Many northerners, who had taken the brunt of Somalia’s rout in the Ogaden, also discerned a pattern of increasing Darood influence within the regime which found expression in sharpening discrimination against the Isaaq. Meeting in small, secretive groups, Isaaq officers began to formulate plans for safeguarding northern interests. Their efforts produced the Afaraad, the Fourth Brigade of the Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF), the guerrilla vanguard of Barre’s efforts to challenge Ethiopia‘s control of the Ogaden and an instrument, in Isaaq perception, of Daarood hegemony among Ethiopian Somalis. When in 1980, Boobe was named to the WSLF’S central committee, he was already familiar with the subversive nature of the WSLFs Fourth and its Isaaq commander: “Afaraad was formed with the intent of protecting Isaaq interests, with securing weapons from the government so that we could defend ourselves.”

Boobe didn’t join the SNM proper until 1982 when the movement moved its headquarters from London to Dire-Dawa in Thousands upon thousands of cassette tapes and master reels were quickly removed from the soon-to-be targeted buildings. They were dispersed to neighboring countries like Djibouti and Ethiopia the same year that the first Afaraad officers crossed over to the rebels with their troops and their weapons. He defected first to the mainly Majerteen Somali Salvation Democratic Front, then to Aden where he found the atmosphere charged with the heady idealism of a multitude of liberation movements from all over the world. When he finally linked up with the SNM in Ethiopia, the movement was basically an unsophisticated conglomeration of Isaaq’s interests. “We had no real program, no constitution, only guidelines,” he remembers. “Our 1982 charter spoke of unitary government, but we always had the idea of decentralization.” The idea of secession, though unstated, was already a powerful undercurrent in the organization. “Especially among the grassroots,” Boobe remembers. “Only a small group of intellectuals believed that Somalia would remain unified.”

Whatever the rank and file of the SNM might have thought about independence, the leadership had a good reason for not letting it show. From the beginning, according to Mohamed Hashi, Mengistu Haile Mariam, Ethiopia’s strongman, and the SNM’s patron, already had an inkling of the group’s secessionist orientation. In February 1982, he sent his liaison officer with the SNM, Ato Demise, to pass an unmistakable message to the movement’s leadership: a secessionist movement would forfeit the support of the Ethiopian government – a clear indication of Mengistu’s own preoccupation with the war in Eritrea. As long as the SNM remained in Ethiopia, independence would be restricted to the realm of quiet speculation. It could not, and never did become, an overt aim of the movement’s leadership, but its roots run deep among the ordinary fighters. Amina Yusuf, who lived for years in the bush among the SNM guerrillas with her husband, Mohamed Farah “Qadiimi”, was convinced that victory would mean independence: “Only the policy-makers opposed the idea, but the front-line fighters were determined.”


But the SNM did not have a monopoly either on resistance to the Barre regime or on the dream of liberation. While the guerrillas struggled to build an effective military organization in the desolate Ethiopian-Somali border areas, popular anger with the Barre regime was also growing within Somalia itself. Afaraad’s defection and increasingly daring SNM raids led the government to crack down hard in the northwest. General Mohamed Hashi Gaani, a clan relative of the president, took command in Hargeisa, effectively assuming control over all branches of administration. A curfew was imposed and arbitrary arrest, detention, and executions became routine.

Mohamed Barud, Somaliland’s soft-spoken minister of rehabilitation and resettlement, was among the members of a Hargeisa-based dissident group called UFO (Hurricanes). We sympathized with the SNM, but we didn’t know what they wanted to do. People had doubts about them. Maybe they would just write letters from Jeddah and London.” The group decided to take matters into its own hands. At mid-day on June 26, 1981, the anniversary of Somaliland’s independence from the British, Barud, and other members of UFO gathered for a secret flag-raising ceremony. Their banner was a Somali flag with only one point of the Somali star remaining – Somaliland. “You could see we had a vision even then,” Barud remembers, though he admits that independence was not defined as one of the group’s objectives.

Over the next few months, he and several others began to distribute anti-government leaflets in signed with the provocative byline of Ragga U Dhashay Magaalada (Men Born of the City). Equally provocative, they organized a self-help group for Hargeisa hospital, which suffered gravely from government neglect and was barely functional. “It was an act of defiance,” asserts Yusuf Xirsi Garow, another member of the UFO circle. The hospital did indeed become a center-piece of Hargeisa’s resistance to the regime, provoking a response from the government which far exceeded the group’s expectations: Between November 1981 and January 1982, 29 alleged members of UFO were arrested and placed in detention. Barud himself was picked up on November 4 and brought to the headquarters of the dreaded National Security Service or NSS. His interrogation took place in the same room from which he now functions as a government minister, and through his window, he can see the barracks in which he and several others were detained and tortured for the next four months.

“We were never tortured in the town,” Barud remembers. “They would extinguish the lights every night at the same time. Then we would hear the keys – there are so many keys in a prison…Everyone had his heart in his mouth is it me tonight? Then there’s be a ride in a Land Cruiser to a place about 3 miles away. They thought maybe we were part of something big. They would ask us questions like: Do you know Omar Arteh or someone big like that. Most of us didn’t even know each other.”

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