I traveled into Ogaden with the Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF) for five days in August 1980. We drove about 230 miles across open savanna in broad daylight, crossing the main road between the Ethiopian garrisons in Degabur and Gebredarre. On the third day we reached a town of over 10,000, a trading center bombed by the Ethiopians a year earlier. The merchants who catered to the nomadic population had set up shops under bushes and trees. A village committee, instigated by the WSLF, consisted of merchants, elders and WSLF militants. The committee, I was told, regulated prices and adjudicated local disputes. The WSLF Youth League had set up a school for boys and girls.
Back in Hargeisa, in northern Somalia, I interviewed Musa Mohammed Hajj of the executive committee of the WSLF, which was founded in 1963. According to him, the population of the area of Western Somalia is between 5 and 8 million. He told me the WSLF wanted to set up a “socialist state,” the first such claim by a WSLF leader. Until 1977, he explained, the Soviet Union and Cuba were allies of the WSLF. “Some of our field commanders now in Western Somalia were trained in Russia, North Korea and Cuba.” He spoke cautiously about the course of the WSLF struggle. “It is very difficult for us alone to defeat the Soviet Union in the Horn of Africa, but we can still carry on resistance. Russia will find out that it cannot fight against people who are fighting for their own independence and rights.”
Discussions with him and other WSLF members suggested three tendencies in the Front, delineated by where one draws the boundaries of Western Somalia. Contacts were then underway between the WSLF and the Oromo Liberation Front, and the border between the two territories was a main topic of these talks.