Friday, April 27, 2007

Horn of Africa Week: What happened to Somalia?

It's time to wrap up Horn of Africa week, and what better way to finish things than with a look at a country front and center in the news. That would be Somalia, of course, a country currently being blasted to hell and back in a war between the Ethiopian army and the Islamic Courts Union's al-Shabaab "youth brigade" and Hawiye clan militias who are backed by Ethiopia's archenemy Eritrea. So why are they duking it out in Somalia? Isn't there anyone in charge there?

The quick and easy answer is: no. At least, not anymore.

You see, even in the best of times, Somalia has only barely conformed to the modern notion of the nation state. Somalia has a flag and borders that are more or less internationally recognized, but after that, similarities to what most people know as nationhood more or less ends. After what is now modern day Somalia emerged from Italian and British colonial rule, the concept of Somalia as a state rather than as an entity defined as "where Somalis live" still proved elusive. A centralized government in Mogadishu ostensibly called the shots, but in most areas of the country, the name of the game was 'regional autonomy', with power effectively wielded regionally by the leaders of Somalia's clans and their sub-clans, as had been done long before the notion of the modern nation state emerged.

When Somalia gained independence in 1960, the central government, such as it was, faced an uphill battle trying to unify Somalia into a country. When Somali President Abdirashid Shermarke was assassinated in 1969, it looked like a major setback for Somalia's transition into a modern state. That is, until the day of his funeral, when the military seized control in a coup d'etat. Out of the post-coup chaos, one military officer stepped to the forefront to take control. His name was Mohamed Siad Barre, and for the next 22 years, he would rule as Somalia's uncontested dictator.

The nice thing about being a dictator, of course, is the freedom to use means democratically elected leaders find abhorrent to achieve your goals. And so it was with Siad Barre, who decided to drag Somalia, kicking and screaming if need be, into the age of the modern nation state. Siad Barre quickly declared that he had come to break the hold of the clans on Somali society by transforming Somalia into a Soviet client state modeled on "scientific socialism". Since the average Somali knew nothing about Marx and Engels, Siad Barre didn't concern himself with the finer points of Socialist doctrine. He did, however, take a keen interest in building a ruthless network of secret police bent on eliminating any political opposition, as well as creating a pervasive (and successful) personality cult that declared "Comrade Siad Barre" to be the Father of the Nation.

Despite his heavy hand, Siad Barre proved to be popular with his people. He legitimized the use of the Somali language for official business, and even mandated orthographic reforms that helped increase literacy. Siad Barre was nothing if not proud to be Somali, a sentiment even the fractious populace understood, and he even found enthusiastic public support for his his most grandiose, and lasting, idea: Greater Somalia. Siad Barre sought to "reunify" traditional Somali stomping grounds and bring them under Mogadishu's centralized rule.

The only problem is, half of the lands in "Greater Somalia" belonged to countries like Ethiopia and Kenya. Siad Barre, who was already funding a Somali rebel group inside Ethiopia, bided his time, waiting for the right moment to invade Ethiopia's Ogaden region. Siad Barre decided to wait until 1977, when Haile Mengistu Miriam took control of military government who had toppled Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie. At this point, Siad Barre's Soviet armed and trained forces greatly outnumbered the Ethiopian army, which was still reeling from the internal chaos caused by the military coup. What Siad Barre did not appear to know, however, is that Mengistu had just turned Ethiopia into a client state.

When Siad Barre finally invaded Ethiopia in 1977, the Soviets found themselves arming and financing both sides of the war, and told Siad Barre to halt his invasion. Siad Barre, however, refused to abandon the goal of a "Greater Somalia", and so the Soviets cut him off. Ethiopia, flush with Soviet and Cuban support, started hammering the suddenly beleaguered Somali military until Siad Barre was forced to retreat without gaining any territory at all. Needless to say, Siad Barre's love affair with the Soviet Union was over, and transferred his allegiance to the United States. While Siad Barre lost the war, he still managed to remained popular at home - a feat that's unusual for a military dictator who's just found himself on the losing end of the war.

Unfortunately for Siad Barre, however, things would only get worse. The Ethiopian government started to harass Siad Barre with small scale military incursions, and the Americans began to cut off aid to Somalia as Siad Barre's human rights abuses became more widespread and more egregious. When Siad Barre's military bodyguards killed 65 protesters at a soccer stadium in 1990, the public had clearly started to sour on the dictator they used to love. When clan based militias supported by Ethiopia started taking over large parts of the country, the dictator found himself powerless to resist their advances. By 1991, a rebel army led by Siad Barre's former military intelligence chief Mohamed Farrah Aidid had chased Siad Barre out of Mogadishu for good. Siad Barre launched a mercifully brief counterattack before fleeing to exile in Nigeria, where he died in exile in 1995.

If you don't recall what happened in Somalia after Siad Barre fled, you can catch up here. You may even recall a modestly successful Hollywood film about that era of Somali history. Suffice it to say, since Siad Barre's departure, Somalia once again found itself without central governance. This condition of quasi-anarchy worked well in the countryside, less so in the cities where rival clan militias started shooting at one another in seemingly interminable battles for control. The 16 year power vacuum in Somalia also turned the country into one of the world's most fertile training grounds for Islamic terrorist organizations and high seas piracy. I'm sure Mohamed Siad Barre is somewhere, feeling smug about how his country has fallen pieces without him.

Anyway. This concludes Horn of Africa week. As always, if my readers have any ideas for other themed weeks or posts, just be sure to leave a comment - it doesn't take me long to read all of them.

Dictators of the World now returns to its regularly scheduled programming:

4 comments:

Vigilante said...

I woke this morning to a BBC account of the devastation in Somalia. The reporter concluded that the short six-months (before December '06) Somalis enjoyed under the decentralized, eclectic, and UNAGGRESSIVE Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) will be looked back upon as a "kind of Golden Age." That was before the unnecessary and unprovoked invasion by Ethiopia, with backing from the usual suspects.

If we are to be saddled with the misnomer of "Islamofascism" which I would contest, then we should also contemplate an equally dubious notion of Christofascism. But whatever nomenclature we designate to describe these two versions of intolerance, both need to be fought and defeated.

jimmy choo wedges said...

|Jimmy Choo Clue satin peep-toe slingbacks
|Jimmy Choo Mirror leather sandals
|Jimmy Choo Nova glitter leather peep-toes
|Jimmy Choo Suede with Crystal embroidery sandals
|Jimmy Choo The perfect platform sandals
|Jimmy Choo The perfect statement sandals
|Jimmy Choo The perfect strappy sandals
|Jimmy Choo Gilbert leather pumps
|Jimmy Choo Quiet patent-leather pumps
|Jimmy Choo Patent leather wedge sandals
|Jimmy Choo Patent leather wedge sandals
|Jimmy Choo Patent leather wedge sandals
|Jimmy Choo Phoenix espadrille wedges
|Jimmy Choo Black boots

appartements a louer a yaounde said...

of course there are dictators over the world and it will never finish, but african dictators are particularly crazy! they are greed of power more than others!

vibrams said...

All the cheap Christian Louboutin Heel for selling within our shop would be to provide services of first-class quality. you can take satisfaction in a whole lot more discount.The christian louboutin evening Platform whole lot could be the good and stylish one.They occur in fascinating style and design and stylish christian louboutin peep toe.These women's christian louboutin pumps are luxury and noble.The pump display formal, a whole lot more display its gorgeous gloss and honour. good heel with thick soles collocation to strengthen all round modelling, carry into some mysterious alluring taste! This pairs of large christian louboutin wedges features a pretty significant part for women's fabulous entire body figure, display their fantastic figure and stylish attitude.Welcome to share Christian Louboutin Store!