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Ahmed died a bitter man for failing to unite Somalia

By | Updated Sun, March 25th 2012 at 00:00 GMT +3

By Athman Amran

Former President of the Somalia Transitional Federal Government (TFG) Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed died in Dubai on Friday still regretting his failure to end Somalia’s 23-year conflict.

He had been granted political asylum in Yemen in 2009 after resigning as TFG president in December 2008.

Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed. He was decorated for courage, but would remain a colonel throughout his military career. [PHOTO: COURTESY]

Ahmed had expressed regret for failing to fulfil his government’s mandate while announcing his resignation on national radio.

As president, he had pledged to promote reconciliation and to set about rebuilding the country.

He left Somalia under the grip of the Al Shabaab, one of the splinter groups of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), which with the help of Ethiopia, he drove out of the country.

But Ahmed would perhaps be one of the few internationally recognised presidents who tried to govern a country, which is regarded as one of the most dangerous places on earth. He also presided over a country where a big portion was not under his control.

Ahmed had several attempts to his life. On September 18, 2006, a suicide car bomber smashed his vehicle into the president’s convoy outside the National Parliament in Baidoa.

The attack killed four of his bodyguards and his brother. Six attackers were also killed in the subsequent gun battle. Ahmed’s life was most likely saved by the fact that he was travelling in the second vehicle in the convoy rather than the front one, which was a decoy.

Living on the edge

The ICU, which at the time controlled the southern half of the country, was blamed for the attack.

The former president underwent a liver transplant in the 1990s. And in early December 2007, he was admitted to a hospital in Nairobi for treatment of what his spokesman described as bronchitis.

On January 4, 2008, he collapsed in Baidoa and was taken to Ethiopia for treatment.

Two days later he was rushed to London for tests. He returned to Mogadishu on February 16, 2008, only for rebels to fire mortars at the presidential compound, reportedly wounding five people.

Ahmed has, however, had a long history of living on the edge. As an army officer he has been restless throughout his life and perhaps played a role in the current destabilisation of Somalia.

Ahmed had led one of the clan-based rebel groups called the Somali Salvation Democratic Front in the north, which consisted of several former army officers opposed to Siad Barre’s regime.

Barre was finally overthrown on January 26, 1991, when factions led by warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid and his rebel group, the United Somali Congress, invaded Mogadishu.

When Barre, then the commander of the army staged a coup in Somalia on October 21, 1969, Ahmed was then serving in the Somali army as a soldier.

The coup had followed the assassination of Somalia’s then President Abdirashid Ali Shermake by one of his bodyguards on October 15, 1969.

Ahmed had joined the army during the 1950s, and was promoted to the post of commander in 1960.

As a soldier, he participated in the Somali-Ethiopian war of 1964 and was decorated for bravery. He had also served as Somalia’s military attachÈ to Moscow between 1965 and 1968.

Ahmed was, however, imprisoned soon after the coup by the military regime for refusing to support Barre’s seizure of power.

He was released from prison in 1975 and appointed as the director of a government agency and later commanded the Somali National Army’s southern front in the Ogaden War against neighbouring Ethiopia.

Ahmed was again decorated for courage, but would remain a colonel throughout his military career.

Guerrilla movement

A bitter Ahmed later participated in a failed attempt to topple Barre’s administration in 1978 together with a group of officials mainly from his own Majeerteen (Darod) clan.

He and several other colonels managed to escape abroad but most of those who had helped in plotting the coup were executed.

It was then that Ahmed formed a guerrilla movement while in Ethiopia called the Somali Salvation Front, which was later renamed SSDF in 1979.

Ahmed’s was the first of several opposition groups dedicated to ousting Barre’s regime by force.

In 1985 he was imprisoned in Ethiopia for five years for opposing Ethiopia government’s claims of sovereignty over several Somali-inhabited areas that his rebels had manage to seize from Barre’s forces.

He was, however, released in 1990 and returned to Somalia following the end of Ethiopia’s then ruling military junta (the Derg), which had taken power after the ousting of Emperor Haile Selassie.

Ahmed immediately launched a military campaign and in 1992 successfully expelled an Islamist extremist group linked to Al-Itihaad al-Islamiya, which had taken over Bosaso. This is prominent port city and the commercial capital of the north-eastern part of the country.

In 1998 he declared his native Puntland region in the north an autonomous territory where he served as president from July 23, 1998, to 2004 when he was elected president of Somalia under the TFG.


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