Following its defeat of Siad Barre, the Executive Committee of the USC announced the formation of an interim provisional government, even though it did not exercise effective authority over the entire country. The USC chose one of its own members, Ali Mahdi Mahammad (b. 1939), as provisional president. The president served as head of state, but the duties and responsibilities of the office were not defined. For the most part, the provisional president retained the same powers that had been stipulated in the constitution of 1979. This included the authority to appoint a prime minister, and subsequently Mahammad named Umar Arteh Ghalib to that position on interim basis. Ghalib's cabinet, called the Provisional Government of National Unity, initially consisted of twenty-seven full ministers and eight deputy ministers. The ministerial portfolios included agriculture, commerce, culture and higher education, defense, exports, finance, fisheries, health, industry, information, interior, justice, labor and social affairs, livestock and forestry, petroleum and minerals, post and telecommunications, public works and housing, reconstruction and settlement, transportation, tourism, and youth.
Although the president announced that elections for a permanent government would be held as soon as security had been reestablished, rivalries within the USC, as well as opposition to the interim government in other parts of the country, made the questions of elections a moot point. Mahammad's most serious challenger was General Mahammad Faarah Aidid, leader of a USC faction that supported cooperation with the SNM. Initially, Aidid contested the authority of the Mogadishu-based USC Executive Committee to form an interim government without consultation with other political groups that had opposed the Siad Barre regime. Relations between the Mahammad and Aidid wings of the USC continued to deteriorate throughout the spring and summer of 1991. By September, Aidid had established his own rival government in the southern part of the capital. A series of clashes between forces loyal to Aidid and those loyal to Mahammad compelled the latter to retreat to northern Mogadishu.
Mahammad was a member of the Abgaal clan of the Hawiye clanfamily , whereas Aidid was a member of that same clan-family's Habar Gidir clan. The Abgaal clan comprised nine subclans, several of which traditionally have been dominant in the Mogadishu area. Because Abgaal leaders had not become involved in the struggle against Siad Barre until 1989, other clans tended to view them as upstarts trying to usurp control of the opposition movement. This perception was especially strong among the Habar Gidir clan, whose five subclans lived predominantly in central Somalia. Some Habar Gidir leaders had joined the SNM as early as 1984, and they had resisted efforts to create a separate Hawiye force--the USC--between 1987 and 1989. Once the USC was established, Aidid emerged as leader of the mainly Habar Gidir faction that maintained an affiliation with the SNM. The Abgaal and Habar Gidir wings of the USC were clearly distinct by November 1990 when Aidid, on behalf of this group, signed an agreement with the SNM and the Somali Patriotic Movement (SPM) to unify military operations.
Despite their political differences, both Mahammad and Aidid had long histories of opposition to Siad Barre. A former teacher and civil servant, Mahdi Mahammad had been elected to the 123- member National Assembly of the Republic in the March 1969 parliamentary elections. Following the military coup in October 1969, Mahdi Mahammad was arrested along with several other civilian politicians. He was released after several years in prison and subsequently became a successful Mogadishu entrepreneur. During the 1980s, he served as director of a local UN office. Eventually Mahammad used his wealth to provide crucial financial support to the USC guerrillas. In May 1990, he was one of 114 prominent citizens who signed a public manifesto calling on the government to resign and requesting that Siad Barre introduce democratic reforms. When Siad Barre began arresting signatories to the manifesto, Mahammad fled to exile in Italy, where he worked in the USC's Rome office.
The appointment of Ghalib as provisional prime minister demonstrated the sensitivity of Mahammad and other USC leaders to the role of clans in the country's politics. Ghalib belonged to the important Isaaq clan-family of northern Somalia. Although the main opposition group in the north, the SNM, was closely identified with the Isaaqs, Ghalib was not an SNM member. Rather, his political career had associated him with national government. From 1969 to 1976, Ghalib had served as Siad Barre's first foreign minister. He was dismissed after disagreeing with Siad Barre's increasingly overt policy of supporting the ethnic Somali insurrection in Ethiopia's Ogaden (Ogaadeen) region. Ghalib was subsequently arrested, and in 1989, after spending seven years in prison without charges, he was tried for treason and sentenced to death. Following protests from various foreign governments, Siad Barre commuted Ghalib's sentence but kept him under house arrest. In late January 1991, as his regime was collapsing, Siad Barre asked Ghalib to form a new government that would negotiate with the rebels, but the USC military successes forced Siad Barre's flight from the capital before any transfer of power could be completed.
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