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Yahya: death of a peace campaigner

About the author
Harun Hassan worked for Associated Press and the BBC in Somalia. He currently works as a freelancer.

The killing of Abdulkadir Yahya Ali, known as “Yahya”, early on Monday morning is a tragedy for Somalis around the world. He was the champion of the silent victims of Somalia’s fifteen-year-long anarchy.

It was also a personal tragedy for his family, children, and friends. In my own case, he was my best friend and a close confidante. We have shared a room; we have discussed Somalia’s past, present and future; we have dined together at restaurants here in London and in Mogadishu.

I first met Yahya in 1993 but we became close friends only from 1995. He was humble, loveable and a gentleman. Once you met him it was very difficult not to like him.

We have been through bad times together. When one of us got threats from militias we would hide out at each other’s place in Mogadishu.

Yahya never patronised anybody. He respected and communicated with all ages on equal terms.

He was a well-educated man with clarity, oratory and good communication skills. He was offered huge sums to work for foreign aid agencies, universities and big Somali companies but he turned down all of them in order to concentrate on his peace awareness campaign among Somalis. This campaign took Yahya through different organisations, from the American embassy to heading the only research and dialogue organisation in Somalia. But he died without owning a house in Mogadishu. At the end of each month when he received his salary, plenty of relatives and friends would come and they all shared his money. He would just give it out with a smile.

When he set up the Centre for Research and Dialogue (CRD) in 1999, he told me how he would send back every extra penny to the centre’s main sponsors. This was in contrast to many other officials of aid organisations in Somalia.

Every Somali person will miss Yahya, including those who pulled the trigger. He was killed because he was hardworking, intelligent and very clever. At the height of the clan fighting in the early 1990s, Yahya was the source of a famous saying that now constantly features in the language of negotiations among Somali clans and factions: “I didn’t choose to belong to clan X and neither did you, so why do we have to fight?”

But he was too honest and open. He did not know the language of hypocrisy and was frank and straightforward about the Somalia debacle. He had enemies he did not know. He received numerous death threats. But he thought he had unfinished business and he resisted leaving Somalia while he had so much work to do.

He regularly travelled outside Somalia to promote the Somali peace process. In one of his visits to London last year, he formed an organisation called the Somali National Leadership Organisation (Falsan, an affiliate of the CRD) to collect money from Somalis and non-Somalis outside the country. The money was used to reward those individuals who make a difference to peace in Somalia.

His last visit to London was in March this year, when he came to award a bravery medal to the relatives of two British teachers killed in Somaliland in October 2003.

I wanted to introduce Yahya to openDemocracy’s David Hayes when he was in London because Yahya had lots to say. But we never got the chance and I think it relieves me that David did not meet him. It would have been difficult for him to forget such a modest and generous man.

He phoned me from the airport before he travelled to Somalia to say that he was scared about going to back to Somalia. He said threats against his life were becoming too much and unbearable. He told me that the next time he leaves Somalia could be his last. Yahya was scheduled to travel to the United States next Sunday (17 July) with his son – the last of his nine children to remain in Somalia. That could well have been his last day in Somalia. He never wanted to leave Somalia but the situation was getting grim for him to stay.

He was a regular traveller to and from Somalia. He would tell how immigration officials wherever he went would harass him, drag him aside and treat him like a criminal whenever he landed at airports in London, Washington or elsewhere. He always travelled with a Somali passport, which is like contraband today in most of the world. But Yahya refused to take another passport although he could easily have claimed asylum or residence in any country in the world.

I visited his former wife and five children who live in Neasden, north London, yesterday. They looked devastated and unable to cope with this tragedy. The visit was not easy for me and for them as well. Yahya’s children had always seen me with their father. His eldest son, Mohamed (18), held his arms around me and kept on crying. I have cried too and I am crying while writing this. I am going to miss him terribly. May Allah bless him.

Further Links:

Centre for Research and Dialogue (CRD)
http://www.crdsomalia.org/index.shtml

Somali National Leadership Organisation (Falsan)
http://www.falsan.org/


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