LANE: SOMALIA, THEN AND NOW - Forty-two Years Ago
By M. M. Afrah
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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,
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.
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.”
Declaration of Human Rights indeed!
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”.
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.
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.
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
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
rest is history.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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!
M. M. Afrah © 2002