The injustices Northern Somalis felt

Posted on 31/10/2010

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This writing is based on personal observation, eye witness accounts, analysis and interviews of former ministers, officials, diplomats, educationalists, SNM members, Diaspora and the public. With the knowledge that only the truth and not propaganda can establish credibility, the overarching aim of this writing is to record the events which took place as accurately and as impartially as possible. Any suggestion or correction would be welcomed and highly appreciated.

I was once confronted with a strange question: By the way, who assigned you to write? My unflinching answer was: My conscience! When we write we shoulder a heavy responsibility which we cannot take lightly. My writings (see part one and part two and many more to come) would be incomplete without elaborating the other side of the argument: the injustices and grievances Northern Somalis felt.

Inequality in the army: the first injustice Northerners felt

The Northerners from 1960 felt wronged when they joined the South in unity. That is why in October 1969 when the army took power no one supported the military government more than the Northerners. When the army took power the Northerners rightly felt the injustices they had suffered under the civilian governments will be reversed. Their support of the revolutionary government continued right up to 1980 when the disaffection of Northerners with the military government grew.  

Let no one tell you otherwise. From the word go, the 1960s civilian governments in the wrong. They were self-serving, tribalistic and greedy. The civilian government’s made disaffection to grow. Inequality was the first thing Northern officers in the army felt. Immediately after independence and unity between the North and the South, all Southern officers were promoted to the next rank. Anyone who was Lieutenant was promoted to Captain; anyone who was Captain became a Major. This was not the case for the Northern officers. When Northerners were denied such promotion universally bestowed to Southern officers, the Northerners complained. Their complaints were met with deaf ears. This blatant inequality because of short-sightedness was the first seed of injustice sown in the army. It made Northern officers to do something about the inequality and injustices they felt.

The 1961 attempted coup Northern officers

In December 1961 in the North there was an attempted coup by a group of 14 military officers headed by Hassan Keyd. The 14 were young officers who mostly graduated from the elite British Military Academy Sandhurst. The officers felt resentment towards the ethos of inequality felt across the army in the North. The 10th December 1961 attempted coup was not successful and the 14 officers were arrested, tried and given long sentences. They were later commuted and released after two years in prison.

Relationship developed between Mohamed Siad and the 14 officers

As told to me by one of the 14 officers a long relationship (bond) was developed between the would-be head of the 1969 military government General Mohamed Siad Barre and the 14 officers. Many years before he came to power the then deputy chief of staff of the army, General Mohamed Siad Barre would meet with the 14 officers in his office in Mogadishu. This would lay foundation to the development of a long relationship between the military government and the North. The main source of the adulation felt by the North towards the military government was the bond which developed between the 14 officers and General Mohamed Siad in earlier years before he came to power.

In 1965 when the young 14 officers met with General Mohamed Siad Barre there was a mutual cord struck between the grievances felt by the 14 offices and the former deputy chief of staff. Mohamed Siad Barre who in the 1960s suffered mistreatment in the hands of the shakers and movers of Somali politics in those days felt a cord with the 14 officers. A number of times during the civilian governments between 1960 -1969, Mohamed Siad Barre escaped to be exiled in Siberia, Russia. Since 1960 when Somalia forged close military relationship with the Soviet Union, Siberia used to be the most favored destination to be exiled officials who have fallen out of favor with different leaders in Somalia. During the revolutionary government, Siberia continued to be the destination for out of favor officials. 1  

The first meeting between Mohamed Siad and the 14 officers

In mid 1965 fresh from prison the 14 went to Mogadishu to see what awaited them and what role if any they would be allowed to serve their country.2 As soon as they were released from prison, the officers were released from the army. To see what awaited them the 14 officers decided to go to the capital. Out on their ears and on the limb, in Mogadishu, the 14 officers went to the headquarters of the national army where first they met with the much loved and patriotic Chief of Staff General Daud Abdulle Hirsi. General Daud it would show was angry with them for their attempted coup. As told to me by one of the officers, General Daud told the officers they were traitors and he dressed them down. Bewildered and spinning from their meeting with General Daud, the officers went to see the Deputy Chief of Staff General Mohamed Siad Barre who “to our amazement stood for us and gave us one of the warmest receptions we never expected.” He told us he knew how we felt,” was told to me.

“First, he gave us a sympathetic ear and he felt for us and our grievances.” “We left Mohamed Siad Barre’s office feeling a renewed sense of hope and optimism and a light at the end of our long tunnel,” was told to me by one of them officers. That was the day when was forged a special relationship and a useful bond between Mohamed Siad Barre and the entire Northern officers in the army. The 14 officers kept in close contact with Mohamed Siad Barre. They would meet him in and out of office hours.

Through one of the 14 officer whom he forged the closest bond, Mohamed Siad Barre got an insight and understanding into the injustices and grievances the Northerners felt. When Mohamed Siad in 1969 came to power, he would appoint many Northerners as ministers, ambassadors and other positions. Almost all of the 14 officers were appointed ambassadors while a few from their group went on to take up other roles. Hassan Keyd, the head of the coup went on to become Somali ambassador to Oman. One of them Hussein Abdi Dualeh became the ambassador to Kenya. Another member Abdi Ali became ambassador to Aden, South Yemen. Many more Northerners went to numerous high office roles. At one time there were 8 Northern Ministers in the cabinet of the military government. Omer Arte became the Foreign Minister. Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo first held the Minister of Commerce then Minister of planning. One of the two Vice Presidents, Ismail Ali Aboker too was a Northerner. In later years military officer turned Ambassador Hassan Keyd was to become governor of Hargeisa.

Injustices felt by Northerners: Real and perceived

The injustices Northerners felt many were real and some were perceived. Because perception matters in politics, a government should always address both real and imagined grievances. Using the tools available to me such observation and exhaustive research the following are in my judgment some of the injustices and grievances the Northerners felt.

  1.  Northern Somalis who freely joined the South in unity felt multi-layered injustices. They were disaffected from the civilian governments of the 1960s. They saw them greedy, insensitive and self-serving.
  2. Initially and especially the first 10 years Somalis in the North took the military government to their heart. They saw the military government as the one which will address the wrongs and grievances they felt. From 1980, after a decade of the military government support, the Northerners developed a growing sense of unfairness, neglect and repression.
  3. In the 1960s in the hands of the civilian governments and later in the 1980s in the hands of the military government, the Northerners felt the squandering of their dreams and aspirations by successive governments who they saw were headed and populated by Southerners.
  4. Historians shall record that one of the milestones for the change of the military government was the 9th April 1979 attempted coup. This attempted coup changed Mohamed Siad and with it the country’s destiny for good. In a speech on 10th April 1979, President Mohamed Siad Barre explained how what happened the day before would change everything. From 9th April 1979 the military government growingly felt inward looking.
  5. In the 1980s Northerners felt they were made to travel to the capital in the South for everything including simple things such as overseas travel, passports and visas. They felt this was unfair and consuming.
  6. Northerners felt most of the development was concentrated in the South. Especially, the military government concentrated almost all development in the Benadir region where the capital is located. This created a feeling of inequality and neglect amongst the people in the North.
  7. Ministers the government appointed for Northerners mostly looked after themselves and not the people. They misreported the situation so that they are demanded and paid more money and to frequent their travel to the North.
  8. Because of the centralized nature of the military government the people felt everybody was being appointed or removed from the capital in the South. It was better locally to allow the people elect their administrators.
  9. In the 1980s the system sent the wrong message and made the eyes of the people on government and its positions. Working for the government became the best thing to get ahead rather than making it on your own. In 1960s the people chose the private sector more than working for government. When government position became like the great gold rush of the Wild West, the Northerners left behind.
  10. In the 1980s in the North there were a number of arbitrary arrests. One such incident was the arrest of six intellectuals whose only crime was to attempt to fix the insalubrious condition of Hargeisa general hospital. The six made contacts with foreign NGOs to obtain medical equipment for the hospital which angered the military commander in the North who felt it was transgression of his authority. Their unnecessary arrest angered the people and further inflamed the situation. The six were later commuted and released from prison.
  11. In the 1980s there were a number of officials appointed from the capital whom, in the North, the people used to complain about their behavior.
  12.  In the late 1980s between Berbera and Hargeisa there were a number of military checkpoints erected to secure security after the creation and operations conducted by the SNM. The people complained from the unnecessary searches and extortion money demanded by the soldiers.3 The soldiers were poorly paid because impoverished Somalia had to keep up with the threat from communist Ethiopia which had an army of 500,000.
  13. When on 18th July 1972 the Soviets were thrown out of Egypt by President Anwar El-Sadat he opened up the country and embraced free market.4 Sadat used to call his new policy “infitaah” (opening up). When on 13th November 1977, President Mohamed Siad Barre expelled the Soviet experts from Somalia everything remained same.5 The “SRSP” (Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party) should have been disbanded and the nation should have embraced a market economy and embarked on a new path.
  14. In the 1980s, the Northerners felt a lack of development in their region. But there is a paradox here. In 1972 – 1975 in Hargeisa there was a governor by the name Bile Rafle who tirelessly and relentlessly built and paved all the roads and most of the big projects in Hargeisa. In the afternoons when everybody was resting, Bile used to race with surveyors and caterpillars to built and pave for the city. But Bile Rafle was hated by the people in Hargeisa.6
  15. From 1979 to 1983 only and especially for the people in the North, the government introduced Franco Valuta.” It is an economic policy which is based on licenses issued to importers in which no foreign exchange is payable. The government intended this economic liberalism to help regeneration in the North. “Franco Valuta” allowed anyone in those days in the North to import goods with little taxation levied. During this liberalism, the North enjoyed a boom and the living standard shot up. This special policy only for the North was a “Thank you” gesture which the government felt it needed to reward Northerners for their collective and tireless participation in the war with the vicious regime in Ethiopia. During the 1977-78 war with the Derg in Ethiopia almost entire Hargeisa sometimes used to travel five miles to look after the war wounded.7The people of Hargeisa sometime used to fight over who will look after the war wounded from the battlefield. For over three years, after the war was ended, the Derg air force continued to pound Hargeisa and Borama in the North. Unfortunately, in 1983 when the policy (Franco Valuta) was ended the government did not adequately explain the reasons behind its cancellation. It was the IMF in line with its structural adjustment program for Somalia, which targeted the policy and tied its abolition with its loan to the nation.8 When “Franco Valuta” policy was discontinued in the North, the business community felt betrayed. The government also did not make room to allow incoming goods to pass under the abrogated policy. There were confiscations which angered the people.

The final word

At the end of the 1980s Somalia already went through too many natural and man made calamities such as the longest drought (abaartii daba-dheer) and the war with communist Ethiopia. Since Somalia’s natural resources have not been exploited, there was also meagerness of resources. There was also Somalia’s switching of alliance which the Soviet Union did not forget or forgive. There were too political upheavals which brought many tribal movements to start against the government. The tribal movements one after another had fallen into the hands of the Derg in neighboring Ethiopia. There was also a terrible car accident in 1986 near the capital which nearly incapacitated the Somali President. But still it was the government’s responsibility to ensure its nation’s security and wellbeing.

I have been back in the North. There are new buildings and businesses erected by expatriates and the Diaspora but progress was very little. In my last visit only a few years back I have also noticed the absence of two important things. Under the socialist government, there was universal health care and free education up to university level. In “Somaliland” on education I saw the development of a two tier system. Good education costs money which is beyond the means of the ordinary people and good education is for those who can afford. Good schools which attract and employ the best teachers are private and they cost a lot of money. The children from poorer families are left in dilapidated schools with impoverished surroundings and teachers.

1. One of the first exiled in Siberia was Gen. Abdullahi Mohamoud Hassan (Matukade)
2. It was the civilian government of 1961 which let the officers out.  
3. Expatriates from the Gulf who travelled to the North
4. http://hnn.us/articles/41409.html
5. http://www.jstor.org/pss/2618931
6. I was in Hargeisa when governor Bile was a hated.
7. Government officials and former ministers
8. http://www.mbali.info/doc287.htm

Abdulkadir Mohamoud
E-Mail:am5430064@gmail.com

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Posted in: African papers