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Extract – In the lives of nations, as of men, reputations all too often achieve their widest currency when they are already out of date. The Somali Republic is no exception to this general rule. Although the real circumstances had already significantly altered before the military brusquely seized power in October 1969, Somalia was still generally known for democracy at home and trouble abroad. The first of these characterizations referred to the striking persistence of a vigorous and effective multi-party parliamentary system, and the second to the seemingly uniquely intractable nature of the ‘Somali Dispute’ which committed the Republic to supporting the secessionist claims of the contiguous Somali populations of Kenya, Ethiopia, and French Somaliland, at the price of severely strained relations with these neighboring states. These and other attributes unusual amongst the new states of sub-Saharan Africa appeared to be closely connected with the Republic’s exuberant sense of national identity, a quality all the more remarkable in being firmly grounded in a long-standing and entirely traditional cultural nationalism.

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JOURNAL ARTICLE

The Politics of the 1969 Somali Coup

By I. M. Lewis*

In the lives of nations, as of men, reputations all too often achieve their widest currency when they are already out of date. The Somali Republic is no exception to this general rule. Although the real circum­stances had already significantly altered before the military brusquely seized power in October 1969, Somalia was still generally known for democracy at home and trouble abroad. The first of these characterizations referred to the striking persistence of a vigorous and effective multi-party parliamentary system, and the second to the seemingly uniquely intractable nature of the `Somali Dispute’ which committed the Republic to supporting the secessionist claims of the contiguous Somali populations of Kenya, Ethiopia, and French Somaliland, at the price of severely strained relations with these neighboring states. These and other attributes unusual amongst the new states of sub-Saharan Africa appeared to be closely connected with the Republic’s exuberant sense of national identity, a quality all the more remarkable in being firmly grounded in a long-standing and entirely traditional cultural nationalism.

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This article seeks to analyze the political precipitants of the 1969 coup d’état, to assess its significance, and to reconsider the relationship which has previously been assumed to exist in Somalia between internal democracy, external irredentism, and traditional nationalism. In pur­suing these themes here it is necessary first to elucidate the relationship between the Somali nation on the one hand, and the Somali state on the other, and to outline the main linkages which have grown up between ‘traditional’ and `modern’ political interest groups and institutions.

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