Somali Parliament of the 1960s
Mohammed Haji Ibrahim Egal has been reappointed Prime Minister of the Somali Republic but when we went to press he had not yet formed a new government. Ever since the general election at the end of March there have been intensive political negotiations between the country`s leading political figures, coordinated and watched over by the country`s President, Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke.
Somalia is a country where political debate and politics in general are taken seriously and pursued with enthusiasm. By all accounts the election results did effectively reflect the general wishes of the electorate, though there was (as in the past) a certain amount of violence. Official reports said about 25 people died during the elections but we understand that this was a somewhat conservative estimate.
In all, 64 political parties contested the elections. Final results gave the ruling Somali Youth League (SYL) 73 out of the total 124 seats. The remainder were shared by a host of small groupings. Since the election, however, almost all of these representatives of the splinter parties have joined or rejoined the SYL, with the result that at the time of writing 121 out of 124 are supporters of the SYL. This massive floor-crossing, following an election, is traditional to Somali politics. In the main the differences between the parties are neither ideological nor geographical but reflect personal and clan rivalries.
According to the usual pattern of Somali politics a number of SYL supporters will recross the floor when Mr. Egal has formed his government. Those who recross will be people whose hopes for office have been dashed or who disapprove of the make-up of the new Egal government.
We understand that Mr. Egal is likely to succeed both in forming a government and in getting it accepted by a majority of the National Assembly. More important, we understand that the policy of détente with neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia will continue. There had been fears that this policy, of which Mr. Egal was the leading proponent, might have been abandoned in favour of the older policy of militant struggle for “ Greater Somalia.” Under this policy Somalia was involved in numerous border clashes because of her claims to portions of Ethiopia, Kenya, and the French-ruled territory of the Afar and Issa. It was in October 1967 that Mr. Egal had a meeting with President Kenyatta of Kenya under the successful mediatory aegis of President Kaunda of Zambia. The Kenyan and Somali leaders signed a memorandum known as the “Arusha understanding” which laid the groundwork for more cordial relations between the two states [See AFRICA CONFIDENTIAL 1969, No. 5]. Since then, relations between Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia have blossomed to such an extent that last July President Sharmarke paid a state visit to Nairobi. Such an event would have been unthinkable only a year before.Egal, we understand, will continue the policy of détente for the following reasons:
1. The Somali government knows that it will get absolutely no change out of the Organisation of African Unity if it resumes an aggressive policy towards its neighbours (the example of Biafra demonstrates just how firmly the idea of “territorial integrity “ is held by the vast majority of African leaders). But
2. The détente is very much Egal`s own policy.
3. The détente has brought practical benefits to ordinary Somalis in the form of easier trading conditions and so on. Therefore, though very many Somalis still dream of reuniting themselves with their kith and kin in “Greater Somalia,” the policy of détente has now been shown to offer some practical benefits.
Egal as Prime Minister has a domestic advantage in that he preserves the traditional balance between the Northern (formerly British) and Southern (formerly Italian) parts of the Somali Republic. Egal is from the North and President Sharmarke from the South.
Somalia: after the coup
Africa Confidential, No. 21, pg.7-8
October 24, 1969
The assassination last week of President Abdirashid A Sharmarke and the military coup which this week ousted Prime Minister Mohammed Haji Ibrahim Egal, put the Somali Republic on a familiar and well-trodden political path.
As we went to press the names of the members of the new “National Revolutionary Council” were not known but its leader appeared to be Major-General Mohammed Siyad, the C.-in-C. of the army. If Siyad does emerge and remain as the real leader of the new regime no really stunning changes in the political stance of Somalia either at home or in external policy can be expected. For he is very much an establishment man. Fifty years old next year, Siyad has the reputation of something of an “elder” who has shown considerable ability in maintaining tranquillity in the army which could always have suffered from the divisive influences of the rival clans which play such an important role in Somali life. If he shows a similar ability to balance the clans in the new regime which is to rule Somalia, he will have done much to ensure its success. The delay in announcing the names of the other members of the council was probably largely due to the difficulties involved in forming it.
Siyad is certainly not a political self-seeker and probably only acted because he knew that if he did not, the younger army and police officers would have gone ahead without him. For the army`s and the police`s impatience with the corruption of the previous regime—which involved not only the politicians but the civil servants as well—was shared by very large sections of the public. For that reason the coup was almost certainly initially popular. As we went to press (about 24. hours after the coup) we learned that shops had reopened in Mogadishu, the capital, and that things were so peaceful in the northern town of Hargeisa (former capital of British Somaliland) that there was not even a curfew in force. There were also no reports of any violence or attacks on persons or property. For some time after the coup we understand that the telephone service was put out of action— apparently deliberately done to prevent counter-plotting.
As the new regime is a combined army-police affair, Siyad`s background should be a help to him. For originally he was a policeman, only switching to the army when the Somali armed forces were set up after independence in 196o.
TIMING. The most likely explanation for the timing of the coup is that we understand that Prime Minister Egal in his search for a successor to President Sharmarke was trying to find some candidate who would have assured the continuance in power of the present government. There was widespread rigging (and violence) in the Somali elections this year and presumably the army and police felt it was time for a political clean-up. There were also increasing suspicions that the politicians were interfering with the judiciary which had previously enjoyed a high reputation for independence.
Perhaps an even more pressing reason for military intervention was growing chaos in the machinery of government, both in the ministries and in the state enterprises. Nepotism had been carried to extraordinary lengths with the result that though ministries were massively overstaffed each one only had a small handful of people who actually tried to keep the wheels of the administration turning. There was also a widespread breakdown of any system of financial control. The most extraordinary reports we have received were that a number of district governors were appointed earlier this year who were former office messengers and the like. Their only qualification was that they were related to political figures.
FUTURE POLICY. The initial seven-point policy statement of the new regime broadcast by Radio Mogadishu is moderate in tone. The support expressed for the rights of all liberation movements has given ground for fears that Somalia will return to her old irredentist policy of seeking to establish “ Greater Somalia” [see AFRICA CONFIDENTIAL 1969, No. 11]. This would involve the renewal of border clashes with Kenya and Ethiopia. However it is worth noting that one of the seven points says the new regime “repudiates war as a means to settle differences.” It should also be pointed out that the new regime will have its plate full at home (stamping out corruption and making the administration efficient) without embarking on foreign adventures.
Two other factors will also be in Gen. Siyad`s mind. He knows very well that if he does not carry through a drastic clean-up he will be pushed aside by the more impatient younger officers. In addition he will recall that there was widespread discussion in the army and police (even before last March`s elections) about the possible merits of a coup. We understand that the possibility was seriously considered even then.
Relations with the Soviet Union may well improve in the coming months. The army has in the past leaned heavily on Soviet support both for equipment and training. Soviet relations with the ousted regime had fallen to an all-time low. In July, Sharmarke and Egal originally were due to visit Moscow. The visit was called off we understand, because of the failure of Soviet-Somali negotiations on the rescheduling of Somali debts to the Soviet Union. It will be interesting to see what the Russians do now.
Unlike the army, the police lean on the United States and West Germany for material help and on Britain for technical assistance. There are five British police advisers in the force.
In the long term it seems very unlikely that Somalia will be ruled over an extended period by a military regime. The Somalis have a long tradition of political wheeling and dealing. More important is the extreme complexity of Somali political life with the intricate system of checks and balances between the various clans. However popular they may be for the moment, the military will eventually have to call the politicians back. They are probably well aware of this and know that the time available for their clean-up of the administration is fairly short. We can therefore expect them to act fast and pretty drastically.
Read: Part I; Part II; Part III; Part IV
Somali Independence Week Series
Mogadishu of the 1960s
Mogadishu of the 1970s.
Mogadishu of the 1990s