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The Year 1961 in History

Monday December 26, 2016
Mohamed I. Trunji
The second major event which took place in 1961 was of political nature. While the country was still in the grip of its worst natural disaster, the Minister of Health and Labour, Sceikh Ali Giumale was relieved of his duties on November 30, 1961 following long standing feud with the Prime Minister, Abdirascid Ali Scermarche. 

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People of my generation probably recall that, just about one year after its independence and the precipitated union in July 1960, Somalia had been confronted with three successive major crises. The events we are referring to, though unrelated, occurred in successive order, towards the end of 1961. Of the three events one was a natural made disaster, while the other two were man-made. 

Natural disaster

It could be said that nature was not generally generous in 1961as flash floods inundated vast agricultural areas in the southern Somalia. The worst of the flooding was caused when the two main rivers, the Scebeli and the Giuba, broke their banks. The torrent of water submerged vast tracts of land, tore out communications, marooned towns and villages, destroyed homes and livestock, and ruined banana plantations. Throughout the country, roads and airstrips were under water, making the task of moving food and medical supplies almost impossible The Prime Minister of the time, Abdirascid Ali Scermarche, made a desperate plea for help at a news conference held on November 26, 1961. He said nearly all Somalia's food crops have been destroyed, adding that food will have to be found for about 600,000 people for eight months, until the next harvest.

Removal of Minster Sceikh Ali Giumale.

The second major event which took place in 1961 was of political nature. While the country was still in the grip of its worst natural disaster, the Minister of Health and Labour, Sceikh Ali Giumale was relieved of his duties on November 30, 1961 following long standing feud with the Prime Minister, Abdirascid Ali Scermarche. Giumale’s removal sparked off a widespread protest in the Hiran Region, particularly in his political stronghold of Belet Uen, where people clamoured against their Minister’s dismissal. Messages of solidarity also came from paramount chiefs, notables and religious leaders, as well as from SYL branches in Belet Uen and Bulo Burti; these messages were addressed to the Head of the State and accused the Prime Minister of practicing tribalism. The dismissal of the Minister of Health and Labour also raised security concerns to the point that the Minister of the Interior, Abdirazak Haji, paid an unannounced visit to Belet Uen. The Minister took a tough line, warning the public in Bulo Burti and Belet Uen that the government would take grave measures against those who, in solidarity with Sheikh Ali Giumale, may stir up trouble in the region.

Attempt Coup d’Etat in Hargheisa

On December 9 and 10, 1961, just 10 days after the dismissal of Sceikh Ali Giumale, a military take over was attempted in Hargheisa and other main northern towns. A group of young British-trained officers locked their commanding officers in a bungalow and kept them there under guard. In a bid to cover up their real intentions, they told the non-commissioned officers (NCOs) that a military takeover was underway in Mogadiscio and that their superiors were in a secret meeting communicating with the supreme command there. However, the rebellion was short-lived: within a few hours, after a brief battle, the forces loyal to the government arrested the twenty-one rebels (most of them young Sandhurst-trained officers) and freed the commanders. In the process, sadly, Sub Lt. Abdullahi Said, a brilliant young Officer, was killed.

According to some analysts, the rebellion was staged to protest against the senior military officers, all from the South, who had not been trained as military officers but as policemen. Although this version may partially be accurate, a political motivation for the rebellion cannot be ruled out. 

The defendants were charged with waging war against the State (an offence punishable by death under Section 121 of the Indian Penal Code) and kept in total isolation for a long time. This was the most complicated trial ever held in the Republic characterized by clash of culture, legal system and language abundantly displayed in the court room: 

Firstly, for security considerations, the Supreme Court ruled that the Hargheisa Regional Court should hold the trial in Mogadiscio. However, even though the Hargheisa Court was moved to Mogadiscio, the applicable law was the Indian Penal Code and Criminal Procedure, still in effect in the northern regions of Somalia.

Secondly, the prosecutor was an Italian judge, Severino Santiabichi, unfamiliar with Indian Criminal law and with the English language. He had served as a judge in Somalia since the Trusteeship period, lectured in Criminal Procedure Law at the University of Mogadiscio and was the author of a book on diya, or blood money, in Somali customary law. After returning to Italy, he presided over the trial in Rome of the Red Brigades accused of kidnapping and killing the former Italian Prime Minister, Aldo Moro, in 1978. 

Thirdly, the presiding judge was a Briton, unfamiliar with the Somali penal system and unable to speak either Italian or Somali. 
Fourthly, the defense counsel consisted of two Indian attorneys practicing in Kenya, both unfamiliar with the Somali penal system and the language. The accused were allowed to hire foreign lawyers conversant with English law. As the funds collected by their immediate families proved insufficient to fully cover the lawyer’s fees (amounting to Sh.So.41, 000), the government was calledin to settle the balance (Sh.So.29, 060).

All of the twenty-one defendants were acquitted on a flimsy technicality based on the argument that they had not been identified nor even had their proper names and military ranks clearly mentioned. The Court held that a prima facie case had not been established, emphasizing that “the witnesses had not pointed them out.’ For the prosecutor, however, enough evidence had been produced to the Court to warrant a conviction of the defendants. He was convinced that the witnesses who appeared before the Court had known all the defendants for a long time had worked with them and were therefore in a position to know them by name and military rank. What doubt, then, could arise as to their identification? He argued.

The prosecutor further argued that the formal procedure for the identification of a person should be applied where a question on the identity of such person arises. He went on to say: “the least we can say is that the reasons on which the judge based the decision are childish.”The Attorney General filed an appeal against the court ruling. The date for hearing the appeal was postponed several times until early 1965, when all the defendants benefited from an amnesty, and the appeal was dropped.
As Paolo Contini, a United Nations Legal Adviser to the Somali government eloquently put it, “this trial was probably the clearest case of two legal traditions being unable or unwilling to understand each other. As the old saying goes, ‘the onlooker gets the best of the fight’. In this case, the onlookers were the ‘putshists’. Those who had closely followed the proceedings openly questioned the judge’s impartiality. In a nutshell, the case was a sorry farce from start to finish. One of the young officers in the dock, Hussein Ali Dualeh, described in his words how he and his co-defendants were kept in suspense the few minutes before the verdict was delivered: He says: “The day of judgment came.

We were naturally apprehensive, though greatly heartened by our clairvoyant’s prediction that we should all be released. The Judge entered the Court. We all stood up. He started reading his judgment which took no less than two hours. He accepted our defense lawyer’s legal contention that the defendants have neither been identified nor had their proper names and ranks clearly mentioned. He ordered our immediate release”. The British judge, Mr. Haslewood, was ordered to leave the country within twelve hours!

Mohamed I. Trunji

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