Maantana qod baa dumay
Dabayshaygu soo furay…”
These words were part of a poem I wrote on hearing the death of Haji Hersi Awale on January 16, 1982 but they stand true for the death of any important person anywhere. And they stand truer today for the death of my friend Qasim Sheikh Yusuf Ibrahim.
It was on December 26, 1979 the day I graduated from Lafole College of Education when I ran into Qasim somewhere in Hodan. He was on a short trip from Galkayo where he was working as a high school teacher. “How is the school,” he asked me. “Oh, good, I graduated today,” I told him.
“Well, great,” he said, reaching into his pocket and pulling 500 shillings note from his wallet. “Take this and go party,” he told me. I was flabbergasted. “500 shillings…this is too much,” I said and refused to take it. But he insisted that I took it. “This is a big day for you and you have friends to party with, so go ahead,” he said shuffling the money into my shirt pocket. This was the first time that anyone other than my father gave me this amount of money. I didn’t know how to thank him but then he did not even wait for any thanks, he moved away quickly and left me in a state of bewilderment and of course of great excitement.
With his generosity still lingering in my memory, I had the first serious conversation with Qasim in 1985. Before this day our encounters were just a passing hello as I was an impressionable young student and he was one of the proverbial first class of Dilla Elementary School of 1958 that we looked to as role models. They were the class that carried the dream of making the great change that people aspired to; the class that symbolized the people’s hope of “Ninkii ilmihiisa iskuul ku daraa, inuu aflaxaayo miyaanu ogeyn,”; the class that was taught by the three legendary teachers: Abdi Jama Elmi (Carandis), Abdi Omar Lugweyne and Muse Yusuf who have become household names among the Dilla people and the generations of students who graduated from Dilla Elementary School for many years.
As the younger generation we were always reminded to follow the footsteps of the first class that were upheld by the elders as exemplary for their educational achievement and their good character. Educational achievement was measured by how much you score in the exam results and good character was defined as absconding from all kinds of bad habits such as sigaarya cab (smoking), gabdho roorsi ama qooq (womanizing), indulging in dirty language such as diin cay (insulting religion or some may call it blasphemy) and suuq meer (loitering around in the village like a vagabond) . At the end of every scholastic year, we were assembled in front of the school and all the parents and village notables were invited to hear the final exam results. The elders of Dilla used to preach to us in their speeches about the educational and cultural virtues of the first class. Names like Noah Amin, Muse Ismail, Muse Cawleed, Ahmed Daud, Abdi Omar, Ahmed Bogorreh and Ahmed Omane among others were mentioned as torch bearers. That first class was held hanging over our heads like the sword of Damocles. Either we lived up to their example or each one of us was doomed to “ in uu hooyadii fuudka la cabno…” “… eat the broth with his mother.” as Dilla Chief Aqil Abdi Bade loved to repeat in every speech. And true to Pascal’s words: “Things are always at their best in their beginning.” We, the later generations, envisioned these guys as proverbial figures whose shoes we would never be able to fill.
Looking at him through this prism, it was a great moment for me on that fateful day to meet Qasim as an equal, discuss issues with him as an equal and gauge the thinking and philosophy of the man who was among the class that represented for me as the epitome of educational and cultural refinement.
At the time, Qasim was the Deputy Governor of the then newly created region of Awdal and I was on my second trip back home from Abu Dhabi to visit my ailing father. Qasim had just arrived from Borama when we met at the main road that cuts through the village in the middle. Following the usual Somali greeting of“Iska Warran, goormaad timid, ma nabad timid.” He asked me about my father’s health and on his request we both headed back to my father’s home where we sat with him for a while and Qasim enquired about his health and exchanged views with him on current issues. It was the way he approached my father and the way he listened to him that impressed me the most and shed light for me on the character of Qasim and the class he represented. It was through him that I learned that no matter how high you go in education and rank, you should always know your position in regards to your elders and behave with them as the Somalis say: “Qoori madax ma dhaafto.” (the neck never goes higher than the head).
After he said goodbye to my father and wished him good health, I noticed Qasim stealthily wiping tears from his eyes. Explaining that later to me he said: “Sheikh Cumar Good la’aantii waxba maynaan ahaaneen…without Sheikh Omer Goth we would have been nothing…” He then related to me the story of how Sheikh Omer was instrumental in building the Dilla Elementary School in 1958 and how he was ahead of the people in fighting to enroll girls in the school in the second year to make Dilla the first co-educational school in the then Somaliland Protectorate in 1959. He did not fail to mention Hamud Sheikh Muhumad who stood shoulder to shoulder with Sheikh Omer in establishing the school and donated his house to accommodate the first class while the school structure was under construction.
Qasim was telling me this story as we headed to the big Garbi trees in Dilla valley and we could see the school standing alone and proudly from the other side of the valley with the sun slowly setting behind it and throwing its crimson glow along the horizon. Momentarily, we both glanced at the school as the sun dipped behind it and the school building stood tall as an eternal witness to the legacy and gift of our elders to the new generation.
Standing under the Garbi tree, Qasim started talking to me about the goals he wanted to fulfill for the people and how he was faced with a wall of resistance on the basis of selfishness, clanism and other societal ills.
“Your father has built this school to produce a generation that dismantles the walls of tribalism and ignorance and bring change to our people,” he said while again fighting back tears. “We are the generation of change. Today we have enough educated people but what we need is honest people who can put the wellbeing of the society above their personal interest.”
Qasim worked as a high school teacher of mathematics after his graduation from Lafole College of Education. But he was soon disillusioned with the system and left the public service for business. After working several years as a businessman in Hargeisa, he realized that he was betraying the aspirations of the Dilla elders who sent him and others to school to make a change in the society and not to get rich. He thought the only way he could make an impact on the people’s life was to run for a political office. He did and had become the first deputy governor of Awdal region.
Subsequently, what he was trying to tell me on that very day was his first bitter experience in running the people’s affairs. The impression I got was that here was as a man, who with all the ambitions and aspirations of a political novice and the dreams of an educated idealist who took on his shoulders the task of being the first of his class to affect a change in the area, hitting the walls of reality. One of the incidents he told me was how he tried to stop some people from taking the land that belonged to the school including the playground for their personal use.
I tried to calm him by telling that it was a text book example of African village people fighting for dwindling resources and gave him several examples that happened before him in our village.
“This is not the point,” he said, “the point is the people who advocate this land grabbing from the school property are the educated ones who went to this same school with me.” It was with this in mind that Qasim responded to me rather angrily when he called me from Cairo in 1992 while accompanying Abdirahman Tuur as Somaliland’s Minister of Education.
I asked him whether he was representing his people in the Tuur government or whether he was on his own. “What do you think?” he asked me. “I think you represent yourself,” I said. He immediately disconnected the line and I had to call him back to apologize and listen to his view of Somaliland and the reconciliation process that was being convened in Borama at the time. Honestly, I was not only a skeptic but against the Somaliland issue at the time and I give credit to Qasim for enlightening me about a lot of issues that contributed to my later conviction and support for Somaliland’s reclaim of its independence.
Being an active participant in all the political reconciliation meetings particularly the first clan meeting held in Burao in April 1991, Qasim was among the first members of the Awdal elite who supported Somaliland’s secession. Whether this was a tactical measure by Qasim and other Awdalites to spare the people of Awdal from isolation and an inevitably long-drawn and devastating civil war, or whether they wholeheartedly believed in the Somaliland secession will be an open debate for historians to decide in the years to come, but in the case of Qasim it is his record as the second longest serving cabinet minister in Somaliland after Abdillahi Duale that vouches for his loyalty to the country. As a low profile technocrat and a man who believed in action rather than media sound bites, Qasim was short on statements and was rarely involved in media controversy. Other than his loyalty, his longevity in the various governments could be attributed to his secretive nature. People who met him during his many tours abroad always complained about Qasim’s stinginess in giving out information. Unlike many politicians he was more comfortable to listen to the people he visited than lecture to them about his achievements or push government propaganda. He was a man cut for leadership. From his student days until now, he was always in a leadership position and he knew more than anyone else that leadership demands certain qualities and being trustworthy was probably one of his highest virtues. A quality that I am sure Qasim has inherited from his father Sheikh Yusuf Ibrahim, a man who commanded respect because of his integrity, religious status and community leadership.
In a meeting with him during his last visit to Dubai in 2007, when we couldn’t get clear answers to our questions from Qasim, we tried to prod him by telling him as the Awdalites abroad we would encourage our people back home to support the opposition Kulmiye party. He was definitely astounded by the revelation but never stopped hiding behind his opaque language.
A down-to-earth friend of everyone, Qasim had the habit of giving equal attention to all people. Although he had a great respect for the elders in line with the Somali culture, he had good friendships with the younger generation as well. Hamza Goth, my younger brother, who is many years younger than me was one of Qasim’s best friends. I remember when my son, who was about 12 years old at the time, met him in Abu Dhabi, and protested to Qasim about the article in Somaliland’s constitution that states that anyone who wants to run for the country’s presidency should be born of Somalilander father and mother. Qasim sat with him and discussed the article with him face to face. Later on, we three have agreed that the article needed revising given to the changing identity of Somalilanders around the globe.
A staunch lover of poetry and wisdom, Qasim’s mantra in life were few lines of a poem by his grandfather Tani Gaboobe in which he expressed his feelings towards the different roles played by his relatives and friends while he was serving a sentence in Zeila during the British administration:
“Nin i luray , Nin igu laagsadiyo, nin i lammaaneeyey
Iyo nin aan lurkayga jeclayn, libina ii diidan
Iyo nin uu lihiin dhigay halkii, rag isku laacaayey
Intaas buu isugu laaqan yahay, loolkii ii xigaye
Nin walbaan laftaad igu lahayd, waa hadhaw lulo e.”
As a man who believed that he was working for the common good, Qasim was very sensitive when anyone accused him of working for his own interest. This is why he chastised me for misinterpreting his political role in a poem I wrote in 1995 under the name Damaqsi:
“…Qaasim Faraskii deercadka ahaa
Wuu ka soo degey dheh
Markii la wada dooyeystayee
Hunguri soo duubtay
Ee malagsuhu dadkii soo horkacay
Garay dantiisii dheh…”
He vehemently rejected what he thought was an accusation of branding him as self-serving. Being a literary connoisseur and an early fan and admirer of my poetry, I had to relent to his argument.
Qasim was always philosophical in his conversation. Even in personal emails, he never deviated from his secretive nature and he liked to pepper his conversation with philosophical statements and deep spiritual insights. He had the inclination of looking at every action as having an enduring effect on the future and had measured his actions and statements accordingly. I take the following excerpts from emails we exchanged in November 2005 as an example to shed light on Qasim’s aptitude for ambiguity and deep philosophical thought:
Wacan oo wannaagsan. Adeer waxan kugu amaanaa mar kasta
Dareen foojigan iyo sida ad wax kasta oo kuu muuqda ama u aragto
In u wax ka qabad u baahan yahay,mid shakhsi ama guud ma kala saarin,
Ugu dadaasho in ad ka gun gaadho,hagar la aanta , geesinimadda iyo kalsoonidda
Ah in ad ku guulaysanayso. Waxay ugu horaysaa nimcooyinka illaahay ugu
Manna sheeganayo mahkluuqa aadamaha maalinta xisaabtanka.
Adeer kuma waaninayo waxna u sheeg isma lihi, waxanse xusuustay nimcadda
Eebbe ee ballaadhan oo ay ka mid tahay alaabtan iyo sidan an u wada sheekaysanayno hadda iyo inta innoo dhexaysa.
Si kastaba ha ahaatee Nolashu waa dugsi maalinba cashar cusub oo horle ku bilaabanta.wixii soo marayna waxay kayd ku yihiin xusuusta dhaqaajisa waxa cusub.
Waxan kaga baxayaa ,hadaad igu raacdo,MAALIN iyo LABA TOONA, nolosha laguma dhamayn karo, qofkana sidaas baan looga goan qaadan wax u sameeyay
Hal maalin. Ama fikir u qabay maalin hore an lagu qiimayn.
IGU SALAAN ASXAABTA IYO ODAYADABA
QASIM SH YUSUF..”
Qasim expressed in this email about his admiration for the power of communication and the Internet through which we were communicating. He described it as God’s bounty for man; a bounty that man will have to account for its use on the day of judgement. He also described life as a school which opens a new page every day, while history is the motivator and inspirer of the future. He concluded it by saying that life cannot be judged by one or two days and accordingly man cannot be judged by one action or ideas he embraced at a particular time of his life.
Most of the time, Qasim was reconciliatory and not confrontational, firm on his stands but not afraid to explore other possibilities as can be seen from the following exchange:
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
… Furitaankii baarlamaanka iyo doorashadii shirguddoonku sowkuwa togdheer idinla xulay. Allow idinka sabato bixi. Waxa fiican in aad mucaaridka u oggolaataan shirguddoonka idinkuna aad dawladda fulinta ku hadhaan. Haddii baarlamaanku arrimaha la seexdo waxa idinku filan inaad dadka u sheegtaan in mucaaridku la arrimihii la seexday. Eedda ha la idinla wadaago inta idinka uun la idin soo eegayo.
Sidaa iyo Tu san,
Wacan oo wanaangsan,
Marbuu dagaalku gondahaaga ka abuurmaa adoon ka warqabin,lagana yaabo in u togdheer kula xullo. Doorashada shir gudoonku way ka fogtahay mucaarid iyo masuuliyada hogaaminta golaha.waxa laga yaabaa in ay kuugu muuqato keliya eed cid la saarayo iyo hawl la kala riixanayo.waa qorshe ku talagal ah oo mudaba soo socday oo halkanna in badani kala socotay,.Haday fursad u muuqatay lama huraan ah oo ay ku guulaystaan la arki doone,hadii kale wax la isku ogolyahay ma jirtee, addigu xogogaal noqo si ad uga garsoorto dareen ahaan boqol sanno ka dib.
Idinku,hadaad u jeedo xukuumadda an ka tirsanahay ee u Dahir Madaxweynaha ka yahay wax culays ah naguma hayso sidaad soo jeedisay haday arrintu u dhacdo,.Hadaad u jeedo reer awdalna,cirka soo dhaca halka Faysal ka galo uun baanu ka geli.
Intaas iyo caawa
qasim sh yusuf
But again in response to following plain email, Qasim resorts to his deep thinking and philosophical rhetoric:
Friday, November 18, 2005 9:25 AM
Dhinca kale niman badan oo siyaasad u soo guntan baa jira oo dibedda jooga, aniguse kuma jiro umana soo jeedo. Adigana kollayba taageerayaashaada ayuun baan isku tiriyaa. Wixii intaa dhaafsan bal adiga ayaan kaa sugi iyo sida aad iigu soo furfurato.
…ragii hore way tegeen ragga halkoodii ku jiraa in ay dareemaan dantaa keentay,waase la kala hor korayaa.
siyaasaduna waa dareenka maaraynta nolosha .qofba inta u ka dareensan yahay nolosha iyo goorta uu ku baraarugo ayuu wax ka qabadkeeda la yimaadaa. waa la sugayaa rag badan oo u heelan hawl siyaasadeed haday jiraan.runtiina way gaadhay xilligii ragu wada qooqayay, ee arooska aqaladda laba deryaalaha duleedka loogu dhisayay
Taageerada iyo mucaaradadu hadayna u dhalasho ahayn waa in ay dan iyo garasho daacad laga yahay ku fadhidaa,hadaad isku tiriso taageerayaasha qasim ha ka shakiyin in u qasim yahay mucaaradkaaga ,hadayse noqoto run sheeg waa ceeb sheeg,innaga inooma taalo,
Bashiir,adeer caawa halkaa ha inoo jooto,hadaad furfurasho kale iiga baahan tahay soo sheeg ina soo waydii.
qasim sh yusuf
As one can see in the last line of the above email, Qasim’s answer comes in guarded language “Taageerada iyo mucaaradadu hadayna u dhalasho ahayn waa in ay dan iyo garasho daacad laga yahay ku fadhidaa…” Always aware of his principles even during personal conversations, one can see how he conditions his support for any cause as based on common interest and honesty. Even on the personal level when I told him that I count myself as one of his supporters, he reciprocates my gesture with a similar one but has to caution me that our support for each other should stand or fall on adhering to the truth (…haddayse noqoto run sheeg was ceeb sheeg innaga inooma taalo…).
This was the man I knew; a man who was uncompromising in his principles, truthful, honest, compassionate, spiritual, deep thinker, a dedicated hard worker and above all a down-to-earth friend of everyone. With his death in Mecca, I personally lost a mentor and great friend who always put our friendship and our family ties above politics and who saw our disagreements as a way of learning from each other.
Rest in peace my friend; you live among us through your deeds.