by Avv. Abdiwhid Abdullahi Warsame
I caught wind of the unfortunate passing of former Somali President Ali Mahdi Mohamed on the 9th of March 2021 due to COVID-19 complications in Nairobi, Kenya. Seeing as though we all have a limited time here in this world, the death of a virtuous man leaves one with a feeling of sorrow and reflection. The former president was not the only one who has succumbed to the inevitable, but a cohort of other prominent figures in Somalia have also passed away.
Such names include Chieftain Ugas Hassan Ugas Khalif, a well-respected domestic figure and former civil servant. Ugas Hassan was an exceptionally skilled orator in a society that cherishes the linguistic arts. He came from a prominent and refined lineage of Ugas’. I had close conversations with the Ugas with regards to the state of Somalia.
Another important figure that recently passed was the Former Somali Ambassador to the United States, Abdelkarim Aw-Ali Omar. His journey of life came to an end in Columbus, OH. As a Somali patriot, he was a father-like figure for the Somali community in Columbus, OH. He was full of spirit and always enjoyed having company around.
Haji Mohamoud Haji Elmi (Haji Dagax), the former Somali Airlines pilot, also passed away in Mogadishu last week-his work as a pilot symbolized the advancement of the Somali National flag across the continent. He was an approachable man who would open conversations with jokes.
Former Somali Police Force commander, General Mohamed Jama, also passed away in the capital city. He was a knowledgeable member of the police force. Even as a member of the Northern community of Somaliland, he dearly expressed his belief of a united Somali Nation-I hope one day to see his dream come to fruition.
A close friend of mine, member of the Somali Federal Parliament, who also resided in Columbus, OH Eng. Mohamoud Bono, passed away in the southwest city of Baidabo, Somalia. He too had a great desire to live peacefully in his hometown in Somalia. I recall the times when we would meet for coffee at Easton mall in Columbus, Oh with other friends. One thing all these great men have in common in their deaths is the indiscriminate nature of COVID-19 or similar respiratory illnesses.
This group of men standout above the rest who have also died from this pandemic due to their social and public service. I am sure many of my fellow countrymen have also passed away from Coronavirus which is a devastating loss for the country.
Somalia has had and still has a long-standing list of issues that has crippled the nation. These issues include, but are not limited to, political instability, deplorable economic conditions, and a fragmented social stratum. Unfortunately, Covid-19 exacerbated the already acute issues of Somalia. Former President Ali Mahdi was a man who played a vital role in Somali Economics and Politics. Besides being a member of the Somali Parliament in 1969 prior to the military coup, the Former President contributed to the livelihood of Mogadishu with indispensable services. He built the magnificent first-class Makah Mukarama hotel and restaurant. That hotel has set the standard of hospitality services to another level. The guests are always left with a positive sense of wellbeing as he would greet and bid farewell to them. He always carried civil and courteous conversations with his clients and employees. Along with many of his positive traits, he always dressed well.
Makah hotel served as a hub for political discourse and get-togethers among friends and family because of its serene enviornment. Even as a hotel owner, Ali Mahdi had some involvement in Somali politics in the early 80’s. Having had political exposure before 1969, Ali Mahdi discreetly acclaimed to change the long sitting military regime. During that era, the political dissatisfaction felt by the people was a sign that change was imminent.
As the government started to become more aggressive in its attempt to control its people during the late 80s, Ali Mahdi and many established United Somali Congress members (USC) vowed to topple the military government. The former president Ali Mahdi also had his hand in the Manifesto group which consisted of former politicians, respected tribal elders, and other important businessmen.
Mahdi was a shining star due to his charismatic nature and his far-reaching affiliation with not only the residents of Mogadishu, but also the surrounding rural communities. Following the success of USC’s overthrowing of the Siyad Barre regime on the 26th of January 1991, Mahdi was sworn in as President of the Republic of Somalia. Some to this day still debate that his hasty declaration of presidency had contributed to the seemingly never-ending political contests.
Many argue that he and the Manifesto group unilaterally decided the fate of the presidency without consulting with other relevant political power players such as the Somali National Movement (SNM), from the Northern region, and a faction that disembarked from USC (or the actual USC depending on who you ask) led by General Mohamed Farah Aided. General Aided denounced the Presidency of Ali Mahdi which resulted in an arm conflict between Mahdi’s militia and Aided men. This tragic conflict took not only the lives of countless men, women, and children, but defaced the entire city of Mogadishu. Later in his life, Ali Mahdi repeatedly regretted being involved in such a conflict, concluding that it was an unnecessarily avoidable brotherly fight.
To my knowledge, Mahdi never dared to partake in the then ongoing warlord-ism in the late 90’s. He lived quietly in Mogadishu without harming a soul. Even in the midst of the turmoil of Mogadishu, Mahdi refused to leave to share the trauma with his fellow neighbors. Mahdi always tried to outreach the well-wishers of Somalis to reconcile their political differences to re-establish a stronger more unified Somali nation. Mahdi was a devout religious man who publicly acknowledged his faults which included embezzlement of government funds prior to the revolution. Mahdi reimbursed the money he took from the government and asked for forgiveness from God. Mahdi has set an unprecedented standard that moral integrity and public servitude are essential not just to all public servants, but to the Muslim community as a whole. The former President, as a private citizen during an unsafe environment, built a skyscraper in Mogadishu to set an example to the people who have the financial means to follow suit to rebuild the nation. He insisted that Somalis invest locally rather than investing overseas. He proudly tasked the construction of the tower to a Somali engineer instead of handing a contract to a foreigner. That choice represents his vision of trusting in his fellow countrymen.
During the later part of his life, Mahdi was heavily involved in building a democratic and stable society as he was engaging with various sectors of the Mogadishu community. Mahdi played the role of an elderly statesman hoping to see his country get back on its feet. The former President Ali Mahdi disliked the way the current government has been handling the social affairs of Mogadishu. Mahdi criticized the suppression of freedom of speech and assembly over the last 4 years. The former President adamantly advocated for a stable, cohesive, open, and democratic society.
Mahdi publicly denounced federalism which he believed was orchestrated by the enemies of Somalia to weaken the State. He claims that the idea of federalism in Somalia originated from Ethiopia. Mele Zenawi, Somalia’s archenemy, entertained the idea of federalism during the early 90’s in which Ali Mahdi and others roundly rejected. The idea of federalism, or a centralized government, is one which is still unsettled among Somali intellectuals. Although the Somali Constitution states that federalism is the mode of governance, the application of federalism has never been studied well.
Although many uneducated men and women criticized the former President as he stated during a communal meeting in Mogadishu mid 2020 that he carries his white gun (qorigaya Cad) to defend the right to live free from the government. That narrative is a noble statement in which a dignified man must confront during times of uncertainty. Mahdi was a champion of freedom, democracy and the rule of law. He disliked the usage of shackles that an oppressive government lays on its people.
What many do not understand is that the people of Somali must hold the gains that Mahdi fought dearly for in the 90’s. I do not see Mahdi as an advocate for war, rather as an ally for checks on the government. In a civilized society, a government is in a delicate balance of serving its citizens, and at the same time not infringing on their God given rights. Just like Siyad Barre took care of the nation early in his regime, those who came after him, like Ali Mahdi, partook in creating a nation towards the right path of governance. I had many opportunities to discuss with Mahdi about the current status of the nation by calling each other. To my understanding, Mahdi was worried that the current government could quickly devolve into an authoritarian regime. I share his concerns since there is evidence of this being the case such as abuse of power and disregard of the provisional Constitution.
Although we have lost many great people from this pandemic, I hope and pray that the living former Presidents Dr. Abdiqasin Salat Hassan, Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, and Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, and Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo since now Farmaajo is a member of former president’s club, for their well-being during these difficult times.
Avv. Abdiwhid Abdullahi Warsame