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21 October, 1969: The fateful dayof the Military takeover
By M. Trunji
Friday October 20, 2023

The scourge of military take over in October 1969 was not a bolt from the blue; the threat had been a Sword of Damocles hanging on the head of the civilian administrations at every moment since the Somali Republic was created in 1960. It was an open secret that the military had always a plan to undermine the democratic institutions the execution of which was dependent on the right time, and that time came in October 1969.

In spite of repeated repots of coups in early sixties, few Somalia seemed worried about the scourge of a military take over, as experienced in other African countries of recent independence. The Somali elite believed that the top Somali army officers, formed and educated on loyalty to the constitutional order, in line with Italian military tradition, did not seem intentioned to interfere in the political matters which they considered an exclusive domain of the political class. The Americans cast serious doubt about any trouble that might come to Egal from the older British and Italian trained Officers, but nevertheless, believed there was some real dissatisfaction among the younger Russian and Egyptian trained officers. They were on the opinion, however, that these officers were not yet sufficiently numerous to be able to stage a successful coup, even if they tried to do so. The Americans certainly showed a lack of perceptiveness when they discounted General Siad as the “potential leader of a military coup” (British Embassy, Washington, August 26, 1967)

The Army pledged allegiance to the Republic and to the Head of State

A highly contested political election, the first since independence and the union between the two States of Somaliland and Somalia, was held in March 1964. In the middle of routine consultations, the President was carrying out before the designation of a Prime Minister to form the new government, the political process had suddenly been overshadowed by wide spread speculations about alleged military coup planned to overthrow the government “in the event Abdirashid, the ongoing Prime Minister, was not reconfirmed in his post”. These speculations were categorically denied by the Commander of the National Army, Gen. Daud Abdulla. “The Army and I owe allegiance to the Republic and its President”. Daud stressed. This solemn statement, made by the General in a meeting with President Aden Abdulla, at the presidential Palace, was meant to assure the President that the Army and its Commander were not harbouring intention to interfere with the constitutional prerogative of the Head of State to designate the Prime Minister of his choice. In the meeting, however, the General urged the President to ponder his decision in designating the future Prime Minister. It is reported also that, at the end of the meeting the General quoted a well/know proverb saying “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t”. (Diary May 30, 1964)

The three undisciplined Officers

In May 1966, the Deputy Police Commissioner, General Jama Ali Korshel, in an unplanned meeting, had shared with the Head of the Government an intelligence report, originating from Italian sources, about imminent coup d’état the Army was about to stage. However, the Prime Minister dismissed such report out of hand preferring instead to stick to a report he received on May 24 from General Mohamed Siad Barre on the issue. In fact, on 24 May, Siad Barre went to see the Prime Minister at the latter’s residence, and gave him a detailed report, lasting for more than four hours, covering general situation and the feeling among the Army, now under his Command. Mohamed Siad started his conversation by explaining the reason for his unplanned visit to the Prime Minister. He said that he himself received reports about alleged coup d’état likely to happen. In the course of the meeting the General pointed an accusing finger at three top Officers in the Army, who in consideration of their “stubbornness” and behavior, could be suspected of wrongdoing. He gave the names of: Lieutenant Colonels Mohamed Farah Aidid, Mohamed Nour Barqab and Major Ali Matan Hashi. However, the General concluded his report by ruling out that the three Officers he mentioned were imbued with leftist ideologies. Six days later, the Prime Minister shared with the President of the Republic the intelligence report he received from General Korshel, The President expressed reservations about the likelihood of military coup given the tribal composition of the Army (Diary May 30, 1966)

At about the same time, in a private conversation, Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal, a leading politician from Berbera, shared with Aden Abdulla an intelligence report involving General Siad Barre himself in a conspiracy plan to overthrow the government “in the event the President the Army supports is not elected in the presidential election set for June 1967” However, the President again expressed reservations about the reliability of the report. (Diary April 24, 1966)

Twice in January1967, and less than one year before the presidential election set for June that year, renewed speculations of military plan to overthrow the constitutional order came again to surface and received widespread circulation. It was alleged that, within the national army, two rival groups of army officers, the Darod clan, on one side, and the Issak-Hawiye clans, on the other, were conspiring to overthrow the government. Allegedly, each of the two groups was prepared to pre-empty the other in staging the coup. Once more, in a lengthy report at the Prime Minister’s residence, General Siad Barre reassured the Prime Minister that every thing was in order and that the situation was under control, dismissing the spreading rumors as “alarmist propaganda” fuelled by some army officers and their civilian supporters from the Osman Mohamoud, of the Majeerteen clan. (Diary January 15, 1967)

Siad Barre and his young Colonels had succeeded in misleading the gullible politicians inducing them to believe them, while in reality; they had never abandoned the idea of ascending to power through military action. Evidence shows that they were just buying time; waiting for the right time to act, and the right time came in October 1969. There were two main factors prevailing at the time the military could not hesitate to exploit. The first factor was represented by the public shock generated by the brutal killing of the sitting President of the Republic, the much respected Abdirashid Ali Shermarke on 15 October; the second is generally linked to the fraudulent manner the civilian government had conducted the political elections of March 1969 which had provoked a public outcry. The political elections of March 1969 had entered in Somali history books as “Vote Khasaaray”, (the useless vote) as they turned out to be the most fraudulent elections ever held in the country.

Just about six months since the general elections were held, the military seized power on October 21, 1969 without bloodshed, and Premier Egal and his SYL cronies had little time to enjoy the benefits from the stolen electoral victory. The event marked the end of Somalia’s representative democracy, and saw the beginning of Siad Barre’s long reign.

M. Trunji
E-mail: [email protected]


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