Author Abdi Samatar’s muddled account of the history of Somalia is full of errors and inconsistencies. For reasons probably known to him alone, he avoids engaging with the existing scholarship on the post-colonial period. The author seems to be pursuing a certain political agenda, and not solely interested in providing a rigorously researched study of Somali history.
Abdi Ismail Samatar. Africa’s First Democrats: Somalia’s Aden A. Osman and Abdirizak H. Hussen. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2016. xiii + 287 pp. Maps. Notes. Index. Paper. £28.28. 978-0-253-02230-1.
The author of this book, Abdi Ismail Samatar, teaches geography at the University of Minnesota but pursues his own personal interest in researching Somali history. This is his third book after roughly 30 years in teaching Western academe. The title of the book, Africa’s First Democrats, suggests that the Samatar continues to misunderstand and misrepresent post-colonial Somalia. The sub-title is also misleading because the book is neither about Aden Abdulle Osman ‘Aden Adde’ nor is it about Abdirizak Haji Hussein. Rather, it is about proving Samatar’s own viewpoint on conflicting, complicated and contested Somali politics. Aden and Abdirizak are merely used as exhibitions to achieve a political purpose. The book is an expanded piece of an earlier article written by Abdi and his older brother Ahmed Samatar and published in 2001 in their Bildhaan journal. Samatar can be seen as someone plagiarising himself when he does intentionally fail to inform his readers that the book is an extended work of that Bildhaan piece, which was nonetheless a flawed work full of mistakes and inaccurate propositions.
Whilst the aim(s) of the book is unclear in the introduction, the author gives a blurring purpose in the conclusion, which is probably to tell disillusioned Somalis that there was a better Somalia than the current collapsed one. But deploying various jargon and technical terms like ‘Lilliputian’ (5) and ‘trailblazing’ (p. 127) makes such a mission worthless. Chapter 1 provides an overview of the literature on leadership in post-colonial Africa. Chapters 2 and 3 narrate the early lives of Aden Adde and Abdirizak. Chapter 4 suddenly jumps to describe the dynamics surrounding the emergence of the Somali Youth League (SYL), the behaviours of its leaders and the relations they had had with the UN trusteeship administration under Italian tutelage. Chapter 5 traces the first independence administration that was in power between 1960 and 1964. The title of this chapter and what is inside as content are contradictory. The title promises to examine ‘institutional foundations of democracy’, but the content carries individual politicians’ attempts at grabbing power positions and their competition over scant resources. Chapter 6 is the only one that explores how Aden Adde and Abdirizak ruled their administration through forging a close personal friendship between 1964 and 1967. The whole argument of the book – that the two leaders were excellent, extraordinary, outstanding and incomparable – is reliant on this chapter. Yet, the author does not delve deeper into exploring their leadership weaknesses, let alone failures. Chapter 7 discusses the march to democracy between 1967 and 1974, when Abdirizak finally joined the Siad Barre regime as an ambassador.
Chronologically, the book begins in 1943 and ends in 1974, but the author does not explain why he extended beyond 1967, the year the leadership of Aden Adde and Abdirizak was cut short by the decisive presidential election that saw Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke’s rise to the presidency. The literature on African leadership that Samatar sets precedence for his presuppositions are mostly outdated. Samatar is either unfamiliar with – or ignores intentionally – recent growing scholarship on African leadership, not least because the literature to which he refers has, for the last two decades, been deconstructed. A new, younger generation of Africanist scholars has emerged who analysed the post-colonial African states on various new ways, using innovative methodologies and untapped sources.
On methodological scrutiny, there is a failure of his descriptions but also a failure of his approaches. Samatar brings more confusion than clarity – and is unprepared to declare that there are often no easy or straightforward answers to his propositions. For his age and long years in academia as a geographer, he might well have expected to come up with a theoretical work tackling the more serious question of why drought intermittently occurs every decade or so in the Somali territories of the Horn of Africa. Apparently, he might have been better writing about the current drought in 2017 or the last famine in 2011.
Although Samatar shuttles between the early and the end of twentieth-century, he attempts to trace how Aden Adde and Abdirizak promoted their power positions during the decolonisation and during the brief democratic civilian rule. Samatar’s understanding of the AFIS trusteeship system is virtually nil. Instead of recognising this weakness, he fails to draw from what had already been written about the post-colonial period. He avoids engaging with the existing scholarship on the post-colonial period, especially significant and seminal works by Hussein M. Adam, Ali Jimale Ahmed, Alphonse Castagno, David Laitin, I. M. Lewis, Mohamed Haji Mukhtar, Said Samatar, Peter J. Schraeder and Paolo Tripodi, most recently by Antonio Morone and Annalisa Urbano. These scholars are not engaged either to agree or disagree and thus are not featured in the book. It is not unusual for Samatar to abominate to engage with Somalist scholars before him and after him. When he dares to engage, he engages with them belligerently. Samatar’s earlier engagement with them was one defined by diatribe and denunciation. It is nonetheless relieving that Samatar (along with his brother), who used to take the liberty to slander British anthropologist Ioan M. Lewis, now refrains himself in this book from sending another bashing to the prolific pioneer. It is worthy of note that Lewis had donated to Somali Studies one of its precious boys, the late Ahmed Yusuf Farah. Added to this with critical yet crucial comparison and contrast is the fact that Abdi and Ahmed Samatar cannot boast, as they would love to do, of a single Somali PhD holder whom they supervised or mentored throughout their entire academic career.
A man with mission: Samatar on Egaal
Much of the descriptions provided in this book by Samatar are tellingly illustrative at the level of individuals rather than state institutions or government agencies. Samatar talks about actors’ perceptions rather than people’s perspectives. Yet, Samatar takes his views on post-colonial Somalia from two old men from the old establishment: Aden Adde and Abdirizak, while disregarding any critical voice assessing their administration. One wonders how a country entirely dependent on two individuals (Aden Adde and Abdirizak) – rather than institutions – could avert the military coup in October 1969, which culminated in collapse and clan convulsions. The post-colonial African leadership is exponentially graduated as current historiographies no longer admire individuals; what is now critically understood to be much more historically significant are agendas, ideologies and institutions of the post-colonial leaders. Thus, post-colonial African historians may wonder on finding out a book published in 2016 that takes the time not only to admire but to eulogise leaders of the very independence that led to disappointment. Thanks to recent critical reassessments on post-colonial African historiographies, many scholars and students of African Studies understand more than any other time that the main reasons why independent Africa suffered from the post-colonial crisis was due to colonially-trained leaders, both civilian and military men (see my book, The Suicidal State in Somalia, chapter 1).
Samatar does not present a comparative discussion of other post-colonial African contexts, for the powerful claim of ‘Africa’s first democrats’ warrants comparative and contrastive analysis. Nor does he demonstrate a fuller grasp of the inner African political dynamics during the decolonisation period. Africa in the run-up to independence was difficult for one to surrender power. As prime ministers of their respective countries at independence, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, Jomo Kenyatta, Patrice Lumumba, Julius Nyerere, Kwame Nkrumah, Léopold Sédar Senghor and Ahmed Sékou Touré held their ground with an iron fist, allowing no one to replace them without removing them violently or death forced them out. Abdullahi Iise Mohamoud, the prime minister of the UN Trust Territory of Somalia and Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egaal, the prime minister in British Somaliland, duly relinquished power to Aden Adde to become the first president of the Somali Republic in July 1960. This act on the part of Abdullahi Iise and Egaal was not a small accomplishment. Although Aden Adde scrupulously but not surprisingly relinquished power when he lost the presidency in June 1967, Abdirizak had never supported a government if that was not his or he was not part of. By contrast, Abdullahi Iise and Egaal duly surrendered their respective powers to the new nation-state leadership. Therefore, were Africa’s first democrats Abdullahi Iise and Egaal or Aden Adde and Abdirizak? Democracy is not about electioneering; it is indeed more than that. If Africa’s first democrats were true principled democrats, why did they fail to pacify the post-colonial political crisis that soon emerged from the Northern dissatisfaction and dissent of clan-based power dispensation, as clearly expressed by the rejection of referendum and the attempted coup in June and December 1961, respectively? Why did they give up their power positions to assuage the powerful grievances from not so easily ignorable Isaaq clan-group?
Samatar confronts the perceived superiority of a rival clan-group, since he hails from a small clan felt marginalised by the Isaaq clan in Somaliland. He seems to suggest that the Isaaq and their foremost post-colonial political leader Egaal were wrong to claim that they charitably sacrificed their sovereign Somaliland state on 26 June 1960 to the over-arching national cause of unifying the whole Somali territories in the Horn of Africa to form the Somali Republic. After using speculation, rumours and hearsay to taint Egaal, Samatar appears to declare that he had drawn from ‘circumstantial evidence’ (p. 261n13) to deride Egaal for working with foreigners, even wickedly the Ethiopians. Mentioning the negotiation that Egaal had preliminarily reached with the Ethiopian imperial regime in the late 1960s, Samatar accuses Egaal – obviously erroneously – that ‘all the concessions were from the Somali side’ (p. 262n41). Samatar is oblivious to the fact that Ethiopia also opened the border, which was a livelihood matter for northern pastoralists who were reliant on the abundant pasture of the Hawd grasslands. On the eve of independence, Samatar disregards Sheikh Ali Jimale Baraale’s, Abdullahi Iise’s and Egaal’s political campaigns, while promoting their rival group led by Aden Adde, Abdirashid and Abdirizak. Samatar does not refer to any source when he attacks Egaal and Sheikh Ali Jimale, the first presidential candidate in Africa who conceded defeat in 1961, for campaigning against the constitution to find ‘portfolios in government’ (p. 102). The author seems to be unaware that both Sheikh Ali Jimale and Egaal were ministers in the administration during this period until 1962. If Samatar is hostile to Egaal and his associates as usual, his brother is now ascribed to Somaliland’s case for independence. It was not a secret that the book was written by both brothers, but the older Abdi withdrew recently as he is now the flagbearer of the Somaliland cause, an anathema of the thesis of ‘Africa’s first democrats’.
Samatar takes a free hand to even bash Egaal more than personally, this time physically to say he was ‘short’ and ‘plump’ (p. 263n44). It seems that Samatar had never met Egaal who was a tall man and not so fat in his last years. However, Samatar’s habitual charges against Egaal warrant closer scrutiny. A Gadabiirsi from Gebiley, Samatar seems to be struggling with the fact that the Isaaq are the predominant clan-group (politically, economically and population-wise) in the northern Somali territory, known as Somaliland. Even when the Siad Barre regime inhumanely orchestrated genocide on the Isaaq civilian population, because they had provided moral and financial support for the armed resistance movement, the Somali National Movement (SNM), Abdi and his brother Ahmed sided with the Siad Barre regime, avoiding to mention what was happening in Hargeysa in their doctoral dissertations (to this day, none of them has mentioned the Hargeysa Holocaust). Instead, they rebuked the SNM – a bit abnormally – for pursuing ‘dissent politics’ or ‘sectarian politics’. In Africa’s First Democrats, Samatar similarly divides the post-colonial Somali political competitors between favourable and unfavourable camps: ‘the democrats’ and ‘the sectarian[s]’ (p. 2, p. 40 and p. 43), ‘civic’ and ‘sectarian forces’ (p. 119) or ‘sectarian entrepreneurs’ (p. 128) and ‘sectarian elements’ (p. 161), but finally freely concluding that there were ‘sectarian differences’ (p. 215) and ‘sectarian agendas’ (p. 219) with ‘parochial’ programmes (p. 40) in post-colonial Somali politics, an admittance he seems to downplay in his introduction. Describing the internal power dynamics as black and white lenses without considering holistically the nature of Somali politics, Samatar even considers the legitimate Northern grievances of the prime ministerial position in 1960 as a ‘sectarian’ (p. 189).
The gist and gambit of Samatars’ contention are as follows: the SNM warriors were wrong in fending off the Isaaq civilians from the total annihilation perpetrated with brutal and barbarism by the military regime. Oddly, or ironically, Samatars’ mother hailed from the very near-exterminated Isaaq, particularly the powerful Habar Awal/Sa’ad Muuse sub-clan, whose scenic small town Gebiley was where Samatar and his brother had been raised. This hard-to-digest fact is a slap in the face of scholars, such as the erudite John Drysdale, who suggested about two decades ago, at the height of the clanised wars in Somalia, that inter-marriage arrangements among Somali clans would lessen clan animosities, clan rivalries and clan conflicts. However, the scholarly unexplored concept of laandheere/laangaab posits the Isaaq to enjoy a clear majority in what clan chauvinists would call ‘Libaaxa leerta jiifa’ (the Lion taking his nap without fear of anyone). This same dichotomous concept considers the Gadabiirsi a minority but not looma-ooyaan (the severely marginalised communities for whom no one can cry if one got killed). As usual, Samatar does not miss any opportunity to counter the Isaaq narrative, but not so without the cloak of nationalist rhetoric. This is despite the fact that no Somali clan can boast of so many notable nationalists as the Isaaq; this was the clan-group that contributed to Somali nationalism with such a considerable number of die-hard nationalists as Haji Farah Omaar, Ali Nuur, Michael Mariano, Clement Salool, to name but a few.
Samatar’s purpose is to imagine two ‘African democrats’ where none had existed in the post-colony. The Somalia that Samatar describes in his book is without faults, without wars, without disputes – one that he caricatures for his self-satisfaction. Indeed, even the small Somali children, born and bred in the Diaspora, can understand that post-colonial Somalia was more complicated than how Samatar seeks to simplify it. Samatar lives not in a Somali world but in an ideal world. In his viewpoint, everything was bad in Somalia since 1960, except Aden Adde and Abdirizak. In this claim, the author seems to abandon without obviously informing his readers an earlier thesis in which he had propositioned that the 1960s civilian administrations were ‘petit bourgeois parliamentary democracy’ based on ‘ethnically’ and ‘regionally’ destructive politics (see his first book, The State and Rural Transformation in Northern Somalia, 1884-1986, p. 21, p. 84, p. 111 and p. 159). Samatar’s later strange attempt to compare Somalia (the most failed state in the world) with Botswana (the foremost successful state in Africa) had attracted a scathing criticism from African social scientists and historians.
Samatar is not a political philosopher, much less well versed in the importance of political power positions in the African politics. Probably because of the mental confusion, it is not uncommon to see a Somali with physiotherapy background teaching photoecology. For instance, Samatar is neither a historian nor an anthropologist. He is a geographer and therefore unqualified to write a biography. This does not imply that the book is a biography rather than a hagiography. Nor is it even a tribute or an extended obituary of Adden Adde and Abdirizak. Basically, it is a political book. Tellingly, Samatar is a former apologist for the Siad Barre regime. After that regime was ignominiously overthrown, he began to romanticise the post-colonial period to counter the much appealing Somaliland narrative that Somalia had never become a unified state other than contesting clan fiefdoms. Sadly, the post-colonial Somalia did not produce a transformative leader at par with Nkrumah or Nyerere who would have come up with a new original political philosophy to transfigure the Somali clans into nationhood and statehood.
Abdirization of the Somali politics
Aden Adde began his career under Italian fascist colonial rule as an assistant cook, Abdirizak as a colonial servant and an auxiliary ‘sergeant’ soldier in the rigid British military administration. These mutual aspects of their formative lives influenced their outlook towards each other and toward Somalis, an important fact that Samatar evades highlighting as he attempts to universalise their political struggle. Aden Adde and Abdirizak were two men who obviously liked each other, defended each other vigorously, talked fondly about each other, spoke highly of each other, but were defeated together and buried next to each other. Aden Adde and Abdirizak were depicted as somewhat exceptional in a sea full of wolves, even remarkable exceptions to what was the rule in post-colonial Somali politics. Faced with clannism and corruption, Aden Adde and Abdirizak managed to control their interests to make a difference in the post-colonial state system. But they had their own share of the blame, a share that Samatar fails to notice, let alone note down. Abdirizak’s involvement in a parliament coup that deposed the legitimate speaker of the Legislative Assembly (Parliament) in 1965 is unforgivable in every standard of a democratic rule.
The speaker, Ahmed Mohamed Absiiyeh, had an initial argument with Abdirizak over his suitability for prime minister. Aden Adde and Abdirizak connived against the speaker for blocking Abdirizak’s cabinet in July 1964. Absiiyeh’s integrity was subsequently damaged through rumours because it was propagated that ‘all was not well with the speaker of the assembly’ (p. 168). As was his tendency, Abdirizak avenged on Absiiyeh by accusing him of ‘incompetence’ (p. 168). Is the ‘incompetence’ of the speaker of the parliament a concern of the prime minister or of the legislative assembly? This is not a mindboggling question that legal historians would have difficulty to find an answer. Yet, again, Samatar fails to follow the action carried out by state actors. It is scarcely surprising that Abdirizak succeeded to enjoy the support of Aden Adde and the SYL’s Central Committee, the rubber stamp institution within the government party, to destroy his nemesis Absiiyeh. After influencing the government, Abdirizak oversaw the expulsion of Absiiyeh from the SYL party. With the ouster of the speaker, Aden Adde and Abdirizak made Somalia a one-party state. From there onwards, they managed to own the parliament. Abdirizak’s abuse of power in the parliament was unconstitutional as well as his attempt to manipulate the media.
Even though Samatar argues Aden Adde and Abdirizak were puritanical political players with a high moral ground, considering them men bereft of corruption, his book contains evidence that contradicts his claims. Abdirizak’s behaviour towards his opponents, as Aden Adde plainly recorded in his diary, were vindictive in subtle ways. Abdirizak dismissed one minister in his cabinet after arguing over power, referring to 1963 political campaigning for the parliamentary election that occurred in March 1964, something that preceded Abdirizak’s premiership. Though not amply analysed by Samatar, it is clear from Aden Adde’s diary that Abdirizak abused his power in revenging on his opponents cruelly (p. 257n65). Abdirizak’s attitude was to attack opponents collectively or individually, even in cases when they disagreed with him on a national issue; notice how Abdirizak, using Samatar’s pen, chastises on Ali Mohamed Hiraabe (p. 141). Samatar’s quotation that Abdirizak announced ‘all members of his cabinet should declare that they do not own movable properties, buildings or land estates’, when indeed many of them had prospered under the previous government as ministers (p. 147), cannot dispel the fact that Abdirizak had included, not so unintentionally, his cabinet of ministers into men who he knew were corrupt. Abdirizak also appointed other former ministers whom he had accused earlier of involvement in corruption into his cabinet.
Abdirizak freely admitted involvement in corruption in the 1967 presidential election. Aden Adde’s candidacy had the chance to survive ‘the cascade of corrupt politics’ (p. 223), as Samatar mentions that Abdirizak was involved in corruption during the election to attempt to get Aden Adde re-elected. It is striking that Abdirizak blamed the Abdirashid-Egaal administration for corrupting the civil service, a slander he himself had committed earlier. Samatar omits the fact that Abdirizak maintained his parliamentary seat both in Gaalka’yo and in Garoowe in the March 1969 election, only to secure for re-election. Why had Aden Adde, more often than not, acted an admirer of the Italian (colonial) state system? Why had both men served colonial servants? How could Abdirizak blame his opponents – like Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke – for state exploitation when he himself had exploited the banking loan system in Banca di Credito? Why had Abdirizak had ‘dual income’, as Samatar himself shows, well before the post-colonial period? How did Abdirizak obtain a seaside mansion overlooking the Liido beach (p. 135)? How come Abdirizak could dare to convene a cabinet meeting during Abdullahi Iise’s tenure as he was not the prime minister or a minister? Obviously, more questions arise than answers.
Samatar twice repetitiously uses the same quotation from Africa Report in November 1964 to stress his point that Abdirizak was a tireless and hardworking man (see p. 137 and p. 191). He reports that Abdirizak demanded right men for the right positions, but the question that begs an answer is: was Abdirizak himself the right man for the post of the PM? This is an important question, given that Abdirizak had never attended a school. The Dalka editor, Yusuf Dhuhul, would go even further by saying he was merely a sergeant in British colonial service. Interestingly, Samatar does refer to Dhuhul when he affirms an argument amenable to Abdirizak, but ignores when he disapproves his claims. No voice is given from the interviewees cited in the endnote. One finds Abdullahi Insaaniya being referred to, but nowhere are his expressions and perspectives directly quoted (p. 252n104). Insaaniya and others are cited by name, only to prove Samatar’s opinionated position of post-colonial Somalia. With his selective exploitation of available sources, Samatar adopts repetitively the term ‘the available evidence’ when such evidence is a copy-and-paste from the Airgram reports of the US Department of State that can easily be available online.
While turning a blind eye to alternate written sources, Samatar accepts uncritically Aden Adde’s and Abdirizak’s version of events and occasions, which they use to assault their political opponents as ‘selfish’, ‘sectarian’, ‘opportunists’, ‘unworthy’, etc. Using two supporting sources to write history, if not critically analyse, often leads to incorrect accounts, ending up in accepting wholeheartedly Aden Adde’s and Abdirizak’s accounts and demonising their opponents on the way. Aden Adde and Abdirizak are framed as prophets with whatever they said standing the factual truth that no other truth can compete with. However, Samatar focuses more on Abdirizak than on Aden Adde, while directly referring more to the latter than to the former. Abdirizak does not need interrogation insofar as all Samatar’s views are apparently based on Abdirizak’s narration. For instance, when Samatar quotes Aden Adde and Abdirizak, he seems confident with Abdirizak more than Aden Adde. But when the duo provide two conflicting versions (Aden on the diary, while Abdirizak on the oral information), Samatar takes Abdirizak’s position (e.g. p. 261n11). The lack of critical appraisal reveals a practical problem, partly proving the perils of when one who is not a historian seeks to write a historical work. If Samatar was a historian, he would have considered Aden Adde’s contemporary record material more than Abdirizak’s oral information. How can Samatar confirm that the art of remembrance at an advanced age could come with precision? Again, if Samatar was a historian, he might not have been guided by the opinion of one individual, but he might have possibly presented other opinions.
Other than Abdirizak, Samatar uses Aden Adde’s diary as a biblical record. This does not mean when Samatar draws from Aden Adde’s diary, he does critically and closely analyse, assess, evaluate and interrogate its significance. One concrete methodological mistake is that Samatar describes what the diary says but he does not tell what it is not telling. At one time, Aden Adde praises the parliament (p. 252n98) and at another describes parliamentarians as ‘unworthy’ (p. 254n36). This shifting emotions should have been explored and examined. At times, Samatar misuses the diary itself, especially when misrepresenting it as ‘Osman, diary, October 27, 1960’ (p. 249n52); nonetheless, the fact is that Aden Adde’s diaries in 1960 and 1965 were lost. Thus, it is not clear whether Samatar’s ‘diary 1960’ was fabricated or just a typo. Unfortunately, Samatar could not consult other crucial contemporaneous data due to the lack of Italian proficiency. There was an article published in Corriere della Somalia in which Aden Adde attacked the northern nationalists in December 1959, barely six months before the unification. There are also some crucial silences over the close friendship Samatar had forged with Abdirizak. He did not mention that he was so attached to the former prime minister in that when he died in 2014, Samatar travelled with his body.
Africa’s First Democrats is the most repetitious book, recently written on Somalia; repetitious quotations are abundant (e.g. p. 212 and p. 214; p. 111 and p. 248n41). Reviewing my own book, the Dutch author Lidwien Kapteijns has recently insinuated that the first (not the last) thing to check in a book is the grammar rather than the content. Samatar’s book would reveal to her that any book written by non-native (or even native) English speaker cannot avoid grammatical slip-ups. What would Kapteijns contend when finding Samatar’s grammatical errors, such as ‘who expected to be become’ (p. 71); ‘the Osman was invited for a state visit’ (p. 162), etc. Even the comma and full stop are muddled: ‘Nur Hashi. Alas’ (p. 243n157). This is what happens when publishers fail to edit books; the problem leads to numerous unclear points, which any author would not wish to notice later. Samatar’s book is no exception. Samatar’s Somali writing skills are very poor. For example, he writes ‘rageyga’ (p. 130), when he should write raggeeda; ‘fidmoy’, when it should be fidmooy; ‘kow’ (p. 183), when it should be koow; ‘assayda’, when it should be assaay; ‘xuuraan’ when it should be xooraan (p. 215); and ‘Manabadbaa’ (p. 215) when it should be ma nabad baa.
Samatar’s knowledge of southern Somali history is so limited that he conflates names and places. He uses first names, sometimes second or third names to describe Somalis, employing both Somalised and Anglicised forms: For example, Cumar Siyaad (p. 20) and Warsame Omer (p. 21). Some personalities are only addressed in their nicknames rather than first introducing their full names. Ahmed Shuqul’s full name was Ahmed Haji Afrah, although Samatar calls him by a nickname (p. 66). In addition, Axmed Shuqul was not, as Samatar says, a district commission but the Mayor of Mogadishu. Others names are not less problematic: Sheikh Hassan Barsane, not Sheikh Hussein Barsane (p. 16); Abdinur, not Abdi Nur (p. 58); Walaayo, not Aleyo (p. 71); Ugaas Yassin, not ‘Ugey Yassin’ (p. 74); Sheikh Ali Jimale Baraale not ‘Sheikh Ali Jimale Barre’ (p. 95); Sharmarke, not ‘Sharmarkee’ (p. 128); Ahmed Alloore, not ‘Ahmed Allor’ (p. 140, p. 143); Abdirahman Haji Mumin’, not ‘Sheikh Abdirahman Haji Mumin’ (p. 170); Juuje, not ‘Juujo’ (p. 178) – Juujo is a female nickname in southern Somalia rather than a male name; Osman Maye’, not ‘Osman Munye’ (p. 205); Mohamoud Yusuf Muro, not ‘Mohamed Yusuf Muro’ (p. xvi and p. 46); and Ahmed Saleebaan Dafle not ‘Ahmed Suliman Dafly’ (p. 264n71). Names of places are also similarly incorrect: Wanleweyn, not ‘Wanle Weyne’ (p. 58); and Hajj not ‘Haji’ (p. 194). Samatar also has a similar difficulty with the Italian names (e.g. Bacchelli and Beretelli, index, p. 278).
Factual errors are also abundant. Somalia consisted of forty-eight districts, not ‘fifty-eight districts’ (p. 120); Janaale was a district, but not a region (p. 17); the electoral law was passed in 1968, not in 1969 (p. 195); the Somali Youth Club (SYC) would become the Somali Youth League (SYL) in 1947, not in 1945 (p. xv and p. 27); Britain ceded Reserved Area to Ethiopia in 1948, not in 1954 (p. xv, p. 60 and p. 79); the British occupied Mogadishu in 1941, not in 1940 (p. 31); what united in 1960 was not ‘two colonies’ (p. 85); Somaliland never become a colony; it was a protectorate; what was taken for a referendum in 1961 was the new republic’s constitution, not a ‘charter’ (p. 99) – from a legal perspective, charter has less clout than the constitution and is used in transitional periods; Haji Mohamed was elected as the SYL president in 1947, not in 1945 (p. 41); Mohamoud Yusuf Muro is alive and not passed away as Samatar assumes (p. xi); power was officially transferred to Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke on 30 June 1967, not on 1 July 1967 (p. 218); and Abdirashid was murdered on 15 October 1969, not on 10 October 1969 (p. xvi). Samatar considers the assassin who murdered Abdirashid as a ‘policeman’ (p. 203). The newly excavated source (court documents) showed that he was neither a policeman nor was he a lone killer (see The Suicidal State in Somalia, chapter 3). Samatar does not provide a source when asserting that the assassin was tortured in prison (p. 264n62).
Most of Samatar’s assertions are unfounded. Contradictions are too many to cover but I point out some. For instance, Samatar says Aden Adde could not appoint Abdullahi Iise a prime minister because both hailed from Hiiraan region and this was not ‘politically feasible in a democracy’ (p. 94). How can democracy deny one to become a prime minister just because he came from the same region as the president? Does democracy demand different regions or different clans? The fact is that it is a vice versa. If Haji Bashiir and Salaad Abdi were friends, as Samatar notes (p. 182), how come Osman Mohamed Adde and Abdirizak were ‘distant cousins’ (all were the same clan-group)? However, Abdirizak and Osman Mohamed Adde were not ‘distant cousin[s]’ (p. 158), if that is not meant they were from the same clan. The book appears as though it was drafted by one of Samatar’s students. For example, how can an experienced academic write this passage: ‘Existing evidence indicates that, in the Cold War context, neither the American nor the USSR government could understand what nonalignment mean’ (p. 251)? Any first-year undergraduate studying international relations can grasp that American and Soviet understanding was matchless in contrast with a small African state like Somalia, because they were firm with their main objective of ensuring their security interests which dictated shrugging off the nonsense of ‘nonalignment’.
Samatar is invariably ambivalent in his description of the SYL. Samatar considers 26 June 1960, the independence day of Somaliland, as a work done by the SYL (p. 86), but one wonders what the SYL had to do with this moment. Was the 26 June an SYL mission or Somali National League (SNL) initiative? It is ironic that Samatar, following the SYL stance, describes the agreements within the opposition groups as ‘Devil’s Pact’ (p. 65 and p. 245n193). To say this group was purely pro-Italian and another was anti-Italian was unfounded. History has proven that the SYL ended up as the Devil in the March 1969 election. However, Samatar says that the SYL was the most organised but at the same time includes it along with political parties that ‘lacked any sort of organi[s]ational discipline’ (p. 119). He takes on the SYL narrative when engaging with the opposition parties, but takes sides when it comes to the inner SYL power contestations. However, he contradicts himself when he claims that the ‘vast majority’ of Somalis supported the SYL while at the same time complains over the non-SYL parties. If the opposition group members, such as Sheikh Ali Jimale and Egaal were insignificant, why does he give them such an agency that they could destroy the whole state system? Gossip is used as an authentic source, especially when Samatar writes that ‘[m]any in the party [SYL] suspected that Haji [Mohamed Hussein] might have been bribed by those who wished the SYL ill’ (p. 239n88). Who were these ‘many’? How come the diehard nationalist Haji Mohamed Hussein was corruptible?
This is a difficult book to read and to review, not in terms of academic value, but in terms of muddled statements. After all, the book is partly hagiography, partly politicised book. Samatar uses an autochthonous language, when he describes the well-known Beledweyne merchant (Haji) Mohamed Jaabiri as an ‘Arab man’ (p. 21), when he was a Somali with Yemeni roots, like the Somalis with Oromo ancestry. It is also intellectual dishonesty, if not an unscrupulous act, for Samatar to describe those Islamic Courts leaders to whom he was an adviser as ‘pseudoreligious tyrants’ (p. 185). It is strange that Samatar refers to Robert Hess on how Italian fascists brutalised and humiliated Somalis (p. 231n21); on the contrary, Hess painted a different picture, demonstrating a favourable picture of the Italian colonial state. But Samatar seems to side with colonial authorities, when he notes that ‘[a] policy of many colonial regimes was to remove troublemakers to remote regions where they could not influence others. The northeast region of Migiurtinia was such an area’ (p. 231n19). Were these ‘troublemakers’ not supposedly nationalist heroes? Were Sheikh Hassan Barsane of the Gaalje’el clan who the Italians imprisoned in Mogadishu and Sultan Mohamoud Ali Shire of the Warsangeli clan who the British exiled in Seychelles part of these ‘troublemakers’? Finally, but fortunately, Samatar considers his account a ‘story’ rather than a ‘history’ (p. 2).
* Mohamed Haji Ingiriis is a PhD Candidate at the University of Oxford. firstname.lastname@example.org