- Copyright 1995 Newspaper Publishing
- January 3, 1995, Tuesday
BY RICHARD GREENFIELD
Mohamed Siad Barre, policeman, soldier, politician: born Shiilaabo,
Ogaden, Abyssinian Somaliland c1910; Head of State, Somalia 1969-91;
Secretary-General, Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party (SRP)
1976-91; married Khadija Maalin and Dalyad Haji Hashi; died Lagos
2 January 1995.
On the evening of 26 January 1991 Mohamed Siad Barre was forced
by opponents of his regime to flee Mogadishu, the capital of
Somalia, for his clan homelands. He did not give up his ambition
of recapturing the city for many months, but, confronted by a
vengeful Somali militia, and alarmed by disagreements between
his own family and supporters, Siad eventually fled to Kenya.
It was the end of his 22-year rule in Somalia, which had started
as Socialist experimentation and degenerated into dictatorship.
For a time after his flight, Siad was accommodated in some style
at the expense of the Kenyan government, but popular indignation
and a press campaign led the Kenyan president, Daniel arap Moi,
to refer the problem to the President of Nigeria, Maj-Gen Ibrahim
Babangida, then also chairman of the Organisation of African
Unity. Siad's entire party was evacuated by plane to Lagos, although
some were refused refugee status and returned.
Although treated well by the Nigerian authorities, the fallen
dictator was paid scant respect by the average Nigerian, and
his home was robbed more than once. Unable to the end to accept
responsibility for the famine and anarchy which has accompanied
thesuccession struggle in Somalia, Siad died a frustrated and
Siad was born in Shiilaabo, in the Ogaden area of Abyssinian
Somaliland, now the Ethopian province of Haraghe, in about 1910.
Siad's exact age has long been kept a state secret. His mother
was Ogadeen and his father, who died when Siad was very young,
was from the Marehan clan with which Siad more closely identified
himself. As is still the custom, he was given a nickname by his
fellow herdboys, ''Afweyne'' or ''Mighty Mouth'', which stuck
with him for the rest of his life, despite subsequent efforts
by sycophantic presidential aides to create alternatives, such
as ''Father of Wisdom''.
Siad travelled to Lugh and Mogadishu in nearby Somalia Italiana
for what formal schooling he had and then, in order to join the
Corpo Zaptie, Polizia Africana Italiana, he adopted the Marehan
town of Garbahaarey, within Somalia proper, as his supposed birthplace.
After British Commonwealth forces entering from Kenya overran
the Italian colony early in 1941, Siad went on a course run by
the King's African Rifles at Kabetti, in Kenya, and thereafter
was employed in the special branch of the British Colonial Police,which
took control of the Corpo Zaptie. This experience was his introduction
to political intrigue, at which he proved adept. He rose to the
highest rank then possible for an indigenous Somali.
The Allied powers could not agree on the disposal of Italy's
former colonies and the issue had to be referred to the United
Nations. Eventually, in 1949, Italy was granted United Nations
Trusteeship over Somalia, to prepare for independence after 10
years. The Carabinieri returned and Siad was awarded a two-year
scholarship to the Carabinieri Police College in Italy, and thereafter
he attended courses in politics and administration in Mogadishu.
He was the first Somali to be commissioned as a full polic e
officer and was embarrassed to be Commander of Police in the
Benadir province in 1958 when an active Egyptian diplomat, Kamal
Ed Deen Saalah, was assassinated, when his security guard was
In 1958, Somalia's own police force was formed, and by 1 July
1960, when Somalia became independent - uniting with the former
British Somaliland Protectorate to form the Somali Republic -
Siad had won accelerated promotion to the rank of Brigadier-General
of Police. Siad opted for the Somali National Army on its formation
in April 1960. He was one of its deputy commanders and was promoted
to succeed the Commander-in-Chief when the latter died in 1965.
Meantime successive fairly tolerant but complacent c ivilian
regimes made the mistake of ignoring mounting public disquiet,
especially over corruption levels. On 15 October 1969, President
Abdurashid Ali Shermarke was assassinated. The crime may not
have been politically inspired, but the national assembly dithered
over his successor and in the early hours of 21 October, Siad
led 20 army officers and five police officers in a bloodless
Significant political figures were detained, the constitution
suspended, the national assembly closed, political parties banned
and the Supreme Court abolished. The country was renamed the
Somali Democratic Republic and on 1 November the conspirators
constituted themselves the Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC).
Although, for the next few years at least, Siad took care to
cultivate a consensus for successive changes, the path towards
dictatorship was soon defined. Major-General Mohamed Siad Barre
became head of state and chairman of the SRC, its politburo,
the cabinet and the committees for defence, security and even
judicial matters. During the ensuing 12 months, after which ''Scientific
Socialism'' was pronounced (without public debate) the new national
credo, potential rivals were detained and the Vice-Chair man
of the SRC and two other influential leaders executed.
Statues to 'national heroes' were raised and, throughout the
land, indoctrination centres introduced slogans and mass-mobilisation
campaigns, stressing an end to feuds and conflict over water
and grazing. They promoted self-reliance and literacy, a new
Roman script having been introduced - a considerable achievement.
The complex security paraphernalia and the paramilitary organisations
so typical of all repressive states, whether of the right or
the left (and Somalia was a confused mixture of both), were installed.
The new National Security Service (NSS) began to run its own
interrogation and detention centres and even courts. Prison conditions
for a growing number of political and other prisoners were uniformly
harsh and torture was rife.
As early as 1963, Somalia had entered into a military aid agreement
with the Soviet Union. The extent, if any, to which there had
been Soviet participation in the planning of Siad's 1969 coup
is still disputed but in 1974 Siad signed a treaty of co-operation
with the Soviet Union.
The banks, insurance companies, electrical power production,
petroleum distribution, sugar estates and the refineries were
all nationalised, but not the banana plantations, in which there
were substantial foreign interests. Socialist policies of state
control over production, exports and imports were implemented
through mushrooming but uneconomic state agencies.
Possibly as a counter against Soviet influence, but also with
an eye on petro-dollar aid, Siad led Somalia into the League
of Arab states in 1974. In that same year he was elected Chairman
of the Organisation of African Unity. To his Soviet friends,
however, he was proving unorthodox, more pragmatist than socialist.
His Somali peers in turn recognised an addiction to raw intelligence
and a growing pattern of concentrating power unto himself.
Siad's models were Nasser and Kim Il Sung, cult personalities
rather than ideologues. He also openly admired the Chinese and
held Sekou Toure of Guinea and Nicolae Ceausescu in the highest
The Soviets pressed Siad for the formation of a civilian ''vanguard''
party to which their intergovernmental co-operation and aid could
more easily relate. In 1975, Siad announced a succession of largely
cosmetic changes leading to the establishment, the following
year, of the Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party (SRSP). Former
SRC members, disdaining demilitarisation, nevertheless became
the politburo, and a carefully screened party congress adopted
a prepared constitution. Siad was ''chosen'' to be General Secretary
of the Party, as well as head of state, and chairman of both
its politburo and central committee.
Meantime, the Somali military forces had increased rapidly in
size, technical ability and political influence - to the consternation
of neighbouring Ethiopia, Kenya, the French in Djibouti and the
United States. Yet this was a time when serious drought was striking
the entire Horn of Africa. Moreover the Ethiopian empire seemed
to be crumbling.
For years, Somalia had clandestinely assisted Somali, Oromo,
Eritrean and other nationalities and organisations opposed to
the central governments in Ethiopia and Kenya. In June 1977,
the Somali Cabinet and the Central Committee of the Party authorised
the Somali military to intervene directly in support of the Western
Somali Liberation Front. The Somali army entered the Ogaden on
23 July 1977 and overran it. After a vast airlift of men and
matriel, a Russian-directed Ethio-Cuban army speedily dispatch
ed the Somali army back home. Siad - who had abrogated all his
agreements with the Soviet Union and actually broken relations
with Cuba - shared with his Irish-American doctor but few others
the vain hope that President Carter would come to his aid. The
Somali officer corps were livid: the country stunned.
Parallels are few in history where a president and his regime
survive such humiliation. A bungled attempted coup in 1978 was
brutally suppressed and the machinery of government was soon
totally distracted and inundated by unprecedented flows of refugees
tragically, but probably wisely, fleeing the reimposition of
Ethiopian rule over the Ogaden. Subsequent challenges to Siad's
leadership, although they often evoked nationwide sympathy, were
almost invariably organisationally clan-based.
Siad came to rely more and more on his wider family, including
his in-laws, and those of his clansmen who were military men
rather than politicians or skilled bureaucrats. Their subsequent
accelerated promotions wrecked army morale. As Siad's popularity
further waned, these few followers urged even greater repression.
The National Assembly was suspended. States of emergency and
midnight arrests became the norm. Opposition organised itself
militarily, even opting for the unthinkable - support from the
leaders of the Ethiopian empire-state.
To Siad, the mnemonics of liberation fronts merely hid angry
clan groupings. Once so identified, whole areas were devastated.
Among the first to suffer were the Majeerteen. But it was confrontation
with the Isaak, the largest clan in the north, which revealed
the depths which Siad and his relative-generals were prepared
to plumb. The word ''genocide'' came to be used by international
human rights observers.
Then in May 1986 whilst Siad was being driven through blinding
rain by the Mayor of Mogadishu, his car hit a bus and was promptly
rammed from the back by a vehicle full of bodyguards. Local people
rushed to help, but they were machine-gunned. Siad, in a coma,
was saved by the hospital plane of the Saudi monarch, but another
factor - a family squabble over succession possibilities - further
complicated the political scene.
Siad decided that the time was ripe to make a deal with the Ethiopian
leader, Col Mengistu. Neither could any longer spare troops to
face down each other, when there was mounting civil conflict
to which they could be transferred. Either side would cease to
fuel the other's problems and restrain the ''dissidents'' on
their territory. But before Mengistu could suppress the SNM (as
he had the SSDF), the Somalis went home. Siad reacted without
any restraint: Hargeisa, the nation's second city, and former
capital of British Somaliland, and other cities of the north
were strafed, rocketed and bombed. In 1988 and 1989 columns of
refugees were not spared. The final countdown had begun.
On the domestic front, cynicism and disillusion reigned. Foreign
aid, especially that meant for the overestimated but none the
less enormous refugee population, came to be the national staple
and humanitarian aid groups, and their protectors, a second government.
For the West this was expensive and could not go on for ever.
Official meetings with the ageing president, however, developed
into tireless monologues and on occasion into degrading diatribes.
A diabetic insomniac and a chain smoker, Siad frequently kept
his weary ministers and officials up until dawn to no avail.
Meantime, greedy relatives and hangers-on occupied themselves
by securing ever more uneconomic loans, foreign exchange advances
and unfulfilled contracts. They poached and destroyed wild fauna
on a prodigious scale, not only in Somalia but across her borders
in Ethiopia and particularly Kenya. The trade in ivory was so
vast and profitable that Siad's own family became deeply involved.
Siad himself was not, however, much interested in amassing personal
wealth, but he could be vindictive to anyone who opposed any
member of his wider family.
The majority of the people had never been much impressed by the
pomp and circumstance of state occasions. Despite popular toleration
of gymnastic displays and spurious cultural shows, the ever popular
traditional poets had as often as not paid scant respect for
''Afweyne''. But the machine- gunning of herds of domestic animals
and the poisoning of wells was totally alien. Thus Siad's secret
policies of divide and rule broke down. At home he simply ran
out of clans. The Ogadeen, the Hawiya and even the heretofore
quiet Rahanweyn deserted him. Abroad too - China, Libya, South
Africa and (regrettably) Italy apart - he ran out of allies.
Despite the natural timidity of the Department of State (its
human rights desk quite excepted) the Congress was adamant: no
human rights: no aid.
As 1990 drew to a close, angry rebels infiltrated the Somali
capital to confront the heavily armed presidential guard (the
red berets) drawn to a man from Siad's own Marehan clan.
Confronted by guerrilla groups and rebellious clans - the Majeerteen,
Siad found that it was in fact the Somali peoples' God-fearing
love of freedom and what has been aptly termed a culture of pastoral
democracy, that brought him to the road's end. He dispatched
most of his relatives to enjoy their often ill-gotten gains in
their villas abroad, himself taking refuge in a bunker close
by the capital's airport and the coral coastline of the Indian
Ocean; the prelude to his last days in power. 'Mighty Mouth':
over 20 years' rule, Siad led Somalia from Socialist experiment
See Another Obit
to NomadNet Front Page