“Back in l993 Harold Marcus and I went to Mogadishu and snuck behind enemy lines and interviewed General Mohammed Farah Aidid, who had a $25,000 price on his head, put on it by the U.N., because of his fighters’ slaughter the Pakistani peacekeepers. I slept in a room in a sweltering house that belonged to the guy who had videod the famous Black Hawk Down incident, which in reality was nothing like the way it was portrayed in the movie. The piece was commissioned by the New Yorker. I am presenting here the full, unedited original text that I sent in. For some reason, it did not run. I heard, don’t know if it’s true, that Henry Kissinger told Tina Brown, the then editor of the magazine, you can’t publish this, it’s an attack on our foreign policy. So my agent sent it to the Los Angeles Times Magazine, which was very excited and all set to run it as a cover story, but then my editor there called me and said, the piece has been killed from on high. I don’t know by whom, or why. She was furious. So we sent it to the Nation, and bless their hearts, they ran “The Warlord Speaks,” as they titled it, on their April 4, 1994 cover.
Harold Marcus has since died. The African Horn has lost one of its greatest scholars. And so has Aidid. He was shot in the back, supposedly in a shootout with a rival clan, but I heard it was actually a member of his own clan. When Harold and I had a banquet with Aidid in a great hall whose walls were lined with his cross-legged followers– we sat at a table in the middle of the room– one of them I noticed was looking at Aidid with such intense hatred that I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had killed Aidid right then and there. Maybe that was his assassin.
17 years later, Somalia is still in a state of anarchy and chronic clan feuding. There’s a promising initiative called Radio Bar-Kulan, a radio station on which all the warring factions and the people who are suffering from the mayhem are invited to air their points of view and experiences. The same people who are putting it together started a similar station in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where there has been civil war since l996, and it has been really helpful in the reconcilation process. Let’s hope Radio Bar-Kulan has the same success in Somalia.
PRESENTING GENERAL AIDID
BY ALEX SHOUMATOFF
Harold Marcus, a Michigan State history professor specializing in the Horn of Africa, was convinced that General Mohammed Farah Aidid, the fugitive embattled chairman of the Somali National Alliance (SNA) was being seriously maligned by the international media and UNOSOM, the United Nations’ “peace-making” operation in Mogadishu. (not to be confused with Unisom, the sleep gels advertised on t.v.) “None of my Somaliist colleagues who know the country has come forth to set the record straight, and it really pisses me off,” he told me over the phone. “Aidid isn’t a ‘warlord,’ he’s a clan leader, and more than that he’s a coalition leader. He’s the only contender with broad-based popular support that cuts across clan lines, but for some reason he’s been demonized, made him out to be some kind of a Saddam Hussein or Noriega.” Then he started going on how about how it had been “amateur hour” at the White House, how Clinton had no one to advise him on how to deal with the “nooks and crannies of the world,” as Lenin described them, so the policy decisions about Somalia had been turned over to the military, and because the only solution the military knows is force, it had needlessly turned a humanitarian and political situation into a military confrontation– which was where Aidid came in : there had to be someone to confront– and so we had found ourselves stuck to this Vietnam-like “tarbaby.”
“What makes you think Aidid isn’t a monster ?” I asked.
“Call it intuition,” he said, “which after thirty years on this beat I’m beginning to trust.” Marcus, known throughout the Horn as the Professor, is fifty-seven– the same age as Aidid by some counts– and he made his first trip to Somalia in l961. “Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia and first name Asiyas of Eritrea are already showing authoritarian tendencies after only two years in power, and Mohamed Siyad Barre [Somalia’s last president, who was taken out by Aidid in January, l991] was a horrible monster, but this guy has the makings of a genuine leader.”
“Well it wouldn’t be the first time we misread an emerging African figure,” I said, recalling how the CIA helped assassinate Zaire’s charismatic prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, in l960, having misconstrued him as a hard-line communist, and set up the legendary corrupto Mobutu Sese Seko, who is still clinging to power on his heavily guarded yacht outside Kinshasa.
I’d followed the Somalian nightmare on the seven o’clock news and in the papers, and had the same feeling as Harold, that something was amiss, that this so-called “warlord” Aidid was probably a perfectly reasonable guy who had been branded by the media and was perhaps also fulfilling a deep-seated American need for a bad guy. In his photos he seemed humble and sincere and was usually smiling broadly, and his statements seemed perfectly rational. Of course appearances can be deceiving, I reminded myself, especially in politics, but the truth of the matter was that no one knew who Aidid really was. The U.N. had put a twenty-five-thousand dollar price on his head, and he was keeping a low profile, probably sleeping in a different house every night as Arafat has done for years. Nor did you get much of a sense from the coverage of who the Somalis in general were. They came across as these incredibly violent, savage stick figures. Obviously this wasn’t the real picture.
“I wonder if there’s any way of getting to Aidid ?” I mused. Harold said he’d reconnoiter the situation. Two weeks passed, and I’d almost forgotten about the whole thing, when Harold called. “I think he wants to see us.” Harold’s Horn contacts had put him on to Aidid’s recently appointed special envoy to the United States, Ali Hassan Gulaid, to whom Harold had explained that we felt the Chairman was being demonized and wanted to present him not as a “warlord” but as an emerging statesman, and to talk to him not about his immediate conflicts with U.S. and U.N. interests, but about the future of Somalia and the role he planned to play in the reconstruction of the country. After checking us out, Ali Gulaid had called Harold and asked for a written proposal, which we drafted and faxed to Ali Gulaid, who faxed it to Aidid. Aidid was impressed with our list of questions and faxed Ali that we were just the people he had been waiting for and to bring us to him immediately. A lot of people, including CNN’s Bernard Shaw, Ray Bradley of 60 minutes, and even the ultra-conservative Pat Buchanan, had approached Ali Gulaid about interviewing Aidid, but he reasoned that they would do an “into the den of the warlord” story, and so the job of explaining Aidid to the world, of performing this “reality check,” to borrow from Dan Rather, went to us. As Aidid told us after the five hours we would spend with him, “You are the first who have been allowed to move freely and to see the true situation of Somalia. I hope what you write will open communications between our countries.”
On November twelfth, Harold and I rendezvoused at Dulles Airport with Ali Gulaid, a short, plump, bearded fifty-two-year-old who goes back with Aidid to Mangera Prison, in northern Somalia, l971- l974. Ali’s offense was to be working in the American Embassy at the time Siad Barre embraced Moscow, Aidid’s to have questioned the legitimacy of Siyad Barre’s coup two years earlier. Ali calls himself a “media specialist” and works two other jobs besides being Aidid’s envoy to support his wife and six kids who live in a Virginia suburb of the capital. Every Somali has a nickname. Ali’s is “Dorf,” which means “world traveler.” He is the first Somali, to his knowledge, to get to Honolulu (for an Afro-Asian seminar in l962). “Aidid” is the prescient nickname of Mohamed Farah, one of sixteen children born to a family of nomadic camel-herders in the Belt-Weyn district of central Somalia, three hundred and fifty kilometers north of Mogadishu. Given by his mother, Faduma Sallah, it means “he who will not be insulted.”
To ensure our safety, Ali was personally taking us to the Man. This was his first trip home in twenty years. Also traveling with us was Ambassador Ahmed Mohamed Hassan “Darman” (“front runner”), a short, moustachioed sixty-two-year old who possessed tremendous quiet dignity and reminded Harold of Haile Selassie. Darman is the second chief in Aidid’s sub-clan, the Habr Gedir, and is in Ali’s words, “the man behind everything.” After representing Somalia in China, the Middle East, Equatorial Africa, and the U.N., Darman gave up his career in l980 to organize the opposition against Siyad Barre. Ten years later he helped draft a manifesto demanding the dictator’s resignation and was condemned to death with forty-four others, but “fortunately everyone in Mogadishu came to the prison with sticks and stones,” he told us. “There was almost a revolution, and we were released.” After Siyad Barre’s overthrow Darman nominated Ali Mahdi, a wealthy Mogadishu hotelier and subsequently Aidid’s bitter rival, to be interim president– something he now deeply regrets. “I put Ali Mahdi in power. I created all the problems.” Ali Mahdi was supposed to serve for only twenty-eight days but he refused to step down, and Darman switched his allegiance to Aidid. “Aidid is for democracy and free-market economy without corruption and nepotism, which is why he fought with Ali Mahdi.” It was Darman who announced on CNN that Michael Durant, the American helicopter pilot captured after the disastrous October 3rd assault on a meeting of Aidid’s advisers, would not be harmed, and Darman who announced, again on CNN, the October 10th ceasfire on behalf of Aidid. According to Ali Guilaid, Darman could be Aidid’s prime minister, but he was content to play the role of “kingmaker.” Darman told us that he was going to Mogadishu, “to put it right. The desire for peace is sensed by everyone.
Aidid must talk to the Americans. They must honor the ceasefire and cease targeting Aidid. All factions must be treated on equal footing, and the Americans must provide limited logistical support for a conference of national reconciliation without interfering in our politics. It is up to the Somalis to solve their own problems.If this is not respected everything will go back to square one.”
The Kenyans wouldn’t let Ali or Darman into the country with their Somali passports, and they were held for twenty-four hours in the transit lounge at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta Airport until we finally got ourselves on a plane to Mogadishu. At one point, waiting for a plane that never showed, Ali struck up a conversation with a woman who was also trying to get to Mogadishu. The woman said she had been strafed by a Cobra helicopter in July while she was walking in the streets of southern Mogadishu and still had a bullet in her body. “Why are they killing us ?” Darman asked. “What do they want from us ?” His questions reminded me of a letter by the Sufi fundamentalist, Sayid Mohamed ‘Abdille Hasan, who for twenty five years beginning in l895 waged a holy war with his Dervish followers against the British, the Italians, and the Ethiopians in Somalia :
I have no forts, no houses… I have no cultivated fields, no silver or or gold for you to take. You gained no benefit by killing my men and my country is of no good to you… The country is jungle… If you want wood and stone, you can get them in plenty. There are also many ant-heaps. The sun is very hot. All you can get from me is war…. If you wish peace, go away from my country to your own.
I asked Darman if there was any similarity between “the mad mullah,” as British called the father of Somali nationalism, and “the warlord” Aidid, and he said, “Aidid is like Sheik Mohamed, except that he is not a fundamentalist, and the sheik belonged to a different clan, the
Ogaden. The sheik tried to unite the clans under Islam, but in Somalia clan supercedes religion. If the Americans try to suppress clannism, however, fundamentalism will rise. The Americans have already created fundamentalism in other Muslim countries. Here, too, there is frustration, and frustration breeds -isms : fascism, Islamism.”
Questioning Ali in rapid Somali, the woman on the bench established that he was Ali Gulaid who belongs to (i.e. is the son of) Hassan Karey, nicknamed Dorf, of the Saad subclan and the Abukar-ulus blood-money-paying group. “This is like your p.o. box or your social security number,” Ali explained. “Now she knows exactly who I am. We’re distant cousins.”
If any statement summarizes the Somalis, it is one by the anthropologist I.M. Lewis : “Political allegiances are determined by descent in the male line.” Every child memorizes the Somali family tree and his place on it. This is the most vital information he will ever learn. The millions of Somalis at each other’s throats today all trace themselves to a single ancestor, the mythical culture hero, Samaale (from so maal, “go and milk,”) who lived twenty-six generations back, according to a lineage one of Aidid’s militiamen chanted for me. Samaale begat six big “clan families,” as Lewis calls them : the Dir, Isaq, Hawiye, and Darod, traditionally pastoral nomads who wander over four hundred thousand square miles of the torrid Horn, following the rains and seeking pasture for their camels, goats, and sheep. Sixty percent of the Somalis are still nomadic, and the estimates of their numbers range from four million to ten million, with eight million probably being the most reasonable guess. The other two clan-families, the Digil and the Rahanweyn, are sedentary farmers who till the fertile land between the Juba and Jebele rivers, in the southern part of the country, and have intermarried considerably with local Galla and Bantu tribes.
As Lewis writes, “the six clan-families are generally too unwieldy to act as effective political units, but in the modern situation of party political competition, such extended kinship links acquired new vitality and significance.” The present conflict within Somalia is three-quarters a showdown between the two largest clan-families, the Hawiye, who have been political outsiders since World War II, and the Darod. Aidid is Hawiye.
The Darod were favored by the colonial powers. Siyad Barre belongs to a Darod subclan, the Marejan, as does his son-in-law Mohamed Siad Hersi, a.k.a “General Morgan,” one of Aidid’s archrivals. Another of his rivals, Mohamed Abshir, is Mujerteen (another Darod sub-clan), as is the supermodel Iman.
Six generations down from Samaale along the Hawiye line you come to Hirab, who had four sons, Habr Gedir, Abgal, Shalkal, and Mahamoud. Ali Mahdi, Aidid’s other archrival, who controls northern Mogadishu, is Abgal. “He is one of us, but the wrong one of us,” Ali Gulaid told me. In all there are thirty-seven sub-clans of Hawiye of which Ali Gulaid claims only two, the Abgal and the Musole, are against Aidid. “The Ogaden [a Darod sub-clan, to which Sheik Mohamed belonged], Dir, Isaq, and Rahanweyn are also with him. He has the majority in all but two of Somalia’s eighteen regions.” The Americans dispute this, claiming that none of the four main faction leaders has a clearcut majority.
By one estimate, Habr Gedir, a nickname meaning “ideal mother” (his real name was Madarki) now has about eight hundred thousand descendants through his five sons, Saad, Ayr, Suleyman, Sarur, and Duduble. Aidid and Ali Gulaid, and most of Aidid’s inner circle, are Saad. “The people who are taking care of Aidid, the real fighters, are Saad,” Ali told me. It is safe to say that the Saad are a hundred percent for Aidid. Ali Gulaid says there are a hundred thousand Saad. Darman is Ayr. For a long time the U.S. State Department used a figure of three hundred to five hundred in Aidid’s core group, the SNA militia, who are mostly teenagers, but even after hundreds of them were killed, their numbers didn’t seem to diminish, so the figure has been upgraded to five to seven hundred, “and there could be a lot more in the category of rabble, who come out of the woodwork as they’re needed,” said David Shinn, the director of the State Department’s Somalia Coordination Staff. Ali said fifty thousand in Mogadishu are protecting him.
The Habr Gedir are proud, fiercely independent nomads from the central hinterland. As Darman put it, “We are camel raisers and livestock raisers and nobody is boss. If you give us the Empire State building, we prefer one hundred camels. If we are not at war with you, we are very friendly and hospitable. We have always had guns so we cannot understand this disarment.” The weapons have changed over the years : spears and leather shields, matchlocks and daggers, by the end of the nineteenth century Mowsers, Remingtons, and Carabini; and now Ak-47s and m-16s, but the basic Habr Gedir outlook has not changed. Darman continued : “If this clan is disarmed, who will protect them from the other clans ?”
Ali argued that the Habr Gedir, being in the middle, are “a connective between many clans in the north and south. Also we were never colonized. We never saw British or Italian ocupation.” From the tenth century on, the pressure of events in Somalian history runs from the interior to the coast and viceversa. Cushitic pastoralists from the lake region of Ethiopia known as the Proto-Sam spread east to the sea, Islam crosses the Red Sea and journeys inland, followed by the colonial thrusts, Sheik Mohamed and his revitilization movement sweep to the sea from the Ogaden (part of Ethipia since l897), and now the Habr Gedir under the leadership of Aidid control the important part of Mogadishu, including the new port and the airport, and many other sectors of the country.
Harold told me that there are two schools of thought in Somali studies. One believes in “the myth of a unified tradition.” In their book, Somalia : Nation in Search of a State, for instance, David D. Laitin and Said S. Samatar write that the Somalis “speak the same language, respond to the same poetry, derive their wisdom (and their experience) from the camel economy, and worship the same god.” But this, said Harold, was “the conventional wisdom, perpetrated by Somali politicians and academics a) so they could continue to have access to the country during the regime of Siyad Barre, who tried to suppress the clans with his warped ‘scientific socialism,’ and b) academics like unity and these were entranced with postcolonial national building ideology. The other school now says this is a chimera, there’s a lot of internal discord, these are a divisive people who were sold a bill of goods that are ‘Somalis” and the minute the central dictatorship falls apart they go their separate ways. Each subclan has its own special poets, competes to the death over waterholes and grazing rights, belongs to slightly different tarijas or brotherhoods of Islam, has its own slang and speaks Somali with a distinctive inflection.”
“What about this term ‘warlord?’ I asked.
“It’s a perjorative, European designation like ‘the mad mullah’ that goes back to the nineteenth century. In some British histories of Ethiopia the generals of Emperor Menelik are called warlords, although they were nothing like the Chinese bandit leaders who had their own private leaders.” The Somali faction leaders were already being referred to as “warlords” in the fall of l992, when world attention focused on the famine caused by the civil war. Aidid is called a “warlord’ in the December 11 Dallas Morning News, two days after the American soldiers land. The reporter probably picked the term up in a briefing. It has obvious media sex appeal, but Ali explained that Aidid is actually an abatira, a “father of war.” In l989, into his sixth year as Somalia’s ambassador to India, a position Siyad Barre had appointed him to to “put him far away,” the Habr Gedir called upon Aidid to lead the opposition against the dictator who it was clear could only be removed by force. The position was analagous to the war chief in a tribal society, or to the chairman of a superpower’s joint chiefs of staff. Aidid, in other words, was comparable to Geronimo or General Powell. Of the two, the image of Geronimo keeping the cavalry at bay for years with his band of several hundred Chiricahua Apaches is more on the mark. General Powell even said on CNN December 5, three days before the landing of UNITAF, UNISOM’S American precursor, “it’s sort of like the cavalry coming to the rescue, straightening things up while letting the marshals come back in to keep things under control.”
Monday morning, the fifteenth. Darman has arranged a flight to Mogadishu for us on a former-Soviet Ileutian-76 troop carrier contracted by UNOSOM, a gas guzzler compared to its American counterpart, burning twelve tons of fuel the first hour, which UNOSOM pays. But then the Russian pilots come much cheaper, for only $1600 a month, which they are delighted with. Back home, one of them tells me, the pay is fifty dollars a month “in good times,” a commercial pilot. And the Bangladeshi soldiers are delirious to be making six hundred a month compared to two hundred a year back home. At least somebody is benefiting from UNOSOM.
The plane is completely empty. It’s like a charter flight for the four of us. Darman passes around a box of Crackerjacks and teaches me how to wind a turban around my head. By coincidence we catch the same plane on the way out, and again, except for a mustering-out Aussie, we have it to ourselves. “I’ll bet ninety percent of UNOSOM is wasted motion,” Harold remarks as we touch down. Flinging open the door into hundred-degree heat Yuri, the pilot from Kiev, says with a thick accent and a florid wave of his hand, “Welcome to Mogadishu.”
There are no formalities; there has been no government for two and a half years. Harold, descending the ladder, says : “This is the first time I am stepping into anarchy.” The Russians suggest we check in with our command, but instead we pile into a Toyota Land Cruiser belonging to SAVE OUR CHILDREN that is waiting on the runway and drive away. Our driver and bodyguard are wanted by UNOSOM for the October 3 “Battle of Mogadishu,” as it is already being called. “We were just defending our houses,” the driver, a twenty-year-old whose SAVE THE CHILDREN badge identifies him as Abdulkala Sheikomar, tells me. (He said by all means to use his name.) “The Rangers had no right to come in.”
We drive past an olive-drab tent city with helicopters zipping around it just as in M.A.S.H.. and pull over for a convoy of Humvees, five-ton trucks with 60-caliber machine guns mounted on them, and futuristic personnel carriers that is more like Apocalypse Now. Harold dubs the two billion-dollar, eighty-three-acre, thirty-two-country compound, walled with sandbags and concertina wire, this surreal carbuncle at the edge of the flattened city, UNISOMLAND. The scale of the operation, the overkill, is staggering, the sort of presence you might want to put together if you were going to take France, hardly what the neutralization of a couple of hundred teenagers calls for. Out in the city, Darman tells us, there has been no plumbing or electricity for two years. “Mog,” as the Americans call it, has returned to the pre-industrial age, just as the country has disintegrated into its precolonial state of warring clans. Water is being drawn from wells and delivered in oil drums by burros. But UNISOMLAND boasts hot showers, pizza, the World Series by satellite– all the comforts of home. For UNISOMLAND’s sizeable redneck contingent Somalia is Vietnam revisited. Instead of the Kong, these are the Sammies. The soldiers speak of “taking back the streets” and “waxing,” “wasting,” or “smoking” the Sammies, just as Desert Storm rednecks spoke of “nuking the sand niggers.” There are Sammy jokes like “What do you call a Sammy with a dime on his head ? A ten-penny nail.” Others don’t understand why we are here and feel for the Sammies although they have never met one. “The opportunities for cross-cultural contact are zero,” a Special Forces sergeant who helped us get a flight out told me. “There are two fronts to this war. One is the streets of Mog, the other is the television set.”
For the Habr Gedir, UNOSOM became by June another hostile clan. “We call Boutros Boutros-Ghali [the U.N. secretary-general], Warlord, and General Howe [who is running the military side of UNOSOM] Animal Howe.” Americans are maraika (which sounds like some of our Southwestern tribes’ transliterations : the Zuñis’ melika, the O’odham’s meligan, the Navajos’ bilagaana). Whites in general are gallo, camels, “which has a lot of meanings,” Ali explained– “like uncivilized, white Christian infidels who have no mercy for the others.” The Habr Gedir yell up to the American black soldiers rolling down the streets of Mog in tanks and personnel carriers, “Forget those camels. Come with us.”
We pass through a checkpoint manned by “Pakis”– Pakistanis– and enter what is left of the city. Abdulkala points out “the hotel of the journalists.” Seventeen journalists, we later learn, have been holed up there for weeks trying to get an interview with Aidid. (After a video of our first, three-hour session with him was screened at the hotel, all of them left the next day. One was so angry he apparently trashed a table.) The journalists belong to another important clan : the media clan, run by the Newslord Turner, the person who actually determines U.S. policy. The media clan a very specific subculture. They work the streets together and go to the press conferences together. The cameramen have long hair and bracelets dripping on their arms. It’s a young man and woman’s game. Few are over thirty-five. The correspondents based in Nairobi have dozens of countries to cover and spend their time flying from killing ground to killing ground. Pinned down in the local journalists’ hotel they rarely are able to get to the people, and when they do, rarely have the the space or the knowledge to do them justice. There are
stereotypes that must be touched base with in packaging a country for American consumption. Uganda, for instance, is still AIDS and Idi Amin. Americans don’t hear about the great things its president Yowari Museveni is this is not news. Bullets are not flying and people are not getting killed. Somalia is the country with warlords and savage stick figures. But here there’s an excuse for not getting to the people. It can get you killed, like the four photographers who were stoned and dismembered by a swarm of Habr Gedir women on July 12th.
One correspondent I caught up with in Nairobi had just come from Burundi, where hundreds of thousands are being killed in a flareup of Hutu and Tutsi ethnic strife. “Burundi was refreshing,” she told me, “because they were only trying to kill each other.” She had lost eight colleagues this year and had spent the better part of it in the hotel of the journalists; the l993 edition of Africa, because of the American involvement, was Somalia. “I hate Mog, because you can’t move,” she said. “and everybody lies to you, including UNOSOM.” She bought into the monster move. To her Aidid couldn’t be demonized because he was a demon. “Look at his eyes. They’re the eyes of a killer. I call him Alligator Eyes. I’m no psychologist, but something broke down long ago. They say he snapped in prison.” She was convinced Aidid would be a very ruthless dictator in a few years. “Look at the very planned way he escalated the war.”
In their downtime, the cameramen made rock videos with their footage of firefights in the streets of Mog. One of them caught a stunned Brazilian colleague just after a bullet entered the lens of the camera he was filming with, saving his life. Looking down at his shattered Betamax, he says, “That’s it. My work is over. I’m going back to Brazil.”
Mogadishu dates to at least the ninth century. The name comes from Mag’ad shah, the Seat of the Shah, suggesting a possible Persian role in its founding. The sultan of Zanzibar sold it to Italy in l905. This is not the first time it has been destroyed. In l846-8 the French explorer
Charles Guillain found Mogadishu in ruins, its population, ravaged by famine and an outbreak of plague, down to five thousand, with the two quarters of the city, Homarweyn and Shangani, run by rival leaders.
Until a few years ago Mogadishu was a pleasant, laid-back oasis of white-washed adobe compounds shaded by palm trees and threaded with narrow weaving alleys. Harold remembers the joyous din of the birds greeting the rising sun.
But now the birds were gone. This was one of the first things Harold would notice. The sun rose instead to a constant drone of unpiloted reconnaisance planes overhead, guided by computers on the carriers off the coast, which Aidi’s militiamen called motoerka, motorcylces in the sky. Much of southern Mogadishu had been leveled. Darman’s villa and his 1.2-million-dollar wire factory were gutted. Few of the walls still standing had escaped strafing. The streets were strewn with scorched, twisted cars and tanks. They not been cleaned in months and a six-inch layer of toxic dust swarming with insects hovered over them. “Everything has been destroyed,” said Ali, devastated. “After thirty years of independence it has come to this.”
Harold, who had last seen Mogadishu in l981, had tears in his eyes. “It’s unutterably said,” he said. “This was a beautiful city. That’s what’s so tragic about Africa– the nihilistic politics. Power must be an incredible narcotic for leaders to be willing to destroy their countries for it.”
Everybody stared at us from the sidewalks. They are thinking, Who are these gallo ? This is absolutely restricted, Ali told us. We reached the old Italian barrio of Casa Popular, which had been the chiquest part of town. The metal gates of a compound opened and we pulled into the garage of what had once been an elegant, expensively tiled villa. Half a dozen young men with Ak-47’s and m-16s, heavy-caliber machine guns on low tripods, and rocket grenade launchers came to greet us. They were S.N.A. militiamen– our bodyguard, Ali explained. A young man named Abdullah Farah Duhuf, who shot videos, gave me his bedroom. Sandals and long skirts called maawis were brought to us. Ali set his rug out in the livingroom and prayed. “I’m so tired,” he said. “I haven’t been able to pray for five days.”
For four days a constant stream of relatives and friends and anybody who was anybody in the Habr Gedir or the SNA and even people from other clans who didn’t get along with each other came to greet Darman. You could guage their importance by the degree to which they dared open the livingroom door, or whether, slipping off their shoes, they would take a seat near Darman or across the room. We met several hundred people, holy men whose hair and beards were dyed red with senna, a twelve-year-old veteran of the Battle of Mogadishu, the prince of the Al subclan, who said, ” I’m glad you’ve come to realize who was causing the problem. I’m glad the world can see what UNOSOM cannot see.”
By late afternoon, many of the visitors and almost all the young militiamen were chewing qat (pr. chat), the succulent leaves and shoots of Catha edulis, a plant with stimulant properties comparable to benzedrines. Ali chewed, Darman didn’t. Neither did Aidid. I chewed qat for a few hours two nights running and found it surprisingly agreeable. It revved you up a little, but you stayed relaxed, even slightly euphoric. “You lose your inhibitions and start telling the truth then you don’t remember what you said,” Ali told me. Qat is said to be non-addictive and to have no side effects except that it keeps you awake. Sufis of the Qadriya order munch a bundle of qat before their nightlong services. The plants are grown in northern Kenya and in Ethiopia, where the best qat is from, and are flown in daily. The market is estimated to be worth one to five million dollars a month and was cornered by the Saad after the departure of Siyad Barre. Most Somalis over the age of twelve are qat chewers. A day’s supply– a large bundle weighing a pound or so– costs five dollars, and with Somalia’s per capita income of Somalia only around four hundred dollars, how can a qat chewer afford his habit ? I asked Ali. He explained : “It’s community life. They live with each other. If one doesn’t have it he gets it from the other.” The S.N.A. miliatiamen are paid in qat.
The militiamen weren’t these qat-crazed kids bombing around in light trucks called “renegade technicals” with 60-caliber machineguns mounted in back. They seemed to be clear-headed, cleancut young men. They read the Koran and didn’t drink. “We are police, peacekeepers, to prevent the thieves,” one of them told me. “We like the fight is finished.”
There was no running water in the villa, but a generator, one of the few in Mogadishu, was brought so we could watch videos of incredibly violent Chuck Norris and Jean Claude Van Damme movies, which the young militiamen studied closely. “That Italian BBJ machine guns is no good,” one of them told me. After a scene in which van Damme rolls across a floor firing two pistols at once, I asked him if he could do that, and he said, “Better.”
While awaiting the call from Aidid, we rehashed the tangled chronology of hostility and counter-hostility. The Habr Gedir side of the story was quite different.
Aidid is blamed by some for destroying Mogadishu, but Ali pointed out that when Aidid and his SNA forces entered Mogadishu in January, l991, they only had light weapons, and it was Siyad Barre who pounded the city with heavy artillery before fleeing south. Then there was the “Manifesto War” between Aidid and Ali Mahdi. In November Aidid re-entered Mogadishu, and the city was trashed again. Africa Watch, the human-rights organization, estimates that in Mogadishu alone between November 17, l991 and February 29 of the following year, fourteen thousand Somalis were killed and twenty-seven thousand were wounded, many of them civilians. Ali shrugged this off. “Mahdi started it.”
Siyad Barre was still in the south, and as he retreated he followed a scorched-earth policy and
looted “every bit of grain” before finally escaping over the Kenya border on April 21. Hundreds of thousands of Somalis were displaced, women and girls were raped, young men were tortured and mutilated because of their clan affiliation. By the fall the refugees began to starve. The media arrived and horrible scenes of barely living Somali skeletons appeared on television screens around the world. Aidid was blamed for the situation because the “triangle of death,” between the cities of Mogadishu, Bardera, and Kismayo, where most of the starvation was taking place, was in his territory, and his militia, who had been recruited with the promise of loot, were out of control there and in Mogadishu, where according to a State Department source they were ripping off ninety percent of the food that arrived in the port in return for “protection” to the humanitarian group trying to distribute it. But Ali maintained that the famine and the atrocities were caused by Siyad Barre and his hordes. “Everybody was against us for no reason. Aidid had nothing to do with starvation, nothing to do with famine. Beginning in April he stationed himself at Bardera and for six months he called to the world for help.”
Harold take was, “This was a political famine. Every famine in Africa is the outcome of a political struggle, even when natural forces conspire to produce it. What we’re seeing in Somalia is the culmination of fifteen years of dependency on outside assistance. It started with the drought in the Ogaden and changed the economic structure, making government a very different game for those in power. Instead of camels and women, you could get camels, women, money, guns, and prestige. Aidid and his rivals are just trying to ensure that his people get whatever goodies are available– contracts for the movement of food, protection of trucks and truck crews, etc..”
The footage from Somalia was so shocking to the American people that Bush was forced to take action. This was the first time the media, particularly CNN, influenced, or even determined,
Washington’s Somalia policy. Harold had a source in the State Department who had played a key role in the “mess in Somalia,” as he now called it, and was disgusted with the way the White House and the United Nations handled themselves. “They behaved in a totally feckless and unstrategic manner. Even when they were under attack, they were reactive all the way.” This Deep Throat, whom we conference-called at a phone booth in one of the mid-Atlantic states, explained that Bush, “in his final act as president, wanted to do something dramatic to show how the United States could play a new role in the New World Order. So to get CNN off his back and show that we were doing something for the starving people of the world, he came up with the ‘armed humanitarian.’ The military, coming off the Gulf War, was the obvious way to go. The same gang were put in charge of Operation Restore Hope : Lt. General Robert B. Johnston, USMC, who led UNITAF into Somalia, had been Schwartzkopf’s deputy in Desert Storm. Both operations were run out of Central Command in Tampa, and the greatest irony and frustration is that the same group at the operational level that developed the Somalia policy for Bush– Oakley [Robert, the special envoy to Somalia], Hoar [Gen. Joseph, the liaison at CENTCOM between Johnston and the Pentagon], Howe, Richard Clarke at the National Security Council, Frank Wisner at Defense– remain in more or less the same positions under Clinton. They are are all in the same extremely conservative bag. If you are as intrigued by conspiracy as I am, you might wonder at the loyalties of that group, which seems to share a great deal of interest in ensuring that the original, fundamentally flawed Bush policy is not brought into question.”
What exactly was the Bush policy ? I asked. “Eschewing the dreaded notion of ‘mission creep,’ keeping those miserable ‘nation-builders’ at State at arm’s length, Bush’s policymakers envisioned a limited Salvation Army role. We would not get involved in Somali-on-Somali violence, disarming, or protecting individual humanitarian groups, and this led us into a political anomaly,
the Immaculate Intervention, where we were above the local politicians– an error of major dimensions.”
In an article called “Testing the World’s Resolve in Somalia,” Walter S. Clarke, who arrived at Mogadishu in March as the deputy chief of the U.S. Liason Office (which was functioning in the absence of an embassy), writes, “By its very nature, Operation Restore Hope was always more than a simple humanitarian operation. The introduction of substantial international force… disrupted the balance of power among the warlords who had spent the previous two years ravaging the country. It was only a matter of time before a violent response developed to the intervention.”
On December 9th the first troops– some Navy Seals with heavy packs, their faces smeared with green camouflage paint– waded through the waves to the strobelit beach of Mogadishu, where sixty media people, including a safari-jacketed Dan Rather, his hair fluttering in the desert breeze, were on hand to greet them.
As David Shinn admits, “This was a country that we went into for a good cause but didn’t know very much about.” In retrospect, it is clear to State Department officials, who played what Deep Throat described as an “almost invisible” role in the “mess in Somalia,” that the Joint Chiefs of Staff and CENTCOM, who were given control of the operation, didn’t do their homework. Relying on old informants who were biased toward the Darod and on skewed clan-demographics figures from the Siyad Barre period, they understimated the strength, support, and determination of Aidid. The take on Aidid was that he was an unsavory character, a warlord who had killed people by commission and omission, and should not be given legitimacy.
There is no evidence that anyone sat down and talked with Aidid to find out what he was about. He was simply assumed to be, and cast a warlord, a bad guy.
But Ali said, “The Habr Gedir greeted the Americans with roses. We said to the State Department, We are the strongest tribe. Tell us your agenda and we will protect your interests. But they killed Aidid’s supporters without knowing who he was. The guy is not anti-American, so why make him out to be ? They say he is a fundamentalist and this is not true. He’s very strong, honest, and courageous. He defeated all the generals, so why not negotiate with him ?” To this Harold added, “Aidid was the first kid off the block to support the American entry. He wanted to be our lapdog, but we kicked him, and when you kick a dog, it bites. So Aidid decided to annoy us so we would have to deal with him. He’s an expert urban guerilla and he knows how to manipulate his people emotionally, he understands Somali nationalism.” But Deep Throat saw Aidid’s welcome of the Americans as disingenuous : “Right up to November he threatened to resists any foreign military coming in. Then Bush made his speech about how 28,000 people were coming with guns. Aidid may be evil, nasty, and mean, but he isn’t stupid. He has the art of turning every situation so he comes out at the center of it. He caved into an intervention that he obviously couldn’t stop.”
Trying to nail down the chronology of Aidid’s demonization, the motives for it, or whether it even happened, is not easy because as David Shinn said, “There’s a certain amount of revisionism going on in Washington.” Deep Throat, who was not an Aidid fan, found the demonization theory simplistic. “There was a certain inevitability to the conflict. Aidid wasn’t demonized to justify the operation [as I had just suggested]. The two billion dollars were already spent before he became the demon. What Aidid is is a very flawed potential leader. If you look at the political geography of the country, a musclebound Hawiye is not going to be any more acceptable to the majority of Somalis than a musclebound Marejan. We weren’t taking sides against Aidid. We just weren’t favoring him. In fact, in the beginning we accorded him quasi-
presidential status. We tried to be neutral, but we were living and working in his part of town. We hired his people and his cars. We even rented a water truck he had stolen from the U.S. Embassy.”
Shinn admits that Aidid was demonized, but not until June. “Prior to December 9th all the faction leaders were out to aggrandise their own power and were killing a lot of Somalis in the process,” he told me. “We weren’t picking on Aidid. For the first several months he was treated equally, but he seemed more significant because he had a bigger militia force than Ali Mahdi or Mohamed Abshir.” But Ali Gulaid maintained that Aidid was definitely not the Western choice to run Somalia. Boutros-Ghali favored Mahdi, while there was a U.S. lobby for Abshir that included April Glaspie, the State Department’s troubleshooter who took the rap for giving Sadam Hussein the go-ahead to invade Kuwait and came to Mogadishu in May to advise General Howe. Abshir was the old colonial police chief and the C.I.A. had been dealing with him for years. “He mingled well with expats and the Americans were comfortable with him,” Deep Throat told us, “plus he was still very poor, he couldn’t afford to send his kids to college, so the assumption was he was honest.” Ali said that Abshir was also tight with Saudi Arabia’s King Fahad, who had given him two wives and villas in Mecca and Medina. The Darod are pro-Saudi– their mythical founder, Sheik Darod, is believed to have been Saudi– while Aidid and the Hawiye in general are pro-black Africa, which may have added to the problems the Americans had with him. The only strategic American interest in Somalia anyone could come up with was that we would like there to be harmony and stability at Saudi Arabia’s back door.
Whether or not Aidid was being shunned, a remark Robert Oakley made at a press conference in January was certainly threatening. Comparing the warlords to chickens, he said that UNITAF would pluck their feathers one by one, until they could no longer fly. UNITAF and its successor, UNOSOM II, which took over on May 5, were both Chapter 7, “peace-making” operations– a new concept, as opposed to Chapter 6, “peacekeeping” ones, which all the previous operations of this type had been. The “rules of engagement” (a great title for a steamy XR movie) for a Chapter 7 operation are different. The troops have more latitude. It is okay to shoot on sight someone who is toting a submachinegun, for instance, even if he isn’t threatening to use it, which happened a few days before we got to Mog. Chapter 6 forces must yield to any local power group, but not so with Chapter 7 forces : in the absence of a central government, they can even become the de facto government. Which was obviously very threatening to Aidid. He had defeated his most powerful adversary, Siyad Barre, and was in the process of knocking off his remaining ones, none of whom posed anywhere as serious a problem, when in comes UNITAF and tries to snatch his victory from him.
UNITAF enjoyed a measure of success : the roads were opened, so only three hundred and fifty thousands of the million qand a half Somalis “at risk” of starving to death actually did. The technicals were dismantled, the bandits were absorbed either into clan militias or ngo’s, where they continued their ripping off; a quarter of the food that lands in Mog still doesn’t make it on the trucks, we were told. By March the United States had a policy of sorts that was none to Aidid’s liking : the existing leaders were all tainted, so instead of playing ball with them and trying to work from the top down to establish a political process that would include all Somalis, it was decided to work from the bottom up, empowering district and regional councils that would eventually come together and choose a national leader.
“We were skeptical about the idea that all these warlords would become political leaders and be interested in other people’s views,” Deep Throat explained., “Al Capone could have become a politician but it was working so well the other way, so why bother ?”
February 5th was for the Habr Gedir the first turning point in the deterioriation of their relationship with the intervention forces. Bush had sent conflicting signals on his December 4th address to the American people about “the tragedy in Somalia.” “We do not plan to dictate political outcomes. We respect your sovereignty and independence… but we will not tolerate armed gangs ripping off their own people, condemning them to death by starvation.” On February Siyad Barre’s remnant horde of Marejan, now led by his son-in-law General Morgan, defeated four hundred and fifty of Aidid’s troops and took over the southern port of Kismayo. Ali told me that Morgan arrived in an American helicopter but Shinn says this is ridiculous. “Morgan’s troops infiltrated the city over a period of several weeks, and we just didn’t have a big enough presence to prevent that kind of infiltration.”
In any case, Aidid, feeling as if one of his important feathers had been plucked, was convinced that the UNITAF had handed the city to Morgan. “From that moment the United States was no longer a neutral humanitarian,” Darman told us. “It became an adversary.” Thousands of Habr Gedir took to the streets of Mogadishu hurling stones and menacing foreigners. The SNA’s broadcasts on Radio Mogadishu became more and more stridently anti-American and after UNOSOM 11 took over from UNITAF, anti-United Nations. Most of the charges of neocolonial imperialism were levelled at Boutros-Ghali. The Habr Gedir’s deep distrust of Boutros-Ghali and Egyptian expansionism goes back to when he was Egypt’s foreign minister and according to Ali, Darman, and Aidid, cut a deal with Siyad Barre to move ten thousand Egyptian fellahin to the fertile land between the rivers and “six thousand troops and sell us their spare parts for millions of dollars and introduce Nasser socialism.” “Boutros-Ghali doesn’t want peace,’ Darman told me. “He wants the discord to continue so he can be vindicated. He wants animosity against the Americans so he can bring in Egyptian soldiers.”
“The turning point that eventually led to open conflict between Aidid and UN forces began innocently enough,” Walter Clarke writes. On the thirteenth of May Aidid sent a letter requesting UN support for a conference to settle political differences between Habr Gedir and Mujerteen forces in central Somalia. UNOSOM agreed, but soon it and Aidid quarreled about who was to run the conference, and UNOSOM “belatedly realized it had been duped… had agreed to sponsor a conference designed to raise the politicial profile of Aidid, its primary antagonist, at the expense of its own authority.” So it pulled out, and Aidid had his own conference in Mogadishu. One of the parties who signed the non-aggression pact on June 4 was Abdullah Yousuf, the number two man in Abshir’s Somali Salvation Party (SSDF). Aidid and Yousuf had been in the army and in prison together and they used to be good friends. Now they were again. As Harold pointed out, “The elite may be temporarily enemies but they all went to the same schools and were in jail together, so it’s a complex chess game.”
It would appear that Aidid’s position was strengthened by this important alliance, but both Shinn, Deep Throat, and other Western players, claim that his power was slipping and that he needed to do something dramatic to attract attention. As evidence of this Deep Throat cites a meeting in north Kenya the same day of Habr Gedir elders who decided not to join him in the war he had been planning to make on UNOSOM since the fall of Kismayo. Cleverly, Aidid awaited the departure of UNITAF, realizing that the thirty-two country Tower of Babel in UNISOMLAND would be an easier foe.
That evening General Howe sent a letter to Aidid saying that a detachment from UNOSOM would be coming to disarm the radio station. Deep Throat called this letter “the height of folly. It forewarned Aidid and gave him the opportunity to set up an ambush.” Aidid claims he never got the letter and had nothing to do with the attack on the Pakistanis who came to disarm the radio
station, but he may have thought they were coming to take out the radio station, to pluck another of his feathers, by shutting down his main line of communications to the people (which UNOSOM did a few days later). In any case, these Pakis and several other details around the city, including one that was guarding women and children at a feeding station, were simultaneously set upon. Shinn believed the attacks were carefully coordinated. When the smoke clear, twenty-three Pakis were dead and fifty-six wounded. Aidid claimed he had nothing to do with it. If he wasn’t a demon before, he was now.
The Pakis were not only killed, but mutilated. This didn’t come out in the media coverage, but their hands and testicles were cut off, and each of their heads had three long, deep gashes in them. This was done by Habr Gedir women. Darman was surprisingly open about the practice. “The women are particularly ferocious,” he said. “They talk about the Americans, about UNOSOM, but the women are always aggressive. They incite the men. During independence all the women sold their gold to finance the campaign for freedom without permission from their husbands. During the fighting they do mashhard, ululating, and they come to the wounded and terminate life possibilities.” The Pakis were not mutilated, Darman claimed. They were struck three times in the head with large kitchen knives to ensure that they were dead, and “not the whole hand was cut, only here–” he assured me, chopping his right wrist with the edge of his left hand. This is standard Muslim practice, Harold explained, cutting off the hand that did the wrong. Thieves are routinely amputated in the Arab world. As for the removal of the testicles, Harold said it was a common practice on the Horn that originated in the lowlands of northern Kenya and spread to people like the Oromos, the Amharas, and the Somalis the way scalping spread from the Indians to the pioneers on the American frontier. “After the Adwa battle of l896 the Ethiopians cut the testicles off the wounded Italians– the worst thing you could do to an Italian. This entered the mythology of African barbarity so that when Haile Selassie returned to Ethiopia with the British in l941, the Italians were so terrified they stayed in their forts.”
To what extent the mutilation of American soldiers hastened Clinton’s decision to disengage from Somalia is an interesting question. Were the women instructed to mutilate the dead and wounded, or was it just customary? And were they taking subconscious revenge for their own genital mutilation? The practice of infibulation is still widespread in Somalia and on the Horn in general. At the age of seven or eight girls are put under the care of an old woman who cuts off their clitoris, parts of their labia maiora, and the superficial lamellae of the labia minor. The two parts are held together with the help of acacia thorns until after about forty days they heal over as one. When a girl is about to marry, she is deinfibulated with a longitudinal incision. The purpose of the practice is to keep girls virgin for their husbands, or if the girl has lost her virginity, to make it appear that she is “fresh.”
The next day the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution calling for the arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators.
A few days later American bombers took out the radio station “but we bought another radio that we can move from place to place,” Ali said. “They keep jamming it.”
On June 17 the UNOSOM clan, seeking vengeance, bombarded and stormed Aidid’s command center. Low hovering Cobra helicopters iluminated the streets with powerful searchlights and strafed women and children. If there was any love of Americans left among the Habr Gedir, it died that day. Aidid wasn’t there. One of the books found in his bedroom was The United States Constitution.
That night Aidid officially became a wanted man, as yellow leaflets offering a $25,000 reward to
whoever brought him to Gate Eight of the American Embassy were dropped by choppers all over the city.
On July 12 there was another bombing that didn’t get much coverage but was according to Ali and Darman the second turning point for the Habr Gedir in their deteriorating relationship with UNOSOM. About seventy-five Habr Gedir elders belonging to the United Somali Congress (USC), which had taken out Siyad Barre and of which Aidid was chairman, decided to have a meeting “to find out how to start a dialogue with UNOSOM;” the Times would call it a “strategy session.” Ali claims that the chairman of the meeting, Sheik Mohamed Iman, told General Howe about the meeting an hour before it convened. It was massively bombarded, and seventy-three people were killed, including Sheik Mohamed, Abdul Karim Yousuf of the Southern Somali National Movement (SSNM), Ali Yow Noor of the Somali Democratic Movement (SDM), three of Ali’s closest friends, and five members of Darman’s family. After the bombing stopped the women came to take care of the dead and wounded, and after twenty minutes the planes and choppers returned and resumed bombing and strafing. It was during this second attack that the woman we met in Nairobi was shot. Ali said he had a video of American soldiers kicking the bodies.
Later in the day three Reuters photographers and one AP photographers were dragged out of their cars, stoned to death, and mutilated by a swarm of Habr Gedir women. Donatella Lorch, the Times Nairobi correspondent, wrote a moving tribute in the Sunday Magazine to one of them, 22-year-old Dan Eldon. Dan was “one of the few who really liked Somalia.” He “worked the crowds like a magician… spewing out Somali swear words that shocked youths into not stealing his cameras,” ran a t-shirt and postcard business on the side, and was so well known the Somalis called him the Mayor of Mogadishu.
As Aidid remained elusive, the focus shifted to capturing his key lieutenants. Osman Atto, his main financier and arms supplier, in whose garages the SNA’s technicals were assembled and serviced, was taken into custody. Atto had been Conoco’s agent since the fifties and was a “good friend of America,” Ali said– he was the landlord of the old American embassy, and his caterpillars and graders had helped build UNISOMLAND. General Howe engaged in what Defense Secretary Lee Aspin would later describe as “frenetic and obsessive lobbying” for more troops, including the elete Rangers and Delta Force commandoes to help in the capture of Aidid. The CIA endorsed the view already held by Clinton and the U.N. that Aidid was “a threat to peace” and “a disruptive force who would interfere with the rebuilding of Somalia.”
In mid-September (I got this from a young South African cameraman who worked for Reuters and was cycling to the Baghdad watch) the Nigerians replaced to the Italians, who had made a deal with the S.N.A. : no arms searches in return for not firing on their checkpoints. Essentially the Italians had agreed not to do the job they were there for. But they didn’t tell the Nigerians who took over their posts what the deal was, and when the Nigerians attempted to seach for arms seven of them were killed, their testicles and ears were chopped off, their penises were stuffed in their mouths, and children danced on their bodies.
Adept at urban warfare, the SNA fighters harrassed convoys with r.p.g.’s and anti-aircraft guns and laid remote-controlled mines which they detonated the next day as a convoy drove over them. “Every time a convoy was blown up it was blamed on Aidid,” the cameraman told me, “but it could have been bandits or any one of five other clans. UNOSOM kept lying to us. They’d say we only fired one missile over there when we knew they’d fired six. Everybody was lying.”
Clinton authorized the elete Rangers from Fort Bragg, the American equivalent of the Israeli commandoes who rescued the hostages at Entebbe airport, to join the fray. On October 3 intelligence was received that Aidid’s aides would be having a meeting at the Olympia hotel in an hour’s time. The Rangers were flown to the hotel in Blackhawk helicopters, and descending quickly on ropes, captured the aides. But then one of choppers was shot down, and the back-up, a convoy of five-ton trucks and humvees that was supposed to come and take them out, was ambushed, and the Rangers were stuck there for eighteen hours, under withering fire from the SNA militia. Eighteen of them were killed and seventy-five were wounded– the heaviest casualties to a single unit since Vietnam. But a number of people in UNISOMLAND stressed that the Rangers waxed three hundred Sammies and wounded seven hundred more– so they actually won the Battle of Mogadishu. What didn’t come out in the coverage– Abdukala Sheikomar, who was there, told us this : the Rangers went into houses and into a school and took women and children hostages. “It was smart of them,” Abdukala said, “or they would all have been killed.” “So the big brave Americans took little kids hostage,” Harold said.
Footage of Michael Durant, the only surviver of the downed helicopter, leaning against a wall and grimacing bravely with a broken leg, was taken by an SNA cameraman and delivered to CNN, as were scenes of the corpses of the Rangers being dragged through the streets. I remember shuddering at a close-up of one’s scivvied anus being prodded with a rifle-tip. The extent of the mutilation was not publicized, but it was too much for the American people to see our boys being descrated like this. If the Americans won the street battle, they lost it on the television screen. Now, as Ali put it, “Aidid had Washington in his pocket.” Clinton stopped his day in California, and went on the air to tell the American people, That’s it. We’re out of there March 1st. The Newslord had determined U.S. policy a second time. Darman went on CNN to say that Durant would not be harmed. According to Darman, General Howe offered a hundred thousand dollars to whoever killed Durant “to show that we were not real people to deal with.
Other clans took the money and did nothing.”
In the days that followed there was a lot of fingerpointing, as the White House, the State Department, and the Pentagon tried to distance themselves from the U.N. and General Howe. Warren Christopher said “the emphasis on military confrontation with Aidid’s militia was a mistake.” Clinton said the aggressive effort against Aidid “should never have been allowed to supplant the political process that was ongoing when we were in effective control, up through last May.” Clinton claimed he was not even aware that American forces were still trying to capture Aidid. An aide of Lee Aspin criticized General Howe for adopting Aidid as his “Great White Whale.” Christopher said that policy leading to the October 3rd tragedy had been managed by the sub-cabinet-level deputies committee who had caved into Howe’s request for the Rangers, and that cabinet-level officials “were not sufficiently attentive.” But both Clinton and Powell approved the request.
The Battle of Mogadishu earned itself at least a footnote in history. It led to an immediate reevaluation of the policies not toward Aidid but toward humanitarian intervention in general. As David Shinn said, “It will be some time before another Chapter 7 operation is proposed.” For the foreseeable future other rabid societies, or as a human-rights person I know calls them, “garden spots” like Bosnia, Haiti, and former Soviet Georgia can go ahead and self-destruct if that’s what they want to do. A State Department source said, “Whoever comes out on top is okay with us as long as it’s the result of a political process all Somalis can be part of. We’re disengaging.” In places like Khartoum, Tehran, and Indian, where Aidid was already seen as a hero, the Battle of Mogadishu will be remembered as a turning point in the Third World’s struggle to regain control of its own destiny, as a heroic thwarting of a potential new neocolonial trend in the guise of humanitarian assistance.
Of course, if the Rangers had got Aidid the fallout would have been very different.
On Tuesday afternoon Aidid’s minister of interior, Abdi Awale Hassan “Qaydid,” dropped by the villa. Quaydid means “doesn’t want to share without anyone who doesn’t exist.” He was born into a family dispute; his father had died and his cousins were trying to steal his inheritance. It was in Qaydid’s house that the meeting of Habr Gedir elders was bombed on July 12. Qaydid had come to tell us the Chairman would see us tomorrow morning from nine until twelve. It would his first daytime appearance in months, which he was dong, Ali explained, to show that “he’s not a vampire, he’s not hiding.”
In the morning there was big news : Aidid was no longer a wanted man. The United States had presented a resolution to the U.N. Security Council requesting that the manhunt be called off and the international arrest warrant suspended. Harold tuned his shortwave to the BBC, which said this was a 180-degree turn, and that the problem had not been focused on at a high enough level, while the Times said that the about-face represented “a recognition that a political solution required the participation of Mr. Aidid’s clan.” In a few days, diplomats would be talking about “the Aidid factor.” One of our militia guards said, “There will be peace if Allah wills and if the people want it.”
Ali said, “The general is going to be in a good mood.” He was embarking on a new phase of his career, like Arafat’s metamorphosis from terrorist to statesman a few months earlier. At the hotel of the journalists, we heard later, the Washington Post correspondent said to a colleague, “Our mission now is to rehabilitate Aidid.” Harold and I were certainly on the cusp of this. We felt as if we had caught a perfect wave, historically. Once events had been set in motion, we had been swept along by their inevitability, by the rightness of what was happening, and had never doubted that we would see the Man, or feared for our lives.
As we were finishing breakfast, Darman’s son, the one in the Special Forces, arrived in civilian clothes with a buddy from Massachusetts. He hadn’t been out of UNISOMLAND since December, and this was the first time he had seen Mogadishu since he was five. His buddy said there had just been a briefing at UNISOMLAND that Hazbolla terrorists, famous for their car bombings, might be in town. The speculation was that he had either been brought in by Aidid and had come to spoil his name.
At eight forty-five we piled into a sedan and drove between two technicals with dozens of young armed militiamen. “If we meet UNOSOM and a single shot is fired, the whole thing could start all over again,” Ali said nervously. Passing millions of dollars worth of derelict vehicles we pulled into the heavily guarded courtyard of a rich import-export merchant’s house and were taken upstairs to a salon with gaudy sofas, thick with frankincense and myrrh. There was Abullah Duhuf behind his video camera. I asked who he was filming this for and he said World Television News. Besides him another Somali cameramen, Issa Mohamed, filming for WTN’s rival, Reuters, stood behind his camera. I discovered it was Abdulla who shot the footage of Michael Durant, and Issa who filmed the bodies of the Rangers being dragged through the streets. Harold and I would appear for a split second chatting with Aidid on that night’s edition of CNN World News in a segment slugged “The Return of the Warlord.” We had been our interview with Aidid would be private, but not only was it filmed for the world, several dozen young Habr Gedir sat at one end of the room, listening raptly. The interview, I realized, the spectcle of Aidid talking with two maraika, had ceremonial importance.
Aidid came in wearing a candy-striped shirt and a tie with a gold-tipped cane and a large blue
diamond ring. He seemed in vibrant health, a vigorous, well-preserved fifty-nine-year-old unlike General Howe who looked pale and wan defending his botched mission that night on the air. Aidid was neither pot-bellied nor thickset, as reported. He was of average build and had a bald pate with a tonsure of grey curls and was physically indistinguishable from any number of Somalis. The Indian intellectual S. P. Ruhela, with whom he wrote three books when he was Somali’s ambassador in New Delhi, describes him as “a forward-loking, secular, just and very patriotic democratic sensitive being.” This was his first outing as a statesman, and he seemed humble, sincere, and a little nervous. Ali later said he had prepared for two nights for the interview.
To gain time Aidid proposed to read a seven-page “briefing of the situation.” His English was pretty good. He also speaks Italian and Russian and is better educated and better traveled and Harold said more frank, outgoing, and altogether more impressive than the other new leaders of the Horn, Meles and Asiyas. While he was in India, he told us, he read at least three hundred books or chapters of books about Somalia in preparation for his own three. One is a history of Somalia from the dawn of human civilization, the other is called The Preferred Future of Somalia, and the third is his autobiography. All three had just been printed in editions of several thousand that were expected in Nairobi any day. His favorite books, he said, are about economics and futurology, a popular science in India. He singled out Alvin Tofler’s Future Shock, and Tofler’s latest book, Shift in Balance, which he said advocates “indirect democracy.” He agreed with Tofler that important issues like NAFTA (which Congress was voting on that very day) should be submitted directly to the people in a referendum.
The prepared statement was unexciting, and Harold soon derailed him from it with a question. Aidid set it aside and as he ad-libbed, he relaxed and opened up. He has sixteen children by three
wives. By Asli, whom he married in l951, he has four sons and four daughter. They live in Los Angeles. One of the boys is in the Marines and was sent to Somalia but when they found out who his father was he was hustled back to the States. By his Fatuma he has a son and a daughter. They live in London. Khadija, whom he married in l984, lives with their son and three daughters in London, Ontario. They have refugee status, like 85 to 90% of the seventy thousand Somalis in Canada. Many of them register for welfare under different names in different provinces, defrauding the Employment and Immigration Department of tens of millions of dollars annually, much which they send back to the faction leader of their choice, as the New Republic reported recently. Somali clans have a practice called qaaran requiring each member to contribute what he can in times of crisis. Contributions from exile communities underwrite most African conflicts. As Osman Ato said, the Somalis abroad “are part and parcel of our struggle.”
“My mother, Fadumah Sallah, loved me and I was very much attached to her,” Aidid told us. “But I ran away twice because I was obsessed to go to the city and learn.” When he was ten he and his uncle tracked a leopard until it lay panting and exhausted under a tree, then clubbed it to death and sold its skin for a hundred shillings– real money. (Curiously, Zaire’s president Mobutu also has a boyhood story about killing a leopard with his uncle. Perhaps vanquishing the top carnivore and thus getting its power is necessary African leader mythology.) This enabled Aidid to go to the town of Galkai, where an older brother who had been educated by Italian missionaries and was in the police enrolled him in Koran school and started teaching him English an hour a day. At thirteen he went to live with another uncle in Mogadishu.
Traditional Somali nomadic society has been described as “democratic almost to the point of anarchy” (by I.M.Lewis) Did you see democratic processes at work as a child ? I asked.
“Everything is decided by gathering outside, under the trees, and having free discussion,”
Aidid said. “Each Somali over eighteen has the right to take the floor and express his opinion. This practice has been going on for centuries. Muslims decide problems collectively. The father is the head of the family but the mother also plays a major role. We have a proverb, if two men have the same character, the one with the better wife will be more successful. As a child I assisted many traditional heir disputes. Everybody sits in a triangular configuration and whoever wants to talk goes to the center, where the elders listen and memorize everything that is said, without writing it down. Then they summarize what has been said and go apart to make their final decision. If some believe, when they come back and announce what they have decided, that something is still wrong, they have the right to appeal their case to another committee of wise men, and if it is still not acceptable it is taken to the head of the clan. So when I studied the American system I found we had much in common.”
In the fifties Aidid joined the army and was sent twice to Rome for training. By the end of the decade he was put in the police. Replacing Siad Barre as police chief of Mogadishu in l958, he organized security for the first municipal elections, stamping the back of each voter’s hand with black ink so they wouldn’t vote twice. In l963, three years after an independent Somalia had been forged from Italian and British Somaliland, with the United States and the Soviet Union jockeying for influence on the Horn, he was sent for high-level officer training at the Frunzi Academy outside Moscow. “The military knowledge was beautiful,” he said, “but the dictatorship of the proletariat left me cold. There was no freedom of speech or to demonstrate, no individual property or rights. It was like Siberia.”
When he returned to Mogadishu, in l966, the “bitter harvest” of independence, as an anonymous Somali poet called it, was already coming in. The government was riddled with corruption and nepotism, and in l969, two days after its president was killed by a disgruntled soldier in his own clan, Siyad Barre, now the minister of defense, took power in a bloodless coup. That morning Aidid talked almost more about Siyad Barre than about himself, and it was clear that he was a very deliberate man and a cunning strategist, who had waited for twenty-one years, many of them in close proximity to the dictator, smiling at him, winning his trust, for his moment of revenge. He was hardly just an “amoeba, reacting to stimulus and challenge,” as one of Harold’s colleagues had wondered. To have taken on the world and won, he had to possess great cunning, and his program for Somalia had been carefully thought out.
“Somalia was ruined by one of the most brutal dictators,” he told us. “Some he kept for twenty years in isolation. Some went mad in the hole. A hundred a night were dragged from their houses and executed. He told me, ‘I got power by the gun and I will keep it until I am removed by the gun, and I will not leave behind me people or resources, I will destroy everything.’ He introduced ‘scientific socialism’ to attract big factories that broke down after a few years because the Russians wouldn’t send us any spare parts.”
“When did you feel Siyad had to go?” Harold asked.
“From the first day.”
“When did you start acting to make him go ?”
“In jail we made a lot of strategy to make him go. On the second day of the coup he tried to include me in the Supreme Revolutionary Council. He wanted to include some who had not been in the coup, because of their reputation. I was a lieutenant colonel and head of the organization and mobilization department of the armed forces. I said to him I know you were not able to lead the armed forces. How are you going to lead the country ? He was part of the corrupt regime that excluded real freedom fighters. That night he presented a list of thirty-five officers he wanted on the council. Since I was the senior officer, I was invited to address the two groups, the group of the coup and the group he had chosen. I took the floor and asked, What is the aim of the coup ? To make change ? To make good government or just to take power ? Siyad said the aim was to root out tribalism and nepotism. I said we are military men, we belong to the military culture. If this is the aim then the key positions, except minister of defense and maybe interior, should be handed over to civilian technocrats. Others said we led the coup, we have the responsibility to lead the government and to take the key positions. Then we voted by hand. 26 out 35 supported me. The eight who had made the coup with him were furious. Siyad suspended the meeting.
“That night he excluded ten from the council and called another 25. Two wanted to compete for chairman. One he killed, the other he sentenced to life. I was arrested after a few days with Abdullah Yousuf. We were kept 42 days at Berbera than transferred to Mandera, where we were kept in complete isolation for three years. It was impossible to obtain information or communicate with our families– I had eight children with Asli Dubat– or appoint a lawyer. Finally we asked Siyad, if you think we committed a crime, let us go to court. After one month we were transferred to Mogadishu. The first day three hundred people came to see me but the warden said I could only have one visitor every fifteen days, and only for fifteen minutes. We were allowed no Koran, no pencil, but secretly I got the Readers Digest and books, and smuggled out letters. On October 21, l975, I was freed after a total of six years in solitary. That night Siad appointed me the general manager of the state agency for medicine, and Abdullah Yousuf the general manager of Fiat. Both had been nationalized a few days before.”
Scientific socialism, in Harold’s estimation, was totally wrongheaded in a pastoral society with no capital because there was nothing to redestribute. The regimentation ran against the Somalis’ nomadic independence, and the attempt fo reconfigure the elitist elements failed. While Siyad’s subclan, the Marejan, ran the show, clan-related gatherings, even engagement parties and weddings, were banned, and it was forbidden to even talk about clans. His security agents were trained by West German specialists, and there were informants in every sub-clan to root out dissidents. Darman said : “Siyad adopted socialism to be in power forever. He couldn’t afford to hold elections. It destroyed the family link, the honesty, the religion, the tradition. It’s not our culture that a son says bad things about his mother or father or informs on them. It’s not the culture of any human being.”
The militarization of the society led in l977 to an attempt to regain the Ogaden, one of the five points of the original Somali star, which had been annexed by Ethiopia in l897 and l902 but was still mainly inhabited by Somalis. Aidid was appointed commander of a recruiting center in the region where he was born. “It was unwise to invade the Ogaden. My idea was to settle peacefully. We East Africans are brothers. The Ethiopians are our neighbors. The Somalies have ancient treaties that give them water and grazing rights in the Ogaden and they have been crossing back and forth for centureis. But Siyad had no culture. The new transitional government of Ethiopia has solved the problem of the Ogaden by giving it regional autonomy. Now the people are enjoying democracy. We want to make autonomous regions in Somalia, too.”
But in each region, I pointed out, there is a dominant clan, but there are also other clans. How are you going to deal with that?
“I have a whole chapter on minority rights in The Preferred Future of Somalia. All clans should be given access to power, and problems should be solved in the traditional way. While I was going around recruiting, I learned more about my people and was impressed by how they deal with problems. I took part in one gar jilibano, a court to decide the payment one jilib, or blood-money group, owed another. It was a murder and camel robbery case. We were all isolated for five days so we could not be influenced. In the end it was decided instead of paying diya, or blood money, that one family should bring six girls to marry and the other family six girls, so that the wound could be healed.”
Every Somali belongs to a jilib, or blood-money group, consisting of a smaller network of patrilinear kin than, in Aidid’s case, the Saad sub-subclan, but larger than his immediate extended family. Aidid’s jilib is Jalaf. Members of the jilib with five or more camels all pay diya if one of their number kills somebody from another group– a hundred camels if it is a man, fifty if a woman. If the diya is not paid, which is often the case, there is war. Some blood feuds have been going on for generations and are renewed each year on April 21st, the traditional start of the gu’, the long rainy season.
Aidid went the casualty figures since the arrival of UNITAF to October 3. “We have in our computers officially 4,700 killed and 5,300 wounded. There may be even more who did not go to hospitals and were not reported by their families. So many buildings– the cigarette and match factories, the ministries, even the university– were destroyed.”
So that means- let’s see : ten thousand casualties times a hundred camels— Howe owes Somalia a million camels, I said.
Aidid thought this was a scream and snapped the first finger of his right hand a couple of times against his joined thumb and middle finger, the way Brazilians react to something very witty. I was startled to see him do this because such a characteristically Brazilian gesture, and Aidid as far as I knew had had no contact with Brazil. I later learned that the Tutsis, who are close Cushitic cousins of the Somalis, also do it. So this is another thing, like slapping five or the Afro-American term “brother” or use of the word “bad” in an approving way (see my Reporter At Large : the Ituri Forest, Feb. 6, l984) that seems to have come to the New World from Africa.
“Siad didn’t want to give me command of soldiers because he feared a coup, but at the last moment, after the army had been defeated, I was given command of the First Division, in the north and organized the retreat. The plan was well done.”
“Do you think you would have won if the Russians and the Cubans had not intervened?” Harold asked. (Castro sent over 18,000 troops, which turned the tide of the war.)
“I believe nobody would have won,” Aidid said, and he continued : “When all the forces had withdrawn and the war was over, on 9 April l978 [Aidid had an impressive memory for dates], there was an attempted coup. My colleague Abdullah Yousuf was involved. If he had consulted me it would not have failed but communications were not possible. Siyad suspected me but I was exonerated. He called me to Mogadishu and said, You’re great, if I only had ten like you. Next day he said he wanted me to be his military adviser, so he could keep me to close to him. I accepted. He appointed a ‘secretary’ to keep watch on me twenty-four hours a day, a woman lieutenant who couldn’t type and had no schooling. Two or three cars followed me wherever I went. After six and a half years I was appointed to Siyad’s rubber-stamp parliament. I only attended three times. I saw no value in it. Then in l984 Siyad appointed me ambassador to India, to put me far. There I compared how the Indians have dealt with similar problems and realized how badly Siyad had governed politically, economically, socially, and culturally. I decided we should shift from Italy to the United States as our patron and model. We have common values in democratic human rights, in the dignity of others. So in the beginning I blindly supported UNITAF.”
Aidid related how he returned from India at the behest of the Habr Gedir and starting in Ethiopia in June l990, spearheaded the armed struggle against Siyad Barre. Dividing the country into military sectors, relying on the resources of the population and on rations and weapons captured from Siyad’s army, he quickly liberated the central region. Siyad concentrated his forces in north and brutally suppressed the strong opposition there, hoping to give an example to the south. Between fifty and sixty thousand civilians were killed, and the trauma of this was so great that in May, l991, the north– former British Somaliland– declared independence from the rest of Somalia. Since then the original revolutionary movement, the SNM, has given way to an egalitarian government of clan elders. This was the one subject– how did he plan to get northern Somalia, another of the five stars of the original configuration– back into the tent– that Ali recommended we not ask Aidid about, but he brought it up himself. “Under Siyad the northern Somalis were jailed, bombed, and killed. There was an exodus of five hundred thousand to Ethiopia. This created resentment. They lost trust in the south. Now they have gone back to clans, elder institutions. This is good for solving social problems, but not for modern political problems, for developing the national idea. Everybody is for his clan. We have to open a dialogue with them and accept any form of unity they prefer, anything except separation. But they have to have true constitutional guarantees that such injustice will not be repeated. Fifty percent of the foreign aid must go to the north. But it was a mistake for them to announce a self-appointed government because nobody international will recognize them, and they will get no foreign aid. Economically, they cannot stand alone.”
“That’s what the Ethiopians say about Eritrea,” Harold remarked. “So what do you foresee? Some sort of a confederation?”
“Most important is justice,” Aidid said. “One of the best options is federation with the south. They can have their own parliament, but be part of a united government, like the United States. Or they could decide to come with us as an autonomous region. The first thing is to regenerate the morale of the people.”
“What are you going to do with all these kids with guns ?” Harold asked.
“They will become police, but they need training. They know arms. We need to offer the young people jobs and training in exchange for arms, but UNOSOM refused to do this. In two days I can get six thousand police from the old force. But UNOSOM refuses to reactivate the police because it would be out of a job and would have to leave.”
“Some say the only chance for lasting peace is if the Habr Gedir choose a new leader. Would you step aside if that was what the clan decided?” I asked.
“I didn’t come to be president,” Aidid said, “but for the people to reconquer their freedom, Inshallah, if Allah is willing.”
The next day we had lunch with Aidid in a large hall where the agreement with Abdullah Yousuf and the others of the June 4 coalition was signed. Aidid had just returned from a rally of twenty thousand or so Habr Gedir chanting his name. “There would have been two hundred thousand if the word had been gotten out in time,” he told us. Before we went to the long table for a traditional meal that included camel’s milk and roast leg of goat, we sat and chatted on cushions. Aidid was warm and affectionate, frequently touching my arm, stroking my silver bracelet. I didn’t see a killer in his eyes, but face-reading is not one of my accomplishments. It may have been there and I didn’t want to see it. Going into the field with a theory you want to find evidence for is always bad science. For all I know, he could have had not alligator eyes, but Dragon’s Eyes, which Timothy T. Mar in his book Face Reading : The Chinese Art of Physiognomy describes as follows : “These are fairly large, powerful eyes with beautifully-shaped single eyelids that usually remain half-closed. The irises are clearly defined, possessing glitter. Such a person has charisma and a sense of authority. Dragon’s eyes are commonly found among rulers and great figures of history.”
I did get a clearer impression from the eyes of some of Aidid’s inner circle of thirty or so fellow-Saad. While he was telling his leopard story I noticed what seemed to be envy in a few of them. Maybe the next Aidid was already there, plotting his rise.
Today we saw a different Aidid : not so humble, not really listening to our questions or picking up what we were trying to get at, as much launching into unrelated spiels, partly due to the language problems, but mainly because he seemed to be enjoying hearing himself talk.
“How did it go with Oakley ?” I asked.
Before the rally Aidid and Oakley had met for several hours. A tall, avuncular man who exudes laconic, old-fashioned Lincolnesque integrity and is under investigation for conflict of interest between his State Department job and his consulting for Middle East Airlines, Oakley was nicknamed Hogli, Disaster Man, by the Somalis because he brought the soldiers. “Now we will give him another name,” Darman said. “‘He who brings reconciliation.'”
An exasperated Deep Throat would call the visit a “beatification.” Aidid said, “Oakley told me, ‘We made a terrible mistake.'”
Darman was trying to get Aidid to agree to a congress of national reconciliation presided over by Oakley with all the factions present as soon as possible, but Aidid said, “Not yet. The best way is for the SNA to organize first. In a congress called with foreigners everybody would pretend. In the June 4th congress in this hall in one week we settled all the problems and signed agreement but UNOSOM opposed and tried to undermine it because they wanted to take the role of leading, to control everything. First you have to bring the communities together, then call the TNC, the transitional national congress. First you need district and regional councils as building blocks. Ali Mahdi and Abshir signed the Addis agreement in March. If they are not interested in national reconciliation there are ways of twisting their arms. We can do everything on our own. All we need is logistical support.”
“Maybe that’s how the United States pays Somalia back,” Harold said.
In the days that followed Aidid hung tough, refusing to deal with UNOSOM which he said had failed and so should leave Somalia. Accusing UNOSOM of “denying the Somali people access to humanitarian aid,” he boycotted a three-day UNOSOM-sponsored conference in Addis Ababa on Somalia’s reconstruction and rehabilitation attended by the other faction leaders and the aid donors. Oakley accused him of trying to isolate the United Nations (thus turning the tables). The Times reported “Both United Nations and American officials, who are observors to these talks, agree that General Aidid’s ultimate aim is to become president of Somalia and that he will stop at nothing to achieve it.” Many are accusing Aidid of standing in the way of peace, but the only thing that is clear is that he has no love for UNOSOM, and when you think about it, even apart from the question of loss of sovereignty, who would want to see his country by such an incompetent, wasteful, and ineffectual outfit, however well-intentioned?
Harold left our last meeting more convinced than ever that Aidid had been demonized. “They don’t like him. He’s too strong,” he said. “He’s shrewdest leader the Horn has seen in a long time. He may well well want to be absolute ruler and have just been stringing us along. That’s the way it works here. There is no democracy in this part of the world. The best that can be hoped for is an enlightened dictator– not full, but guided democracy. He’s not a monster– yet. That’s all we’re saying.
What we’ve seen here is a case of complete information breakdown, falsification, and lack of communication, tempered by racial and big-power arrogance.”
On the way back to the villa we stopped at the scene of the Battle of Mogadishu. The technical ahead of us stopped, and the boys in back with their AK-47s deployed, flowing out of the back and fanning out into the street with cat-like grace. It was perfect Rambo. Two armored personnel carriers smoked by r.p.g’s sat in the street, and the horribly twisted frame of Michael Durrant’s helicopter lay in a side alley. It seemed incredible that anyone could have survived such a wreck. And now, six weeks later, America was a friend again. Despite our repeated screw-ups, the Third World, perhaps because of the inferiority complex of the colonized, continues to see America as a knight in shining armor, and America, because of its own insecurities, needs to have bad guys like Aidid, to convince ourselves our superiority, that we are still, as Bush put it, “the finest light infantry in the world.” It was a curious symbiosis. Who, I wondered, will be the next figment of the military-industrial complex?
As I stood taking in the devastation, a boy who came to not much higher than my knee ran up and kissed my hand.
“You see how our people are,” Ali said. “Already they have forgotten everything.”