Somalia’s family-based regime is in danger of being ousted in a military coup, according to a well-placed government defector. The United States-backed government is growing increasingly insular, the official says, as conditions deteriorate: The north remains wracked by civil war. New fighting has broken out in the central region. Human rights abuses continue.
“Talk is that a coup is not far,” says Mohamed Abdi Gabose, vice-minister of tourism and President Mohamed Siyad Barre’s personal physician until his defection on March 20. “In the military area, people are not happy. The son, very young, is the highest rank when there are many generals who are 10 years older.”
Mr. Gabose, speaking in an interview from London, is referring to General Maslah, the chief of staff, whom the elderly President Siyad wants to succeed him. For many years, Gabose says, Siyad has dreamed of building a “clan state to which his son [Maslah] should be the future leader of his country. And the brothers and daughters will all be leading. [But] he didn’t expect that the struggle in the north should be so large.”
Since last May, rebels from the northern Isaaq-clan-based Somali National Movement have been fighting to oust Siyad. Gabose, who is Isaaq through his father’s line, has now joined the SNM. Gabose’s “family” connection to the regime came through his mother, who was a Marehan like Siyad. Gabose says that although Somalia’s military leaders are Siyad’s clansmen, this clan, Darod (of which Marehan is a subgroup) accounts for only 10 to 15 percent of Somali people. And so, he implies, this sizable non-Darod majority could topple Siyad.
Gabose had been vice-minister of health but came into conflict with another of Siyad’s sons, and so he was made first a vice-minister of information, then a vice-minister of tourism. Gabose went to a conference in Rome last month on tourism and health with the idea of defecting. He had hoped for some time to leave with his wife and four young children, but eventually gave up and went by himself. He has heard his family is safe.
Gabose explains his decision to leave: “The worst thing was to see [Siyad] reach his goal. Complete violation of human rights. Genocidal and barbaric actions taken in the north. And it’s still going on. … The only crime that these people have committed is the demand of their basic human rights and democracy. …”
“In Somalia, if you are very active and sincere to the nation, the people there, they don’t like you. But if you care about your personal interests, if you help the regime, if you are a yes-man, then you are an OK man. … As his personal physician, I was very, very close to him. And when I saw things are happening badly and a gloomy future, I tried to help him with my advice. Unfortunately, day after day I was losing hope.”
Gabose would not speak about Siyad’s health, a matter of intense speculation, citing patient-doctor confidentiality.
Over the last two months, he says, the regime has “destroyed almost all the wells in the northern region, and killed thousands of animals,” to keep people from helping the SNM. Every day civilian aircraft ferry military supplies to the north, Gabose says. In central Somalia, clan warfare has killed hundreds of people in the past 1 month. Gabose blames the regime’s divide-and-conquer tactics.
Gabose contradicts the US’s cautiously positive tone about political and economic reforms in Somalia, and the recent release of political prisoners. He says it’s all a game designed to get at foreign aid.
“In Somalia, they say if you don’t want to solve a problem, put it in a committee’s hand,” he says. And furthermore, “no one is cooperating with them in the economic changing, because everyone wants the regime to go out. … It’s another type of war against the regime.”
This article was first published in The Christian Science Monitor, on April 4, 1989, by Linda Feldmann
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