Scroll to top

Somalia: Challenges to Dictatorship through Black Hawk Down, 1976-1990s

No comments

Somalia: Challenges to Dictatorship through Black Hawk Down, 1976-1990s

Posted by Mollie Zapata on February 7, 2012

Somalia: Challenges to Dictatorship through Black Hawk Down, 1976-1990s

Editor's Note: This week's post in the series Enough 101 looks at the history of Somalia from dictator Mohammed Siad Barre's rule to the end of Western military engagement in the early 1990s, building off of last week's post that covered colonialism to independence to dictatorship from 1840 to 1976.

SRC – Supreme Revolutionary Council

SRSP – Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party

USC – United Somali Congress

SNM – Somali National Movement

UNOSOM  – U.N. Operation in Somalia

UNITAF  – Unified Task Force

In 1976, the Supreme Revolutionary Council, or SRC, officially marked the end of military rule by dissolving itself and ceding power to its own creation, the Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party, or SRSP. Major General Mohammed Siad Barre, who assumed power in a coup in 1969, remained the president and headed the Soviet-aligned SRSP.

In July 1977, Somalia invaded Ethiopia in an attempt to regain the Ogaden area largely inhabited by ethnic Somalis. During the Ogaden War, which lasted until March 1978, the Soviet Union sided with Ethiopia and defeated the Somalis. As a result, Barre expelled all Soviet advisors from Somalia, renounced communism, and sought alignment with the West. From 1978 to 1988 the U.S. and Somalia maintained an amicable relationship.

Under pressure from the U.S. and other Western countries, Barre held sham parliamentary elections in December 1979. These elections and the subsequent re-shuffling of the government resulted in Barre gaining complete control of all government functions.

Through the 1980s, conflict in Somalia simmered as armed groups sprang up in opposition to the Barre regime. Ongoing skirmishes in the border regions between Somalia and Ethiopia kept tensions high between the neighbors. While the U.S. continued to support Barre and provide Somalia with weapons, he turned around and used those arms against his internal opponents. In 1987, Amnesty International documented widespread human rights violations in Somalia, resulting in major cuts in U.S. aid.

By the end of the 1980s, Barre’s control was limited to the area around the capital of Mogadishu, and in 1990 the U.S. withdrew all assistance, abandoning the Somali state to the final stages of complete collapse. In January 1991 Barre was ousted from Mogadishu by forces of the United Somali Congress, or USC, a Hawiye clan-based group.

From December 1991 to March 1992, the country was torn apart by clan-based warfare. The Isaaq clan based in the north, the Daarood clan-family in the south, the Ogadeni in the west, the Dir in the east, and the Hawiye in central Somalia all fought for power in the streets of Mogadishu and the surrounding countryside. (See a map of ethnic clan distribution throughout Somalia as of 2006.) In the capital, an estimated 25,000 people were killed, 1.5 million fled the country, and 2 million were internally displaced over a four-month period.

In addition to the fighting, Somalis suffered from a severe famine from 1991 to 1993 that devastated crops, leaving between 240,000 and 280,000 people dead and up to 2 million displaced.

On May 17, 1991, the Isaaq-dominated Somali National Movement, or SNM, declared the secession of the north from the southern regions, calling the new country the Republic of Somaliland. This move served to insulate Somaliland from the upheaval and famine in the south, enabling the region to develop more quickly and peaceably than the rest of Somalia.

Back in Mogadishu, the United Nations negotiated a peace deal between two major combatants in 1992, and the limited U.N. Operation in Somalia, or UNOSOM, deployed in April 1992.

Spurred by images of the devastating famine and the end of Barre’s rule, the U.S. reengaged in Somalia. In December 1992, the United States and other nations launched Operation Restore Hope. Led by the Unified Task Force, or UNITAF, the mission was designed to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance to suffering Somalis. With an expanded mandate, the U.N. peacekeeping mission UNOSOM II took over from UNITAF in May 1993, but soon faced major security obstacles, most famously the downing of two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters In October 1993 during the First Battle for Mogadishu. The incident, which left 18 American service members dead, signaled the beginning of the end of U.S. military engagement. Then U.S. Ambassador to Somalia Robert Oakley estimated that 1,500 to 2,000 Somalis were killed and wounded during the battle. U.S. forces withdrew in March 1994 and UNSOM II left one year later.

Following the example of Somaliland, the area of Puntland (literally the horn of the Horn of Africa) declared itself autonomous, not independent, in 1998.

With clans taking over leadership and governance of the various regions of Somalia, by the late 1990s the situation was described as “neither peace nor war.”