AGENDA: Time to Fight the War on Want in Somalia; as a Birmingham Teacher Is Killed in Somalia, Economist Dr Terry Lacey Remembers the Country in More Peaceful Times and Calls for an End to Foreign Intervention
Byline: Dr Terry Lacey
My first trip to Somalia was as a young European Commission official accompanying my Director General for Development in 1976 on a mission to see President Siad Barre about the implementation of the African, Caribbean & Pacific Agreement (ACP), between the European Community and Somalia.
We did not realise how lucky we were that Somalia was in one piece with one President.
It's still not clear if and when we will see that again. There was an illusion of normality in Mogadishu contrasted to now, but the destabilisation process had already started because the Ogaden war was just beginning. However this was illusory. This Somalia is now in at least three or four pieces - the Baidoa Transitional Federal Government and the South, Mogadishu, and Puntland, the relatively stable statelet in the North.
In between warlords and factions what was once at least nominally a nation tries to decide if it wants to be a nation once again (if the Irish, with their similar history of colonialism, occupation, militias and partition, will forgive borrowing the phrase).
In our 1976 visit we flew in a little plane from Wilson airport in Nairobi, refuelled in Southern Somalia, and then to Mogadishu. We stayed with President Barre in his Guest House.
In the daytime we flew in a Russian helicopter to see projects and refugee camps, or had meetings. The role of the refugee camps was to attract refugees in from Ethiopia, to strengthen support for Somali claims on the Ogaden.
In the evenings the President was most hospitable, and we had fine dinners. Then at night, being then a young chap, I could go off to visit the town. When I wanted to get back to my guesthouse in the morning moonlight I did not need to find a taxi. The security people discretely looking after me found me and brought me home.
Although I remember more the novelty of seeing Mogadishu for the first time and the contradictions of the lifestyle we visitors could lead there contrasted to the reality unfolding in front of us, some the discussions I sat in on were more to the point. Barre requested trucks and bulldozers for agriculture, and my astute boss, who was an agricultural engineer and an ex general, told him he could have enough heavy equipment to do what was needed in Somalia, but not enough to improve Ethiopia.
I remember Barre replied "so Somalia proposes and Europe disposes". I should have understood better what it all meant for the future of Somalia, but at the time it was hard to grasp that these were the seeds of the destruction of national stability.
I remember my boss asked Barre if he minded that the new Lome Convention might have a civil rights clause. I remember him answering that so long as he could talk about Northern Ireland, he didn't mind Europeans talking about Somalia.
I also remember asking him why he got his police planes from East Germany and his military planes from West Germany (or was it the reverse?) and he replied that it was because he had a great sense of balance. My great grandfather was an Irish trick cyclist in an American circus, so I agreed that a sense of balance was very important. Since the 1950s many African leaders must have felt like trick cyclists in an American circus, although during the Cold War the Russian circus put on quite a good rival act.
President Barre showed practicality in balancing his aeroplanes between East and West whilst ensuring he had reliable German technology up until 1976. However once he made his move in support of the Front for the Liberation of Western Somalia and started the Ogaden war then he destabilised his regime, leading to breaking links with Russian and Cuba and subsequently undermining his economic relations with the West. The seeds for the break-up of modern Somalia were scattered then, and the rest was history unfolding as the difficulties caused by the war, along with drought, undermined the economy and social cohesion, creating political tensions within the army. …