Somalia: Who's Who

Since Somalia gained independence in 1960, the country has struggled with democracy as the superpowers staged Cold War turf battles and the nation reeled from a post-colonial trauma of civil war, drought, famine and an ultimate breakdown of democratic institutions. Here is a look at some of the major players in Somalia's modern history.

Mohammad Siad Barre

Somali strongman and uncontested dictator for more than 20 years, Mohammad Siad Barre is widely held responsible for sowing the seeds of Somalia's descent into chaos. Orphaned at 10, Barre scratched out an existence as a shepherd in what was then Italian Somaliland until he joined the colonial police force, where he rapidly ascended the military ranks. In 1960, when Somalia gained independence from Italy, Barre was appointed the new nation's army vice commander. Five years later, he became commander-in-chief of the Somali armed services. In October 1969, Barre ousted the democratically elected President Abdi Rashid Ali Shermarke in a coup and with it, put an end to Somalia's fledgling experiments with democracy. During the next two decades, he exploited the Cold War tussle in Africa through border conflicts with neighboring Ethiopia. Although Barre began his reign as a Soviet ally, Soviet favor gradually shifted from Somalia to Ethiopia during the 1980s and forced him to cultivate the United States as an ally, which then turned into Somalia's biggest military provider. But in May 1992, he was forced to flee his homeland when rebels captured the capital of Mogadishu. Barre was granted asylum by the Nigerian government and he lived in Lagos until his death in January 1995.

Mohammed Farah Aideed

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