1980s Ethiopian Conflicts
The Ogaden War of 1977-78 between Somalia and Ethiopia and the consequent refugee influx forced Somalia to depend for its economic survival on humanitarian handouts. Domestically, the lost war produced a national mood of depression. Organized opposition groups began to emerge, and in dealing with them Siad Barre intensified his political repression, using jailings, torture, and summary executions of dissidents and collective punishment of clans thought to have engaged in organized resistance.
Siad Barre's new Western friends, especially the United States, which had replaced the Soviet Union as the main user of the naval facilities at Berbera, turned out to be reluctant allies. Although prepared to help the Siad Barre regime economically through direct grants, World Bank-sponsored loans, and relaxed International Monetary Fund regulations, the United States hesitated to offer Somalia more military aid than was essential to maintain internal security. The amount of United States military and economic aid to the regime was US$34 million in 1984; by 1987 this amount had dwindled to about US$8.7 million, a fraction of the regime's requested allocation of US$47 million. Western countries were also pressuring the regime to liberalize economic and political life and to renounce historical Somali claims on territory in Kenya and Ethiopia. In response, Siad Barre held parliamentary elections in December 1979. A "people's parliament" was elected, all of whose members belonged to the government party, the SRSP. Following the elections, Siad Barre again reshuffled the cabinet, abolishing the positions of his three vice presidents. This action was followed by another reshuffling in October 1980 in which the old Supreme Revolutionary Council was revived. The move resulted in three parallel and overlapping bureaucratic structures within one administration: the party's politburo, which exercised executive powers through its Central Committee, the Council of Minsters, and the SRC. The resulting confusion of functions within the administration left decision making solely in Siad Barre's hands.
In February 1982, Siad Barre visited the United States. He had responded to growing domestic criticism by releasing from detention two leading political prisoners of conscience, former premier Igaal and former police commander Abshir, both of whom had languished in prison since 1969. On June 7, 1982, apparently wishing to prove that he alone ruled Somalia, ordered the arrest of seventeen prominent politicians. This development shook the "old establishment" because the arrests included Mahammad Aadan Shaykh, a prominent Mareehaan politician, detained for the second time; Umar Haaji Masala, chief of staff of the military, also a Mareehaan; and a former vice president and a former foreign minister. At the time of detention, one official was a member of the politburo; the others were members of the Central Committee of the SRSP. The jailing of these prominent figures created an atmosphere of fear, and alienated the Isaaq, Majeerteen, and Hawiye clans, whose disaffection and consequent armed resistance were to lead to the toppling of the Siad Barre regime.
The regime's insecurity was considerably increased by repeated forays across the Somali border in the Mudug (central) and Boorama (northwest) areas by a combination of Somali dissidents and Ethiopian army units. In mid-July 1982, Somali dissidents with Ethiopian air support invaded Somalia in the center, threatening to split the country in two. The invaders managed to capture the Somali border towns of Balumbale and Galdogob, northwest of the Mudug regional capital of Galcaio. Siad Barre's regime declared a state of emergency in the war zone and appealed for Western aid to help repel the invasion. The United States government responded by speeding deliveries of light arms already promised. In addition, the initially pledged US$45 million in economic and military aid was increased to US$80 million. The new arms were not used to repel the Ethiopians, however, but to repress Siad Barre's domestic opponents.
Although the Siad Barre regime received some verbal support at the League of Arab States (Arab League) summit conference in September 1982, and Somali units participated in war games with the United States Rapid Deployment Force in Berbera, the revolutionary government's position continued to erode. In December 1984, Siad Barre sought to broaden his political base by amending the constitution. One amendment extended the president's term from six to seven years. Another amendment stipulated that the president was to be elected by universal suffrage (Siad Barre always received 99 percent of the vote in such elections) rather than by the National Assembly. The assembly rubber-stamped these amendments, thereby presiding over its own disenfranchisement.
On the diplomatic front, the regime undertook some fence mending. An accord was signed with Kenya in December 1984 in which Somalia "permanently" renounced its historical territorial claims, and relations between the two countries thereafter began to improve. This diplomatic gain was offset, however, by the "scandal" of South African foreign minister Roelof "Pik" Botha's secret visit to Mogadishu the same month, in which South Africa promised arms to Somalia in return for landing rights for South African Airways.
Complicating matters for the regime, at the end of 1984 the Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF) (a guerrilla organizaton based in Ethiopia seeking to free the Ogaden and unite it with Somalia) announced a temporary halt in military operations against Ethiopia. This decision was impelled by the drought then ravaging the Ogaden and by a serious split within the WSLF, a number of whose leaders claimed that their struggle for selfdetermination had been used by Mogadishu to advance its expansionist policies. These elements said they now favored autonomy based on a federal union with Ethiopia. This development removed Siad Barre's option to foment anti-Ethiopian activity in the Ogaden in retaliation for Ethiopian aid to domestic opponents of his regime.
To overcome its diplomatic isolation, Somalia resumed relations with Libya in April 1985. Recognition had been withdrawn in 1977 in response to Libyan support of Ethiopia during the Ogaden War. Also in early 1985 Somalia participated in a meeting of EEC and UN officials with the foreign ministers of several northeast African states to discuss regional cooperation under a planned new authority, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Drought and Development (IGADD). Formed in January 1986 and headquartered in Djibouti, IGADD brought together Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda in addition to Somalia. In January 1986, under the auspices of IGADD, Siad Barre met Ethiopian leader Mengistu Haile-Mariam in Djibouti to discuss the "provisional" administrative line (the undemarcated boundary) between Ethiopia and Somalia. They agreed to hold further meetings, which took place on and off throughout 1986-87. Although Siad Barre and Mengistu agreed to exchange prisoners taken in the Ogaden War and to cease aiding each other's domestic opponents, these plans were never implemented. In August 1986, Somalia held joint military exercises with the United States.
Diplomatic setbacks also occurred in 1986, however. In September, Somali foreign minister Abdirahmaan Jaama Barre, the president's brother, accused the Somali Service of the British Broadcasting Corporation of anti-Somali propaganda. The charge precipitated a diplomatic rift with Britain. The regime also entered into a dispute with Amnesty International, which charged the Somali regime with blatant violations of human rights. Wholesale human rights violations documented by Amnesty International, and subsequently by Africa Watch, prompted the United States Congress by 1987 to make deep cuts in aid to Somalia.
Economically, the regime was repeatedly pressured between 1983 and 1987 by the IMF, the United Nations Development Programme, and the World Bank to liberalize its economy. Specifically, Somalia was urged to create a free market system and to devalue the Somali shilling so that its official rate would reflect its true value.
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