Picking up the Cold War pieces: Somalia,
By Eric Walberg
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, May
Somali President, Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo
Somalia partitioned under Italy, Britain, France
In 2016, Somalia was declared the most fragile state in the world –
worse off than Syria. Famine struck yet again in 2017, compounded by
President Trump's attempt to ban Somalis from entering the US. But for
the first time since the 1991, when Somalia collapsed along with its
one-time ally the Soviet Union, Somalia now has functioning political
Dual US-Somali citizen Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo
became president in February 2017, approved by the US, refugees are
returning from the US, Canada and Europe, and remittances from them
buttress the economy. Just to make sure Farmajo knows who's really in
charge, Trump ordered an air strike on suspected militant bases in April
2017, near the Bab el-Mandeb strait chokepoint separating Yemen from
Eritrea, boasting it killed 150 Shabab fighters.
The 1980s were
a monstrous decade. We are still living out the disasters that the Cold
War and the US war to prevent 'the advance of socialism', which had been
on the books since the end of WWII, and was reaching its logical
conclusion by then. After two world wars, everyone expected peace, and
the vast majority -- socialism. No such luck. Hundreds of coups in the
1950--60s orchestrated by the CIA kept most countries toeing the
imperial line. But after Vietnam, for a few shining moments in the
1970s, there was a shift by a slightly sobered America.
world breathed a sigh of relief. Somalia was prospering, free of British
shackles, not yet embraced by the US. Ethiopia had a Nasser-like
military coup in 1974 promising socialism next door. Sudan was at peace
and pursuing a Nasserist policy under Colonel Gaafar Nimeiri. But the
region was beginning its 'time of troubles', soon experiencing the
fallout of its century of imperialism with a vengeance.
British, French, Italian 'Scramble'
Somalia, a country
of 12.3m, has one of the most illustrious histories among Muslim states,
prosperous for thousands of years as a trading nation perched on the
strategic Horn of Africa, an early convert to Islam. As with all of
Africa, it went into sharp decline in the late 19th century, after the
Berlin conference of 1884, when European powers began the "Scramble for
In the last heroic resistance to imperialism, the
Dervish leader Mohammed Abdullah Hassan rallied support from across the
Horn of Africa and begin one of the longest colonial resistance wars.
Hassan emphasized that the British "have destroyed our religion and made
our children their children" and that the Christian Ethiopians in league
with the British were bent upon plundering the political and religious
freedom of the Somali nation. While all other Muslim states fell to
Christian invaders, Somalia held out.
Hassan acquired weapons
from the Ottomans and Sudan. But the Ottoman caliphate collapsed, and
Churchill was free to use the new airplanes in 1920 to bomb the "mad
mullah" and Somali forces, just as he was doing in Iraq. It took four
invasion attempts before Hassan's Dervish state was defeated, and
territories turned into a British 'protectorate'.
was busy time for Britain in the Muslim world. Somalia was every bit as
strategic as Palestine, and British schemes for both proved to be time
bombs which still are plagued by and plague the West. Britain ceded most
of the present territory of Somalia to Mussolini in 1925 as a reward for
the Italians having joined the Allies in WWI. The British retained
control of the southern half of the partitioned Jubaland territory,
which was later called the Northern Frontier District, and the
northwestern province Somaliland, which declared independence in 1991,
and is now a member of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples
Organization. Italy administered central Somalia after WWII, until
independence in 1960. French Somaliland (Djibouti) stayed with France
till 1977, just too convenient strategically to give up, and is now the
headquarters of the US AFRICOM regional military command.
proved to be the most helpful of the lot to Somalis, providing education
and otherwise preparing Somalis for independence, and are now remembered
more or less fondly. Italian was the lingua franca till 1970s, there
being no Somali alphabet and the population illiterate till
independence. The British did nothing, and created the conditions for
endless regional war by giving the predominantly Somali Muslim Ogaden
plateau to (largely Christian) Ethiopia, and another Somali territory to
(largely Christian) Kenya. At the same time, of course, it was preparing
to bequeath Muslim Palestine to (European) Jews.
In all three
cases, Muslims were treated as second rate, of no use to the
imperialists, as they would never abandon Islam and join in imperial
schemes. The British set the stage for Somalia to fail without colonial
'guidance'. To be fair, Britain (and France) were just doing what the
new masters, the US, demanded in the 1950s, shaping up Africa to meet
its own needs, so the blame must be shared today.
Socialism vs clanism and nationalism
handicaps, Somali independence was bitter-sweet. After a halting start,
a military coup put Siad Barre (1910--1995) in the presidency from
1969–91. Like Lumumba in the Congo, Nkruma in Ghana, and Nasser in
Egypt, Barre took the Soviet Union and socialism as the template for
development. Volunteer labour harvested and planted crops, and built
roads, hospitals and universities. Almost all industry, banks and
businesses were nationalized, and cooperative farms were set up. A new
writing system for the Somali language was also adopted, and Somali
replaced Italian as the language of the public sphere.
his government forbade clanism and stressed loyalty to the central
authorities, Barre's dictatorship became a hostage to his own clans.
Even so, it was popular, presiding over a vibrant economy and stabilized
by egalitarian economic policies. Portraits of him in the company of
Marx and Lenin lined the streets on public occasions, though he did not
promote a personality cult. He advocated a form of scientific socialism
based on the Quran and Marx, emphasizing Somalia's traditional and
religious links with the Arab world, eventually joining the Arab League
in 1974. That same year, Barre also served as chairman of the
Organization of African Unity (OAU), the predecessor of the African
Union (AU). The mid-1970s were halcyon days for Somalia. Barre was the
Soviet Union's poster child, not so willful, it seemed, as Egypt's
Nasser, and not (yet) toppled like Lumumba and Nkrumah.
clouds were on the horizon. In the late 1970s, buoyed by Somalia's
success, fed up with a corrupt (Christian) government under the aging
Emperor Selassie, and inspired by the Ethiopian revolution, the Western
Somali Liberation Front in Ogaden, began a campaign for union with
Somalia. Rebels wanted Islam and socialism, emulating liberation
movements throughout the colonial world. Their plea for help was heard,
and in July 1977, the Somali national army marched into the Ogaden,
capturing most of the territory, welcomed by the native Somalis, but
attracting the ire of the entire international community.
was at the height of detente, and the Soviet Union was playing
more-or-less by the implicit rules of detente -- 1/ don't provoke
revolution or civil war, but help friendly regimes. 2/ 'Socialist
countries shouldn't invade other socialist countries. The Soviet Union
was forced to chose between Barre and Mengistu, both socialists.
It joined the international outcry against Somalia's occupation of the
Ogaden, though Ethiopia was wracked by civil war and Mengistu had no
The invasion was reversed, and the US was able to take
advantage of the crisis, and cultivate Barre as a useful ally, shunned
by the Soviet Union. Only a year later, in 1979, abandoning detente and
following 'great game' rules, an eerily similar scenario would play
itself out in Afghanistan. This time the US chose to side with the
mujahideen against the Soviets.
Though Barre was a pariah, he
became 'our pariah' by 1980,* along with the Afghan mujahideen. Instead
of working with the Soviets in Africa (pushing Barre out of his 'greater
Somalia') and in central Asia (stabilizing the now socialist secular
regime of Babrak Karmal to fight the Muslim extremists), the US under
Reagan launched old-fashioned war and subversion of anything that was
socialist, leaving only rubble and terror in Somalia, Ethiopia and
Afghanistan, which continues to plague the world.
* Barre was ousted in 1991. Barre's Ethiopian nemesis,
Mengistu Haile Miriam, was also ousted in 1991, both victims of the
collapse of the Soviet Union. Barre died in political exile in Nigeria
in 1995. Mengistu lives in Zimbabwe.
Share the link of this article with your facebook friends