The Siad Barre Era and the Importance of a visionary patriotic leadership

Abdulkadir Mohamed Osman, “Abdiboqor” - By writing this article, I want to make comparisons of two countries. One is mine: Somalia and the other is Malaysia where I currently live. I will be telling both the good and the bad for fairness. At the same time I want to remember and record part of my country’s history. I also want to inspire both current and future leaders in order to make them realize that the legacy that they leave behind for the Ummah is what matters most.

Editorial Keydmedia Online
The Siad Barre Era and the Importance of a visionary patriotic leadership

Let me first start with Malaysia. Malaysia got its independence on August 30, 1957, and three years later my country (Somalia) got its independence on July 1, 1960. Two men led these two countries the longest, one led Malaysia as its Prime-Minster for 22-long years, and the other led Somalia as its President for 21-long years. One was a medical doctor and his name is Dr. Mahathir Bin Mohammad, and the other was a military General, his name was Gen. Mohamed Siad Barre.

One came to power through the resignation of his predecessor (Tun Hussein bin Dato Onn) and became the prime-minster of Malaysia on July 16, 1981 and stayed in power through 5-consecutive democratic elections till 31 October 2003, while the other Gen. Mohamed Siad Barre came to power through bloodless Military coup on October 21, 1969 and stayed in Power till January 26, 1991 without any democratic elections. Tun. Dr. Mahathir Bin Mohammad transformed his country (Malaysia) from an agricultural based economy, to a debt free, fast growing manufactured based economy, a tourism destination, one of the most stable, peaceful and beautiful countries in the world, although Malaysia is a multiethnic, multicultural, multi-region and multilingual country, and set a vision for it to become a fully developed nation in 2020.

He finally resigned voluntarily from the top office and transferred power peacefully to the next generation to take the country forward. Tun. Dr. Mahathir Bin Mohammad is now called, "The father of modern Malaysia". He now lives peacefully in his country and is consulted with by the successive governments of his country. He gives speeches here and there, and he is protected and treated as the treasure of the country. Although he currently holds no office, he is given all the protocols of the nation's statesman, or Hero if you like.

On the other-hand, following the assassination of Somalia's second president, Mr. Abdirashid Ali Shermarke in 1969, the military staged a coup and took over the country (Somalia) on October 21, 1969. The Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC) that assumed power was led by Major: General Mohamed Siad Barre, Lieutenant Colonel: Salaad Gabeyre Kediye and Chief of Police: Jama Korshel. Kediye officially held the title of "Father of the Revolution," and Barre shortly afterwards became the head of the SRC.

The SRC subsequently renamed the country as the Somali Democratic Republic, arrested members of the former government, banned political parties, dissolved the parliament, the Supreme Court, and suspended the constitution. Although Gen. Mohamed Siad Barre did all those messy things, he started building a lot of factories, wrote the Somali language and spread the new language, using it as the methods and message of the revolution. Secondary schools were closed in 1974 and 25,000 students from fourteen to sixteen years of age and an additional 3,000 military and civil service employees were sent to rural areas to educate their nomadic relatives. He also galvanized the people through nationalistic songs, initially fought with the number one cancer in Somalia: Tribalism.

Although many historians give different reasons and explanations, the fact remains that President Mohammad Siad Barre advocated the concept of a Greater Somalia (Soomaaliweyn), which refers to those regions in the Horn of Africa in which ethnic Somalis reside and have historically represented the predominant population. Greater Somalia thus encompasses Somalia, the republic of Djibouti, the western Somalis (in modern day Ethiopia) and the North Eastern Province (in Kenya).

In short the almost exclusively Somali-inhabited regions of the Horn of Africa represented in the 5-angled white star of the light sky blue flag of Somalia. During the first five years Barre's government set up several cooperative farms and factories of mass production such as Mills, Sugar Cane processing facilities in Jowhar and Afgooye, and a meat processing house in Kismayo. As part of Barre's socialist policies, major industries and farms were nationalized, including banks, insurance companies and oil distribution farms. Another public project initiated by the Siad Barre government was the Shalanbood Sanddune Stoppage.

From 1971 onwards, a massive tree-planting campaign on a nationwide scale was introduced by Barre's administration to halt the advance of thousands of acres of wind-driven sand dunes that threatened to engulf towns, roads and farm land. Between 1974 and 1975, a major drought referred to as the Abaartii Dabadheer ("The Lingering Drought") occurred in the northern regions of Somalia. The Soviet Union, which at the time maintained strategic relations with the Barre government, airlifted some 90,000 people from the devastated regions of Hobyo and Caynaba. New settlements of small villages were created in the Lower Jubba (Jubbada Hoose) and Middle Jubba (Jubbada Dhexe) regions.

These new settlements were known as the Danwadaagaha or "Collective Settlements". Other such resettlement programs were also introduced as part of Barre's effort to undercut clan solidarity by dispersing nomads and moving them away from clan-controlled land, while some historians also say that he was also planting some of his clansmen in the strategic fertile river lands of the country, taking huge lands away mostly from Isaq, Hawiye and the Digil and Mirifle people.

Whatever good Gen. Mahamed Siad Barre has done, he ultimately changed in 360 degree angel completely. He styled himself as Jaalle Siyaad ("Comrade Siad"), and the "Victorious Leader" (Guulwade). He fostered the growth of a personality cult. Portraits of him in the company of Marx and Lenin lined the streets on public occasions. He first framed/set up and assassinated his most important friends such as: Salaad Gabeyre Kediye, Jama Korshel, Ceynaanshe and many others. He turned in to a tyrant, blood thirst military dictator who then divided everything in the country in tribal lines. The situation becomes “Which tribe are you from? And who do you know?” Instead of what do you know?

Gen. Mohamed Siad Barre sadly armed tribes against each other in order to stay in power. He created an official tribal monarchy (Reer Diini), and created what is widely known as the MOD government (Marehan, Ogaden, and Dhulbahante) respectively, filling them in all government institutions and positions (Minsters, deputy minsters, heads of government institutions, ambassadors, chancellors, the leaders of the Army, Police and Intelligence). He imported what he called Scientific Communism to a 100% Sunni Muslim county. Worst of all he eliminated certain verses in the Holly Qur'an and killed all the brave Somali Islamic Scholars who stood up to defend the Qur'an, and then the economy deteriorated and foreign debt increased faster than export earnings, and by the end of the decade, Somalia's debt of 4-billion shillings equaled the earnings from seventy-five years' worth of banana exports in which Somalia was so famous at that time.

Part of Siad Barre's time in power was characterized by oppressive dictatorial rule, including allegations of persecution, jailing and torture of political opponents and dissidents. The Labaatan Jirow and Godka Jilacoow notorious prisons became famous. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) stated that "The 21-year regime of Siyad Barre had one of the worst human rights records in Africa." The Africa Watch Committee wrote in a report that "Both the urban population and nomads living in the countryside were subjected to summary killings, arbitrary arrest, detention in squalid conditions, torture, rape, crippling constraints on freedom of movement and expression and a pattern of psychological intimidation." Amnesty International went on to report that “Torture methods committed by Barre's National Security Service (NSS) included executions and beatings while tied in a contorted position, electric shocks, rape of woman prisoners, simulated executions and death threats."

In order to tighten the grip on power, the government introduced the National Security Law No. 54 In September 1970, which granted the NSS the power to arrest and detain indefinitely those who expressed critical views of the government, without ever being brought to trial. It further gave the NSS the power to arrest anyone suspected of a crime involving "National security" without a warrant. Article 1 of the law prohibited "Acts against the independence, unity or security of the State", and capital punishment was mandatory for anyone convicted of such acts. This was an excuse to eliminate and silence anyone he wanted, and many simply disappeared because of this.

Siad Barre’s personality, mentality and leadership style can simply be understood by just looking at his closest friend: Nicolae Ceau?escu! How he ruled his country and how his final destination was which completely different from that of Dr. Mahathir Bin Mohammad, we mentioned above. Nicolae Ceau?escu was the Romanian Communist president who ruled his country through Iron fist and brutally massacred his people from 1967 to 1989 while he was president. On 25 December Nicolae and his wife were tried and convicted by a special military tribunal on charges of mass murder in a hastily organized two-hour court session. Ceau?escu and his wife were then shot by a firing squad.

From the late 1970s, and onwards Siad Barre faced increased domestic resistance. In response, Barre's elite unit, the Red Berets (Duub Cas/Koofi Guduud), and the paramilitary unit called the Victory Pioneers carried out systematic terror against the Majeerteen and Hawiye in the Middle and Eastern Regions (Galgaduud, Mudug iyo Bari), as well as the indiscriminate shelling of the Capital City: Mogadishu when the civil war reached it.

There was also the Jazeera Beach massacre of Isaaq/Isxaaq clan members who were mainly business men and students. The same massacre was carried out in the North with airplanes, targeting mainly the Isaaq tribe, but the largest massacre was cried out in the South (Bay and Bakool) region against Digil and Mirifle people through summary killings, death squads, torture, rape and starvation after looting their food storages at the beginning of the civil war. He also refused to transfer power peacefully, and bombed the elders who came from all Somali tribes and works of life and met him to save the country from collapse.

He killed some of them like the famous business tycoon: Hashi Weheliye Maalin. Siad Barre famously said, "I came to power through the gun, and will only leave through it" and again said, "There will only a country after me, but not people ". He was finally forced to leave office through the gun, after all Somalis took up arms against his regime. He left his country in Ashes, and fled to Lagos-Nigeria where he died on January 2, 1995, as a refugee and sadly left with us 23 years of Civil war and a tribal distrust for generations to come, while his country is given names that I am even ashamed of to write. But worst of all, those who over threw him didn’t bring something better for us.

Among the militia groups that led the rebellion against him were: United Somali Congress (USC) in the South, Somali National Movement (SNM) in the north, the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF) in the East, and the Somali Patriotic Movement (SPM), together with the non-violent political oppositions of the Somali Democratic Movement (SDM), the Somali Democratic Alliance (SDA) and the Somali Manifesto Group (SMG).

Writing only for SOOMAALINIMO
Wabillaahi Towfiiq.

Editorial 29 April 2022 13:51

Somalia is on the move. It is pushing for foreign investment, and large infrastructure projects are changing the face of its scarred capital city, Mogadishu. These developments could promise better fortunes for Somalis as the country emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic