Somalia remembers fallen democracy icon

Somalia President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and other top national leaders fill the grave of former respected speaker Sheikh Mukhtar Mohamed Hussein on June 15, 2012. ABDULKADIR KHALIF | AFRICA REVIEW 

Somalis last week cast aside political allegiances to mourn a leader who reminded them of the national goals they have pursued for decades but which look increasingly feasible with the term of the current transitional government expecetd to end in August.

Sheikh Mukhtar Mohamed Hussein, the last speaker of Somalia’s democratically elected parliament in 1969, died June 12 in Nairobi after age-related illnesses. The respected centenarian was accorded a state burial after three days of national mourning.

According to relatives, he had been in the Kenyan capital since 2008. As news of his death filtered to Mogadishu his legacy was widely celebrated as Somali leaders rushed to condole his family and eulogise him.

"Sheikh Mukhtar was very active in all pro-independence movements including the Somali Youth League or SYL Party," Al-Haji Shukri, the oldest legislator in the current Transitional Federal Parliament said.

People close to him recalled that Sheikh Mukhtar was picked as the leader of Somali Youth Club (SYC) that was later renamed as Somali Youth League (SYL Party) in Upper Juba region as soon as it spread out from Mogadishu to upcountry regions in the early 1940s.

"He will be closely linked to the history of Somalia,” Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden, the current speaker of the parliament in Mogadishu said.

According to Mr Abdurahman Issa Turunji, a former staffer of Somalia’s civilian parliament, Sheikh Mukhtar was a member of a delegation that was visiting the northern regions of Somalia when the last democratically elected president of Somalia, Dr Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, was gunned down by a guard on October 15, 1969.

"Sheikh Mukhtar held the body of the dying head of state, reading verses of the Holy Quran,” said Mr Turunji.

The former speaker acted as Interim President of Somalia for six days, October 15 – 20, following the assassination of President Sharmarke.

Somali civilian leaders reaffirmed their willingness to move the country's tortured democratic process forward, in honour of Sheik Mukhtar.

According to a schedule agreed by SYL Party, the ruling party (also labelled as the party of the independence) with 122 members in the parliament out of a total of 123 seats, the election to fill the post vacated by the killed head of state was to take place on October 21 1969.

There were several potential candidates, but the nation was looking forward to the names submitted by the Central Committee of the SYL Party. One of the names being rumoured at the time was Al-Haji Mussa Boqor Osman, a senior party member who hailed from the same constituency as the slain president.

Junta seized power

But the course of democracy was irreversibly interrupted. Power in Somalia was taken over by a military junta led by the former Army Chief of Staff, General Mohamed Siad Barre, on October 21, 1969.

It was the day a new leader was to be elected by the legislators who had themselves gained their seats only six months earlier during the last multiparty general election that took place in the country on March 26, 1969.

The right to contest was so respected that in Bulo Burte district, a district in Hiran region, 200 km north of Mogadishu, 82 political parties participated in the last general election when they met the vote criteria.

Sheikh Mukhtar was among those detained by the army as the nation’s constitution was abolished and the parliament was disbanded. He remained under house arrest for 18 months.

By the time he was released, a 25-member military junta-- the Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC)-- was ruling Somalia by decree. The SRC declared Scientific Socialism as its guiding philosophy and changed the state’s name from Somali Republic to Somali ‘Democratic’ Republic.

Sheikh Mukhtar was born around 1912 at Asho Gabo village, 12 km outside Baidoa town, 240 km southwest of Mogadishu. He had a solid religious education before initiating businesses.

He became very active within his community in Upper Juba region (later split into Bay, Bakol and Gedo regions) where he served as a khadi (Islamic judge).

Respected title

His religious know how and thriving businesses made him a distinguished and trusted person, making him to be selected a Malaaq, a respected title for a traditional leader of the Hadamo Clan in Bakol region.

His dedication to politics also earned him election to the pre-independence Interim parliament in Mogadishu. However, he had surrendered the Malaaq title to the clan before becoming an MP in 1956.
His confidantes in the 1960s included Mr Abdullahi Ossoble Siyad, a former parliamentary staffer who became a legislator.

“Sheikh Mukhtar was chosen as the Deputy Minister of Justice in the pre-independence interim government (formed by Interim Prime Minister, Mr Abdullahi Issa Mohamoud),” said Mr Siyad.

After the Somali regions’ independence from Italy and Britain, Sheikh Mukhtar held a ministerial post until becoming the speaker of the legislative house hitherto known by its Italian name Assemblea Nazionale (National assembly) in 1966.

Since Sheikh Mukhtar was last speaker of the parliament over four decades ago, many things changed in Somalia.

The two-decade military dictatorship was replaced by clan-based warlords who failed to fill the power vacuum in January 1991, allowing their militias to turn their guns on each.

Years of anarchy and confusion was made worse when armed clergymen joined the power struggle, initiating such drastic deeds as incessant armed confrontations, roadside landmine blasts, character assassinations and suicide missions.

Glimmer of hope

But it seems that a glimmer of hope is nowadays seen at the end of a tunnel. Somalia is currently looking for a way of approving a constitution that would pave the way for a democratic rule.

The current generation is looking for the same democracy, forcibly taken from Sheikh Mukhtar Mohamed Hussein and many other Somalis in October 1969.

A Roadmap was agreed in September 2011 in Mogadishu by a number of Somali political leaders. In it, a constituent assembly of an 825-members selected from the public is expected to approve a draft resolution within June or in early July, 2012. If endorsed, the document will become a provisional constitution.

Once a provisional constitution is in place, the country is expected to have a 225 member parliament and a passage from the transitional to a permanent government.

The search for democracy and a multiparty state will hopefully be complete once the provisional constitution is further reviewed and approved through a popular referendum three years from August 2012.

Only then, will the dream of Sheikh Mukhtar and others from the generation of Somalia ruled through democracy and civil liberties will be regained. “We shall always remember him (Sheikh Mukhtar) for his patriotic and democratic vision,” said MP Al-Haji Shukri.

Accompanied by the TFG’s Prime Minister, the body of Sheikh Mukhtar was flown from Nairobi, Kenya on June 15 and laid to rest at the Tribunka National Cemetery in Mogadishu.

It was the same plot where Dr Sharmarke was buried on October 20, 1969.

The funeral service was employed as a nation’s value of democracy, attracting the participation of the TFG’s top leaders. President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, Current Speaker of the Transitional Federal Parliament, Aden, PM Ali, ministers, MPs, other officials and the general public attended the burial.

“I never met Sheikh Mukhtar,” said President Ahmed, but had never heard a single person uttering negative words about the sheikh.

“Despite living hundred years, it is the fate that Sheikh Mukhtar never made it to witness Somalia turning out to be a democracy again,” said a radio commentator in Mogadishu.

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