Foreign Relations, 1960-69

Somalia Table of Contents

Somalia's government was in the hands of leaders who were favorably disposed toward the Western democracies, particularly Italy and Britain, in whose political traditions many of them had been educated. Nevertheless, as a reflection of its desire to demonstrate self-reliance and nonalignment, the Somali government established ties with the Soviet Union and China soon after independence.

The growth of Soviet influence in Somalia dated from 1962, when Moscow agreed to provide loans to finance the training and equipping of the armed forces. By the late 1960s, about 300 Soviet military personnel were serving as advisers to the Somali forces, whose inventories had been stocked almost entirely with equipment of East European manufacture. During the same period, about 500 Somalis received military training in the Soviet Union. As a result of their contact with Soviet personnel, some Somali military officers developed a Marxist perspective on important issues that contrasted with the democratic outlook of most of the country's civilian leaders.

The Soviet Union also provided nonmilitary assistance, including technical training scholarships, printing presses, broadcasting equipment for the government, and agricultural and industrial development aid. By 1969 considerable nonmilitary assistance had also been provided by China. Such projects included the construction of hospitals and factories and in the 1970s of the major north-south road.

Somalia's relations with Italy after independence remained good, and Italian influence continued in the modernized sectors of social and cultural affairs. Although their number had dropped to about 3,000 by 1965, the Italians residing in Somalia still dominated many of the country's economic activities. Italian economic assistance during the 1960s totaled more than a quarter of all the nonmilitary foreign aid received, and Italy was an important market for Somali goods, particularly food crops produced on the large, Italian-owned commercial farms in the river valleys. Italy's sponsorship enabled Somalia to become an associate of the European Economic Community (EEC), which formed another source of economic and technical aid and assured preferential status for Somali exports in West European markets.

In contrast to the cordial relations maintained with Italy, Somalia severed diplomatic ties to Britain in 1962 to protest British support of Kenya's position on the NFD. Somalia's relations with France were likewise strained because of opposition to the French presence in the Territory of the Afars and Issas (formerly French Somaliland, later independent Djibouti). Meanwhile, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) provided Somalia with a moderate amount of aid, most notably sharing with Italy and the United States the task of training the police force. The Somali government purposely sought a variety of foreign sponsors to instruct its security forces, and Western-trained police were seen as counterbalancing the Soviet-trained military. Likewise, the division of training missions was believed to reduce dependence on either the West or the communist countries to meet Somali security needs.

Throughout the 1960s, the United States supplied nonmilitary aid to Somalia, a large proportion of it in the form of grants. But the image of the United States in the eyes of most Somalis was influenced more by its support for Ethiopia than by any assistance to Somalia. The large scale of United States military aid to Ethiopia was particularly resented. Although aid to that country had begun long before the Somali-Ethiopian conflict and was based on other considerations, the Somalis' attitude remained unchanged as long as the United States continued to train and equip a hostile neighbor.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress