Week In The Life Hussein Aideed: Enter the warlord from Silicon Valley

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The Independent Online
"HUSSEIN AIDEED is sleeping," whispers one of his retinue, with some reverence. It's a slow start to the day. By 8am, the only sound other than the distant noise of militia training is the sweep, sweep, sweep of an old woman cleaning the compound of the renovated villa in the shell- shattered former presidential palace in Mogadishu.

Hussein Aideed is too tired to meet his breakfast appointments, apparently, because he was meeting other warlords and elders late into the night. This raises the greying eyebrows of the older men hanging around. "He's young," says one.

Thirty-six-years old, with an American passport and a new family in Silicon Valley, California, Hussein Aideed has taken on one of the world's impossible tasks - leading stateless Somalia. He became the willing successor when his notorious father, General Mohamed Aideed, was killed by a stray bullet on 1 August 1996. The general took on American troops in 1993 after a US military-led intervention spectacularly failed - yet despite a $25,000 US reward on the general's head, he was the recognised leader of a transitional administration at the time of his death.

Now, with little more than a bunch of wild gunmen, the virtual absence of a popular constituency, and a villa in mortared Mogadishu, Hussein Aideed has inherited the warlord mantle.

Next morning, things look more promising. "Hussein Aideed is having breakfast," confides a young aide. Occasionally, a guard pads by to give encouragement: "He will come." At 10am Aideed decides to leave. There is much revving of the technicals, wagons mounted with anti-aircraft guns, andshouting. The villa gates swing open and the "presidential" motorcade roars off, a veritable display of ancient but deadly Cold War armoury. It leaves behind a select few armed with mobile phones: "Hussein Aideed will receive you in his office."

"I have four titles," the young leader later announces, in his office. "I am called President in my inherited regions, and in my Mogadishu office. To the administration, I am `co-chairman'. The Somali National Alliance call me the chairman. And sometimes I am just called Hussein, which I don't mind." He sits in an office he says he spent $4m rebuilding, amid the chaotic sound of the young soldiers outside and the lines of visitors crammed into corridors.

Enthusiastic to talk, elegantly dressed in an Italian suit, he is ready for another day: "First I receive a security briefing by radio and telephone, and faxed reports. Then I receive elders who ask about reconciliation meetings, water, food, and money."

Aideed admits to being heavily dependent on the business "tsars" who, with their investments in Arab states and support from Islamic banks, seem to run both Mogadishu and the warlords. "We have a lot of millionaires ... and we don't tax them, it is a reward for financing the struggle." The truth is, of course, he can't tax them. Despite his four titles, he is one of more than 20 warlords who claim a stake in national leadership.

"I am for peace," says Hussein Aideed - "I am democratically oriented because of my 17 years in the USA." But not everyone thinks so, especially his former American hosts. Aideed has smartened up some 10,000 militia in Mogadishu with Chinese uniforms - "very cheap" - and says he also gets help from "neighbours", including Eritrea and Uganda. He finds military indiscipline frustrating: "The militia have to be retrained."

Brought up in military camps by his father, he spent one year at Los Angeles High School before going on to Long Beach university to study engineering, political science, and black studies. After training as a marine, he says he received commendation for Desert Storm, in Iraq, and for the US-led Operation, Restore Hope, in Somalia 1992-93.

His military background helped him to get acceptance in Somalia - "some did see me as young and inexperienced". He sees himself opening a new chapter: "I did not see my father's enemies as my enemies, and took a more reconciliative approach." His father's silver-tipped ivory stick lies next to him on the desk.

A man who prefers camel meat, spaghetti and grapefruit juice to the burgers and sodas of his former life, Aideed has slipped well into his warlord's role. This week, his wife is leaving her quality-control job in Silicon Valley to join him in Mogadishu with their new daughter. She doesn't like the battle-wagons, he says - and perhaps not the other two wives he recently married for the sake of clan diplomacy.

The next time I see Aideed, his presidential convoy is racing through the night in the back streets of Mogadishu. Pedestrians leap back, turning heads to watch the huge guns, the soldiers and the camouflaged wagons speed into a residential area, screeching and revving to a halt outside a big villa. The darkened windows of Aideed's personal wagon give nothing away. "Hussein Aideed is having a meeting," whispers one young soldier with a rocket- propelled grenade gun. It's probably about peace and reconciliation.

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