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BAROORDIIQ: The Passing of Four Prominent Stars of Somali Studies and the Year 2014

by Mohamed Haji Ingiriis


Waa su’aal da’ weyne, dalka yaa iska leh?

Kan dejiyey aqoontoo, dadku ka aflaxaanoo,

Daabacaa taclintaa leh…

Kaan diidin howshaa leh, kaan lacag ku doorsannoo,

Wax kasta u dulqaatoo,

Ku dibjiray dhexdiisaa leh!

The late bard Abdi Bashiir Indha-Buur


Gabbal baa u dumay, reerihii geliga Booc yiille

Abidkii rag waa go’i jiree, tanise waa gaw’e

Lix hal oo u wada gaar ahaa gocanayaa mooyi

The late poet Ali Jama Haabiil

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As the year 2014 is drawing to a close, it is with sadness to look upon a year in which Somali society had lost four dedicated and devoted luminaries and legendries: (1) Professor Ioan Myrddin Lewis on 14 March, (2) Professor Hassan Mohamed Omar ‘Ookiyo’ on 13 May, (3) Abdulkadir Osman Mohamoud ‘Aroma’ on 15 July, and (4) Ambassador Mohamed Osman Omar on 5 October. With the passing of the four, Somali Studies has now become an invisible orphan both intellectually and academically, for all were distinguished scholars who had made outstanding – in many cases, even exceptional – contributions to the study of Somali society, state, culture and contemporary politics. One is obliged to honour them with the full veneration and reverence they must have merited. Without sanctifying and saying prayers on them would render self-reproach on my part. I was extremely engrossed in completing my forthcoming academic book, when they had suddenly passed away between March and October. With no spare time to embroil in anything else, I publicly could barely pay tribute or note down an obituary piece of tacsi for them. To call Voltaire: ‘To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth’. There was one element of truth they had in common: no one had the temper and tendency of accepting criticism, especially a Spartan lad like me who is a natural-born critic. In consequence, we debated and disputed, offending and upsetting each other, many so often. Professor Lewis and Professor Ookiyo were the most sensitive. So was Abdulkadir Aroma. A quite tolerant, Ambassador Mohamed Osman used to think his critics rather than his readers. With care and consideration, any sympathetic Somali would escort all of them to their graveyard peacefully and conclude: ‘Geesiga dhulkiisa, guusha u horseeda, geerida dishaay, geedkaa ha ga’o!’. Let us move to the ‘however.


Lewis in March. Spending most of his academic career at London School of Economics (LSE), Professor Lewis was an icon in the field of African anthropology, following in the footsteps of the eminent Edward Evans-Pritchard, his mentor and doctoral supervisor at the University of Oxford in the 1950s. Pritchard was the man who not only redefined African anthropology but also donated a young man called Ioan who would redefine the embryonic field of Somali Studies. I am both an admirer and an adversary of Lewis, perhaps more of the former than of the latter. In recent article titled ‘In Memory of I.M. Lewis’, the Norwegian Somalist Jan Monteverde Haakonsen has criticised me for chastising hard on Lewis in an earlier piece I had assessed Lewis’s corpus of work spanning more than fifty consecutive years. This is a criticism I do take it without hesitation. Upon the appearance of my review article on his Festschrift at the Anglo-Somali Society, as well seeing my doctoral proposal to Oxford University (both of which I criticised him to such an extent that I used the word ‘parochial’), Lewis chose not to talk to me again until I later assuaged and assured him on the phone that I have an innate trait of appraising critically all classic works, including his superb definitive study Pastoral Democracy. Fortunately, I had to escape with my miniature apology. After all, criticising him was like – as Christine Choi Ahmed once put it – attempting to hit ‘the straw man’. Indeed, some of the criticism levelled at him are epistemologically unfounded. Those Somalis and their non-Somali supporters who constantly accuse him that he had divided Somali society along clan lines hardly understand the social anthropological tools, methods and approaches, which tended to demand and decree in his time the narrow specialisation of one single clan or community. The most ludicrous group are those who claim that Lewis and colonialism constructed clanism, in spite of the evident historical fact that clanism had obtained its determinant and detrimental dwelling in Futuh Al-Habash, the sixteenth-century war diary of Ahmed Gurey’s jihad against the imperial Abyssinian regime in the medieval ages.


In a Malinowskian-world of anthropological academe, Lewis defied the rule. Abetted by the celebrated Somali scholar Muuse Haji Ismail ‘Galaal’, the first Somali he met, Professor Lewis became not merely an authority on a specific clan or community, but on the whole Somali clans and communities – from Baajuuni to Bartire and from Ciise to Cowramaleh. With half a century association with Somali society, Lewis was a typical Somali pastoralist in terms of culture, custom and tradition. I detected – through conversation and observation – that he too became a pastoralist not only in attitude but in behaviour and politics, involving himself in clan politics by siding with specific clans at the expense of others. Usual of ordinary Somali way of curious inquiry, Lewis would ask about one’s clan. If, for instance, one Somali – an imitator of Western-style sophistication for that matter – might say ‘I don’t want to disclose my clan’, he would reply thus: ‘I know your clan, for there are two groups in Somalia who most certainly choose not to proudly proclaim their genealogical clan background’. Employing subtle social anthropological gadgets, Lewis was able to identify the clan identity with such a perceptive and poetic precision. It was in this way how he had figured out that the great young Somali novelist Abdirizak Yusuf Osman (the author of the acclaimed best-seller novel, In the Name of Our Fathers, published by Haan in London in 1996) belonged to the Murusade/Hawiye clan. A real nomad with modern sense of method to wander, my friend Abdirizak lives in Copenhagen, but has recently spent a year in – inter alia – Hargeysa and Garoowe. Is he currently in Mogadishu? I have not heard from him for two years, since the summer of 2012, when I last saw him in Copenhagen.


I had an appointment to see Professor Lewis in the summer of 2013 and take him to a Somali restaurant in north London, not far from his Highgate home. Due to ailing and old age, Professor Lewis preferred to go out during the summer in his last years. It was this age-related reason that he could not make it to the memorial service in April of 2013 for Dr Virginia Luling, an anthropologist he had supervised her PhD at University College London in 1971. Completing her doctoral fieldwork in Afgooye in late 1960s, coupled with neutrality in Somali politics, Dr Luling was more Somali than anyone else, considering the pain she would not hide on the interminable suffering of Somali society, when I visited her Camden home in one early dreary morning in April 2013. Luling too passed away in January of 2013. Besides Luling, the only other of Lewis’s student – Somali in this case – was Dr Ahmed Yusuf Farah, the only real Somali anthropologist who had done his PhD at LSE under his superb supervision. Alas, Dr Ahmed died of cancer at a young age. When one warm evening in August of 2013, I asked Professor Lewis who this Ahmed Farah was, he would frankly enough to tell me about his clan and from which area he hailed: a Dir/Samaroon from Somaliland. Professor Lewis was emotional to express how he felt devastated at the death of Dr Farah, a man whom he liked and called ‘a different Somali than other Somalis’, apparently quite a contrast to the world of wild Somalis, a world where the stronger seeks to stick up the weaker. Well before The Somali Republic was even born on 1 July 1960, Lewis observed in his first archival ethnographic work on ‘the other Somalis’ as ‘unruly’, ‘belligerent’, ‘divisive’ and ‘deeply clannish’ people, playing upon politics in a pervasively bellicose culture. Here, he was nuanced in his analyses on the Somali society, except that he could not extricate himself from the concept of lineage segmentary system – a concept he borrowed from Evans-Pritchard’s Nuer. More often than not, Lewis overlooked to look at the Somali political economy and the traditional Somali system of social stratification extremely hostile the so-called Jareer and Midgaan skilled communities, as incisively and influentially pointed out by Professor Catherine Besteman. The most peculiar thing of Lewis was when he condescendingly lambasted Besteman, one of the most highly-respected in the field of Somali Studies, for a lack of understanding of the Somali language. Both remarkable and ridiculous, as it were, Lewis himself was unversed with the Somali language. All in all, he has a lasting mark in the field of Somali Studies.


Ookiyo in May: Professor Ookiyo was erudite and encyclopaedic in things Somali. With full mechanical memory, he could narrate – so to speak – the backgrounds of Somali personalities, politicians and bystanders: who is who. He was a perfect of the African proverb that laments the death of an African elder is tantamount to a burned library. I wish he had written a book or books about his lived experiences and life memory, especially in the 1960s Somalia, where he had vivid reminiscences and recollections of how Somali society developed into a democratic nation-state with scarce resources unparalleled in other African experiences of stateness. This was the time, when – as a young man, just graduated from Colleggio Ferrara – he joined the Somali Police Force under the adept leadership of General Mohamed Abshir Muuse, albeit he did like him. Ookiyo soon left the police to read law at the Somali National University where he would embark on an academic career as a lecturer in commercial law. His most brilliant student Avvocato Osman Warsame ‘Haayoow’ is now practising law in Mogadishu, while another of his,  Avvocato Omar Mohamoud Abdulle ‘Omar Dhegey’, currently serving as the legal adviser to the Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud. Two more of his students, Abdi Farah Bayle ‘Abdi Ga’amey’ and Abdikadir Ahmednur Ali, are now resident in London. The generosity for his students had extended to many other students living across the continents.


Professor Ookiyo was a man of letters, a real Abu Waraqa, as well as a prominent and brilliant authority who would debate and dispute over Somali issues with other Somalis, so much so that his incisive and insightful ideas were impressed by not just younger generation, but also his peers. Upon nearly a decade of contact by phone and by email, I had the unique privilege to visit him at his home in a small town outside Gothenburg, Sweden, in June 2012. On a bright sunny day, he welcomed me at his car park with my friend Mohamed Salaad who drove me. We stayed from mid-day until late afternoon during which he opened his archival library. On top of extensive books, I inspected cassettes and rare primary sources and documents. I would request his children to preserve these valuable materials for the Somali posterity. I also had another unique privilege of hosting him at my home in August of 2013 during the Ramadaan period, sharing him with Somali food (made cooked for him less salty), when he came to London to see annually as usual his bed-ridden maternal uncle Avvocato Mohamed Sheikh Ahmed ‘Gabyow’, a former Minister of Constitution in the Governo Somalo, the self-governed decolonisation government headed by Prime Minister Abdullahi Iise Mohamoud (1956-1960). When we together visited Avvocato Gabyow, disabled by a stroke, at Kilburn neighbourhood in London to converse with him over the politics of decolonisation, he suddenly started laughing and reflecting upon his days with Abdullahi Iise from which his wife – a granddaughter of the great Somali nationalist religious leader Sheikh Hassan Barsane – inquired us astoundingly: ‘Tell me guys, what did you tell him that made him happy and energetic today?’. As the spiritual religious leader of the Gaalje’el clan of the Hawiye, Sheikh Hassan Barsane was the man who resisted to the Fascist Italian rule against which he fought without the support and sympathy of other Somalis before he was captured by colonialists in April of 1924 and poisoned peculiarly by the Italian fascists in January of 1927.


Aroma in July: The passing of Abdulkadir Aroma, a man who dedicated most of his entire lifespan to a life of writing and researching Somali history, culture and society, at the Royal Free Hospital in London, was both unexpected and untimely. Living most of the time with his family in Mogadishu, but with another family in London, he had been waiting for a spare liver for nearly fifteen years. In October of 2013, he had undergone a liver transplant operation in which hepatologists successfully connected to his body. Author of more than five well-researched books, Aroma was a renowned scholar in the Somali-speaking scholarship as evinced by his annual involvement of the big festivals hosted by the Somali-speaking authors in the Diaspora. Outspoken and inspirational, he was a man who wrote against state terror and politico-war entrepreneurship so palpable in the Somali world since the coup of 1969. He loved controversy so much and, in this regard, he was not unlike to the recently deceased famed French-political scientist Patrick Chabal, one of the most outspoken Africanists in the field of African Studies. Aroma was not so dissimilar from Chabal, when it comes to valiantly test new empirically-guided theories in various academic circles and putting it into a publication and practice. I was first introduced to Aroma by Avvocato Abdulkadir Tallman (now resident in Minneapolis, USA) in Mogadishu in early January of 1998. With a cut-price negotiated agreement, I helped Aroma typeset his first book-length study, Sababihii Burburka Soomaaliya (the Root Causes of the Somali Collapse), first published in 1999 in Toronto by Neelo Printing. In pursuit of a life-long learning, Aroma was an autodidact man who first learnt English from the American Peace Corps Volunteers during the 1960s Somalia. His works on the Somali culture, politics and history are replete with confidential information and unique insights into the Somali conflicts and will surely be a classic in post-conflict Somalia.


In March of 2001, Abdulkadir Aroma encountered the most distressful yet demoralising after his beloved and most favourite son, Keysar, was killed in a gang-related knife crime on the streets of west London. Aroma was no more Aroma and never Aroma again; no sense of humour and no usual elegance. With his health dramatically deteriorating, he developed serious complications of liver cirrhosis. In passing, Keysar’s mother – the first of Aroma’s wives – was the daughter of Haji Mohamed Abdallah ‘Hayeesi’, one of the thirteen young Somalis who founded the first Somali nationalist movement, the Somali Youth Club (SYC) in May of 1943, later transforming as the Somali Youth League (SYL). Loathing despotism and dictatorship, Aroma immeasurably loved justice, only justice and justice for all Somalis. This he had experimentally proved in my own eyes. I was approached last year by a Somali merchant whose house in Mogadishu was denied to inhabit by a senior officer at the current Somali Custodian Corps. The merchant bought the house from a senior man from the old ousted military regime who presented himself as the owner. The house – classified as a ‘government property’ – was soon claimed by the Custodian Corps authorities who went to court with the buyer. The Banaadir court reached a verdict that the house belonged to the Corps and then again to the buyer, a clear illustration of the judicial nature of the day-to-day politics of contemporary Somalia. Realising that Aroma knew both groups and thus might resolve the issue with an outside court settlement, the buyer sought to see him with no avail. Upon hearing that I was a friend of his, the buyer asked me to connect him to Aroma. It was a bit cold late evening on 5 April 2015 and we visited him at his home in East London, not far from Walthamstow train station. In spite of his poor health, Aroma fought tooth and nail to guarantee justice not just for the merchant, but for the Corps as well.


Mohamed Osman in October: I worked with Ambassador Mohamed Osman during President Abdikassim Salaad Hassan’s government. A man of effectiveness and efficiency, he was then the Chief of Protocol of the Presidential Palace. On 16 May this year, it was a privilege for me for modestly inviting him for a lunch at a Moroccan restaurant in Finsbury Park, north London, along with Ambassador Hassan Mohamed Ahmed ‘Hassan Turki’, another senior Somali civil servant, who had served for Somalia as a diplomat in the United Nations Headquarters in New York, Ankara (Turkey), Ottawa (Canada) and Bonn (Germany). A distinguished diplomat who joined the Somali civil service as a journalist on the eve of the birth of the post-colonial Somali Republic, Ambassador Mohamed Osman embarked on his career as a clerk in the Mogadishu Post office in 1957, rising through the ranks until he became an ambassador to the Sudan, Iran, India and Yugoslavia. Nonetheless, it was India – where he replaced the recalcitrant General Mohamed Farah Aideed who wanted to keep his ambassadorship – which was to shape and influence on his life to the better in his later years. While in his post at New Delhi, the regime Ambassador Mohamed Osman was representing had to be ousted ignominiously on 26 January 1991 by none other than his former predecessor. The country collapsed as a one-single state, while the ousted dictator insisting to fight on until he had to ensure his clano-dictatorial reign reinstated and for him to return to the Villa Somalia. Somalia slid into clan cataclysms, where the Hawiye and the Daarood militias fought viciously and veraciously in Southern Somalia over who had the right to inherit General Mohamed Siad Barre and to sit the Villa to milk the State spoils like the Reer Kooshin had done under his protection. Ambassador Mohamed Osman began to write and reflect upon why the collapse and the role in which the regime had played, hence the publication of his first memoir, The Road to Zero: Somalia's Self-Destruction, published by Haan in London in 1992.


A pacifist and peaceful man who disliked bickering, a distinctive of his Shaanshi/Reer Sheikh Suufi/Abdalla Iimaan and a clear contrast to the pastoralist background of Siad Barre, Ambassador Mohamed Osman was close to the late great Sheikh Mohamed Sheikh Ahmed Mohamoud ‘Sheikh Abba’, a Sufi scholar with immense wide-ranging knowledge. Ambassador Mohamed Osman suffered while serving and servicing for Somalia and Somalis. After all, anyone who had to deal with the Somali – the Soomaal in Burtonian term – had to prepare himself for a physical fight at least once in his lifetime. Unfortunately, the ambassador had his own share. He reported in his book a very distressing personal agony that occurred in 1981, where a bodyguard of Siad Barre ‘punched’ him on the nose. As the Chief of Protocol of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Mohamed Osman had to accompany with a Siad Barre’s entourage travelling to Italy, the country that corruptly sustained the clano-dictatorial rule (note the Fondo Aiuto Italiano [FAI] scandal). During the course of the visit, the Chief of the Protocol had to report to the president over the daily meeting schedule in every early morning. Upon leaving from his room to the president’s, a new Red Beret and fresh camel man, just recruited from President’s Reer Hassan Kooshin sub-sub-sub-clan, had denied access to enter Siad Barre’s room. Overlooking the bodyguard rendered Ambassador Mohamed Osman to feel the hard knock on his nose. Bleeding and bawling, he rushed to his room to rinse and relieve the bleeding wound. At this point, I presume that the illiterate bodyguard was whispering to his team thus: ‘What the hell is this old Reer Hamar guy talking to af-aanan-garaneyn doing around our President?’. When Siad Barre was told about the incident, Ambassador Mohamed Osman recalled that he ‘said nothing, not even an apology which was too much to expect’ (pp. 124-125). This outrageous incident exemplifies on how the dictator entrenched in clan cronyism in protecting his clan cronies around the inner circle by hook or crook, a phenomenon we are experiencing to this day from anywhere, anytime in the post-Siad Barre Somalia(s).


I do pray Allah, the most merciful whom everything flows from him and everything returns to Him, for forgiveness on all the four above luminaries and legendries.

Mohamed Haji Ingiriis is  a PhD  student in Modern History and African Studies at the University of Oxford. He can be reached at: [email protected] or [email protected]

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