The mutual hate-love working relations between Abdullahi Yusuf, the Late President of Somalia, a former leader of now defunct Ethiopia-based exile Somali armed opposition front in the 1980s, the SSDF, to the Military Dictatorship of Siyad Barre, and Mengistu Haile-Mariam of Ethiopia, the Late Chairman of the Derg, the leader of Marxist oriented Military Junta that overthrew Emperor Haile-Selassie in 1974, represent and historically characterize the antagonistic-admiration relationships between the two neighbouring countries in the Horn of Africa.
On the one hand, Ethiopians despise the bold and prompt decision-making character of the Somalis, while admiring their creative, adventurous and entrepreneurial spirit, on the other hand. Somalis can’t stand the passivity, tolerance of servile and ever-delaying attitude to personal decision-making, lack of taking action and individual responsibilities of the Ethiopians, while admiring the extreme patience and deliberative character of the Ethiopians. There is a school of thought, among them, that the merger and diffusion of the two characteristics would give these countries in the Horn an advantage over other African countries to provide the competent leadership the rest of the continent needs so badly.
Col.Mengistu and Ethiopian Army Generals of the time were quite impressed by Col. Yusuf’s records of Somali Military victory in defending Somali sovereignty and territorial integrity against Ethiopian military provocations at frontiers. They wanted to learn what made him tick. Col. Abdullahi Yusuf, exceedingly politically ambitious as he was, was understandingly mesmerized by the improbable seizure of power by Mengistu, who came from very humble origins even in Ethiopian standards, to lead one of the most important countries in Africa by deposing the king of Kings, the Lion of Judah, and Emperor Haile-Selassie 1st.
The first uncomfortable realization by the two men of their incompatibility to work together showed up when then Col. Abdullahi Yusuf, among Somali Army Officers, came to Addis Ababa early in 1978 through the facilitation of Somali Democratic Action Front (SODAF) and under the invitation of Col. Mengistu immediately after the failure of April Coup de Etat against the Regime of Siyad Barre. SODAF, an exile political opposition of politicians and intellectuals failed to secure popular support among Somalis, thus giving way to the formation of the Somali Salvation Front (SOSAF). SOSAF later transformed itself into the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF) with the merger of other smaller opposition organizations. Post-Red Terror Ethiopia was a police state fully under the absolute control of the Derg with the uncompromising and paranoid command of the Mengistu Hail-Mariam. There was a permanent night time curfew and emergency laws in force in all urban centres of the Ethiopia throughout the years of Derg Administration. No one, foreigners, in particular, could move from one location to another without the “Pass-paper” issued by the Derg offices. SSDF leadership found this internal policy of the Regime difficult to operate under, where decisions, communication, movement of men and logistics are needed quickly and timely to meet the requirements of the frontline SSDF fighters.
The 2nd clash between the Colonels came when SSDF secured significant military and financial support from rich, radical and leftist Arab regimes that enabled SSDF to achieve impressive battle field victories over demoralized and badly commanded Siyad Barre’s Army. Yusuf wanted to depose Siyad Barre. Mengistu wanted to destroy Somalia. They started to measure up each other, each one suspicious of the other’s political motive. SSDF became so strong that it was an apparent state within Ethiopia with many Generals of the Ethiopian Army under the indirect influence of Col. Abdullahi Yusuf, now armed with military charisma, modern military hardware and money from Qaddafi of Libya. Mengistu felt threat coming from his Military. Tigrinya and Eritrean movements stepped up military pressure on the Derg Regime from the North. Mengistu transferred top Military brass from Addis Ababa to the frontlines to resist the Ethiopian rebellion, thus to try eliminate possibility of military take-over in Addis Ababa.
The 3rd confrontation came when Mengistu and his Derg members, aware of the military expertise of Col. Yusuf, sought his advice on crushing the Ethiopian rebellion. Yusuf declined to help.
The 4th and most serous confrontation between Yusuf and Mengistu was when the former signed a Military Pact with Arab Steadfastness Confrontation Front of 1977 to oppose the new Egyptian Policy on rapprochement with Israel and the USA sponsored Israeli-Egypt Camp David Accords of 1978 without notifying Ethiopia. In a separate understanding between Yusuf and Qaddafi, SSDF was to quit Ethiopia as a base in-exile and Qaddafi was to provide the logistics and training of SSDF guerrilla fighters inside Somalia, using bases to be established in the North-East. Mengistu got mad and his Foreign Minister, Goshu Wolde, claimed districts of Goldogob and Balambale as Ethiopian territories in 1985. Yusuf denounced the Ethiopian false and provocative claim.
Mengistu now moved to eliminate Yusuf, cripple SSDF, divide the Somali opposition and encourage the Issak clan-dominated Somali National Movement (SNM) to partition Somalia.
Before the detention of Col. Abdullahi Yusuf in October 1985, secret service agents of Mengistu tried an assassination attempt on the life of Yusuf. According to the intercepted paper trails obtained by SSDF intelligence officers at the time that I had the opportunity to see, some Somalis were involved in the plot. These allegedly included the then Chairman of SNM, Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud (Silaanyo) and Amina Nur Godane, the wife of Late Mr. Abdirahman Aidid, an SSDF top-ranking leftist politician, among others. The plot failed. Mengistu ordered the detention of Yusuf, who walked out of that Officers’ Corp Prison in Addis Ababa in 1991 as the Derg Regime collapsed and Prison Wards fled the premise. Abdullahi Fash, the former and one-time Somali Minister of Information during the Regime of Siyad Barre, who also defected to join SSDF and later became an Executive Member of the organization, died in detention in the same Addis Abada prison in suspicious circumstances. Abdirahman Aidid and Abukar Haji Mohamed Hussein were murdered in Dire Dawa in 1984. Derg Regime refused to conduct an investigation and inquiries into these mysterious assassinations.
By Ismail Warsame