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Siad Barre’s Rule in Somalia: Force and Guile With AM-Somalia

January 2, 1991 GMT

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) _ Somalian President Mohamed Siad Barre rose from his origins as an orphaned shepherd boy to rule the nation in Africa’s horn for more than two decades using a mixture of terror and guile.

Since staging a bloodless 1969 coup, Siad Barre has led the country through a succession of droughts, survived defeat in a lengthy desert war with Ethiopia, and maneuvered the country through alliances with the Soviets and Americans.

A member of the Marehan clan, which makes up less than 1 percent of the population of 8 million, Siad Barre kept power in a land of anarchic nomads by cunningly playing a myriad of squabbling clans off one another.


But the loosely confederated rebels fighting in the Somalian capital since Sunday claim the end is near for the government of Siad Barre. Late Tuesday he was still apparently entrenched in a bunker near the Mogadishu airport.

A tall, austere-looking man with a long face and hooded eyes often hidden behind dark sunglasses, much about Siad Barre’s personal life - including his age - is a mystery, though he is said to have fathered 29 children.

He was born of Darod herdsmen in Somalia’s southern Juba region. Some authorities list his birth year as 1919, others as 1912 and others 1920. Siad Barre himself may not know.

Orphaned at 10, he scratched a living as a shepherd before joining the colonial police force, where he rose to chief inspector, the highest rank possible for a Somali under Italian administration.

Largely self-taught, Siad Barre studied voraciously in offduty hours, gaining a secondary school equivalency and going on to military course at an Italian army college.

Somalia’s independence in 1960 - which merged Italian- and British- administered colonies - brought about Siad Barre’s appointment as the new nation’s army vice commander. Five years later, he became commander-in-chief.

After leading a coup on Oct. 21, 1969, Siad Barre and his junior officer supporters went about unifying the predominantly Muslim nation with a blend of Marxist doctrine, Somali traditions and Islamic precepts termed ″scientific socialism.″

Under his leadership, the nation adopted a modified Roman alphabet in 1972 and had its language translated into written form for the first time. He also launched an ambitious literacy campaign.

The Soviet Union formed a close alliance with Siad Barre in 1974, but three years later abandoned him for Ethiopia after the two nations went to war over the Ogaden desert that forms part of their border.

Ethiopia’s pro-Western Emperior Haile Selassie had been overthrown in 1974 by the Marxist Dergue. The United States threw its support to Somalia.

Both superpowers saw Ethiopia and Somalia as crucial to control of the narrow eastern access to the Red Sea, which both countries border.

But interest has waned in Siad Barre’s government with diminishing Cold War rivalries and because of his government’s brutal treatment of its opponents.

The Somali military killed 40,000 to 50,000 unarmed civilians between June 1988 and January 1990, according to the human rights group Africa Watch. In July, his troops opened fire on a crowd at a soccer stadium, killing 60 people.

Most of the victims of repression have been members of the Isaaq clan in northern Somalia, from which the Somali National Movement rebel group largely draws its strength.

Increasing attacks by it and other clans in the south and central parts of the country have sapped the country’s treasury and left Siad Barre with ever- diminishing control over his nation.

In recent years critics have derisively referred to him as the ″Mayor of Mogadishu.″