Sunday, July 11, 2004

Celebrating 1st July in a New Light: a Somalilander's Perspective
Bashir Goth

"Take from the altars of the past the fire - not the ashes" ~Jean Jaures

On July 1st 1960, the people Somaliland celebrated a day of destiny. They gave up their sovereignty which they had won four days earlier by their own will.

They had a mission to fulfill and a vision to achieve . Their mission was to establish a strong united government with the South and not to let such historical opportunity slip from their grasp. Their vision was to bring all Somali-speaking people under the blue flag. This day the Somalilanders realized of a much larger vision they shared with the remaining four parts of Greater Somalia; with Somalis in Djibouti, the Reserved Areas of Ethiopia, the Northern Frontier District of Kenya and of course Italian Somalis of the South.

It was natural for Somalilanders at the time to see the Independence of Somaliland as the first step in a long and torturous journey towards the ultimate dream of all Somalis. The realization of Somaliweyn. This dream at the time was part of a general trend in Africa. A trend of unity and brotherhood that prevailed among all Africans emerging from under the yoke of colonialism. One has to recall, however, that when the dream of Somalis was limited to uniting the territory of the Somali speaking people under one flag, other Africans at the time had even bigger dreams. Dr Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana thought the independence of Ghana in 1957 was not sweet enough unless all Africa was independent and united under one flag and a United States of Africa was created. Thus came the historical meeting of William V.S. Tubman of Liberia and Ahmed Sekou Toure of Guinea with Nkrumah, in Sanniquellie, northern Liberia in 1959, to ink their famous communiqué of solidarity which later would become the precursor of the Organisation of the African Unity, OAU.

Even at his moment of triumph, as the hour of Ghana’s independence struck, Nkrumah couldn’t hide his quest for a much greater goal of an independent and united Africa, thus came his words in his independence speech:

"We again rededicate ourselves in the struggle to emancipate other countries in Africa; For our independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of the African continent.

"I believe strongly and sincerely that with the deep-rooted wisdom and dignity, the innate respect for human lives, the intense humanity that is our heritage, the African race, united under one federal government, will emerge not as just another world bloc to flaunt its wealth and strength, but as a Great Power whose greatness is indestructible because it is built not on fear, envy and suspicion, nor won at the expense of others, but founded on hope, trust, friendship and directed to the good of all mankind." Dr Kwame Nkrumah, Independence speech on March 5, 1957.

Negritude, an expression of African identity pioneered by celebrated black intellectuals such as Leopold Sédar Senghor of Senegal and Martinican poet and statesman Aime Cesaire, also paved the way for a unity among the blacks of the world albeit more of a cultural commonality than political.

African intellectuals and statesmen had the historical responsibility to rise to the need of the moment and the desire of the African people for Independence and unity. It is a historical misjudgment to expect of the Somali people to do otherwise. They too saw the unity of the territory of the Somali speaking people as a springboard to a unity of the whole of Africa. Dismantling of colonial borders between peoples of the same race and language was for them the start of setting the record straight.

No where was this better expressed than the words attributed to Farah Omaar, a Somalilander of broader vision, “ My country is too small to be divided into five parts.” Thus sang Somaliland poets and lyric writers among the most notable among them were Timacadde, Balayaca, Jabiye and Ali Sugule to mention but a few.

On 26th June and later on 1st July, the people of Somaliland had lived through one of their sweet dreams, that of independence and unity of at least two parts of the whole. Their jubilation for these two days was sincere and not orchestrated or forced. It was a patriotic and spontaneous outpour of the people’s true feelings. Every Somali person, whether inside the two united parts or outside them celebrated and embraced these two days as their own victory.

The fact that such beauty, such patriotism and such genuine feelings of brotherhood had been hijacked, betrayed and destroyed by the Siyad Barre’s dictatorial regime should not make the people of Somaliland look at these days with shame and remorse. Quite contrary, Somalilanders should be proud of the heroism of their men, women and children who rose to the historical responsibility of the moment, who like Nkrumah saw the independence of Somaliland as not enough and yearned for something bigger and better. Somalilanders should be proud that it was the sacrifices and the patriotism of their fathers that had made part of a Somali dream come true – the birth of the Somali Republic on 1st July 1960.

History is a witness that Somalilanders made the far bigger sacrifices for the sake of Somali unity than our Italian brothers. Gripped by the unity fever, Somalilanders had given up everything. The capital went to the south. So was the posts of the President, Speaker of the parliament, the Prime Minister and key cabinet ministers such as the defense, the foreign office, finance and interior. Even the Armed Forces Chief of Staff and the Commander of the national police force were seen as too big a share to be given the north.

Despite such injustice, the Somalilanders continued to hang on to their hopes, dreaming of the arrival of the day of reckoning when all Somalis would come under the umbrella of unity and their sacrifice would be rewarded with a fair share of wealth and government. This explains the Northerners’ outright rejection of the attempted coup by their military elites in 1961, with the most celebrated Northern playwright Ali Sugule hailing the military’s alertness in squashing Hassan Kayd’s coup with his famous “Nin lagu seexdow ha seexan,” sang by the late Somali melody queen Magool.

Whether the Somalilander’s unbelievable sacrifices and proverbial patriotism could be seen as political naivety or visionary cause went awry will be a subject for debate among history students for years to come, but one thing is true that Somalilanders’ had invested heavily in the Somali cause and had lost heavily too.

To borrow Nkrumah’s words again, Somalilanders dreamed of a Great Somali Unity whose greatness was indestructible because it was to be built not on fear, envy and suspicion, nor won at the expense of others, but founded on hope, trust, friendship and directed to the good of all mankind.

They, however, instead reaped misery, destruction, fear and loss of human dignity. The Somali unity was destroyed by the brutality of the Siyad Barre regime to the people of the north. Even the ensuing civil war among the northern clans was a measure orchestrated by the Barre regime aimed at finishing off whatever its missiles, tanks and planes had missed and a sinister move aimed at sowing long term discord and never healing spiritual wounds among the Somalilanders.

Thanks to the wisdom of their elders, their shared blood and cultural values, the Somalilanders have overcome their plight, pieced their lives together, rebuilt their villages and towns stone by stone and block by block, reclaimed their sovereignty and created a vibrant and constitutional democracy to the envy of many Africans and to the admiration of the international community.

This shouldn’t make Somalilanders, however, negate the dreams and the noble goals for which our fathers and mothers fought. Just like we are doing today, they were trying with the best of their ability and to the best of their knowledge to guarantee a peaceful and better future for their children and grandchildren. Never, should we, therefore, denigrate nor downgrade their efforts and their struggle. To disassociate ourselves from their achievements, is to decry their accomplishments, to demean their intentions, to question their honesty and their integrity and to discredit their intellect and political vision.

Let us view the day of 1st July in its historical perspective and celebrate the bravery, the vision, the patriotism and wholeheartedness with which our people have fought to realize their dream symbolized at the time by 1st July. To shun and reject the historical importance of 1st July, is to say that our fathers and mothers have died in vain, danced in vain, sang in vain and jubilated in vain in their thousands.

No, never… our fathers and mothers had fought for the right cause, at the right time and for the right age. Somalilanders today are also fighting for the right cause, at the right time for the right age by reclaiming their sovereignty and chartering their own way for their own future and that of their children. Just the same way as our fathers and mothers thought they were doing. Had they had the prophetic vision and the foresight to see where their achievements would end, they surely wouldn’t have taken the road they took. But as fallible human beings, how could they! We also cannot swear the fruits we are sowing today would not be sour someday in the distant future. To put it simply we are trying to do our best. So did our fathers and mothers in their time. Therefore, let us respect their record and their history if we want our children to respect our record and our history as well.

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