[DEBATE] : Re: Somalia
eve and tony hall
matumi at icon.co.za
Wed Jun 28 22:26:25 BST 2006
Sorry I can't give you any useful pointers to websites with updates on
Somalia or the Horn in general, I'm out of touch...I wonder if we have in
this Islamic Court group, the emergence of a movement that is not in any Al
Qaeda stream, that is capable of relatively coherent, socially-minded
leadership, as Hamas has looked like offering, given the chance. That's just
an idle musing.
Russell, you said I must explain in more detail. Peter, you asked me what I
was doing there. Before going into that, let me say first that what got me
going about the
Guardian piece is not its timidity -- rather that its broad-stroke picture
of US influence and colonial intervention is actually overdone.
There is a tendency, to coin a phrase, which too readily discounts third
world people, communities, nations, as actors in their own story, making
choices according to their own interests. Everything is put down to outside
You may be dismayed at my views on what led up to the
Mogadishu implosion of 1990/1 and much that followed: other than in the
broadest geo-political sense, the Somalis did it for themselves, for good
Rather than try to respond to Brendan O'Neill's excited melange of
telescoped iinfluences and events, let me tell it like it was as I learned
about it and saw it. It's going to be long, but quite interesting.
By the early 1960s as independence came to the countries of the region, the
stage was set, by the big powers post-war deals and trade-offs of the mid
1940s, grafted on the 1880s carve-ups by the European powers, viz:
* southern Somalia was declared to be north-east Kenya;
* northern Somalia, the Ogaden, was declared to be southern Ethiopia;
* the port and hinterland of Djibouti, a French colony inhabited mostly by
the Somali Issa, was later given a referendum to choose whether to go to
independence alone, or to join Somalia. But first the French literally
trucked most of the adult Issa out, in many thousands and dumped them across
the Somali border, so they could not vote in Djibouti. So the vote was for a
separate 'state' - ie a tiny coastal enclave dominated by the Foreign
As a journalist in Nairobi from 1964, I was acquainted with our northern
neighbour, and all these issues and events. I saw how 'northern Kenya' and
'southern Ethiopia' were indeed so totally Somali, in scrubland terrain,
language, cattle economy, nomadic culture - that never was a territorial
claim more valid in all the world than that of "Greater Somalia". I saw the
British Army, into Kenya independence, still putting down the Somali
rebellion in the north-east. I saw Kenya's left opposition supporting the
Somali case. A famous Kenyan photojournalist told me how he watched those
Issa people being trucked and dumped out of Djibouti.
I was based in Kenya again in the mid-1970s, as Oxfam's field information
officer. After I returned from a project investigation trip into the newly
peaceful Southern Sudan with Oxfam's director, Sir Leslie Kirkley, he asked
my wife Eve if she would go up to Mogadishu and informally investigate
development project possibilities for Oxfam there. By this time, 1973,
Somalia, with pro-West countries to the north and south, was 'in the Soviet
camp' after a bloodless coup and a Soviet training programme for Somali
officers and police.
But Leslie had heard that some good things were going on in Somalia's
development initiatives, and as a Quaker he didn't mind ignoring Cold War
shibboleths if he could find a way to help. Eve, an ANC activist, didn't
mind either, and she came back very enthusiastic about the general
mobilising around the great self-help campaigns that Siad Barre and
progressive-minded army officers were leading.
Somali was turned into a written language for the first time, choosing Latin
rather than Arabic script, in tune with the independent, secular inclination
of a predominantly Muslim nation. A mass adult literacy drive followed, with
volunteers fanning all around the country, in a successful campaign which
won a big UNESCO prize, and which volunteers reminisced about for years
afterwards, as a bonding experience. On Fridays, leaders and people gathered
at one or other worksite, to dig and to build with their own hands, planting
the huge inland sanddunes in an effort to slow their spread, building
Mogadishu's first "five star" hotels, the Juba and the Uruba, which were
completed on target. Schoolgirls, increasingly enrolled, were striding out,
open-faced, in trouser suits. The campaign against female circumcision and
infibulation was embarked on.
Eve wrote a positive piece for the New Internationalist, which they
published, but unusually, wrote a few paragraphs of disclaimer about her
views and observations.
It was Eve, years later, who took us back to Somalia. In 1980 she left
London to start the first of a series of community development and income
generating project for women in the refugee camps, and later helped launch
Somalia's first NGO. In 1983 I resigned from editing London-based Middle
East newsmagazines to join her, and later worked for a UNagency myself,
developing an industrial information service.
By this time, of course, the geopolitical world had turned. By the
mid-to-late 1970s in Ethiopia, Mengistu had ousted the feudal Emperor, and
brought in the Soviets, East Germans, then Cubans and South Yemenis, full
tilt. Was this the great moment for the two 'peoples republics' of the Horn
unite or federate, and move forward in socialism? Fidel Castro hoped so, and
said so, in the Mogadishu stadium, one memorable public rally. Now some of
the national and army leadership were convinced socialists. But many army
officers had gone along with the Moscow link because they had hoped it would
one day help them to get back Ogaden.
US imperialism was faced with yet another bruising setback, after defeat in
Vietnam, and the liberation of Mozambique and Angola.
So what happened in the stadium that day? As Castro orated, uniformed brass
on the stage called their aides and whispered instructions. Messengers
fanned out into the crowd. Like a reverse Mexican wave, the crowd stopped
applauding, the women stopped ululating and row after row turned their backs
on the platform.
The Somalis, the officer class, those whose aims and thinking didn't go
beyond Greater Somalia, were furious - to be asked to make peace with
Ethiopia just when Mengistu could be at his most beleagured, with a fight on
all fronts, Eritrea in the north, and now the Ogaden people and the Oromo
Liberation Front in the south, just at a time when Ogaden could be taken.
What were the Russians and the allies thinking, to propose this, after years
of preparation - it was a betrayal! If the Soviets were not going to help
the Somalis to attack Ogaden, they could get out.
A week-end of intensive meetings in Aden between all these allies could not
get the Somalis to support the cause of socialist unity.
Western intelligence, which had been hard at work persuading and promising,
heaved a huge collective sigh of relief when the Soviets were told to pack
up and go.
The Somali Army then charged into Ogaden, got all the way to Jijiga, almost
to Harar, and
then got shelled and bombed back across the border, stiriring up the world's
biggest mass exodus of refugees, from Ogaden into Somalia.
The Somalis gave Berbera as a US base for the Rapid Deployment Force, and
spent the next dozen years moving out of a Soviet-style disciplined scarcity
economy into the delights of the free market, exchanging hand-squeezed
spremuto for coca cola, swallowing whole the IMF and World Bank recipes for
increasing opportunities for corruption and wealth among the few, and
increasingly separating wealth from growing poverty. Until Siad Barre, the
Jalle (comrade) Siad of those great years of socialist mobilisation,and even
some of his better colleagues, had given up, joined the nepotistic chase for
wealth, blatantly enriched and promoted his own Marehan clan members against
other southern clans, and neglected the needs and demands of the people of
Before a decade was out, most of the clans of the north, in Hargeisa,
Berbera, Burao and Erigavo, were up in arms, in a virtual civil war between
the people of former British Somaliland, and the southerners of former
Italian Somalia, which drained the coffers and military resources of the
By 1990 the state was in disarray, the idea that the Somalis were free of
the usual tribal divisions had given way to fierce clan rivalries and
manipulations - the harvest from Siad Barre's great talent for pitting one
clan against another.
It was one clan, the Hawiye, who brought about the beginning of the end for
the Barre regime. In November 1990 the presidential guard began
indiscriminate shelling of the Hawiye areas of Mogadishu. This triggered a
full scale uprising of the Hawiye, the main clan of the capital city, and
areas to the north and east, but politically marginalised for years. There
was weeks of widespread fighting in Mogadishu, coming down to house to
house, hand to hand street fighting, between the presidential army and the
Hawiye fighters. By January, Siad Barre and his allies pulled out of the
city and trekked in fugitive convoy to the Marehan clan's home area to the
Now it was the Abgal sub-clan of the Hawiye clan, under the leadership of
Ali Mahdi Mohammed, a hotelier and bsuinessman, which had done most of brave
fighting to oust Siad Barre. But their fellow Hawiye of the Habr Gedir
sub-clan meanwhile came in from the nearby northern areas, such as Balad and
Jowhar (where the warlord 'government' has been holed out once more today,
in retreat from the Islamic court group) and claimed leadership of the new
regime, as they were the army wing of the clan's USC movement. When the
Abgal refused them sole control, the Habr Gedir faction under Farah Aideed
started lobbing RPGs at the Abgal headquarters.
And instead of dancing in the streets, jointly celebrating the bravest and
most conclusive of victories over the dictatorship, the two sub-clans of the
same clan, members of the same movement, began destroying Mogadishu with
their internecine fighting, in a warlords' battle that continues to this
And neither the Americans, nor the Italians nor any other western power had
anything to do with it.
Operation Restore Hope was a futile exercise by the Americans to subdue the
warlords, particularly Aideed, the main villain as he was, to quell disorder
and tackle famine and destruction. But later, when the UN special
representative, the Algerian Mohamed Sahnoun, worked hard to get the clan
chiefs to talk, the US subverted this one hopeful initiative.
Otherwise, in the next 25 years, the US has done nothing. It did not have
to. Imperialism's role was to lure Somalia away from the Soviets, and
corrupt the society. So one more nation, once ruled by secular socialists,
may give way ultimately to Islamic sharia. Like others removed by direct or
indirect imperialist force, as Iran's government in the 1950s, Soekarno's in
Indonesia, Sudan's in 1971, Afghanistan before the Mujahideen , the PLO in
----- Original Message -----
From: "Peter Dwyer" <peter at aidc.org.za>
To: "eve and tony hall" <matumi at icon.co.za>
Sent: Tuesday, June 27, 2006 11:15 AM
> I hope you are well? yeah, I read the article last week and thought it
> pretty timid stuff...still thats the liberal bourgeoisie for ya!
> Anyway, am after some advise can you suggest any good websites to get
> updates and to follow whats going on in Somalia and Horn of Africa in
> Dr Peter Dwyer
> 129 Rochester Road,
> Cape Town, 7705.
> South Africa.
> TEL: 021 447 5770
> CELL: 0847694133
> FAX: 021 447 5884
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