Murphy's Law: The Brotherhood Of Bullets

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February 22, 2010: Even before the government disappeared in 1991, Somalia was an arms dealers paradise. The place has long been ruled by warlords, and a man was not a man without a weapon, and a willingness to use it. As the culture evolved, the arms markets came to be considered neutral ground, and the arms dealers a brotherhood that supplied the essential equipment that every Somali man needed. Thus the current situation (Islamic radical militias fighting conventional clan and warlord groups united as a sort-of-government) sees the arms dealers able to sell to both sides, indiscriminately, without any animosity from their customers. That's just the way it is. The arms dealer is a public service for all, and inviolate as a result. This neutrality is also practical, as Somalis need weapons more than they need to kill dealers who might arm an enemy.

But Somalia is an unique place in other ways. Until about half a century ago. Somalia didn't even exist as a country. Until 1959, when Italy and Britain combined their Somali colonies into a single Somali state, Somalia was never a country. There were trading towns along the coast, dominated by Arab and Indian merchants. Most Somalis lived inland, living as farmers and herders. Their only government was clan and tribe elders. The clans fought each other, and the coastal towns. When British and Italian troops showed up in the late 19th century, to establish colonies, the coastal towns went along, the clans in the interior generally did not.

The Somali language was unwritten, and that did not change until the 1970s. The educated classes had learned their lessons in Arabic, Italian or English. The new nation was united by language and religion (Islam) but divided by social class and clan affiliation.

There was also a problem with part of eastern Somalia (or eastern Ethiopia), called the Ogaden. Britain settled this dispute by giving the Ogaden to Ethiopia when they left in 1959. Actually, over the last few centuries, Ethiopia had controlled much of modern day Somalia. But whenever the Christian Ethiopians came out of their highland strongholds and tried to approach the Somali coast, they were attacked by the more numerous Moslems in the region. Arabs, Turks and Egyptians were all opposed to Ethiopian control of the Somali coast. The Ogaden was another matter, and it became something of a neutral zone. But it was used mainly by Somali herders, and the new nation of Somalia considered the Ogaden to be part of Somalia.

 

 


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