March Books 4) Search for a New Somali Identity, by Hussein Ali Dualeh

Dualeh is a senior Somali political figure, currently Somaliland’s Minister of Finance. In this 2002 book he reminisces about his own life and reflects on the future of the Somali people.

In an interesting book, the most interesting chapter for me was the second chapter, on Dualeh’s education in the colonial British system. He was expelled from the Somaliland boarding school at Sheikh for persistent truancy, but then went to Aden and got a good Catholic schooling (like most Somalilanders he is a pretty secular Muslim). Then he went to Britain and ended up getting military training in preparation for joining Somaliland’s armed forces. There is an amazing moment when he ends up earning money from his illiterate British fellow squaddies for writing their letters home for them; he is stunned that an Englishman (probably in fact a Scot, from context) could not write his own language.

The other particularly fascinating chapter is his account of being Somalia’s ambassador to Uganda during the reign of Idi Amin, who he got to know rather well (and chided directly for being too ostentatiously public in his mosque attendance). There is an extraordinary anecdote of his amost walking in on a meeting between Amin and the Minister of Finance, where Amin demanded that, if the country was running out of money, they should just print more. The minister refused, and fled Uganda that evening, probably wisely.

It’s a bit frustrating that the chapters are arranged in slightly haphazard order: we have the story of the author’s failed 1961 coup after the story of his subsequent trial, and the account of the 1990s collapse of Somalia comes before the account of the misrule of the 1970s and 1980s which caused it. And I found myself wondering for several chapters why it was that the international community failed to mediate when the 1960 arrangements broke down (cf Cyprus where they didn’t do much but at least did something); and eventually the answer appeared – Somalia was a Soviet client state, so nobody was much interested in helping sort out its internal governance problems.

Dualeh makes a very clear case for Somaliland’s recognition as an independent state. It easily clears the hurdle of the Montevideo criteria

1 thought on “March Books 4) Search for a New Somali Identity, by Hussein Ali Dualeh

  1. The last 60 years or so (from the third paragraph) covers the lion’s share of decolonization. I don’t know the details of the history there as well as I should, but obviously it’s the dismantling of the various European empires that gave us the state system – and the questions of recognition – that we have today.

    Secondly, in Europe it’s significant that the Helsinki Accords codified both self-determination of peoples and inviolability of borders as fundamental principles of relations in the CSCE/OSCE area. In practice, self-determination has won, but inviolability slows the pace of winning.

    The most important word in your penultimate sentence is, of course, “If.”

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