As a United States Peace Corps Volunteer, I served as Legal Advisor to the Somali National Police Force (SNPF) from 1966 to 1968. I am proud to say that I worked for General Mohamed Abshir, who was Commandant. We became friends and over five decades remained so until his death. His son said that Mohamed called me “a friend for life,” and for me, that is truly an honor.
Those of your readers who are unfamiliar with the early history of the Somali Republic cannot imagine the excitement and challenges of building a new nation. First and foremost, there was the overriding issue of integrating former British Somaliland with former Italian Somaliland. Both colonies had different degrees of self-government, training, administrative practices, education and of course a different written language. While all in the new Government spoke Somali, it was an unwritten language at the time. All laws were supposed to written in Arabic, English and Italian, although the translations many times did not match. Michael Mariano headed up a commission for the integration of the laws of the two former colonies and his commission was still hard at work six years after independence.
Then there was the over-riding problem of tribalism with the various tribes and clans competing for government appointments. Even by 1966, when I arrived, the influence of tribes and clans was almost as strong as the concept of nationhood. The period following the overthrow of Mohamed Siad Barre clearly demonstrates the virulent nature of tribalism and the wanton destruction, corruption and anarchy it encourages.
Mohamed Abshir was a true Somali nationalist. From my observations of his role as SNPF Commandant, he placed the nation above tribe and promoted officers on the basis of merit and not clan affiliation. I participated, at his instruction, in a case involving two policemen who had intervened in the interior near Kismayo, to protect some farmers from nomads who had seized their well. The policemen had wounded some of the nomads and arrested others and brought them before the District Court Judge. Unfortunately, the Judge was of the same clan as the nomads. He dismissed the case against the nomads and charged the police with having caused them bodily harm. They were arrested and tried and convicted by that same judge. We fought their conviction all the way to the Somali Supreme Court and won. When the police were released, General Abshir had them flown to Police Mogadishu and in a full ceremony on the parade grounds of the Police Academy, commended them for having done their duty. The message to the officers and men of the SNPF was always do your duty to the country and act as members of a national force and not as members of a tribe or clan.
In 1967, then Vice-President Hubert H. Humphrey visited Somalia as part of a multi-country tour of Africa, including Ethiopia. Several weeks after his visit, the United States Secret Service sent General Abshir a letter stating that of all the police forces they had dealt with during the Vice President’s visit, the Somali National Police Force was the most professional. I saw that letter and General Abshir was most proud of the SNPF for it. There is no doubt General Abshir was responsible for creating and maintaining the most professional and best trained police force in Africa.
Shortly after the military coup, Mohamed was imprisoned without charges or trial. He was held, at Lantaan Bur, an East German-designed prison, in solitary confinement, in a below ground level cell for more than eight years. His imprisonment was under brutal conditions designed to break his spirit and get him to cooperate with the Siad Barre regime. He was deprived of the Holy Koran, books, paper and writing implements.
I visited him after he was released in 1982 and had dinner at his house with General Abdullahi Farah Ali Holif and former Prime Minster Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal, both former prisoners of the dictator as well. I remember how Mohamed Abshir spoke without anger or vindictiveness of the need to restore democracy and the old Constitution and rebuild Somalia. The only time he became passionate was in recounting that his mother had died while he was in prison and he had not been informed until his release.
In 1991 shortly before the overthrow of Siad Barre, Mohamed brought together former Somali government officials, intellectuals, educators, respected elders and others . They issued a manifesto signed by all of them. It called for the resignation of Siad Barre, restoration of the old Constitution and an interim government to hold power only for the purpose of conducting democratic elections. He, Holif and some of the other signatories I do not remember now by name, were arrested and charged with treason which carried the death penalty. They were released because the people of Mogadishu demonstrated in the streets and forced Siad Barre to back down.
Mohamed participated in numerous conferences trying to reconcile the warring Somali factions and produce a unity government. Ultimately, these efforts failed but throughout he remained committed to the concepts of democracy and Somali unity.
I saw him again in May of 1993 when he was head of the Government of Puntland. Consistent with his principles he was fighting tribalism in Mijertainia and cooperating with the US-led coalition seeking to disarm the warlords and ensure that humanitarian relief was delivered to where it was most needed—to the Somali people.
Mohamed was incorruptible. Of all the political, religious and intellectual leaders of the post-coup era, he was the only one I know of who never accepted any position of power or wealth from Siad Barre—he did not become a Cabinet Minister or Ambassador; nor did he accept some commercial monopoly to gain wealth. In fact, his property was confiscated by the Siad Barre regime and he and his family suffered for that.
Mohamed’s life encapsulates the history of Somalia from Italian colonial rule, to independence as a democracy, to military rule based not on the rule of law but arbitrariness and tribalism, and to what Somalia is today—a disintegrated nation comprised of small, petty tribal fiefdoms thriving on corruption and violence.
Mohamed was a man of principle who was a Somali nationalist; he believed in the unity of the Somali people; he was a ardent proponent of democracy and believed in the right of the people to select those that govern them by free and fair elections; he was an incorruptible man who by his example, tried to get others to forsake the many opportunities government service offered to get rich quickly; and he was a patient and forgiving man who, regardless of the wrongs done to him, and the hopelessness of the political chaos of the moment, constantly strove to rebuild Somalia as the democratic country it once was.
Every country has its history and its heroes. The younger generation of Somalis today has been deprived, to a large extent, of its written historical record. I hope that the New Dalka will begin to fill the void and provide its readers with information about the Somali statesmen, politicians, political leaders and Generals, like Mohamed Abshir, who put the Somali nation and its people above all else.
by Martin Ganzglass
I had known the highly-respected and admired General since 1954. I first met him in Aden, then a British colony, when he was on transit at the port on his way to Somalia by ship, together with his colleagues after completing a training course in Italy. I left Aden in 1967 and joined the Somali police force, which he then commanded. He commanded the force from 1958 to 1968. He was the first Somali to head a Somali security force and first to attain the rank of general.
It is a noble gesture on your part to seek information from those who had known him in order to write an obituary that befits him, because the late General was not an ordinary man. He was a leader with a sterling character and a vision to create a professional police force, and largely succeeded during his tenure of the force. The Somali Police Force was then known as one of the best police forces in the African continent. It is generally to his credit that his leadership created a professional police force that served its people well and saw no limits in building its capacity to be better. His leadership of the force persuaded some important countries such as the USA, Germany and Italy to support him in equipment and capacity building of the force. Regrettably, it is now a shadow of its former self.
He was relieved of his duties by the government in 1968, with which he disagreed on the role of the police in the forthcoming general elections. In 1969, a military coup took place in the country and the military regime detained him in the infamous Labatan Jirow Prison, in isolation for about ten years. He suffered a lot from this inhumane treatment. He did not oppose the military regime, but they regarded him as a possible threat due to his favorable reputation among the public.
His legacy is seen everywhere in the infrastructure of the police, such as the imposing police headquarters on the hill, the Medina Hospital, the Police Academy and the police housing projects to be found in different part of the country.
After his release from his long incarceration without being charged with any offence he was one of the 114 prominent individuals who signed a manifesto in which they defiantly demanded the resignation of the incumbent military leader and hand the country over to a caretaker committee. Some of the signatories were detained, but I do not recall he was among them. Suffice it to say, that they were released within few days after public outcry and demonstrations demanding their immediate release.
After the outbreak in civil strife, he was made Deputy Prime Minister in the first government formed after the collapse of the military regime. This government did not last long, as the civil war ensued. The General then moved to his ancestral home in the eastern part of the country. For some time he commuted between countries wherever Somali reconciliation and unity were being discussed. Finally, he ended up in the USA where he was granted a political asylum and it was there that he recently passed away.
By Ahmed Jama Muse
Many people have spoken before me about the General of his accomplishments in the Somali national police. My late father and Mohamed Abshir were imprisoned at the same prison Labatan Jirow in solitary confinement. The prison condition was unbearable. For several years they had been in cell which was 3 steps square. There was no one in either side cells to make sure they did not have any conversation with any human. There was only one meal a day (white rice with powder milk). General Mohamed Abshir was not charged of any crime nor there is any record of him being a prisoner of the state during all this time. In 1982 he was released from prison few months before my father was released from prison. I remember as a child, wanting to know the condition of my father. Many were released from prison at that time. One thing Mohamed did was come to our house and sit me down and tell me how my dad was the last time he saw him. Remember at that time people such as my uncles could not come to our house because they were afraid Siad Barre might find out and imprison or at the very least, cause them trouble. People were afraid to be associated with and become known as Kacaandiid, anti-revolutionary. Once you were labelled Kacaandiid then the government could do anything to you and your family. General Mohamed did not care if he went back to prison. He visited us almost every day. As a eighteen-year-old boy who had not seen his father for seven years I cannot put it in words how much that meant to us.
General Mohamed Abshir was the first general in Somalia or some could argue in Africa who resigned on his own because he did not want to be transfer Jama Yare from his post, an order given to him by his boss. During the time the military government took over the power he was not even part of the government. He was imprisoned because of his stature and popularity with the Somali people and the Somali Armed Forces. Many years after his release of prison Said Barre offered him many gifts but he refused and stood his ground, telling the regime it was illegal and it should transfer power without condition. In 1989 the General and my father who was himself another General had signed a manifesto. They were arrested again and this time convicted and sentenced to death. By the popular uproar, they were released. After suffering such hardship in a country when they get a chance most people would leave but after the civil war broke out of Somalia, Mohamed Abshir turned to settle between the warring factions, at times risking his life. Multiple times according to father they were held against their will and were threatened with being killed. He was a man of conviction.
According to my father Mohamed Abshir was a man who put the country before anything else. He was a true statesman. In multiple occasions my father told me he did not have to ask Mohamed Abshir to give up on a position he had; the General came forward and said for the betterment of the country I am will to allow such a person to represent or speak on our behalf, for example, the rift between General Mohamed Abshir and Colonel Abdullahi Yusuf during the creation of what now is called Puntland. There were many other instances that General Mohamed Abshir had put the country’s needs before his own. May Allah grant Jannah.
Nowadays it is very rare to find someone of such a character in our society; someone whose love for their country is evident to all, someone although seemingly very simple is yet a strategic thinker. A humble man, he could relate to anyone on the street.
I could go on and on about General Mohamed Abshir. He will always be my hero and I hope Somalis get someone who is even half life him who can help to bring our country out of the current situation.
by Awale Abdullahi Farah (Holif)