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Somalia: Blood on the Horn – 1964

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Laaska News  July 2,2011   (“Irish of Africa,”)

Friday, Feb. 14, 1964 (Time).
On the horn of Africa, a man would cut a throat for a camel. Since Somalia won its independence in 1960, throats have been cut in plenty as lithe, black, spear-swinging Somali nomads crossed with their herds into neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia to fight over water rights and grazing lands. Last week the cost of a camel was approximately war, and blood spilled on the horn.

First, a band of 300 Somali shiftas (bandits) slipped across the border and shot up the Ethiopian crossroads town of Jijiga. Then the Ethiopians, after scanning the 30 bodies their troops had cut down, claimed that the raiders were led by a uniformed Somali army officer. Haile Selassie’s Cabinet declared a state of emergency, claiming that 2,000 Somali regulars had crossed the border. Somalia alerted its own army, reported that eight Ethiopian armored cars had been destroyed in the border fight. By week’s end both sides had called a “cease-fire,” but the problem was nowhere near solution. In a welter of charges and countercharges, Somali pride stood in bristling opposition to the Lion of Judah.

Frankincense & Myrrh. Of all the nations in East Africa, none combines poverty and pugnacity as completely as Somalia. Outside the capital, its 2,000,000 inhabitants—99% Moslem and 90% illiterate—earn a meager $10 a year on the average, mainly by herding goats, sheep and camels over the parched grasslands of the interior. The country has no deep-water ports, no railroad, in a land half again the size of California. As if to cement its image of Biblical backwardness, Somalia brags of its exotic exports—frankincense and myrrh.

But for all its poverty, Somalia is a stiff-necked nation. Its people pride themselves on their Hamitic heritage, their nomad hardiness. No Somali youth feels secure without an iron bracelet—won only by killing two men in combat. Argumentative and fiercely antiauthoritarian, the Somalis are often called the “Irish of Africa,” although as Moslems they prefer cold camel’s milk to a headier gargle. Well-meaning foreigners who stroll into their quaint, collapsible villages (stick-and skin aghals that can be packed onto camelback in a matter of minutes) often find themselves on the receiving end of accurately thrown stones as the Somalis scream, “Out with the infidel!” Even Mogadishu, Somalia’s sunny, somnolent capital (pop. 150,000), has a perennial air of impermanence, particularly in the rainy season, when some of its mud buildings show a disconcerting tendency to melt into the gutters.

Despite the heat and squalor, Mogadishu is a center of political and intellectual ferment. Politicians representing one or another of Somalia’s ten parties argue vociferously in gritty coffee shops —a rare sight in a New Africa that is moving steadily toward one-party government systems. There is spirited debate in Parliament, and although the commonest sound on the streets is still the beggar’s cry for “Baksheesh!,” there is plenty of free and strident speech to counterpoint it.

Spears & Sten Guns. Like all Somali politicians, Premier Abdirashid Ali Shermarke cries stridently for a “Greater Somalia,” which would include the disputed portions of Kenya and Ethiopia traditionally cruised by wandering Somali herdsmen. In recent years, the nomads have added Sten guns to their spears, and the once-shiftless shiftas have taken on the determined air of guerrillas. For all his violent expansionism, Shermarke is basically a reasonable man. A heavyset, introspective ex-clerk of 44, Shermarke was educated at Mogadishu’s Institute of Law and Economics, took honors in political science studies at Rome. Although his Somali Youth League party is expected to retain power in next month’s election, Premier Shermarke himself may well give way to his Foreign Minister, Abdullah Issa Mohamud.

But whoever succeeds Shermarke will have to carry the torch for territorial expansion. Though ten foreign nations ranging from Red China to the U.S. have inundated Somalia with $250 million in foreign aid (including ports, highways and macaroni factories), what Somalia really wants is a strong army. Last year, after dickering with the U.S., Italy and West Germany, Somalia accepted a Russian offer of $30 million in military assistance —enough to equip and train a 20,000-man force. Already some 300 Somali army officers are training in Moscow. If the border dispute with Ethiopia does escalate into full-scale war, the world will find itself faced with another sore spot in Africa.


Somalia: 1da Luulyo – Dabaal Degyo Dal & Dibad ba (1st July – The National Day of Somalia) – AKHRI/DHAGEYSO

Laaska News.