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Recollections of War from a Somali Refugee Writer

Updated on January 3, 2018

Boyah Farah came to America as a refugee in 1995. Escaping the civil war in Somalia he slowly become accustomed to the American way of life, however, his experience of war never left him, he continues to relive those three years of horror and violence, channeling those dark memories through his writing, publishing essays in Salon, the Guardian, and so forth. I had the opportunity to talk to Farah about the current conditions in Somalia and his recollections of the war.

“Somalia has been a tragic place for 27 years now. Initially the war started because of leadership, a lack of real leadership.”

In 1991, after Mogadishu was captured by rival clan militias, the longtime dictator of Somalia Mohammed Siad Barre was forced to flee the capital. As a result, a civil war developed between two waring clan lords - Mohamed Farah Aideed and Ali Mahdi Mohamed.

“That sort of sent a shock wave to people that nobody could work because we’ve never seen dead people before, we’ve never seen the gory of war. And as soon as the glory of war came, everybody froze, and nobody wanted to work, the farming sort of died down.”

By 1992, an estimated 350,000 Somalis died of disease, starvation, or civil war.

“Before we knew it, war started, and all of a sudden I had to learn how to survive.”

Farah was only 13 at the time, to this day, he still remembers everything, the memories are inescapable.

“There are a lot of things that I have seen during the war, for one because I am the first son in the family, and to be the first son in a Somali family, its not like America, you are the carrier of the blood line in the family, you have to honor your father, you have to carry the family, you have to protect the family, you have to carry the gun, you got to kill for the sake of survival.”

Farah describes seeing horrific murders at the beach, where he would go most often. Because he was constantly hungry, him and his friends would go in the ocean to try lose their appetite.

“There is something about water that changes your mood, and how you feel about yourself, your hunger disappears, it really disappears, you go in the water, the cold water, and there’s magic in the water, in the salt water; so we used to go there and we saw massive glory stuff, we saw a man being killed, stoned to death.”

One story which never leaves Farah was seeing a soldier shoot and kill a woman in the back, simply for being teased.

“She wanted the guy, she wanted to tease him, but this guy was a killer and in Somali culture once you kill or in Islamic culture once you kill, blood is something you cannot wash off,” Farah said.

“All of a sudden she walked away from the guy, took his gun, and I remember he had his gun in his back, he removed it from his shoulder and just shot her, and he didn’t wait for her, he didn’t even check if she was dead or not, he just shot her, took his gun and just walked.”

“We used to see that guy and we would call him a women killer, but we knew if we said that in front of him he would kill us.”

“I personally know people who killed, and I know people who beg god that catastrophe happens, remember there’s a catastrophe happening in their head, and to wash that catastrophe off, they want other catastrophes to happen.”

Since Farah escaped the war in 1995, the conflict continues. In 2006 the U.S. forged an alliance with Ethiopian troops to invade Somali territory. Following this attack, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) broke into Al-Shabaab, a jihadist fundamentalist group, a much more radical Islamic group. Since then, Al Shabab has been fighting the Somali government, engaging in suicide bombings. On October 15th two massive truck bombs exploded, killing at least 300 in the country’s deadliest attack since the rise of the Al-Shabab a decade ago.

“Al Shabab is a foreign agent and they work for somebody outside, and somebody financed them, for political reach, just like the government; the Somali government, they do not make their own money, they pay directly from the United Nations, so nothing belongs to Somali, the present does not belong to Somalia. That’s why it doesn’t have an independent voice.”

The international community has been heavily involved in the conflict; the U.S. government and EU support AMISON and the African Union Force in Somalia, spending half a billion dollars a year, hence functioning as proxy wars. Ethiopia, the neighboring country, is an ally of the U.S. while Kenya is a close ally of the EU. A conflict of interest seems clear - Kenya invaded southern Somalia in 2011 and Ethiopians control the southwest part of the country; as Abdi Samatar notes on Democracy Now, both countries have an interest in making sure Somalia does not come back as country that can challenge them in any way.

“The Somali people are being used,” Farah said.

“Somali people right now are looking for a way out of this, but they don’t control their destiny right now, it’s the international community who control their destiny.”

“What we’re looking for is the proxy war to stop, because right now what’s happening in Somalia has nothing to do with the Somalis, it has everything to do with proxy wars, countries fighting each other, incentivizing the Somali people to fight each other, and who’s paying the price? Poor women and poor children, those are the people who are paying the price.”

Democracy Now and others have noted how the recent bombing in Mogadishu came after the Trump Administration escalated a campaign against Al-Shabaab.

In March, President Trump gave much more leeway to military leaders to launch airstrikes and ground assaults in Somalia. Thus, in August a raid by U.S. soldiers and Somali troops on a village outside Mogadishu left 10 civilians dead, including three children.

Boyah says the U.S. military presence is only creating more enemies.

“Every bullet discharged creates enemies. In Somali culture a man who kills your father is the infinite enemy, that’s how Somali culture is, so the more people you bomb and kill, the more fundamentalist or the more young people who are furious and want to create havoc in the world you’ll see, because like I said, every bullet discharged creates more destruction and more animosity between mankind and I don’t think that’s what we need.”

“I’m a product of war, I have seen what war does to young people, every bullet discharged creates more young angry men who are looking for a meaning, the ability to take revenge is real, so the United States America, we really have to stop this militarization of the world and go back to the basics.”

“The only time you remember America, I was in Somalia in 2013, the only time I remember my country is when I saw the drones, that’s the only thing, and the second time you remember America is when you see mercenaries.”

“Somalis are trying to survive, all their looking for is some kind of peace, 27 years of war, we know everything about war but we just don’t have the right partners, honest partnerships.”


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    • Mr. Happy profile image

      Mr. Happy 3 months ago from Toronto, Canada

      Somalia has been on my mind for decades now and precisely for the reason mentioned at the beginning of your piece: "Somalia has been a tragic place for 27 years now."

      Yes, it's been over a quarter century and Somalia has not had a stable government. Poor people (like You well mentioned) die because of violence, starvation, disease, etc. The only winners in this are the arms-dealers who profit from wars.

      Many Somalis depended on fishing for survival but with giant commercial vessels near Somalia's shores, fishing has been disturbed and no longer a stable way of providing food. Then, when Somali pirates take-over ships many people in the Western world are outraged. Well, are these people supposed to just starve ...? It's really upsetting to say the least.

      Thank You for writing about this. It's a topic not talked about enough. All the best!

    • Readmikenow profile image

      Readmikenow 3 months ago

      This article provides quite a bit of good insight into the situation in Somalia. The personal point of view makes it something very powerful to read. I enjoyed reading this. Excellent work!