Detail from bronze relief on monument in Mogadishu
depicting deeds of Somali patriot Mahammad Abdille Hasan, the
legendary "Mad Mullah"
AFTER SOMALIA GAINED INDEPENDENCE in 1960, its military grew
steadily, despite the country's status as one of the poorest
states in sub-Saharan Africa. Largely under Soviet patronage, the
military expanded from 5,000 troops at independence to 23,000
during the 1977-78 Ogaden War. By 1981 the armed forces had
50,000 personnel; by 1990 that number had increased to 65,000.
Until the Ogaden War, Somalia possessed one of East Africa's
best equipped armed forces. However, Ethiopia destroyed much of
the army's fighting capability during the 1977-78 conflict. To
rebuild its military, Somalia sought assistance from China and a
variety of Arab and Western countries, including the United
Somalia's defeat in the Ogaden War and deteriorating internal
conditions lost the government much of its domestic support. As
the Mahammad Siad Barre regime became more politically isolated,
the president and members of his Mareehaan subclan increasingly
dominated the government, the economy, and the armed forces.
Growing oppression in Somalia forced many critics into exile,
where they organized opposition groups. A lack of resources
initially limited the exiles' opposition activity to propaganda
campaigns and occasional minor guerrilla forays into Somalia.
By the late 1980s, several opposition groups had transformed
themselves into relatively powerful,
clan-based (see Glossary)
insurgent movements. Relying on financial assistance from Somali
exile communities and various foreign governments, the insurgents
grew in strength and numbers. The armed forces, which eventually
faced insurgencies throughout Somalia, gradually disintegrated.
Finally, in early 1991 Siad Barre and many of his closest
Mareehaan advisers relinquished power and fled Mogadishu. If
Somalia were to have a future as a single nation, reconstituting
the armed forces on a more representative basis would be
essential to national unity and stability.