Copyright 1995 The New York Times Company
The New York Times
January 3, 1995, Tuesday
Somalia's Overthrown Dictator, Mohammed Siad Barre, Is Dead
By GEORGE JAMES
Maj. Gen. Mohammed Siad Barre, who was overthrown as President
of Somalia in 1991 after ruling that impoverished African country
for more than 20 years, died yesterday in exile in Lagos, Nigeria.
Official accounts put his age near 74, but reference books
place his birth variously between 1912 and 1920.
General Siad Barre's departure from the scene four years
ago left Somalia without a central authority, on the brink of
mass starvation and with a civil war among feuding clans and
As commander of the armed forces, he had taken control of
Somalia, in the Horn of Africa, in 1969. The country of about
nine million -- mostly nomads -- with a per capita income of
about $175 a year is one of the most impoverished.
General Siad Barre's rule was marked by a war with Ethiopia,
a flip-flop in political alliances from the Soviet Union to the
United States, and growing allegations of human rights abuses.
In its final years, his Government steadily lost control of
much of the countryside to the chiefs of warring clans, plunging
the country into racking social and economic problems. Human
rights groups issued reports citing a consistent pattern of political
imprisonment, torture, political killings and discrimination
against the Isaaks clan.
In May 1986, President Siad Barre was seriously injured in
an automobile accident, but later that year he was nominated
by the country's sole legal political party for re-election,
ran uncontested and won a new seven-year term.
Yet there continued to be questions about the extent of his
recovery. Reports of feeble health combined with the country's
internal strife led to a weakening of his grasp on power, American
officials believed. Toward the end, they said, he was struggling
to arrange a succession that would insure that his family and
clan -- the Marehan clan -- remained in power.
Many believed he was grooming his son, Maslah, who was a Soviet-trained
Instead, Somalia was steeped in turmoil. United Nations and
United States troops partly managed to open relief-supply lines
to a famished population, but that costly effort, too, has yet
to bring about a political solution and peace to the country.
According to his Government's version, General Siad Barre
was born in 1919 or 1921. He was educated in private schools
in Mogadishu, the capital, and attended the Military Academy
in Italy and School of Administration and Politics in Somalia.
From 1941 to 1960 he served in the Somali Police Force and
rose to the rank of chief inspector. In 1960, when the Somali
Republic was created out of territories formerly ruled by the
Italians and British, he was made a colonel and deputy commandant
of the newly formed Somali National Army. He rose to brigadier
general in 1962 and major general in 1966.
On Oct. 21, 1969, shortly after the President, Dr. Abdirashid
Ali Shermarke, was assassinated by a police officer in a factional
quarrel, General Siad Barre led a successful and bloodless coup.
Assuming power, he espoused "scientific socialism,"
arguing there was no inconsistency with the principles of Islam,
and turned to the Soviet Union for support.
In 1977, his army invaded the disputed Ogaden area of southeastern
Ethiopia. At about the same time, Ethiopia split with the United
States and became more closely aligned with the Soviet Union.
With the help of Cuban troops and billions of dollars' worth
of Soviet weapons, the Ethiopians turned back the Somalis in
General Siad Barre denounced the Russians and turned to the
United States. Somalia received military and economic aid from
the United States for a promise of American use of the port of
Berbera on the Gulf of Aden. But aid declined drastically as
allegations of human rights abuses rose. In 1989, Somalia revived
contacts with Libya.
In May 1988, fierce fighting broke out in the north between
the Government and rebels who contended they had been discriminated
against by the Siad Barre Government and were fighting for a
more democratic Government.
A report commissioned by the State Department and made public
in September 1989 said the Somali Army "purposely murdered"
at least 5,000 unarmed civilians over a 10-month period in the
early phases. The Government denied the allegation.
More than 10,000 people were reported killed in the months
that followed, with allegations that the Somali military had
bombed towns and strafed fleeing residents.
Amnesty International said in August 1988 that since 1981
the Government had used torture and "widespread arbitrary
arrests, ill treatment and summary executions" of civilians
suspected of collaborating with the rebels.
In his last year in office, President Siad Barre promised
reforms to introduce multi-party democracy.
In June 1990, a hundred prominent citizens signed a declaration
called the Mogadishu Manifesto, calling for his resignation and
the appointment of a transitional government pending free elections.
He called the manifesto "destructive," and jailed
45 of those who had signed it, but about a month later he ordered
their release. He agreed to multi-party parliamentary elections
to be scheduled in February but later canceled them and the civil
war took its course.
Copyright 1995 Guardian Newspapers Limited
January 3, 1995
ARCHITECT OF MISERY
Obituary: Mohammed Siad Barre
By Patrick Gilkes
PRESIDENT Mohammed Siad Barre's dictatorial and tyrannical
regime in Somalia came to a predictable end in January 1991,
when he was forced to flee from his capital, Mogadishu, after
months of fighting. It was typical, however, that he refused
to accept the inevitable and retreated to his own home area in
the west of the country, from where he made several efforts to
fight his way back.
He was only forced out in April 1992, first into Kenya, and
then to Nigeria after Kenyan MPs forced President Daniel Arap
Moi to give up the idea of providing a refuge for such a discredited
Siad Barre, who has died aged 74, came to power in rather
different circumstances. Originally he was a policeman for the
Italians before the second world war, then for the British, and
again under the Italian mandate over Somalia. After independence
in 1960, he became chief of police and was appointed vice -commander
of the Somalian army and commander-in-chief in 1965. At the time
of the constitutional crisis of 1969, following the assassination
of President Abdel-Rashid Ali Shermarke he seemed a natural choice
as figure-head for the army officers who had seized power.
The coup was bloodless, and popular in a country tired of
the anarchic pluralist politics of the Somali clans. But its
leaders underrated Siad Barre. Never highly regarded and referred
to, somewhat disparagingly, as a "man of average intelligence
and no formal schooling", he proved far more adept at political
manipulation. It was not long before he had seized full control
of the supreme revolutionary council.
His regime originally claimed it had come to remove tribalism,
or its Somali equivalent, clanism, but it soon became apparent
that little had changed. Siad Barre's regime, particularly when
opposition appeared, was swift to reactivate clan links, and
the alliance of his own Marehan, his uncle's Ogaden clan, and
the Dolbuhunta clan of his son-in-law, formed the basis of his
In the first years he introduced an element of efficiency
into Somali bureaucracy, coupled with his moves towards "scientific
socialism", though he was never a convert. Socialism, as
his alliance with the Soviet Union, was valued as a way to achieve
control. He never managed to produce an acceptable blend of Marxism
and Islam to satisfy the highly individualistic and Muslim Somalis.
He did, however, preside over the important introduction
of a written Somali language, forcing acceptance of a Latin script.
Literacy campaigns were a considerable success, but they were
coupled with a huge personality cult. Siad's gaunt features loured
over all offices and buildings and enormous hand-painted posters
became a familiar sight in the streets.
Like others in the Horn of Africa he also managed to play
off the great powers during the Cold War, having a close alliance
with the Soviet Union until 1977, when Somalia went to war with
Ethiopia over the Ogaden desert and the Soviets changed sides.
Siad Barre then looked to the United States for support and,
to a limited extent, obtained it. His attack on Ethopia had been
popular and, surprisingly for a military dictatorship, he survived
Somalia's defeat. But opposition increased as his regime became
ever more ruthless in suppressing criticism and opposition. The
US was not impressed by his human rights record and his support
When Siad Barre came to power he found a capital city that
was rundown and shabby; when he fled, 21 years later, he left
a city still as shabby and rundown, but with the additional serious
damage brought about by the artillery fire of his own troops.
He had achieved little except to exacerbate Somalia's intractable
clan differences. He had tried to project himself as a wise,
avuncular leader, but his secretive, repressive and extensive
security forces, gave the lie to the image.
He lived in constant fear of assassination, and his personal
guard, drawn from his own clan were almost as paranoid. Although
substantial funds found their way abroad during his regime, it
was largely at the hands of his family. He himself lived frugally
in Villa Somalia, the presidential palace. An insomniac and chain
-smoker, he delighted in calling people for interviews in the
middle of the night. It was an off-putting tactic that underlined
the security and police background from which he never escaped.
Siad Barre's overwhelming desire was to have, and to hold
on to, power at all costs. It was this that brought him down,
and ultimately lies behind the disastrous events, and the on-going
civil war in Somalia since he fell.
Mohammed Siad Barre, born 1919; died January 2, 1995
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