Two incidents intrigued me about Siad Barre, the man and the president. One related to him personally, and the other involved members of his government. In the early 1970s, some of the teenagers in my Isku-Raran neighborhood in Mogadishu told me a bizarre story. Because our neighborhood was mostly dark at night and did not have sufficient street lights, boys used to hang out in front of the old Somali Youth League Center which was well lighted. They said that after mid-night on several occasions they had met President Siad Barre driving his old Fiat 125. He would get out of his car and briefly chat with them. Barre, interestingly enough, was not tagged by a gaggle of bodyguards like he would be several years later.
This time frame must thus have been either 1970 or 1971 when Barre was popular and hence had no organized opposition groups threatening his regime. The story made no sense to me, and I simply thought these boys were pulling my leg. After all, it was a well-known fact that Siad Barre conducted his official business at night, often summoning government officials and even foreign ambassadors to Villa Somalia
Walking round mogadishu after midnight gave him the aura of a concerned leader checking on his subjects as they slept. It must have been the perfect picture: A Somali leader being seen as extra vigilant and making sure no harm befell his people.
However, there was likely an ulterior motive for Barre’s odd outings in the dark of night. In our neighborhood, there was a single mother with a daughter very close to my age. The family lived in a house across from old Sidow’s three-story building and a block from the Somali Youth League Center. Sidow, a man of some wealth, and his family occupied the second and third floors of his building, while the first floor was rented by a half-Arab woman named Zeinab, and her daughter and two sons. Zeinab’s husband, ironically, was none other than Barre’s arch nemesis, Yusuf Cismaan Samantar “Bardacad,” Somalia’s renowned communist leader, who spent 18 years of Barre’s 21-year reign in detention.
The single mother and her daughter, who will remain nameless for privacy reasons, kept a low profile. The girl truly was well behaved and no one knew her father or had seen him in the neighborhood. However, immediately after Siad Barre came to power, the woman suddenly declared that her daughter’s father was President Barre. She and Barre belonged to the same clan, but the claim that Barre had a wife other than his officially known two wives, Khadija and Dallaayad, was indeed news. It turned out that Barre had fathered the girl and most likely the short union was “Qudbi-Sireed,” (a secret marriage) that had run its course.
In 1965, when the girl was four or five years old, Barre became the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Four years later, he staged a coup and became the supreme leader of the country. His daughter, on the other hand, received paternity acknowledgment but did not fare as well as the children of Khadija and Dallaayad. Then, as the years passed, Barre was seldom, then never seen in our neighborhood again. Many parts of Isku-Raran were demolished to make way for a paved street, and Barre was beset by opposition groups some of which were peaceful and others violent. Many families moved to the new Wadajir District after our neighborhood was demolished, and I never heard of the woman and her daughter again. The other incident also took place in the 1970s. Three cabinet ministers had met, exchanged information and reached a curious consensus for their upcoming meeting with President Barre.
Barre, by nature, was a suspicious man for whom conspiracy was always coiled and ready in his mind.
“We came to talk to you about an important matter,” they said.
Barre allowed them to proceed still ruminating on what the three were up to. We have a grievance against one of our colleagues, a government minister,” they replied. Barre, relieved that the complaint was not about him, asked the name of the said minister. “It is so and so [they mentioned a name]. Barre became slightly agitated and asked them to explain the nature of the problem. Then, they delivered stunning news. One spoke in an embarrassed tone and said that the minister in question was messing with their wives. What? “Barre screamed Yes, he is having affairs with our wives,” said one. “We are helpless.” Barre was shocked by the allegation against the minister who had carved out a reputation of being loyal and obsequious to him. He knew the accused minister was sleazy, brash, and an inveterate womanizer, but the fact that he was raiding the wives of three other ministers was groundbreaking.
“Do you have any complaint against the minister other than philandering?” Barre asked. No,” they all replied.
Barre had heard enough and, instead of taking the matter under advisement, he spun into a rage barking: “Get out of my office.”
This true story was related to by a former high-ranking government official who was privy to the gathering. Interestingly, the three complainers and their accused minister all had a falling out with Siad Barre in the 1980s.
Barre cared about only one thing, absolute loyalty to him. He put a premium on how trustworthy and loyal a government minister was to him. Sexual impropriety, for him, was child’s play. Any other leader would have initiated an internal investigation to put a stop to such brazen and unbecoming acts. At a minimum, these sexual exploits obviously hurt the morale of these other officials.