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Hisbia Dighil Mirifle (HDM), the genesis of a Party, its rise and fall

by Mohamed I. Trunji
Friday, August 03, 2018

In an earlier article posted on the Hiiraan Online Website in May, 2018, I referred  to how,  in the wake of the Second World War, the British favoured the emergence of political movements in Somalia, then under its military occupation, That policy, as mentioned, left the door open for the rapid growth of political consciousness amongst the Somalis, which was particularly manifest in the swift expansion and development of native clubs each of them with its political agenda to lead the country towards independence. The publication of that article on 15 May 2018 was to mark the glorious foundation of the Lega dei Giovani Somali (LGS), 75 years ago.

One of the Somali independence movements which emerged in the 1940s was the Hisbia Dighil Mirifle (HDM). In this article, we shed light on the genesis and the political agenda pursued by this party, in fierce competition with the Lega.

In a society where passing of information is by viva voce, and where the written word is alien to the local culture, the propensity for invented or distorted history, to serve the interest of particular political groups, is notorious

It is a source of deep disappointment that none of the many Somali men and women protagonists of the political movements had left valid testimony to help us understand our country’s history from their own perspective. For the Somali politicians of the time, neither the written nor the printed word existed; everything had to be relayed by word of mouth. Simply they had no education, and most of them went to their graves with their secrets held close to their chests. The only exception is President Aden Abdulla, who kept a personal diary in which major political events over a long period of time are faithfully recorded. The existing literature on history of Somali political movements is scanty, shallow and incomplete by nature. As a result, generations of Somalis grew up ignorant of their heritage, or exposed to distorted presentations of the history of their country. History should be seen as essential element to understanding who we are today. Cicero (Cicerone) a Roman politician and lawyer, who served as consul in the year 63 BC, had made long ago “To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born, is to remain always a child".

People of my generation fell prey to propaganda and rumors deliberately spread to demonize all movements in political competition with the Lega dei Giovani Somali party. For long time, the non-Lega political parties were portrait as negative forces, working against the independence of the country, simply because they disagreed with the Lega over the approach to modalities leading the country to a smooth, gradual and viable independence. One such party which came under growing attack was the Hisbia Dighil Mirifle (HDM).This article, product of extensive archival research, attempts to debunk myths, inaccuracies or invented version of our past.

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In terms of its political programme and the constituency it represented, the HDM was the second most important political party, after the Lega during the struggle for independence. While the Lega derived its support mainly from the arid and sparsely populated northern regions of the trust territory, the HDM stronghold was in the fertile land between the two rivers. Despite the high potential of these areas, however, their economic opportunities and the social advancement of their people had been neglected throughout the long colonial period. The founding members of the party were essentially traditional chiefs and religious leaders, although it had a sprinkling of educated young men, the best known among them were : Haji Abdullahi Beghedi, Kassim Abikar, Abdinour Mohamed Hussein, Haji Abdullahi Mursal, Abdulkadir Mohamed Aden “Zoppo” Haji Muqtar Malak and Jeilani Sheck Bin Sheck

Like the Lega, this party too went through a process of long evolution – bringing it from the humble beginnings of a social club to a fully-fledged political party by 1947. The modern political organizations in the inter-riverine area have their origin in a philanthropic movement that appeared in the 1920s under the name of Al-Jamiyyah al-Kheyriyah al Wataniyah (the National Charitable Organization) (Mohamed Haji Mukhtar, 1996) In 1947 the Jamiyyah was transformed into a political party known by its tribal name, Hizbia Dighil and Mirifle (HDM), under the presidency of Haji Abdullahi Beghedi.

In anticipation of the arrival of the Four Power Commission of Investigation, in 1948 the HDM joined other small political movements and formed a coalition called the “Conferenza Somala” advocating a thirty years international trusteeship, followed by full independence. (Report on the Italian Somaliland, Section I, ch. 4, p. 20.).The Lega dei Giovani Somali, instead, proposed a trusteeship period of ten years or even less. The request for a longer period of international trusteeship stemmed mainly from recognition that the inhabitants of the south-western part of the territory found themselves in a disadvantaged position compared to the relatively higher standard of education enjoyed by the nomadic populations affiliated with the Lega. In addition to this, those living between the two rivers were conscious of the great potential in agricultural output offered by their land. To develop this economic potential and to open schools, public works and other vital infrastructure, a longer trusteeship administration was essential, hence the ten-year period advanced by the Lega was seen as insufficient to accomplish the needed economic development and prepare the territory for real independence.

The search for independence remained a common creed for all Somali political movements.The political programmes embodied in the Hisbiya party’s constitutions and the repeated requests for independence they made before the Four Powers Commission of Investigation in 1948, and the United Nations thereafter, remains   solid evidence of this shared goal. Such differences as existed on this issue – and they were slight – referred merely to the procedure through which independence would be achieved. The non-Lega parties pursued clear objectives, designed to eventually ensure independence through a well-articulated process of democratization and modernization which required, in their view, a longer period of preparation than the Lega had planned.

At the United Nations, during the discussions on the future of Somalia, the HDM, together with the other component parties under the umbrella of the Conferenza party, requested the return of Italy as an Administering Power under the supervision of the United Nations, but subject to radical reform of the territory and its economic and social development, detailed in its twenty-three points manifesto. The first point of the manifesto of the Conferenza stated that “The Somali people aspires to its full political independence and to its admission, as between equals, into the peoples’ international community”(Report of the Four Powers Commission of Investigation,)

The length of the trusteeship period and the country to be assigned as Administering Power were the bone of contention between the Lega and its political rivals. While the Hisbia held the idea of thirty years-long trusteeship period, and Italy as the Trustee, the Lega was in favour of a period of trusteeship not exceeding  ten years, under joint four powers trusteeship (France, United Kingdom, United States of America and Soviet Union.), a proposal that raised many eyebrows. In fact, the Chief Administrator of the time, Brigadier Drew, commenting on the solution proposed by the Lega, had this to say: “The solution of the SYL, a Four Power trusteeship, is utterly impracticable. All Four Powers know that and recognize they would never agree on such a solution. The members of SYL have been badly served by their leaders who put forward this “fantastic” proposal to the Four Power Commission. A trusteeship can only be exercised by a single power.” (TNA FO 1015/27 top secret report, May 19, 1948)  The British member of the Commission. Mr. Stafford, made the following more sarcastic comment with regard to the answer given by Haji Mohamed Hussein in favour of joint Four Power administration: “It was naively explained that Four Powers were preferred to a single Power because four milch camels were better than one. A larger number than four would need too much looking after. If one Power tried to oppress, the others would protect, and so on.” (F.E. Stafford, Jan. 1949)

The party’s programme was to move the country towards total independence on the basis of a federal system. It advocated a federal parliament composed of representatives of the regions in numbers proportional to those of the population of each region, with competence over all matters relating to federal government affairs, including election of the Head of State and the Central Federal Government itself (Article 6 of the party statute). It also supported the idea of regional governments formed by the representatives elected by each region in numbers proportional to the numerical force of the electors (Article 7 of the party statute).

Although falling short of a nationalist agenda in its early days, towards the end of the trusteeship period, the party espoused the idea of uniting all Somali inhabited territories under one flag. The HDM constitution promoted “… the unification, through peaceful means, of all Somali territories within a federal system upon attaining their independence.” (Article 2) It also espoused the division of the territory into autonomous regions (Article 4), leaving competence on matters relating to defence, international relations, the federal police, and economic development to the central federal government. (Article 5). Jeilani Sheikh Bin Sheikh, Leader of the HDM, reiterated this position in 1958 when he said in a speech at the party convention that “the party has become convinced that the only method for unifying the Somalis is through a federal government which would accord full regional autonomy” (UN Doc. T/PET.11/583 and UN Doc. T/1372 Par. 61.) During the debate on the draft constitution at the Constituent Assembly, Abdullahi Haji Mursal, of the HDMS, introduced an amendment calling for a federal system for the Somali Republic (Records of the Constituent Assembly, no. 6, April 6, 1960, pp 5-6 ) By contrast, the Lega advocated a strong central form of government, arguing that federalism would encourage clannishness. The federal system was seen as a dangerous principle that clan and regional groups could resort to, with potentially destructive effects on the unity of a country already divided on clan basis.

The HDM had initially co-operated with the Italian administration (AFIS), receiving significant Italian financial backing in its political struggle against the Lega; but soon its relations with AFIS soured and came to an end amid accusations of political maneuverings against the party. As early as October 1951, i.e. little more than one year from the installation of the Italian administration, the HDM sent a petition to the United Nation’s Trusteeship Council accusing Italy of “not showing any convincing programme as to her promises to promote the progress and well-being of the Somali people until independence is achieved.” (UN Doc.T/PET. 11/109 1 -). The rupture between the party and AFIS is confirmed by a police report referring to a statement made by Abdinour Mohamed Hussein, the leader of the HDM, at a rally held at Afgoi, according to which ”the Italians were foreigners in Somalia, and as such, it was necessary to stop asking them for money and awards.” (Secret Carabinieri report n.64/RP dated August, 1954)

In the first legislative election in 1956, the party gained 13 seats in the Legislative Assembly, the largest number of seats held by any single party on the opposition benches. Following a law passed by the Legislative Assembly in 1958, making it illegal for political parties to bear tribal names, the party was forced to change its name, but not its political programme (Law no. 26 on political elections, 1958) The party, however, found an ingenious way to circumvent the prohibition by changing its name to ‘Hizbia Destur Mustaqil Somali’ (Somali Independent Constitutional Party) while preserving the acronym HDM and its tribal affiliation. Ironically, the banning of political parties bearing tribal denominations in Somalia contrasted sharply with the tribally based Somali political system. The daunting task of abolishing tribalism in Somalia required more than just a declaration of good intent; but it seems that the government gave more attention to symbolism rather than substance.

Bickering and personal antagonism within the ranks of the party had engendered a lasting split during the run-up to the 1959 general elections. In fact, while the party had officially decided to boycott the elections on the grounds of perceived intimidation and violence by supporters of the ruling party allegedly acting under the orders of the government, some HDMS prominent members including Abdinour Mohamed Hussein and Abdulkadir Mohamed Aden “Zoppo” stood for election on the Lega ticket.

In the second legislative election of 1959, the party gained five seats, all concentrated in the Upper Juba region. In the third legislative election of 1964, the party gained eight seats in the National Assembly, while in the fourth and last  parliamentary election of 1969, it gained a mere three seats. For a long time, the HDMS represented a real opposition party in Parliament, however, with most of the legendary ‘founding fathers’ repudiating their party, its role and its importance as a credible opposition force gradually diminished.

Mohamed I. Trunji

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