Somalis Fight Imperialist Plot & Foreign Occupation
By Saida Osman & Thomas Davies
As the end of 2006 drew to a close, the United States split wide open a new African front in the emerging era of war and occupation. Approximately 8000 Ethiopian troops, sponsored and directed by the US, invaded Somalia. Protests erupted in Somalia, and by January 8th the US had begun air strikes against Southern Somalia, killing hundreds and destroying a number of villages.
The United Nations is not without blame for the current atrocities. On December 6th, the UN Security Council unanimously passed resolution 1725, authorizing a foreign mission in Somalia for which the UN is responsible for mobilizing resources and logistics.
There is a simple truth evident to Somalis. A hostile foreign force backed by an imperialist government has invaded their country. These invaders, African or not, must leave immediately and will be fought against until they do.
Invaders are Invaders
“We are not going to surrender our weapons to Ethiopians — our arch enemy. We want the Ethiopian forces out of our country first.” – Protestor in Mogadishu
The Ethiopian government claims to be returning the Somali interim government of US-backed warlords to power. This “government” was, and still is, completely isolated from the majority of Somalis. Its president, Abdullahi Yusuf, even praised the recent American killings in the southern part of Somalia. The Union of Islamic Courts (UCI), which Ethiopian troops are currently hunting down, had “managed to quell much of the lawlessness that has blighted Somalia for the last 16 years and reunited the capital”, according to the BBC. That tells very clearly that one the main reasons for attacking and occupying Somalia is the imperialist’s fear of returning stability and rule of law, and of course, civil institutions to Somalia - a country known as one of the cradles of civilization.
So what reason would Somalis have to welcome these Ethiopian troops? They are all aware that since November 2002, the US military has established a joint taskforce in Djibouti, with 1,800 troops and special operations forces. Somalia has a strong anti-colonial and anti-imperialist history, and Somalis have fought, and won, against British, French, Italian, Ethiopian, United Nations, and US invasions. This is a rich history that every Somali is proud of.
The History of Somalia, a History of Struggle
Pre-colonial Somalia was a primarily nomadic society. However, its coastline was an active trading point with the rest of the world, with its ideal location accessible to both the Middle East and India via the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. Because of this, it was to become the site of fierce competition between colonial powers.
The “scramble for Africa” in the 1880s had terrible consequences for Somalis, as the British, French, and Italians all fought each other over Somalia and the rest of Africa. By the end of the 19th century, they had ripped up Somalia into the British Protectorate, French Somaliland, Italian Somalia, and Northern Kenya. Ethiopia ended up with the Ogaden and Haud regions of Somalia for having defeated Italy.
Somalis fought back, forming the Dervish Resistance Movement led by Mohammed Abdullah Hassan. A precursor to current Islamaphobia, the British called him “Mad Mullah” because of his Muslim beliefs. Somalis managed to fight the colonial army against its use of both land and air forces from 1898 to 1920. The pressures of the largest military power and their continual attempts to divide Somalis along clan lines saw the movement’s decline and Hassan’s death. However, the movement continues to fuel Somalis’ strength and courage to fight for dignity and self-determination. Hassan’s tales of fighting are legendary and can still be felt through his epic poems on how much he truly loved his people:
You did not leave me when the ignorant stampeded ...
You loaded your camels and came over to me when they defected to the British generals.
And I count on you during the dry season of the year.
The colonialists continued to spar over Somalia, with fascist Italy recapturing the Ogaden region during the 1930s and parts of British Somaliland in 1940. In March 1941, the Allied army retook Somalia and Ogaden. The British held all of Somalia except French Somaliland from 1941-1949. By 1950, Ethiopia was given Ogaden and Haud, a decision the colonialists knew would ensure future conflicts between Somalia and Ethiopia.
With a Sword in One Hand and a Rock in the Other
Somalis again refused to be left out of their political destinies. They were led by Hawa Tako, a young woman who was a part of the Somali Youth League (SYL), Somalia’s first political party. They challenged the presence of the British in the North and fought the Italians in the South much like Palestinian youth challenge Israel, with rocks, sticks, unity, and honour. Hawa was eventually killed with a poison arrow before independence, but is immortalized in a statue in the city of Xamar in Somalia with a sword in one hand and a rock in the other.
The end of World War II brought a United Nations decision to keep Somalia divided under Italian “trusteeship” and British “protectorate”. But the old colonial powers were losing their grip. 1960 brought a long-awaited independence to British Somaliland. In an inspiring act of unity, they waited for the independence of their brothers and sisters in the South. On July 1st, 1960, a unified Somalia was born.
New Hope, New Challenges
The stains of colonization were difficult to wash out, and disputes continuing with Ethiopia over Ogaden and Haud, as well as difficulties in merging after years of separation left many Somalis wanting more. There was also little accomplished to raise public infrastructure and social programs. Into this stepped Siad Barre, who capitalized off of the situation and came to power through a coup d’etat in 1969.
Barre initially referred to himself as a “scientific socialist”, had wide support as he had promised, and made initial gains in improvements to health and education. According to the Western Journal of Medicine he “presided over a symbolic milestone in public health” by leading a very successful campaign against illiteracy in 1974.
These gains were short lived as the Cold War powers of the United States and Soviet Union began competing in the Horn of Africa. Barre soon began yo-yoing between the two powers based on their level of support, as the people suffered. He also entered into a costly war with Ethiopia in 1977 over the Ogaden region and wasted Somalis’ aspirations for unity and independence from foreign control.
Barre killed many of his own people, primarily in the North, as opposition developed. He was eventually ousted from the government by a campaign led by the United Somali Congress. Their split in 1992 led to the escalation of violence in Mogadishu and civil war. At the same time, the North declared themselves a separate state from the rest of Somalia, and named themselves Somaliland. This is Siad Barre’s legacy. His killings of Somalis in the North reinforced the colonial division between the North and South.
In the early 1990s the UN began “Operation Provide Relief” and “Operation Restore Hope” in Somalia, which began combining aid with foreign troops. It was the beginning of the so-called “humanitarian interventions”, along with “Operation Restore Democracy” in Haiti in 1994, which have ravaged the world since they began. According to R. Snyder, a history professor at Northern Virginia Community College, “In the early 1990’s, up to 80% of internationally provided food was stolen”. Aid was used to buy weapons and fuelled all the internal fighting. More than 25,000 UN troops, led by the US, worsened the situation. Their first missions were simultaneous raids on the Port of Mogadishu and Mogadishu International Airport.
This culminated in the infamous “Blackhawk Down” incident in October of 1993. US Task Force Rangers conducting a raid on a Mogadishu building in an attempt to capture rebel leader Mohamed Farah Aidid were shot down, leaving the scene. 18 US soldiers were killed as masses of Somalis surrounded their Blackhawk helicopters. In this incident alone, the US killed thousands, but Somalis had proven a point and the US was forced to bitterly withdraw soon after in 1994.
The events still weigh heavily on US imperialists, and were a defining moment in Somalia’s fight against imperialist invasion.
No Such Thing as a “Peacekeeper”
Canada is not without its own atrocities in Somalia. In 1993, 16-year-old Somali Shidane Arone's last words were "Canada, Canada…" as he was tortured to death by Canadian forces stationed in Somalia. A videotape also captured Canadian soldiers talking about hunting Somalis as trophies. Two unarmed Somalis were also shot “execution style” according to the doctor which examined them.
The Canadian Inquiry into the mission said they encountered a “wall of silence…evidently a strategy of calculated deception” initiated by the military’s leadership. The Inquiry was also cut short in 1997, before it was able to properly investigate the military’s leadership or even the murder of Shidane Arone.
“To our surprise, we found that in 1992 there was no formalized or standardized training system for peace operations, despite almost 40 years of intensive Canadian participation in international peace operations.” -Somalia Inquiry Summary, 1997
Two Different Kinds of Intervention: Cuba vs. USA
For a different perspective on a positive foreign military mission in Africa, Cuba’s role in Angola must be highlighted:
In both 1975 and 1987, Apartheid South Africa, with the support of Washington, invaded Angola. In response to requests from the Angolan government, Cuba sent 30,000 combat troops in 1975 and 50,000 in 1987, all of which volunteered for the mission. Cuban military assistance was decisive in pushing South Africa's troops out of Angola. Consequently, there was a decisive defeat of the South African army by the joint Cuban-Angolan army in 1987-88 at Cuito Cuanavale, in southern Angola. Cuban revolutionary intervention not only guaranteed sovereignty of Angola but also brought independence for Namibia. Also, it further helped decisively change the relationship of political forces in favour of oppressed South Africans by releasing the African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela, from jail and ending the apartheid system in South Africa. Africans celebrated Cuba around the continent, and Nelson Mandela said in a speech,
"The Cuban people hold a special place in the hearts of the people of Africa... It is unparalleled in African history to have another people rise to the defence of one of us.”
And again, at Nelson Mandela’s inaugural in May 1994, to which Fidel Castro was invited as a main and special guest, he whispered very clearly in Fidel’s ear, so the media could pick it up, “You made this possible.”
Will there be any such speeches by made by Somalis about Ethiopia? Or about US and George Bush? No. Is the invasion celebrated by masses of Africans? No. Only by the few with their business suits attached to the puppet-strings of Washington.
The Cuban intervention in Africa and Angola at the time when Che Guevara was there in 1965, or when the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces were there in 1975 and 1987 clearly proves that the question is not whether weapons and wars are violent or not, but who is using them, who is benefiting from them and for what purpose they are used is the fundamental question. Someone could argue that the Cuban military intervention in Africa was accompanied with violence - the nature of any war - but how could humanity and dignity be established for impoverished and colonized Africans without a force, a true revolutionary force?
The Lines Are Drawn
Tony Blair responded to the recent US bombings of southern Somalia by saying:
“Some of those extremists who have been using methods of violence in order to get their way in Somalia pose a threat not just to the outside world but to people in Somalia as well.”
Astonishingly, he is referring to the Union of Islamic Courts, and not the Ethiopian invaders or the US bombers! Whatever problems the UIC had, it was nothing compared to this, and it had actual support from within Somalia.
A couple of days after the invasion, the New York Times quoted Abdullahi Hashi, a Somali construction worker, who said, “We’re going to turn this place into another Iraq.”
The connections and the interests become clearer every day. They are completely clear to this Somali construction worker who joined the resistance to the Ethiopian invasion. He, like his people, understand the mindset of the Ethiopian government and their partners, the United States, who attempt to “aid” a country with armed soldiers and aerial strikes. This mindset is that of the colonial powers like the US and UK of the past who believed that they were “civilizing” Somalis. However, just like before, the Mohammed Abdullah Hassans and Hawa Takos and millions of Somalis will rise to defeat the imperialists.
Saida Osman is a second year Somali student at Capilano College and sits on the Executive of the Capilano Students’ Union as the Students of Colour Liason.
Thomas Davies is a young journalist and social justice activist in Vancouver. He is also an organizer with the Free the Cuban 5 Committee - Vancouver and a member of the United Association of Plumbing and Piping Trades Workers Local 170.
Back to Article Listing