27-01-2021 - - 0 comments

'A government at war with its own people: testimonies about the killings and the conflict in the north' was a report published in 1990 by the then Africa Watch, later to become part of the bigger Human Rights Watch. Other significant reports current at the time included United States General Accounting Office Report to Congressional Requesters, entitled 'Somalia: Observations Regarding the Northern Conflict and Resulting Conditions' published in May 1989; and 'Why Somalis Flee: Synthesis of Accounts of Conflict Experience in Northern Somalia by Somali Refugees, Displaced Persons, and Others' by Robert Gersony, U.S. Department of State, August 1989.

All three reports have described the massive human rights abuses in the north which were tearing apart the country at the time. They also documented the violations that preceded the outbreak of the war in the north in May 1988, which included widespread killings, torture, mass arrests and detention, the use of landmines, the destruction of reservoirs and the killing of livestock.

An excerpt from the Africa Watch report is in order: "Increasingly harsh counter-insurgency measures have resulted in wholesale slaughter of non-combatants, aerial bombardment of civilian targets, secret detentions in squalid conditions, the burning of villages, the indiscriminate use of landmines, the deliberate destruction of reservoirs and the killing of livestock, the lifeline of the rural population ... Entire regions have been devastated by a military engaged in combat against its own people, resembling a foreign occupation force that recognizes no constraints on its power to kill, rape, or loot."1 

The other main report that provided a detailed study of the human rights abuses and state-sponsored violence under Siyad Barre was Amnesty International's Report published in 1988. Here's an excerpt from this report: "The evidence reveals a consistent pattern of torture, lengthy and often arbitrary detention of suspected political opponents of the government and unfair trials of political defendants. Prisoners have been kept for years in harsh conditions, incommunicado and without proper medical treatment. Many prisoners have been executed after unfair, frequently summary trials, and many unarmed civilians have been executed extrajudicially by security forces."2

The Somali people enjoyed the full spectrum of political and civil rights under the post-colonial civilian administrations, including habeas corpus, the legal recourse in the case of illegal detentions, freedom of expression, freedom of political association, freedom of movement, personal liberty, and the right to form unions and also the right to strike.3 Sadly, these rights and freedoms were all abolished by the dictator's regime.

According to the literature on dictatorships, all international wars since the end of World War 1 have involved dictatorships. Two- thirds of civil wars and ethnic conflicts since World War II have erupted in countries under a dictatorship. Since the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, dictatorships have perpetrated nearly 85 percent of mass killings by governments.4

That puts into context both our deadliest war with Ethiopia which took place under Barre's dictatorship, and what happened in Somaliland against the Isaaq people in the 1980s and, to a lesser degree, in Mudug against the Majeerteen after the failed coup of 1978.

A full dictatorship was solidified as early as 1971 by Siyad Barre with the backing of the Soviet Union, a powerful patron with its ubiquitous advisers in the state bureaucracy and the parastatals. Violence and the threat of violence was consubstantial with the regime, although it was less visible from 1969 (with the so-called 'bloodless revolution') to 1978.5

Two observations are warranted here: (1) a dictatorship cannot be set up without a powerful foreign backing; and (2) the civil war in Somalia doesn't turn 30 today (as per the BBC report by the brilliant journalist Andrew Harding). It actually goes far back if we take into consideration the state-sponsored violence that began right after a failed military coup was staged by a group of army officers led by Col. Abdullahi Yusuf (later to become President of the TFG) in April 1978. Most coup plotters were apprehended and summarily executed, except Col. Yusuf himself and several others who managed to escape.

We all have to fight tooth and nail against Farmaaja's dictatorial ambitions by defiance and mobilization of our people. You can be pretty sure that a Farmaajo installed dictatorship will not be 'the dictatorship of the proletariat'! No, it will be a clan dictatorship, a second Marehan clan dictatorship to be precise. 


1. Africa Watch (1990) Somalia: A Government at war with its own people: Testimonies about the killings and conflict in the North. London & Washington: Africa Watch, p. 2.

2. Amnesty International (1988) Somalia: A Long-term Human Rights Crisis. London: Amnesty International, p. 1.

3. Samatar, Ahmed Ismail (1988) Socialist Somalia: Rhetoric and Reality. Zed Books Ltd., p. 113.

4. See Geddes, Barbara et al., (2018) How Dictatorships Work: Power, Personalization and Collapse. Cambridge University Press, Part IV.

5. Compagnon, Daniel (2013) State-Sponsored Violence and Conflict under Mahamed Siyad Barre: The Emergence of Path Dependent Patterns of Violence, In Patterns of Violence in Somalia: Notes from the Seminar, 26-28 September 2013, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Medford, Massachusetts, pp. 10-16, viewed 26 January 2021, <Patterns of Violence in Somalia (>.

Add a comment:




Enter the characters in the image shown:

back to top