Aden Abdulla Osman: A Tribute to a Statesman
Today on 8th June marks the 10th death anniversary of the father of the nation, Aden Abdulla Osman. Aden Abdulla first President of Somalia and for more than two decades the most outstanding political figure in Somalia, died in Nairobi hospital on June 8, 2007.
Aden Abdulla stepped into the national political spotlight in 1944, when he joined the Somali Youth Club (SYC) and his unique talent made him rise quickly through the ranks of the organization becoming its leader. In the early years of the liberation movements, he played a leading role in the formulation of his party’s political program during the debate on the future of Somalia at the United Nations.
His long political career spanned over three successive cycles: (1) the period from 1944 to 1950, during which time he served as leader of the local SYL branch in Belet Uen, a role that brought him into close contact with the movement’s rank and file, (2) the period from 1950 through 1960, in which he served as member of the Territorial Council (Consiglio Territoriale), a consultative and representative organ for the entire territory to advise the trusteeship administration on all issues, except for defense and foreign affairs. and member of the Legislative Assembly. And (3), from 1960 to 1967, the time he served as Head of the State.
He came to prominence when, in November 1949, the General Assembly of the United Nations decided to place Somalia under the International Trusteeship with Italy as Trustee.
Within Somalia opinion has been divided, on the question of return of Italy as administering power. The radical wing of the Somali Youth League party was against any form of co-operation with the incoming Italian administration and contemplated approaching the Ethiopian government with a view to make sure of their help should a form of resistance to the Trusteeship authorities be adopted. The official position to be adopted vis-à-vis the UN decision was discussed in a meeting in Mogadiscio in November 1949 to which all branch secretaries of the party were invited. Three options were on the table: (a) to remain in Somalia and fight it out with the Italians; (b) to transfer the party’s HQs to Ogaden and link up with the Ethiopians, (3) to co-operate with the Italians and capture the best positions under the Trusteeship and become leaders of the country when independence would be granted. Each option required hard and informed decision. At the end of prolonged and charged meeting, the opinion of the moderates, led by Aden Abdulla, prevailed. The far-sighted leader reminded his party fellows that the public was ill-prepared to engage in armed resistance against Italy, and to challenge the world body’s decision on behalf of which Italy was coming to administer Somalia as a trustee. The best course of action, he suggested, was to ’wait and see’ how the new Administration would respect its international obligations under the Trusteeship Agreement between Italy and the United Nations. However, and despite this decision, there was no entente between AFIS and SYL during the early years of the trusteeship administration.
Brusasca Aden Abdulla Show-down
Aden Abdulla came again to prominence when, in May 1950, while still in Belet Uen, he was selected to lead the non-easy negotiation process in Mogadiscio between his party and Hon. Giuseppe Brusasca, Undersecretary of State for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Italy, who came on visit, less than a month after the establishment of the Trusteeship Administration.
A straight-talking man of principle, Aden Abdulla harshly reminded Brusasca of all the wrongs Italy had committed, ranging from the genocide to forced labor, from encouraging tribalism to keeping Somalis in utter ignorance. The conversation between the two men was terse and uncompromising. In a brusque, matter of-fact manner; Aden Abdulla started the conversation by asking: “Vogliamo sapere che cosa è venuta a fare l’Italia in Somalia.” (“We want to know what Italy has come to Somalia for”.) Brusasca’s response was calm and concise: “We are here on behalf of the United Nations with the task to organize your State.” “Non farete di questo mandato un pretesto per poi rimanere come colonizzatori?” (“You are not going to use this mandate as a pretext to remain as colonizers?”) Aden Abdulla enquired. Brusasca tried to defend himself from this barrage of accusations by pointing out the improvements achieved by Italy during its tenure as administrator of the territory. “All that is here has been done by Italy: roads, hospitals, public services, waterworks and sanitation, in short, everything.” Aden Abdulla’s reply was curt: and to the point. He said “This is true, but those who came after you granted us something immensely much more important than that. They gave us freedom of expression, freedom to establish political parties, freedom to work for the future of our country.” Six months later he was elected to the Territorial Council, the beginning of a long and distinguished parliamentary career.
Years of Parliamentary activities
Between 1950 and 1956, he divided his time between Belet Uen, where he was local party Secretary and Mogadiscio, where he was a member of the Territorial Council,
In 1953, together with Abdinour Mohamed Hussein, of the Hiszbia Dighil Mirifle (HDM), he was elected Vice President of Territorial Council, a position he held until the general elections of 1956. For his active participation in the Council’s works and grasp of the issues on the agenda of the United Nations, he was chosen in different occasions, to represent Somalia at the annual debates on Somalia taking place in the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York and other meeting like the Islamic Conference in Pakistan. His choice to represent Somalia came as result of endorsement he received from the complete spectrum of political parties present in the Territorial Council, including his longtime political rivals, the Conferenza Somala, a coalition of different parties traditionally close to the Italian administration.
The lack of co-operation and meaningful dialogue between the Administration and the SYL caused valuable time to be lost in the first crucial years of the new Administration, making interaction between the two sides difficult. Towards the end of 1953, Aden Abdulla, while in Belet Uen, came under increasing pressure from the moderate wing of his party who worried about this standoff and lack of progress in the relations with the Administering Authorities. He was called to formulate a mediation process to break the impasse. It is also narrated that the Egyptian member of the UN Advisory Council in Somalia (UNACS) was directly involved in the idea of opening constructive dialogue with the administering authority. A shrewd politician, Aden Abdulla was convinced from the beginning that his party had nothing to lose if it co-operated with the Administering Power. Gradually, the SYL came to realize the advantages of moderation and constructive dialogue with the Administering Authority, and started opening out from its initially rigid positions
The SYL was disturbed, among other things, by the number of ex-fascist administrators returning to Somalia and doubted ‘the leopard’s ability to change its spots’. In fact, except for the chief administrator and few others, the bulk of the Italian administrators, especially the top-ranking officials, were staff of the dissolved ‘Ministero dell’Africa Italiana’. The issue of Italian officials who had past links with the fascist regime was brought to the attention of the Italian government in Rome.” Echoing widespread Somali concern”, Aden Abdulla had made the following appeal to the then Italian Premier, Alcide De Gasperi during a visit in Rome on March 28, 1954: “Your Excellency, if Italy wants to show good faith towards the Somalis, call home those who are putting obstacles in the way of collaboration between us and the Administration, those who have baksheesh, paternalism and a kick in the pants as a system of government. The rest will go of its own accord”.
The election for the leadership of the SYL party, held in the territory in 1954, resulted in a sweeping victory for Aden Abdulla, who gained sixty per cent of the seven thousand five hundred votes cast. To many observers, Aden Abdulla’s overwhelming victory was a very good sign that the party had come to recognize the advantages of a policy of moderation, and could appreciate “a man of real ability who is capable of holding independent views.”
In the same year, the first municipal elections were held in Somalia, these elections represented the first step in the difficult democratization process and the first opportunity to test the degree of maturity achieved by the local population, less than 4 years from the establishment of the trusteeship administration. “Aden Abdulla’s policy of moderation and co-operation with the Administration over the previous years had been a success for the party as a whole”, comments a British source in Mogadiscio
Years of Speakership of Parliament
The SYL obtained much of the seats contested in the first political elections held in 1956. The elections brought about a new development in the sense that they transformed the Territorial Council into a fully-fledged elective legislative body, with full statutory powers over legislation dealing with domestic affairs.
When the party, convened a congress, after the elections, to discuss, among other subjects, the formation of the future government, Aden Abdulla, proposed a multi-party cabinet so that other parties could gain experience in executive responsibility, but the party congress voted down the proposal. However, the congress endorsed his candidacy as President of the Legislative Assembly, a position he could utilize in shaping a future independent Somalia. In fact, as President of Parliament and majority leader, he launched an ambitious campaign to generate ways to reform the structure of his party and improve its cohesion. Following the political elections of 1959 he was again elected President of the National Assembly (Parliament). Self-educated and well read, Aden Abdulla became known for his encyclopedic knowledge of the parliamentary rule which allowed him to perform his tasks with success.
Aden Abdulla elected Head of State
The UN 10 year’s trusteeship administration on Somalia, operated by Italy, ended on July 1, 1960, six months ahead of the terms provided in article 24 of the Trusteeship Agreement between Italy and the United Nations Trusteeship Council of January 27, 1950.
By Law no. 643 of June 28, 1960, the Italian government officially sanctioned the independence of Somalia. AFIS thus formally ended its trusteeship administration in Somalia at 16hrs of 30 June 1960. At 6 o’clock in the afternoon, in all centers of Somalia, the Italian and UN flags were for the last time lowered.
Some 400 important guests pouring in from around the world including all United Nations members were invited to attend the independence celebrations. After the conclusion of the celebrations, the 90 deputies from the former Trust Territory and the 33 parliamentarians from the former British Protectorate of Somaliland met to constitute the unified National Assembly and elect a provisional Head of State for the Somali State. Not surprisingly, Aden Abdulla, 52, was elected with 107 votes out of 115 deputies present and voting, as provisional Head of State for a period of one year, until the time when the Constitution would be approved by referendum. Angelo del Boca, the Italian historian, who was present during the independence celebrations, described the new Head of State, with undeniable accuracy, in the following words: “If there is a man who can claim the status of determined and coherent nationalist, in addition to being a moderate, this man is Aden Abdulla.
In his inaugural speech at midnight of 30 June 1960, appearing on the balcony of the National Assembly building where he was greeted by a very large crowd of happy and cheering people, with a few heartfelt and carefully chosen words, the newly elected Head of State said: “To you, Somalia, who, from this instant see the light, you have a face and a name, may God bless you and grant you long life.” He then added “Today we are Somalis, today we are independent and sovereign. Today we finally have a State and a flag. It is a blessing from God; let us protect and preserve it.” And after reading the proclamation, Aden Abdulla invited the crowd to turn their thought to “the millions of African brothers still languishing under the yoke of injustice and lack of understanding”. It was the speech in which Aden Abdulla set out his vision for the nascent Somalia, a nation he hoped would be prosperous, tolerant and where corruption would find no home. Regrettably, fifty-seven years later, Aden Abdulla’s vision has all but disappeared, and so his speech.
It was the speech in which Aden Abdulla set out his vision for the nascent Somalia, a vision he hoped would be prosperous, tolerant and where corruption would find no home. Fifty-seven years later, Aden Abdulla’s vision has all but disappeared, and so his speech.
The year1960 is referred to as to the Year of Africa because of a series of events that took place during the year, namely the independence of seventeen African nations that highlighted the growing Pan-African sentiments in the continent. The rise to independence of 17 sub-Saharan African countries in 1960 is in part the result of a long process that began fifteen years earlier in the tumult of World War II. In the chronological list of independence, Somalia took place in the 5th position after Cameroun, Togo, Madagascar, and Congo Kinshasa, now Democratic Republic of Congo. President Aden Abdulla was the contemporary of such other African leaders as Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Sekou Toure’ of Guinea, Patrice Lumumba of Congo, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, among many others who emerged in 1960s as leaders of their respective countries. However, it should be said that, when the bulk of the post-independence period, all these African leaders were displaying, with a striking similarity, an absence of even the most essentials of democracy, Somalia, instead, took place in a framework of a parliamentary democracy. In 1961, he was elected for full presidential mandate of 6 years.
A democratically elected African president steps down quietly
Displaying a marked degree of faith and foresight, Aden Abdulla has not only conceded defeat but, even though his term of office was not due to expire until July 6, 1967 he wrote to the President of the National Assembly asking Parliament to accept early transfer of power from June 30 at 6 pm, to allow the newly elected President of the Republic to preside over the celebrations marking Independence Day on 1 July. The request was acclaimed by the Parliament. Aden Abdulla made history as the first African Head of State to graciously hand over power to his democratically elected successor.
The former President of Somalia returned and resumed life as an ordinary citizen. Very often he was seen standing in the normal queue in the offices and marketplaces to pay the account to cashier. No richness and no Show off and no corruption cases! All clear and Fully Honest Life even after two terms of Somali Presidency.
The importance of Aden Abdulla, in the context of Somali history, can be distilled into the following points: he imparted modern values and thought, stressed social justice, insisted upon the basic unity of Somalia, and, in the face of clan diversity, carried Somalia into the modern age of stability and peace. During his stint, he gave proof of a rare sense of statesmanship, moderation and impartiality in a country in which the loyalty of the politicians is to their clans and not to State institutions, working to ease the dangerous political differences in his country and to build up a stable State based on solid democratic foundations.
As a President of the Republic from 1960 to1967 he paved the road for a political stability unequalled anywhere in Africa, and worn worldwide respect for extending the hand of friendship to both the east and the west equally.
He conducted State affairs by strict observance of the Constitution and the law rather than through political alliances: he was a man above the parties, capable of taking independent decisions without compromising on matters of principle. Nobody has ever questioned his commitment to the institutions he served. His three pillars of domestic policies were democracy, unity and good governance, and he largely succeeded in maintaining a strong foundation of all three during his tenure. He enjoyed iconic status and was widely admired internationally for his idealism and statesmanship. But Aden Abdulla’s achievements had been squandered by an old weakness at the heart of the Somali politics: its love for showmanship and personality over policy and good governance.
His internationalist view led to Somalia becoming a founding member of the Organization of African Union (OAU), now African Union, and his political thought and experience in promoting democracy and rule of law proved seminal and enduring. The public never had a chance to fully appreciate his extraordinary leadership qualities until many years after he left office. His stature grew with the passage of time and most of today’s generation finds it incomprehensible that Somali leaders of such high caliber existed in recent history. Aden Abdulla was a challenging figure possessed of an integrity, honesty and courage far beyond the average measure.
Unlike many African head of States of his time, he has never become a focus of personality cult. If anyone was well positioned to launch a political personality cult it was Aden Abdulla. Personality cult emerges, among other things, when an individual uses mass media, propaganda, or other methods to create idealism, heroic and, at times, worshipful image, often through unquestioning flattery and praise.
President Mugabe of Zimbabwe already had been dubbed “the most authentic, consistent and revolutionary leader” in the ruling ZANU PF Party’s newspaper advertisements. His Kenyan counterpart, Daniel Arap Moi, was known as “The Glorious” ( Mheshimiwa in Swahili). The octogenarian Hastings Kamuzu Banda was “The Lion of Malawi” or “Savior” ( Mkango waMalawi orNgwazi in the native Nyanja.) The Congolese President was known “Mobutu Sese Seko Koko Ngbendu Wa Za Banga (“The all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, will go from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake”). Many of the attributes heaped on African leaders by their subjects compare their powers to those of God or of a dangerous animal.
In contrast, Aden Abdulla was a very modest man, refusing to take any credit for his achievements; He had adopted the pleasant habit of performing the Friday prayers in different Mosques in the capital city among large congregation, driving his private car, alone, or in company of one person. His rigorous exercise routine that starts at cock’s crow every morning followed by healthy breakfast and hard day at the office kept him in good spirit. He was known as a measured, mild and immaculately-mannered politician. His discretion and diplomacy, and his preference for working behind the scenes have earned him the respect of those in Somalia and beyond.
Immediately after independence, the President warned the Somali leaders that ‘political independence was not enough’ as many had understood it as the replacement of white masters by black masters with all accompanying privileges. In 1956, when he was elected President of the Legislative Assembly, he refused to dwell in the official residence assigned to him within the Legislative Assembly building choosing, instead, to stay in his private modest house. He refused also to have domestic helpers on government payroll. He was deeply convinced that occupying government owned residences while getting at the same time housing allowances was a license for undue advantages in clear violation of the law.
There was no lavish spending at the presidential mansion during his tenure. On the contrary, he turned down a proposal made by his Chief de Cabinet to purchase from Italy luxury furniture for this office because of the expensive bill, and whatever money he could economize on the annual budget of the presidency he used for repair and maintenance works of the presidential retreat in Afgoi.
Available evidence shows how Aden Abdulla was a conscientious man who took his duty to contribute to public expenditure very seriously. In fact, he never failed to make regular payments to municipal or government taxation agencies of income taxes of his real property in Belet Uen or in Mogadiscio, a rare example in a country where the culture of tax payment is alien. Immediately after his election as Head of State he sold his shares in Agip, Somalia branch, and transferred his private business in Belet Uen.
He had not made money through underhand deals, nor had he been bribed by any person into selling his conscience. What he owned was made legally out of intelligent private investment. None of his siblings, or any other persons related to him by blood or by marriage received employments or other economic advantages under his patronage.
No quote captures what Aden Abdulla stood for better than this “The government has managed to make me accept to travel to Holy Mecca aboard an 18 seat DC3 plane chartered by Aden Airways which would cost the government the sum of ShSo 36,000. However, the government will not be able to make me accept not to pay for me and for my wife what we would have paid had we used a any commercial regular airline. I do expect that Mr. Awale (Chief Cabinet of the Presidency) and others who are traveling to Mecca on their own be asked to follow suit” When he came back from the pilgrimage, he promptly settled his share of the amount paid about his trip to the Holly Places.
The best way of paying tribute to the father of the nation is to sincerely strive for Somalia a peaceful, moderate and developed African nation in accordance with his vision. The nation is fully aware of the fact that Somalia is today posed at critical juncture of its history. There is no space for extremism in a country envisioned by the Great Leader.