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Today in History: The Military brusquely seizes power in Somalia
M. Trunji
Friday October 21, 2022

A 25-member Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC), lead by Mohamed Siyad Barre took over all the duties of the state and ruled the country over 20 years.

In 1969, when, almost all African countries had experienced some sort of military coup or plot, and despite  recurrent voices of possible coup d’état, the Somali civilian leaders seemed not giving much thought to that danger, choosing instead to believe that a military coup was not a method to unseat them. The government seemed to enjoy the results of the political elections of March 1969 in which the SYL party, led by M. Ibrahim Egal won landslide victory, through violence and vote rigging. The question that arouse was whether a poll victory, obtained by unethical means, would enable the ruling SYL-led administration to govern until the end of the IV Legislature set for 1973.

By 1969 much of the hope with which Somalis greeted their independence in July 1960 had evaporated. Political leaders focused their attention on the conflicts with neighbouring countries, at the cost of straining relations with these States, and relegating social and economic problems to the bottom of their priority list. The Prime Minister did not seem particularly concerned about official corruption and nepotism, although these practices were conceivably normal in a society based on kinship and clanship.

After nearly a decade of independence, Somalia was effectively bankrupt by foreign aid and prone into sliding to dictatorial regime. Angelo del Boca described the lack of direction and sense of general despair the country was going through few months before the military coup in his words: “By the summer of 1969, nine years of the independence, in Somalia, the country Mr. U Thant (the Burmese UN Secretary-General 1962-71) liked to call the ‘darling child of the United Nations’, nothing remains of the characteristics that made it an example. The democracy is mere memory. The multiparty is a mockery, the neutrality a faded option. And in the Parliament the confusion reigns”.

The 1969 political Elections, the worst elections since 1956

Instead of consolidating the impartiality of 1959 political elections in the Protectorate of Somaliland, Mr. Egal, the Prime Minister, succumbed to the partisan system he embraced after joining the SYL party in 1966. He handled the elections clumsily by just blindly following in the footsteps of his southern big brothers. His critic’s say that he was deeply involved in manipulation of the elections, particularly with regard to the northern regions, hand picking Deputies of his choice.

Final results of the elections were released on 7 April. Egal’s SYL party won the competition scooping up 73 of the 123 seats (about 60% of the seats of the Parliament) Gross irregularities in the 1969 political elections should come as no surprise. The Lega dei Giovani Somali, known also as Somali Youth League, was an extraordinary powerful, hard to defeat money machine. The method the Lega had adopted to attain this overwhelming majority were not certainly democratic, but it would be a great mistake to judge them too harshly on this account. The Somalis who led the nation and had a thin veneer of culture were all born in the bush, brought up in the bush and taught the law of the bush before they came into contact with the foreign imposed democratic values. The election fraud was only one of the fuses that could detonate an explosion at any time. Discontent was exacerbated when the Supreme Court, under its newly appointed first Somali Chief Justice (Presidente della Corte Suprema), declined to accept jurisdiction over election petitions, although it had accepted such jurisdiction in 1964 elections. Another trouble was the rampant corruption in the public administration which wasted large amount of public money, including aid from foreign donors.

Misfortunes never come singly: The twin tragedies

In October 1969, Somalia had suffered two terrible tragedies: (a) the assassination of the beloved and legally elected President of the Republic on 15 October, and (b) the military coup d’état, six days later. To the utter shock of the public, on October 15, 1969, Radio Mogadiscio gave the news that President Sharma-arke was shot dead by a rogue police man in the northern town of Las Anod.The President was on the last stop of a ten-day tour in the drought-stricken north. Everything, it seemed changed: not only had the country lost a beloved young President, but its innocence as well. Immediately after the burial ceremony of the slain President, the SYL leadership embarked on a frenetic selection process of the person who will replace the lost President. A late-night meeting at he party HQs in Mogadiscio, attended by the Central Committee and the SYL Parliamentary Group, ended inconclusively. They failed to reach a consensus on the person to be endorsed as official candidate of the party for the presidency. The election of the new President was slated to take place on 21October. But, on that day, no presidential election took placer, and the National Assembly did not meet as planned, because the army officers, who were closely watching the developments, decided to act. The slaying of the President seemed to have encouraged the military to speed up the coup. Most Somalis welcomed the arrival of the military without discerning what its cost might be such as the economy and free enjoyment of their rights. The Americans cast serious doubt about any trouble that might come to Egal from the older British and Italian trained Officers, but nevertheless believed there was some real dissatisfaction among the younger Russian and Egyptian trained officers. They were on the opinion, however, that these officers were not yet sufficiently numerous to be able to stage a successful coup, even if they tried to do so. The Americans certainly showed a lack of perceptiveness when they discounted General Siad as the “potential leader of a military coup” (British Embassy, Washington, August 26, 1967)

The immediate aftermath

The military coup was quickly dubbed as “revolution”.  Unlike a revolution, which is usually achieved by large numbers of people working for basic social, economic, and political change, a coup is a change in power from civilian government to military rule. A 25-member Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC), in essence a military junta, took over all the duties of the state after the coup, including the presidency, National Assembly, and Council of Ministers. The country was renamed the Somali Democratic Republic, a formulation that in Africa usually signifies an intention to move to the left.

The new military rulers, put the Prime Minister and his cabinet ministers at house arrest at the presidential resort in Afgoi, some 30 Km south West of Mogadiscio. Close to seven months since the March general election, the entire political landscape of the country was thrown into turmoil by the military, and Premier Egal and his government had little time to enjoy the stolen election victory. The military Junta soon blamed the deposed civilian government for everything, from corruption and incompetence to miss management of the national economy and electoral fraud.

The military regime ruled the country over 20 years, in the course of which, except in few instances, the claimed merits were modest in the face of the dramatic failure in foreign policy exacerbated by a military adventure against Ethiopia in 1977-78, proved to have been a fatal miscalculation. Like the civilian government they ousted in 1969, they too, eventually ran out of ideology and direction. At the end, the Head of the State, under continued attacks from different directions, led by loose clan militias, was forced out of office in January 1991and in January 1992 went into exile to Nigeria. This has produced a total collapse of the central government and a dangerous vacuum of authority leading the country into the present security and political instability.

M. Trunji
E-mail: [email protected]


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