One event can change the history of lives, counties, continents or the world. In the late 1970’s, a loose group of Doctors, Engineers, Teachers, business people with the name of Uffo tried to contribute to the development of Somalia, by volunteering in social activities. What happen to them? What happened afterward?? How did the government of Siyad Barre view the activates? What did the civilians do? Below, I will elaborate and tell the story of the Uffo group.
In general overview, the history of Somaliland can be classified into three different main phases. First, the phase before the British protectorate, second; the phase during the protectorate and, third; the phase after independence in 1960. The period after independence can also be classified into two, during the union with Italian Somalia and the rebirth of British Somaliland (Somaliland post 1991),
The Somali Northern part got independence on 26 June, 1960. In the same year, July 1, the unity between the northern and the southern Somali parts was agreed. This was a vision that Somali were having which was to make one great Somali nation in the horn of Africa, that is, building a society which unites, Djibouti, Northern Frontier District (NFD Kenya), the reserve area in Ethiopia, Somalia and Somaliland.
Just if we look back during the British rule, the culture of the northern Somali people was intact since the British people didn’t’ interact ( It was forbidden for local people to get married for white man or women, it was forbidden to give labor in the Soil of Somaliland for British baby) it was a protectorate, not colonization. Thus, the people in northern Somalia were in control of their culture.
It was different in southern Somalia. The southern Somali people had been colonized by Italians. In a colony, the culture between the colonizers and those colonized are more mixed compare to a protectorate. Thus, their culture was mixed with the Italian culture. Hence, in the 1960s, when the British and Italian left the country, they left two different nations who have two diverse views of governing dissimilar communities regarding culture and government ideology.
People can unite even when they have different cultures. However, if their governing ideology and political culture is fundamentally different it’s very hard to keep the unity.
So when British Somaliland got independence, they were trying to realize the dream of unity. They therefore agreed to join southern Somalia in a union. However, the union between South Somalia and Northern Somalia was without conditions.
Since most people in the Somali communities were illiterate the only way that they were discussing, reflecting and and taking about serving their history, culture, knowledge was through poetry.
And Somali’s are rich in poetry, and the majority of the poets of northern Somalia were proud to get independence. However, the poets had different views regarding the unity. Some Somaliland poets were not happy about the union, they wanted to wait till the other Somali nation’s got their independence. The poets are the legends in Somali culture, so they knew that we would have a cultural crisis.
One of the poets, Abdilaahi Sultan Tima-cade, wrote a famous poem at the time with the Somali name “Kaana Siib kana Saar” which mean “transforming from British flag to Somali flag.” It’s a poem in which he was describing how proud he was to have his flag.
After the union between the two Somali nations Tima-cade was critical. He suspected that the unity may not be as the northern Somali people expected. They were expecting the union to be between two nations that share the development, and make a tremendous Somali nation with equality of everybody. Because of this suspicion Tima-cade were carful and critical about the unity already in the same year as the unity took place.
It is important to also understand the Somali context. The Somali society is a clan-based community. Before colonization, central or formal forms of government did not exist. The only political form of management and control which was active at that time were clans.
Clans have a poet who is like the minister of information and the elder who solves all the conflict issues within the tribe. If there is hostility between clans, clan’s used to have warriors as an army. So the structure of the clans were similar to a small government.
In addition, you get all the social services from your clan. The clan will pay if a person kills another person, they will help if a person is poor. So this was a culture where every person had a role, and social security was preserved under your tribe.
The people of the north, who were living this life of completely rural-based community were being transferred to the government system. However, they did not know how a government system works.
In July first, 1960, many Somali’s where hoping that the union between the former British protectorate in the north and the Italian colony in the south could lead to the formation of a great Somali nation. That was a big dream that has been arounds for years. However, in 1961 the people of Somaliland felt that they are treated unequally, and it seems to some intellectuals (Poets, elders, politicians, educators) that this union will not survive long.
Henceforward on June 10, 1967, Somali people elected Abdirashid Ali Sharmaarke as a President and Mohamed Haaji Ibraahim Cigal as a Prime Minister. The period from June 1967 to October 1969 it was one of the best times for the history of Somalia, it was a time that Somalia got the name of “the Switzerland of Africa”.
Having that self-respect of sharing the government which most of the Africans fail, made Somalia very legendary. In addition, it got prestige from its geographical location with the longest cost line in Africa, including peace and democracy: unfortunately, that prestige didn’t exist a long time.
On 15 October 1969, Siyad Barre made a coup, he imprisoned the country, imprisoned the government offices. On 21 October he declared that he is the president of the Republic of Somalia.
A country which was famous in freedom of expression, egalitarianism, and of its open culture become a dictatorship. In order to stay in power, Siyad Barre split the people into clans and created hostility among them. He hoped that by creating division he would make the communities weaker and thus less likely to oppose him.
Thus, Somaliland history changed from an independent nation to a nation which is a part of another nation. Siyad Barre’s policy particularly neglected and oppressed the clans of the north to suffer a lot. There were fewer development projects, schools were in bad shape, the hospitals were without tools and had a medication deficiency, and most social services remained neglected.
The system that people of Somaliland use to live has been dramatically changed from democracy to dictatorship. The ruling of British in northern Somalia was dissimilar from Italian ruling in southern Somalia.
In the late 1970s, many Somaliland educators, intellectuals, doctors, engineers, etc., came back to their homeland. They were of the same age group, and most of them knew each other from primary and secondary school.
The group of professionals is today known under the name of Uffo (Uffo means ‘the good smelling wind before the rain’). So the question is: who are the Uffo group? Where they an organization? Did they have any political agenda?
The answer is, Uffo were a group of teachers, medical doctors and business people, mainly residents of Hargeysa, who were united just because of the need that they saw. Therefore, they were not an organization, but rather an ideologically united cluster or perhaps a loose network their major goal was to assist the community with their knowledge and assistance.
They were appalled by the situation in Hargeysa, which was completely devastated. The hospital was without any medical tools, kits, and reagent, cleaning material, medications, electricity and water. None of this thing was available at the hospital at that time.
Schools were without table/broken tables and chairs, the students were overcrowded, the teachers were teaching both morning and evening shifts and the teaching materials where limited.
At that time the Uffo group decided to make a new innovative volunteering way of building the nation. They started with Hargeysa Group Hospital. They cleaned the hospital, and raised funds to purchase the medical equipment.
Other volunteers teaching the students in their time off. This was something new within the culture of that government since the government was a military government, and the military people didn’t like to see other leaders within the community
However, the government was also promoting socialism which I suppose to promote self-help. But they saw these actions of the Uffo group as political. Therefore the government opposed the activates of the Uffo group and arrested them, some of them were facing death sentence while others were facing life time in prison.
From the time when Uffo group get the attention of the people Siyad Barre felt he needed to guard his government by arresting the people who help the community, because dictators apparently do everything to save their government
Besides, it was a very rude system which was not accepting the flexibility. Consequently, at this time good deeds turned to punishable act. This made the community in Hargeysa very angry. At this time civilians were with Uffo group, in contrast to 1962, when the group who tried to make the coup didn’t succeed because the civilians were not with them. At the time of the Uffo group, there was unity among intellectuals and civil society.
Henceforward, the government has accused the Uffo they have been against the regime. Those people with good intention at the end they face being in jail, some of them have been judged to a death sentence, others lifetime prisoner, some of them twenty above years, however, these judgments did not occur as result of demonstrations of the community, civilians die and injured to save them from death sentenced.
This seems strange if helping people can cause punishment then who will help the people? Who would be a right, generous person?
Although the definition of good and bad has a philosophical argument but at least the helping a person is one of the things that all humanity are agreed to that it is a good act. Uffo people they have made the struggle to get justice which changes lately to get an independent nation where people can live the life that they choose and every person can say whatever he/she wants and feel the sense of equality.
Some of the supporters of Uffo has died to see justice in Somaliland, a country where all the people can take part in politics, economics, and social development.
There are still things missing today, but it is not as bad as it used to be. We need to continue the work that the older generation has started. They did what they did for this generation and the coming generation. We need to tell the world what they can learn from Somalilanders, if civilians and intellectuals work together the outcome will be to find what the civilians need. So people’s choice comes first.
Feature Photo by Mustafe Saed