Book: ABDIRAZAK HAJI HUSSEIN: My Role in the Foundation of the Somali Nation-State, A Political Memoir
Author: Abdirazak Haji Hussein
Edited by: Abdisalam Issa-Salwe
Publication year: 2017
Page count: 412 Pages
Publisher: The Red Sea Press
Writing a book in which one interweaves one’s own political history with that of the formation of the nation-state is an ambitious and challenging task, but this is the precisely the goal that Abdirazak Haji Hussein set himself in this autobiography, a project that, although he started it about forty years ago, is coming to fruition only now, several years after his death in 2014.
The 1950s, when Abdirazak, at the outset of his formal involvement in the political life of Somalia, began to keep notes for this autobiography, were precisely also the time when the Somalis were struggling to reverse the partition of Somali-inhabited areas by five colonial powers, Great-Britain (British Somaliland and Kenya’s Northern Frontier District), Italy (Italian Somaliland), France (what is now Djibouti), and Ethiopia (the Haud and Ogaden, now Ethiopia’s Region Five).
Abdirazak kept notes of the political processes and events in which he was involved as they were unfolding. This means that I had to put together this autobiography from a wide range of materials that Abdirazak wrote at different times in his life, many of them typed on old typewriters.
Abdirazak was a nationalist and it is the story of the formative years of the Somali nation (and not the Somali state or country) that he narrates in his autobiography. To him and the other Somali nationalists, July 1, 1960, the date on which the Somali Republic gained political independence through the union of Italian and British Somaliland, was only the beginning of the quest for the Somali nation-state, for the Somalis living in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti were still absent and unfree.
In the early days of the struggle for independence, African nationalists resented colonial rule and all the borders it had arbitrarily imposed. However, on achieving independence, the majority of the African states accepted the boundaries created by colonial rulers. The inviolability of the boundaries inherited from colonial rule was formalized by the member states of the Organization of African Unity at the organization’s April 1964 meeting. Somalia objected to the resolution.
At that meeting, Adan Abdulle Osman, who was President of the Somali Republic from 1960 to 1967, and under whom Abdirazak served as Prime Minister from 1964 to 1967, explained the Somali case as follows:
Unlike any other border problem in Africa, [for Somalia] the entire length of the existing boundaries, as imposed by the colonialists, cut across the traditional pastures of our nomadic population. The problem becomes unique when it is realized that no other nation in Africa finds itself totally divided along the whole length of its borders from its own people.
Abdirazak was in the opposition when General Mohamed Siad Barre took power in a military coup d’état on October 21, 1969 and overthrew the civilian government in power then. Despite the fact that Abdirazak was not in office at that time, the military regime took him, as well as the former president Adan Abdulle Osman, to prison. Abdirazak remained in prison until April 4,1973.
In November 1973, the military regime appointed Abdirazak as Somali Ambassador to the United Nations. He kept this position until December 28, 1979 when he resigned from the post and requested and received political asylum in the United States. To support himself and his family, Abdirazak had to do menial work, first as assistant project manager at the New York Department of Health Management, and then as a security guard in a garment factory in New York. Thus it happened that the man who had served his country Minister of Interior (1960 to1962), as Minister of Public Works and Communications (1962 to 1964), Prime Minster (1964 to 1967), and Permanent Representative to the United Nations (1974 to 1979) became a garment factory security guard.
Although Abdirazak, because he had received political asylum, was not supposed to be a political activist, he never stopped his efforts to find solutions to the military dictatorship, the civil war that racked his nation and country from 1978 onwards, and the collapse of the state in the early 1990s.
Abdirazak Haji Hussein died on January 31, 2014. He was buried in Somalia with full national honors on February 6, 2014. In his will, Abdirazak asked to be buried in Mogadishu next to former President Adan Abdulle Osman. This shows how close the connection between these two great leaders was and remained.
This book is about my life and how my lifespan had been intertwined with the formation of my country, Somalia. Writing about my nation’s history is not an easy task, but I thought one way to do so is to narrate my experience through my own contributions to nation-state building. During the early days of my nation, there was a constant turmoil in the world as it spanned the era between the end of the First World War and the beginning of the Second World War. During this period, the world was changing very fast as new nation-states and state-nations (with which I mean states trying to create nations) were appearing in the world. One of these nation- states was my country. Many of the African countries initially followed the state-nation model rather than that of nation-state. But Somalia, and very few other African countries, was formed in a way in which the nation came before the state.
Developing outside the main stream of African thinking, our nationalism was based on an ethno-cultural entity embracing all Somalis. For us the creation of an independent Somali Republic on the 1st of July 1960 was only the beginning of our struggle for national unity by linking those Somalis formerly ruled by Italian and British colonial powers in Italian and British Somaliland. It excluded those living in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti (the latter becoming independent from France only in June 1977). Technically, the struggle was our expression of ‘a nation in search of a state’. However, the policy of pursuing our deeply-rooted values or “core values” related to our “national self” made us the enemies of our neighboring countries, which opted to accept the boundaries determined by colonial rulers. During the struggle for independence, as African nationalists, we viewed the international borders inherited by our newly independent African states critically. The feeling of anti-colonial nationalism led us to resent all arbitrarily imposed borders as well as colonial rule. However, on achieving independence, the majority of the African states accepted the boundaries determined by colonial rulers; this meant define African countries according to the inherited boundaries.
In Chapter 1, I will introduce the reader to my early childhood. Similar to the majority of Somalis of my generation, my early life was fundamentally that of nomadic life. A nomad is a person who lives in an environment of constant movement and constant danger. Although we lived in an environment of sharp fluctuations between abundance and scarcity, what supported us was a particular form of solidarity, namely life in social hamlets in which many different families used to help each other and stick together in times of need. This way of life in social hamlets used to help us.
The events leading up to the UN Trusteeship in part of Somalia and the policies which shaped Trusteeship rule is my subject in Chapter 2. The years between 1940 and 1949 constituted the era when Italy and its allies lost the war as well as their colonial spoils to the Allies. In Chapter 3 I will discuss the Italian Trusteeship of Somalia (1950–1959) and the fate of other Somali territories in this decade. This period was also the time when Somalis were giving expression to nationalism in different forms at local and national levels. The first Somali government (1960–1964) forms the subject of Chapter 4. This period was the time when the Republic of Somalia was trying to formalize its structures by breaking away from the colonial legacy and the influence under which the two territories of British and Italian Somaliland had developed during the colonial period. In this chapter I will also examine the struggle of the missing Somali territories and how our politics were shaping the Somali nation-state in Africa.
In the early 1964, Somalia was experiencing the ups-and-downs of democracy as the country was having one of its local and the national elections. In Chapter 5, I will discuss the March 1964 elections, what shaped my premiership, and the political fallout of the practices and policies of the former government and the president. My premiership is the subject of Chapter 6. Here I look at the background of what influenced my premiership and ask how local politics influenced the political outcomes. Heeding popular complains about the government before mine, President Adan Abdulle Osman decided to alter the path of the state by selecting me to form a government.
In Chapter 7, I assess the impact of our foreign policy. The European colonial powers left us with a complex legacy of disorder when the majority of African states decided to form their newly independent states within the inherited colonial boundaries. For us, this decision was detrimental, as along the entire length of our existing boundaries were cut out of our republic Somali communities were cut off from, and left outside our Republic. As a nation, we could not accept the policy of delineating our nation-state within the artificial constraints of the inherited boundaries, and this impacted on our relationships with Africa, the East, and the West.
The change in the presidency of the nation is the subject of Chapter 8. In this period there was a change of government, as a new president has been elected and my government had lost the election. This caused me to move to the opposition and form the Somali Action Party (DAP).
Political pressure forced the new president and his prime minister to increase the number of ministerial posts. However, within a short time, the new president and his entourage found themselves in a political nightmare. Corruption became widespread and many people joined us in the opposition to counter the new government. The resulting crisis led to the sad event of the president’s death and consequently the military coup.
Despite the political crisis of the late 1960s, there had been ups and downs in Somalia’s nascent democracy, but on 21 October 1969 the military took over the country by way of a coup. By taking over the country’s leadership, the military changed their role as gatekeepers to gatecrashers. The military soon started ruling the country by decree and controlling the executive, legislative and judicial organs. It also introduced sweeping legal and administrative reforms. Motivated by power lust, the military regime’s extensive reforms led to control over the people in the name of national security, and the consolidation of the power of the SRC. A dictatorial form of authority was in the making. At this time the people could not yet perceive this.
In Chapter 11, I discuss my new life in the nation’s changing contexts during military rule and afterwards. When I was released from prison, I wanted to adopt a different way of life than I had followed since I was twenty. In the Conclusion, I present my last words and outline my hopes for my nation.
ABDIRAZAK HAJI HUSSEIN: My Role in the Foundation of the Somali Nation-State, A Political Memoir, by Abdirazak Haji Hussein Edited by Abdisalam Issa-Salwe
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