By: Nuradin Jilani. If the Sayid was deceased historical figure who cannot speak for himself now to set the record straight, though his legacy does that, the living Ogaden poet Abdillahi Macalin Dhoodaan is another figure who was made to repudiate his intellectual and poetic contribution to the struggle for freedom in Ogaden.


Furthermore, listen to the arguments of the so-called learned ones amongst us who will tell you with no shame ‘we cannot govern ourselves’ in the event Ethiopia leaves our land – those that will say ‘there will be a civil war’ in a direct echo of our colonizers. Are they not subconsciously craving, in fact calling for, to be slaves forever?
These men didn’t spring up on their own; they’re culturally corrupted system created men.

The Sayid and his Dervishes fought against this kind of mental and physical slavery; they stood tall and proud in their land and did not accept any superiority over them except that of God. The sophisticated white European colonizers could not subjugate them. They fought bitterly to this end. A testament to their enduring legacy is how throughout the Somali inhabited lands of the Horn of Africa their rich struggle legacy remains scattered everyplace, in landscape and memory.

Ethiopia’s attempt to “fossilize” the Sayid and reinvent him in a new form as a ‘Somali-Ethiopian’ cultural figure – which is an attempt at historical surgery to remove “those elements within him that constitute national consciousness” as Frantz Fanon put it in his discussion of Psychological Warfare – has two aims: 1) To kill the ‘idea of resistance’ which the Sayid and his Dervishes stood for in the consciousness of Somalis under Ethiopian colonialism and make them loose the inspiration the Dervish struggle instills on those fighting for freedom in Ogaden today and in the future; 2) To rob that beautiful history from the Somalis in general and make the Somali nation lose its historical anchor and the very idea that constituted its flag and national anthem, pan-Somalism. In a way trying to kill two birds with one stone.

The Sayid and the legendary Imam Ahmed Gurey, who is now taught in Ethiopian history as one of theirs in a very negative way, stand for the ‘Idea of Somalism.’ More than any historical figures, these two heroes are identified as founding fathers of modern day Somalia. By Ethiopianizing these figures of Somali history, Ethiopia wants to remove the rug from the feet of present day Somalis and destroy their collective selfhood and image of the past together with their future.
Whether they find the remnants of the Sayid and fossilize him into Somali-Ethiopian (an identity that doesn’t exist in reality) romantic cultural figure or not, he will remain forever buried deep in the psyche of Somalis, a genuine Somali hero with no Ethiopian appendix or prefix added to his name. (In case somebody interprets my argument as if I am saying the Dervish history does not belong to the Somalis under Ethiopian colonialism, I am not. I am saying it belongs to free Somalis or those who are struggling to free themselves. It is struggle and resistance history, one which cannot be claimed by slavish servants and spokesmen of colonialism.)

If the Ethiopian regime is serious about giving the Somalis under its colonialism their history back, we may ask: why have they changed the old flag that had the Somali star on the side? Why have they made Friday a working day and Sunday a holiday in the predominantly Muslim Somali Region? Why have they changed the Sharia law into secular family law? Why temper with what constitutes Somali identity? And why, among the multitudes of ‘romantic’ cultural figures they can pick in Ogaden – such as Wiil-waal, Raage Ugaas, Qamaan Bulhan, and others – have they chosen the Sayid? And finally, why not teach in schools the struggle history of WSLF against the common Derg enemy of which the two parties, WSLF & TPLF, fought together?
When all is said and done, one salient defiant attribute of the Sayid stands out and speaks for itself: he refused to surrender and submit to the British Empire even when he was defeated and his health was rapidly deteriorating. He knew that he lived for posterity and didn’t want to taint his legacy. He died holding the torch of freedom. And this is something that cannot be taken away him.

Some Somalis are unwittingly helping in the distortion and destruction of their history. For example, the famous playwright and poet Mohamed Ibrahim Warsame (Hadraawi), could say with confidence that the Sayid was ‘a power maniac and dictator’, someone whose political side he did not like: “The poems [of the Sayid] I like are not political,” Hadraawi said, adding it’s those “…about trees and stars, the rivers and rains and seasons…and camels” he prefers, to a reporter for Newsweek Magazine who came to Somalia to establish the link between Osama Bin Laden and Sayid Mohamed Abdille Hassan! (It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World – Newsweek Sep 30, 2009). We can understand the attitude of Guled Casowe when he says he wants to do away with that part of the Sayid he doesn’t like, but how can we comprehend Hadraawi’s logic? Also, the education departments of regional administrations in Somalia deliberately undervalue the rich historic contribution of the Dervishes in the struggle for freedom in Somalia. Perhaps I am naïve to expect those who mourn the death of Richard Cornfield at the hands of the Dervishes to valorize those who killed him!

Coupled with this is the new assault on the person of the Sayid by some of Somalia’s so-called ‘revisionist historians’ who copy and paste biased British propaganda characterizations of the man and pass it as learned historical treatises.
To underscore the importance of historical figures, recently Greece and Macedonia were at loggerheads over a statue that had resemblance to Alexander the Great which the latter country had built in the center of its capital city Skopje, even though Alexander was both Greek and Macedon in ancestry. The long drawn-out battle between Ethiopia and Italy over the return of the Axum Obelisk is another example. The still on-going clashes between Thailand and Cambodia about the ownership of a Buddhist shrine in the un-demarcated border area that separates the two countries is another case in point. Poor Somalis! Geel ninkii lahaa dhacayo side looga dhiciyaa?

Abdulahi Macalin Dhoodaan

If the Sayid was deceased historical figure who cannot speak for himself now to set the record straight, though his legacy does that, the living Ogaden poet Abdillahi Macalin Dhoodaan is another figure who was made to repudiate his intellectual and poetic contribution to the struggle for freedom in Ogaden. Not long ago Dhoodan was made to take part in a self-degrading propaganda play against the ONLF which featured Somali women chewing Khat and performing immoral acts. Dhoodan’s vocation these days is to insult ONLF leaders in public speeches and composes low quality poems against the struggle and is a regular guest in security related tours by regional politicians to the provinces.

Prior to his coups de grace, Dhoodan was a firebrand poet who has contributed immensely to the freedom struggle in Ogaden and the molding of a distinct Ogaden national consciousness using the medium of oral poetry – which was at time the most potent means of communication – to motivate, stir up, and agitate our masses against colonialism.

The intellectual manipulation method of making influential people in the struggle – past or present – repudiate their previous nationalist stances and turning them against it was recently best described in our case by a perceptive Kenyan analyst, Andrew Koriri, in article he wrote about the so-called ‘peace deal’ in Ogaden, entitled Yet another ‘peace deal’ in Ogaden.

Koriri says this method is called “The Utility of Turns” and its one which has been used effectively throughout history to discredit opponents: “Throughout the history of mankind, converts have been used to show the superiority of one’s religion, idea or system. ‘Turns’ are a vital expression of triumphant power, proof that a cause is convincing and potent. So, by fronting ‘ex-ONLF’ men who have discarded their ‘wrong’ ideologies, the regime in Addis Ababa hopes to show that the ONLF is pursuing a lost cause. That is also another reason why it is imperative to import men from the Diaspora; men who may or may not have anything to do with ONLF, and parade them to the local and international media to prove the quandary in which the ONLF is in.”

Currently this method is used more on the cultural front than on the political. Since 2009 famous Somali singers who espoused the idea of self-determination for Ogaden were lured into Ethiopia and made to sing songs in praise of the Ethiopian regime. Thus Mohamed Saleebaan Tubeec whose memorable song Geesiga dhulkiisa guusha u horseeda made thousands of Somali youth throw themselves into Ethiopian tank fire in 1977 war was paid to sing another tune in praise of the very enemy that was tormenting his people in different guise. Cadar Axmed Khaahin (April 2010); Nimco Dareen (June 2011); Waayahay Cusub (September, 2011) are some of the bought singers who were in the struggle or sympathized with it before they became ‘turns’.

Waayaha Cusub were specifically known for their outspokenness against Ethiopia, more so since Ethiopia’s invasion and occupation of Somalia in 2006. Their memorable songs – titles such as Gumeeysiga Itoobiya, Soomaliyaay Diriroo Dagaalama, Dabadhilif – are hard to erase from conscience of the Somali youth. But I admit it had a demonizing effect on some. Trust in people who carry nationalist message is as result severely wounded. The profession of singing has been made to suffer as singers are portrayed today as conscienceless people who are only after money.

One wonders why Ethiopia is singling out in its ‘turns’ policy the anti-colonial historical (either dead or living) cultural figures and singers, specifically those who are most vocal against them. If they were interested in romantic cultural figures, why not attract individuals who sang love songs instead of those in the struggle?
By enlisting the service of these previously nationalist singers, the regime in Ethiopia hopes its brutal colonial practices in Ogaden would appear cool and acceptable to the people. In other words they’re formalizing ‘the culture of subservience’ as Ngugi put it in one of his arguments – something which is new to our centuries old conflict with Ethiopia. Ultimately it’s ‘the idea’ they are after, as that perceptive Kenyan writer Andrew Koriri said. And since ideas are espoused by people, their strategy is to kill the idea by rewriting the message of its carriers in the past in a new placatory form, and corrupting the image of its present carriers by using all-means-necessary approach to achieve it. But ideas outlive individuals. I can only say ‘it is too late’ to those who have discovered at this late stage that our people can only be made to accept their rule when they are culturally destroyed. Some Somalis may be brainwashed to lose their self-respect and identity temporarily, but the spirit of Somalism can never be annihilated.

Finally, as there is in every colonized society a ‘culture of subservience’ formalized by the occupying power, there is also a counter ‘culture of resistance’. And for that we are thankful to those resisting damnation in our struggle for political, economic and cultural freedom in Ogaden.

Nuradin Jilani.


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