Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

March Books 4) Search for a New Somali Identity, by Hussein Ali Dualeh

Dualeh is a senior Somali political figure, currently Somaliland's Minister of Finance. In this 2002 book he reminisces about his own life and reflects on the future of the Somali people.

In an interesting book, the most interesting chapter for me was the second chapter, on Dualeh's education in the colonial British system. He was expelled from the Somaliland boarding school at Sheikh for persistent truancy, but then went to Aden and got a good Catholic schooling (like most Somalilanders he is a pretty secular Muslim). Then he went to Britain and ended up getting military training in preparation for joining Somaliland's armed forces. There is an amazing moment when he ends up earning money from his illiterate British fellow squaddies for writing their letters home for them; he is stunned that an Englishman (probably in fact a Scot, from context) could not write his own language.

The other particularly fascinating chapter is his account of being Somalia's ambassador to Uganda during the reign of Idi Amin, who he got to know rather well (and chided directly for being too ostentatiously public in his mosque attendance). There is an extraordinary anecdote of his amost walking in on a meeting between Amin and the Minister of Finance, where Amin demanded that, if the country was running out of money, they should just print more. The minister refused, and fled Uganda that evening, probably wisely.

It's a bit frustrating that the chapters are arranged in slightly haphazard order: we have the story of the author's failed 1961 coup after the story of his subsequent trial, and the account of the 1990s collapse of Somalia comes before the account of the misrule of the 1970s and 1980s which caused it. And I found myself wondering for several chapters why it was that the international community failed to mediate when the 1960 arrangements broke down (cf Cyprus where they didn't do much but at least did something); and eventually the answer appeared - Somalia was a Soviet client state, so nobody was much interested in helping sort out its internal governance problems.

Dualeh makes a very clear case for Somaliland's recognition as an independent state. It easily clears the hurdle of the Montevideo criteria; it is not seeking a change to colonial-era boundaries (which would violate the African Union's doctrine on this); the Act of Union with Italian Somaliland never received parliamentary ratification (a technicality which helped Dualeh get his acquittal in the 1961 trial); the 1961 referendum ratifying the united Somalia constitution was rejected by 80% of voters in the north (that is, of voters who ignored the opposition's call to boycott the vote!); and the behaviour of the Siyad Barre regime to its supposed fellow citizens in the north removes any moral right of Mogadishu to legislate for Hargeisa.

He also speculates that a viable solution for the rest of Somalia would have to be a bottom-up rather than top-down process (which is something I often hear from Somalilanders) and proposes a three-unit federation, including Puntland and two other states farther south. I have no idea how viable this is.

Anyway, I think this is the first book about Somalia and/or Somaliland which I have read by an actual Somali, and I learned a lot from it.
Tags: bookblog 2009, poc, world: somaliland

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