Mohammed Siyad Barre

(b. 1919)

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(b. Lugh District, Italian Somalia, 1919; d. Lagos, Nigeria, 2 Jan. 1995)

Somali; head of state 1969–91 Son of a herdsman from the Marehan clan of the Darod branch of the Somali, Barre received only elementary education before joining the police force in 1941. He rose rapidly through the ranks, and by 1950 was a chief inspector, the highest position held by a Somali at that time. He transferred to the army in 1952, becoming vice-commander in 1960 and commander in 1965.

Somalia was at that time receiving substantial Soviet military aid and training, and Barre may have had covert Soviet aid when he seized power in October 1969 from the chaotic civilian government. At all events, Somalia was soon declared a Marxist-Leninist state, with a Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party controlled by Barre which was largely cosmetic. His regime had some achievements in its early years, especially in the field of literacy, where it resolved the vexed question of a script for writing the Somali language.

However, with increasing Soviet military support, it became preoccupied with the long-standing Somali aspiration to wrest territory occupied by ethnic Somalis from Ethiopia. Ironically, the invasion meant to achieve this goal was launched in 1977 at the moment when the Soviets transferred their backing to Mengistu's Ethiopia, and the Somalis were routed. Thereafter, the regime was bent on little more than survival, and clan rivalries intensified. The regime's human rights record declined from bad to appalling. Eventually controlling little more than his palace compound in Mogadishu, Barre was obliged to flee in a tank as the country collapsed around him. He spent his remaining years in exile, leaving a disastrous legacy of civil war and famine.

Subjects: Politics.

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