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The Longest Secretary General of SYL:A Brief Biography of PM Abdullahi Isse

 By Abdulrahman Baadiyow

Abdullahi Isse, the first Prime Minister of Somalia in 1956,  was born in 1921 in Afgoye, about 30 km south of Mogadishu. His father, Mohamud Bidar, a respected elder, died before Abdullahi was born, and his mother, Marrero Dini Ahmed, raised him as an orphan. The father hails from the port city of Hobia, and his mother hails from Abudwaaq.  His birth date coincides with the end of the Darwish movement led by Mohamed Abdulle Hassan.

Abdullahi Isse, the first Prime Minister of Somalia in 1956

The convergence of the two dates could signify Allah’s predestination for the continuation of the anti-colonial Somali struggle through different means and the advent of new flag-bearers of the movement. Abdullahi Isse belongs to the former Banadir region and is endowed with Banadiri cultural attributes. He was famous for his reserved attitude, humbleness, civility, mild temperament, and respect, which contrasted with the prevailing nomadic culture associated with most politicians.

Affectionately known as “Bidaar,” the nickname of his father, he began his education by attending an Italian primary school in Mogadishu, where he learned the Italian language and, in parallel, enrolled in Qur’anic school. Teaching children the Quran early in childhood is a common culture in Somalia as the initial phase of traditional Islamic education. During the fascist period, Somalis were granted access to only a restricted education to the elementary level, underscoring the oppressive policies and limitations imposed on their intellectual development. At 18 years old, he was given a job as a postal clerk in the port city of Marca from 1939 to 1941.

Afterward, he returned to Mogadishu and worked in the Department of Economic Affairs during the last months of Italian rule in Somalia. The winds of change swept across the Horn of Africa with the British military occupation of Italian Somalia in 1941 during World War II, bringing all Somali territory except Djibouti under British administration. In the upheaval that followed, Abdullahi was relieved from his official duties, and later, he got a job in Beledweyne as a post office clerk.  Then, he ventured into the restaurant business in Beledweyne. Thus, the new chapter in his eventful life began, marked by entrepreneurial spirit.

Abdullahi Isse Mohamud stands matchless in his continued leadership in the early years of the national liberation of Somalia and his continuous devotion to SYL principles and values. This dedication has remained steadfast since his membership in the Somali Youth Club (SYC) in 1944. Alongside his colleagues in the Beledweyne SYC branch, Adan Abdulle Osman (1908-2007) and Sheikh Ali Jimale (1905-1979), he is one of the few leaders who shaped the course of Somali history. After developing SYC into a full-fledged party of the Somali Youth League (SYL) in 1947, he was elected the party’s Deputy Secretary General.  He succeeded the respected Yassin Haji Osman, one of the founders of SYC and its first Secretary General, who passed away the same year. From 1947 to 1956, Abdullahi held the position of Secretary General of the SYL for nearly a decade, steering the organization through turbulent times with his steadfast resolve and determination.

Abdullahi’s leadership was instrumental in galvanizing support for Somali independence and rallying the SYL towards a common goal of self-determination. He tirelessly advocated for the unification of all Somalis under four colonial rules (Italy, Britain, France, and Ethiopia), opposing the return of Italy to Somalia under any circumstance. His impact transcended national boundaries as he embarked on diplomatic missions to Paris and New York, representing the SYL and advocating for the inherent rights of the Somali people to self-determination and independence. His tenure as a delegate to the United Nations Trusteeship Council from 1950 to 1954 showcased his diplomatic finesse and firm commitment to advancing Somalia’s cause on the global stage.

Abdullahi Isee made history in 1956 when he was appointed inaugural Somali Prime Minister with the consensus of all political parties. He experienced the early Somali state formation task, which was unfamiliar to the Somalis. He navigated through this complex political environment, where the emergence of political clannism began to exert its influence and bring out its clout. Despite the SYL advocating for a non-clannish governance system, the first practical test of its principle could have been more promising, as some senior party members allegedly succumbed to nepotism and favoritism. Establishing a merit-based political system clashed with entrenched clan allegiances, gradually eroding the SYL’s founding principles.

Moreover, the government and party dealt with the increasing influence of the leftist tendency of some politicians, which stirred tensions between the Italians and the SYL party. This conflict resulted in the expulsion of the party’s stalwart chairman, Haji Mohamed Hussein. As Abdullahi grappled with the new system of governance, the tensions between political ideals and clan affiliations underscored the formidable task of steering Somalia toward a unified and inclusive future.

After the independence, Abdullahi was appointed as Somalia’s Foreign Minister in the government led by Prime Minister Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke (1960-64). His appointment was part of a spirit of national unity and building a grand coalition to include the most prominent political figures in the government, including Sheikh Ali Jumale and Mohamed Ibrahim Egal. Abdullahi’s tenure as Foreign Minister saw him serve as Somalia’s emissary to international arenas, representing the nation in forums such as the United Nations (UN), the Organization of African Unity (OAU), and the Non-Aligned Movement.

Armed with a commitment to advancing Somalia’s interests on the global stage, he engaged diplomatically to secure support for the realization of Somali peoples’ self-determination and territorial integrity. In these gatherings, Abdullahi articulated Somalia’s stance on various issues ranging from sovereignty and territorial disputes with Ethiopia, Kenya, and France to regional stability and economic development. His presence underscored Somalia’s emergence as a sovereign nation with a distinct voice in shaping the course of African and international affairs. He also held various ministerial portfolios in all civilian governments until it was toppled by the military coup in 1969.

The new military government recognized Abdullahi’s experience and struggle for Somalia’s independence, which led to his appointment as Somalia’s Ambassador to Sweden in 1974. Moreover, during the inaugural congress of the Somali Revolutionary Youth Organization held in Mogadishu on May 15, 1977, General Mohamed Siyad honored Abdullahi Isse with a prestigious Gold Medal for his outstanding contributions and dedication to the nation’s independence and public service. Abdullahi continued to represent Somalia with distinction on the international stage as an ambassador until 1986. Then, he retired to Rome and embraced a tranquil life, becoming a refugee. The final chapter of Abdullahi’s remarkable national contribution ended in March 1988 when he passed away in Rome. His mortal remains were transported to Mogadishu, where he was laid to rest at the National Cemetery next to President Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke. He was accorded a state funeral, and Abdullahi’s family, friends, and SYL veterans, President Adan Abdulle, joined President Mohamed Siyad and government officials at the burial site.

Abdullahi’s life journey is a witness to the profound respect he commanded from all who knew him. Throughout his life, he cultivated relationships based on mutual understanding and cooperation, avoiding creating adversaries. His focus was singularly directed towards serving his nation and government with utmost sincerity and devotion. Abdullahi mirrors President Adan Abdulle in their deliberate avoidance of creating adversaries and projecting good manners. These two leaders’ cultures are deeply committed to the SYL’s fundamental principles and epitomize its core values, embodying ideals of unity, progress, and national pride. Their devotion to the SYL’s principles was a guiding light, influencing their decision-making and policy implementation, transcending tribal and regional divides.

Telling the story of Abdullahi Isse’s life story highlights the outstanding examples set by prominent leaders who devoted their lives to achieving Somalia’s independence, unity, and sovereignty. His life inspires current Somali leaders and future generations, emphasizing the importance of learning from the dedication and sacrifices of such remarkable figures. Through his unwavering commitment to his country, Abdullahi Isse’s legacy provides valuable lessons for those who aspire to lead with integrity and vision.

Dr. Abdurahman Baadiyow
Email: [email protected]

Dr. Abdurahman Baadiyow is a Professor of Modern Islamic History and a Senior Adviser for the Somali President on Peace and Reconciliation.


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