[Documents menu] Documents menu

Italy’s Myopic View of Somali Affairs Is Intolerable

Somaliland Forum, document, 13 December 2000

Somalia—For two decades (1970-1991), the government of Italy was the prime supporter of the regime of dictator Siad Barre, the very man who led the former Somali Democratic Republic down the road of ruin and civil war; it ceaselessly provided him with armaments and other forms of aid until the house fell upon him.

There were friendships and dubious business connections between members of Siad Barre’s family and families of leading Italian politicians . . . (Ghalib 1994:200).

In fact, the Italian government was the last government that tried to save Siad Barre from being overthrown by the popular revolt, thus working against the principle of democracy in the former Somali Democratic Republic.

However, after the downfall of the dictatorship, Italian intervention continued and [t]he minute Siyaad [Siad Barre] fled Mogadishu, Italian Ambassador Mario Sica is reported to have urged businessman Ali Mahdi, leader of a wing of the USC, to proclaim himself President before the entrance into Mogadishu of General Aideed and his armed volunteers. This act alienated not only Aideed and other factions within the USC, it proved the final straw as far as the SNM [of Somaliland] was concerned. As conflicts continued within the USC, Italy sponsored the Djibouti I (June 1991) and Djibouti II (July) Conferences ostensibly to mediate Somali conflicts but in reality to attempt to legitimise Ali Mahdi. (Adam 1992) Today, it is well known that only conflict, further bloodshed, and the famine viewed around the world resulted from these reckless actions.

These days Ali Mahdi has long ceased his claims to be president; however, a former Barre loyalist, Abdilqassim Salat Hassan, appointed in Djibouti this year through the sponsorship of President Guelleh of Djibouti, is claiming now the mantle. And once again, it seems plainly apparent that the Italian government, this time through Ambassador Francesco Sciortino, is bent on imposing Mr. Salad’s government, as the government of not only Somalia but also of independent Somaliland. Furthermore, the Italian government is trying hard to convince the institutions of the EU in Brussels that indeed Mr. Hassan is the head of a legitimate government. Recently, Mr. Pertti Majanen, the Finnish Under-Secretary of State Ministry Of Foreign Affairs, has confirmed to our sources about an EU meeting in which Italy was strongly lobbying for the recognition and support of Mr. Hassan’s Mogadishu government as a national government; the Greek representative is reported to have challenged the Italian representative on the issue.

Italy’s interest in the area comes from the historical fact of having colonized Somalia proper, with Mogadishu as its capital. But the former Somali Republic, later renamed the Somali Democratic Republic, by the dictator Siad Barre, was formed out of a union of two newly- independent states----namely, the State of Somaliland, formerly the British Protectorate of Somaliland, and Somalia, formerly Italian Somalia, in 1960.

Over the years, Italy has sought, come what may, to ensure that the center of power always stays in Mogadishu, i.e., in its former colony, and that Mogadishu dominates Somaliland; accordingly, Italian development aid was concentrated exclusively in the former Italian colony. But now the Somali Republic is no more; Somaliland, after a terrible liberation war fought from 1980 to 1991 and won, despite the huge aid the Mogadishu regime of Siad Barre received from Italy and its other allies of the time, has reverted back to its former status of a sovereign country and nation in 1991. We concede that it is up to the people of Somalia to accept or reject Mr. Salad’s government.

However, the sad events that followed Mr. Mahdi’s hasty presidential pretensions in 1991, leave no doubt that Somalia needs to learn from the ways and methods (a mixture of Western-style democracy and traditional institutions) used in Somaliland to establish peace and national reconciliation first. This means breaking the cycle of pretender-presidents, holding national conferences free from outside intervention inside that country and then exploring realistic ways of forming state structures acceptable to the people in the different regions. Somalia’s salvation therefore logically lies in that direction. On the other hand, encouraging Mr. Hassan’s presidential pretensions would only lead in the direction of further bloodshed. Unfortunately, the latter course is being followed, and as a result the security situation in Mogadishu has gone from bad to worse since Mr. Hassan took his pretender-government to two hotels in Mogadishu all the way from Djibout. Fact is, helping Mr. Hassan establish himself in Mogadishu, a city held by several factions, is to help establish a new warlord, as if the city does not have enough warlords already.

It is evident that the Mr. Hassan’s Djibouti-appointed group, popularly known as the Arta faction, after the town in Djibouti where they gathered at the invitation of the Djiboutian president, is no solution to Somalia’s complex problems. It is a prescription that simply says ’give them a president and all their problems will vanish.’ It is a myopic formula that no one would dare suggest for the Balkans and other areas of conflict. What is even more distressing is that the Arta faction reads like a who’s who of former Barre cronies and war criminals. Moreover, this very same approach has been tried before, at the behest of Italy, with the self-appointment of Ali Mahdi as president in 1991. Civil and clan war was the result then.

Nine years later, the same approach is being repeated. There is one big difference though. Today’s pretender to the presidency, Mr. Hasan, is starting from a much weaker position than Ali Mahdi as far as territorial control goes, for presently his secure zone, and hence the territory under his control is apparently no more than the two hotels in Mogadishu where his parliament and government meet, eat and sleep.

All the regions, including most of Mogadishu, have rejected his pretensions for the simple reason that a foreign-appointed presidency and his Arta faction do not meet the aspirations and the desires of the many groups and peoples involved in the conflict. For example, the Digil and Mirifle nationality of the south-west, as well as the people of Puntland, have clearly expressed that they are not interested in another centralized state in which Mogadishu holds all the powers. The Digil-Mirifle and Puntland also have insisted the structures of a future Somalia would have to be agreed upon before anyone can be named a president or a government be formed. In short, they want a federal arrangement not another Mogadishu-centric republic. Then there is Somaliland, which is altogether a different question and has nothing to do with bringing peace and governance to Somalia proper, for Somaliland is peaceful and self-governing today, and has been so for several years.

While the Italian government is entitled to develop whatever relationships it wishes, and the humanitarian aid of the people of Italy is welcome and much appreciated, the people of Somaliland want everyone, including the Italian government, to respect their wish to remain a separate and sovereign country. The endless Italian efforts at the European Union, and in the region through its emissaries, aimed at reversing the sovereignty of Somaliland, a country whose people took their fate in their own hands, and founded a parliament, a constitution and a functioning government, without much help from the outside, should cease. Italian behind the scene maneuvers aimed at sabotaging Somaliland’s independence and legitimizing Abdulqassim Salad Hasan’s claim of being president of both Somalia and Somaliland should also immediately stop.

The Italian government should see the light and understand that in some circumstances, especially after a prolonged conflict, some unions are better terminated; in other words, separation formulas that are appropriate for the countries of the former Eastern bloc, some of whom are Italy’s next door neighbors, are some times appropriate in Africa too. Somaliland has the additional advantage of already being a de facto state for the last ten years, and also has a prior history of being a state.

The people of Somaliland have survived a decade of liberation war, followed by another decade of silent reconstruction and institution building, all without international recognition and the benefits and instruments that come with it such as the Bretton Woods accords, the IMF, the World Bank, etc. Many ordinary Africans, especially East Africans are impressed with Somaliland’s ability to rise, through its own efforts, from the ashes of war and quickly transform itself into a vibrant, stable democracy. Somaliland’s achievements would have been even greater in a more favorable international environment.

We hope that Italian government understands our position and our popular will, especially given the fact that Italy wholeheartedly supported the separation of Eritrea, a former Italian colony, from Ethiopia. We see double standards here and we ask Italians politicians to refrain from trying to suppress the will of the people of Somaliland. Finally, we ask the Italian government to accept the fact of our independence and sovereignty or to at least desist from stacking the odds against us.


1. Melega, Gianluigi. Mal d’Africa, L’Espresso, vol 37 (13 January 1991), pp. 30-32.

2. Ghalib, Jama M. 1994. The Cost of Dictatorship : The Somali Experience. Lilian Barber Press.

3. Adam, Hussein M. 1992. Somalia: Militarism, Warlordism or Democracy?, Review of African Political Economy, No. 54, pp.11-26

4. Marches Tropicaux, La Somalie en proie a l’anarchie, 3 March 1991, pp. 1136-37.

5. Le Monde, Les rebelles sont resolus a chasser du pouvoir le president Syaad Barre, 6-7 January, 1991, p. 5.

6. Perlez, Jane. Deadly Impasse Said to Go On in Somali City, New York Times, 10 January, 1991, p. 7.

7. Helene, Jean. La Somalie: deux mois apres la chute du president Syad Barre, Le Monde, 4 April, 1991, p. 10.

8. Reuter, EU mission leaves after talks with Somaliland leaders, 2 December, 2000.

9. The Republican [Hargeisa, Somaliland], Italy Promoting Talks Between Egal and Salad, issue 134, 28 October, 200.

10. The Republican [Hargeisa, Somaliland], Italian Policy, 1issue 133, 21 October, 2000.

11. Fitzgerald, Mary Anne, Helping the other ’Somalia’, Christian Science Monitor, 27 December 1998.