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SOMALIA: From Finest to Failed State (PART III)

By Mohamed Haji (Ingiriis)

Email: [email protected]




One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship

George Orwell


Mohamed Siad Barre

Upon acquiring power, Mohamed Siad Barre soon established a fearful draconian court called National Security Court headed by Mohamud Gelle Yusuf, a heartless navy general who had never read law at school – he now lives in Switzerland as a refugee. Anyone who was taken to this court was almost assured that its verdict was public execution or life sentence, as there was no provision for an appeal from this court (three of its judges also are refugees in London). It was this Security Court that ordered, under Siad’s signature, the execution of fellow coup instigators in 1972 (Major General Mohamed Aynanshe Guleid, Brigadier General Salad Gabeire Kediye and Lt Colonel Abdukadir Dheel Abdulle) as well as 10 notable religious scholars who, in 1975, resisted dictator’s decision to implement a controversial law contradicting to both the Holy Koran and the country’s tradition.


To add insult to an injury, Barre ordered Somali military forces to attack next-door country, Ethiopia, in 1977. His ambition was to conquer western Somalia, which was his birthplace. In fact, Barre was born in a small village in Somali territory by the name of Shilabo occupied by Ethiopia, thus he was preoccupied with the desire to ‘liberate’ those territories. So this time, he led whole nation and the state to all-out war against Addis Ababa. Somalia heavily lost this war, not just in terms of human capital, manpower and economic resources, but also in terms of statehood, national identity and unity.




Given the fact that Somali forces were defeated, one Somali intellectual approached Barre and asked him if he could nominate him to lead Somali forces in the war front on Ethiopian border. Barre asked the man whether he was a trained military officer or not to which the intellectual answered, “I am not, but will do my best to command Somali forces.” The dictator laughed loudly and stated, “Military personnel cannot be commanded by a civilian official” whereby the intellectual advised Barre, “Jaalle Madaxweyne, also government affairs and business cannot be administered by military men.”


It was after this war and subsequent failed attempt to topple the regime, along with the establishment of clan-organised guerrilla fighters, when a real Intifadah and insurrection against the dictatorship commenced and Somalia began to plunge into fragile, famine-hit and failed state.


Leviathan State


Scholars – Somalis and non-Somalis alike – soon started to equate the deteriorating situation to that of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan (a war where everyman is against everyman, and which is, worst of all, continual fear, danger of violent death; and the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short).


An Italian journalist, Pietro Petrucci, who was part and parcel of Barre’s family-unit during its height days, asserted in his book, Mogadiscio, what he perfectly observed as, “Affaire di Famiglia,” and Dr Hussein M. Adam narrated how the tyrannical rule descended into what he coined from Nomenklatura into Clanklatura, whereas fanatic British anthropologist Ioan M. Lewis went even further by labelling regime’s influential group as “Gang of Five”, since mass killings, cruelty and torture became the norm, and freedom of speech and thought was regarded as a taboo.


With the power of the regime, mainly concentrated in the hands of the dictator, his two wives – Khadija and Dalaya – and almost seventy of his children and grandchildren (when Barre died in Lagos, Nigeria, on January 2, 1995, BBC Somali Service aired that he left 78 children and grandchildren), who were assigned from presidential office to ministerial departments, ordinary citizens began to flee the country, which was economically under the mercy of World Bank and IMF as well as our Arab brethren. It was this time when the first waves and influx of Somali refugees were seen from Botswana to Brunei and beyond.


Monsters replaced by monsters


That kind of family ‘dynasty’ – an antithesis to Somali egalitarianism – hastened the downfall of the autocratic rule of Barre and obliged the whole country to rise up against despotism. After 21-years of repression, corruption, nepotism and clan dominance, Barre was overthrown by his one-time military adviser and Ambassador to India, General Mohamed Farah Aideed, who loved his mentor’s cruel doctrine of rule by force and bullet. Nietzsche, unlike Machiavelli, would presage warlords’ whim by imparting this advice, “Those who set out to destroy monsters must beware they do not become monsters themselves.”


The transition also marked the demise of loathed groups; Hangash (military intelligence), Dhabarjebinta (military counter-intelligence ‘the backbreakers’), Koofiyad Casta (military police), Baarista Hisbiga (party investigators), Guulwadayaasha (party militias), Godka (Torture Cave) and the most notorious of all – the NSS (National Security Service), headed by Barre’s principle son-in-law Ahmed Suleyman Dafle, a callous officer who used to find his pleasure from affliction – he now lives in Anderlecth commune, a Brussels suburb as a candidate for refugee status. By a strange quirk of fate, the commune was once the home to human rights activist and famed Dutch theologian, Desiderius Erasmus. (In the summer of 2008, I met Dafle’s one-time record-keeper and assistant, one Abdi Landi in Toronto, and he was hesitant to answer my questions about the NSS activities).


All those groups had the exceptional powers to kill, arrest and detain on mere suspicion to anyone found to be opponent to the regime, and they were mostly complicit and held accountable for the skirmishes between what the regime classified ‘loyal clans’ against ‘enemy clans’. Many still resonate with those catastrophes that can be titled; Hargeysa Holocaust, Cadaado Calamity, Jasiira Genocide, the Melancholy of Mudug and the Shooting of Sheikh Ali Sufi Mosque. (A former military colonel who used to work with NSS is now facing torture claim in a US court with regard to a former Somali human rights activist).

It was at the time when human rights groups began to record the worst human rights abuses ever committed in Somalia, like the penetrating Africa Watch report in 1989 entitled: ‘A Government at War with its own People: Testimonies about the killings and the Conflict in the North.’ As a former Barre regime minister, Ali Khalif Galayr, wrote a piece of writing on Horn of Africa Journal, “This was a crime not only against the grieving Somali people, but also against humanity.”




Anarchy destroys mankind and ruins civilization


Ibn Khaldun


Barre’s ouster and the fall of Mogadishu in 1991 created anarchy, havoc and complete devastation with the emergence of greedy warlords – unable to implement consociational polity or modus operandi – vying for power and from the sabotage of international efforts to restore order as massive population were dying of hunger and starvation. In retrospect, the repercussion of that lunatic greediness, which made Mogadishu a ‘Berlin of 1945’ and a ‘Beirut of 1982,’ was the product of what Dr Abdi Ismail Samatar categorised in 1992 as an era of dad-cunkii (cannibalism).


One European correspondent who visited in Mogadishu in October 1991 observed: “It’s a must for every family to have at home at least a gun and various kinds of bombs in order to defend themselves from the gangs. You can easily buy at the nearest market every kind of light artillery weapons with a cost of less than 50 dollars. Corpses lay in the streets of Mogadishu and whenever they hear gun-fire, dogs start barking and cats mewing while chasing each other for happiness to the direction of the gun-firing, because they became addicted to the flesh of dead human bodies.”


Operation Restore Hope, the greatest sacrifice America did to the starved Somali nation, ended in the horrifying incident of Black Hawk Down. Certainly, it was another missed opportunity, though conspiracy theorists believe it was the first time that a military invasion was launched in the name of human interference.


Rapacious Pirates


Recently, Somali pirates, branded themselves as protectors of Somali seas, have dominated world news circles. Whether they are exercising the same Washingtonian paradigm or not is an open question to western powers that stationed strong forces on the coast off Somalia (former US President, George Washington, during war with Britain in 1756-1763, made a deal with local pirates to protect the wealth of American seas because of lack of naval forces).


Nonetheless, contemporary combination of Ethiopian-backed power-hungry and blood-thirsty warlords, rapacious pirates, terrorists and Al-Shabaab’s al-Qaeda phenomenon, along with tribal mini states, as well as mafia-style business community, are all the culmination of dictatorial legacy by Mohamed Siad Barre. He demolished democratic government, however weak and corrupt, but it was the direct electoral democracy that gave people a voice to exercise and express their free will. At least, people had the mechanism to elect and to be elected, and it was this process through which they could make a change if circumstances demanded.


For that reason, all these factors – dictatorial rule, warlords’ pillage and fiefdoms, pirates’ brutality and habaarka biiray (the rigid curse from Allah) – contributed to the emergence of war profiteers and freewheeling fighters who eventually affiliated themselves with al Qaeda after they had secured financial assistance from external stake-holders.


Al-Shabaab’s plague and belaayo (imprecation) came up with new tactics never seen before in Somalia’s war scene. Horror conducts, for instance, suicide bombings and quick trial without lawyer – what they call ‘mobile courts’ – are not merely a new novelty to Somali perspective, but also one of the real reasons why no group or entity in Somalia could face them. Lately, Al-Shabaab carried out their first deadly horrific attack beyond Somali borders and blasted Uganda.


To rephrase Carol von Clausewitz’s dictum, “War is a continuation of (Somali) politics (and power) by other means.” But modern history hitherto proves that no war ends all wars, at least, in the case of Somali experience. As a result, the new Somali government is obliged to embark on talking to Al-Shabaab and other opposing groups. More to the point, Somalis are not worried about their government, but rather about destructive attacks by Al-Shabaab.




Only the dead have seen the end of war




At present, Somali public are staring at the international community in general and the United States in particular, again and again, because they brought Somalia back to the reign of terror after six months of peaceful rule by Islamic Courts Union in giving a green line to Ethiopian invasion that had given power to Al-Shabaab.


Somalis require to be assisted in ending the ongoing and unremitting fighting in Mogadishu between the UN-backed government, headed by Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, with the help of African contingents and Al-Shabaab group, with the assistance of international jihadists, led by Pakistani-trained Ahmed Abdi Godane (Abu Zubeyr). Somalis need not merely US policy maker’s strategy of yesterday’s solution tackling today’s problem, but real assistance to win this war by providing more contribution and sacrifice.


If not, Somalia remains failed state, and the ‘balkanisation’ will have received an endorsement of badly-informed decision-makers like Johnnie Carson, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs – or perhaps, we should be waiting for the era Jeffrey Gentleman has predicted – the day piracy and Islamist radicalism are eventually joining hands. Perhaps, Somalia needs to be lived to be believed.


(This essay was first published on Africa Centre for Strategic Studies and Africa Review Journal. It was three part series essay which I have explained the genesis of Somali conflict and how Somalia descended from Schopenhauerian World to Shabaab’s Shawshank).



1.      For excellent account on how Mohamed Siad implanted the seeds of Somali state demolition, see General Jama Mohamed Ghalib’s The Cost of Dictatorship: The Somali Experience, Hussein M. Adam’s From Tyranny to Anarchy: The Somali Experience, Hussein Bulhan’s Politics of Cain and Abdikadir Mohamud Osman’s penetrating and stimulating books: Tiirka Colaadda and Sababihii Burburka Soomaaliya.

By Mohamed Haji (Ingiriis)

Email: [email protected]


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