Archive for the ‘1991’ Category


soSomalia (1960- ) is the country at the Horn of Africa. It has produced Iman, the supermodel, as well as pirates who make the evening news. In 1991 Siad Barre was overthrown and the country sank into an unending civil war that goes on even now, 18 years later.

The numbers: in a country of 9 million, 1 million have died in the war and its knock-on effects of famine and disease. Another million have fled their homes, some living in nearby countries, some living in utter poverty just outside the capital, the once beautiful city of Mogadishu. Three million depend on food aid from abroad. It is what is called a failed state.

As I write this on May 22nd 2009 the government is fighting for control of Wadnaha Road – in the capital! That is how weak it is.

In 2006, after years of fighting between warlords, the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) gained control of much of the south and took over the capital. They wanted to rule the country through sharia or strict Muslim law.

It seemed like peace was at hand. But then the UIC threatened a holy war against Ethiopia. So Ethiopia sent in its troops and overthrew the UIC. Ethiopia’s dead soldiers were dragged through the streets of Mogadishu just like the Americans were in 1993. (The way the Americans pulled out shortly after that persuaded Osama bin Laden that they lacked courage, which in turn led to 9/11.)

Ethiopia as a foreign power could not put a strong government in place. As part of a United Nations peace deal, they pulled out in January 2009 and left behind Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed as president. Ahmed used to belong to the UIC and as the new president of Somalia he even set up sharia law.

It sounded good but it did not satisfy everyone, in particular some of the extreme bits of the UIC which now do business as al-Shabab and Hisbul-Islam. They saw Ahmed as a sell-out. They follow a Wahhabi form of Islam, which is far more extreme and Taliban-like than what most Somalis follow.

But, truth be told. al-Shabab is probably less concerned with fine points of religion and more concerned with being in power. They know the government is weak and are going in for the kill.


Because Somalia lacks a strong government it cannot control its long coastline, which is near one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. So no surprise that it has become a nest of pirates.

Somalia was formed in 1960 by joining the Italian colony of Somalia and the British protectorate of Somaliland in the north (now independent again in practice and doing well, unlike the south). Most people are Somalis and Sunni Muslims. Unlike many countries in Africa, Somalia is not divided by religion or language, but it is divided by clan.

In addition to the 9 million Somalis who live in Somalia itself, there are 5 million in Ogaden in eastern Ethiopia, 350,000 in Djibouti, nearly a million in Yemen and a half million in Kenya.


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The image “https://i0.wp.com/images.derstandard.at/20060326/aung-sang-suu-kyi.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.Aung San Suu Kyi (1945- ) is the leader of the movement for democracy in Burma. Her name sounds like “Owng Sahn Soo Chee”. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

In 2007, as I write this, she is under house arrest. She has been in prison or under house arrest for 11 of the past 18 years. Even when she was free in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the government still watched her closely and would not let her leave Rangoon. They would not even let her husband into Burma so he could see her one last time before he died of cancer.

The generals that run Burma will not kill her outright: her father, Aung San, is a hero to the whole country, even to the generals. In the 1940s he fought to free Burma from British and Japanese rule. He was murdered before he could become prime minister. Suu Kyi was two years old at the time.

Like her father, her courage is bottomless. Once she walked right up to a line of soldiers who all had their guns pointed at her ready to shoot.

To her the root of Burma’s troubles is not one of power and violence. They are just side effects of the deeper issue: courage and fear. Because the generals fear the people, they are violent. Because the people fear the generals they do not stand up to them strongly enough to overthrow them.

Her Buddhist faith makes up the heart of her thought, but she has also taken on Western ideas about human rights and democracy and Gandhi’s ideas about bringing change without violence.

Most of her early life was lived quietly abroad: her mother was an ambassador for Burma. Later she went to Oxford University (St Hugh’s) and then married Michael Aris, an English scholar, an expert on Tibet. They had two children.

She raised their family and continued her studies, studying the history of Burma, especially the life of her father.

They had a quiet life in England, but she warned her husband that one day she would have to return to Burma. That day came in 1988 when her mother became very sick. Suu Kyi went back to Burma to care for her.

While she was there huge protests sprang up against the government. The generals sent out their soldiers and killed thousands. She knew what she had to do.

She sent an open letter to the government, demanding a move towards free elections. She spoke at the Shwe Dagon Pagoda in Rangoon to hundreds of thousands. She crossed the country speaking for democracy. She became the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD).

The generals put her and other NLD leaders in prison and let the elections go ahead in 1990. But even with their leaders in prison, the NLD still won a huge victory. The generals never let them take power.

The generals still rule Burma to this day, but her story is not yet over.

– Abagond, 2007.

Update (February 19th 2021): The military allowed limited democracy, starting in in 2010, with Suu Kyi becoming the de facto leader of Burma in 2016. She had no control over the military, yet defended its actions when it ethnically cleansed Rohingya Muslims in 2017! In 2021 the military had her arrested for illegally importing walkie-talkies, which removed her from power.

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