EDIFYING AMERICAN READERS
By M. M. Afrah, Toronto (Canada)
other day, a lady in Denver Colorado in the United States,
who corresponds with me from time to time, sent a nasty
email on how she was reading about how things in Africa
are getting from bad to worse, from the economy to politics
to everything else. Another e-mailer suggested that
we should lease the country to Walt Disney in order
to bring in Dollars, as if the country is a prime real
Like many Americans, these e-mailers are so ignorant
that they think that Africa is a country populated with
naked savages, skeleton-looking mothers, pot-belied
children with clouds of flies having an open season
on their shrinking faces and wild animals, like elephants
Dear American e-mailers, in order to save you the trouble,
or rather to enlighten you, Africa is not a country.
Rather it is a continent twice as large as the United
States of America with some 55 independent countries
from Algeria in the north to Zimbabwe in the south with
a population of more than 300 million people who speak
a plethora of languages and vernaculars. However, English
and French (inherited from their colonial masters) are
the official languages for most African countries. There
is no single lingua frank in Africa. There are North
Africa, East Africa, West Africa, Central Africa, Southern
Africa and Southwest Africa, now called Namibia. Remember,
Africa is the cradle of mankind.
roughly the size of Texas, is located in the Horn of
Africa with a population of about seven million people
who speak the same language, profess the same Islamic
faith and pursue the same way of life, unique characteristics
in Africa South of the Sahara.
asked me how did all start? I deduce your question concerns
the civil/clan wars that have been dragging on and on
for almost twelve years in Somalia.
a policy we do not condone tribalism or clannism on
this Website, but for historical reasons I reluctantly
describe the names of some tribes who first became the
victims of the late military dictator, Major-General
Mohamed Siyad Barre's regime in the 1970s and 1980s
which fueled the current deadly upheaval. Since then
most Somalis took refuge in their clans as the only
protection against the rigors of a cruel war imposed
on them by predatory warlords. No one can blame them,
because under similar adverse circumstances you too
would have done the same to save your skins.
Siyad Barre initiated the policy, but the warlords bent
on replacing him replicated his policy of divide and
rule antics. During his 21-year rule General Barre manipulated
clan loyalties and rivalries and favoured his own clan.
Following an April 1978 coup attempt led by disgruntled
army officers from the Majerteen clan, General Siyad
Barre forces singled out Majerteen civilians for reprisals.
An insurgent organization named The Somali Salvation
Democratic Front (SSDF) was launched to try to dislodge
his regime. A new SSDF radio station, KULMIS, (Siyad
Barre called it Qurmis - Stinker or bad odor) called
all Somalis to take to the streets and overthrow the
military despot. The government unleashed a reign of
terror against the Majerteen, killing thousands of innocent
civilians, slaughtering their livestock and poisoning
their life-saving water wells in the process. That was
when the time bomb started ticking in that Horn of Africa
the creation in 1981 of the Somali National Movement
(SNM), another rebel movement that drew its support
from the Isaaq clan in the Northwest, the military unleashed
brutal force, including the air force against Isaaq
civilians, killing 50,000 to 60,000 between May 1988
and January 1990 (Africa Watch). And when the Hawiye
pilots mutinied against their Marehan commanding officer,
the government hired white mercenary pilots to carpet
bomb Hargeisa, the capital of Northwest. And for the
first time in the history of warfare, pilots flew from
the airport of the same city they had targeted for carpet-bombing.
As soon as he came to power in a military coup in October
1969, General Mohamed Siyad Barre favoured his own clan,
the Marehan, who were recruited in large numbers into
the army and the security services, including the dreaded
National Security Service (NSS) and favoured within
the civil service. And with the help of a network of
son-in-laws he suppressed all dissent voices in the
country, including Somali journalists representing international
this favouritism General Barre purported to outlaw "tribalism"
by banning clan gatherings, such as the traditional
annual Shir performed by the Abgal clan and wedding
ceremonies, ordering that such ceremonies should be
performed at Orientation Centres "minded" by NSS agents.
He recruited elders as salaried Nabadoons (peace keepers)
and armed one clan against another to settle old scores.
seeking to maintain himself in power, the General fanned
the flames of clan animosity that refuses to go away.
The reason why it refuses to go away is partly due to
a solid wall of ignorance, pettiness, arrogance, extortion,
corruption and greed perpetrated mainly by his former
army officers turned warlords.
In January 1991, the United Somali Congress (USC), a
ragtag rebel group created in 1989 that drew its support
from the Hawiye clan, forced General Mohamed Siyad Barre
from the capital. Poorly equipped and poorly trained,
these young rebels, in beach sandals and sarongs, routed
one of Africa's most powerful army in terms of training,
numerical strength and superior firepower in less than
a month. Similarly, in the Northwest the SNM defeated
the government forces and decided to go solo, calling
their part of the country as the Somaliland Republic,
and blaming the Southerners for their relentless grief,
simply because General Barre and The Butcher of Hargeisa
were from the South, or so they believed. There is,
however, no barrier between the two former British and
Italian Somalilands and that goods and people move across
the old colonial boundary, unhindered. It is the people
that matter, not the self-styled leaders in both countries,
the flight of General Barre and his entourage, fighting
soon broke out between two rival factions of the USC,
one led by General Mohamed Farah Aideed, and the other
by Ali Mahdi Mohamed, a wealthy Mogadishu hotelier and
one time Director of the Ministry of Health, who declared
himself Interim President of Somalia, to the immediate
objection of General Aideed. Both men vowed to destroy
each other with the huge arsenal left behind by General
Barre. As a matter of fact, they made the capital look
like Berlin of 1945. Hundreds of thousands of innocent
civilians were either killed or fled the inferno with
only the clothes on their backs to neighbouring countries.
They still do.
the two main protagonists have left the scene of the
carnage years ago, the clan wars have been gathering
momentum day in and day out, showing no restraint in
the civilian population and the militia are regularly
firing weapons indiscriminately without regard for the
safety of civilians still clinging to life. Thousands
of bloated bodies are scattered on the streets of the
Mogadishu no one has the time to bury the dead.
The war drastically disrupted commerce and farming and
prevented people from feeding themselves. As a result
the control of food became the key to power and profit.
General Barre would have turned in his grave! Forgive
I am confident that this brief introduction to Somalia
will convince my American readers and e-mailers. By
the same token, I apologize to my Somali readers for
using the names of some tribes and clans. But as I mentioned
above I did this for historical purpose only without
which this synopsis would not have been complete. You
may consider it as raison d'Ítre, as the French would
like to say.
Mohamoud M. Afrah © 2002