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Toronto (Canada)

10, April 2003

M. M. Afrah

(This Talking Point is primarily intended for the younger generation who are at a loss to comprehend the murky situation in Somalia today and how it all begun. It is beyond petty clan politics, nepotism and tribalism. It is fair, accurate, candid and witty--The Webmaster)


SNAPSHOTS 1960-2003

Why would anybody want to be President of a country in an intensive care unit? What a crappy job? Who needs it? You're never going to win. You're never going to please every clan. You're destined to surround yourself by illiterate yes-men and smiling flunkeys, assuming you don't get shot or die of stroke, of taking nothing but criticism for everything you do or even think.

Just ask Aden Abdulle Osman, the first President at independence who faced this phenomenon during the dying days of his presidency in 1960s.

Almost everybody made him look zombie, but had survived. Now in his eighties he is very much alive and kicking. He is one of the very few African heads of state who conceded defeat at the ballot box (the others are Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda and until very recently Daniel arap Moi).

Aden Abdulle congratulated his rival Presidential contender, Abdirashid Ali Shermarke, loosened his tie, rolled up his sleeves and went to the land, farming. Today he refuses to talk politics---the murky Somali politics. Somali politics, it became clear, is not something he remembers with affection. He is farmer of first category, and clearly prefers that way. He gave himself to this obligation and has no nostalgia for his years in politics and later in Villa Somalia.

People close to him say he refused to be visible during the brutal clan wars and it is easy to see why he has refused to get himself involved in the present quagmire. It is a country of warlords, shameful blackmail, kidnapping, clan worshipping and guns. It is a scene from hell.

Had he joined the fray it's difficult to visualize him presiding over the carnage in the country. Soft spoken and charismatic, but unlike other politicians, he always meant what he said and never minced his words.

As a result, an umbrella of suspicion and rumours by vocal minority aimed at unseating him prevailed in the country in those days. But like most educated Somalis, he had political science and palace intrigues on the tip of his tongue. He must have read Machiavellian handbook during his student days. He patiently spoke of how the Horn of Africa will engulf in unending bloodshed if the West, notably the United States supported powerful Ethiopia against infant Somalia. He predicted the streets would run with blood unless a political solution is found. Needless to say, his prophecy came true.

Aden did not own Swiss bank account and answered his enemies with compassion. He tried his very best in silencing internecine tribal rivalry and political jostling within the SYL, the ruling party. He wanted to bring the missing territories diplomatically, not by war, because he knew that a newly independent, but economically weaker Somalia, surrounded by Western supported enemies, he was not ready to go to war against the king of kings, the lion of Judah emperor Haile Selassie, Jomo Kenyatta and the daredevil French Foreign Legionnaires in Djibouti.


General Mohamed Siyad Barre, who came to power in a military and police coup in October 1969, ruled the country with an iron fist for more than 20 years, which is an appropriate gauge for a country that's difficult to rule. Despite his gentle art of hugging babies in public, General Barre indoctrinated the people with what he called Scientific Socialism and made it clear from the very outset that he will not allow any challenge to his rule. The consequence would be the Tiirka behind the Police Academy, meaning death by a firing squad. It seemed that the people, weary of corruption and nepotism, needed the spin at the time. It worked, because law and order was fully back on track.

But when his seat of power became as hot as brimstones and shaky he fled to his hometown in Garba-harey, southwest of the country, leaving behind a catalogue of death and destruction in his wake.


The Somali people then found themselves down a dark tunnel with no end in sight. After more than two decades of military dictatorship their biggest long-term problem now is the warlords who have the qualification for membership in the "axis of evil" club.

Mr. George Bush Junior, please take note.

Given the large scale of destruction and the general mayhem they are causing in the country, a Somali doctor at Digfer General Hospital told a visiting reporter from the French news agency AFP that the warlords and their militia gunmen are clinically insane. He told the awe-stricken French reporter that his worst nightmare is how to cope with the growing number of injured people, mostly women, children and the elderly who were caught in the middle. "The ugly truth is that the warlords are in a race to eliminate each other," he said.
It was distressing sight at the hospital with supplies critically running low.


Today the question which continues to linger in people's mind most is: Why are these people in Nairobi's Mbagathi are dragging their feet on the crucial question of returning Somalia into the international community of nations. This clearly amounts to uncertainty, hypocrisy, self-centeredness and contempt to the wishes and desires of the long-suffering people of Somalia.

Each faction leader at the Mbagathi Peace Talks is fighting tooth and nail to become president or prime minister of a country he reduced to a wasteland, while the inhabitants in the wasteland are traumatized beyond comprehension. They can't even muster a single quiver of voice when describing moments of absolute horror.

But ask any warlord/faction leader, he will swear that he is fighting for "peace" or to right a wrong done to his clan. You will never hear him order his trigger-happy, drug-crazed militia to lay down their weapons. His mundane answer/question is: "Who will protect us from the other clans if we put down our weapons?"

What's more, you will never meet a warlord/faction leader who misses the requisite five times a day prayers. Even at the height of heavy artillery bombardment he patiently waits for the Muezzin's call for the faithful to prayers, then performs his prayers in his heavily defended stronghold.

This is the same man who used long-range artillery guns to destroy mosques, Quranic schools and the main Roman Catholic cathedral in the heart of the capital, after a looting spree. This is the same man who ordered his militia to mercilessly massacre women, children and the elderly, Hutu-style, just because they happened to belong to his "enemy" clan. He does not believe he was murdering unarmed fellow Muslims and does not lose sleep over the carnage.

Talks of arms embargo, unspecified threats by donor countries against ceasefire violators and lack of meaningful results are as meaningless as sanctions against apartheid South Africa and Ian Smith's white regime in former Rhodesia.

Despite endless peace talks the streets in the capital and other towns are as dangerous as ever before and people are asking themselves: "When would all these end?" Strange but true the lawlessness is becoming routine and the inhabitants are trying to keep body and soul together. "It is God's will," they would say.

Even relief workers based in Kenya occasionally sneak into the country, feed few starving people at the border area and retreat back to their posh hotels in Nairobi before you know it.

"They live, like they might as well be dead," one relief worker was quoted as saying upon his return from Baidoa, dubbed by the international media as The City of Death.

It is a surreal scenario that would give a seasoned Hollywood movie director a heart attack before he could says CUT!

M.M. Afrah 2003


Mr. Afrah is an outspoken Author/Journalist and a member of the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) and the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). He contributes hard-hitting articles to Canadian and international newspapers and magazines on the Somalia situation "through the eyes of a man who covered the country for more than two decades".

Many of us remember his critical articles in his weekly English language HEEGAN newspaper, despite a mandatory self-censorship introduced by Guddiga Baarista Hisbiga Xisbiga Hantiwadaagga Somaaliyeed in 1984 and the dreaded NSS. I am very proud to know that Mr. Afrah openly defied the draconian censorship laws and went ahead to write what he thought was wrong in the country. He received several death threats from the warlords and was briefly held hostage by gunmen in 1993. But he remained defiant and continued to send his stories of carnage and destruction to Reuters news agency. He still is!


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