Remembering The Day Siad Barre Fled Mogadishu

It is exactly  27 years since an armed rebellion in Somalia ended Siad Barre’s 22 years regime.

The evening of 26 January 1991 Siad Barre was forced to flee to Gedo region with the hope of recapturing the city still alive but was overwhelmed by the United Somali Congress.

Hussein Abdi  a student at the Somalia National University recalls the day Siad Barre fled Mogadishu.

“I was with a group of friends the morning after Siad Barre fled Mogadishu. We went to witness what had happened at the Villa Somalia the night before” Abdi recalls.

“There were soldiers lying down on the floor. Almost thirty soldiers dead. On the dinner table was what i assumed was Siad Barre’s last supper. A spaghetti meal abandoned” Abdi remembered.

Siad Barre had fled to the Gedo region. He now looked towards Kenya for safety. There are two versions of how he arrived in Kenya. One narration is that he was airlifted from Gedo to Wajir by a helicopter. He was later airlifted by a plane to Nairobi. A second version is that he arrived in Wajir by road abandoning his vehicle before he was airlifted to the Kenya capital.

Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi arranged for his flight to the capital Nairobi.  Together with close family members and aides Siad Barre was offered top class accommodation and security at the Safari Park Hotel a few kilometers from the city center.

Two journalists changed the cause of  Siad Barre’s exile in Kenya. They had got wind that the ousted Somali President had secretly been flown in to Kenya and had accommodated at the Safari Park Hotel. The two managed managed to enter the exclusive luxurious hotel as patrons waiting for hours on for a chance  to photograph Siad Barre. After hours of waiting they captured his image from a far and broke the news to the world that Siad Barre was in Kenya for protection from the government something that Moi had hoped would not be public.

Opposition groups protested his presence in Kenya accusing Moi of protecting a dictator. President Moi was forced to ask Nigerian President Ibrahim Babangida to take up the matter.

Siad Barre together with his close relatives and aides were evacuated to Abuja, Nigeria as Somalia fell deeper into a succession battle.

January 2 1995 Siad Barre died in Lagos Nigeria and back in Somalia clan warlords fought over dominance and control of the country’s resources.

The United Somali Congress that had toppled Siad Barre was now divided on clan lines with General Farah Aideed fighting Ali Mahdi who was elected by a Somali delegation in Djibouti as the new President.

Somalia experienced one of its deadliest fighting in history: the four month war in 1992 between Aideed and Mahdi over control of the capital.

With the war came the worst famine in many years forcing UN troops to intervene between 1992 and 1995. But this did not stop the once socialist country to fall deeper into disarray its people facing the brunt, deaths, forcing them to flee to refugee camps in neighbouring countries. In the north the region of Somaliland that was a British Protectorate declared its independence.

Fast forward 2017 Somalia is struggling to make return to normalcy but with immense challenges under its 6th President since the fall of Siad Barre.

The era of the warlords  shortly interrupted by the Ali Mahdi and Abdikassim Salat Transitional National Government presidency but later replaced by Transitional Federal Government led by President Abdullahi Yusuf, six month control of capital by  the Islamic Courts in 2006, the Federal Government under Sheikh Shariff Sheikh Ahmed, Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud and now Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed Farmaajo.

As it stands the country is dealing with a new phenomenon this part of Africa, Islamic militancy. An insurgency by Al-Qaeda linked militant group Al-Shabaab and a Pro Isis group continues to be the main security threat in the country whose ill equipped and poorly paid national army is backed by a 22000 strong African Union peacekeeping troops.

On October 14 more than 500 people were killed in Somalia’s deadliest attack in history a reminder that the insurgents may have lost most of the areas it controlled but they still remain a threat.

“After 27 years I still find that Somalia is still burdened by the effect of the civil war. Some achievement may have been made but we still have a long way to go. It is not what i expected to be that morning i visited Villa Somalia at the end of Siad’s regime ” Abdi said.

Pre Civil war Somalia was referred to as the Switzerland of Africa. Agriculture sector was booming the  biggest producer of banana in the continent, its 3300 kilometers sandy beaches were a major attraction for foreign tourists, arts and culture flourished as epitomised by the “Il Teatro Nationale” the National Theatre  where drama, traditional dances and songs from the Waberi band would charactarise an era. The education system was advanced and health facilities and service accessible to all.

“I think 60% of the current population is below the age of 35 years have no clue what the government looked like in the eighties.They have only experienced Somalia under warlords, TNG, TFG ICU, Ahlu Sheikh, Qabyo and the Farmaajo team. They heard only one sided story. The other side is perhaps told in other regions in Gedo, Hudur, Wajid,  Eyl, Haraardheere, Afmadow, Beledweyne,Warsheikh and other places because history was subjected to clanish interpretations. In general the youth feel that things are getting better year after year” Abdikadir Nor Arale a former Minister of Agriculture told Radio Dalsan.

“Only those old enough say above 45 really feel the nostalgia of the past. They remember an era where there was order, peace, justice, unity, hierarchy,functional public administration, containable corruption, social class on the basis of education, wealth seniority, age, piety. people respected one another and listened to one another. Today it is the noisiest empty vessels that reaps more respect or his words are heeded at Fadhi Ku Dirir tea shops” Arale said.

“Comrade Siad Barre made commendable achievements in the post colonial Somalia with his scientific socialism ideology that his military junta introduced following the revolution in 1969.  he  campaigned against corruption, tribalism. He was able to educate 70% of Somalis within five years of the revolution. The UN regarded it as one of the most successful mass urban literacy ever recorded. He centralised the national budgetary allocation a first in Somalia. he modernised the Somali military” Abdihakeem Jabarti Arbedeed a Somalia Affairs analyst  said.

“Beyond Somalia he helped found the OAU and later Arab League active member. The people of Somali region in Ethiopia will remember his contribution leading the war liberation of our homelands in 1977 where we defeated Ethiopia and controlled the region in mere months until Russia and Cuba intervened” Jabarti remembers.

The country is currently experiencing an economic boom thanks to the resilience and innovative citizens and the return of Somalis from the diaspora.

“We the aged feel having lost a lot in the civil war. But We can still help salvation of the young generation by holding current government accountable to the people especially the youth and the unborn”  Arale said.

“Apparently there is a generational gap or a missing link in terms of the oral history passed and the expectations of youth and the elderly that needs to be patched up. So to create common vision  for a nation of diverse perspectives” Mr. Arale said.

“May God bless generations to come and guide current leadership to the right track of justice wisdom and devotion to the return of Somalia’s pride, unity and prosperity” the former Minister prayed.

Three questions now emerge twenty seven years after the fall of Siad Barre. Is Somalia ready for a one man one vote in 2020 to usher in full democracy and a chance to return to normalcy? When will the SNA be capable enough to secure the whole country and allow the already scheduled Amisom withdrawal? But even as the Amisom leaves has the country healed its deep rooted clan divisions?