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A leftist Ideologue and Modernist Who Wanted to Transform Somalia but Ended Up in Jail : A Book Review

Reviewd by Abdirahman Issa

Book: Back to Mogadishu
Author: Mohamed Aden Sheikh
Published Independently published 
Pages: 389

Publication date: ‎2021

Mohamed Aden Sheikh was a surgeon by profession and educated in Italy. He served a long time as Minister of Health and later for a brief stint as Minister of culture and information for The Military regime . He was a reformist and modernist who wanted to transform Somalia into a modern country along Socialist lines, but his good intention was to no avail for he was finally put in jail for 6 years. His memoir “Back to Mogadishu” chronologies his life and ambition in Somalia, which ended in catastrophe and tragedy of epic proportions.

He was a leftist ideologue and interlocutor of the Military and the civilian secretaries. He became a leftist while studying in Italy since their ideals of social justice and freedom resonated with him, and they supported the rights of the colonized people for self-determination. “The fact that I was an African whose ideal was the liberation of Somalia and the decolonization of the entire continent meant that I almost automatically saw eye to eye with the culture of the left,” he notes.

He got in trouble with right-wing groups while touring Italy to educate them on the negative impact of colonialism, especially the Italians, on the colonized people. The right-wing reported him for “offending the national pride” and “defamation of the Italian state.” He was put on trial and vindicated by the court for not committing acts that may constitute a crime. 

Contrary to popular belief, Mohamed argues that there was “no international plot behind the coup,” and the Military was planning to stage the coup in January but postponed it when the news was leaked. Siad Barre wanted to act, Mohamed states, since Egal wanted him to remove from his job, send him abroad and appoint his position to a northerner, Ainanshe Guled.

Mohamed mentions that General Aidid was nominated to “liaison between the Military and Young technocrats who were asked to draft a rough development project for Somalia. “The technocrats from different backgrounds (doctors, engineers, agronomists, economists, and jurists) teamed up. According to Aden, they presented a project that was instrumental to the achievements of the regime’s early years. He claims they suggested socialistic choices even though they didn’t use the term “Socialism.”

He was an idealist who believed western domination was the reason for the backwardness and that socialism was the only path to rapid social and economic development. He notes that the civilian and military working in tandem was rare in third-world countries.

The nine civil secretaries agreed to work with the military, and their role was merely “technical and administrative,” and their plans were contingent upon their approval. The military retained legislative power, and the civilians were cognizant of their preeminence since they were instigators of the coup. Mohamed thought it was in the country’s best interest if power was concentrated in a few “safe hands.” In the process, he admits, they aided and abetted Siad Barre to become an absolute dictator who, with his unfettered power, led to the country’s demise.

He was of the opinion that continuity and political stability were paramount to reform, thus, the coups must be avoided at any cost.

In 1973, Mohamed argues he and his friend Weyrah, the Minister of Finance, informed the president of the need for a constitution, a parliament, and a political party. He claims their relationship with the Military deteriorated when Somalia joined the Arab league. He argues the decision was shrouded in secrecy, and the military did not consult them; thus, he tendered his resignation. He contends Somalia would be better served as an ally, not as a member of a League who was characterized by constant division and bickering among themselves.

Mohamed Aden argues, quite strangely, that civilians did not know until 1973 of the effects of the draconian laws enacted by the military and that a lot of people were suffering dreadfully in prisons since they were distracted to “improve the life of the entire population.” However, he acknowledges that they didn’t prioritize freedom and individual rights.

Mohamed continued to infuriate the dictator by constantly demanding reform on many occasions. He always believed there was room for reform. When the party was established in 1976, he expected, as promised, the legislative and presidential elections would take place, but nothing has changed, and the regime became ruthless and brutal. Several times he tendered his resignation to Siad Barre, as he claims, and requested not to be re-appointed, and if he did, he would resign publicly. He lost his ministry in a cabinet reshuffle in 1982 but retained his parliamentary job and the party. He drew up an institutional reform with his group of reformers, Gacaliye, Ali Khalif, Warsame Juquf, Dhigic Dhigic, and Ahmed Ashkir Botan. They suggested, among other things, a program to deal with the economic crisis, redefine foreign policy, and create a prime ministerial position. Siad Barre rejected their proposal outrightly. He met with Siad Barre a few days before he was arrested and told him the country needed “drastic measures.” Still, Siad was infuriated by his stubbornness and accused him of “spreading poisonous” and encouraging the young intellectuals to become “disenchanted with the regime.”

Mohamed’s reformist friends left the country one by one, but he decided, as he claims to stay in the country, to confront the dictator and take the risk. Perhaps, he was thinking he would not be arrested since he was a clansman of the dictator. He was arrested along with Omar Haji Masale while visiting Baidoa. Ismail Ali Abokar, Omar Arte, and Osman Jeelle were also arrested in Mogadishu. Mohamed claims he thought the special prisons were “propaganda against the regime” until he was locked for 6 years in Labaatan Jirow maximum prison–one of the many infamous prisons. He felt betrayed by the government he served for 12 years and was jailed for no apparent reason. He was in solitude, anguishing for 6 years, and was even refused books let alone seeing his family. He was released after a farce trial but was put under house arrest until October 1988. 

Mohamed had an ambition and believed there was an opportunity to transform Somalia into a modern state. With the birth of one-party system, he thought they could fight within the party and push their reformist agenda, but their plans and ambitions were foiled and squandered by a myopic military.

He fled to Italy in 1989 after observing the country he was working on his transformation was turned into a family affair and beyond redemption.

The book was translated into Somali by a young progressive leftist, Abdiaziz Aw-Guudcadde, who translated Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth and Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Hiil Press will publish the book, and it will come out in 2023.

It’s a memoir of an idealist who had grand ideas and dreams to modernize his country but ended in disappointment and failure. 

It’s a good read for the young generation interested in their history recorded by one of the actors who witnessed the evil of colonization, the birth of nationalism, and the struggle for independence, parliamentary democracy, military dictatorship, and civil war.

Abdirahman Issa
Email: [email protected]  

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