Somalia News Update 3/24- 9/94

Somalia News Update 3/24- 9/94

In this issue:


               S O M A L I A  N E W S  U P D A T E  


Vol 3, No 24           September 28, 1994.            ISSN 1103-1999  

Somalia News Update is published irregularly via electronic mail and fax. Questions can be directed to or to fax number +46-18-151160. All SNU marked material is free to quote as long as the source is clearly stated.


Somalia News Update (Uppsala, September 25) - The recent fire fight between UN peacekeepers and Somali militias in Balad is described in the Secretary-General's September report to the Security Council as having originated from the militias wish to lay hands on the equipment left behind by the troops. However, as Somalia News Updates reporter witnessed in Huddur on September 5, there is very little worth looting once UN troops pull out.

"Whatever they couldn't take with them, they smashed to pieces", says SNU's reporter who had spent the night with the elders of the city in an emergency meeting trying to deal with the sudden and unannounced departure of the troops. "In the early morning hours, just after the last UNOSOM troops had left, we walked over to the former UNOSOM headquarters in Huddur. There was absolutely nothing left behind. The water pipes had been destroyed and even the electric wires in the ceiling cut to pieces".

The clan elders of the Bakool region rapidly formed an inter- clan militia to safeguard the security of the area. The World Food Programme, whose officers first left with UNOSOM, returned to the city after a few days. After UNOSOM looted their own office, no further incidents have been reported.


Somalia News Update (Uppsala, September 24) - The three Indian doctors killed in the Baydhabo hospital by an exploding grenade on August 31, died when they tried to remove a grenade they had found inside the hospital. This remarkable new story about the tragic deaths at the hospital was presented to SNU's reporter by the local police investigator - who like all southern Somali police is salaried by UNOSOM. Complaining to SNU's reporter that one of the major problem of the police is that their word does not count, he claimed the story had been confirmed by the fourth doctor present at the occasion. This doctor had survived the accident and was now being treated at a Nairobi hospital. SNU's reporter was subsequently able to obtain a confirmation of the story from the local UNOSOM headquarters.


Somalia News Update (Bosaaso/Uppsala, September 28) - Two persons were shot dead in Bosaaso during the weekend in a confrontation between groups loyal to the two person claiming chairmanship of the SSDF - Colonel Abdullahi Yusuf and General Mohamed Abshir Muse. Following former Somali Prime Minister Abdirizak Haji Huseen's turning down of the appointment of himself as a new chairman, a "Supreme Committee" of the SSDF is claimed to have reelected Abshir as chairman. That claim is contested by Abdullahi Yusuf who claims to have been elected by the congress delegates on August 25.

The Northeast has throughout the Somali civil war remained stable and, with the exception of the clash with the Islamist groups in early 1992, the area has been spared from fighting. However, with the advent of the SSDF congress tensions in the are rose during the summer. The mounting political tensions have also been coupled with a rise in banditry and kidnappings.

By Abdul Abdi

Mohamed Sahnoun. Somalia: The Missed Opportunities. The United States Institute of Peace Press, Washington, D.C., US$ 8.95, 89 pages, 1994.

Those want to buy Mohamed Sahnoun's new book in order to understand recent United Nations blunders in Somalia ought to keep their money. However, those who want to know if the UN could have saved Somalia - long before 300,000 Somalis starved to death - ought to buy and read this book.

Sahnoun, a veteran Algerian diplomat, was UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali's first special representative in Somalia. He resigned from this post after his boss reprimanded him for publicly criticizing the inept UN bureaucracy and for participating in a meeting before consulting New York. Shortly after, Sahnoun volunteered to become his former boss's special envoy to Somalia but it was an offer that Boutros-Ghali could afford to refuse.

In Sahnoun's view, the UN missed three opportunities to save Somalia before the state collapsed and the warlords, the technicals and the NGOs took charge.

The first opportunity, says Sahnoun, presented itself during the 1988 civil war when dictator Siyad Barre bombed cities in the north-western region (now the self-proclaimed Somaliland Republic). Sahnoun argues the UN should have mediated between Siyad's regime and the secessionist SNM movement.

The second opportunity, observes Sahnoun, was available in 1990 when Siyad arrested members of the Manifesto Group (a coalition of Somali statesmen, intellectuals and businessmen) who signed a letter that called for Siyad's resignation and for democratic elections. Sahnoun argues the UN should have forced Siyad to release these political prisoners and to restore the democracy that existed on the eve of his revolution in 1969.

And the third opportunity, notes Sahnoun, was there to be exploited in 1991 shortly after Siyad fled the presidential palace. Instead of evacuating its staff and refusing to get involved in Somalia's internal affairs, Sahnoun maintains the UN should have forced the victorious Hawiye to share power with the defeated Daarood.

Having followed Sahnoun's arguments and the political developments in Somalia, I remain unconvinced that these so- called opportunities ever existed at all. With or without UN mediation, the SNM leadership was committed to secession and wasn't ready for any sort of dialogue short of unconditional break-up with the south. No matter what kind of leverage the UN had on Siyad, he repeatedly said that he came to power through the barrel of the gun and that was the only way he would ever go. And no matter how hard the UN tried, it would never have convinced the USC forces that chased Siyad out of Mogadishu to share power with Siyad's supporters.

Sahnoun's views about these supposedly missed opportunities, I am afraid, are based on his misunderstanding of the Somali mind and his misreading of Somali tribal politics. For instance, in the Somali mind, the political pie is either won or lost but never shared. He also fails to comprehend the depth of distrust and dislike between the Hawiye and the Daarood and between the Isaaq and the Daarood.

In addition, Sahnoun exceedingly over-estimates the power of the UN to resolve ancient tribal conflicts in Africa. As Saadia Touval notes in the current (Sept./Oct.) issue of FOREIGN AFFAIRS, "the United Nations has great difficulty performing many basic functions required of an effective mediator. It does not serve well as an authoritative channel of communication. It has little real political leverage. Its promises and threats lack credibility. And it is incapable of pursuing coherent, flexible, and dynamic negotiations guided by an effective strategy."

Sahnoun missed a real opportunity to write a decent book about the origins of the Somali conflict, the comprehensive international response and the mistakes of both the UN and the US Perhaps some historian, such as I.M. Lewis, or a journalist will have to write that book. I certainly look forward to it.

(Abdul Abdi, a Somali-American, is a former staff member of the Somali Service of the Voice America and is presently a free-lance journalist in Washington, D.C.)
SNU is an entirely independent newsletter devoted to critical analysis of the political and humanitarian developments in Somalia and Somaliland. SNU is edited and published by Dr. Bernhard Helander, Uppsala University, Sweden. SNU is produced with support from the Scandinavian Institute of African Studies, Uppsala, Sweden.

Date: Thu, 29 Sep 1994 09:50:14 +0100
Subject: Somalia News Update, No 24

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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