Somalia: How to kill a country


Somalia was a beautiful country. It was also supposed to be a lucky country, one of the few in Africa whose boundaries harbour predominantly one ethnic group. Only few countries are in this category in Africa; like Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland. Many African countries are endangered by ethnic differences and even the veneer of democracy has not totally erased the old ethnic differences.

In Nigeria, we have fought a bloody Civil War caused mainly by ethnic differences. In Zimbabwe, ethnic rivalries had coloured the country’s history especially between the Shonas and the Ndebele. Rwanda was once also killed because of ethnic violence. But Somali, because it is populated by mainly the Somalis, is supposed to be free from ethnic tension.

But Somalia is also the workshop for the devil. For more than 30 years now, the devil has been at work in that country populated mainly by ethnic Somalis. Almost all the citizens are Muslims of the Sunni sect. Yet there is no country in Africa that has consistently worked against its interest like Somalia has done.

On Saturday October 14, a great bomb exploded in Mogadishu, capital of Somalia, killing almost 300 people. No group has yet claimed responsibility but it is suspected to be the work of El-Shabab, an Islamic militant group that is closely linked with the dreaded Al Qaeda organisation. Last year, almost 1000 people were killed in different bomb blast in Mogadishu and other Somali towns. The bombers are mostly Islamic militants who are angry with their own people. For these militants, nothing is sacred; not the mosque, the market or even the schools. Every target is fair for them.

Somalia is in the horn of Africa, one of the countries adjourning the Indian Ocean. Today, it is noted as a failed state and its territories are controlled by warlords and terrorism free agents. Its seacoast is patrolled by pirates and criminals.The United States, when the country’s government collapsed, tried to impose order from outside. One day, its soldiers, in an attempt to undergo a military operation against a war lord, went after him with a helicopter gun-ship.Then the helicopter crashed and Somalis trooped out to attack the American soldiers who survived. They were killed and their bodies dragged on the streets of Mogadishu followed by a crowd of youths, women and children, howling with excitement.

Somalia is now the problem of the African Union. American warships still patrols its coast and tried to hunt for terrorist chieftains within its territory, but it does not have boots on the ground. African Union, AU forces, especially Kenyan and Ethiopia, two countries that have suffered seriously from the collapse of Somalia, have contributed much in bringing a sort of order to the unlucky land. Yet no one is sure of the kind of future that Somalia has. Its economy, or whatever is available of it, is virtually at zero level. It has a currency, but no functional Central Bank. In the central market in Mogadishu, people go with wheelbarrows filled with the Somali shillings, the national currency to be exchange for a few dollars. With just 500 dollars, you with get a wheelbarrows filled with Somali money.

Somali is a living warning to Africa and its rulers, especially for the rich and powerful countries of the continent like Nigeria, Ethiopia, Sudan, South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo. If a state dominated by one single ethnic group, with a common heritage and history and adhering to one religion of could implode as Somalia has done, then the rulers of Africa need to be careful about the apparatus of states entrusted into their hands. As of now, the Somalis are not counting the dead of Mogadishu anymore. They know sooner than later, another bomb would soon go off by the anonymous angry bomber. Turkey had sent some relief, but most of Africa has moved on. For Africa, 300 dead was no big deal for a weekend in Mogadishu.

For most of its history, Somalia had been in turmoil and in pain. By the time of the Scramble for Africa in the late 19th Century, the country came under the control of both Britain and Italy. It gained independence in 1960 and both British and Italian Somaliland became united as the Republic of Somalia. Trouble came early. On October 15, 1969, President Abdirashid Ali Shermarke was shot dead by one of his bodyguards. He was buried on October 20, 1969. A day later, the military struck in a coup d’état which toppled the new President Mukhtar Muhammed Hussein.

The new man of power was General Mohammed Siad Barre a barrel-chested soldier who tried to cultivate the old Soviet Union during the era of the Cold War. Barre tried to create a different kind of country from the old ethnic confederation that had created too much problem and bloodshed in the past. He set up what he called the Supreme Revolutionary Council and imposed full military rule on the country. He made Somali and Arabic the official languages and sought to integrate his country with the Arab world. He took his country to join the Arab League to strengthen Somalia against neighbouring Ethiopia which practises an ancient form of Christianity. He was ambitious and sought to create what he called Greater Somaliland.

Barre could be regarded as the source of Somali modern tragedy. He wanted to remain in power for life and would not allow any open space for politics. His Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party was the sole party and it would not allow any opposition. When he tried to seize more territories from Ethiopia, his adventure ended in disaster. The international scene too did not favour him. Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia was toppled by young army officers in 1974 and they declared Ethiopia to be a republic and moved closer to the Soviet Union. Selassie was a friend of the United States. With this, Barre also moved his country from the orbit of the Soviet Union and moved to the Western orbit, though he still claimed to be a socialist and would not permit multi-party democracy.

Corrupt, incompetent and vindictive, Barre grew increasingly distant from reality as he grew older until his people rose against him and civil war erupted. More than 100,000 people died in the war during which Barre used every weapon, including airstrikes, against his own people. He fled Mogadishu in 1991 when his government collapsed. An attempt to regain power was foiled by forces loyal to the new strongman, General Mohamed Farah Aidid. In May 1991, Barre fled to Nigeria where he died in Lagos on January 2, 1995.

For the past 26 years when Barre left Somalia, the country has been bleeding. Now it is lying prostrate. Nobody in Somalia talks about education, health, power or building of roads and bridges. What is important is how to restore Somalia back to sanity. And there is no indication that it would return to sanity very soon. The power of the patch-patch government that is in Mogadishu does not extend beyond the capital and warlords and criminal elements still controls most of the country. Barre, even from his grave, has succeeded in killing his country.

What does a leader need to do to kill his country? First, he would substitute rulership for leadership. He will love his clan and his in-laws and uncles and mistresses and coteries and flatterers more than his country. He will put the security of his regime and that of his country in the hands of little men of low competence and foggy ideas about their assignments. He will believe that there must be only way to solve a problem and no dissenting opinion will be tolerated or debated. He will always be right among his courtiers. Siad Barre in the closing years of his bloody regime appointed his son-in-law as his head of his security forces. That son-in-law was responsible for the death of more than 50,000 Somalis.

We are lucky in Nigeria and our state is still a growing concern. But there is a feeling that some people are determined to kill our country by installments. These are the men who want to copy the Somali warlords, continuously treat the state with contempt and wage frontal wars against the organs and institutions created by the Constitution.

On Monday October 16, gunmen invaded a refugee camp at Nkiedonwhro village, Bassa local government area of Plateau State, opened fire and killed 29 men, women and children. This happened in the night when a contingent of the Nigerian Armed Forces was standing guard. The victims were earlier driven out of their villages in series of clashes with suspected herdsmen and other marauders. The killings started on September 7 and the series of clashes have left almost 50 persons dead. In response, Governor Simon Lalong, called for help from the military and imposed a dusk to dawn curfew. Yet it was during the curfew that the gun men came and slaughtered people in their sleep.

President Muhammadu Buhari has rightly ordered security agencies to move in and stop the reprisal killings. However, we want more than that. It is time the security agencies do their job for which they are paid billions of naira ever year. Who are the people funding this bushfire wars on the Plateau? Who provide money for the weapons? Where are the gunmen trained? An automatic weapon is not one you buy at Shoprite. A poor villager on the Plateau or an ordinary herdsman cannot just get control of a Kalashnikov rifle. Some people are behind this persistent violence on the Plateau State Government and the security agencies have a duty to find out.

If the state cannot safeguard life and property, then its very essence is lost. Nigeria is too big, too important and too vital for the destiny of the Black race to be left at the mercy of marauders and power mongers. No one should be allowed to kill Nigeria. It is true that Siad Barre died here. But he was not buried here for his body was taken to Somalia. We should not allow his ghost to torment us.

By Dare Babarinsa


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