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Ogaden war in 1977: conspiracy and bogus public consensus


by Ali Sheikh
Sunday, January 25, 2015

History is not a democracy that demands public voting to approve or disapprove an ideology, nor a science that needs generic configuration of chemical substantiation.

History is simply the act of recording the total sum of past experiences as it unfolds from time to time. It can be kept in papers or in words, but at the same time experience taught us that most records at the time of trials such as wars do not speak of the truth. Habitually, after any war, the public expresses facts contrary to what has been kept on archives throughout the combat times. In so doing, one will be thrown under shackles in finding out the authentic facts of the time. By the same token, there are always some reliable leakages that can lit the historical lamp to help ascertain further truth of the matter from the living reference’s tale.

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There are no such available premises inscribed on paper mainly indicating the factual cause and the hidden intention of Somalia’s desire to wage a war against Ogaden Region of Ethiopia. People, who were outside the ruling circle of the then Said Barre regime, had the belief that the Ogaden war against Ethiopia was a “heroic-pursuance” of the so-called Pan-Somali nationalism. And it was accredited to the late dictator Siad Barre for his bravery in organizing the all-out war against Ethiopia so as to retrieve the region forcefully and merge it into Greater Somalia. This was the growing sentiment of the public at the time, but in reality, the truth of the matter inside Somalia was hugely on the contrary. During the preparation for the Ogaden war of 1977, there was only one giant media, a powerful military band, and one influential scientific socialist political party in Somalia. Back then Siad Barre’s four compass direction of his mouth was authentic decree, so to speak.  Accordingly, there was no any other scene that would have revealed the otherwise intention of Somalia’s wish-washy war propaganda. The available literature on Ogaden war only mention the greed motive of Somalia to capture Ogaden and supplement it to mainland Somalia. However, conscious dictates me to hunt the hidden reasons of Somalia.

Said Barre’s quest for statesmanship

As part from the seventy coups that took place in the first thirty years of independence in Africa, the dreams of African countries to become peaceful democratic states could not be ruled out. The Somali coup on October 21, 1969 was one of the mere coincidences of time that brought Siad Barre to power after the tribal retribution of a “staged assassination” led to the unprecedented death of President Abdirashid Ali Shar’marke. Siad Barre instantaneously declared the country under the political policy of scientific socialism and military revolutionary council. A 25-member group took control of the country and a Soviet style policy became part of the day-to-day businesses instantaneously.

By virtue of in-group erythematic, Said Barre’s clan (Marehaan) was marginal both in the military and the then political alignment of the late President Abdirashid Ali Shar’marke’s government. This is according to some of the views of the then Somalia trouper politicians. However, it could not be ruled out that the hard-hitting threats of Majeerteen clan put pressure on Said Barre’s political leadership’s survival. They felt that they are the rightful hires to the presidential post in Somalia given that the late Abdirashid Ali Shar’marke himself hails from Majerteen clan of North East Somalia.

Accordingly, Said Barre’s fragile rule had one choice to counterfoil all possible threats. One option was to marshal the hardcore clans, like those who’s parental origin hail from Ogaden region of Ethiopia. At the time, the Ogaden Clan had weighty politicians such Hillowley Ma’alim, the first former Defense Minister of Somalia at the time of President Aden Ade’s regime from 1961-1965, and unopposed Member of Parliament from Jamame constituency of lower Juba under the jurisdiction of Jubaland regional State of today. Also was Omar Ma’alin Ambassador to America from 1963-69 and a Member of Parliament elected unopposed from Afmadow constituency. The two siblings were formerly from Dhagahbour of Jarar zone.

Another weighty politician was the former Minister of Somalia Affairs (Wasarada Danaha Somalia), Mohamed Malinguur, elected from West Afmadow constituency and was moreover from Dagahmadow of Nogob zone in Ogaden region of Ethiopia. There were also influential military and police officers, such as; Colonel Muse Hassan Sheikh, Lieutenant Mohamed Omar Jees who both wholeheartedly aided Siad Barre’s bloodless coup. They were instrumental in designing and leading the coup. They later join the top most 25 military council that ruled over Somalia with an iron fist. It is not only that; Mohamed Omar Jees served under various ministerial portfolios right after the October 21 coup up until his death, The former Minister of Tourism Jess was born, brought up and educated in Dhagahbour district of Jarar zone in Ogaden Region of Ethiopia.

Lieutenant Muse Hassan Sheikh-an enthusiastic, no-nonsense and a political go-getter was among architects of the coup. He was also born in Khalafo of Shabelle zone. Ibrahim Khadiid, the then police commissioner of the central region from 1962-1968, who later become a Member of Parliament elected from Bardheere constituency was among the top police commissioners in Somalia and is a cousin of the above leaders whose parents hail from Afder zone of Ogaden/Somali regional State.

Siad Barre counts biological blood relations through maternal lineages to the Ogaden clan. It is sometimes murky but with a well-thought-out reasoning to convince politicians from the Ogaden region, traditional leaders (Sultan/Ugaas/Garads) and the merchants so as to enter and accomplish a pledge mainly made to his maternal uncles (The Ogadens). He planned it in such a way that he would ask them to join the military intended to outnumber Majerteen clan. He (Siad Barre) maintained the need to call all educated kinsmen and increasingly kinswomen both from Ethiopia and Kenya, and those in the then Azania – the current Jubaland regional state – to enroll in the military. In turn, he promised to those who joined that they will be quickly promoted to higher ranks and five years later will be assigned to a guerrilla organization to eventually fight to liberate Ogaden region (an illusionary day-dream and a legal fiction of the time). He will then – as president of a sovereign state of Somalia – declare the recognition of Ogaden land as a free and sovereign state in the Horn of Africa.

Siad Barre insisted that, the only thing Western Somalia Liberation Front needed to do is pledge allegiance and face a superior Ethiopian army. That was a “destructive cocktail” prepared for the then unfortunate Ogadens.  Under Siad Barre’s dictatorial regime, Somalia leapt forward for a while. But because of the Ogaden war in 1977 and the conflicting ideology of failing to take a chance to pick out which political philosophy to adhere to, as well as importing vast amount of military hardware, his legacy was heading to devastation. To escape the fall of discerns, Siad Barre’s intuition once again gave birth to a new empty slogan in search of the lost “Five Star Regalia” of Greater Somalia with intention to divert the growing public dissatisfaction as well as to beat the wit of his maternal uncles (Ogaden promise). For Siad Barre, if he calls for an all-out war against Ethiopia to takeover Ogaden region, he would have fulfilled the “kangaroo-court promise” he fogged with the innocent Ogadens in the then Somalia. At the same time he will take the risk of curtailing the growing military might of Somalia through the Ogaden war. Siad Barre practically knew that it was propaganda was another tool that he can use to win the Ogaden war of Ethiopia.

His intention was to drastically curtail his increasing military might in fear of possible a coup d'état. For Said Barre, the aftermath of the Ogaden war will be a good grazing period to transform himself into a statesman. However, the poor innocent Somalis in Somalia got the brunt of the hypocritical re-somalisation combat that has never materialized. One other peripheral factor of the Ogaden war – as part of Siad Barre’s clandestine conspiracy – was that many people from the Ogaden region will flee en masse and cross the border to Somalia as refugees; this according to Siad Baree would have brought him hard currency, more jobs, and food distribution to cover the poverty stricken military regime. 

When Ogadens fall apart

One sad occurrence of the 21st century was the war of Ogaden that took place in 1977. The refugees from the Ogaden region took to mainland Somalia – among many other things – creative theatre that helped as propaganda machinery. In exchange Somalia smuggled into Ogaden region “guns”, - by description instruments of destruction and obliteration which initiated a whole new culture of violence and instability up until the fall of military regime of Somalia in 1991. Nearly a million disappeared and perished into Somalia after the 1977 war. They either died of hunger in the refugee camps or died of nostalgic hallucination. Virtually, half a million died in transition and forceful displacement during the war and after the collapse of the Siad Barre regime in 1991.  Most Somalis do not want to talk about the atrocities of the war. Still, there are others who want to talk about how all Somalis participated in the Ogaden war of Ethiopia which indeed is historically inaccurate. By the standards of justice of Somalia at the time, putting Ogaden refugees in refugee camps found in Hargeysa, Luuq, Hiiran, Jalalaqsi, Luuq-jeelow, Jiikleya and Qoqaney Jaadle rather than placing them to areas where they share geological linage attachment was a positive sign of kindness. However, in reality, it was part of Somalia’s hidden agenda to separate Ogaden refugees, who escaped from the ruthless Derg regime of Mengistu Hailemariam, from their cousins in Jubaland of Somalia, believing that, in case they meet, they will join forces. Seemingly, none of the leaders of today’s Somalia want to address the issue and apologize for the historical injustice of the then military regime and the atrocities and repercussion of the 1977-78 war in Ogaden.

Obscenities were committed under guise of liberating Ogaden by a dictatorial regime. All of it was nothing other than the greed and grandeur of the fake symbolic and explicit ill-wish of Re-Somalization and a galvanized ego of an individual.

My aim, while writing this piece, is to decipher the bizarre events that were going on in Somalia when the then regime decided to go to war with Ethiopia. Similarly, I attempted to place it in context and try to understand what was the overall motive, what happened in practice and why. I have found out that in thinking and talking about geopolitical issues, I cannot calm down all rages and outcries from readers who feel this article is not in line with their beliefs at the time of reading. However, it is my honest prediction that, it will make readers vehemently go back to check the realities of history of which I believe afterwards, will serve them right to make an informed decision.


Ali Sheikh is an MBA-IB. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected].


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