The Civil War In Somalia
The African country of Somalia is a place of great suffering. There is famine, war, and all the crimes that go along with them.
Anyone looking for a simple-minded good-guy/bad-guy viewpoint should stop reading now, because this story, like all stories, is more complicated than that.
This article focuses on the period 1991-1995, when Somalia's troubles erupted in civil war and became an international issue. Many important events happened before and after that time, but international concerns are more the focus of this website.
The Party Line
As with most major events, the single viewpoint shared by the dominant media was misleading.
The dominant media's angle was that Somalia's troubles were mostly the fault of the bandit-like warlord Mohamed Farah Aideed. The ever-helpful United Nations stepped in for famine relief, and ended up defending themselves from the bad guy Aideed.
A less biased observer would point out that Aideed's leadership had more claims to legitimacy than his rivals', but he was opposed by Western governments, because they felt someone else was better for their own interests. Aideed is not a saint; again, this is not about good guy and bad guys. When the U.N. stepped in, it committed mass violations of Somalis' rights, including trying to disarm them and shutting down free speech.
Before the Conflict
After years as Italian and British colonies, Somalia gained its independence in 1960. Siad Barre assumed control of the country in a dictatorship. Aideed spent the late 1960s and early 1970s in prison for planning a coup against Barre. Barre eventually freed Aideed and made him ambassador to India, Sri Lanka and Singapore.
By 1990, Barre's dictatorship had crumbled, and he was deposed. Aideed became a prominent leader of the United Somali Congress, one of the rebelling factions. USC Somalian ex-patriates in Italy then proclaimed Ali Mahdi President of the Republic of Somalia, a claim recognized by very few inside the country.
Civil War Begins
In June 1991, Aideed was elected chairman of the United Somali Congress by a two-thirds vote, but Ali Mahdi refused to step down as President. By October 1991, Ali Mahdi had formed a government of eight ministers, and the Italian government promised massive financial support.
Civil war erupted as various clan-based military factions competed for control after the collapse of Barre's regime.
Aideed's militia forces gained the upper hand, confining Mahdi's supporters to a portion of Somalia's capital, Mogadishu. Aideed then concentrated his efforts on violent factions in southern Somalia, which were largely responsible for the famine in that region.
In March and June 1993, six clans from northern and central Somalia sided with Aideed, adopting the traditional Somali political system known as the Xeer (pronounced "hair"). In a bloody civil war with devastation on all sides, Aideed's faction was emerging as the center of a coalition.
The U.N. Intervenes
The United Nations opened an office in Mogadishu a few months after Aideed routed Mahdi's forces. The U.N. Representative realized he was too late to mediate between the two factions, and concentrated on reducing the famine in southern Somalia.
The U.N. Secretary General wanted a more visible role and fired the representative. The new leadership declared Somalia an anarchy, Aideed a bandit, and firearms the problem. The U.N. then embarked on a military occupation of Somalia and an attempt at full disarmament of its population, with the intent of re-establishing a Western-style central government.
The U.N.'s expensive campaign resulted in more violence, as the Somali tribes fought to preserve their traditional systems and their right to self-defense.
On June 5, 1993, U.N. troops attempted to shut down Aideed's radio station because it was broadcasting "propaganda" (that is, anti-U.N. messages). In a victory for freedom of speech, Somali militiamen repelled the attack, in the process killing 23 Pakistani U.N. troops.
The Somalis' successful repulse of the U.N. attack led the United States to commit the lives of U.S. troops to an expensive, bloody, five-month manhunt for Aideed. Dozens of U.S. and U.N. troops, and hundreds of Somalis, were killed. In October 1993, the U.S. ended the search after a Blackhawk helicopter was shot down, killing all eighteen U.S. soldiers aboard, some of whose corpses were dragged through the streets of Mogadishu.
During the weeks from June 5 to October 3, 1993, U.N./U.S. forces inflicted 6,000 to 10,000 casualties on the Somali resistance, said Eric Schmitt in the the December 8, 1993, New York Times. Schmitt confirmed the account with U.S. military intelligence, relief workers, U.N. officials and the U.S. special envoy to Somalia. U.S. Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni estimated that two-thirds of the casualties were women and children. Many people complain about this web page, almost always b