Somalia: A New Beginning?

Tasneem Jamal

Abdul Omar

The Ploughshares Monitor December 2000 Volume 21 Issue 4

Until recently, Somalia had been without a central government since the January 1991 expulsion of the late dictator General Mohamed Siad Barre. A state with a relatively homogenous population, Somalia’s decade-long authority vacuum was created by the fall of Barre, who had come to power through a military coup in 1969. Fed up with the previous corrupt democratic governments characterized by clan politics, the Somali public supported Barre’s ascension to power. Many believed that Barre could bring a sense of decency to government and usher in a new era in Somalia. In 1970, Barre introduced “Scientific Socialism,” bringing vital economic institutions under the control of the state.

Concerned with maintaining his popularity, in the early days of his administration, Barre carried out serious campaigns aimed at undermining the clan system. Yet he remained determined to give favours to his and select related clans. Barre=s ambivalent stand on clan politics ended after the 1977 military failure to take the Somali region of Ogaden from Ethiopia. After that, Barre militarily challenged clans opposed to his rule, especially the northern clans of the Majerten, which was responsible for a failed military coup in 1978, and the Isaq. The two clans formed military factions and secured military support from Ethiopia.

Barre’s strife with rival clans continued for the rest of his rule, with new military factions increasingly joining the struggle to unseat him, the most significant group being the Hawiye-dominated United Somali Congress (USC) formed in 1989. Weakened, and having lost control of large parts of the country to different clan factions, Barre was finally driven out of the capital, Mogadishu, by USC forces led by General Mohamed Farah Aidid. Unfortunately, Barre’s removal did not lead to the formation of a new government in Somalia, or make the conditions better for the population, as rival USC factions fought for control of the capital. The fighting was triggered by a series of conferences in Djibouti in 1991 that formed an interim government, with prominent USC leader Ali Mahdi Mohamed as its president. The outcome of the Djibouti conferences was not accepted by General Aidid, leading to rifts within the USC that quickly deteriorated into open military confrontations.

Responding to a humanitarian crisis resulting from factional fighting, the international community intervened in Somalia in 1992 under missions of different headings. The international intervention, though it improved the humanitarian situation, did not succeed in Somalia, and it withdrew from the country in 1995 in response to 18 American casualties at the hands of militia members loyal to General Aidid. Numerous attempts to build a national government also failed during and after the years immediately following the international intervention.

Left to its own devices, and with 12 failed peace efforts, a glimmer of hope greeted Somalia in September 1999. Attending the annual UN Genaral Assembly in New York, Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh announced an initiative to advance peace and reconciliation in Somalia. Assuming its mandate from the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the initiative called for the warlords to step aside and give the representatives of Somali civil society groups the opportunity to restore peace and order in the country. Accordingly, a three-month-long peace conference that brought together more than 2,000 Somalis in Arta, Djibouti, saw the formation of a clan-based transitional parliament in August 2000. In the same month, parliament members elected Abdulqassim Salad Hassan as interim president for a three-year period coinciding with the mandate of the transitional authority.

President Hassan=s government is in the process of establishing itself in Mogadishu, with appointed Prime Minister Ali Khalif Galeydh presiding over 25 ministers, many of whom are members of the diaspora communities in states such as Canada. But the new government faces formidable challenges, one of which is dealing with a group of Mogadishu warlords who vowed to challenge the Djibouti process in any way possible. The new regime must also bring Somaliland and Puntland, two regions in the north, which declared independence and regional autonomy respectively, into the fold. The leaders from these northern regions have responded negatively to reconciliation gestures from Hassan. Related to these challenges is convincing Ethiopia and Kenya to end their support of certain factions in Somalia.

Depending on how Hassan handles these challenges, it could be either a new beginning for Somalia, or a return to civil strife. Should Hassan adopt a peaceful posture towards his adversaries, which he promised he will, there is a good chance that Somalia might be on the way to putting years of violence behind it. On the other hand, if Hassan becomes part of the problem, the future might be as destructive as the past.

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