Aideed's son assumes mantle of power in Somalia

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Aideed is dead, long live Aideed. That was the message from Somalia yesterday, just two days after the funeral of Somalia's most notorious warlord, General Mohamed Farah Aideed. It was announced yesterday that Hussein Aideed - the son - had been elected President of Somalia by a council of clan leaders. His father, who died from wounds received in fighting nearly two weeks ago, declared himself president of the war-torn country last year.

Control of the country has been bitterly contested by the forces of General Aideed and those of Ali Mahdi Mohamed, who declared himself president five years ago. With the overthrow of the late Siad Barre in 1991, Somalia was plunged into a vicious civil war which still continues. The conflict has claimed the lives of more than 300,000 Somalis and reduced the capital, Mogadishu, to rubble.

Hussein Aideed had been acting as his father's chief of security and as chief arms-buyer for the faction which controls southern Mogadishu and parts of the interior. Aged 31, he holds Somalia and US citizenship. In 1993 he was part of the United States intervention force which came to Somalia under a UN mandate to restore peace and protect humanitarian aid convoys. A US Marine reservist, he served as an interpreter.

American troops were pulled out of Somalia in 1994 after suffering humiliating losses at the hands of General Aideed's fighters. The US launched a series of heavy air-strikes on the capital during 1993 in an attempt to eliminate General Aideed, but the warlord escaped unhurt. In the fighting which raged around the city, 36 American soldiers and an estimated 100 UN peacekeepers, mostly Pakistanis, were killed.

UN peacekeepers withdrew from Somalia early last year. A number of UN agencies, however, remained in the country, particularly in the central town of Baidoa which had evaded the worst of the war. Hussein Aideed looted UN property in the town after it was seized by his father in September.

Mogadishu has been calm in the wake of General Aideed's death and burial on Friday. However, his clansmen and supporters have vowed to continue his struggle for overall control of the country. "He was a hero," said one of his faction's fighters yesterday. "His death was a tragedy. But we will continue to follow where he led. Nothing will change."

There are some here, particularly in the northern part of the city held by Ali Mahdi, who believe Aideed's death might turn the course of the war. Yesterday, Dr Mohamed Ahmed, a lawyer who lost two children in the conflict, said, "Without Aideed it will be easier to have peace. The international community tried to facilitate reconciliation but he prevented it. He was a man who only understood fighting".

Looking out through the door of Dr Ahmed's recently-opened practice near the Green Line, you can seen a cameo of Somalia's suffering: artillery- blasted buildings, a one-legged young man on crutches, youths in camouflage jackets cradling automatic rifles in their arms.

"I hated Aideed's politics," says Dr. Ahmed. "But when a man dies in the Muslim world, we do not condemn him. It was his politics we hated, not the man. Now I hope there will be a more reasonable leadership."

There is little reason, however, to believe that the Aideed administration will in any way alter its claim to power, now the leader is dead. Hussein Aideed is seen as being a hardliner in the same mould as his father.

"If Ali Mahdi or anyone else wants to talk to us that is all right," said Mohamed Kanyari Afrah, the Aideed administration's interior minister. "But we will never, never give up our position. We are the legitimate government of Somalia and we will never accept that someone calls us a faction."

The Aideed administration accuses Ali Mahdi of pandering to foreign interference in the country's sovereign affairs. Ali Mahdi welcomed the UN's peacekeeping mission; he now wants to establish a national reconciliation council to pave the way for elections.

"Ali Mahdi wants to put Somalia under UN trusteeship," said Mr Kanyeri. "But we cannot accept the leadership of foreigners. That would be to reduce us to being less than human beings. Our independence is very dear to us".

It was quiet in Mogadishu last night apart from the thrumming of electricity generators and the blare of radios as the people of Somalia listened to the unfolding news of General Aideed's successor.

But many fear that, having mourned the loss of its leader, the Aideed faction will seek revenge for his death, with Hussein Aideed at the forefront of the butchery. And then thepointless cycle of killing will start again, as it has done with murderous frequency over the years.