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MEMORY LANE: SOMALIA, THEN AND NOW - Forty-two Years Ago

TALKING POINT
By M. M. Afrah 

June 26th–July 1st, 1960. Meet the Somali people of the roaring1960s. They had everything it takes to be an independent nation—nationalism, brotherhood, charisma, an almost picture-perfect economy, a single language and a law and order with two entirely different administrations (British and Italian) to harmonize. They sung passionately “Soomaalidii Midowday, Saxarkii Baxyee Samaatay” accompanied by Cabdullaahi Tima-Cadde’s famous gabay “Kanna Siib kanna Saar”. However, there was a catch-22—an unanticipated vicious circle. The newly born nation was surrounded by a black Emperor “king of kings, the Lion of Judah”, French and British colonies in the north and south who considered an independent Republic in their neighbourhoods was unwelcome “guest” that’s liable to cause trouble in the Horn of Africa.  

They set up the wheels of obstruction in full speed, including watchtowers, minefields and barbed wires along the border, in the case of the French colonizers in Djibouti.    

And as soon as the sky blue flag with the five-pointed star in the middle was hoisted, we found ourselves in a tight spot and the odds of being a stable and an independent Republic were getting longer by the hour. We hadn’t bargained for this. None had. Somalia ended up in a nest of vipers. But the people had strong instinct for survival, come what may.                      

In 1963 the powerful Ethiopian army and air force attacked the infant Somalia that had no means with which to defend itself from the powerful aggressors—no army, no air force, navy or weaponry of any kind--only a skeleton police force.  Ethiopia, the flag bearer, of the colonial powers in the region, was aware that President Abdirashid Ali Shermarke and General Daud and their fledging Xoogga Dalka Soomaaliyeed were vulnerable and had nowhere to turn for help. The OAU, the Arab League and the United Nations continued to seat on the fence with folded arms, just because Emperor Haile Selassie, Washington’s catspaw, classified the infant nation as an  “expansionist” in the Horn. And all of a sudden Somalia became an object of attack in the Western media. Hence, the word “Shifta” began to appear both in print and in the electronic media. The word means Bandits or Terrorists in today’s parlance.

And the years that followed, Ethiopia, which was actually doing the armed invasion, was able to cloud its blatant attacks on cities and towns inside Somalia, using US-made F15 jets as well as long-range artillery guns. No country, except Egypt, condemned these ghastly attacks, whereas the other member countries in the Arab League led by Syria, Libya and the then new Marxist regime in Southern Yemen (Aden) joined the Ethiopian-led OAU in laying the blame at the feet of Somalia—a classical case of accusing the victim rather than the perpetrator.

Three days later, the OAU, with Ethiopia and the newly independent Kenya, as the main shakers and movers, passed a little known resolution which categorically states that all borders should be left intact as they were during the colonial rule, despite strong protest by the Somali delegation that the dispute between Somalia and Ethiopia was a territorial and not a border dispute and that the Somali people colonized by Ethiopia should be given the right to decide their own destiny in a UN/OAU supervised referendum. But as was expected this legitimate demand fell on deaf ears, in flagrant violation of UN Charter.

Furious at the defeat in the august body, the Somali delegation (bless their souls) hastily held a press conference outside the OAU Hall (Somali comedians called it The Hall of Shame) to make their point to the international media covering the summit. But the anti-Somalia rhetoric increased exponentially, both within and without the OAU. The world refused to listen to Somalia’s plea, because to do so would have humiliated the Emperor and Jomo Kenyatta, the shakers and movers at the OAU who were perceived by the West as the “good guys” in Africa. Kenya’s East Africa Standard newspaper wrote in its editorial, “We would like to see what kind of support the obstinate Somalis have now after what had taken place in Addis Ababa last week.”

Then the British colonial administration in Kenya held a sham referendum in what was then the Northern Frontier District (NFD). More than 90 per cent of the inhabitants voted “YES” to reunite their brethren in Somalia. That was before Kenya became independent from Britain in December 1963. But the British Colonial Office rendered the result as null and void, flouting its earlier promise that it will abide by the outcome of the referendum and promptly cancelled it in order to gratify Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, their protégé.

When prominent NFD leaders tried to protest against this obtrusive injustice, the then British Provincial Commissioner, at the head of fully armed GSU, a paramilitary police force similar to the nazi storm troopers, read the riots act. The peaceful demonstrators and their elders were quickly dispersed in a hail of bullets and tear gas. Several people lost their lives. Many observers, including this writer, suspected that there was something fishy about the referendum even before it was put into motion.

Article 21, paragraph 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of which Britain was signatory, says “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.”

Universal Declaration of Human Rights indeed!

Evidently the UN deliberately failed to assert itself as a world body on the question of the divided Somali Peninsula. The West, the US and Britain were largely motivated by the need to protect their business interests and investments in Kenya. While France, the other Permanent member of the Security Council was motivated to protect her foothold in Djibouti, which she had renamed as Afar & Issa Territory, dropping the name “French Somaliland”.     

Paradoxically, the same British Government had proposed a unified Greater Somalia in the immediate aftermath of World War Two! Why London changed its mind remains mystery to this day.

For the Somalis, it was make or break. Worse, no support was forthcoming from the international community, including the United Nations in New York for the reasons mentioned above.

Finally, Somalia got that support from an unexpected quarter—the Soviet Union--and the Cold War made its presence felt in the Horn of Africa with the West supporting Somalia’s traditional enemies and the Soviet Union providing modern weaponry, including Mig fighter planes, tanks, Sam 6s and radars as well as military training, thousands of Soviet military experts and economic development under a 20-year treaty of friendship and cooperation. In exchange General Barre, who adopted Scientific Socialism, Marxism Leninism, gave dozens of Soviet-fishing trawlers and factory ships to vacuum clean our territorial waters (the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea) unfettered. And for the first time in living memory there was an acute fish shortage in Somalia.

Later, General Barre tore up the much-bandied treaty into pieces, after Moscow switched its military and economic support to Colonel Mengistu’s Red Terror, whom they thought was a genuine Marxist. And so, an undeclared war between the two Horn of Africa countries erupted with devastating results on both sides

The rest is history.

Since then so much had happened. Much more than can be squeezed in this writing. It was and still is an indifferent world. A world for which Somalia and its “troublesome” Somalis remain indelible question mark. A world whose media-led policy-makers find Somalia’s woes to be nothing more than weaving intrigues to be spliced at will and a rewarding reading in their books. A world whose values rest more on self-gratification, muscle-flexing and High Noon act against tiny countries, making naught of its much publicized concern for democracy, human rights and individual dignity.

Now forty-two years later, the Somali people are still in their sinking ship. It is true that the corrupt and ruthless clan leaders played a major role in the destruction of the country during the last 12 years. In their hasty stampede to snatch power, the clan leaders became more destructive and murderous than Ethiopia’s F-15 jets and artillery guns in the 1960s. They created the clan militia, headed by nomads and escaped hardcore convicts, so there could be no national army under a single command. They did nothing to save government properties and offices from looters; more than seventy-per-cent was available at the time Siyad Barre fled. I know all these, because I was there.

The looting and destruction of public and private properties continues to this day, and nothing discernable is done to stop them. These, and many other things, show these groups first served themselves, and that their only goal is to enrich themselves at the expense of the poor. They even looted the national monuments and sold them as scrape metal to Asians in the United Arab Emirates to be melted and blended with gold. Worse, they flooded the country with counterfeit currency which, triggered hyperinflation never seen before.

Now that they are meeting in Eldoret, I say to them: “Please think of what is good for the country and its people. If you can’t, it is not shameful to defect to the devil and order your militia to lay down their weapons. You believed that the fastest route to power and fame in Somalia is infamy, so you embarked on a vicious headline-grabbing killing rampage. You and your militia have stretched the people far beyond human endurance. Also, the Somali people are fully aware that past peace talks had very short shelf life and are wondering whether this one will also face the same fate.”

I never gave up hope that one day an expert would come forth who could put forth contemporary alternatives to clan-based politics. The onus is on you!

By M. M. Afrah © 2002

Afrah95@hotmail.com

 


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