The Swahili coastal culture which stretches from Somalia in the north to Mozambique in the south is very old, even by historical African standards. It is an exotic mix of original inhabitants, called Zanj and later arrivals – Arabs, Persians, Indians, Portuguese and assorted other Europeans. The Swahili language is more modern than the culture, flexible, sophisticated and poetic. Present-day Somalia began of course, not as a country, but as part of a series of coastal towns beginning in 799 (CE) with such cities as Malindi, Zanzibar, Mombasa, Lamu and further north along the fabled Horn of Africa, Mogadishu, Brava and Pate. Muslim sultanates, loosely called Somali, set up trading stations of which Mogadishu was the biggest. In between trading, Somali warriors regularly joined together to do battle with neighboring Christian Ethiopia. It was a common story of eastern coastal Africa.
Today Mogadishu and Brava are in ruins, destroyed by modern exploiters and explosives. The early traders didn’t much like Mogadishu: “there are more sharks in Mog harbour than anywhere else in Africa because for centuries there had been a slaughterhouse on the shore of Mogadishu Harbour, and the offal was thrown into the sea,” historians record. From the frenzy of the sharks and the blood red sea comes a fine political metaphor for the capital of Somalia.
Nevertheless Mogadishu and Brava, its sister city a hundred or so kilometers north, were flourishing trading ports in the days of the Swahili hegemony. Their influence was destroyed when Portugal eventually dismantled the trans-Indian Ocean trading system in the 16th century and they fell into decline. Hardly anyone bothered with them after that. Somalia was largely ignored in the European division of Africa: the countryside was beautiful in an austere way, the nomadic cattle-herders and their camels were exotic enough, but there were no minerals and nothing much to exploit. True, Britain and Italy divided the place up between them, but as a political afterthought: Britain took the northern half to protect Aden across the gulf, and Italy got the south because it was another way into Ethiopia. Djibouti remained French.
The colonial and post-colonial history of Somalia are depressingly and familiarly imperial. Italy and Britain fought over the two Somalilands, as they were known, in a desultory way, involving from time-to-time Egypt, France, Sudan, Ethiopia. Various treaties were signed and broken. Italy invaded British Somaliland and was defeated in 1936, leaving Britain in control of the whole area until 1950 when Italy received a mandate from the UN to run the affairs of its only African colony.
| ||"Hardly anyone bothered with them after that... there were no minerals and nothing much to exploit."|| |
No one much cared when the two mandated territories achieved independence in 1960 and promptly declared themselves the United Republic of Somalia (population approximately 8 million). In the early years of independence the country was severely underdeveloped and very poor, and it was to get worse. Some of the warlords wanted to form a Greater Somalia encompassing parts of Kenya, all of Djibouti and the Somali section of Ethiopia. Fighting went on sporadically until 1967.
Various factions flirted with the Cold War opponents as allies: first the USSR, then the US, then back to the USSR, the nearby gulf and the oil-rich Arabian states being the real prize. In 1969 President Abd-I-rashid Ali Shermake was assassinated and Major General Mohammad Siad Barre staged a coup. Somalia, never really a country to its clan-oriented people, descended into the worst vestiges of Cold War politics: warlordism, corruption, dictatorship and, of course, civil war. Interestingly, in all this dreary tale, Somalia was completely Muslim and the whole population shared a single language and ethnic identity. Religion and ethnicity had nothing to do with the descent into chaos. The Cold War that resulted in civil war was all about clan rivalries promoted by foreign powers.
Barre promptly suspended the legislative assembly, banned all political parties and set up a supreme revolutionary council, giving himself the power to rule by decree. He changed the name from Somalia to the Somali Democratic Republic. He joined the Arab League and developed strong ties with the USSR and Communist bloc.
By 1974, Barre made another of his shifts as he attempted to play one superpower off against the other. In defiance of the Soviet Union, which was deeply enmeshed in Ethiopia’s Marxist dominated government and its civil war, he began supporting ethnic Somali rebels seeking to take over the Ogaden areas of Ethiopia . The U.S. promptly rewarded Barre with massive arms support and with oil and money from Saudi Arabia. The war droned on killing thousands of Ethiopians and Somalis until 1988 when a peace accord between their two countries was negotiated.
Barre’s days were numbered as the country fell into chaos. The U.S. was no longer a reliable ally after Barre was discovered making overtures to North Vietnam. Faction fighting broke out across the country among clans and northern Somalia seceded from the central government and proclaimed itself the Somaliland Republic. Barre looted what was left of the treasury in January 1991 and fled with his cronies, first to Kenya and then to Ivory Coast, leaving the country engulfed in anarchy. During his rule (1969-1991) Barre had at least 50,000 political opponents killed and his human rights record was often compared with that of Saddam Hussein. Despite full knowledge of this, the US and USSR supported him, and the country is still littered with hundreds of millions of dollars of rusted-out military equipment from both superpowers.
| ||"Barre had at least 50,000 political opponents killed and his human rights record was often compared with that of Saddam Hussein. Despite full knowledge of this, the US and USSR supported him..."|| |
In Mogadishu, Mohammed Ali Mahdi proclaimed himself president, heading one faction, and Mohammed Farah Aidid another, as factional fighting spread. Civil war and the worst African drought of the century created a devastating famine that took more than 300,000 lives in 1992.
This war and famine had to be dealt with, the UN announced. The US would lead the rescue effort. It began in a blaze of glory and publicity in December 1992, the likes of which Somalia will never see again. American marines stormed ashore on the beaches of Mogadishu into the lenses of waiting television cameras. Their task, code-named Operation Restore Hope, was to impose peace and democracy after two years of civil war and feed the starving. Aid poured into one of the most mismanaged emergency operations in a long history of humanitarian disasters in Africa. The US military which was to guard the food delivery suffered a series of humiliating defeats, indicating an utter failure to understand the nature of the problem they were facing in Somalia. The operation reached its nadir in October 1993 when an American intelligence plan to kidnap General Aidid, who had been identified as the main villain of the food corruption gangs, went terribly wrong. Two helicopters were shot down, 18 crack US Rangers brought in specially for the abduction were killed, one American was captured and shown on US television, another was dragged through the streets by a Somali mob. Fifteen months after their colourful arrival, the Americans made an ignominious withdrawal, leaving the UN to pick up the pieces. By the end, the UN forces were barricaded in their bases, spending all but a handful of the operation’s multi-billion dollar budget on merely staying alive. Kofi Annan, the then UN under-secretary of peace-keeping, remarked acidly: “The impression has been created that the easiest way to disrupt a peace-keeping mission is to kill Americans.”
By 1997 almost all of the many cultured and educated Somalis were either dead or had fled. There was no national government. Thugs and warlords ruled everywhere. One in five Somalis was a refugee, most of them within the borders of their own country. There were plagues among the people and their precious cattle; there was famine and starvation. But the world washed its hands. Mogadishu (now 1.4 million displaced people) was rubble and violence. Everyone had a gun.
| ||"By 1997... there was no national government. Thugs and warlords ruled everywhere."|| |
The only stability was in the breakaway (but internationally unrecognized) Somaliland Republic and smaller ministates like Puntland and Jubaland, which, although unrecognized internationally, were the only signs of stability in a totally failed state. Traditional clan rule and the rule of the warlord was all the governance available to all sides with enforcement carried out by lawless civilians using anti-tank weapons and heavy machine-guns mounted on pick-up trucks (technicals).
By 2000, a sort of parliament convened in nearby Djibouti and elected the first government in a decade. After its first year in office, it controlled only about 10 percent of the country. Its mandate expired in 2003 but it had made some advances for a country starting over: a national police force and army were in place and half the 20,000 militiamen roaming the countryside had been demobilized.
In 2002, new talks to establish a government began. In August 2004, a new 275-member transitional parliament was inaugurated for a five-year term. In September, the parliament elected a national president, Abdullahi Yusuf, the president of the breakaway ministate of Puntland. It was the 13th attempt to form a government.
This new government now faces so many problems that its prospects are gloomy. It has a president, a prime minister, a parliament but they can’t live or work in their country, Somalia, or their capital city, Mogadishu, so they swan around Nairobi in nearby Kenya. It’s too dangerous at home. In Kenya the President gets red-carpet treatment; in Mogadishu there are 60,000 armed, dangerous and uncontrolled militants.
| ||"Somalia (now) has a president, a prime minister, a parliament, but they can’t live or work in their country... It's too dangerous."|| |
One of the president’s first acts was to ask for 20,000 peacekeepers to disarm the militias. So far he has got none, either from the UN or the African Union (AU). When parliament was inaugurated the warlords promised to disarm but there is no sign of this happening.
Somalia’s neighbours and donor countries have spent two years and some US$10 million on the peace talks which culminated in Mr. Yusuf’s election, but there is no security let alone the money needed for the huge task of rebuilding a failed state. The new government includes most of Somalia’s warlords to the dismay of some, but others say it is better to have them inside the process than out. “The cabinet will have to be a mixture of sinecures to keep the warlords happy and of technocrats to do the work,” said one western diplomat closely involved in the peace talks. The big question is whether these men who have been fighting each other will not continue their wild ways.
Descriptions of Mogadishu show the scale of the job facing them. There are no government buildings: most of them have been destroyed or turned into refugee camps where the same people have lived for years. There are no public hospitals; camels graze on the only runway at the international airport; vehicles are stopped every few kilometers at roadblocks where militiamen chewing khat (a mild stimulant) use AK-47s to extort money.
Amidst this anarchy, there are very real fears that terrorist groups could set up training camps, which is one reason why western countries want to spend money on peace and stability. Another anxiety for the West is the flood of Somali refugees. There are nearly three million Somalis living abroad, almost half the population.
Just recently 50 people were killed in central Somalia near the border with Ethiopia over a land dispute. Revenge killings are fuelling the violence.
Somalia, subjugated by colonial powers, caught in the Cold War battles for Africa, ignored by the world, is perhaps the classic failed state but it is far from the only one. The international community owes it something more than flawed democracy and our fear of terrorism.
AfricaFiles select bibliography and links:
- AfricaFiles: Eastern Region and Archives pages (numerous articles on Somalia).
- Africa Explored: Europeans in the dark continent, 1769-1889 by Christopher Hibbert (London: W.W. Norton & Co, 1983).
- The Bang-Bang Club: Snapshots from a hidden war by Greg Marinovich and Joao Silva (London: William Heinemann, 2000).
- Dark Threats and White Knights: The Somalia Affair, peacekeeping, and the new imperialism by Sherene H. Razack (University of Toronto Press, 2004).
- "From Gloom to Hope: A nation rises" by Allan Orao, New People Feature Service (no. 152, November 2004).
- Into Africa: A journey through the ancient empires by Marq de Villiers & Sheila Hirtle (Toronto: Key Porter Books, 1997).
- A Modern History of Somalia: Nation and state in the horn of Africa by Ioan M. Lewis (Woldenfield & Nicolson, 1965).
- A Pastoral Democracy: A study of pastoralism and politics among the northern Somali of the horn of Africa by Ioan M. Lewis (Oxford University Press, 1961).
- Silent Over Africa: Stories of war and genocide by James Schofield (Harper Collins, 1996).
- "Somalia: Chronology of events leading to the interim government" IRIN News (6 January 2005).
- "Somalia: Continuation of war by other means?" International Crisis Group (Africa Report no. 88, 21 December 2004).
- Whatever Happened to Somalia? by John Drysdale (Haan Associates, 1994).
"The past is gone, what's done is done. Let us focus on the present and the future. Truly speaking, whatever happened to Somalia, we are all responsible NO MATTER WHAT. I hate reading always the sad side of the coin of Somalia, can someone tell us one thing that is good about our beautiful country? If you look back in history, the United States of America, Japan, Germany and countries all over Europe have had their share of bad times - and only 60 years ago, many beautiful cities were in ruins due to WARS, civil wars and chaos. Let us move on, it's time for Somalia to take up new horizons. WE CAN DO IT, I am sure."
— Bashir Mursal Issa Botan
Northampton, England UK
"This article furthers my discontent of being an American. I believe this country, in its position of power, has the moral obligation to assist developing nations. The problem is that too many US invdividuals are poorly educated on international news. The US media is pathetic in relating international affairs and creating a greater sense of urgency in helping these people. In fact, more people are educated about Somali due to the movie 'Black Hawk Down' (that recounted the attempt of capturing General Aidid) than any newspaper could ever accomplish. Even in this film, the audience leaves the theatre with more sympathy in their hearts for the US soldiers than the suffering people of Somalia. However trite or oversaid it is, "Knowledge is Power." If people were more educated on the true happenings around the world I am certain that more positive actions would occur to politically and economically develop poor countries."
— Cindy Bailey
Tucson, Arizona, USA
"The author of this wonderful article has some pieces of the Somali puzzle. Unfortunately, like the Americans under the umbrella Restore Hope, he is missing the most important ones. He spelt out historical events but not the causes. He should ask why Somalis wanted nationhood in the first place, how it started, who were pro-independence who were contra-independence, on what bases, etc. Had he started from this grassroots level he would have witnessed the naked reality. I was stunned by how close he came to uncover the naked reality about the Somali dilemma.
"As correctly stated by McCullum, the naked reality is that foreign governments messed things up in Somalia, starting from colonial powers through to the super powers. Each of these forces used one local clan against the rest to control the country. For instance, why were Somali lands given to Ethiopia in 1954? This was a direct repercussion of Britain’s disillusionment after most southerners chose an Italian trusteeship administration instead of a British one when Britain had already begun the first political party that Italian Somaliland had ever had. Britain hoped that it could make a strong Somali nation but machiavellian Italian interferences made things twisted and less tasteful. I think if the Somalis had chosen Britain at that fateful moment things would have been different and Somalia would have a great nation like neighbouring Kenya.
"It is a fact that Britain founded and streamlined the cadets of SYL (Somali Youth League). For instance, its leader, the late Mr. Abdulahi Isse, lost the presidential race to a pro-Italian southerner. God knows what the Italian administration was cooking up during the ten-year trusteeship mandate. However, it is undisputable that the first cabinet ministers of the newly established country were pro-Italian individuals with clan political support. Not only were those northerners who were blinded by Somali nationalism left out in this crucial first government, they were also given sub-standard positions in contrast to what had been agreed and described in the constitution. Things were rotten from there: the cold war effects were only add-ons.
"Even the newly elected government still has a pro-Italian majority. There is good reason to suspect the government will probably fail -- because the Somaliland (i.e. the north or ex-British Somaliland) issue was completely ignored by this Nairobi group. History has taught us that whoever ignores the north will be dashing along the road to failure. Look what happened to the first civilian republics, that of Siad Barre and Ali Mahdi and that of Abdulkassim. They all made the same classic mistake of ignoring the north and being loyal to a foreign country (or countries). On the other hand, the international community and in particular the AU would like to see one Somalia. If fragmented, it could be a blueprint and a bad role model for the rest of Africa’s countries which happen to have more diverse nationalities, unlike Somalia which has tribalism but under one national identity.
"By the way, I am southerner but am disillusioned about how the northerners were treated."
— Abdulkadir Egal
"Mogadishu is not Somalia and Somalia is not Mogadishu. We must not let Somalia be a hostage to marauding gangs who understand only brute force. How long can we be spectators to the wholesale looting and anarchy? Not too long. There will a time when people will rise and ask Mogadishu people to lay their arms and join the progressive movements of peace and development.
"We must rescue and bring hope to Somalia’s only cosmopolitan city."
"Sir, you have no idea about our country and how complex it is. What you have written here is nothing more than cut and paste material from internet sites. We are in a predicament but we will find our way out sooner or later. So-called experts, such as you, have no place in Somalia's affairs."
— Abisaid Kulmiye
"The conventional wisdom is that we humans learn from our mistakes, so that we will not repeat them."
— Omar Jamal
Executive Director, Somali Justice Advocacy Center
St Paul, Minnesota, USA
"Any one who ignores the past never understands the future. Yes, I agree with McCullum. Somalia is still suffering from colonial damage and its aftermath. I agree with the people who call Siad Barre a dictator but I am sick and tired of the people who compare him with hundreds of warlords.
"Former president of Somalia Siad Barre should be compared with Abraham Lincoln for keeping Somalia united. He should be compared Bush in the way he fought the Iraqi insurgents; although Siad Barre was more merciful, more intelligent and more humane.
"It is not fair and just to compare warlords with a man who really created the sense of Somali-ism as we know it today. He wrote the Somali language, offered free education and free health care. He was the president of OAU in 1974.
"He was the president who dealt with USSR and USA with a very skilled diplomacy and without surrendering. If he had left the presidency before he was hated, today he would be the Father/ the honable man/ the hero and the most respected Somali. Please do not compare him with the warlords; I do not know what they want."
— Osman Abwaan
St Cloud, Minnesota, USA
"I think now is the time that we ought to realize that Somalia has been a dead prey for 15 years. For instance our natural resources have been looted and our waters contaminated by nuclear waste. We should blame this on ourselves rather than on foreign powers. It’s very obvious that the colonial powers had different interest in different regions of the country and left incurable scars. It will ultimately fall into our hands to seek solutions, because SOMALIA WAS DESTROYED BY SOMALIS with less help than we think from outside."
— Abdallah Kulmiye
Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
"So many people write things about Somalia. Some say that Somalia will not come back as a state. Let me tell one thing: we are going to come back and build a strong nation which is based on equality and justice. As Bashiir Mursal wrote: every country has bad times in its history so we are learning what government is and I hope the next time we get it we will keep it. Nevertheless, a good time is coming and I hope all Somali will stand up and make Somalia a better place to live."
— Mahad Ali Mire
"I am sympathetic with the idea of Abdulqadir Egal about the consequences of ignoring the Northern part of Somalia; however, I would rather generalize the issue and say that successive Somali governments have failed when they did not address the grievances of the people. The northern part is one of the extreme cases in the Somali debacle. However, to look seriously at the difficulties of other regions such as the rich southern areas of Bay and Bakol where political and economic marginalization is obvious, we may be convinced that Somalia gone wrong but in different degrees.
"The issue is not, according to my humble opinion, that that particular region had grievances, but that a clique of elites in Mogadishu raided Somalia and Somalia is blown up. What about it now? Do we wail and point fingers at each other or do we have the will to mobilize ourselves again to recover and reinstitute our statehood on better terms?
"Think about the big picture of the whole of Somalia; consider also its particularities without compromising its statehood."
"This author is quite misled. There are plenty of minerals and resources in Somalia. This is one of the reasons why Western leaders will not stop this blood shed that they have started. In fact, Ethiopia exports oil from the Ogadenia region of Ethiopia.
"Even though this is one of the most accurate descriptions written about the devastating events that have taken place in the past and the present, it is still quite unfinished. As Somalis, we are indigenous peoples of east Africa and as such, we should decide our own fate, and we should not be forced to assimilate with the Bantus of Kenya and the various ethnic groups that live within the Ethiopian borders. But that may not happen now, since the West effectively used tribalism to divide us and dissipate our existence. Somalis in the diaspora need to wake up and stop this madness. It is up to us to make a difference back home; we shouldn't look to politicians."
"The author missed the biggest and most corrupt organised body called IGAD. This body has curiously been engaged in the maltreatment of the ethnic Somali from the day of its inception.
"There is no group in this world that has profited more from the chaos and mayhem in Somalia than this IGAD which has made a habit of asking donations from developing countries for one useless "government" after another in different locations.
"This body has also forgotten to act fairly with Somalis as it only entertains warlords whose sole aim is to gain a powerful position so as to gain enough influence to not be brought to justice for crimes against humanity. If the world wants warlords to represent us in our name, then how are we supposed to deliver ourselves from these criminals?
"The fact that none of these members of IGAD has ever set foot in Somaliland for discussions on those white Zimbabwean and South African mercenaries who carpet bombed the second biggest city of the old "Somalia"(Hargeisa). Nor have any of the members of IGAD ever paid a visit to Somaliland despite the fact that noone has been ill-treated there. This shows the kind of people who claim to have knowledge of the affairs of the old "Somalia"."
"Let us move on, it's time for Somalia to take up new horizons. WE CAN DO IT, I am sure."
"Umm, more than half the parliament members were found to have had no formal schooling further than year 8, and less than that for the one they chose as president. Would you trust these people with your children so they can deliver them from darkness into light? That is unless you have some vested interest in this Majeerteen warlord in command."
— Dahir Jama & Bashir Mursal Issa Botan
Sheffield, England, UK
"There is no doubt that the elected Somali cabinet is composed of goons with guns and your article just outlined what went wrong. However, it is depressing to find people writing about what went wrong but not what is possible under the current circumstances. Change always takes place within and it is a long road full of hurdles and no quick fixes whatsoever.
"I guess that enough is enough and no need to just write what’s wrong with Somalia or Africa. But rather write the way forward and we should try to put up the best image of Somalia as well as Africa. This doesn’t mean cover up ugly things but pessimism depresses African intellectuals and others trying to help Africa. Sometimes, we write about grim and hopeless situations to justify the existence of our organizations but this same act does more to jeopardize the slim hopes of the same people we intend to help.
"On landism issues, I do believe that there is one Somalia and I find you raising issues on Somaliland, Puntland, and Jubaland. I also sense some bias in your outlook when it comes to the baloney breakaway regions of Somalia and how come you refer some of them as mini-states while you acknowledge other regions as full states. I suggest it’s better to seek the opinions of a cross-section of Somali communities, so you can put forward impartial information. Please read my article at Hiiraan online on "A Road Map for Somalia's President"..."
— Ahmed Dirie, PhD
San Jose, California, USA
"Mr. McCullum needs help with his facts. In Somalia, Somali is the major language, Brava is located south of Mogadishu, and warlords were instituted after Siad Barre.
"I wonder if visiting Somalia qualifies one to be a historian on Somalia?"
"It is heartening that after 30 years of occupation some southern Somalis are awakening to the fact that all the trouble of Somalia emanates from the occupation of Somaliland. Free Somaliland today, peace and prosperity will visit Somalia tomorrow."
— Mohamed Hassan Awad (BOSS)
London, England, UK
"Hugh McCullum's article is excellent and well researched.
"There are no other conflicts in the world that can be compared to the crisis in Somalia, so I am still thinking! Perhaps we should wait until the course of events that is happening right now, in Nairobi and other places, is completely exhausted."
— Abdul Ghelleh
"Somalia, I would like to tell the truth. We the Somalis are ignorant people, who are greedy and don’t care for anyone but ourselves. We are never going to build a country if we do not change our ways, and how we act. The only hope for Somalia and Somalis is to stand up, get up, WAKE UP! and ask ourselves: Why should the world help us? Let us, the Somalis in US, Britain, Saudi Arabia, Canada, France, UAE, Germany, Netherlands, Denmark, Spain help them. We all work and are making a good living. Stop thinking the world will help us. They don’t give a crap about us; they don’t care. LOOK at Israel, it’s a powerful country now, not because of international help, but because the Jewish people in the US became rich and sent a lot of their money to help their families, and they didn’t care if their own families got the money so long as it helped Israel and their wishes came true. But we Somalis have sent maybe billions of dollars to our Somali families combined, and yet we still don’t have a country. WHY?! Because we only think of ourselves. I send money to families that I don’t even know through the Tawakal Halal money transport. GET UP, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT, INSTEAD OF LOOKING AT THIS SCREEN WONDERING "WHO IS GOING TO HELP OUR LOVELY COUNTRY". NOBODY WILL!!! ONLY YOU. THE QUESTION IS WILL YOU? OR ARE YOU EXACTLY THE SAME SOMALI I WAS DESCRIBING - GREEDY."
— Muse Mohamed
Rochester, Minnesota, USA
"I just stating that Mr. Abdulkadir Egal of Montreal, Canada, is the only person I could call a true Somali even though I could sense he is not from the South. Abdulkadir, keep the good things in your heart and share them with others. Also, Mr. Hugh McCullum, thank you very much for talking about our history. I know you could say more than you said, but this is enough. Again, I thank you."
— Abdirahim Dirie
Rochester, Minnesota, USA
"It is very sad to see that the Somalis are repeating the same mistakes again and again. After 14 conferences which were all held abroad, nothing has changed for ordinary Somalis.
"Let me state from the start that I am a northerner (Somaliland) and I wish my brothers and sisters in the South a peaceful and prosperous government. But the reality is that the southern people waste their time and energy on Somaliland. Every time they plan to have a peace conference or meetings they say that the unity of Somalia is non-negotiable and this where they make the same mistake again and again.
"I think they should forget Somaliland and concentrate on resolving the problems in southern Somalia. Once the South becomes stable and peaceful then they can have a dialogue with the North.... There is a Somali proverb which says “Ninkii tiisa dar yeela ayaa tu kale ku dara”. It basically means once you put your house in order then you can help others.
"Southerners should really forget about the North and try to resolve their problems in the Somali tradition like the North did.
"It is important that all the clans in the South have peace gathering meetings inside Somalia. They should sponsor the meetings themselves and then they could have a viable and lasting peace."
— Ahmed Ali
"I often refer to myself as the King of Sorrow, out of pity, as many of my classmates would agree, given my responses whenever Somalia is discussed. The "gloomy" future predicted by the author of the article is quite justified, but as a native Somali who carefully and semi-independently follows its affairs, no foreign journalist or academic could enlighten me about its hopes or the twisted nature of its future. I say we wait and see. Hope out of anarchy is the motive of the battered, formerly oppressed subaltern societies around the world, and we will hopefully get our turn. Of course, the hope is a lifespan, at least mine."
— Dirie Yusuf
St Cloud, Minnesota, USA
"I am one of the Somali citizens who fled from Somalia during the civil wars in my homeland. After a long period of suffering both in Somalia and in the refugee camp in Mombasa, Kenya, I was granted resettlement in the USA as a refugee and I am currently living in Rochester, NY. I would like to pour my attention into the current situation of Somalia. As far as I know, the country's problems started during the colonial era and continued after independence in 1960, when the two major groups of Somalia took power and viewed the others as nothing. But now every clan wants to rule the country and every clan thinks that they are the natural rulers of the country. If (and only if) we need a government, we must eliminate the Darood and Hawiye clans, who killed a lot of Somalis and who are still killing innocent people. I appeal to the powerful countries in the world to stand up and do somethimg to save us."
— Adde Mohamed
Rochester, NY, USA
"The Somali Republic was founded as a nation in 1960 by uniting the Somali people and evicting the colonial rulers. Today, I cannot hide my dismay and disgust with the blatant, self-apppointed, ignorant gang leaders who shamelessly and continually meet in other capital cities and pursue short-sighted personal interests. Clan-based unity is diametrically opposed to nationhood. The Djibouti meeting exhausted the good will of that tiny brotherly nation and very little, if anything, was gained. The Nairobi follow-up appears to be a replica of the previous failures. Clan-based political arrangements are a death knell to Somali national aspirations.
"Let us not focus on the self-destruction, the horrors and the cruelty to which we subjected each other. Let us have a fresh start by: (1) forgiving ourselves and each other; (2) commiting ourselves to work for nationalism (It is fitting to share with the readers of this Forum the story of Ali Ibrahim and Muhmmed Ali, two Adenese Somalis who left their lucrative jobs in British Aden in 1958 to organize the SNL party in Hargeisa to kick the British out. They were in and out of jail and when British Somaliland got its independence, both declined to be elected to the the Somali Republic parliament. Their response was they did not work to be rewarded with positions, but to liberate their people. There were similar stories in the South where an individual volunteered to take an alleged poisonous injection to save Abdillah Essa, the premier of the South at that time. That was the mindset, courage and sacrifice of yesteryear, of the true Somalis I remember.); (3) confronting implicitly and explicitly at a personal level the fictitious, clanish, rural mindset.
"We have talked and talked and damaged our national pride and diginity. We are all responsible in some measure for what has happened to our beloved country. Let us organize by forming the foundation of the "Somali Rebirth Party" today and take the first step to liberate our people.The time IS NOW."
— Khalif Gashanle
Burnsville, MN, USA
"I just wish we could all get along. As long as this tribal virus is still roaming through the minds and hearts of Somalis, then Somalia will continue to fade away and diminish. Not all viruses have a cure, but this one has a cure and it can be cured. All it takes team work; don't depend on other countries to give you a hand out. All Somalis share one culture, one religion, one language (including Mamay), so let's work together and pray to make our country a better place for all of US, or at least let's do it for the future generation."
— Abdi Yusuf
Seattle, Washington, USA
"I agree with opinions about focusing on solutions while learning from previous mistakes. 'Rome was not built in one day'. The current leaders have their bad past, lack of competence and doubtful intentions. But for now, they represent the only national group who, having emerged from some sort of bargaining process, have some legitimacy. We have to let them do what they can. The main task for other groups is not to obstruct the efforts of the TFG, but to put forward alternative policy proposals as a means of pressuring and teaching - as the Samatars and the CRD do, for example - on the issues of reconciliation, rebuilding, and developing the federal system."
— Abdi Moalim
"Unless we Somalis in the diaspora go back to Somalia with a mission to make a difference nothing will change. There are three main problems to tackle: the economy, education and the brain drain - all of which need human resources."
"I am Somali student in Yokohama, Japan. I hope that the new Somali goverment will make peace in Somalia. East and west the home is best."
— Dr. Cadaani
"We (Somalis) are good at reacting to whatever we read, patriotism flowing out of the tip of our pens (actually our fingertips pounding on the keyboard). How noble, how sensible, how Somali... The fact of the matter is we are hypocrites. Expecting positive results from a "government" constituted through clanism (the 4.5 - how demeaning to call an entire people a "half") and denouncing clanism are mutually exclusive. Get real!"
— Mohamed Hassan
"I beleive that the author just mentioned historically and politically what has happened in Somalia, but I don't see in the article any opinion of how things can be changed. We do not need someone to tell us what happened in Somalia; we need us Somalis to discuss in an intellectual way how we can help our people and our country to come out from the ashes of the civil war and the hands of the warlords."
— Abdirahman Yare
Hilliard, Ohio, USA
"First of all, every Somali must be responsible, honest, and a real nationalist, if he/she cares about Somalia, to restore its stability in order to be a nation again, and more specifically to eliminate “Qabil” as much as possible. Then they should be accountable for their own actions. Accountability should be required of everyone; law and order should not be subject to certain people only; "there should not be anyone who is above the law", then we can talk about the possibilities of becoming a nation again. But before any of these comes, stop generalising or blaming others or being an obstacle for other parts of the country that are trying to move on. Please stop dreaming for greater Somalia:it is just not possible as long as the warlords are operating within the country.
"Somalia needs a strong visionary leader who can not only deliver them from the misery they have been subjected to (or perhaps it is self-inflicted mayhem) but can also take them to green pastures where our malnourished camels will be able to find nourishment aplenty."
— Shirwa Jama
"What happened to our once-peaceful country is really new in modern History. There is no other country in the world which has had no government for 15 years. Who is to blame? Don't beat around the bush my fellow Somalis: it's these marauding thugs and incompetent and morally corrupt warlords."
— Abass Sheikh
"The fact that Western powers have messed up Somali affairs does not necessarily mean that they are accountable for the aftermath of what happened. To be honest, Somalis lack the wisdom of ‘education’ and the few that were quite educated were killed or fled the country as Hugh McCullum says. As for the countless Somalis who are airing their responses to this article, all I can say is: Stop fluttering around, for we know that none of you had a ‘say’ in Barre's regime. If you guys are indeed honest about what you are claiming to be, then, ‘Wake Up and Smell The Coffee’. Tell your Somali countrymen to lay down their arms and, together, you guys can make a difference. As for the endless complaints about Western interference with Somali afairs, the best thing to do is definitely to ‘Let Bygones Be Bygones’."
Norfolk, NE, USA
"I hope we reunite once again as a single unified nation able live in peace and prosperity. God bless Somalia."
— Abdisalan Sahal
Minneapolis, MN, USA
"Somalia has suffered so much that its wound has stopped bleeding, its tears turned into a silent death. Sadly, there nothing I can say about the future of Somalia. I can, however, hope for my Somalia to live once again."
— Elias I. Abrahim
London, ON, Canada
"The author highlighted Somali past history, but what we need to think about is the way we can change the present condition of Somalia and move forward into the future."
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
"I have nothing to refute in what Mr. McCullum has said in his article as long as my people still remain scattered around the world as “refugees” - or as a result of what happened for whatever reason one could vouch.
"But if anything could alter or remedy our Somali conundrum, and help stoke Somali Unity, it is raising the ideological escutcheon of our patriotism over our allegiance to the tribalism that is so entrenched in our social fabric."
— Dr. Magare
"I think everyone will agree that to start a war is a very easy thing but to stop it will take decades. As I have witnessed the worst days of Somalia from 1991-94, I think the Somali people are at the turning point. One thing I really appreciate about my countrymen/women is that, despite the whole conflict being based on clanism, Somalis were still saving each other more than in any other war that is going on in Africa. I think the vast majority of Somalis were forced into this conflict because (a) he/she had to join the war or be killed by his/her people (b) he/she was ignorant. Last but not least, I am very optimistic about how things are moving and how we are inching towards dumping the guns and standing up to rebuild our beloved country."
— Khaliif Mahad
Kitchener, Ontario, Canada
"Thanks for this little summary of Somalia, Mr McCullum. It seems to me that Somalia still stands against all odds (i.e. colonization, wars, starvation, tsunami, etc). And for all Somalis: we want our country back. Let's do it and let's go back. ‘Ce n'est pas en fuyant ou en espérant que l'on construit un pays’."
"I think Mr Hugh McCullum has tried his best to illustrate the dark chapters of our history from the colonial era to its chaotic stage. However some of his descriptions of the Somali stalemate and historical time lines are riddled with errors and assertions rather than hard historical facts. I would just like to pinpoint some of his shortcomings and flaws on the Somali history.
"Firstly, at no time did he mention that the Somali people are TRULY THE ONLY homogenous people in Africa and that they coexisted peacefully before the imperialists unleashed their evils of ‘divide and rule’ which bred tribalism and hatred among the masses and led to the present-day upheavals.
"He also forgets or rather seems ill-informed about the aspirations of the Somali people in Kenya and Ethiopia who would like to join their brothers one day and live in a UNITED Somalia free from foriegn domination. He only chooses to refer to their struggle as ‘Some of the warlords wanted to form a Greater Somalia encompassing parts of Kenya, all of Djibouti and the Somali section of Ethiopia.’ To highlight some of his biased description on this subject, I would particularly like to draw your attention to some scholarly writtings on the legacy of colonialism in SOMALIA, which is a classical example of borders cutting through the same people. The Somali people fit this description quite perfectly since they are a very homogenous people who inhabit the Horn of Africa. Despite their homogeneity and shared values, they were divided into five enclaves, namely Italian Somaliland, British Somaliland, French Somaliland, the Somalis in the Ogaden desert under Ethiopian rule and those in northern Kenya under Kenyan rule. Hempstone, an American author, noted the problems left behind by the imperialists whilst conducting a research project on this phenomenon in the Dark Continent and forcefully argues that, ‘No borders in the world have less justification than those which cut across the 2.5 million Somali-speaking peoples of East Africa, splitting them into four fragments’ (1961:152). One could therefore reach the conclusion that these borders make no sense from an ethnic, religious, linguistic or geographical point of view, but were simply drawn up to divide and rule this people. Ironically, Mr McCullum chose to ignore all of these historical facts.
"To add more to my justified critique of his article, I would like to point to another of his assertions. In his account of the scramble and partition of SOMALIA, he seems to assume that at no time were Europeans interested in Somalia and only happened to stumble over it - in other words, they found it by chance, when in fact, history records show the contrary. For example, Paul Nugent, a prominent African historian, clearly shows that the Berlin Conferences of the 1880s were primarily aimed at dividing the continent among the European powers and that the colonial borders that followed were created out of short term economic, political and strategic interests. (Paul Nugent, et al, 1996: 21-31). One could therefore argue that the colonising powers were willing to go to great lengths to further their political, economical and strategical interests even at the expense of the colonised communities.
"Furthermore, on a journalistic note, not only did he forget to critically analyse the situation but he also resorted to painting a grim picture of the reality on the ground, which is depressing. Despite years of fighting, business is booming in Somalia and life goes as normal as it can be. The BBC's Joseph Winter wrote on the BBC website on the 19th November 2004 that ‘Rising from the ruins of the Mogadishu skyline are signs of one of Somalia's few success stories in the anarchy of recent years.’ Here the reporter, unlike Mr McCullum, chose the often difficult assignment of writing about the few success stories in the middle of anarchy. This again shows that to be a good journalist or author you need to report or write both sides of the story. In a nutshell, I think it's only fair to leave the Somalis to write their own history just like any other people on the planet."
— Abdifatah Aden
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer(s) and not do necessarily reflect the views of the AfricaFiles' editors and network members. They are included in our material as a reflection of a diversity of views and a variety of issues. Material written specifically for AfricaFiles may be edited for length, clarity or inaccuracies.