By Yiorgos Apostolopoulos
At the time of independence in 1960, Somalia was touted in the West as the model of a rural democracy in Africa. Tribalism and extended family loyalties and conflicts were the core of the government, and by the late 1960’s, more than sixty parties campaigned for election to a Parliament of one-hundred-twenty-three seats. Democracy had degenerated in to anarchy. Somali corruption astounded even Afrophiles. The last Prime Minister was playing roulette in Las Vegas at the time of the national uprising led by General Mohamed Siad Barre in October, 1969.
This “literacy campaign” formed the basis of the drought relief service. The student-teachers were redirected to refugee centres and, wit hthe help of military advisers, developed also highly organized camps. The government initated a rehabilitation program aimed at ending the traditional nomadic culture, and establishing settled fishing and farming communities for the drought victims.
The new government said it would adapt “scientific socialism” to the needs of Somalia. It drew heavily from the traditions of China. “Volunteer” labor planted, harvested, built roads and hospitals. Almost all industry, banks and businesses were nationalized. Cooperative farms were promoted. The government forbade tribalism and stressed loyalty to the central authorities. An entirely new script for the Somali language was introduced. To spread the new language, and the methods and message of the revolution, secondary schools were closed in 1974, and 25.000 students from fourteen to sixteen years of age were sent to the bush to educate their rural brothers and sisters.
That the present government can control all aspects of life is not doubted by those who know Somalia. Several years ago President Siad Barre announced there would be no further defecation by donkeys on the streets of Mogadiscio. The populace devised ingenious bags to envelope the anal orifices of the bewildered donkeys and there were feces on the streets.
The country is ruled directly by a revolutionary council of military men under General Siad Barre; there have been no elections since the uprisings of 1969. The regime is the most stable and effective government independent Somalia has had.
Despite the drought, there had been considerable agricultural and industrial development in Somalia during the past five years. One of General Siad Barre’s prime revolutionary principles is that nationalism demands that the country, as far as possible, deal with difficulties by relying upon its own resources rather than by seeking external assistance. But in a nation where livestock is the mainstay of the economy, the loss of sixty percent of the animals within the last eight months has forced the country to retreat from this posture.
Apostolopoulos, Leivadi & Yiannakis. The Sociology of Tourism (Hard cover). London, Routledge, 1996. (also released in paperback, 2001)