Saturday, April 18, 2009

Bloody Monday

'Through the haze, steeped in memories that roil with anger I see the images of 12 July, 1993, when both outrage and need to forgive battle to control my emotions, when friends died brutally at the hands of Somalis, and when many more Somalis died murderously at the hands of American forces. These impressions surround one moment- 17 critical minutes, precisely- that would prove the turning point in Somalia. It was a case in which bloodshed compounded bloodshed, a monumental example of vengeful rage exacted without accountability. This moment inflicted murder in the service, unbelievably, of a sad oxymoron: peace enforcement.

For the Somalis, this act meant war. There was no more middle ground upon which to make peace. The American-led UN mission was proved to be irredeemable. Peaceniks thereafter took up the gun. Somalis have come to call this catastrophic moment Bloody Monday.

But no lessons are likely to be learned, because those responsible for launching the attack- for causing this massacre- insisted that there was no reason for remorse. They believed that their attack was just.'

-Scott Peterson-


  1. in "Me Against My Brother; At War in Somalia", 2000

    The elders of Aidid's Habr Gedir clan gathered in the office of the warlord's interior ministry. They were looking for a way to make peace: to somehow end the ruinous blood feud raging between the adamantine warlord and the UN "peacekeepers". Aidid did not approve of this meeting because his role as clan leader was being questioned. Just the day before, a handful of elders had met UN envoy Howe, who asked them to look for a peaceful way out. This meeting was the result. These elders had decided to make a seperate appeal to the UN, effectively isolating the warlord. The meeting was publicized in the Somalis newspapers as a peace gathering, so it was not a secret- at least not to the Somalis.

    Shortly after 10:15 am an American Cobra attack helicopter loosed its first TOW anti-tank missle into the house where the elders had gathered. "Operation Michigan" was underway. The elders, lost in discusion, saw the flash and their own blood spray bright pink across the wall of the main meeting house... one Tow missle after another blasted into the building and 20mmm cannon fire ground up flesh. Abdi Quaybdiid remembered that the head of a friend had fallen upright, severed but untouched on the top of the demolished stairway...minutes later American ground troops stormed into the building and began finishing off the survivors.

    Altogether, according to the estimate of the Red Cross, 54 people died, thousands more in the days and months that followed.

    A thrilling movie has been made about the subsequent fiasco of U.S. Delta Forces which ultimately led to the withdrawal of both American and UN missions from Mogadishu, with consequences that reverberate through-out East Africa to this very day.

  2. In 1947 the British district commissioner of Las Anod, in northern Somalia, was a Colonel Smith. He carried out a court order to seize camels from a bandit of the Majerteen clan. Some Somalis were killed in the ensuing fracas.

    In 1967, having been abroad for many years, "Somalis Smith" asked a friend if it would be safe to return briefly to the country with his Somali wife. They decided that, after so much time had lapsed, it probably was. But the day after his arrival, at the door of his hotel room, Somali Smith was stabbed to death by the son of one of the men he had killed in the 1947 raid. This incident is celebrated in a poem well-known through-out Somalia.

  3. 'Any regular visitor to the developing world will be familiar with that awkward moment when a local resident raises, with a passion and level of forensic detail that reveals this is still an open wound, some injustice perpetrated long ago by the colonial master. Baffled, the traveller registers that the forgotten massacre or broken treaty, which he has only just discovered, is the keystone on which an entire community's identity has been built. 'Gosh, why are they still harping about that?', he thinks, 'Why can't they just move on? We have.'

    It is the version of 'Why do they hate us so much?' question a shocked America asked in the wake of September 11. Eritrea's story provides part of the answer to that query. It is very easy to be generous with your forgiving and forgetting, when you are the one in need of forgiveness. A sense of wounded righteousness keeps the memory sharp. Societies that know they have suffered a great wrong have a disconcerting habit of nursing their grievances, keeping them keen through the decades."

    It would be refreshing to think officials in the State Department, the Kremlin, Whitehall or the UN occassionally remember the parable that is the Eritrean story, but it would be illusory. As with so many other colonies, Eritrea highlights the one-sided nature of memory in an unequal partnership.

    "I Didn't Do It For You; How the World Betrayed a Small African Nation (Eritrea) by Michela Wrong, 2005