994









Somalis loot U.N. barracks near the Mogadishu port





                                                        Roobdoon Forum               Back to Main Page