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Obituary: Buri Mohamed Hamza, Minister of state for Environment

by Ambassador Mohamed Sharif Mohamud
Monday, August 1, 2016

On 25 June 2016, Buri Mohamed Hamza, a State Minister of the Premier's Office for Environment was martyred in Mogadishu, in a treacherous criminal act committed by the terrorist group known as “Al-Shabaab”. He was assassinated because he was a member of government, a statesman, in an attempt to send a message that they are against the aspirations of the Somali Nation to statehood, social peace, progress and prosperity. They are striving relentlessly to bring about the status of statelessness, total chaos and ruin and to impose the mafia style reign.

Buri was chosen to be a minister in 2000, in the wake of the reconciliation conference of Arta, Djibouti, sponsored by the President of Djibouti, Ismail Omar Gelle, in the government that was presided by Ali Khalif Galeyr. In accepting to be a member of government he was aware of the risks involved and the challenges awaiting him but he was ready to take, out of his sense of duty to stabilise his country and to restore its dignity. In that government he held the position of Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.

Late Buri Mohamed Hamza, a State Minister of the Premier's Office for Environment

When the government of the Prime Minister Ali Khalif Galeyr was deposed, he returned back to Canada to join his family, a country of refuge he has chosen after the breakout of the civil war.

In Canada he was absorbed in academic work, he was also involved in political activities among the Somali community aiming at forging a broader Somali cohesion to overcome the differences.

He had a passionate interest in academic research in his specialisation, writing in political affairs and practicing translation between the multiple languages he mastered.

When Ethiopia invaded Somalia in 2006, to remove the Union of Islamic Courts that took over the power and imposed the rule of law and order and unified the half of the country, he wrote extensively political articles in Somali electronic websites exposing the Ethiopian expansionist aims, he also took part in conferences held by the Somali diaspora to mobilise the masses against the foreign occupation.

Buri Hamza took part in the reconciliation conference held in Djibouti in 2007 sponsored by the United Nations that resulted in the formation of the first internationally recognised government. He was chosen by the newly elected President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed to be a member of the Cabinet and remained a member of parliament for two terms, until his death.

Buri Hamza held the post of Minister of State for Foreign Affairs in the reign of President Hassan Sheikh Mahmud until 2014. He excelled in his new function given his multi skills and his command of various languages as well as his academic background and his experience as a senior officer at the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO) that lasted for twenty years.

Buri Hamza was born in the city of Brava on 1943. His father had passed away when he was 10. His grandfather from his mother’s side Haji Momin, one of the elders of the city, took care of his upbringing and education.

He started his first schooling in an elementary school where the language of teaching was Italian. In the intermediate and secondary phase, he went to the Gamal Abdul Nasir School in Mogadishu where the language of Education was Arabic. At the same time, he was studying English at the British Council. When he finished the Egyptian secondary school (science section), he joined a contest examination in English for scholarship to the United States in which he outperformed those who studied in Schools where the language of teaching was English.

He was a distinguished student, a trait that allowed him to get generous scholarships to graduate from the Faculty of Science at York University in the United States and later on receive a grant from UNESCO for post-graduate studies at the American University in Beirut and Ein Shams University in Cairo. His higher educational qualifications gave him the opportunity to work as a professor at the University Institute of Lafole and in a senior position at the the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO).

The Somali Ministry of Education has adopted the educational programme he prepared for the University Institute of Lafole. He developed, in that institute, intimate friendships and affections with his group of professors and disciples that survived with him all his life.

As a result of the political situation that was prevalent in the country by the end of 1970s, he, in the example of most of the professionals, became a member of the Diaspora, first emigrating to the United Arab Emirates where he worked in an oil company for a short period and later on joining the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO), which is a specialised agency of the Arab League, based in Tunis, tasked with the same functions of UNESCO on the Arab scale. 

At ALECSO, he gained wide range experience in the field of his specialisation, as well as in administration and diplomacy.

He was fascinated by environment, an area that gained big interest in the world in the last decades, given its impact on climate change, natural resources, development and the future of humanity. In his new post at ALECSO, he showed deep interest in this field.

During his twenty years spent at ALECSO, he took part in all periodic conferences of the Arab ministers of Education, in his capacity as an organiser and administrator.

Though he held several ministerial posts since the conference of Arta in 2000, the ministerial post that was close to his heart was the Minister of State for Environment, because it was his field of specialisation and as a result of his awareness of its fundamental role in solving essential issues of Somalia, such as poverty, desertification, drought, depletion of natural resources and the cycles of famines that recur from to time and the bringing about of sustainable development.

The civil war had made matters worse for the environment, it exacerbated its deterioration, the Somali coasts were contaminated by nuclear and chemical wastes, the change of climate, the alternation of floods and drought, the burning of forests and trees to produce coal for either export or cooking, all these constituted big challenges for Buri Hamza to tackle.

He had a comprehensive vision to solve these issues. It was not an easy job. The institutions to tackle these grave burdens were non- existent, but he tried his best, within the limits of his capacity and ability and his intimate relations with the organisations and relevant agencies of the United Nations, to create an infrastructure to deal with the issues of environment.

He took part in major International conferences over environment representing Somalia. He was, as described deservedly by commentators, “the voice of environment in Somalia”. He was one of the most knowledgeable people on the issue in Somalia and the most passionate to spread the environment awareness and find out radical solutions within the frame- work of international cooperation.

He was gentle, cheerful, open hearted with every one, clever, an entertaining conversationalist, funny, loyal to his friends and his acquaintances and generous to anyone who was in need of him.

I remember him in the early nineties at the time of the collapse of the regime when the Somalis started to disperse all over the world. He was at that time working for ALECSO and got a call from one of his friends, with whom he had no intimate relations, informing him of his dire financial situation. He himself was not in a comfortable economic situation, taking into consideration also the fact that he had taken upon himself the burden of helping his entire extended family and relatives to emigrate outside of the country on his shoulder. He immediately sent him 2000 US Dollars. When he told me this story, I was dismayed by his behaviour, I considered it a kind of recklessness, but he insisted that he was fulfilling a moral obligation.

He was not closed in a provincial or regional identity; he was a wide-minded national who had intimate friendships with everyone irrespective of their origin and belonging, and a staunch believer in the future of his country, and that Somalia, with all its suffering and contradictions, will one day overcome and build a strong, unified and centralised state capable of fulfilling the aspirations of its people.

He was a first class intellectual who mastered Arabic, English, Italian with a satisfactory knowledge of French as well as Swahili and his two national languages.

By his martyrdom we lost a great man, great in his ideals, in his political beliefs and in his militancy for a better future for his country and in his vision for tackling the complex issue of environment in Somalia. He could have accomplished so much were it not for this treacherous act which has ended his life full of hard work and production in order to bring about a better future for his country.

He is survived by his son Mohamed Buri Hamza, his daughter Raja Buri Hamza who holds a degree in law from a Canadian University, and his spouse Suda Nurein. They all live in Toronto, Canada. His mother, Bibi Haji Mumin, a lady though of advanced age, has a strong physical frame, astute with a strong personality and well respected, she manages the affairs of a big and extended family composed of numerous brothers and sisters of Buri, their sons and daughters and their descendants with efficiency and authority.

My dear friend, Buri Mohamed Hamza, you will be truly missed.

Ambassador Mohamed Sharif Mohamud
Former Ambassador of Somalia and Arab League

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