In 1949, the ‘United Nations’ appointed Italy as the trustee of Somalia, with the clause of preparing for Somalia’s independence after 10 years. Barre went to the ‘Carabinieri Police College’ in Florence, Italy, on a 2-year scholarship. Later, he also joined courses on administration and politics in Mogadishu and became the first Somali to become a police officer.
The police force of Somalia was formed in 1958. When the ‘Somali National Army’ was established in April 1960, Barre chose to move from the police to the army. He was made a colonel and a deputy commander of the ‘Somalia Army,’ when the country attained independence as the ‘Somali Republic’ on July 1, 1960. In 1962, he became a brigadier general. Later, he became a major general of the ‘Somali National Army.’ After the death of Commander-General Daud Abdulle Hirsi (1965) in Moscow, Barre became the chief of the ‘Somali Army.’
The second Somali president, Abdurashid Ali Shermarke, was assassinated on October 15, 1969. The ‘National Assembly’ could not come to any firm decision regarding his successor. On October 21, 1969, the day after the president’s funeral, Major-General Barre, Lt. Col. Kediye, and Chief of Police Korshel led a few military officers to a bloodless coup (coup d’état).
After assuming power, they formed the ‘Supreme Revolutionary Council’ (SRC), with Barre as the chief. They suspended the ‘National Assembly’ and the constitution. The other political parties were debarred and their politicians were apprehended. The ‘Supreme Court’ was dissolved. The ‘SRC’ renamed the country the ‘Somali Democratic Republic,’ with Siad Barre as the head of the state and the chairman of the ‘SRC.’ He preferred to be called the “Guulwade” (“victorious leader”).
The new regime encouraged a cult of personality. Many statues of ‘SRC’ leaders were erected, and Barre’s posters and portraits were displayed all around. The new government brought in many reforms and developments, too. Tired of the previous corrupt government, the population welcomed these initial changes.
Barre and the ‘SRC’ mobilized the population. He discarded the previously used Arabic and Wadaad scripts, bringing in the Roman script for the Somali language. It was made the official language for all government operations and education. A literacy program was initiated, which helped the country achieve a high rate of literacy. Many improvements, including small-pox vaccination, were implemented in the healthcare department. He dissuaded the clan culture, and referring to one’s clan was banned.
In 1974, Barre made a treaty of co-operation with the Soviet Union. Major industries, including petroleum, sugar production, and refineries were nationalized, along with banks, insurance companies, and electricity production. He made Somalia a member of the ‘Organization of African Unity’ (now known as the ‘African Union’), and in 1974, he hosted a summit for the organization.
The Somali government supported independence movements of the neighboring African countries. The Horn of Africa was affected by a severe draught in 1974-1975. However, Barre’s government effectively dealt with it and prevented a large-scale famine. The Soviet Union helped the country by air-lifting thousands from the drought-affected area. Collective settlements were created to rehabilitate the drought victims.
In September 1972, Barre helped in forming a non-aggression agreement between Uganda and Tanzania. In October 1977, when the ‘PFLP’ hijacked a ‘Lufthansa’ flight, taking its 86 passengers hostage and landing in Mogadishu, Barre allowed the German anti-terrorist unit to free the hostages.
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The ‘SRC’ party was disbanded in 1976, and a new party, the ‘Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party’ (SRSP), was formed. It followed “scientific socialism,” which was consistent with the principles of Islam and had a communist leaning. The party elected Barre as the general secretary and chairman of the country’s politburo and central committee.
In 1979, a new Constitution was declared and elections for a ‘People’s Assembly’ were also held. In spite of this, the ‘SRSP’ retained all the power. The Somalis were encouraged to call each other “Jaalle” (“comrade”). They made use of media, music, and theater to mobilize the population. In October 1980, the ‘SRSP’ party was disbanded. Once again, the ‘SRC’ got together to govern the country.
Barre, equipped with the vision of a “Greater Somalia,” which included all the regions that had Somalis as the majority of the population, decided to acquire Ogaden (also known as “Western Somalia”) back from Ethiopia. On July 23, 1977, the ‘Somali National Army’ entered Ogaden. However, Ethiopia received help from Cuba and the Soviet Union. Barre had broken ties with Cuba and had revoked agreements with Russia. Thus, in 1978, their combined forces ousted the Somali army.
The Soviet Union and the other Communist countries went against Somalia. After this defeat, Barre severed all ties with the Soviet Union and allied with the West. The U.S. government supported Barre’s rule till 1989.
After the Ogaden War, various economic issues and corruption (among government officers) gave rise to immense public dissatisfaction. Despite the country’s efforts to form ties with the ‘International Monetary Fund’ (IMF), the Somali economy continued to get worse. The country’s economic situation was also affected by the influx of refugees from Ethiopia.
During a rainstorm in May 1986, Barre’s car suffered a collision near Mogadishu. He sustained serious head injuries and broken ribs and was in shock. He was air-lifted by the Saudi king’s plane and was treated at a Saudi hospital. By December 23, 1986, he was back as the only presidential candidate for the re-election and won another term of 7 years.
In 1978, an attempt of coup was made against his regime. However, it failed and was suppressed mercilessly. Barre sought help from his family members, as most of them were part of the military. This inner circle, however, misguided him. Barre accused the Majeerteen clan for the earlier failed coup and ruthlessly came down on them, killing over 2,000 clan people.
Later, in 1988, Barre subjected another clan, the Issak clan, to terrible atrocities. His family members ransacked/looted the country, and those who went against the family had to face dire consequences.
During his long presidential tenure, Barre was accused of often resorting to oppressive dictatorial methods, including political imprisonment, killings, torture, and cruel harassment. His regime had “one of the worst human rights records in Africa,” as stated by the ‘UN Development Program.’ Violation of human rights was a wide-spread issue during his rule. The Isaaq/Isaak clan was subjected to mass killings, arbitrary arrests, detention, torture, and rape. Allegedly, 50,000 to 60,000 people were killed between 1988 and 1989.
In the mid-1980s, Ethiopia’s communist government allegedly supported rebel movements across Somalia. These were suppressed by harsh measures, such as bombing of cities (Hargeisa), resulting in thousands of deaths.
Tired of Barre’s atrocities, the Somali population resorted to rebellion. By the end of 1990, the rebels of the ‘Somali National Movement’ and other similar parties stormed the capital. Barre fled to Gedo in January 1991. He attempted to retake the city twice, but his plans were foiled by General Mohamad Farrah Aidid.
Barre went to Nairobi, but the Kenyan population expressed their displeasure. He then went to Lagos and stayed there till his end of 1995. Barre died of a heart attack on January 2, 1995. He was buried in Garbaharey, Gedo, Somalia. Barre married twice in his lifetime. His first wife was Khadija Maalin. He then married Dalyad Haji Hashi. He had 11 children. One of his children, Maslax, served in the Somali army.