Gazzetta del Sud Africa
12 Gennaio 2007
La lettera del
Somalia needs African
June 1974, a few of us spent some days in Mogadishu,
Somalia, as members of an ANC delegation. We had come to the
capital of Somalia to attend the annual Organisation of
African Unity (OAU) Assembly of Heads of State and
Government. As was the practice then, the Assembly had
elected the President of Somalia, Major General Siad Barre,
as its Chairperson and Chair of the OAU until the next
Assembly. Siad Barre therefore presided over the proceedings
of the Mogadishu Summit.
During that month of June, as it hosted the Assembly,
Mogadishu served as the venue for a great African
celebration. The reason for the celebration was the then
impending collapse of Portuguese colonialism and the
liberation of the African Portuguese colonies.
Unquestionably, the star of the day, who attended the
Assembly, was the late Samora Machel, who was to become the
first President of liberated Mozambique.
In its 24 June 1974 edition the US "Time" magazine carried
an article entitled "Sinking the Lusitanian". Among other
things it said: "When President Antonio de Spinola
inaugurated new governors for Angola and Mozambique...for
the first time ever in a public speech about the
territories, (he) used the word that Africans had been
waiting for him to speak: independence. 'Self-determination
cannot be dissociated from democracy,' he said, adding:
'Neither can we dissociate self-determination from
"The declaration suggested that Spinola was willing to let
sink his pet idea of a 'Lusitanian Federation' - a close
alliance of Portugal with semi-autonomous African
territories. As the general's speech went on, however, a
chill set in. In an apparent volte-face from his earlier
tone, he outlined four gradual stages of decolonisation,
only at the end of which would the possibility of
independence be broached.
"All this may merely have been Spinola's way of asserting
his determination not to see white settler interests sold
down the river in the territories. However it was meant,
liberation movement leaders at the annual meeting in
Mogadishu, Somalia, of the Organisation of African
Unity...read neo-colonialism into every word. Declared
Frelimo Vice President Marcelino dos Santos: 'Our attacks
will be maintained and even increased until independence is
conceded under the sole leadership of Frelimo.'"
If others might have had doubts about the certainty of the
liberation of the Portuguese colonies, the ANC had none. In
a letter of congratulations to the new Secretary General of
the OAU elected in Mogadishu, William Eteki Mboumoua, Oliver
"Throughout the world, the forces of reaction are suffering
successive defeats. The peoples of Africa and the world
struggling for national liberation, social progress and
peace are scoring impressive victories.
"Of particular relevance to us and to the great peoples of
Africa is, of course, the heroic victory scored by our
brother peoples and combatants of Angola, Mozambique,
Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde in helping to bring about the
downfall of the hated Portuguese colonial and fascist regime
"This decisive victory has not only opened up the prospects
for the rapid accession to independence of the Portuguese
colonies in Africa, it has also greatly strengthened the
liberation forces of our own country..."
As part of a cultural programme put together for the benefit
of the delegates, a Somali drama group performed a play that
sought to denounce the neo-colonialism mentioned by "Time"
magazine, and which severely compromised the independence of
African countries. The play had scenes of delegates visiting
Western embassies on their way to OAU meetings.
Here they would be given briefcases full of cash. They would
then be given instructions on the resolutions they should
propose at these OAU meetings and how they should vote. The
sketches included instructions on the need for these
delegates to do everything possible to frustrate the
struggles against colonialism and apartheid.
This was the first and last time I visited Mogadishu. For
many years afterwards Mogadishu and Somalia remained in our
memories as African places of hope for us, a reliable rear
base for the total liberation of Africa, including our
liberation from apartheid. Indeed, in later years, others of
our comrades returned to Mogadishu, this time to work with
the Somali government to prepare for the clandestine
infiltration into South Africa of cadres of Umkhonto we
Sizwe, who would travel to apartheid South Africa by sea,
secretly departing from the Somali ports!
The fact of the matter however is that in time Somalia fell
apart and ceased to exist as a viable state. This has led to
the eventuality that, as the year 2007 began, Somalia put
itself firmly at the top of the African Agenda. Whereas in
1974 all our liberation movements and independent Africa
counted on Somali support to achieve the goals of the
African Revolution, in 2007 Somalia needs the support of the
rest of the African Continent, again to achieve the goals of
the African Revolution.
It is true that Somalia remains an independent state.
However, for 15 years it has been victim to a protracted
internal conflict that resulted in the collapse of the
state, the death of an estimated one million Somalis, the
emigration of thousands as refugees, and the impoverishment
of millions as a result of severe and sustained
Further to complicate the situation, giving it a global
dimension, allegations have now been made that international
terrorist groups have established themselves in Somalia,
taking advantage of the situation created by the collapse of
the Somali state.
Earlier, in the context of the conflict that ensued after
the overthrow of Siad Barre, the United Nations (UN) had
authorised a US-led military mission to intervene in
Somalia, among other things to create the conditions for the
distribution of humanitarian assistance. In 1993 Somali
combat groups in Mogadishu killed 18 US soldiers, after
shooting down a US helicopter. This incident came to be
known as "Black Hawk Down", and led to the withdrawal of the
US troops and the termination of the UN mission, which
failed to achieve its objectives.
Somalia has also turned into a source of regional
instability, even as the African Continent through the
African Union (AU) has intensified its efforts to ensure
that ours becomes a Continent of peace, focused on
responding to the challenge of eradicating poverty and
For the sake both of Somalia and our Continent as a whole,
Africa has no choice but to come to the aid of this sister
African country. In many respects the deeply entrenched
Somali crisis demonstrates what can happen to many of our
countries if they are not governed and managed in a manner
that addresses the interests of all citizens, bearing in
mind the national specifics of each country.
As a state entity Somalia came into being as recently as
1960. In that year the two colonies, British and Italian
Somaliland, gained their independence. To end the
fragmentation of the Somali population brought about by
colonialism, they then decided to merge and form the United
Republic of Somalia.
This process of the unification of the Somali-speaking
people however also led to tensions with neighbouring
countries, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya, each one of which
has a Somali-speaking minority. The worst manifestation of
these tensions was, of course, the 1977 war with Ethiopia,
when Somalia tried to annex the Somali-speaking Ogaden
region of Ethiopia. (Feudal Ethiopia had managed to seize
part of Ogaden during the 1880s, and later succeeded to get
the whole of it through an agreement with colonial Britain.)
We mention these events because today there are Ethiopian
troops in Somalia. Not surprisingly, the media reports that
many Somalis consider this Ethiopian presence as a
humiliation. One businessman, Abdulahi Mohamed Mohamud, was
reported as saying, "We are afraid of a long war, and people
are angry at the Ethiopian troops."
As the Somali state collapsed after the overthrow of Siad
Barre in 1991, it became a conglomeration of different
enclaves. North-west Somalia proclaimed itself the
independent Republic of Somaliland. The Puntland region
declared its autonomy. Various parts especially of southern
Somalia fell under the control of different clan leaders, or
The question that must arise is whether, in fact, during the
years of independence, the different traditional "clan"
areas and sections of the Somali population had developed a
strong enough sense of national cohesion and identity to
ensure the survival of the United Republic of Somalia
proclaimed in 1960!
The importance of this question is highlighted by the role
played by the issue of clan divisions in the uprising that
overthrew Siad Barre in 1991, who evidently had
discriminated against some clans, specifically the Mijertyn
and Isaq clans, in favour of his own Marehan clan. In this
regard, a BBC correspondent, Peter Biles, has reported that:
"When Somalia's president was overthrown in 1991, much of
the country fell under the control of warlords and
Another report spoke of "the oppressive, capricious, and
clan-based autocracy of the late dictator, Siyad Barre, who
used his interpretation of clan institutions for his own
ends, to oppress political opponents, create inequality, and
promote conflict and violence. So great was his malevolence
and abuse of power that virtually all Somalis now hold a
deep-seated fear and distrust of any centralized authority."
Another important element of the story of Somalia is that,
as had happened in many African countries at the time,
General Siad Barre had acceded to power in 1969 by coup
d'etat. He seized power after Abdi Rashid Ali Shermarke,
elected President in 1967, had been assassinated.
Inevitably, the absence of democratic institutions would
make it extremely difficult for the different Somali clans,
regions and interest groups to negotiate among themselves to
define a national compact that would ensure the cohesion of
Somalia now has an Interim Government that is recognised by
the AU and the rest of the world, born in 2004 after
protracted negotiations held in Kenya, involving the warring
Somali factions. As a result of the Ethiopian intervention,
which ousted the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) that had
fought itself into a position of power in Mogadishu and
other parts of southern Somalia, this Government is now
operating from Mogadishu.
As the military conflict continued after the ouster of the
UIC, the US decided to launch air strikes against the
retreating UIC adherents, claiming that it was striking at
terrorists who had bombed the US embassies in Nairobi and
Dar-es-Salaam in 1998 and then taken refuge in Somalia. The
majority of the world, including the AU and the UN, has been
forthright in opposing this action, correctly asserting that
this will not help to resolve the crisis in Somalia and
would add oil to the fires that are burning in the Middle
East. In addition, some Somalis have been quoted as saying
that these air strikes were carried out as an act of
vengeance for the death of 18 US soldiers in Mogadishu in
1993 and the shooting down of the US 'Black Hawk'
Responding to the events in Somalia, including these US air
strikes, the Foreign Minister of neighbouring Yemen, Abu
Bakr al-Qirbi, said:
"Yemen was hoping that the Islamic Courts and the interim
government would have settled their differences through the
negotiating table. Unfortunately this did not happen.
"Now we have to deal with the situation as it is, and we
will have to work on getting everybody concerned in Somalia
to negotiate the future management of Somalia, to restore
peace and security, and to put the interests of Somalia
above the interests of clans or political parties or
In these words, Abu Bakr al-Qirbi set the agenda for Somalia
that the AU must address during this year, 2007. Supported
by the UN Security Council, the AU is engaged in an urgent
process that should result in the deployment of AU
peace-keeping troops in Somalia, to help this sister country
to extricate itself from its protracted crisis.
In this regard, the January 2007 President of the Security
Council, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, announced that
the Council regards Somalia as "a high priority matter" and
is concerned about instability, security, and the
humanitarian situation. The Council strongly supports an
inclusive political dialogue among various political forces
in Somalia and favours the speedy deployment of IGASOM, the
new force that would be set up by the African Union and a
seven-nation East African regional group of nations.
Time will tell when the next Assembly of Heads of State and
Government, this time of the AU, will convene in Mogadishu.
For that to happen, as Africans we will have to do
everything necessary to overcome the old and new historic
problems that have placed Somalia on our agenda as an
unresolved problem of the African Revolution, as the
liberation of the Portuguese colonies was an unresolved
problem of the African Revolution in 1974.
Beyond this, perhaps, as Africans, we should seriously
consider whether we should not take up the call originally
made by former President Khatami of Iran for a "dialogue of
civilisations" - a dialogue that would lead to a peaceful
resolution of conflicts between clans, within nation states,
between states, and between coalitions of states, to ensure
that the Somali example of anarchy and death is not visited
on our countries and the rest of humanity. Might this not
serve as a fitting tribute to the 50th anniversary of the
historic independence of Ghana of Kwame Nkrumah, which we
will celebrate this year, 2007!
JAWAAB WARADAN KA AKHRI HALKAN....