Zooming into the Past
Prime Minister Ali Samantar on Historical Account
Prime Minister Mohamed Ali Samantar
In a country known for its bad leadership, possibly no other subject irritates Somalis more than putting internet spotlight to historical accounts of Somali politicians – especially Siyaad Barre’s regime actors. To many, Siyaad Barre’s regime is synonymous with senseless murder and cruelty. However, to those who are interested in Somali politics may also be interested to know the activities and speeches made by Somali politicians. Although some of our readers may insist that the Roobdoon Forum has launched a “hopeless subject”, the Forum contends that this effort makes a worthwhile attempt to link the current debacle way back to what some may refer as “the good old days” of Somali sovereignty.
Mohamed Ali Samantar, a soldier and a politician, is a prominent member of the Somali community in the Diaspora. He was born at Kismaayo in Lower Jubba region of Somalia, in 1935 (1931?). Finished his Intermediate School at Mogadishu, Samantar was elected a member of the then forming Somali army and was sent to study at Casano di Roma Staff Infantry Academy for two years (1954 – 1956). He also took further training at the Scuola di Polizia (Police Academy) in Mogadishu.
In the 1960, Samantar became a member of the first officers of the Somali National Army (SNA). For many years he served as a commandant. In the 1965, Samantar was again selected to study abroad – this time to Frunzi Academy in Moscow (1965 – 1967). Upon his return, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel. He played a major role in the 1969 coup and became the first vice president. August 6, 1971, Siyaad Barre appointed him the Minister of defense (until 1987); during this period, he took part in the 1977-78 Somali-Ethiopian war. From 1987 to late 1990, Samantar held the Office of the Prime Minister of Somalia .
Many Somalis view Samantar as a courageous soldier and politician who defended the unity and independence of Somalia. They say that he is vibrantly a generous man, a man of remarkable integrity. Others view him as one of Somalia’s most brutal commanders in domestic affairs. His critics label him as a soldier who had managed to shift his stance, like a chameleon, who changes his principle whenever the political situation challenges him. In the meantime, the Forum emphasizes that we can not publish all perspectives, different assumptions, or even idle gossips about Ali Samantar; therefore, we just put forward to our readers General Ali Samantar’s historical story-line that is worthy to our readers’ consideration.
Defense Minister Comments on Ethiopia and the Abortive Coup
Mogadishu Domestic Service in Somali
0440 GMT 12 Apr 1978
[Text] Jaalle General Mohamed Ali Samantar, first vice president of the Somali Democratic Republic [SDR] and minister of defense, last night praised the Somali National Army for its honorable contribution to the country's construction and internal and externs defense and for its help to the Somali people. Speaking on the occasion of the 18th anniversary of the Somali National Army, Jaalle Samantar, who is also the commander in chief of the Somali National Army, said that the members of the Somali National Army had always been and would always be the first to work for the people and to defend the existence and unity of the Somali people. I am sure that the men of the Somali National Army will honorably fulfill their duties, said Jaalle Samantar.
The vice president praised the armed forces for their memorable and historic role in assisting the liberation fronts and said that Somalia had extended moral and material support to the liberation fronts, who were fighting for their freedom. He said that the armed forces were fulfilling their historic duty.
The action of the heroic freedom fighters and the units that had helped them will go down in the annals of history, and our friends and foes know that, said Jaalle Samantar.
The minister of defense described the propaganda of the Abyssinians and their allies the effect that the armed forces of the SDR had been defeated as a misinterpretation of the decision of the SDR to withdraw the units of its armed forces that were helping the liberation fronts. He said that this decision had been taken following a request from the big powers and in order to reach a peaceful solution to the problem.
Jaalle Samantar said that when the problem was only between the liberation fronts and Abyssinia, the balance of the conflict was plain to see. The Abyssinians were forced to call for foreign forces to do for them what they could not do for themselves. The vice president said that it was unfortunate that the socialist countries of the Warsaw Pact, headed by Russia and Cuba, had allied themselves with Abyssinia and opposed the liberation fronts, thus running against the socialist principles they were preaching throughout the world. They always said that the socialist countries, communist parties, the workers' organizations in capitalist countries and the liberation movements should support each other. This principle has not been pursued by the Russians and Cubans, who want to destroy and oppress the liberation fronts, said Jaalle Samantar.
The first vice president, who is also the minister of defense, said that it was amazing that the Western countries agreed with the Russians and that the West and East agreed to defend Abyssinian colonialism and oppose the liberation fronts. Jaalle Samantar said that this showed that there were agreements designed to split the world into spheres of influence. Some of these designs are known to us, he said. Jaalle Samantar said that colonialism knows no color and that the whole world knows that Abyssinia is a colonial power and oppresses the people it has colonized. He said that the liberation fronts of Western Somalia, Eritrea, Afar, Tigre and Abo will continue their struggle until they free themselves from colonialism.
History shows that no one can stop, oppose or oppress liberation movements fighting for their independence, no matter how much force is used against them, said Jaalle Samantar.
Speaking about the abortive coup, Jaalle Samantar said that a small unit that was a lackey of foreign powers, who were trying to take advantage of the difficult situation through which the country is passing, had tried to stage the coup, but they were immediately crushed by the brave revolutionaries who were the creators of the revolution and who were always ready to defend the country.
The vice president added that the small lackey unit had lied to some members forces, telling them that they were defending the country. When the members of the armed forces saw through the trick, they started fighting. Jaalle Samantar said that those who attempted the coup would be tried in a court of law. He congratulated the armed forces for their courage in putting down the attempted coup.
The vice president described as baseless lies the propaganda spread by some foreign countries that the Somali armed forces were demoralized. The morale of our armed forces is high; they are proud of the victories they achieved and have full confidence in their leaders and people, said Jaalle Samantar. Jaalle Samantar said that it is amazing that some propaganda has linked the abortive coup with the alleged killing of officers. He said that the stories alleging that 80 officers have been killed in Hargeisa is cheap propaganda. He stated, however, that six officers have been arrested after committing treason against the country. The six officers had been given the responsibility of defending the country in a war situation. Their trial will be open and anyone can attend.
Jaalle Samantar said that the malicious propaganda has come to such a pass that it has even been alleged that officers of the national army such as Brigadier General Sahardid have been killed. He said that this is just one example of the propaganda spread against Somalia. However, the Somali people have faced this false propaganda bravely. Jaalle Samantar congratulated the officers, the NCO's and men of the Somali National Army.
Prime Minister Ali Samantar: Ethiopia is the Only State that Supports the Dissidents
London AL-SHARQ AL- AWSAT in Arabic
5 Feb 1989 p3
[Interview with Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Ali Samantar by Muhammad Sadiq in Washington]
[Excerpts] [Sadiq] You have met with a number of U.S. officials during your current visit to Washington. What did you discuss with them?
[Samantar] First of all, I want to stress that the purpose of my visit is to answer the rumors and correct the distorted picture previously painted of Somalia in the United States. That is the main purpose – to explain the facts about Somalia.
I explained to the U.S. officials with whom I met the Somali Government’s recent political, economic, and social decisions and my government’s intention to purify bilateral relations between Somalia and the United States. All my meetings, whether with administration or Congress officials, were held in a cordial atmosphere. I also met with representatives of human rights organizations and U.S. media.
All the talks were successful and we agreed on many things. When I explained to them the recent steps we took in Somalia, they welcomed them and expressed approval.
[Sadiq] Could you tell us in specific terms about the issues you discussed and agreed upon with U.S. officials, and about their reactions?
[Samantar] We discussed the issue of human rights with government and Congress officials and organizations interested in human rights. I told them that the information and reports they had were distorted and incorrect. [passage omitted]
[Sadiq] Did you discuss the question of chemical weapons, on which the United States has made some accusations against Somalia, claiming that it obtained such weapons from Libya?
[Samantar] They asked us about that. We told them that there was no evidence to support the claim, that there is no truth in all this, that we have not received or stockpiled any such weapons, and that we neither want nor need such weapons. We emphasized to them that Somalia is opposed to the stockpiling and use of such weapons. I told them that their information about Libya supplying us with these weapons is not true. I told them that there are American experts in Somalia and American military experts in the Somali Army, and they would know if there are any chemical weapons in Somalia because all army camps are open to them and such weapons cannot be concealed.
[Sadiq] There were some cabinet changes in Somalia recently. What is the significance of these changes, and were they related to your Washington visit, which coincided with them?
[Samantar] The defense minister was changed. He was moved to another ministry and a new defense minister was appointed in his place. A deputy defense minister was also appointed. Such changes are ordinary. What was unusual was that for the first time since the army assumed power on 21 October 1969, a civilian has been appointed defense minister. [passage omitted]
[Sadiq] One of Somalia’s main problems is the conflict between government forces and the Somali National Movement in northern Somalia. How big is the movement, militarily and politically?
[Samantar] They do not constitute a big force or weight. When they launched their attack in northern Somalia, they had about 5,000 trained armed men. We destroyed the vast majority of that force. Now they focus on propaganda and the foreign media and offer misinformation, which the foreign media hastily publishes. [passage omitted]
I assure you that they have no major weight or force. When they attacked Hargeysa, they forced the civilians to take up arms, and some sympathized with them on the basis of the distorted information they gave the civilians, such as saying they were in control of the town. However, once these misled civilians learned the truth, they abandoned them. To deceive the innocent, they claimed that Britain and the United States supported them and that British ships were in Berbera, and that the British and Americans would land to back them up. The people, however, soon discovered the truth. I can assure you that the U.S. ambassador in Somalia toured the area three days ago and reported to his government. His report was positive. The Americans are convinced of what I told them because it is identical with what he said in his report.
[Sadiq] What is the area of the territory under their control?
[Samantar] They do not control a single foot of territory. There are scattered individuals and small groups, some in the mountain areas. At night they plant mines on roads and attack civilian convoys.
[Sadiq] Which states still aid the Somali National Movement?
[Samantar] Ethiopia is the only state that helps them. There is no incriminating evidence of other states helping them. Ethiopia has frequently denied aiding them. When we raised the subject with officials there, they said they have only offered humanitarian aid, but the truth is that Ethiopia gives them arms, ammunition, supplies, and whatever medicines and food they need. However, Ethiopia has many internal problems in Eritrea, and I do not believe that it will be able to sustain that aid.
[Sadiq] What, in your view, is the way to end the civil war, and have you submitted any particular program to the U.S. officials during the visit?
[Samantar] First of all, I cannot call what is going on a war. That is not an appropriate description. There is a problem in the north and we are serious about solving it. We have taken some positive decisions and steps and we have sent many delegations to the north.
[Sadiq] What were the decisions and steps you took?
[Samantar] The decisions and steps we have taken include visits to the north by government and parliament officials as well as Somali men of religion and businessmen. They went to the northern leaders and talked to them. People are now beginning to return to their homes. One result achieved is that we will begin talks with the traditional leaders of these areas. There is also a program for reconstruction and revival of the utilities and public services destroyed, such as hospitals, schools, commercial centers, and individual homes.
[Sadiq] These are important steps, but the solution should above all be political and achieved with the participation of the parties to the problem. What have you done in this connection?
[Samantar] We have appealed to the world states to help us rebuild the north, which suffered grave losses and needs massive funds. We cannot do that ourselves. We hope we will get the necessary response.
As regards a program for a political solution, we have made a political decision to solve the problem of the north by peaceful means, and that includes pooling national efforts. We have provided tax-exempt facilities for the people of the north to revive the economy. The government will rebuild what has been destroyed and will encourage merchants to invest. We have also decided to give major responsibilities in all provinces to local civilians from the provinces. That decision applies to the entire republic, not only the north. [passage omitted]
[Sadiq] In the context of your efforts to promote a political solution, do you intend to negotiate with the opposition?
[Samantar] Not at all. We cannot negotiate with them.
[Sadiq] On the question of a solution, what reaction did you get from U.S. officials as regards helping you to solve the problem, bearing in mind that the new administration is inclined, in cooperation with the Soviet Union, to solve regional problems and conflicts? Did the Americans confirm that? What impression did you get from them?
[Samantar] Actually, I did not request any assistance from the Americans regarding the problem of the north, and we do not want to make any requests. Our relations with the United States are good.
[Sadiq] What about financial and economic aid from the United States?
[Samantar] Because of the misinformation about the so-called violation of human rights in Somalia, Congress, under pressure from some of its members, suspended some of the aid to Somalia. However, after my talks and discussions with U.S. government officials, I got the impression that they were convinced of the steps we have taken. Once these steps are completed, the aid will be resumed.
[Sadiq] It has been said in Washington that you requested financial and economic aid. What was their answer?
[Samantar] I made no such request. Seeking aid was not my mission, and I had nothing like that in my baggage. My fast task was to present the facts about Somalia and change the distorted picture that American public opinion had of Somalia and refute these falsehoods. I invited media representatives to Somalia to see for themselves. Somalia’s world image is good. True, we are poor, but poverty is not a measure of a nation’s dignity.
[Sadiq] President Siyaad Barre has toured the Arab states and you are touring some other states. Did President Barre’s tour achieve its objectives?
[Samantar] Yes, it achieved its objectives. Although I was abroad, my information is that the tour was good and successful.
[Sadiq] What would you say to claims that, because of the changing international equations, Somalia’s special relations with the United States are not guaranteed to continue, and that might affect the present Somali regime?
[Samantar] Let me first emphasize that the existing good U.S. Somali relations are in the general interest of both countries. I believe that superpower rapprochement will stabilize international security, ease tension, and solve regional problems, because both sides give arms to parties in conflict and, therefore, I believe that if they should suspend shipments of arms supplies to the hotbeds of tension, this would help the peoples of these areas to solve their problems peacefully.
[Sadiq] Did the Americans confirm that to you, or did you sense any such inclination on their part?
[Samantar] No, I cannot say that with certainty, but it will come in the future. In 1988, the U.S. Government cut its military aid to African states considerably. That is an indication. The rapprochement will help states settle their differences peacefully.
Meanwhile, we have decided to pursue peaceful means to improve our relations with the states with which our relations are not good or tense. For example, we have decided to improve our relations with the Soviet Union. My deputy has visited Moscow on a mission similar to my mission to the United States and Britain. He also visited Czechoslovakia and will visit Algeria and Tunisia. [passage omitted]
[Sadiq] What about your relations with Libya?
[Samantar] They are good and there is rapprochement between us now. These relations were tense at one time, mainly because of Libya’s support for the rebels in the past, but Libya stopped aiding the rebels when our relations improved. The same thing applies to the PDRY.
[Sadiq] When discussing the Somali problem and the situation in the Horn of Africa with the Americans, did you broach the problem of southern Sudan, particularly as the former Sudanese foreign minister who had joined the Garang movement was in Washington a few days ago? Is there a connection between the two problems in the general context of the situation in the Horn of Africa?
[Samantar] I conveyed a true picture of the situation in the region to the U.S. officials with whom I met, including Secretary of State James Baker. The problem of southern Sudan is one of the Horn of Africa problems, and these problems are interlinked. As you know, Ethiopia plays a part in the problem of southern Sudan. It helps the rebels, but the Ethiopian Government has promised to stop doing that. Talks are currently in progress between the two countries with a view to settling the southern Sudan question peacefully. The Ethiopian Government wants Sudan to help Ethiopia solve the Eritrean problem, which the Ethiopians now believe cannot be solved by military means. Apart from that, there is no direct link between the problems of northern Somalia and southern Sudan.
[Sadiq] In the course of your efforts to solve the problem of northern Somalia, what would you like to say to those whom you call dissidents and the states that support them?
[Samantar] I address the rebels through AL-SHARQ AL-AWSAT and I say to them: You have been pardoned, so return to your country. The president has granted you amnesty, so return to your country and do your part in rebuilding the country along with your brothers and kinfolk. Spending your time and life in foreign countries is of no use to you. You can no longer spread misinformation about Somalia in the world. The world now knows the facts about Somalia, and marketing propaganda as a commodity is no longer possible.
To those who support the dissidents I say: Stop interfering in Somalia’s internal affairs. The Somalis are capable of solving their own problems. I thank the neighboring and other states for their help.
I particularly address Ethiopia, which supports the dissidents, and I say: We are serious about implementing the agreement we signed with you. We have implemented the first part of the agreement, which paves the way for the more important second part, and we want to implement that. We do not want implementation of the second part of the agreement to fail. That is why we overlook many things to ensure the success of the agreement and the implementation of its second part. [passage omitted]
 See Mohamed Haji Mukhtar’s book, Historical Dictionary of Somalia (Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2003).