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Wednesday, 31 January, 2001, 19:08 GMT
Somalia's thoughtful 'warlord'
Hussein Aidid being interviewed by Roger Hearing
Hussein Aidid (left) is a sophisticated man
By Roger Hearing in Mogadishu

Hussein Aidid carries the same gold-tipped walking stick that was the favourite prop of his late father, General Mohammed Farah Aidid.

He was the scourge of the United Nations and the United States military, when they intervened in Somalia in the early 1990s.


Our roots are the will of the people

Hussein Aidid
But there is little else about the successor to the leadership of the Somali National Alliance (SNA) to remind anyone of the terror, anger or respect aroused by his father.

The clean-shaven, round-faced, thoughtful young man in a business suit looks ill at ease among the rusting tanks and machinegun trucks that guard his headquarters.

Returnee

Hussein was an American citizen 10 years ago - a student who became a US Marine and came back to his country in 1992, as part of the force that aimed to restore hope to a Somalia ravaged by famine and civil war.

Now, to many Somalis, he is one of those standing in the way of a return to normality.

Hussein objects to the term "warlord", but he is the most prominent among a handful of faction leaders who refuse to recognise the new interim Somali Government set up by a conference in Djibouti last August.

No democracy

"The Somali people were never consulted," he says. "It was a project led by [Djibouti President] Gelle. It was not accepted. It was completely rejected."

Mohammed Farah Aidid
Mohammed Farah Aidid inspired more fear than his son
It is true that the "government" was not directly elected, and that it was sponsored, and is still largely supported, by Djibouti, but the reaction to it from ordinary Somalis is hard to measure.

Hussein's justification for continuing to hold out is that the Somalis have not yet been granted the full democracy they struggled for against the old dictator, Siad Barre.

In fact Hussein Aidid's headquarters in the capital, Mogadishu, is now in the crumbling white mansion, Villa Somalia, which was Siad Barre's last refuge before he was toppled from power in January 1991.

Building opposition

Hussein is offering alliances to the other parts of the old Somali republic that also do not want the new administration - the self-declared states of Puntland, in the north, and Somaliland in the north-west.


We are looking for a national constitutional government

Hussein Aidid
He rejects vigorously the charge that faction-leaders such as he have had their day.

"We will go when the people tell us to go. Our roots are the will of the people," he says.

"They did not elect me to head operations and be in a war - they elected me to successfully achieve the goals of reconciliation, to achieve a democratically-elected government by the people."

His faction has, he says, already substantially disarmed - the heavy armour on display at Villa Somalia and the AK47s carried by his bodyguards are part of the normal security for the presidential palace. They are there to defend against external threats, not fellow Somalis.

Map of Somalia showing Ountland and Somaliland
It does not convince many people in Mogadishu - nor the new government, which has been trying to curb the SNA's power by buying-up the services of the young men who sit around menacingly on their "technicals" - trucks with machine-guns mounted on the back.

Keen to talk

Hussein Aidid is keen to stress he is not in this for confrontation.

He wants dialogue - he claims credit for getting rid of the Green Line that used to divide Mogadishu when the factions were still regularly battering each other in the search for power.

"But we will never be part of the new government, because we are looking for a national constitutional government. We must have a constitution which has the will of the people."

There are certainly limits to the new government's legitimacy and power at the moment - as they themselves admit.

But Hussein Aidid and the other main faction leaders are beginning to seem outdated. They are perceived as representing a period in Somalia's history that most of its people would rather now leave behind.

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See also:

10 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Somalia
20 Oct 00 | Africa
Somalia's landmark government
17 Nov 99 | Africa
The boring life of a warlord
26 Aug 00 | Africa
Old hand Hassan is new president
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