The Misrule of Siyad Barre

Siyad Barre reportedly said: “When I leave Somalia, I will..

The Misrule of Siyad Barre

Siyad Barre reportedly said: “When I leave Somalia, I will leave behind buildings but not people.”[1] By the end of his period in control Somalia was marked by oppression, corruption on a grand scale and clan patronage. A man who had, at the start of his period in office, promised much and had performed some valuable services for his country, ended his days as a blood-soaked tyrant, whose government took money from the Italian Mafia in return for the dumping chemical waste on the Somali coast.

William Reno says that Siyad Barre, “built a political network from the late 1970s and after on the basis of distributing parts of the formal and clandestine economy to strongmen who he thought he could trust. In practical terms, this meant he relied upon the social bonds of shared kinship and clan identity to authoritatively exercise power. Increasingly suspicious of his own state’s institutions, he financed this alliance through skimming foreign aid and manipulating creditor-mandated land tenure reforms to distribute land to his political allies. External pressure to privatize state assets gave him political cover to hand these resources out to his associates. The president had a distinct geographical advantage in handing out these resources too. His close political allies generally did not come from the places that were being exploited. This, along with their tendency to bring along private militias made up of otherwise unemployed youth, insulated them from the social consequences of their predatory behavior since they owed their power to the president’s favor and could provide their own immunity from customary sanctions for anti-social behavior. Thus their dependence on the obligation to heed local community interests signified organizational shifts toward something more like a predatory private commercial syndicate than a government.”[2]

[1] Martin Meredith – The State of Africa: A History of 50 Years of Independence, London, The Free Press, 2006; chapter 26, titled “Black Hawk Down”, page 469.

[2] William Reno – “Sovereign Predators and Non-State Armed Group Protectors?”, presented at Curbing Human Rights Violations of Armed Groups, UBC Centre of International Relations, 13-15 November 2003, page 12

Photograph: Ron Jones, January 1993, Flickr/Creative Commons license


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