Zooming into the Past                                    

Dr. Ali K. Galaydh Scores on Somali Statecraft



The Roobdoon Forum summarizes in here the unauthoritative memoirs of Dr. Ali Khalif Galaydh, up until 2002, based largely on the Historical Dictionary of Somalia (2003)*. Dr. Galaydh is certainly having an extraordinary political career in Somalia. Ali was born in Laascaanood of Sool Region in 1941. He had finished his early education in Somalia.  He had attained his PhD in Public Administration from Syracuse University in the United States. In late 1970s, he was appointed governor of the Societa Nazionale per l’Agricoltura e l’Industria. In between 1980 and 1982, he served as a minister of Industry; and in mid 1980s, he became a governor of the Mareerey Sugar Plant. Late in the 1980s, Dr. Galaydh opposed Siyaad Barre’s Regime and joined Somali dissidents living in the Diaspora.      

On October 8th, 2000, the interim president that was elected at Arte Conference (in Djibouti), Dr. Abdiqasim salad Hassan, appointed Galaydh the Prime Minister of Somalia. Galaydh served the Transitional Government of Hassan for thirteen months, until the parliament members voted against his premiership.

The Forum shares with you Professor Galyadh’s objective, even-handed, and educative essay, entitled Notes on the State of the Somali State. This, a bit long essay though, is remarkably informative piece of history that mainly covers the modern history of Somali statecraft, from pre-colonial to the decline of Siyaad Barre’s Regime. In his concluding remarks, Dr. Galaydh astonishingly not only predicts the imminence of regime collapse but also insists that the regime “has already caused nearly irreparable damage to the Somali State and to State-Society relations”.




Horn of Africa Journal

Volume XIII (1990)



Some 20 years ago General Mohamed Siyaad Barre and his cohorts seized power in a bloodless coup in Somalia. The initial response of the Somali people was guarded support because the fledging multi-party democ­racy seemed to be floundering. In retrospect, it seems the civilian regimes were judged too quickly and unfairly for being neither effective in dealing with the enormous national tasks that were at hand nor efficient in the management of the limited available resources. But if there were serious disillusionments with the Somali Youth League (SYL)-led governments, there were no curbs on the exercise of political freedom, and there were hardly any violation of basic human rights. Power was exercised in an established moral framework. There were frequent and relatively free and fair elections, lively parliamentary de­bates, freedom of the press, respect for human dignity and a strong commit­ment to the rule of law. Unlike most other Third World countries, this vibrant democratic practice was not an alien imposition. Rather it was anchored firmly in the traditional Somali political discourse and culture. There were, however, unnecessary and crippling excesses in the democratic practice of the new Republic, especially during election periods. These excesses eroded popular support for the parliamentary government of the day and tarnished the image of the system. The last civilian government’s heavy-handed and cynical han­dling of the March 1969 General Elections precipitated a palpable sense of be­trayal. By Somali standards, large sums of money were spent on the election­eering process and returns were of course expected from these investments. The only available milk camel was the state. Ministers and parliamentarians set the tone for the misuse and misappropriation of public resources. The ju­diciary which was to monitor the application of the law was deafening in its silence. Those who were disheartened by the fraud and violence that accom­panied the General Elections judged the system to be lapsing into “commercialized anarchy” (Lewis 1984, p. 206).

The guarded initial support for the military coup was based on the im­peratives of development. It appeared that reforming the system over time was not a serious option for its architects. The opponents had no time for tinkering nor a viable alternative. The Armed Forces were the Deus ex machine. The hope was that the military would provide needed discipline, coherence and a more delineated sense of national purpose in order to get on with the daunting work of national development. The prophets of “development dictatorship,” mostly the intelligentsia, were at the forefront of those cheering the self-ap­pointed new leaders. Twenty years later, there is no cheering but wailing and wanton killing. There is no longer even a pretense of governance but the butchering of innocent civilians. And, of course, there is neither development nor social peace.



The state whose reins the armed forces grabbed was at a formative stage. Pre-colonial Somali polity provided no foundation for state formation purposes. There were no “central organs” in the traditional polity which had a claim on the legitimate use of violence or the extraction of revenues. Despite the absence of institutions of domination, the society had other arrangements to self-govern and to structure individual and group activities [1].  The kinship sys­tem, more specifically the segmentary lineage system, was not only the pri­mary social organization but it was also the political arrangement for decision making, decision enforcing and decision mediating. A voluntary system of political contracts heer was, however, used in conjunction with the segmentary lineage system for further structuring the social and political relations among the varying social entities (clan-family, clan, sub-clan, and diya-paying group). The lineage system and the political contracts constituted the political order. Some of the continuing concerns of the highly decentralized political order were the preservation of social peace (the regulation of violence and feuds) and access to the grazing areas, watering points and the trading routes. The preservation of social peace was precarious at best and multiple local conflicts raged; but although there were no competent central institutions to curb the violence, the traditional polity never degenerated into an anarchy or Hobbesian night­mare of war of all against all.

The mode of production was, in the main, pastoral. Surplus genera­tion and accumulation were constrained by the carrying capacity of the land, the absence of modem production methods (better breeding and veterinary practices) and the lack of extensive commercialization. This production mode was not conducive to a division of labor and discernible social differentiation. Therefore, there was no complex social formation. Another aspect of the mode of production was the existence of long distance trade [2]. The internal trade be­tween the pastoral hinterland and the coastal towns was an integral part of this historical long distance trade with Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula, and South Asia. The volume and nature of pre-colonial trade was constrained by the ab­sence of cash crops, minerals, and a relatively dense population. The limited potential for the trading system militated against the relative transformation of the obtaining social structure.


Pre-colonial Somalis shared the Somali language, culture, the segmentary lineage system, Islam, a geographic area, and a common history. But there were, to repeat, no specialized administrative and political institutions in the highly decentralized traditional polity. With the colonial interlude came the “administrative state” par excellence. The political and administrative functions of the colonial state were concentrated in the hands of the colonial civil servants. Despite the valiant efforts of the resistance efforts, particularly those of Mahamed Abdelle Hasan, the colonial governments monopolized the use of violence, revenue collection and the administration of justice. An alien, hierarchical and authoritarian form of decision making was superimposed on the pre-existing pastoral democracy. The unequal colonial encounter de­stroyed the political space for consultation, consensus and consent. There was no legitimating mechanism for the monopolized use of violence: might was right. An elaborate coercive apparatus, which was shared by the European colonial regimes of Britain, France and Italy, but was lacking in the Ethiopian­held Somali territory, was used for both the pacification and attempted pene­tration phases of colonial rule. To enhance the extractive capabilities of the colonial enterprise, fiscal, commercial and labor laws were passed in order to incorporate, more formally, the colonized Somali territories into the world capitalist economy. While the dividend for the investment in the strategic oc­cupation of the Somali peninsula was relatively obvious, the potential for a profitable exploitation was more problematic. The Italians introduced com­mercial agriculture into the Shabeelle and Jubba Valleys. Crops such as edible oils, sugar, cotton, maize, and bananas were either introduced or benefited from colonial sponsorship. Bananas were essentially the only agricultural crop produced in sufficient quantities for export. The export of livestock and live­stock byproducts (hides, skins and ghee) was more rationalized. The port or Aden became both a significant market for fresh meat and a convenient re-ex­port facility. On the import side, foodstuffs and textiles were the primary items for coastal towns. Also, there was an increasing demand for these items in the pastoral hinterland. This led to further commercialization of the live­stock sector. The annual off-take was still insignificant in terms of population size [3].

The Italians used some forced labor for infrastructural projects - irri­gation and drainage canals, barrages and roads - but wage labor was more of the norm in commercial agriculture and the urban areas. Seasonal migrant la­bor sought employment in commercial agriculture, the few industrial establishments, and the urban sector. Some sought gainful employment outside the Somali territories – Arabian Peninsula, East Africa, and Europe in the case of sailors. The coercive (police and military) and administrative organizations of the colonial state were important sources of employment. Wage labor consti­tuted, however, a small percentage of the labor force. The dearth of ex­ploitable resources – extractable minerals, commercial agriculture, or skilled labor power - limited the putative “progressive destruction” by colonial domi­nation of the subsistence mode of production and the traditional social struc­ture. A small indigenous merchant class, the subaltern colonial “salariat,” and the minuscule wage labor in commercial agriculture, agro-industrial establish­ment and the seasonal migrant labor were some of the social classes formed or further crystallized by the colonial encounter. The incorporation into the world capitalist system, and its attendant unequal exchange mechanisms, was very much in place. The mode of production, nevertheless, was subsistence: pastoralism, a smaller subsistence agriculture in the inter-river areas, and some mixed agriculture (farming and animal husbandry). The social structure was predominantly traditional, despite the overlay of some incipient class forma­tion, in urban areas and commercial agriculture.


In 1960, Somalia, the marriage between the ex-Italian Somaliland and the ex-British Somaliland, attained its “statehood”. While the concept of a na­tion resonated with existing pan-Somali sentiments and the strong desire for the eventual unification of all the Somali territories, the new state faced some serious problems and opportunities. The coercive and administrative organi­zations left behind by the colonial regimes constituted the core organizations for the new state. But the colonial regimes left behind two disparate systems: the legal traditions, administrative languages, staffing and remuneration rules and procedures, and more importantly administrative culture and attitudes were vastly different. The two systems existed until 1965 when the then Prime Minister, Abdirasaaq Haaji Huseen, courageously and single-handedly, pushed for and realized their integration. Huseen expended enormous political capital on the integration, the more protracted restructuring and reform of the adminis­trative machinery of the new state. Phasing out Italian as the medium of in­struction in the schools was a long-term measure. The more immediate prob­lem was that all post-secondary education was pursued abroad. The returning university graduates who were to enhance the managerial capacity of the ad­ministration commanded a cacophony of foreign languages; the majority of these were proficient in neither Italian nor English, the two administrative lan­guages.

The disparate systems were not confined to the administrative realm. The political institutions, parties and the parliament were also affected by the different colonial legacies. The Somali Youth League operated for a while, during the British Military Administration, in all the Somali territories (except for French Somaliland). After that period the SYL agitated for independence in the Italian-administered Trusteeship territory. There were a plethora of po­litical parties but the SYL dominated the political agenda after it had won both the legislative elections of 1956 and 1959. Organized modern politics had a slow start in the ex-British Somaliland. The ceding of the Haud and Reserved Area to Ethiopia in 1954 gave an impetus to more politicization of the terri­tory, but it was not until 1958 that the Somali National League (SNL) agitated for independence and unity with the Italian-administered area. The SNL and the United Somali Party formed an alliance during the Legislative Council elections of February 1960 and won decisively. The political leadership, for­mer colonial government officials, merchants and a few from the religious community, had barely two years to prepare for independence. They were hardly tested even by the standards of the Italian-administered area. The dis­parate systems were there nonetheless, and despite the unity, party and par­liamentary politics were very much circumscribed. Although the SYL contin­ued to dominate, it possessed neither a strong ideology, discipline or coher­ence. It did not and could not lead for it lacked both vision and capability.

Somalia, during the first decade of independence, was a case of a weak state and a strong society [4]. The integration of the coercive and admin­istrative organs was progressing, albeit slowly. Party politics, if it could be termed as such, was disjointed and parliament was consumed by personalized and convoluted political gamesmanship. The central organs of the state were debilitated by the different legacies of the colonial governments, by the con­tinued reliance on foreign-trained university graduates who, for the most part, were not even proficient in the administrative languages, the dearth of ex­tractable resources, and by the demand for services and more generally devel­opment. Championing the cause of the still colonized Somali territories posed a host of internal problems and complicated the foreign relations of the new state. This was the critical factor for the development of the military and the budding relationship both with the Soviet Union and China. The United States, West Germany, Italy, Egypt and Saudi Arabia joined the Soviets and China in granting development assistance. Italy, Britain, for a couple of years, and Saudi Arabia covered the annual budgetary gap of the government. To sum, the new state lacked the requisite capacity to penetrate effectively the traditional society and to effect social transformation. Further, it lacked the technical and organizational capabilities to mobilize sufficient resources and to utilize them efficiently for its stated developmental goals.

If the central organs of the state were products of the colonial legacies, societal institutions were deeply rooted. The “lineage ideology” permeated the social and political fabric of the society: genealogical distance coupled with political contracts were still operative and not only in the rural areas. Electoral politics, under a feeble party organization system, necessitated the re­liance on clan politics. An elaborate patronage system linked a minister, parliamentarian, or a senior government official (civilian and military officers) to his “clansmen” in intricate reciprocal relationships. The context of clan politics and its rules of the political game were vastly different from those of the new political order. This lead to popular revulsion of the “commercialized anarchy” that the system was fast degenerating into. Those who benefited from the patronage system sustained it. Individuals, groups and classes had a differential access to the distribution of public resources and the discretionary power of the government. The deep rooted societal institutions posed serious problems and provided opportunities for the new state. The state, even though it had limited interventionist capabilities, likewise through the distribution of resources and the exercise of discretionary power, had an impact on class formation and to a lesser extent on the mode of production.


Soon after independence the armed forces were quick to develop and articulate their corporate identity and interests. The integration of the armed forces was relatively easier than the civil service. The police under the able command of General Abshir went furthest and fastest in the integration pro­cess. A long-term assistance program from West Germany supplied weapons, transport, and telecommunication equipment to the police. However, enlight­ened and extensive training programs (internal and overseas) contributed to the development of a “national” and professional police force. The military had initial problems with the northern (ex-British Somaliland) officers who voiced grievances against the proposed integration arrangement. They attempted a coup in December 1961 but failed. Attempts to attend to the grievances in­cluded the commissioning of a good number of the northern NCOs. The Soviets, after a bilateral agreement in 1962, undertook the training, retraining and equipping of the military. The first commandant of the military, the well respected General Daauud, passed away in 1965. General Mahamed Siyaad Barre succeeded him.

In analyzing the character and role of the Siyaad Barre regime, one could divide its reign into four phases: 1969-1976-The Coup to Party Formation; 1977- 1978- The War with Ethiopia; 1979-1986-Parliament to Siyaad Barre’s car accident; 1987-Present--Drift to Downfall.

1969-1976: The Coup to Party Formation

A refrain of one of the praise-songs of General Siyaad Barre has it that he is the “father of knowledge.” Siyaad Barre is a man of average intelli­gence and very little or no formal schooling. He rose through the ranks of the colonial police- Polizia, Africans, Italiana, then that of the British Military Ad­ministration, and finally Administrazione Fiduciaria Italians della Somalia. He never distinguished himself as either a good officer or a nationalist. On the contrary, he was known to be in the “colonial camp”: anti-SYL and a sup­porter of the conservative SPL. The cognoscenti point to his role in the assas­sination of Kamal-Ed-Deen Saalah, the representative of the Egyptian govern­ment, in Mogadishu in 1958. The Italians and the anti-nationalist forces de­tested the galvanizing role of the Egyptian diplomat. Siyaad Barre was the commandant of the police in Benaadir at the time. There is no conclusive evi­dence linking the assassination to him, but there has always been circumstan­tial evidence that he was either involved in the actual killing and/or partici­pated actively in the subsequent cover-up.

Be that as it may, Siyaad Barre opted to join the National Army after it was formed in April 1960, as one of the deputy commandants. Five years later, he was the commandant. Within the officer corps he was perceived as someone not schooled in military science. Further he was up to his ears in the misuse of public office and funds. Three examples suffice. First, General Abshir of the police force resigned rather than allow the use of the police in the fraud and violence of the 1969 election campaign. General Siyaad Barre ac­quiesced and personally supervised the use of the resources of the National Army in the Dhuusamareeb constituency, which happened to be the one he cared about most. Second, he had access to the “political funds” of the Prime Minster’s office. The “Anti-Corruption Committee” formed soon after the coup stumbled upon this incriminating evidence [5]. None of the members of the civilian governments could be charged for being corrupt, because the author of the coup was himself in the same mud. Third, Siyaad Barre and Mohamed Mohamuud Khaawi operated and managed an income-generating establish­ment of the National Army. The activities included the staging of plays and concerts by the National Army Troupe, the importation and sale of some con­sumer goods on a duty-free basis and the management of voluntary contribu­tions. Siyaad-Khaawi, Inc. was profitable and had conveniently no accounting records. The principals had their sights on more than this enterprise [6].

Khaawi, a northerner and graduate of the British military academy MONS, was reckoned to be brilliant, ambitious, and reckless junior officer, a captain. Siyaad Barre had neither respect nor loyalty within the senior officer corps. The Colonels and Lieutenant Colonels were to a man from the south and Italian-trained. They rose through the ranks but about two dozens of them attended a shortened version of a military academy training in Italy. The same group attended a military staff college in the Soviet Union for further training. This group held all the critical posts. Some had their own plans and obviously it did not include Siyaad Barre. With the full support of his commandant, Khaawi went to work to create a nucleus. His first step was to arrange for the transfer of Ismail Ali Abokor, Mahamed Ali Shire, Ahmed Suleymaan Abdille and Ahmed Hasan Muuse from the regional units (battalions) they commanded to the capital. The first three went to the same boarding schools (Sheekh and Amuud) and attended Sandhurst. The first two were classmates at Sheekh, Amuud and Sandhurst. To cement the relationship between the young officers and the commandant, Khaawi arranged the marriage of Ahmed Suleymaan, the only bachelor among the group, to one of the daughters of Siyaad Barre. The group was in business and they had a dynamic and able leader (an “officer and a gentleman”) in Ismail Ali Abokor. It should be mentioned, that they apart from their common socialization and close friendship, were from the Burao-Las Amuud area. Perhaps it was more than an accident but the area is a good example of the historical patterns of interaction (intermarriage, sharing of grazing areas, watering points and trade routes) across the purported clan divides.

The group succeeded in recruiting about half a dozen other young officers who shared with them the following attributes: they had secondary ed­ucation, were directly commissioned, were not a part of the Italian-trained fac­tion (Sandhurst, Cairo and Baghdad were the academies they attended) and none went to the Soviet Union for extensive training. Siyaad Barre and the young officers (seven majors and seven captains) agreed to co-opt a few of the senior officers. Prominent among these were Salaad Gabeyre, Mahamed Ali Samatar and Abdalla Faadil. Salaad, the son-in-law of the former President of the Republic, was the big catch. Though not directly commissioned, he had adequate military training, was politically conscious and very well-connected, and was known for his force of personality. Samatar and Faadil were Salaad’s classmates throughout their various training programs but both were afflicted by a minority social status. Two other senior army officers, Mahamed Aaynaanshe and Ali Mataan Haashi, were also co-opted. The assassination of the President on October 15, 1969, and the inability of the Parliament to an early agreement upon a successor provided the military an opportune moment Five senior police officers, including the Commandant of the force, Jaama Ali Qoorsheel, were added to the 20 army officers to constitute the Supreme Revo­lutionary Council (SRC) which staged the bloodless coup on October 21, 1969.

Siyaad Barre became the chairman of the SRC but there was little agreement upon the selection of the Commander of the National Army and the Minister of Defense. The 14 young officers wanted Ismail Ali Abokor to be the Commander. Salaad had the support of some of the senior officers, particularly the police. Mahamed Ali Samatar was Siyaad Barre’s candidate. As a compromise or a delaying tactic, Siyaad Barre remained the commander and Salaad became the Minister of Defense [7]. Obviously the young officers were not altogether happy with the turn of events but continued to be a formidable force. There was not as much acrimony with the appointment of the members of the government: Qoorsheel became the Secretary of the Interior and 13 civilian technocrats were appointed to head the other ministries.

Members of the civilian government, prominent members of the Par­liament, and General Abshir, the ex-Commander of the police, were detained by the new military government. Two senior officers, who were among the leaders of the dominant faction of the army, Abdillahi Yuusuf and Mahamed Faarah (Aaydiid), were also detained. The suspension of the constitution and its crucial provision for due process presaged the gross violation of human rights which has characterized the military regime. The 13-point program of the regime, the First Charter of the Revolution, promised the nation a cleaner, leaner, and interventionist government in domestic affairs and a “progressive” stance in the international arena.

The two Councils, SRC and the Cabinet, met separately for over a year. Siyaad Barre chaired both. The SRC was the more dominant of the two councils, especially with respect to military, security, and appointment of senior government officials. The Cabinet, however, was the focus for some im­portant policy initiatives in economic and ideological matters. Regional and District Revolutionary Councils were also established and staffed by army and police officers. The staffing of regional and district administration by officers was both an instrument to purge the armed forces of potential resistance and to “militarize” the civil bureaucracy. The administration of justice was milita­rized in a similar fashion. The National Security Court, and its regional and district branches, again staffed by officers who had little or no legal training, dealt with security and political cases. Another manifestation of the milita­rization of the civil bureaucracy was the introduction of “orientation” and “military” training programs for the Civil Servants at Halane, the major train­ing facility of the National Army. Whatever the expected outcomes of this militarization policy were to be, they had the beneficial effect of providing the higher and middle level civil servants a shared experience and therefore a mea­sure of further integration of the disparate administrative systems. The call for the elimination of corruption and the stern measures associated with this cou­pled with the pervasive activities of the security apparatus instilled an urgent sense of discipline, if not commitment in the ranks of the bureaucracy. The threshold for the acceptance of waste and mismanagement was manifestly lowered. Organizational tightness, accountability, and responsiveness were some of the attributes of the streamlined administrative machinery. The curbing of corruption and the new attributes, particularly responsiveness, proved not only popular but contributed to the effectiveness of the bureaucracy.

From the outset Siyaad Barre occupied a number of key positions: Chairman of the two Councils and Chairman of the defense, security and judi­ciary committees. He was quick and opportunistic in exploiting the multiple roles that have been thrust upon him. Perhaps his greatest asset was that he was underestimated by the young officers, the senior officers, and some of the “ideologues” in the Cabinet. Some of the leading personalities and the varying groups that evolved around him thought they could use Siyaad Barre against the other factions and eventually for their own purposes. He proved to be suc­cessful in using them all and in being ruthless. Less than a year into the coup, Jaama Ali Qoorsheel, the Minister of the Interior, and a motley of civilians in­cluding the prominent lawyer and publisher of Dalka, Dhuhul, were accused of planning a coup. They were detained. Mahamed Aaynaanshe, the Vice Chairman of the SRC, Salaad Gabeyre, who was then the Minister of Public Works, and Colonel Abdilqaadir Dheel, who was no longer even within the National Army, were similarly accused of planning a coup and executed in 1972 [8]. This had a chilling effect on the whole country because these were the first politically-motivated executions but was not to be the last. Still within the Councils there were pointed disagreements and vigorous discussions. Siyaad Barre, needless to say, was the strong-man but he was fairly unassum­ing the first six-seven years and was careful, on important issues, to have ei­ther a winning coalition or preferably a consensus among the members of the two Councils. Surely, the balance of force was to his advantage but he rarely forced his hand. The cult of personality of later years was not in place yet. At this juncture, it might be added that travels to some countries familiarized him with the trappings of personal rule. As the Chairman of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), he visited a number of African countries in 1974. He came back, ironically, very impressed with Guinea. He found a soul-mate in Sekou Toure. Visits to some of the Gulf States made him feel less constrained about appointing some of his family members to senior government positions. But, perhaps, the two countries in which he found a model to his liking were North Korea and Rumania. Socialism was a potent legitimating ideology but the inner workings of the state and government were more of a “family affair,” as Siyaad Barre was quick to grasp. The country was not ready for this and it could only be undertaken as a long-term project. He appeared not to be in a hurry.

To reiterate, the first few years of the military-dominated government were marked by the enhanced effectiveness of the coercive and administrative organs. Unlike the enfeebled civilian regime, there was no doubt that the new regime monopolized the use of violence throughout the country. The abolish­ing of diya-paying (collective payment of compensation to the “jiffy” and “diyo” group of a deceased) was a decisive blow against clan feuds and vio­lence. This assured social peace throughout the country, and, even to a certain extent, in the neighboring Somali-inhabited areas. The sharing of grazing ar­eas, watering points and trade routes was not contested. This facilitated the easy movement of both people and goods, particularly livestock. The estab­lishment of an integrated collection and credit (outside the banking system) networks led to an impressive and extensive commercialization of the livestock sector. This in turn had an impact on the penetration and extraction capabili­ties of the organs of state. The decisive adoption of the Latin script for the Somali language and using it as the administrative language had a salutary ef­fect on the elusive issues of integration and administrative capacity-building. Despite the inherent weakness of the state institutions, there was the political will to tackle certain selected problems, among which was the swift and ap­propriate response to the victims of the drought of 1974-1975. The resettle­ment of the pastoralists, despite the lack of appreciation of technical factors such as site selection, is a testimony to what could be achieved even with lim­ited resources. The illiteracy campaign was yet again a good example of polit­ical resolve and spirited execution.

The abolishing of collective punishments (diya-paying) coupled with the underwriting of social peace, the adoption of Somali as the administrative language, the illiteracy campaign and the resettlement of the drought-affected pastoralists were interventionist attempts in social transformation. The relative autonomy of the state organs vis-à-vis social groups and societal institutions was marked during the first phase (1969-1976) of the Siyaad Barre regime. There was quite a bit of invective against patronage and clan-based politics. Effigies of “tribalism” were buried, but the “clan factor” was far from dead. The attempt was to drive it at least underground, and the efficacy of the policy attempt was dependent upon how genuine and persistent its authors were. Some clans, sub-clans, diya-pay groups, etc., were predisposed to support the self-appointed rulers because they had their “share” of representatives in the Councils and other state organs. Others were predisposed to oppose the new regime because they were not adequately represented. Predispositions were, however, the point of departure. The direction and content of political dis­course was determined, in the main, concrete policy actions and outcomes. The differential access to government jobs and other state resources, coupled with the differential impact of the repressive measures of the regime were po­tent forces for further politicizing the ethnic cleavages. The point is, though, that clan politics- after the near paralysis of the civilian governments- was almost muted. Put differently, the exploitation of the clan factor and the vio­lent response to it did not degenerate into the morass of the 1980s.

Some of the economic policies and programs which garnered support for the regime were the installation of price and rent controls; the nationalization of the major industrial enterprises, banks, insurance and petroleum distri­bution; and the undertaking of large development projects. The apparent polit­ical will and the streamlined administrative machinery created budgetary sur­pluses during the period under review (1970-1978). This contributed to the development budget and more importantly to the support of the international community. China, the World Bank, the Arab Funds and the European Com­munity were very generous in their support of the development policies, pro­grams, and projects of the new regime. The relative high performances, in terms, particularly, of implementation, of the state organs were to a large ex­tent confined to this first phase. Almost all of the major socioeconomic devel­opment activities were either implemented or started during this period. The buoyant economies of the Gulf States, as sources of employment, livestock ex­port and financial support, which coincided with this period, had also a tremendous beneficial effect on the political economy.

The new regime opted for “scientific socialism.” There was very little Talmudic discourse on what the official ideology actually entailed. Members of the SRC were neither conversant with nor interested in the intricacies of Marxism-Leninism. They were concerned with the more pressing issues of consolidating their power and acquiring a legitimating mechanism. The Soviets had no hand in the planning or the staging of the coup, but were well-­connected with the National Army. The Soviets were equally concerned about consolidating their power in the Horn of Africa. A marriage of convenience presented itself and was duly consummated. Somalia became a bona fide member of the progressive camp: it supported diligently the liberation move­ments and made the requisite pronouncements in the international fora [9]. The Soviets got the military facilities they were after, and they in turn responded quickly to the request of the new regime for the building of a coercive (military and security) apparatus. The Soviets and some of their East European allies were also ready to help in the creation of a political cadre. Soon after the coup, a Public Relations Office (PRO) was established. This organ screened and selected potential candidates for political work within the armed forces, civil service, and the wider political arena. Many teams were sent to the party schools of the Soviet Union and the German Democratic Republic. Upon their return, they either remained with the PRO or joined the affiliated social organizations (trade unions, workers’ organizations and youth movement). By 1976, there were sufficient numbers of this political cadre but little or no ideological core or coherence to its work. In the hands of Siyaad Barre, Scientific Socialism was the embodiment of the campaign to eliminate hunger, disease and illiteracy. The political cadre, among others, was frus­trated by the serpentine Siyaadism and pushed for the formation of a political party. They expected the formation of the, party would precipitate an ideolog­ical crystallization and the crafting of the needed praxis.

The Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party (SRSP) was formed in June 1976. The 19 SRC members (out of the original 25), Cabinet ministers, senior officers from the armed forces (military, police and prisons) and important PRO functionaries constituted the 73-member Central Committee. Siyaad Barre became the Secretary General and four other SRC members- Mahamed Ali Samatar, Huseen Kulmiye Afrah, Ismail Ali Abokor and Ahmed Suleymaan Abdille – joined him in the Political Bureau. Though the SRC itself was dissolved, its members occupied the most important positions within the party and the government. Yet the cohesion of the group was to wane and this afforded Siyaad Barre more space to maneuver and to carve out still more per­sonal power.

The year 1976 was a high water mark for the regime. The National Army was by then restructured, equipped adequately with modern weapon systems, and undertook continuous training programs. Though some capable officers were purged, the National Army was not driven by factionalism, and appeared to be thoroughly integrated and with relatively high morale and pro­fessional standards. Furthermore, it had overtly nothing to do with internal se­curity matters. The National Security Service (NSS) had that mandate: It suc­ceeded in cowering the population through intimidation, detention, torture and executions such as that of the ten religious leaders. The East Germans assisted in designing and constructing major detection centers (Laanta Bur and Labaatan Jirow). The occupants of these centers, during this period, were mostly members of the political elite. Despite the apparent disproportionate investment in the coercive organs of the state, the regime succeeded in estab­lishing new national institutions, streamlined existing ones and undertook im­portant socioeconomic policies, programs, and projects. There was a sem­blance of state coherence. Perhaps the single most important achievement was the securing of social peace in the whole country. Self-reliance, rather than scientific socialism, was the guiding principle for policy action purposes.

1977-1978: The War with Ethiopia

The drought in 1972-73 in Ethiopia exposed all callousness of the Haile Selassie regime. Rather than responding promptly to the ravages of the drought, the aging Emperor disregarded it to his own peril. Students, trade unions and, more ominously, the Imperial Army, were restless. The “creeping coup,” the demise of the ancient regime, the brutal suppression of the civilian leftist organizations and the prolonged violent factionalism within the Imperial Army demonstrated sufficiently that the core of the Empire was on the verge of collapse. The military and political successes of the Eritrean Liberation movements confirmed most clearly the gravity of the security situation that was confronting the evolving new political order. As if the internal destabilizing factors were not enough for the emerging political leadership, the external alliance system anchored by the U.S. was also being battered and liable to dis­solution. The new satellite technology had by then rendered the Kagnew communications facility of Asmara obsolete. The Carter Administration, with its priority on human rights, found itself at loggerheads with the Ethiopian military regime which was slaughtering its citizens.

The Mogadishu-based Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF) was fairly active in Ethiopian Somaliland (Ogaden) by late 1976. The successes of the WSLF against the poorly-supplied and demoralized Ethiopian armed forces in early 1977 were surprising to both the WSLF, which was bent on wresting control of the contested area from Ethiopian hands, and to its main supporter, the Somali Government. For the Somali public, the quest for self-determina­tion by the WSLF and the people it represented was a worthwhile cause. The Somali government championed the cause of other liberation movements, and the Somali public opinion strongly supported this. Apart from the support for a universal principle, the people in Ethiopian Somaliland were seen as the kith and kin of the citizens of the Republic. Besides, the contested area constituted a vital part of the pastoral economy of the Republic: the grazing areas and the wells of the Haud, Reserved Area and the Ogaden were part of a historic and ongoing seasonal pattern of movement of livestock and people. The commer­cial and credit linkages, built upon a strong affinity and movement of live­stock and people, created strong economic bonds between the contested area and Somalia. Perhaps another factor for the perceived importance of the con­tested area is that it has been considered to be home of both some of the best national poets and of pristine Somali language. The point is that public opinion in the Republic was pushing the government not to equivocate and to come foursquare behind the just cause of the WSLF. The argument that Siyaad Barre precipitated the war with Ethiopia in order to divert attention from domestic problems does not cut much ice. His personal power base was firm, the regime was very much in control, there was social peace throughout the country and the economy was, relatively, very strong.

The Achilles heel of the WSLF was that, though it had overwhelming support within the contested area and the Republic, it lacked autonomy. Siyaad Barre dealt with it as if it were a small bureau within his office. He handpicked its leadership, supervised closely the management of its resources and approved its military operations. The lack of autonomy limited the potential for the emergency of a credible and competent leadership, for organizational development, for forging a political program to mobilize and direct mass support, and for the designing of a sustainable strategy to help in liberating the dominated people. Siyaad Barre saw little need for the WSLF to appeal and to cultivate world public opinion; he saw himself as the authentic representative of the cause and claimed to have access to regional and world leaders. Any attempt by the WSLF to engage in diplomatic activities was seen by the “helmsman” as either an amateurish effort or muddying the waters.

With minimum support, in the form of light arms and transport, from the Somali government, the WSLF accomplished a string of victories against the Third Division of the Ethiopian Army [10]. These successes were encourag­ing, if not surprising, and a momentum seemed to be building up. The demand for arms, direction and coordination of the escalating conflict was on the rise. Officers and NCOs from the regular Somali army were initially “seconded” to the WSLF, but by June 1977 a few commando units joined the ranks of the WSLF. Elements within the National Army were apprehensive about the piecemeal approach to the conflict. Their counsel was either to pursue a low-intensity campaign and to leave the fighting to the WSLF or to engage Ethiopia directly. The piecemeal approach, the argument went, was bleeding the National Army and the issue of re-supply was of the utmost concern. The Soviets were known to be flirting with Ethiopia, but they were still meeting very conscientiously their commitments to the Somali forces. Further, with their socialist ally Cuba, the Soviets tried to mediate the conflict between the two traditional enemies. The mediation effort quickly failed because the con­flict was not ripe for resolution and the putative federation among Somalia, Ethiopia and South Yemen was a non-starter.

The Central Committee of the SRSP and the Cabinet had a series of joint meetings at the end of June 1977 to deliberate on the limited options that were available to the country. Ethiopia had already terminated its military al­liance with the U.S., and its forces were fighting against a number of liberation movements. The courting of the Soviets was underway but the delivery of weapons and their effective utilization was bound to take time. Despite the misgivings of a minority in the Central Committee, led by Abdirahman Aaydiid Ahmed, who voted against waging war against another “progressive” regime and who emphasized the potential loss of the USSR as a valued ally, the overwhelming majority of the Cabinet and the Central Committee opted for direct military intervention. The compelling issues for intervention were the perceived Ethiopian weakness and preempting of the effective use of Soviet weapons. Timing was left for the military and actually took place on July 23, 1977. The intervention of the Somali Forces was vehemently denied and the armed conflict was billed as one between the WSLF and the Ethiopian Forces.

The high morale, mobility and superior fire-power of the Somali forces led to the routing of the Ethiopian units. The Ethiopian air base of Goday, a primary objective, was captured within a few days and the garrison towns of Wardheer, Dhagahbuur and Gabridahare were also overrun. The tank and radar base of Jigjiga fell on September 12th. Less than two months after the intervention, Harar and Dire Dawa were the only towns still remaining un­der the control of Ethiopia, and they were within the artillery range of the

Somali forces, Cuban, and Yemeni (PDRY) combat units were dispatched by Addis Ababa to the defense of these towns and manned the new Soviet weapons. The Somali forces were overextended, from Nageylle to Dire Dawa. This posed serious command, control and communication problems. The sit­uation became more untenable when the Soviets ceased to deliver weapons and fuel in October. Light arms were obtained from the international market and fuel was provided by the Gulf States. There was no alternative supply source for heavy weapons and the stocks were being depleted fast. Ethiopia was in a worse situation: its American and West European supplies were almost ex­hausted and its forces were defeated and in total disarray. What Ethiopia needed was not only a dramatic re-supply, but an urgent input in the direction of the war effort in order to mount a credible counter-offensive.

The Somali armed forces, WSLF and the Somali people measured up to the difficult military task. The Third, Fourth, and First Divisions of the Imperial Army were soundly beaten and the vaunted Air Force was neutral­ized. The military was only one prong of the two-pronged campaign. The other was the diplomatic and this, as many expected, met with unmitigated disaster. The reasons for the disaster were mainly two: First the Somali case rested on the principle of self-determination which was far from being unani­mously supported, especially by the Addis Ababa-based Organization of African Unity. Second, although the fluid alliance system created a window of opportunity, the crafting and execution of a de march, commensurate with the complex situation at hand, was beyond the personal diplomacy of Siyaad Barre and the expertise of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The international com­munity, including those most sympathetic to the Somali position, were unable to fathom what the Somali government was up to. Siyaad Barre reduced the WSLF to a phantom and those who were willing to give it a fair hearing were unable to discern what was being mumbled. The Somali forces captured not only the Haud, Reserved Area, and Ogaden but also parts of Arsi, Bale and Sidamo. The Oromo, Sidama, and other oppressed peoples were simultane­ously attempting to liberate their own areas. Rather than forging an alliance with them, Siyaad Barre preposterously made them members of the Somali family and organized them as the Somali-Abo Liberation Front. This compli­cated matters, even more. Delimiting the territorial demands of the WSLF and/or the Somali government was not even discussed or thought through in government circles, and therefore, the emissaries who were sent abroad to can­vass support were forced to improvise because there were no specific guide­lines, let alone policy - apart from the quest for self-determination and the vitriol against “black colonialism.”

Siyaad Barre appointed his brother, Abdirahmaan, Foreign Minister on July 27, 1977, four days after the intervention. The diplomatic prong was already in a deplorable state and the appointment of Abdirahmaan made it far­cical. Not known for his intellect, subtlety, command of any language, or so­cial grace, his appointment reminded many in the country of that of another in­ept brother, Joseph Bonaparte, whose foibles led to the loss of Spain. He did not disappoint his detractors. His first mission, as a Foreign Minister, was to attend a meeting called by the OAU Mediation Committee in Libreville, Gabon, on August 5th. He walked out of the meeting when the Committee declined to invite the WSLF to take part in the deliberations. The beleaguered Ethiopian regime was given a golden opportunity and it seized it with both hands. The Committee’s recommendation reaffirmed the OAU’s position: the peaceful resolution of conflicts and the preservation of the colonial borders.

The intervention and the blatant lie of denying it pushed the U.S. and the U.K. to reconsider their offer of selling defensive weapons to Somalia. The Soviets were assiduously trying to have a polygamous relationship in the Horn. In Somalia, they had valuable military facilities in Berbera and had a very close working relationship with the National Army and the security appa­ratus. They were wary about the revolutionary potential of the country, how­ever. The social and material base for socialism appeared to be more promis­ing in Ethiopia, even though the Derg was bent on eliminating, through “cost - effective” Red Terror and other similar campaigns, the progressive elements of the society. Ethiopia was also the bigger prize. The recommendation of the Mediation Committee tipped the scales in Ethiopia’s favor and the Soviet mass media started being critical of the Somali intervention by the middle of August. Siyaad Barre took his show to Moscow on August 26 and continued to deny the presence of Somali Army units in Ethiopia. Gromyko bluntly said, “We have a thousand and one ways of knowing,” and to prove his point accu­rately marked on a map where the different Somali units were deployed.

The die was cast and the Soviet machine was put into motion to sup­port Ethiopia. Counter-intuitively, the Saudis cautioned Siyaad Barre not to provoke or break with the Soviets. That he did on November 13th [1977] when he ab­rogated the Friendship Treaty with the Soviets. Two weeks later the Soviets launched a massive airlift of weapons to Ethiopia. Upward of 20 percent of the total Soviet air fleet plus some more planes from the other Warsaw allies were involved in this unprecedented Soviet response to regional conflict in the Third World. “An operation of such magnitude required an elaborate commu­nications system: Cosmos 964 was launched into orbit on the day the airlift began and is believed to have played a key intelligence and communication role” (Porter 1984, p. 201). Some 20,000 Cuban combat troops, a smaller number of Yemeni troops, and thousands of Soviet advisers were dispatched to the war front. A Deputy Commander of the Soviet ground forces, General Petrov, and a leading Cuban general, Arnaldo Ochoa (recently executed for drug trafficking), were entrusted with the task of rolling back the Somali forces. The Somali forces, despite their decisive victories over the Ethiopians, were no match for the Soviet-directed and Cuban-led forces which broke through their defenses and captured Jigjig on March 5, 1978. There were no contingency plans: Siyaad Barre decided to withdraw his troops on March 9th [1978].

The cost of the war with Ethiopia was incalculable. Apart from the death of tens of thousands of combatants, the population of the contested area suffered untold death and destruction of property. Hundreds of thousands were forced to flee to the Republic and were to have eventually a great economic, political and social impact on the country. It was, however, the National Army which had to pay enormously for the intervention. Its brilliant successes in the battlefield were negated by the ineptitude of its political leaders who snatched ignominious defeat from the jaws of victory. Siyaad Barre ensured that there were no heroes in the war, lest they pose a threat in the future. The disabled and the seriously wounded, who desperately needed help, were carted, like old broken furniture, into dilapidated wards with little medicine and a few over­worked staff. The wounded, who oftentimes had to fend for themselves, and their families were embittered by the pervasive callousness. The loss of men and materiel, the apparent absence of an alternative source of re-supply, the lack of adequate medical attention to the wounded, the execution of six inno­cent senior officers in Hargeisa for purportedly not acquitting themselves well in the battlefield, and the haphazard ways of demobilization caused great anger and resentment within the National Army. Exactly a month after the with­drawal announcement, a coup was attempted in Mogadishu. It failed. Most of those who were involved in the attempted coup were apprehended and exe­cuted later. A few, including Colonel Abdillahi Yuusuf, managed to escape and eventually led an armed struggle against the regime.

The formation of the Party led to the weakening of the cohesion of the SRC. Whatever remained of the processes of collective decision-making and the shouldering of collective responsibility further weakened during the war period. Siyaad Barre’s position was further strengthened by the use of public funds for patronage purposes. Of special significance were the $300-400 million which the Gulf States contributed to the war effort. These large sums were used for the purchase of weapons and supplies from the international market. These funds were not regular public funds and hence no established norms and procedures were used. The special circumstances of the war gave Siyaad Barre almost a free hand. At the time very few suspected that he was diverting the funds for his personal use. But Abdi Hoosh, among others, who had direct access to the president, became wealthy members of the “merchants of the war.” The patronage horse was very much of the barn, and this obvi­ously had an impact on the functioning of the state institutions and the percep­tions of the public.

1979--1986: Parliament to Siyaad Barre’s Car Accident

The attempted coup and the absence of a superpower commitment posed a very serious security concern for the regime. The National Army was constantly purged and for the first time there were open selective recruitments of both cadets and enlisted men. Promotions and posting were decided not on professional criteria and standard norms but pre-eminently on patron­age, which was not determined solely by clan politics. Personal factors such as friendship, marriage, district-regional background and “entrepreneurship” were also at play. The constant purging, selective recruitment, and the patronage system “politicized” the armed forces. The politicization of this phase was dif­ferent from that of the first period, 1969-1976, when socialist ideology played a role in the political orientation and, to some extent, the promotion and posting processes. As the coercive institutions were the leading state organs, their politicization and further demoralization after the war with Ethiopia had detrimental implications for state coherence and state-society relations. The clean, lean and disciplined attributes associated with the armed forces after the coup were subverted. The militarization of the civil administration was by then viewed not as being programmatic by merely empty gestures. The political will seemed to have dissipated; the spirited execution of polices, programs, and projects vanished from the public screen; and the motivating national quest for self-reliance appeared not to be any longer a vision of a priority for the political leadership. By the early 1980’s there was a palpable contraction of the human spirit in Siyaad Barre’s Somalia. Those in the know braced themselves for a nasty, brutish, and, hopefully, short period of misrule.

The U.S. did not respond to the clumsy advances of Siyaad Barre. It did not give up on Ethiopia, was wary about a Somali connection in the con­text of Africa’s “frontier-fetishism” and doubted the trustworthiness of the gen­eral. After a number of prolonged discussions, primarily between some U.S. officials and Siyaad Barre, an “Access Agreement” was signed in Washington in August 1980. Siyaad Barre’s personal diplomacy netted about $100 million of American aid ($53 million economic and $40 million military) over a two­ year period in exchange for tire use of the Berbera facilities. That was nowhere near what was needed to rebuild the National Army or to revive the battered economy. What worried him was not how tightfisted the new ally was but rather the “chaotic” American political system. In February 1982 he paid an official visit to Washington and came back utterly confused about where the real power was located. “Pentagon, State Department, Congress, and President ­who rule [sic] America?” he rhetorically asked the senior officials he was briefing.

Increasingly, there was no doubt about “who ruled Somalia.” It was becoming more of an unadulterated personal rule. A constitution was drafted and put to a referendum and “accepted” by more than the adult population of the country in August 1979. Elections for the newly instituted Parliament were held in December 1979. The Parliament was in turn to elect a speaker, deputy speakers, a standing committee and the president of the Republic in that order in its first session. In a meeting of the five-member Political bureau of the SRSP, a few hours before Parliament convened, Siyaad Barre asked Ismail Ali Aboker to be the Speaker. Ismail thought he was being ushered out of the cor­ridors of power and resisted the honor of serving. In a fit of insecurity, Siyaad Barre hurriedly ordered a few APCs and tanks to ring the People’s Hall in which the members of Parliament were assembled. He left nothing to chance and startled everybody by making the first item on the agenda the election of the President. Awkward it was, but it was duly done. The President selected his Cabinet from the Parliament which had the undisputed hallmark of a rubber stamp. It provided Siyaad Barre another forum for exercising his personal rule. The Parliament did not and could not widen the power base of Siyaad Barre and his regime. It did, however, create another arena for manipulative patronage politics. Those who felt they were not getting their fair share were of course embittered. Individuals, ethnic-based groups, and other social groups who voiced their relative deprivation had either to position or reposition them­selves to have access to power (capacity to control valued goods) and other state resources or “exit.” Increasingly there was less agreement on the rules of the political game: the wielding of power and the exercise of authority no longer seemed justifiable, if not legal, and hence not “sustainable” in popular perception. A legitimacy crisis was looming large for the regime.

Among those who opted to “exit” were a number of army officers who were involved in or sympathized with failed coup of April 9, 1978. These of­ficers were the core for the Somali Salvation Front (SSF) which was formed and based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The SSF was organized to mount an armed struggle against the Siyaad Barre regime. Ethiopia and Libya supported it. A few members of the Central Committee of the SRSP who were critical of Siyaad Barre’s abandoning of socialist principles also opted to exit. Among those were Abdirahmaan Aaydiid Ahmed, Abdillahi Mahamed Hasan (Faash), and Salaad. Also veteran leftist figures such as Jaama Salaad Jaama went to Addis Ababa and participated in the formation of a single organization, Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF), committed to the violent overthrow of the Somali regime. They undertook some military operations but posed no im­mediate threat to the regime. Radio Kulmis (unity), an organ of the, proved to be of great propaganda value and enervated the regime.

The reaction of the regime against the incipient armed opposition was brutal and disproportionate. It pursued a scorched earth approach against ar­eas, mostly Mudug, which were suspected of being supporters of the SSDF. Arbitrary political executions, destruction of cement water tanks vital for the livelihood of pastoralists and their livestock, detention and a systematic ha­rassment campaign against a section (sub-clan) of the population were some of the unprecedented repressive policies used by the regime. Political executions of individuals accused of planning or attempting a coup were not new. Detention and torture of members of the political elite were pathetically familiar features of the political landscape. What was new, disturbing and monstrous was the targeting of an entire clan or sub-clan as enemies of the regime. Strategies experimented in Mudug were later applied in full force in the North. These scorched earth measures carried out by the state organs did irreparable damage to the warp and woof of the Somali society. I submit that no council of state formulated and applied these policies. Rather they were the product of the concentration of power in the hands of an individual. Lord Acton’s dictum hurled against the infallibility of the Pope- power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely- is apt in this instance. An example illustrates this point. Late in August 1980, Siyaad Bane asked a small committee (six members of the Cabinet and the Governor of the Central Bank) to advise him on how to re­form the government and party. All agreed with his catalogue of political and economic crises the country was facing. What the members doubted were his sincerity and seriousness. He met the group a number of times and essentially agreed with their assessment of the situation. They suggested that a civilian member of the regime from the North be appointed a prime minister and be given full powers to form his own cabinet and be responsible for the day-to­day administration of the government. At 6:00 a.m. on October 21, 1980, Siyaad Barre called the Minister of Information (Mahamed Aadan Sheekh), who was a member of the committee and instructed him to include an item in the 6:30 news bulletin: a state of emergency was declared, the constitution was suspended and the SRC was reconstituted. The Political Bureau was “briefed” on this fast breaking news item just about the same time as the Minister of Information. The Committee members, who as individuals and as a group were reckoned to have the ear of the President, were astounded by his crude “power play”. They convinced themselves that the “reform war” was not lost. They approached the Minster of Defense, Mahamed Ali Samatar, and the head of the security apparatus, Ahmed Suleymaan. They had lengthy discus­sions, with them for almost five months. They did not have much difficulty convincing the two powerful generals. Most of the discussions centered on how best to package the basic reform proposals so as to make them acceptable to the President. It was known that members of the Barre family- wife, son and brother Abdirahmaan Jaama- were opposed to the appointment of a prime minister. The two generals were confident that their old colleague would listen to reason for sake of the survival of the regime. They were wrong and were unceremoniously fired late in March 1981.

The firing of Ali Samatar and his replacement by Omar Haaji Masala, a fellow Mareehaan, confirmed conclusively for many the significance of the clan factor in contemporary Somali politics. In about a year Omar Haaji not only lost the key position he held but also was detained. Dr. Mahamed Aadan Sheekh, another Mareehaan and a prominent civilian figure in the regime, was detained for the second time in June 1982 as well as Ismail Ali Aboker, Omar Aarte Qaalib, Osmaan Jeelle, Mahamuud Yuusuf Weyrah and Warsame Faarah Ali. Ismail was a member of the Politburo and the others were members of the Central Committee of die SRSP. Siyaad Barre used the clan card for maintain­ing his power position. What he used more extensively and effectively were state institutions and state resources to neutralize his perceived enemies, re­gardless of their clan affiliation, and to build temporary alliances based upon varying clan, locality and class considerations. Clan, locality-based identity and interests, class and state institutions were levers to be pulled and pushed purely for the gains of the master operator. The patronage system acted as an integrating mechanism for the maintenance of II Supremo’s position and the distribution of state largesse. The distribution and mal-distribution of state re­sources affected state-society relations. The war merchants and others who had a favored position in the lucrative import-export business were becoming very wealthy. The discretionary powers of the state in the economy created both wealth and pauperization. The social programs of the earlier phase of the regime such as price and rent controls, and the conscious effort of curbing in­come inequities were totally absent during the 1976-86 period. State actions during this phase contributed not only to class formation but also markedly to infra-clan and inter-clan relations.

The sound management of the economy is a necessary condition for state penetration of society. The capacity to extract resources and the capabil­ity to manage effectively and efficiently the use of these resources are requisite state actions for development and societal transformation. The Somali econ­omy during the phase under review faced some very serious problems. The war with Ethiopia caused social and economic dislocations; the military was still getting large and disproportionate slices of the budget and the refugee population- Both in and out of the camps- was becoming a very heavy burden on the country. By early 1980s, the economies of the Gulf States were con­tracting and this had a depressing effect on the economy. Employment oppor­tunities were lessening, the export of livestock was leveling off, and the offi­cial transfers (aid) were significantly reduced. Development aid, from multi­lateral and other bilateral sources, was also being reduced, with the exception of Italian assistance. The reduction in aid, the existing domestic economic problems, and the contraction of the Gulf economies conspired to create a stagnant economy. The state agencies whose mandate it was to invigorate the stagnant economy were themselves enfeebled and in a quandary. The budget­ing surpluses of the first two phases were replaced by chronic and large deficits; the balance of payment position became more untenable; hyperinfla­tion wrought havoc on the fragile economy; debt servicing became burden­some; the implementation of development programs and projects became more problematic; and running of public enterprises became more of a case of mis­management than management. The relative responsiveness, dedication and discipline which characterized the public service of the first two phases were replaced by apathy and prebendal politics. The concentration of power in the hands of the President and the pervasive patronage system unleashed a devas­tating deinstitutionalization process. The donor community, particularly the IMF and the World Bank, has been attempting to push the regime toward a more “rational” public sector management and toward the creation of better economic conditions for the private sector. The regime could neither engage in credible negotiations with these institutions nor implement the programs it readily accepted. Crisis management became the order of the day and an ever deepening crisis became a distinguishing feature of the Somali economy. The enfeebled administrative machinery militated against revenue collection; prebendal bureaucratic politics facilitated the illicit export of livestock and livestock byproducts; and banana export proceeds continued to disappear into a Bermuda Triangle. The potential for state extraction was constrained by the limited resource base. The deinstitutionalization process unleashed by the con­centration and whimsical exercise of power by the President enhanced the propensity for die private appropriation of public office and public resources. The ultimate in this private appropriation has been the gross mismanagement of Italian assistance. The Ministry of Planning traditionally used to handle is­sues pertaining to cooperation with the donor community. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Abdirahmaan Jaama Barre, took the Department of Cooperation from Planning to his Ministry, and for good reasons. Italy gave Somalia about $1 billion for the period 1984-87. These funds were earmarked mainly for the Garoowe-Bosaaso Road, Bosaaso Port, fisheries, and some agricultural projects. To execute the projects a joint committee was formed. The leader of the Somali side, one Inj. Muunye, was not even a government employee but a “confidant” of the Foreign Minister. This joint committee outflanked the whole government machinery. All procedures and norms for project planning, implementation, review and monitoring were completely dispensed with [11]. No standard accounting records were kept, at least not by the Somali side. None of the auditing and investigative organs of the state- Magistrate of Accounts, Party And-corruption Bureau, the security apparatus or the Standing Committee of the Parliament- tad a mandate to raise any questions. Regrettably, this blatant private appropriation of public re­sources made the state a cosa nostra for the Barre family.

On May 23, 1986, Siyaad Barre was involved in a serious automobile accident. He was rushed to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he was given timely medical treatment for his near-fatal injuries. 

The accident set off a power struggle among senior army officers, members of the President’s Mareexaan clan and assorted factions, whose infighting brought the country to the brink of civil war. In the main, two factions emerged to vie for power during Mr. Barre’s incapacitation: a “constitutional” faction and a tribal one [12].

1987-Present: Drift to Downfall

The manipulation of ethnic, locality, class and state institutions for the exercise and maintenance of power is one aspect of Siyaad Barre’s domination and control of the Somali polity. The personal nature of his ruling gives it a distinguishing and debilitating character. There is some consensus that African rulers- dictators- use ethnic and other factors to develop institutions primarily for coercive and control purposes. An astute observer of contemporary African politics, Crawford Young, posits that reliance on modern bureaucracies is not sufficient for the government of the new African states. Rather,

Hostile cliques and conspiracies had to be pre-empted by en­suring placement of personnel at critical points in the state apparatus whose fidelity to the ruler was not simply formal, but immediate and personal .... The surest basis for such fi­delity is affinity of community or kinship.

Young adds,

Close scrutiny of the inner security core of the state will usu­ally disclose such connections in states as diverse as Toure’s Guinea, Nyerere’s Tanzania, or Mobutu’s Zaire [Berg and Whitaker 1986, p.38].

Staffing the security apparatus and other important state institutions with relatives, kinsmen and hangers-on is par for the course; Siyaad Barre has done more than his share of that. Because of his nature and perhaps because of his schooling in the “special branch” of the colonial police system, Siyaad Barre has proved consistently that he does not trust an individual or an institu­tion. Personal relations, face-to-face contact and an insatiable demand for “raw” intelligence data have been his preferred ways for domination and con­trol.

One last example attests to the validity of this observation. On Octo­ber 1977, the Somali government allowed West German Special Forces to free hostages in a hijacked Lufthansa airplane at Mogadishu airport. The German government as a token of gratitude allocated aid funds. A component of this was to train and equip a special force of roughly 150 men. The German Embassy pressed Siyaad Barre to be involved in the selection process. He per­sonally selected them and it was known, by the German Embassy among oth­ers, that they were very close relatives from the Presidential Guard (Military Police). The Germans provided them with a very thorough training on sophis­ticated light arms. Siyaad Barre went to the ceremony after the completion of the one year program at Hiilweyne. He was impressed by the weapons, ad­vanced communication equipment and the small transport fleet. Some thought the “unit” would be used to beef up the Presidential Guard, become a small anti-terrorist strike force or the core of a larger anti-coup force. In about a month the unit was disbanded and not more than two or three were to be to­gether in the same sector or division of the National Army. Potential threat is what he saw in the unit, and this manifested to a deep disquiet over organiza­tions, including his creations staffed by his own people. In his scheme of things no individual is trustworthy and no organization is to be relied upon. High turnover of personnel, organizations with overlapping responsibilities and direct- preferably oral- reporting are hedges against autonomy and ambition and promoters of crises of confidence among individuals, groups, and the citi­zens at large. These distinguishing traits became more crystallized when the business of governance became personal rule. The tendencies were there from the beginning, but the formation of the party and the war with Ethiopia has­tened the pace of the concentration of power in the hands of the President.

The personal rule and the attendant whimsical presiding over state af­fairs had detrimental effects on the polity and its fragile economy. The econ­omy was regressing; the social peace which was a major achievement of the regime was evaporating; and state coherence was disintegration. Still, Siyaad Barre was able to conduct a rickety national orchestra. The music was depress­ing, but it was music nonetheless. The car accident initially incapacitated the conductor, and since his recovery he has been unable to regain his undisputed power position for a number of reasons. First, the grooming of his son, Maslah, as his successor has alienated some members of his immediate family, his clan, and other powerful members of the regime. Second, the accident was a very severe blow to his physical stamina which was essential for his personal style of wielding power. Third, he has been unwilling or perhaps unable to mold the different power center within the regime he has created or cultivated: they were “programmed” to pull in different directions, and they have successfully continued to do so. Fourth, the weakening economy and the increasing demand of different sectors of society for a “fair share” have burdened the pa­tronage system and therefore limited the ability to maintain old networks and to establish new ones. Fifth, the regime has been suffering from a serious le­gitimacy deficit: compliance has been ensured only through the application of force, and even that is being challenged successfully.

The personal position of Siyaad Barre is no longer dominant. The other centers of power within the regime have succeeded in neutralizing each other. The regime has been very much adrift since the car accident, but it has been causing great damage to state and society. The disinstitutionalization fa­vored by Siyaad Barre for his own purposes is almost complete. The National Army has been politicized and corrupted and in its present form could hardly be part of the solution. The civil service has lost whatever capabilities it had: the regime has succeeded in the last decade in emasculating it. Siyaad Barre exploited the adoption of Somali as the administrative language. The adminis­tration of things, he insisted, was no longer beyond the abilities of many thou­sands of unschooled and untrained, but of course loyal individuals, who were sent to fill the ranks of civil service. They have proved to be both dead weight and a demoralizing input. In effect, the delivery of social services, health and education, has been curbed and is on the verge of collapse. The economic management branches of the civil service have been decimated and demoral­ized, and there has been very little pretense of managing the economy.

And yet there is plenty of death and destruction. The aerial bombing and the use of long-range artillery against some of the major cities and towns of the country are beyond belief. The killing of tens of thousands of innocent civilians and the destruction of heavily populated urban centers such as Hargeisa and Burao is in fact a sign of desperation. The bluff of the regime has been called most emphatically by the Somali National Movement (SNM). Members of the armed forces are very hesitant to come to the defense of the tottering regime. The regime has been forced to foment clan divisions and conflict, but that has not worked according to its game plan. To intimidate the people, the regime has again shown its desperation by shooting down hundreds of civilians coming out of their Friday prayers last July in the capital. What has shaken the Somali people has been the slaughtering of 47 young men in Jasiira Beach a couple of days after the Friday prayer shootings.         Taking a page from the book of the Death Squads, an area of Mogadishu, known to be inhabited by people from the North (Isaaq) was selected. At least 47 individ­uals, taken out of their homes in the middle of the night, are confirmed to have been shot in cold blood and put in a mass grave. This is a crime not only against the grieving Somali people but also against humanity.

The regime has quickly passed, in the past few weeks, into a terminal state of collapse. It does not have effective control beyond the metropolitan area of the capital. Social peace has completely collapsed and a number of regions are in the hands of opposition groups. Even the population of Mogadishu has lost confidence in the regime’s ability to safeguard life and property. Siyaad Barre has said as much. The poorly paid and marauding soldiers in the capital took this to mean to live off the people. Armed bands break into houses and take everything they can put into their military trucks. A recent victim, rumor has it, has been Fartaag, the financial manager of the Presidency of the Republic!


Symptomatic of the regime’s implosion is the dissolution of the gov­ernment on January 8, 1990. This was preceded by a long article in Ogaal, the party paper, which was highly critical of Ali Samatar’s government and the regime in general. It was read as a last attempt by Siyaad Barre to jump ship: die others were responsible for the death, destruction and despair that have been imposed on the country and the people and not the captain. When the time comes, and it appears to be soon, he will be given a chance to justify his mandate from hell and to defend the indefensible. For weeks Siyaad Barre has been attempting to appoint a prime minister outside his charmed circle. None was foolhardy enough to accept the offer. He has no choice but to reappoint Ali Samatar, whom he had discredited publicly. The regions have been written off and now it is Mogadishu which is burning. The Diplomatic Corps have barricaded themselves in their compounds. The capital has imposed a volun­tary 6:00 p.m.-6:00 a.m. curfew on itself, and the people are waiting anxiously for the nightmare to come to an end.


The fall of the Siyaad Barre regime is imminent, but it has already caused nearly irreparable damage to the Somali state and to state-society rela­tions. The initial achievement of the regime, 1969-1977, in strengthening the capacities of the central state organs were critical to the successful interven­tionist policies pursued. The weakness of the merchant bourgeoisie, the am­bivalence of the petty bourgeoisie and the absence of organized and politicized peasants and workers gave state institutions after the coup, relative autonomy. The effective abolishing of collective punishment guaranteed social peace which facilitated a more extensive commercialization of the livestock sector. The apparent development commitment of the regime and the relative deci­sional autonomy of the state organs enhanced resource extraction and resource utilization capabilities. The limited resource base z id the inherent weakness of the administrative machinery set severe limits to the interventionist state policies. Within those limits, the performance of the implementation of social and economic programs of the fast phase of the regime were frankly impres­sive. The “revolution from above” had little social and material base. Sustained commitment to societal transformation required not only an ideological crystallization on the part of the political leadership and organs but also a strong social base of support for social transformation. Neither of these was clearly in place. The collective leadership of the early years gave way to the personal rule of Siyaad Barre.

The war with Ethiopia hastened the pace of degeneration. The human rights violations of the early years, which were mainly part of elite and fac­tional conflicts, became more of a vicious ethnic targeting. Siyaad Barre used all levers that were at the disposal of the increasingly predatory regime to per­petuate his personal rule. Clan, class, and state institutions and resources were used for domination and control purposes. The social, political and economic actions of the regime affected in turn clan, class and state institutions. It is this interpenetration of factors which is crucial for the understanding of the rise and fall of the Siyaad Barre regime and the waxing and waning of the autonomy of the modern Somali state. External factors provide a context which enhances and/or hinders institutions and the resultant state formation or disformation. 


[*] See Mohamed Haji Mukhtar’s book, Historical Dictionary of Somalia (Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2003).

[1] The extensive writing of I.M. Lewis is a great source on traditional Somali social structure.

[2] K.N. Chaudhuri provides an excellent overview of trade in the Indian Ocean area and Coquery Vidrovitch covers rather well the role of long distance trade in Africa.

[3] Lewis, Karp, Cassanelli, Holtzman and Abdi Samatar discuss the Issues of pastoralism and commercialization of the livestock sector.

[4] On strong societies and weak states, see Joel S. Migdal.

[5] Personal communication form Hasan A. Iimaan, a member of the “Anti-Corruption Committee.”

[6] Most of the following discussion is based on interviews and talks over a rather long period of time with the core group, some other members of the SRC, and other army officers who were not as in­volved.

[7] Khaawi, though not a member of the SRC, was intimately involved with the maneuvering. He sup­ported Salaad and therefore alienated members of his group. He was detained on August 1970.

[8] The Soviets alerted the SRC on both occasions. Supposedly, they taped some telephone conversa­tions and provided some ‘verbatim’ discussions. Increasingly, it appears that the reports were disin­formation calculated to show their credentials and support.

[9] For further discussion, see Laitin and Samatar and Ahmed Samatar.

[10] This section draws on Galaydh.

[11] The Italian government was embarrassed by the disclosure of the fraud and suspended all assis­tance in the summer of 1988.

[12] David Laitin and Said S. Samatar, ‘Somalia: Native In Search of a State’, 1987, p. 1158.


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