Siad Barre

Siad Barre
Siad Barre
محمد زياد بري
Siyaad Barre
Military portrait of Major General Mohamed Siad Barre.
3rd President of Somalia
In office
October 21, 1969 – January 26, 1991
Vice President Mohamed Ali Samatar
Preceded by Sheikh Mukhtar Mohamed Hussein
Succeeded by Ali Mahdi Muhammad
Personal details
Born October 6, 1919
Shilavo, Ogaden
Died January 2, 1995(1995-01-02) (aged 75)
Lagos, Nigeria
Political party Supreme Revolutionary Council
Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party
Spouse(s) Khadija Maalin and Dalyad Haji Hashi[1]
Religion Islam

Mohamed Siad Barre (Somali: Maxamed Siyaad Barre, Arabic: محمّد زياد بري‎) (October 6, 1919 – January 2, 1995) was the military dictator[2][3] and President of the Somali Democratic Republic from 1969 to 1991. During his rule, he styled himself as Jaalle Siyaad ("Comrade Siad").[4]

At the time of independence in 1960, Somalia was touted in the West as the model of a rural democracy in Africa. However, clanism and extended family loyalties and conflicts were social problems the civilian government failed to eradicate and eventually succumbed to itself.

The Barre-led military junta that came to power after the ensuing coup d'état said it would adapt scientific socialism to the needs of Somalia. It drew heavily from the traditions of China. Volunteer labour harvested and planted crops, and built roads and hospitals. Almost all industry, banks and businesses were nationalised. Cooperative farms were promoted. The government forbade clanism and stressed loyalty to the central authorities. An entirely new writing script for the Somali language was introduced. To spread the new language and the methods and message of the revolution, secondary schools were closed in 1974 and 25,000 students from fourteen to sixteen years of age and an additional 3,000 military and civil service employees were sent to rural areas to educate their nomadic relatives.[5]


Early years

Mohamed Siad Barre was born as a member of the Marehan Darod clan (sub-clan Rer Dini) near Shilavo in the Ogaden.[6][7] His parents died when he was ten years old.[7]

After receiving his primary education in the town of Luuq in southern Somalia, Barre moved to Mogadishu, the capital of Italian Somaliland, to pursue his secondary education.[7] Claiming to have been born in Garbahaarreey in order to qualify,[6] he enrolled in the Italian colonial police as a Zaptie in 1940.[8] He later joined the colonial police force during the British military administration of Somalia, rising to the highest possible rank.[7]

In 1952, shortly after Italian Somaliland became a United Nations Trust Territory under Italian administration, Barre attended the Carabinieri police school in Italy for two years.[7] Upon his return to Somalia, he remained with the military and eventually became Vice Commander of Somalia's Army when the country gained its independence in 1960. After spending time with Soviet officers in joint training exercises in the early 1960s, Barre became an advocate of Soviet-style Marxist government. He believed in a socialist government, and a stronger sense of nationalism.

Seizure of power

In 1969, following the assassination of Somalia's second president, Abdirashid Ali Shermarke, the military staged a coup on October 21 (the day after Shermarke's funeral), and took over office. Barre was installed as president of the Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC), the new government of Somalia. Alongside him, the SRC was led by Major General Salaad Gabeyre Kediye and Chief of Police Jama Korshel. The SRC subsequently renamed the country the Somali Democratic Republic,[9][10] arrested members of the former government, banned political parties,[11] dissolved the parliament and the Supreme Court, and suspended the constitution.[12]


Styled the "Victorious Leader" (Guulwade), Siad Barre fostered the growth of a personality cult. Portraits of him in the company of Marx and Lenin lined the streets on public occasions.[13] He advocated a form of scientific socialism based on the Qur'an and Marx, with heavy influences of Somali nationalism.

Supreme Revolutionary Council

The Supreme Revolutionary Council established large-scale public works programs and successfully implemented an urban and rural literacy campaign, which helped dramatically increase the literacy rate. In addition to a nationalization program of industry and land, the new regime's foreign policy placed an emphasis on Somalia's traditional and religious links with the Arab world, eventually joining the Arab League (AL) in 1974.[7] That same year, Barre also served as chairman of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the predecessor of the African Union (AU).[14]

In July 1976, Barre's SRC disbanded itself and established in its place the Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party (SRSP), a one-party government based on scientific socialism and Islamic tenets. The SRSP was an attempt to reconcile the official state ideology with the official state religion by adapting Marxist precepts to local circumstances. Emphasis was placed on the Muslim principles of social progress, equality and justice, which the government argued formed the core of scientific socialism and its own accent on self-sufficiency, public participation and popular control, as well as direct ownership of the means of production. While the SRSP encouraged private investment on a limited scale, the administration's overall direction was essentially communist.[12]

A new constitution was promulgated in 1979 under which elections for a People's Assembly were held. However, Barre's Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party politburo continued to rule.[10] In October 1980, the SRSP was disbanded, and the Supreme Revolutionary Council was re-established in its place.[12]

Language and anti-clanism

One of the first and principal objectives of the revolutionary regime was the adoption of a standard national writing system. Shortly after coming to power, Barre introduced the Somali language (Af Soomaali) as the official language of education, and selected the modified Latin script developed by the Somali linguist Shire Jama Ahmed as the nation's standard orthography. From then on, all education in government schools had to be conducted in Somali, and in 1972, all government employees were ordered to learn to read and write Somali within six months. The reason given for this was to decrease a growing rift between those who spoke the colonial languages, and those who did not, as many of the high ranking positions in the former government were given to people who spoke either Italian or English.

Additionally, Barre also sought to eradicate the importance of clan (qabil) affiliation within government and civil society. The inevitable first question that Somalis asked one another when they met was, 'What is your clan?'. When this was considered anathema to the purpose of a modern state, Somalis began to pointedly ask, 'What is your ex-clan?'. Barre outlawed this question and a broad range of other activities classified as clanism. Informers reported qabilists to the government, leading to arrests and imprisonment.

On a more symbolic level Barre had repeated a number of times, 'Whom do you know? is changed to: What do you know?', and this incantation became part of a popular street song.[15]

Nationalism and Greater Somalia

Barre advocated the concept of a Greater Somalia (Soomaaliweyn), which refers to those regions in the Horn of Africa in which ethnic Somalis reside and have historically represented the predominant population. Greater Somalia thus encompasses Somalia, Djibouti, the Ogaden and the North Eastern Province i.e. the almost exclusively Somali-inhabited regions of the Horn of Africa.[16][17][18]

In July 1977, the Ogaden War broke out after the government sought to incorporate the various Somali-inhabited territories of the region into a Greater Somalia. The Somali national army invaded the Ogaden and was successful at first, capturing most of the territory. The invasion reached an abrupt end with the Soviet Union's shift of support to Ethiopia, followed by almost the entire communist world siding with the latter. The Soviets halted their previous supplies to Barre's regime and increased the distribution of aid, weapons, and training to the Ethiopian government, and also brought in around 15,000 Cuban troops to assist the Ethiopian regime. In 1978, the Somali troops were ultimately pushed out of the Ogaden.

Foreign relations

Control of Somalia was of great interest to both the Soviet Union and the United States due to the country's strategic location at the mouth of the Red Sea. After the Soviets broke with Barre in the late 1970s, he subsequently expelled all Soviet advisers, tore up his friendship treaty with the Soviet Union, and switched allegiance to the West. The United States stepped in and until 1989, was a strong supporter of the Barre government for whom it provided approximately US$100 million per year in economic and military aid.

On October 17 and October 18, 1977, a Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) group hijacked Lufthansa Flight 181 to Mogadishu, Somalia, holding 86 hostages. West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and Barre negotiated a deal to allow a GSG 9 anti-terrorist unit into Mogadishu to free the hostages.

Domestic programs

During the first five years Barre's government set up several cooperative farms and factories of mass production such as mills, sugar cane processing facilities in Jowhar and Afgooye, and a meat processing house in Kismayo.

Another public project initiated by the government was the Shalanbood Sanddune Stoppage. From 1971 onwards, a massive tree-planting campaign on a nationwide scale was introduced by Barre's administration to halt the advance of thousands of acres of wind-driven sand dunes that threatened to engulf towns, roads and farm land.[19] By 1988, 265 hectares of a projected 336 hectares had been treated, with 39 range reserve sites and 36 forestry plantation sites established.[20]

Between 1974 and 1975, a major drought referred to as the Abaartii Dabadheer ("The Lingering Drought") occurred in the northern regions of Somalia. The Soviet Union, which at the time maintained strategic relations with the Barre government, airlifted some 90,000 people from the devastated regions of Hobyo and Caynaba. New settlements of small villages were created in the Jubbada Hoose (Lower Jubba) and Jubbada Dhexe (Middle Jubba) regions. These new settlements were known as the Danwadaagaha or "Collective Settlements". The transplanted families were introduced to farming and fishing, a change from their traditional pastoralist lifestyle of livestock herding. Other such resettlement programs were also introduced as part of Barre's effort to undercut clan solidarity by dispersing nomads and moving them away from clan-controlled land.

Economic policies

As part of Barre's socialist policies, major industries and farms were nationalised, including banks, insurance companies and oil distribution farms.

By the mid- to late-1970s, public discontent with the Barre regime was increasing, largely due to corruption among government officials as well as poor economic performance. The Ogaden War had also weakened the Somali army substantially and military spending had crippled the economy. Foreign debt increased faster than export earnings, and by the end of the decade, Somalia's debt of 4 billion shillings equalled the earnings from seventy-five years' worth of banana exports.[13]

By 1978, manufactured goods exports were almost non-existent, and with the lost support of the Soviet Union the Barre government signed a structural adjustment agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) during the early 1980s. This included the abolishment of some government monopolies and increased public investment. This and a second agreement were both cancelled by the mid-1980s, as the Somali army refused to accept a proposed 60 percent cut in military spending. New agreements were made with the Paris Club, the International Development Association and the IMF during the second half of the 1980s. This ultimately failed to improve the economy which deteriorated rapidly in 1989 and 1990, and resulted in nationwide commodity shortages.

Car accident

In May 1986, President Barre suffered serious injuries in a life-threatening automobile accident near Mogadishu, when the car that was transporting him smashed into the back of a bus during a heavy rainstorm.[21] He was treated in a hospital in Saudi Arabia for head injuries, broken ribs and shock over a period of a month.[22][23] Lieutenant General Mohamed Ali Samatar, then Vice President, subsequently served as de facto head of state for the next several months. Although Barre managed to recover enough to present himself as the sole presidential candidate for re-election over a term of seven years on December 23, 1986, his poor health and advanced age led to speculation about who would succeed him in power. Possible contenders included his son-in-law General Ahmed Suleiman Abdille, who was at the time the Minister of the Interior, in addition to Barre's Vice President Lt. Gen. Samatar.[22][21]

Human rights abuse allegations

Part of Barre's time in power was characterized by oppressive dictatorial rule, including allegations of persecution, jailing and torture of political opponents and dissidents. The United Nations Development Programme stated that "the 21-year regime of Siyad Barre had one of the worst human rights records in Africa." [24] The Africa Watch Committee wrote in a report that "both the urban population and nomads living in the countryside [were] subjected to summary killings, arbitrary arrest, detention in squalid conditions, torture, rape, crippling constraints on freedom of movement and expression and a pattern of psychological intimidation."[25] Amnesty International went on to report that torture methods committed by Barre's National Security Service (NSS) included executions and "beatings while tied in a contorted position, electric shocks, rape of woman prisoners, simulated executions and death threats." [26]

In September 1970, the government introduced the National Security Law No. 54, which granted the NSS the power to arrest and detain indefinitely those who expressed critical views of the government, without ever being brought to trial. It further gave the NSS the power to arrest without a warrant anyone suspected of a crime involving "national security". Article 1 of the law prohibited "acts against the independence, unity or security of the State", and capital punishment was mandatory for anyone convicted of such acts.[27]

From the late 1970s, and onwards Barre faced a shrinking popularity and increased domestic resistance. In response, Barre's elite unit, the Red Berets (Duub Cas), and the paramilitary unit called the Victory Pioneers carried out systematic terror against the Majeerteen, Hawiye, and Isaaq clans.[28] The Red Berets systematically smashed water reservoirs to deny water to the Majeerteen and Isaaq clans and their herds. More than 2,000 members of the Majeerteen clan died of thirst, and an estimated 5,000 Isaaq were killed by the government. Members of the Victory Pioneers also raped large numbers of Majeerteen and Isaaq women, and more than 300,000 Isaaq members fled to Ethiopia.[29][30]

Rebellion and ouster

The Barre administration was haunted by various clan-based rebel groups. In the northern part of the country, members of the Isaaq clan felt politically marginalized by Barre's government. The Isaaq clan consequently developed a rebel group named the Somali National Movement (SNM), who were morally and financially supported by Ethiopia. Also in the north, there developed a rebel group called the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF), which was led by Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed and consisted of several former army officers opposed to Barre's regime. To combat this and other such groups, the government made many raids against the north. However, by the late 1980s, rival factional groups began to make substantial territorial gains, especially in the northern Somaliland region. These groups received weapons from Ethiopia in the hopes of overthrowing Barre's government, which eventually led to the Somali Civil War.

By 1991, factions led by warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid and his rebel group, the United Somali Congress (USC), invaded Mogadishu. Aidid fought against government forces, and Barre was finally overthrown on the evening of 26 January 1991. He was succeeded in office by Ali Mahdi Muhammad, a businessman of the Abgaal, a sub clan of the Hawiye, until November 1991. Though internationally recognized, Ali Mahdi's government never managed to exert political or military control over the majority of the country. Ali Mahdi and Aidid's personal clan-based militias eventually wound up fighting over control of the country in the wake of Barre's ouster.


After leaving Mogadishu in January 1991, Barre temporarily remained in the southwestern Gedo region of the country, which was the power base of his Marehan clan. From there, he launched a military campaign to return to power. He twice attempted to retake Mogadishu, but in May 1991 was overwhelmed by General Mohamed Farrah Aidid's army, and was forced into exile.

Barre initially moved to Nairobi, Kenya, but opposition groups with a presence there protested his arrival and support of him by the Kenyan government. In response to the pressure and hostilities, he moved two weeks later to Nigeria. Barre died on January 2, 1995 in Lagos from a heart attack. His remains were buried in the Garbahaarreey district of the Gedo region in Somalia.


  • North Korea Order of National Flag, First Class, of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea - 1972[31]


  • "In our Revolution we believe that we have broken the chain of a consumer economy based on imports, and we are free to decide our destiny. And in order to realize the interests of the Somali people, their achievement of a better life, the full development of their potentialities and the fulfillment of their aspirations, we solemnly declare Somalia to be a Socialist State."[32]
-- Siad Barre proclaims Somalia a socialist state, October 20, 1970
  • "When I came to Mogadishu...[t]here was one road built by the Italians. If you try to force me to stand down, I will leave the city as I found it. I came to power with a gun; only the gun can make me go."[33]
  • "Some of the colonizers do understand and quickly retreat, while some, because they are stupid, continue colonizing others, increasing the suffering, deaths, injuries, defeat and humiliation. The people colonized by Abyssinia will be free. Eritrea will be free, and they cannot refuse to let them be free. Western Somalia will be free, and they cannot refuse to grant it freedom. The numerous Abo will be free because this is history, and no one can prevent the sunshine from reaching us."[34]
  • "I did not come to power to divide Somali but to unite them, and I will never deviate from this path. I shall respect a Somali individual as long as he deserves respect, but if he turns away from the correct path, then that is not my business."[34]
  • "We should teach the foreigners and colonialists that Somalia cannot be led by other people and that the traitors who fled the country will never lead Somalia."[34]
  • "There was no choice. I would like to state clearly the reason for the take over of the country by Armed Forces. I want our people to know that everything is going on as usual and that no problems have arisen as a result of the Revolution. The entire country is in the hands of the National Army and the Police Force Intervention by Armed Forces was inevitable. It was no longer possible to ignore the evil things like corruption, bribery, nepotism, and theft of public funds, injustice and disrespect to our religion and the laws of the country. The laws were thrust aside and people did whatever they wanted. No group or family can live happily if they do not respect their laws and regulations. There will be no development or any sort of progress for a nation, if the laws of the country are forgotten. The corruption has culminated in the assassination of prominent leaders of the country. Somalia was on the point of collapse, not economically and politically alone, but disaster threatened historically and nationally as well. If we look back on recent events in the country, we will see how a peaceful lands was changing to violence. Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, the late President, was assassinated by simple soldier who did not know him and who had no quarrel with him. We will not give a chance to wrong doers and law breakers."[citation needed]
  • "We will abolish bribery, nepotism and tribalism. Tribalism was the only way in which foreigners got their chance of dividing our people. We will close all roads used by colonialists to enter our country and into our affairs. We will build up a great Somali nation, strongly united and welded together to live in peace. We will make respect the Islamic religion, if necessary, by all the force and strength we have. We will make Somalia a respected country in its internal and external policies. I would like to ask all Somalis to come out and build their nation, a strong nation, to use all their efforts, energy, wealth and brains in developing their country. At all costs avoid begging. The Imperialists, who always want to see people in hunger, disease and ignorance, will oppose us in order that we may beg them. They will spread many types of lies to try to misinterpret our noble aims and objectives. They will try to persuade the world, and even other African States, to believe their lies. Apart from these lies, they will call us many evil names. They are at present collecting arms, money and many other necessary things for them to work against us. We are very happy and thankful to see the unity of the Armed Forces and the Somali population. The nation has given us true support for which we are very grateful. Nothing will harm us if we go on supporting each other for the sake of our country and nation. Lets us join hands in crushing the enemy of our land."[35]

See also


  1. ^ Obituary: Siad Barre
  2. ^ George James "Somalia's Overthrown Dictator, Mohammed Siad Barre, Is Dead" New York Times (1/3/1995)
  3. ^ Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada "The Horn of Africa: Somalis in Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya" UNHCR (1/2/1991)
  4. ^ Jaalle also translates as "Mister"
  5. ^ Yiorgos Apostolopoulos, The Sociology of Tourism, pp. 41 
  6. ^ a b David D. Laitin and Said S. Samatar, Somalia: Nation in Search of a State (Boulder: Westview Press 1987), p. 79
  7. ^ a b c d e f Benjamin Frankel, The Cold War, 1945-1991: Leaders and other important figures in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, China, and the Third World, (Gale Research: 1992), p.306.
  8. ^ President Siad Barre life (German)
  9. ^ J. D. Fage, Roland Anthony Oliver, The Cambridge history of Africa, Volume 8, (Cambridge University Press: 1985), p.478.
  10. ^ a b The Encyclopedia Americana: complete in thirty volumes. Skin to Sumac, Volume 25, (Grolier: 1995), p.214.
  11. ^ Metz, Helen C. (ed.) (1992), "Coup d'Etat", Somalia: A Country Study, Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress,, retrieved October 21, 2009 .
  12. ^ a b c Peter John de la Fosse Wiles, The New Communist Third World: an essay in political economy, (Taylor & Francis: 1982), p.279.
  13. ^ a b Metz, Helen C. (ed.) (1992), "Siad Barre and Scientific Socialism", Somalia: A Country Study, Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress,, retrieved October 21, 2009 .
  14. ^ Oihe Yang, Africa South of the Sahara 2001, 30th Ed., (Taylor and Francis: 2000), p.1025.
  15. ^ Laitin, David D., Politics, Language, and Thought, pp. 89 
  16. ^ The 1994 national census was delayed in the Somali Region until 1997. FDRE States: Basic Information - Somalia, Population (accessed 12 March 2006)
  17. ^ Francis Vallat, First report on succession of states in respect of treaties: International Law Commission twenty-sixth session 6 May-26 July 1974, (United Nations: 1974), p.20
  18. ^ Africa Watch Committee, Kenya: Taking Liberties, (Yale University Press: 1991), p.269
  19. ^ National Geographic Society (U.S.), National Geographic, Volume 159, (National Geographic Society: 1981), p.765.
  20. ^ Hadden, Robert Lee. 2007. "The Geology of Somalia: A Selected Bibliography of Somalian Geology, Geography and Earth Science." Engineer Research and Development Laboratories, Topographic Engineering Center
  21. ^ a b World of Information (Firm), Africa review, (World of Information: 1987), p.213.
  22. ^ a b Arthur S. Banks, Thomas C. Muller, William Overstreet, Political Handbook of the World 2008, (CQ Press: 2008), p.1198.
  23. ^ National Academy of Sciences (U.S.). Committee on Human Rights, Institute of Medicine (U.S.). Committee on Health and Human Rights, Scientists and human rights in Somalia: report of a delegation, (National Academies: 1988), p.9.
  24. ^ UNDP, Human Development Report 2001-Somalia, (New York: 2001), p. 42
  25. ^ Africa Watch Committee, Somalia: A Government at War with its Own People, (New York: 1990), p. 9
  26. ^ Amnesty International, Torture in the Eighties, (Bristol, England: Pitman Press, 1984), p. 127.
  27. ^ National Academy of Sciences (U.S.) Committee on Human Rights & Institute of Medicine (U.S.) Committee on Health and Human Rights, Scientists and human rights in Somalia: report of a delegation, (Washington D.C.: National Academy Press, 1988), p. 16.
  28. ^ Metz, Helen C. (ed.) (1992), "Siad Barre's Repressive Measures", Somalia: A Country Study, Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress,, retrieved October 21, 2009 .
  29. ^ Metz, Helen C. (ed.) (1992), "Persecution of the Majeerteen", Somalia: A Country Study, Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress,, retrieved October 21, 2009 .
  30. ^ Metz, Helen C. (ed.) (1992), "Oppression of the Isaaq", Somalia: A Country Study, Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress,, retrieved October 21, 2009 .
  31. ^ Korea today (191): 10. 1972. 
  32. ^ Metz, Helen C. (ed.) (1992), "Scientific Socialism, 1970–1975", Somalia: A Country Study, Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress,, retrieved December 19, 2008 .
  33. ^ Abdullahi, Mohamed Diriye (2001), Culture and customs of Somalia, p. 41
  34. ^ a b c Mogadiscio Domestic Service in Somali, 0448 GMT 1 May 1978
  35. ^ Mohamed Siad Barre, My country and my people;: The collected speeches of Major-General Mohamed Siad Barre, President, the Supreme Revolutionary Council, Somali Democratic Republic



  • Shire, Mohammed Ibrahim, Somali President Mohammed Siad Barre: His Life and Legacy, (Cirfe Publications, 2011)

External links

Official sites

Political offices
Preceded by
Sheikh Mukhtar Mohamed Hussein
President of Somalia
Succeeded by
Ali Mahdi Muhammad

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  • Siad Barre, Muhammad — ▪ 1996       (MAXAMED SIYAAD BARRE), Somali general and political leader (b. c. 1919, Ganane, Italian Somaliland d. Jan. 2, 1995, Lagos, Nigeria), held dictatorial rule over Somalia from October 1969, when he led a bloodless military coup against …   Universalium

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