Skullduggery in Somalia

It is imperative that integrity be the cornerstone of any endeavor where everyone is expected to be better off. Napoleon Hill declares, “I fully realize that no wealth or position can long endure unless built upon truth and justice; therefore, I will engage in no transaction which does not benefit all whom it affects.”

I agree with Warren Buffet’s curt advice about employing people: "In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don't have the first, the other two will kill you." Integrity is a precious commodity, and when it is compromised or put up for sale in the market place of life, the result is always moral and cultural bankruptcy.

Integrity has to do with consistent behavior stemming from a core group of values or virtues. When we speak of someone’s integrity, we often use descriptors like, honesty, principles, truthfulness, strength of character, or incorruptibility. Probably, the most common descriptor used for the lack of integrity is hypocrisy, because there is an observable disconnect between the projected expectation and the actual behavior.

While working in Somalia in 2001, I was shocked by two glaring examples of the loss of integrity that impacted the culture of that historic nation. The first had to do with the presumption of the citizens that the new president possessed integrity, intelligence, and energy. In the early days of his regime, Siad Barre had dreams of unifying the twelve major tribes of Somalia and developing a strong economy by emphasizing national loyalty and pride instead of clan individualities.

He realized he needed outside help, and readily fell into the trap of accepting “help” from the Soviet Union. He swallowed the Marxist-Leninist ideals of communism and controlled markets. Those concepts and practices were an irritant to the independence and more entrepreneurial tribal clans of Somalia.

The Russians, along with thousands of Cuban troops, came creeping in, wrapping their tentacles around every life-giving artery of Somalia. Trying to rid himself of the Soviet entrapment, Siad Barre began endearing himself to the United States. He played the Soviets against the U.S. in order to get his best deal. The U.S. wanted to stop the Soviet aggression in Ethiopia as well, and the Russian’s expansion throughout Africa, so they agreed with Siad Barre to pump millions of dollars of aid money into Somalia and arm Siad Barre with the latest and most sophisticated war weaponry to protect himself from the Russians.

When the Soviets began pulling out, economic growth began taking place. Siad Barre became enamored with his own greatness and power, and his regime assumed a cultist personality intolerant of any challenge or criticism. The people of the different tribes resented the elitist cruelty. Barre abandoned all thought of unity and resorted to control by pitting the twelve tribes against each other, and the clan warlords began plotting the assassination of the leader. All of that chaos became the setting for the TV coverage of Somalia we received in the U.S. and for the “Blackhawk Down” episode in Mogadishu. Wherever there were pockets of discontent, he would send his trusted troops in to machinegun down all the livestock herds and throw into prison anyone who might speak out against him. He even sent his men into the northern area to poison the water wells of his own people. Eventually, he utilized his military arsenal of bombs, tanks, airplanes, rifles, mortars, and other weapons that had been supplied to him by both the Russians and the U.S., and employed them to murder his own people.

He visited the northern seaport city of Hargeisa (population of a half million people) and declared he would punish them for their disloyalty. He loaded the bombers given to him by the Soviets and U.S., deployed them from Hargeisa’s own international airport, and had them destroy the buildings, water systems, industries, and homes in an effort to ethnically cleanse the disloyal people of the north. Very seldom in history can you find anything as sinister or evil as what President Barre perpetrated upon Somalia. He also strafed and bombed his own cities, like Berbera and Burao, and eventually, Mogadishu. The entire country of Somalia was left in shambles.

After twenty-one years of murder, deceit, and skullduggery, Siad Barre foiled an assassination plot and escaped with his money to Kenya, then to Zimbabwe, and finally he died in Nigeria. He possessed intelligence and energy, but lacked integrity.

My second glaring example of perfidy and treachery in Somalia included the United Nations.

During the genocide, Somali citizens were desperately trying to escape as refugees and appealed to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees for help. Somehow, the rampant lack of integrity flooding over Somalia likewise washed over the U.N. The incident took place while I was in Somalia and became a textbook case of “mess up” and disgrace. The United Nations’ employees who were in charge of filling certain refugee quotas into countries such as Great Britain, Canada, and the United States were charging the refugees anywhere between $3,500 and in some cases, in excess of $5,000 U.S. money to process their application and place them into the country. That money went straight into the pockets of the individual U.N. employees. They would make the penniless refugees pay fifty shillings just to get inside the waiting room to talk to a U.N. individual. It was discovered that the U.N. employees would actually sell false documentation, phony identification papers, and bogus case histories to allow people who were not even refugees to be able to be “resettled” in the United States. The U.N. admitted that four staff members were suspected of soliciting money from the displaced persons they were paid handsomely to assist.

The U.N. officials came to the defense of their workers by building the case that the U.N. workers were really the “victims” in the situation. The U.N. had been informed for the previous two years of the employees’ scam, but claimed that the employees were placed in very difficult and stressful positions. Outside people just couldn’t understand the terrible and unbearable position of pressure and temptations the employees had been subjected to when there were nearly a quarter of a million people seeking to be placed into developed countries, and only 8,000 to 11,000 immigration spots had been made available by the well-off countries.

Finally, the United Nations directors gave the U.N. workers new assignments elsewhere, where the pressure would not be so unbearable. But they made that decision only when some refugees, who had paid their $5,000 and still never got selected to go to the United States, threatened to kill the extortionists. The U.N. had to then make a move to protect their poor, victimized representatives. No one had been brought to task or punished for the bribery scam. The U.N. employees had intelligence and energy, but did not possess integrity.

It really was not safe to go into Somalia when I did. There was no central government, no rule of law, no infrastructure, no civilized politics or security. But, the Somali community of Denver had literally begged Project C.U.R.E. to go there with one of their members and assess the medical needs of Somaliland, since the entire healthcare delivery system of the country was tragically broken, and all of the medical facilities had been sacked of supplies. We felt that Project C.U.R.E. could significantly alter the healthcare delivery system and greatly influence the everyday life of its people for many years to come.

I was astounded at the absence of integrity characterized by the Somalia mess, and was reminded of an old Rwandan proverb I had learned in Kigali: You can out-distance that which is running after you, but not what is running inside you.

I believe that sometimes we are commissioned to go into dark situations with the match of goodness to rekindle the flame and fan the fire of lost and compromised integrity.