By Adan Makina
Editor’s note: Oct 21 marks the 50th anniversary of the Coup D’état of 1969 that brought to power General Siad Barre ending the multiparty-based constitutional Democracy in Somalia. WardheerNews is republishing this piece on the occasion. Adan Makina takes us back to the events that took place during the authoritarian rule of the late Siad Barre and the ensuing collapse of the Somali state.
This paper discusses the ethical and social justice issues that afflicted the Somali nation from 1969 to 1991 when the Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC) acted as the only political entity in the country. Two major aspects, ethics and social justice, that had been immensely undermined and abused by the state, plunged the Somali nation into its current state of statelessness. Ethics and social justice are two interrelated subjects that have been used interchangeably in legal matters and in social organization. At that time, Somalia, a country in the Horn Africa bordering Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, was ruled by a military regime that was headed by Major General Mohamed Siyad Barre. During SRC’s height of power, the concepts of human rights, equality, justice, and liberty got trampled on by the revolutionary party thus affecting the lives of a homogeneous nation dominated primarily by peripatetic citizens whose livelihood depended on livestock raring.
Proclaiming independence and a pseudo-democracy in 1960, the first of its kind in Africa, after the merger of the northern British Somaliland protectorate and the southern Italian colony of Somaliland, Somalia’s political freedom worsened after a military takeover in 1969. Nine years into democratic rule, the political landscape tilted toward military rule with the sudden assassination of President Abdirashid Ali Shermarke. The subsequent coup d’état orchestrated by a junta comprising twenty-five military officers led to the dissolution of previous democratic and parliamentary institutions. The demise of democratization and the rise of militarism gave birth to socio-political injustices that included tribal hegemony, political irredentism, nationalization of private institutions, excessive corrupt practices, abuse of office, favoritisms and persecution of the clergy and political opponents.
Sensing a power vacuum after the sudden departure of the assassinated president from the political spectrum, members of SRC resolved to massive sweeping operations that resulted in human rights violations. President Shermarke was gunned down by a close relative on October 15, 1969 while on a trip to the north of the country at Las Anod Airstrip (Mertz, 1992).
Despite the SRC spearheading massive militarization and improvement of state economic structures on a grand scale in its initial years of governance, the sudden turn of political events in the country accelerated the collapse of state institutions, consequently spearheading the disintegration of social equality and decline of economic freedom. Unethical running of state institutions by corrupt military cadres primarily from the SRC and their immediate relatives who espoused militaristic and authoritarian leadership styles opened a path for an atmosphere of disobedience, distrust, and recalcitrance. The absence of obligation to the citizenry (Cooper, 2006) brought about conflicting loyalties or conflicting obligations remorselessly revolving into a state of virulence. In this case, the SRC was to blame for the justification of state tyranny and propagation of rampant corruption committed in its name by the state machinery.
Unethical and a Social Injustice Somalia’s new military leadership adapted scientific socialism, a system of authority akin to communism and borrowed from the amalgamation of the theories of Marx, Mao, Lenin, and Mussolini. According to Mendel (1966), as defined by Marx, scientific socialism implied “preaching in the garb of analysis”. Contrary to Islamic teachings and democratic values, committee members of the SRC claimed that scientific socialism was commensurate with Islamic values and thus epitomized the self-help principle defined in Somali as “iskaa wax u qabso”. The kind of socialism implemented by the SRC was in essence, as Flew (1995) put it in the words of Hayek (1976) as “entirely empty and meaningless”.
Upon taking the reins of power, SRC took to sweeping destructive measures that caused untold suffering to the mass. This included arbitrary arrests of influential figures of the former government who were imprisoned in the infamous underground dungeons scattered all over the country. The revolutionary council used the dreaded National Security (NSS) to harass and intimidate members of select tribes that were considered a threat to the revolutionary structure and national sovereignty.
Public execution by firing squad of high-ranking public figures became common in Mogadishu. The execution by firing squad of ten Muslim scholars who denounced a presidential decree regarding the equality of women to men in Islamic law coincided with the United Nations General Assembly’s declaration of the International Women’s Year in 1975.
This hasty execution of religious scholars without legal justification put the SRC in political limbo with Muslim scholars especially those from Arab nations denouncing the killings as unjustified and without merit. Killing of opposition candidates and arrest of innocent civilians without legal representation was widespread such that thousands of educated elites, fearing the junta’s dreaded dungeons, sought refuge in neighboring countries, in the West, and in the Middle East.
Censorship of publications that shed light on the regime’s poor performance became common. The government controlled what to read and what not to read. The appalling human rights violations and excesses committed by SRC command forced the US, EU, and international human rights groups to call for sanctions and other military measures. The SRC’s obsession with communism and the nation’s leadership inclination to the Soviet Union inspired Somali leaders to brace shoulders with Russian, eastern European, Latin American, and Caribbean apparatchiks in Moscow, Havana, Berlin, and other communist hotspots respectively.
Somalia switched sides by kicking out the Russians after the devastating 1977/78 war with Ethiopia over the Ogaden region. Somalia and Ethiopia fought over this massive stretch of land in a brutal war that took the lives of thousands of innocent civilians and displaced perhaps an equal number. By the time the war ended, thousands of refugees settled in Somalia. After ending the political imbroglio with the USSR, Somalia turned to the United States for military and economic aid.
To ensure America filled the vacuum left by the Soviets, Somalia gave the US unconditional use of its Russian-built port in the town of Berbera overlooking the Gulf of Aden. In the early years of 1984 and at the height of the Cold War, the US, after signing contract agreement with the Somali Ministry of Defense, succeeded in overturning the declining Supreme Revolutionary Council of Somalia: Harbinger of Social Injustice and Collapse of State Institutions shape of the decrepit port and the ramshackle airport, which, at that time was reputedly considered to have been the longest runway in Africa.
Writing in the New York Times, James (1995) argued that, “aid declined drastically as allegations of human rights abuses rose”. Driven by the desire to obliterate civil disobedience and silence all sorts of conceivable rebellion, the SRC used Berbera runway to catapult jet fighters operated by hired South African mercenary pilots in 1988 to carryout carpet bombings against the embittered northern Isaac clans who were up in arms for the sole purposes of reclaiming self-determination.
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