Nearly 50 years ago, October 21st was a day that will remain in our Somali psyche and will be remembered as the birth-day of the revolution; hundreds of Mogadishu residents and different parts of Somalia gathered in the streets to show support and solidarity to army forces and their leader Siyaad Barre who staged a bloodless coup. As a young boy, I felt the overwhelming enthusiasm of my parents and neighbors toward the new change of guard. We gathered near the radio to listen the news and the cheerful revolutionary songs. Many Somalis of all walks of life saw a new dawn on the horizon, but there were some pessimist in our midst who sympathized with the ousted leaders, perhaps due to either clan or political affiliation.
1943 was a time when Somali youths recognized the significance of independence and organized the first organization of Somali Youth Club (SYC), which later changed its name to Somali Youth League, better known as SYL. The British colonial officials encouraged the aspiring young leaders to form such movement in order to oppose the return of Italian colonial rule. Though SYL spread quickly to most parts of Somalia, but it was evident that divisions and disunity based on clannism were the problems hindering progress in achieving an independent Somalia.
By 1960, the newly independent nation was led by leaders whose main goal was to gain power and enrich themselves through nepotism and corruption. The incumbent SYL party leaders stole the 1969 Elections by rigging the vote. The country came to the brink of civil conflict. Security and government operations were hindered by lack of confidence on Government’s ability to do justice. The straw that broke the camel’s back came when President Sharmarke was assassinated by one of his guards in Las Anod on October 15, 1969. A fierce fight for succession ensued, endangering smooth transfer of power.
Against the backdrop of the dire situation of the country, Siyaad Barre with his supporting officers decided to intervene and save the country. He immediately chartered a plan to stabilize and develop the nation, create an atmosphere of trust and security, fight with corruption and tribalism. In a speech to the Army Forces on 9th of November, 1969, just 19 days after the revolution in which he elaborated the big responsibility they undertook. He said in his speech …
“We have to defend the dignity, the rights and the livelihood of every Somali person. While we are uprooting the evils that have beset on the nation, such as tribalism, favoritism, nepotism, corruption and injustice, we should train ourselves to uphold the dignity of the Somali nation, to uplift the image of the Somali nation both internally and externally”.
Some of his greatest accomplishment
- Knowing the ill effects of tribalism and nepotism, He attempted to eradicate tribalism and nepotism from civil society and Government offices. He set up a strict rule of accountability and fairness. He elevated the status of minorities and people considered as lower caste.
- Education was expanded; built schools for primary and secondary education in all villages, towns and cities. A national university system was introduced with different faculties including medicine and veterinary.
- For first time, a Somali language in Latin script was instituted. School curriculum and medium of instruction were changed to Somali. 1974, the Government embarked a campaign of literacy in the countryside; schools were shut and students travelled to rural areas of all regions. UNESCO recognized the literacy project as the most successful literacy endeavor carried by any developing nation. More than 70% of the population were able to read and write.
- A program of economic self-reliance was introduced. Through self-help schemes, schools, Government buildings, hospitals and housing were built. To fight against climate changes and coastal sand dunes, trees were planted near the coastal towns.
- The Somali army forces were rebuilt and expanded to 60,000 soldiers. An agreement with Soviet Union allowed training officers and providing the latest military hardware. Somalia became one of the strongest army in Africa, a force to be reckoned with.
- Somalia became a household name in international arenas, United Nations, OAU, Arab League and non-aligned countries. We assisted liberation movements across Africa (Rhodesia, Namibia and South Africa).
- International commerce reached to greater heights; banana, livestock were exported to Europe & Middle East. Government was able to generate hard currency; tax collection and revenue enabled the Government to balance the national budget. 1n 1972, a nationwide commercial bank was introduced which facilitated the commerce inside and outside the country.
- Under Siyaad Barre, Somalia fought for the liberation of Ogadeen region and re-unification of Somali States; Somalia at one point liberated the whole Somali inhabited areas of Ethiopia; Assisted Djibouti to gain independence from France.
Who was responsible for the Demise of the State?
No doubt, that Siyaad Barre was a patriot who wanted the goodness of his people; no doubt about his sincerity to work for the betterment of his country. At his childhood, he witnessed the clan conflicts and loss of lives. He worked for the Italians and the British and saw the injustice and cruelty subjected to the vulnerable Somalis during the colonial era and after independence, he observed the mismanagement and incompetency of the leaders of nascent nation. These motivating factors drew him to decisive action with the knowledge of the severe consequence to his life in case he fails to depose the regime. First years of his administration, Somalia achieved unprecedented progress in social, economic and political affairs which have never been seen before. His detractors will tell you he was masquerading as a good leader, but he had a malicious intent. To the contrary, he was selfless, heroic and benevolent person; no intention of benefiting for himself. Late seventies and eighties, the country went into downward spiral. It was not his own doing; we can trace some of the causes as following:-
- 1977 war with Ethiopia was a noble cause, but was not a strategic – the western nations, particularly USA were not whole-hearted to see Somalia recovering part of its former territory and Soviet Union shifted alliance by bringing Russian armaments and Cuban military on the side of Ethiopia. Somali forces were defeated, beaten back and demoralized.
- Afterwards, the consequence was an economic downfall with high inflation. IMF and World Bank intervened with economic structuring that made things worse. Ordinary people were unable to buy the basic commodities. Government officials looted the meagre resource, banks overdrawn and Somali shilling was devalued and lost purchasing power.
- Disgruntled military officers returning from the war attempted to overthrow Siyaad barre unsuccessfully. A wave of military and civilian leaders moved to Ethiopia to organize a rebel forces to invade the towns and villages near the border. Men like Caydiid, Abdullahi Yusuf, Abdirahman tuur and Jees were the primary instigators for destroying of whatever left of Somali nation. These men were stooges for Ethiopian; they are the ones who are directly responsible of the demise of our nation. To know more about those traitors and their elks, read Ali Yusuf Isse’s recent article (A nation can not survice treason from within).
- Siyaad Barre suffered a head injury on car accident that incapacitated him – Cronies and close associates of Siyaad Barre began plundering the banks and Government treasures. Government lost control of two third of its regional territories; Mogadishu became unruly and not safe to walk or drive in the night. By January 1991, the country collapsed, people fled the cities, USC took control of Mogadishu and carried genocide – the rest is history.
Siyaad Barre was saddened by seeing the country disintegrating on his watch
No one denies that reprisals against Government oppositions were carried and innocent people were victimized. Barre lost his authority, but he did’nt wish to give up on his cause – he desired to hold the nation together to avoid further destabilization or see the country he built, destroyed. In his last speech, he requested from the public to lay down arms, stop looting and he was willing to give up power if that brings peace back. To set the record straight, it’s recommended to watch this documentary “lessons learned from the revolutionary days” – we have to give the recognition Siyaad Barre deserves for all the years he served the nation and forgive for his shortcomings. Now we know, he built the nation, he didn’t destroy it.
Ashburn, Virginia, USA