Somalian Revolution (1986–1992)

From New World Encyclopedia
Somali'a location on the Horn of Africa

The Somali Revolution started in 1986, when President Siad Barre began attacking clan-based dissident groups opposed to his rule with his special forces, the "Red Berets" (Duub Cas). The dissidents had been gaining strength for nearly a decade following his abrupt switch of allegiance from the Soviet Union to the United States and the disastrous Ogaden War of 1977-1978. When Barre was injured in an automobile accident on May 23, 1986, rivals within Barre's own government and revolutionary groups became bolder and entered into open conflict. Barre, who had seized power in a military coup October 21, 1969 was toppled on January 26, 1991. Subsequently, Somalia descended into Civil War as competing warlords carved out zones for themselves. Two regions of the country declared unilateral independence. Although they are not recognized by the international community, they do have functional governments. A chronic lack of resources continues to fuel conflict as clans compete for a share of what is insufficient to meet everybody's needs.

The United Nations was involved on the ground in Somalia from 1992 until 1995, protecting humanitarian operations and trying to create conditions conducive to achieving reconciliation and peace between the competing factions. Loss of life led to a complete UN withdrawal in March, 1995. Subsequently, the UN has encouraged Djibouti and other African nations to mediate and to pursue a peace plan. Although the United Nations remains involved, from a distance, in the peace-process, the international community has become increasingly reluctant to commit peace-keeping troops in situations where an agreement is not already in place between different parties to arrive at a workable solution. Only when the causes of conflict in Somalia are addressed, followed by an equitable distribution of resources across all the communities, will peace become possible.


Colonial history

When the European colonial powers met to divide Africa among themselves, the area now known as Somalia was divided between the British, the Italians and the French. During World War II, Italian Somalia was combined with Ethiopia within Italian East Africa. Italy briefly occupied British Somaliland in 1940 but a year later the British has occupied Italy's territory. After the war, Italy continued to administer Italian Somalia under a United Nations mandate until internal autonomy was granted in 1956. In 1960, the British and Italian territories both became independent and merged as the United Republic of Somalia. The French territory became independent as Djibouti in 1977. independent Somalia had to integrate two territories that had been governed by different colonial powers. This meant that two different legal systems were in place and two different colonial languages were used for official business, with Somalis in the one of the two former colonies unfamiliar with the languages of the other. Somalis themselves, though, speak a common language.

Border disputes took place between Somalia and Kenya in 1963 and with Ethiopia in 1964. This second dispute led to armed conflict. Somali irredentism lay behind these wars, the desire to "rejoin lost territories to the motherland." In the post-colonial space, Somali live in five different political jurisdictions.[1] However, armed conflict was in the main absent for the first 17 years of independence, from 1960 until 1977. The idea that Somalis ought to live in a single political jurisdiction can itself be identified as a European type of nationalism. From 1977 until 1991, three conflicts took place: War with Ethiopia (1977-78); civil war in the North-west between the military and the Somali National movement (SNM) over control of that region; internal conflict between government forces and clan-based liberation movements (1989-1990). Following nine years of civilian government, a military coup in 1969 brought Siad Barre into power. A peace accord was signed with Ethiopia in 1988. As well as nationalizing industries, Barre filled government appointments with members of his own Marehan clan while excluding others.

Barre deliberately played different clans off against each other in order to divert attention away from the countries economic problems.[2] He also outlawed reference to clan allegiance, which had the effect of "pushing reference to such identity underground."[3] Barre's regime was propped up with military aid from the Soviet Union, which to some extent made Somalia a venue for Cold War politics as the Western states also provided aid.[4] Clarke and Gosende argue that once the Cold War ended, the powers lost interest in propping up Barre's regime in the name of stability and that "when Somalia collapsed in 1991, few people seemed to care."[5] They ask, however, if Somalia ever properly constituted a state, since "Somalia is a cultural nations but it was never a single, coherent territory."[6] On the other hand, the state's constitutional made working for the reunification of the Somali people a goal of government.[7] Woodward says that in the 1969 election, all parties were clan based and that already democracy was fragile, being replaced by "commercialized anarchy."[8] Most Somalis are of the same ethnicity. The clans, which are based on lineage, represent traditional organizational systems.

Downfall of Siad Barre (1986–1992)

The revolution is broken into two distinct phases:

  1. May 23, 1986-January 26, 1991: Events and revolutionary movements prior to the fall of Siad Barre.
  1. January 26, 1991-April 1992: Events and revolutionary movements after Siad Barre's fall, but before the advent of the United Nations missions to Somalia[9] and the U.S.-led Operation Restore Hope.[10]

The first phase of the subsequent Civil war stemmed from the insurrections against the repressive regime of Siad Barre. After his ousting from power on January 26, 1991, a counter-revolution took place to attempt to reinstate him as leader of the country. It comprises the northwestern section of the country (between Djibouti and the northeastern area known as Puntland, which is also effectively independent. The rest of the country, especially the South, descended into anarchy. Warlords emerged who controlled small zones and competed with each other for domination of larger areas. Taking place in one of the world's poorest countries, mass starvation followed.

Repressions conducted by the Barre Regime

Persecution of the Majeerteen

In the aftermath of the Ogaden debacle, a group of disgruntled army officers attempted a coup d'état against the regime in April 1978. Their leader was Colonel Mahammad Shaykh Usmaan, a member of the Majeerteen clan, which resides mostly in northeastern Somalia. The coup failed and seventeen alleged ringleaders, including Usmaan, were summarily executed. All but one of the executed were of the Majeerteen clan. One of the plotters, Lieutenant Colonel Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, a Majeerteen, escaped to Ethiopia and founded an anti-Siad Barre organization initially called the Somali Salvation Front (SSDF; later the Somali Salvation Democratic Front, SSDF). During their preeminence in the civilian regimes, the Majeerteen had alienated other clans. Thus, when Siad Barre sent the Red Berets against the Majeerteen in Mudug Region, other clans declined to support them.

The Red Berets systematically smashed the small reservoirs in the area around Galcaio so as to deny water to the Umar Mahamuud Majeerteen sub-clans and their herds. In May and June 1979, more than 2,000 Umar Mahamuud, the Majeerteen sub-clan of Colonel Ahmad, died of thirst in the waterless area northeast of Galcaio, Garoowe, and Jerriiban. In Galcaio, members of the Victory Pioneers, the urban militia notorious for harassing civilians, raped large numbers of Majeerteen women. In addition, the clan lost an estimated 50,000 camels, 10,000 cattle, and 100,000 sheep and goats.

Oppression of the Isaaq

The Isaaq as a clan-family occupy the northern portion of the country. Three major cities are predominantly, if not exclusively, Isaaq: Hargeisa, the second largest city in Somalia until it was razed during disturbances in 1988; Burao in the interior, also destroyed by the military; and the port of Berbera.

Formed in London on April 6, 1981, by 400 to 500 Isaaq emigrés, the Somali National Movement (SNM) remained an Isaaq clan-family organization dedicated to ridding the country of Siad Barre. The Isaaq felt deprived both as a clan and as a region, and Isaaq outbursts against the central government had occurred sporadically since independence. The SNM launched a military campaign in 1988, capturing Burao on May 27 and part of Hargeisa on May 31. Government forces bombarded the towns heavily in June, forcing the SNM to withdraw and causing more than 300,000 Isaaq to flee to Ethiopia.

The military regime conducted savage reprisals against the Isaaq. The same methods were used as against the Majeerteen—destruction of water wells and grazing grounds and raping of women. An estimated 50,000 Isaaq were killed between May 27 and the end of December 1988. About 4,000 died in the fighting, but 1,000, including women and children, were alleged to have been bayoneted to death.

Harrying of the Hawiye

The Hawiye occupy the south portion of Somalia. The capital of Mogadishu is located in the country of the Abgaal, the largest Hawiye subclan. Southern Somalia's first prime minister during the UN trusteeship period, Abdullaahi Iise, was a Hawiye; so was the trust territory's first president, Aadan Abdullah Usmaan. The first commander of the Somali army, General Daauud Abdullah Hirsi, a head of Supreme Revolutionary Council in 1969 Brigadier General Salad Gabeire, and successor of Siad Barre president Ali Mahdi Mohamed and General Mohamed Farrah Aidid, president Abdul kasim Salad Hassan in 2000, and current prime minister Ali Mohamed Gedi in 2004 are also a Hawiye. Although the Hawiye tribe had occupied important administrative positions in the bureaucracy and in the top army command, in the late 1980s, disaffection with the regime set in among the Hawiye, who felt increasingly marginalized in the Siad Barre regime. From the town of Beledweyne in the central valley of the Shabele River to Buulobarde, to Giohar Eil Dheir, Mareeg, Massagawai, and in Mogadishu, the clan was subjected to ruthless assault. Government atrocities inflicted on the Hawiye were considered comparable in scale to those against the Majeerteen and Isaaq. By undertaking this assault on the Hawiye, Siad Barre committed a fatal error: By alienating the Hawiye, Siad Barre turned his last stronghold into enemy territory.

Faced with saboteurs by day and sniper fire by night, Siad Barre ordered remaining units of the badly demoralized Red Berets to massacre civilians. By 1989 torture, and murder became the order of the day in Mogadishu. On July 9, 1989, Somalia's Italian-born Roman Catholic bishop, Salvatore Colombo, was gunned down in his church in Mogadishu by an unknown assassin. The order to murder the bishop, an outspoken critic of the regime, was widely believed to have come from the presidential palace.

On the heels of the bishop's murder came the July 14 massacre, when the Red Berets slaughtered 450 Muslims demonstrating against the arrest of their spiritual leaders. More than 2,000 were seriously injured. The next day, forty-seven people, mainly from the Isaaq clan, were taken to Jasiira Beach west of the city and summarily executed. The July massacres prompted a shift in United States policy, and the U.S. began to distance itself from Siad Barre.

With the loss of United States support, the regime grew more desperate. An anti-Siad Barre demonstration on July 6, 1990, at a soccer match in the main stadium deteriorated into a riot, causing Siad Barre's bodyguard to panic and open fire on the demonstrators. At least sixty-five people were killed. A week later, while the city reeled from the impact of what came to be called the Stadia Corna Affair, Siad Barre sentenced to death 46 prominent members of the Manifesto Group, a body of 114 notables who had signed a petition in May calling for elections and improved human rights. During the contrived trial that resulted in the death sentences, demonstrators surrounded the court and activity in the city came to a virtual halt. On July 13, a shaken Siad Barre dropped the charges against the accused. As the city celebrated victory, Siad Barre, conceding defeat for the first time in twenty years, retreated into his bunker at the military barracks near the airport to save himself from the people's wrath.

Independence of Somaliland


In 1991, the northern portion of the country declared its independence as Somaliland; although de facto independent and relatively peaceful compared to the tumultuous south, it has not been recognized by any foreign government.

The formation of Somaliland occurred as a result of the settlement of issues between the Somali National Movement (SNM) and the pro-Barre Gadabursi Somali Democratic Alliance (SDA) led by Abdirahman Aw Ali and Mohamed Farah Abdullahi.


Puntland (north-east) declared autonomy in 1998.[11] The state had made clan confederation a top priority in an effort to establish stable governance. it supports a federal Somalia.[12]


Since Barre's departure, only Somaliland, which comprises the northwestern section of the country (between Djibouti and the northeastern area known as Puntland have functioning governments. The rest of the country, especially the South, descended into anarchy. Warlords emerged who controlled small zones and competed with each other for domination of larger areas. As civil war took place in one of the world's poorest countries, mass starvation followed.

United Nations forces pulled out of their humanitarian and peace-keeping mission in March 3, 1995, after suffering heavy casualties. A total of 157 United Nations peace-keepers had died.[9] The US lost 45 soldiers all during 1993, 18 in the Battle of Mogadishu.[13] Much of the humanitarian aid was looted, diverted and sold, failing to reach those who needed help. The U.S. led "Operation Restore Hope" (1992-1995) had aimed to protect humanitarian operations and create an environment in which political reconciliation could develop. It was the loss of U.S. lives in the Battle of Mogadishu, October 3, 1993, that led to the withdrawal of U.S. troops followed by the complete UN pull-out.[14]

Although the United Nations remains involved, from a distance, in the peace-process, the international community has become increasingly reluctant to commit peace-keeping troops in situations where an agreement is not already in place between different parties to arrive at a workable solution.[15] Some even suggest that the best solution in such circumstances is to let one party win, regardless of the death toll.[16] With reference to Somalia, a nation-state that was created by the departing colonial powers, the unitary nation state may not be the best of the ideal system of governance unless all segments of the population can be guaranteed fair treatment. A system that delegates more responsibility to the local level might be more effective in governing a country where clan-links are important aspects of people's identity. Economic and social equity across the clans will end envy that another clan has a greater share of the national pie. Analysis of the causes of the Somali Civil War, itself caused by the Somalian Revolution and of the problems faced by the international community in its response to the Somalian situation suggests that better mechanisms need to be developed to deal with similar situations, else world peace will remain a dream. One of the most hopeful aspects of the Djibouti-led peace process has been an attempt to include everyone—it is "better to have them inside the tent than outside throwing stones."[17]


  1. Clarke, and Gosende (2003), 135.
  2. Kieh and Mukenge (2002), 26.
  3. Woodward (1996), 68.
  4. Clarke and Gosende (2003), 130.
  5. Clarke and Gosende (2003), 131.
  6. Clarke and Gosende (2003), 133.
  7. Mayall (1990), 60.
  8. Woodward (1996), 67.
  9. 9.0 9.1 UN, Somalia UNOSOM II. Retrieved November 16, 2008.
  10. Global Security, Operation Restore Hope. Retrieved November 16, 2008.
  11. Rotberg (2003), 152.
  12. Rotberg (2003), 153.
  13. American Memorial Site, 45 American Soldiers Killed United Nations' Peacekeeping Mission 1993—Somalia. Retrieved November 16, 2008.
  14. Larry Parker, The Battle of Mogadishu, Military History. Retrieved November 16, 2008.
  15. Muravchik (2005), 33.
  16. Muravchik (2005), 26.
  17. Rotberg (2003), 153.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Ali, Taisier, Mohamed Ahmed, and Robert O. Matthews. 1999. Civil Wars in Africa: Roots and Resolution. Montreal, CA: McGill-Queen's University Press. ISBN 9780773517776.
  • Boutros-Ghali, Boutros. 1999. Unvanquished: A U.S.-U.N. Saga. New York, NY: Random House. ISBN 9780375500503.
  • Bowden, Mark. 1999. Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War. New York, NY: Atlantic Monthly Press. ISBN 9780871137388.
  • Brown, Cynthia G., and Farhad Karim. 1995. Playing the "Communal Card:" Communal Violence and Human Rights. New York, NY: Human Rights Watch. ISBN 9781564321527.
  • Bruckheimer, Jerry, Ridley Scott, Ken Nolan, Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore, and Eric Bana et al. 2002. Black Hawk Down. Culver City, CA: Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment. ISBN 9780767870627.
  • Clarke, Walter, and Robert Gosende. "Somalia: Can a Collapsed State reconstitute itself?" 129-158 in Rotberg, Robert I. 2003. State Failure and State Weakness in a Time of Terror. Cambridge, MA: World Peace Foundation. ISBN 9780815775744.
  • Cran, William, and Will Lyman. 2001. Ambush in Mogadishu. Alexandria, VA: PBS Home Video. ISBN 9780780637450.
  • Hirsch, John L., and Robert B. Oakley. 1995. Somalia and Operation Restore Hope: Reflections on Peacemaking and Peacekeeping. Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press. ISBN 9781878379412.
  • Kieh, George Klay, and Ida Rousseau Mukenge. 2002. Zones of Conflict in Africa Theories and Cases. Westport, CT: Praeger. ISBN 9780313010835.
  • Lyons, Terrence, and Ahmed I. Samatar. 1995. Somalia: State Collapse, Multilateral Intervention, and Strategies for Political Reconstruction. Brookings occasional papers. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution. ISBN 9780815753513.
  • Mayall, James. 1990. Nationalism and international society. Cambridge studies in international relations, 10. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521373128.
  • Moeller, Susan D. 1999. Compassion Fatigue: How the Media Sell Disease, Famine, War, and Death. New York, NY: Routledge. ISBN 9780415920971.
  • Muravchik, Joshua. 2005. The Future of the United Nations: Understanding the Past to Chart a Way Forward. Washington, DC: AEI Press. ISBN 084466163X.
  • Rotberg, Robert I. 2003. State Failure and State Weakness in a Time of Terror. Cambridge, MA: World Peace Foundation. ISBN 9780815775744.
  • Shawcross, William. 2000. Deliver us from Evil: Peacekeepers, Warlords, and a World of Endless Conflict. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 9780684832333.
  • Sklenka, Stephen D. 2007. Strategy, national interests, and means to an end. Carlisle papers in security strategy. Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College. ISBN 9781584873099. Retrieved November 16, 2008.
  • Waal, Alex de. 2004. Islamism and its Enemies in the Horn of Africa. Bloomington, IN: Indiana Univ. Press. ISBN 9780253216793.
  • Woodward, Peter. 1996. The Horn of Africa: State Politics and International Relations. International library of African studies, v. 6. London, UK: I.B. Tauris. ISBN 9781850437413.

External Links

All links retrieved February 3, 2023.


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