A TALE OF TWO NIGHTS A JOURNAL OF SOMALI CIVIL WAR: JANUARY 4, 1991 MOGADISHU, SOMALIA

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A Tale of Two Nights is an excerpt from an upcoming book, titled ‘The Somali Clan War’, written by Yusuf Haid, a former head of the Somali Broadcasting Service (Radio Hargeisa and Mogadishu) and Somali National Television. The book is a collection of journal entries of the 1991 Somali civil war in Mogadishu. The book recounts the first two weeks of the conflict.
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It was the fifth night since the fighting between the United Somali Congress militia (USC) and the Somali government erupted in Mogadishu. My area of the city was quiet; nevertheless, I could hear the thud of explosions coming from north of the city. The people in my area retreated to their homes at sunset, and the streets were dead. The city lost the intermittent electric light it was getting before the fighting broke out and a dark blanket now covered the city. It also lost all communication the day the fighting started. I was sitting alone in my living room, lit by a dim and flickering kerosene lamp.

I pondered the events of the day and having heard numerous stories, I was not sure which or how many of them were true. However, it seemed the USC militia was creeping into the south of the city like a slow-moving flood. Demoralized government forces controlled the south of the city, but it appeared the regime was unable to put enough boots on the ground to stop the advances of the well-motivated USC fighters.

I thought of what the President was doing that night, and what was happening in Villa Somalia, where he lived and worked. I asked myself numerous questions, ‘Is he, as usual, sitting behind the drawer-less sturdy table under the tree; receiving government officials and guests alike? Or is he advising the people directing the forces responding to the opposition militias?The readiness of the army had been eroding since the end of the Ogden War of 1977-78. The military did not recover from the devastating defeat it suffered under the combined socialist/communist forces led by the Soviet Union. In addition, since the end of the Ogaden War, much of its workforces deserted, and either melted into the civilian population or joined the oppositions fighting the government. New recruits were not joining the army for lack of resources and opportunities. The other national security organs such as the police and the Revolutionary Vanguard Militia, etc., were ill equipped and unable to carry out even their regular duties. Those who stayed with the national army and the other security organs were just waiting for an opportune time to run off.

Are the visitors cramming the waiting rooms and the gardens of the compound waiting the President to receive them? Is the President, as usual, chain-smoking and sipping a bitter black coffee washing its unpleasant taste with cold water? Is he relaxed and in his casual clothes or tense and in military fatigue directing his forces?’ I had no answer for these questions!

Like most African leaders, the President ran the country by whims. He rarely signed any document except letters of promotion and demotion. He delegated the signing of documents to his ministers and senior government officials, after giving them through instructions. He kept all government affairs in his head, which was, I presume, the largest archive in the country.

I met the President several times. Some of my contacts were when I served as the head of several government institutions, which included Radio Mogadishu, Somali Broadcasting Service (radio Hargeisa and Mogadishu) and Somali National Television. In those meetings, I noted that the life of the President was devoid of luxury. His offices had no expensive furniture or lavish decorations. Few revolutionary posters hung on the walls. He wore inexpensive casual clothes and sandals. Many people who knew him attested to the fact that he did not stash riches in local or foreign banks, and that he did not build palace-like homes for himself or his family. His two wives continued to live in the government housing they had before he took the highest office in the country. I believed the only desire he had was having an absolute power to control and dictate the life of the nation.

On the other hand, he was generous to those who demonstrated loyalty. He appointed them to government jobs where they were able to amass absurd amount of wealth in a very short time. He gave some of them exclusive rights to import certain restricted goods, which they sold to government or to the public and made fortune.

In addition to my work-related encounters with the president, I had one remarkable meeting with him, and in this meeting, I got the opportunity to look closely into his personality and thinking. It was in 1980, when the presidential spokesperson, Mr. Abdi Haji Gobdon, told me that the President wants me to join a committee ‘working’ in Villa Baydhaba. Later, I learned that the committee was writing the biography of the President. He also told me to continue to report to my regular jobs at the Ministry of Education, curriculum office and Radio Mogadishu, and join the committee in the afternoons. He added that meals and a room to relax would be provided at the villa.

I was not sure why I was chosen. At the time, I wrote a weekly page for the only daily newspaper in the country, the Xiddigta Oktoober (October Star) and I produced a half hour children program for Radio Mogadishu. Many people liked ‘my style of writing the Somali language’, and I suspected that was the only reason for my ‘nomination’ to join the team writing the biography of the president.

By Yusuf Haid

Wardheer News

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