Dr. Abdishakur Sheikh Ali Jowhar (in Somali Cabdishakuur Sheekh Cali-Jawhar) was born in Borama, Somaliland; son of the late Sheikh Ali Jowhar, one of the most respected and loved Somali religious scholars. Dr Abdishakur was a remarkable man in his own right, he was a well-respected psychiatrist based at Grey Bruce Health Services in Ontario, Canada, and recently established a private clinic to treat his fellow citizens in Somaliland. He divided his time between Canada and Somaliland to treat his patients in both countries.
We lost a friend on May 13.
Incidentally on the same day, seven years ago (May 13, 2005), Abdishakur submitted a manuscript to me for publication by Redsea-online. The first part of his essays was titled A Study Of The Psychology Of A Nomadic Society And Its Implications For Somaliland. In it Abdishakur wrote “May 13, 2005 is such a day in the history of all Somalis in general and in that of Somaliland in particular” in reference to the demonstration of Somalilanders in Hargeysa against the death of Khadar Adan Osman, who was shot and killed by a police officer. He added “in Hargeisa, Somaliland, on May 13, 2005, the Gabooye and the Midgaan spoke their name aloud and shattered the silence and ignorance of a vicious cultural tyranny. The demonstrators forced Somaliland society to look into the mirror and behold the ugly face of injustice. And to their credit Somaliland society is listening and is intent on ushering the era of the emancipation of all citizens of Somaliland from the old archaic and moribund belief system and a decaying way of life.”
May 13th shall, in my mind, now also be associated with the death of a man, my friend, whose integrity and intellectual maturity was very rare indeed.
I was lucky to have worked with Abdishakur in many sub-committees of the Somaliland Forum and had long phone and email sessions with him about Somaliland issues. I had the privilege to serve as his deputy at Article 32: Somaliland Freedom of Expression Fund, of which he was a founding member, like me, and the first Chairperson. Abdishakur was a firm believer of freedom of expression. In one of our weekly meetings when we were looking to define the main purpose of Article 32 Fund, he stated that “our purpose could only be met if we are able to influence the people of Somaliland and the institutions of Somaliland to place the highest priority on the freedom of expression.
This could only be done if the people are able to hear the message again and again. Article 32 must have not only events but an effective mechanism for relaying information about these events to the Somaliland public and its institutions.” He used to say that, at Article 32 fund, we see our struggle as cultural, not political. Our purpose is to win over the masses of our nation to a culture of freedom. In Article 32, we wanted to foster a nation of prosperous free citizens, equal under the law and free to point out the errors of their leaders without fear of sanction, now and in the future.
He used to say that we want a nation where the government is eager to please the citizens not a nation where the citizens fear their government and flee their land. In Article 32, we wanted a nation of free people who are masters of their destiny not a nation of serfs who are slaves to whomever gains power over them. He used to say that we want a nation whose citizens walk tall, straight and dignified; we do not want a nation of stooped people who crawl around in servitude. He used to say: we stand here for the prevention of the rebirth of a culture of dictatorship, corruption, fear and imprisonment.
If we are successful in saving the freedom of speech in Somaliland, he used to say, we can rest assured that the nation will be safe. For it is all too clear the nation could only be killed after it is silenced, only after freedom of speech is dead and cold.
He also had clear views on issues such as tribalism. He wrote, “I am not a tribalist. I will not accept to be forced into that pigeonhole. Long time ago I decided to take an active part in formulating my own identity. And I decided to exclude the tribe from any definition of myself. It helped that I lived most of my adult life in Diaspora where I gained new identities that were unimaginable to me when I was growing up. I am a black man. I am an African in North America. I am colored. I am Moslem. I am a Canadian. I am a healer. I am a Somali of Somaliland.”
He was deeply aware of the tentacles of tribalism. In a personal communication to me he wrote, “Somaliland is as deeply tribal as any other Somali society. The single most potent enemy that could tear it apart into civil strife and extinction is the tribe. Success or failure will depend upon who takes the upper hand, the Somaliland tribes or the Somaliland state. If anything defeats Somaliland it will be this internal tribal enemy. The tribal structure of Somaliland demands to be taken into consideration and for its energy to be directed to productive ways (like competition for building universities or at least naming them). But that is not enough. Somalilanders have to find a way to direct the tribal sentiment into useful pursuits. Maybe they should go build themselves tribal universities in place of spilling tribal blood.”
As a true patriotic, Abdishakur knew what he wanted for his own country. In a Message to Kulmiye 2nd Convention in Hargeisa, Somaliland he stated, “I am not a member of your party, but like all Somalilanders I am praying for your success. And I pray for our nation to be blessed with strong leaders and stronger political parties that can keep us free from the darkness of one party state and ugliness and primitiveness of a Personality Cult.”
Dr. Jowhar, for me, was not just a colleague but was indeed a friend. I owe him so much. He set an inspiring role model, a colleague to consult when it came to national issues. Someone I could count on, every time, when I needed his assistance. I once asked him to read, and eventually write an introduction to my book “Gobannimo bilaash maaha” in 2007, and his eloquent note began with, “The nation of Somaliland stands at the cross roads of history and we have no other choice but to succeed in building this democratic and free nation-state. The alternative to citizenship is the tribe. It is the default status for the Somali people. And we don’t have to look far to know what that default status entails- see Mogadishu when the tribe became supreme in 1991 and again in 2007.
We will have to end up victorious in this honorable endeavor of nation building because the alternative is the unimaginable horror of perishing in a savage tribal bloodletting that will see to our extermination. So when I say this nation has no choice but to succeed, I mean it literally. We, the citizens of this new nation, have to remember we live in a Darwinian world; vultures are not far and hungry wolves follow us just biding their time and waiting. They will wait in vain. And we will be victorious no matter what.”
Dr. Jowhar believed in the need for a transformation of our nation to a stable democratic humane nation-state which “was born in battles against a dictatorship that leveled our major cities to the ground and murdered our young and our old in their thousands; a dictatorship that has attempted to set us against one another to stimulate the final act of our collective demise.” The struggle united us, he always reminded us of that.
“The struggle brought us together as a nation and delivered us from the clutches of dictatorship into the gentle and refreshing hands of freedom.” In a presentation of “Gobannimo bilaash maaha” in Hargeisa International Book Fair in 2008, Dr. Jowhar reminded the audience that “This freedom has become the essence of our existence and nationhood. Without this new identity of Free Citizens of Somaliland we are nothing but a collection of warring, self-destructing, primitive tribes verging on extinction.”
The centrality of the notion of freedom to Somaliland’s existence makes it, according to Dr. Abdishakur, “necessary for us to nourish it, protect it and nurture it.” He used to say that we have to learn about this entity- freedom- because it is so vital to our survival.
As I was writing this note, I watched a video of Dr Abdishakur in Hargeisa in 2008 telling us that “When we examine the freedom carefully it becomes very clear that there can be no freedom without freedom of expression; free radio stations not controlled by the government, free journals, free TV stations and free citizens who express their thoughts in these public media without fear of sanction. We learn that that freedom is indivisible; if any one of our citizens loses his freedom we will all lose it. It does not matter the tribe, it does not matter the region. And we learn that ugly dictatorships, genocide, mass murder, and slavery start with the state claiming monopoly on the word.”
Dr. Jowhar believed that as we learn about freedom, we have to become pioneers in the methods of incorporating freedom of expression into our nomadic cultural norms, in a manner that is consistent and that in no way conflicts with the primary guide of our lives-our religion, Islam.
Sadly, we lose another eminent Somalilander to a frequent cause of death in Somaliland, our appalling roads. In a memory of one such fallen compatriot, Dr. Jowhar wrote, “On August 6, 2009 Ali (Marshall) Gulaid died in a car accident on his way to Berbera. Ali Marshall was an economist, journalist, and leading opposition politician, in short a renaissance man who moved from USA back to his country of origin (Somaliland) to help bring about democracy, freedom, peace and stability to his people.” He concluded by saying, “His [Ali Marshal] untimely death will teach the nation about sacrifice, decisiveness, discipline and commitment to the people’s cause of justice, transparency and honesty.”
Dr. Jowhar was a well-respected psychiatrist both in the diaspora and in Somaliland. He was an active member of the Somaliland Diaspora community, a contributor to Somaliland affairs in many ways. He and his wife, Amina Abdi Jama “Isteeg,” were activist members in many Somaliland Diaspora organizations. Above all, Dr. Jowhar was a visionary, a giant among the intellectuals. He was a man who contributed his sharp mind to provide us with guidance. He was a generous man who always gave from his heart.
He left the comfort of the diaspora and a well-paid job in the West to give his soul, his mind, and eventually his life to his people. In the sweet memory of his sacrifices and for the sake of our young nation, we should all strive to be more like Dr. Abdishakur. We shall remember him. We shall honor him. We shall never forget him. But we will miss him deeply.
This issue of Dhaxalreeb is dedicated to Dr. Abdishakur Jowhar, and it contains selected publications by him that appeared on redsea-online.com during the past 10 years. Today, we salute our friend, our hero with his own words. Indeed “His [Abdishakur] untimely death will teach the nation about sacrifice, decisiveness, discipline and commitment to the people’s cause of justice, transparency and honesty.”
By Jama Musse Jama
(REDSEA-ONLINE Cultural Foundation)