Siad Barre was born to pastoral parents circa 1919. In Las Gal, presently known as the Ogaden region. At the time of his birth majority of the Somali country was in control of colonial power such as the British and the Italians.
People born outside the protectorate were prevented to join the respective armed forces. On the grounds of fears of Somali Independence fighters (Darawish) to infiltrate the army.
The protectorate made a valid point considering all of Siad Barre’s uncles died fighting the colonial forces from the west. The clan and the family of Siad Barre were at the forefront of the movement against the colonisers. The clan is called marehaan, a sub clan of the Darood clan.
By the age of 10 Mohammed Siad Barre was an orphan. His dad died on the battle ground against the Italian colonist. Furthermore, his mum passed away because of an illness. Thanks to the support of the local community Siad was able to finish his high school education. He was a very curious young fellow so he participated in a lot of self education.
With this type of early history Siad was already born to be different. He wasn’t officially allowed into the protectorate armed forces. He found a way of creating ambiguity about his birthplace and succeeded in joining the Somali-British police force. After being accepted he moved to Mogadishu. At this time Siad Barre was 20 years old, the year was 1941.
As an ambitious young intelligent man, Siad Barre made his mark in the police force in Mogadishu. They were so impressed by the level of commitment and dedication led to a rapid ascend within the ranks. Nine years after arrival at twenty nine, Mr Barre was a chief police inspector. The highest rank that was available for an indigenous Somalia born at that time.
The Italians took notice of the young men and invested in his talent. He and other promising men were flown out to Italy to study politics and administration. As Mohammed Siad Barre was always fond of self education, he managed to master the following languages; English, Italian, Arabic and Swahili. Other notable men who were studying in Italy were Lig-Ligaato, shegow and duad.
During their time in Italy the gentlemen became very fond of the culture and the Italian way of doing things. Inspired by the cuisine, architecture, people and history. They took this higher way of living back to their country. Upon returning they had the vision of what Somalia could be like.
Upon returning from Rome Mohammed Siad Barre was promoted to the rank of second lieutenant. A rank which was previously unavailable for him. Also, A year later he was awarded the position of police chief. In addition he was assigned to the capital city of Somalia, Mogadishu.
The public was fond about Siad Barre and his path towards his position. There is a strong sense of meritocracy built in to the Somali citizen. Education is respected. Being able to stay calm under pressure is also respected. With so much respect also comes attention from the opposite sex. Siad Barre had many lovers and multiple wife’s. Six to be exact throughout his life. As many men with great social influences he had many children, twenty children from six wife’s. We don’t know if there were more but it is likely that there were children born out of marriage. Siad Barre and majority of the society are religious followers of the Sunni Muslim teachings. Having a child outside of marriages is a big no-no. Fortunately no such scandal are known of the general.
After many years of being settled by the Italians and British it was time to get loose of the shackles. The tension was evident, the public felt it and the settlers felt it. When Mohammed Siad Barre returned from Rome he was asked to organise & train the military. Train them for an event in a very short time. A duration that seemed impossible compared to the physical works that was required. Too everyone’s amazement, Siad Barre was able to meet the otherwise impossible deadline. The Italian generals noticed the passion in the soldiers and the underlying motivation of nationalism.
Nationalism silently won the country back. On July 1, 1960 the country became independent again. The newly independent Somalia was formed out of the union of the north (British Somalia) and southern (Italian) part of the country. The Brits and the Italians left the country in a strange place. Everything was disorganised, the educational system was not working, the big businesses were still foreign owned and the government had no clear structure.
The recovery was up to the group who took the lead. Formerly known as league of young Somalis, were the new leaders of the country. They were up to a big task which was a to organise a government which had legislation over all parts of the country including Djibouti and the Ogaden Region. It soon became evident that the south would become the centre of political activity. It became the political centre not because of the greater population but the fact that southerners had gained more experience in political and administrative matters during their encounter with the Italians.
The general elections organised by the league of young Somalia attracted four major parties. The parties were clan based. The league of young Somalia was the party who won the first election and Adan Abdulle Osman became the first president of Somalia.
What seemed to be a peaceful election was actually a set up for conflict. With the new system of governing each political party had to list their representative. If the party earned a seat then their candidate would be in the national assembly. The national assembly was the parliament. The process witnessed a gruesome abuse of the system.
Majority of the Somali community were farmers or pastorals divided into clans and tribes not classes. The blood separation of tribes make the government situation harder to manage. The loyalty bonds between clan member is what fuelled a lot of problems.
The Somali people have been living clan based for centuries and it served as a great way of upholding a peaceful and productive society it is a system which brought much benefit to the people. The justice system, marriage and identity was all based on clans and it created harmony. If someone stole something or did something cruel to another person the clan based justice system aided in the persecution of the criminal. There was a working justice.
The clan system which brought so much benefit, love and produced a healthy community quickly developed into a destructive element when it was combined with the social structure builders from the west such as voting, democracy and a president. The Somali people forced upon themselves the ideology on how to run a state the European way. Forgetting that they had a system which was working very well before the meddling Europeans and Italians.
Aden Abdulle Osman, the first Somali president appointed Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke as his prime minister in 1961. The prime minister was in charge of appointing the cabinet. Naturally he chose to appoint his cronies, they were all acquaintances from the Somali youth league. If you think this is bad, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
In 1964 the second election arrived. 21 clan based parties fielded 973 for the 123 seats elected in the national assembly. A 500% increase from the 1960 election. The following was a crucial point for the democracy of the country. A mark of healthy state is the ability to peacefully hand over power to the next party. Unfortunately that did not happen. The now dominant and almost tyrannical Somali youth league decided to not participate in handing over the governmental power and re elected themselves for another term. They won the election by covert force.
The third elections were held in 1969, the amount of competing parties went from 21 to 80. From 973 candidates it went to 2000 candidates. The fragmentation was ever increasing. The discomfort of the public was easy to tell by their efforts to get their representative into the assembly.
The communities unease did not just exists because of the dodgy elections but also because of the lack of improvement made by the new ruling powers. The Italians were still in charge of the big business in the capital of the country. Big business such as the banana export, camels and sugar refineries.
Knowing this the government devised a five year plan to make a real lasting positive change for the citizens. Unfortunately as first attempts often do, it failed miserably and is said to be the main motivator behind the violent confrontations on election day were 40 people lost their lives.
Somali intellectuals of the period were very sceptical about the new development plan devised by the current Somali Youth League government. The reason for the scepticism came from the comparison to other countries who’s growth plans were based on foreign aid. Somalia received per capita aid over three times more than all African countries. During the time of both plans (1960 -1969) the standard of living dropped for almost all citizens despite all the foreign money that was coming into the country. With this statistic at hand the intellectuals dubbed the country the ‘absolute graveyard of foreign aid’
The educational sector was one of the most important branches of the country but it lacked structure and funding. According to the 1960 regime 65% off the budget was suppose to go to the educational sector but not even a quarter of the capital was invested into education. With a population of 3 million only 5000 studied at the university every year. That is a very dismal number considering that good education increases chances on a good future. Majority of the students stopped education after high school. Considering that the future of a country depends on their youth, Somalia was facing a bleak future.
Literacy was an essential key to governing. Only a few thousand people of the country were able to analyse the governments policy. For the ruling class smart people are a nuances, they prefer to widen the gap between the rulers and ruled. Majority of the business was conducted in colonial languages, for the average Somali citizen there was little hope to be in control of their own destiny. Unemployment increased and so did corruption and criminality.
Not only did the crime level increase in the general population but also in the government. After forcefully winning the second election the Somali Youth League felt that no one could tell them anything, shortly after that money started disappearing.
The most common corruption among citizen was in the cigarette trade. Customs sold the cigarettes duty free to the people because of the lack of enforcement on staff. The little that was enforced and fined went into the civil servants pocket. Hospitals were selling their medicines to local private pharmacies.
The corruption in society took queue from the corruption in the government. Members of the government were driven around in lavish limousines with the gold coloured letters AN ( assemblea nazionale) printed. Arrested criminals would be released the next day upon a call from a related MP. Money and machinery for foreign aid would be used by politicians to built their own houses and buy land.
Prominent civil servants and ministers were seemingly engaged in a race to outdo each other by using the embezzled money in attaining more and more luxurious good. The corruption was open to the public and it was getting out of hand.
Siad Barre’s army
Surprisingly enough, the only sector of the government that wasn’t corrupted were the police and the armed forces. They were the first part of the government to be independent from the colony. That means they were independent from the current government. The army did aided in the peacefully transition of the colonial rule to the new independent government. The Somali forces had a reputation for excellence and benevolence. The public loved them and treated them as heroes. Also the army organised monthly events for the public. General Siad Barre was largely the reason for the postive image. No other army in Africa had the same type of relationship with the public as the Somali army did.
While the new government was corrupting the country Siad Barre was standing on the side line. Being a good citizen, father and leader of the military. No one, including himself was expecting the next turn of events.