The fractured memory of Somali Independence anniversaries – Bashir Goth


By Bashir Goth

Maanta maanta maanta
Waa maalin weyne maanta
Maanta maanta maanta
Madaxeen bannaane maanta

With these majestic and unforgettable words, at least for those who lived during the glorious first decade after independence, the Somali nation used to wake up on the anniversary days of 26 June and 1st July.

These were great years to grow up, the years of African independence, African renaissance and African political consciousness. It was the decade that the most powerful nation of the day, the Empire on whose flag the sun never set, took note of the rumblings shaking the ground underneath its feet in Africa as confessed by British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in his Wind of Change Speech to the South African Parliament in 1960: “The wind of change is blowing through this [African] continent, and whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact. We must all accept it as a fact, and our national policies must take account of it.”

It was a decade of great hopes, lofty dreams, grandeur ambitions and indefatigable enthusiasm to rekindle the African spirit and reclaim the great heritage of the African pre-colonial empires, kingdoms and city states as well as African savage cultures, natural religions and ancestral veneration; the decade of re-writing African fables and history. It was indeed the decade of re-Africanizing Africa after it was deAfricanized since the start of the slave trade in mid 16th century. Obviously the complete emancipation of Africa had to wait several more decades with the Angola and Mozambique gaining independence in 1975, Djibouti 1977, Zimbabwe 1980, Namibia 1990 and South Africa 1994, not to mention the Western Sahara which is still groaning under Moroccan Arab domination and the Somalis in the fifth region of Ethiopia still deprived of basic human rights including internationally observed referendum to express their will for self determination.

As part of this avalanche of nationalism and popular uprising against foreign usurpation of the continent’s will and wealth, the Somali people were doubly blessed by celebrating the African Independence Year, 1960, with the independence and unification of two of its five dismembered parts. The unprecedented outpour of emotion and the deluge of patriotic literature evoked by Maandeeq, the allegorical she-camel representation of the Somali independence, underlined the enormity of the tragedy that befell on the Somali nation whose geographical pastoral land was carved into five parts by European colonizers.

This historical trauma in the psyche of the Somali people which resulted from the division of their territory was also the reason behind the hasty and miscalculated union between the British Somaliland Protectorate and the Italian colonized Somalia on 1st July 1960 . The urge and the need for the union was so strong that northern politicians led by Mohammed Ibrahim Egal couldn’t muster the courage to explain to the people their fears about the long-term consequences of the unconditional union. They had no option but to ride the popular tide rather than commit political suicide. The people in the Italian colonized south were likewise overwhelmingly consumed by the idea of Somali unity and couldn’t have forgiven their leaders if they had in anyway hampered the unification process. The paramount and understandably obsessive goal of the Somali people was the need to bring the first two parts of the dismembered Somali body together under one flag. Everything else came secondary to that noble goal.

For the Somali people, like elsewhere in Africa , lifting the yoke of colonialism was like rubbing Aladdin’s magic lamp. They nursed the hope that the moment their blue flag was raised all their ills would melt away and all their wishes would become real. The flag was the rain that would come after a long drought and the sun that would disperse the darkness. This was so eloquently expressed in Timacadde’s poem:

“…Seermaweydo hillaacdayow
Sagal maanta darroorayoo
Siigadii naga maydhayow
Saq dhexaannu ahayne
Kii soo saaray cadceeddow…”

The general feeling was that with the advent of independence all social, economic and political ills would cease. Even hunger will not hurt anymore as the air of independence would have a balsamic effect to assuage one’s physical suffering. Again Timacadde emphatically brings this home with his powerful imagery:

“…Saddex wiig iyo maalmo
Haddaan Soor cuni waayo
Safrad laygama yaaboo
Sarina mayso naftayda e…”

Riding this dream of bringing all the Somali speaking pastoralists living in the Horn of African region under the banner of greater Somalia , the Somali people had celebrated every independence anniversary with such pomposity and fanfare in the first post independence decade. The popular mantra of freedom being the mother of all medicine’s still held supreme. ” Way buktaaye bandhigga geeya(… she is sick, take her to the independence festival) was the motto of the masses that used to head to Hargeisa in long motorcades from all towns, villages and rural areas on the independence anniversary day to watch the parades and commemoration festivities. Mogadishu and southern towns also saw similar celebrations on the days of 26 June and 1st July. The unlucky multitudes that couldn’t attend the parades in big towns used to live the memories of the two days through the nationalistic music and lyrics beamed constantly from Radio Hargeisa and Radio Mogadishu.

It was the giddiness resulting from such onrush of patriotic adrenalin, which ran through the veins of every Somali who lived in that golden decade that fashioned them to stay supine and tolerate decades of physical and mental abuse of Siyad Barre’s tyrannical regime.

It was doubly painful, however, for the elderly people who witnessed the independence struggle and lived through the glorious dream of greater Somalia to see the socialist government’s slogans taking over the airwaves and the glory and collective memory of the independence days eroded by personal adulation and panegyric lyrics written for the glorification of Siyad Barre and his revolution. All allegiance and splendor were bequeathed to October 21, the day that Siyad Barre came to power through military coup d’etat, while the 26 th of June and 1 st July were almost wiped from the national calendar. Instead of the blue flag with the white five-pointed star, which Timacadde had so adoringly praised its magical powers, it was October that brought rain and prosperity to all Somalis “…Oktoober waa daruur hillaacdayoo, Soomaali u da’doo lagu diirsadee….OKTOOBAR …”.

Being a wily old soldier and himself experiencing the thick of Somali nationalism, Siyad Barre realized that the only way he could extend his rule and enjoy more years of glory was to rekindle that old dream of greater Somalia and ride the ebbless tide of patriotism for a few more years. He remolded himself as a modern day Sayyid Mohammed Abdullah Hassan and Ahmed Ibrahim Gran (Gurey) , two fabled Somali heroes, all incarnated in one. He even framed himself as being the invisible hand behind the 13 Somali men who founded the pro-independence Somali Youth League (SYL). His picture appeared in the background of the 13 founders’ portrait like a rising sun.

With this reinvention of history paving the way, Siyad Barre launched his self-aggrandizing war against Ethiopia in 1977 under the pretext of re-igniting Somali irredentism and liberating Somali inhabited areas (or Ogaden region) in Ethiopia from Abyssinia ‘s black colonialism. As Djibouti which had then gained its independence opted to stay away from the Somali union to avoid its territory being a battle ground between Somalia with its ethnic and historical claims on Djibouti and Ethiopia which relied on its port as lifeline, Siyad Barre calculations were built on the presumption that once he snatched the Ogaden from Ethiopia then Djibouti would fall like a ripen fruit and his dream of being the unifier of all Somalis would be realized.

Though October hymns still reigned supreme, the government propaganda machine had doped the people with a new wave of patriotic music. With lyrics such as Minigistow war li’idaa, Waa la isku haystaa wixii madaxda kaa dhigay, Ololiyaay, Erya Erya Erya, Sandulaanu kugu bixin, Ceesaantii mas iyo good madax shabeel leefta, Soomaalida Galbeedeey.. .and a deluge of other skillfully crafted emotional songs, the Somali people were drugged to forget not only the grinding economic hardships and social degradation of the day but also the last memories of the independence music and poetry which were being overwritten by a new and more grandeur genre of propaganda literature.

The final curtain, however, came down on the soul and spirit of Somali nationalism with the Somali opposition forces seeking help and shelter from Ethiopia , a country on whose enmity millions of Somali children had slept and woken up over the centuries. With clan militia led by former officers of the Somali national army for which Baxsan had sung “Garabkiinaan taaganahee, Geeshkayagyow Guuleysta…” attacking their former comrade-in-arms and brothers from bases in the traditional enemy territory and with the heroic Somali military poisoning water wells in Majerteeniya and carpet bombing the town of Hargeisa where the first Somali flag was raised and Timacadde enthralled millions of Somalis to tears with his sonorous poem of “Kaana Siib kana saaroo…” and with Radio Hargeisa from where Baxsan’s heart-wrenching “Geeshkayagow Guuleysta . .” was first aired being burned to ashes by the same Somali air force; people seemed to have woken up from a long dementia and every memory of the independence days, independence anniversaries and Somali nationalism appeared to have been nothing but illusions of delirium. Suddenly, people found themselves in a real life irony where the conventional christian enemy had become a brother and a protector and the Muslim brother had become a tormentor and an erstwhile enemy. This was a true reflection of Sayyid Mohammed Abdulla Hassan’s prophetic words: Muslinnimo ninkaan kuula socon, muumminnimo khaasa,Gaal maxasta kuu dhawra ood, magansataa dhaama.

Seeing the symbols of Somalism demolished and demonized in a little over than 30 years (1960 – 1991), another 30 years may not be a long time for one to live in the hope of witnessing again the fervor of Somali nationalism swing back to its old youthful vigor and the independence days regain their glory and their prestige. In another 30 years I may still be around writing another elegy for the diverted trajectory of another lost dream or a tribute to a revived culture and reincarnated spirit of a great nation.

Bashir Goth is an African commentator on political, social, and cultural issues. He can be reached via;

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect whatsoever the official policy or position of Ummadda Media.