Haji Abdulkarim Husen Yusuf (better known as Haji Abdi-Waraabe) – may Allah bless his soul- passed away on Friday the 10th of May 2019 coinciding with 5th of Ramadan 1440 of the Islamic calendar. A lot is being written on the occasion of his death in Somali mainly over the social media. Panel discussions might also be organized on the Somali speaking TV channels. My intention here is to convey a message about him to the non-Somali speaking world regarding his peacemaking efforts and how he earned the respect that he commanded in Somaliland and beyond. He was recognized as peace icon in all the Somali territories in general and in Somaliland in particular. He died on a Friday which is the blessed day of the week according to Islamic Sharia in the holy month of Ramadan.
Prayers for him poured almost instantly from thousands of supporters around the world when his death was officially announced by the Hargeisa International Hospital where he was being nursed for in the last days of his life. He was buried the next day in his small town named Toon located about 12KMs south of Hargeisa. Tens of thousands of people from a cross-section of Hargeisa residents joined Somaliland’s president HE Muse Bihi, cabinet ministers and members of parliament to bury him. Haji Abdi was a member of Somaliland’s upper house of parliament till his death. One of his sons will automatically occupy his parliamentary seat as per the existing rules for succession in the upper house, better known as the Guurti Council.
He was born in the outskirts of the then small growing town of Hargeisa sometime in 1898 as per his account, thereby becoming the eldest Somalilander who lived over three centuries. Haji Abdi grew up as camel-herder. He was named Abdi-Waraabe when camel looters attacked and drove away his herd of camels. Armed with an old rifle, he went after the looters killing one of them and wounding another. Convinced that he will not give up till he gets back all his camel, the looters named him “the hyena (warabe in Somali)” and decided to release the whole of his camel.
When he was in his twenties in the early 1920s, his father was killed by a man from a neighbouring clan. As per tradition, he devised a revenge plan to eliminate his fathers killer. Along with one of his relatives, they proceeded to the location of the killer and after some time, they found him. The killer had no idea, that his visitor is the son of the man he murdered earlier. Abdi-Waraabe and his relative identified themselves as going after some lost camel. The former assassin was by then a changed man and he invited them for dinner. His house was not enough and he entertained his guests in the open air by making small fire as per the custom of the Somali nomads. Abdi-Waraabe and his friend ate their dinner but it started to rain soon afterwards. The host invited his guests into his small traditional hut. Soon they realised that their host was only with his wife and a little daughter.
The rainfall grew more intense and drops of water started to drop from the roof. The host went out of his way held a leather mat over Abdi-Waraabe to keep him dry. After some time, it stopped raining and the host had to release his animals to drink from the fresh rainwater collected outside. At that point, Abdi-Waraabe’s friend whispered to him by saying it is now the right time to shoot him. Abdi-Waraabe responded by saying, “how can I shoot the guy who went out of his way to even prevent drops of water from the roof to wet my clothe”?.
That was the end of the revenge plan and from that point onwards, Abdi-waraabe was recognized as a peace-loving gentleman both by his own clan as well as by the rival clan. Due to this reason, an arrangement was made by the rival clan to wed the assassin’s young daughter to Abdi-Waraabe in order to seal a peace and reconciliation pact between the two rival clans. At that time, Abdi-Waraabe’s brother was the chief, or traditional leader, of his clan. The leader brother died afterwards, and Abdi-Waraabe was elected to replace him as the new chief in 1940. Later, he travelled to Mecca to carry out his Hajj obligations and he got the Haji title after that.
Haji Abdi’s clan inhabits along the territory between Hargeisa and Aware town in the south covering a distance of about 140KMs. Aware was part of the area called “the Hawd and Reserve Area” that was administered by the British but was later handed over to the Ethiopian Empire in 1954. Haji Abdi-Waraabe worked with the British colonial administration till 26th June 1960 when Somaliland got its independence and soon joined Italian Somaliland on 1st July 1960. Haji Abdi-Waraabe was a gifted leader with outstanding wisdom and eloquent skills. He was also a sincere and peace-loving leader. That is why he was always close to the successive governments in Somalia.
Due to the fact that a large percentage of his clan is spread over several districts in the HAWD AND RESERVE AREA in West Somali Region in Ethiopia, he also worked with successive Ethiopian governments from Emperor Haile Selassie to the current EPRDF government.
He was instrumental in the setting up of state institutions after Somaliland declared its independence from Somalia in May 1991. He became a founding member of the Guurti Council which is Somaliland’s upper house of parliament. He was elected as the chairman of the permanent standing committee in the upper house; a position he held till his death on 10th May 2019. Haji Abdi-Waraabe played a key role in the resolution of devastating clan conflicts in Somaliland from 1994 to 1995. He was both member of the Guurti Council and the chief of his clan and was recognized as eldest and the most outstanding statesman in Somaliland. He is credited with many peace-related proverbial sayings over the years; many are recorded in his biography written in Somali with the title translated as “The Peace Advisor”. He was once quoted as having defined statesmanship to mean “foregoing your due share (over disputed matters) in favour of your opponent for the sake of the general good”.
Haji Abdi-Waraabe witnessed tumultuous and violent times in the Horn of Africa both within the Somali communities and between rival countries like the Ethio-Somali war of 1977. For over a century, he struggled to put out conflicts and grow the seeds of peace. By and large, he succeeded in his mission. He died in his peaceful Somaliland. Over the last several months, he was incapacitated in bed, but I am sure he was informed about the change in Ethiopia and the coming to power of the young dynamic Dr Abiy who is trying to build sustainable peace in the Horn in particular and in the whole of Africa in general.
Somalilander’s are urged to nourish his legacy by nurturing the culture of reconciliation and forgiveness. I would propose to HE president Muse Bihi to recognize 10th May 2019 as the national day of reconciliation and forgiveness in Somaliland.
May Allah bless Haji Abdi’s soul and reward him with paradise.