Perhaps not many people know or heard about Ustad Osman Hussein, a brilliant and honest man, brutally murdered in Mogadiscio on May 26, 1953. Osman was born in Aden to where his parents, native of Afgoi district, emigrated mid the twenties century to join the strong Somali community in the then prosperous port city, located in the south of contemporary Yemen.
This article is written in remembrance of a man of great capacity and talent who fell victim to a premeditated and political plot. Ustad Osman as he was better known was a leading member of the Hizbia Dighil Mirifle party (HDM) and member of the Territorial Council, (Consiglio Territoriale): infieri, the future Somali Parliament. The Territorial Council was a consulting body meant to assist the Trusteeship Administration in all public functions except foreign and defense affairs.
The Territorial Council, which opened its doors for the first time on February 18, 1951, held its last meeting on January 7, 1956 and was formally dissolved on January 31 of the same year to give way to the newly elected Legislative Assembly. (Corriere della Somalia, Gennaio 9, 1956)
Extension of the trusteeship mandate
Claims that were never confirmed suggested that the main purpose of the Hizbia envoy’s mission was to formulate a request to the UN designed to prolong the trusteeship duration on Somalia by an additional 10 years, seen as necessary to make the territory self-sufficient and genuinely independent.
It was Abdullahi Issa, the Lega representative to the United Nations who, for the first time, raised the concern that the Trusteeship Agreement adopted by the UN General Assembly in November 1949, for the duration of ten years, might not be honoured and that Italy might seek an extension of the period so as to retain her hold on the territory for longer than envisaged. However the likelihood of an extension of the trusteeship period was categorically ruled out by the Italian authorities since the early days of the trusteeship regime. I
n fact, in a long report to Rome at the end of his tenure as Administrator, Giovanni Fornari made this comment on the issue: “It does not seem that we have any particular interest in the extension of our mandate, there being no economic benefit except for a political benefit deriving from our presence in Africa and, in the future, for having helped a country to attain independence” (ASCM 47 report n.4433/1717, December 23, 1952).Ambassador Enrico Martino, who succeeded Fornari as Administrator of Somalia, was even more categorical in playing down this option.
Speaking at the Italian – African meeting organized in Milan on April 26, 1954, he reminded his audience of “the necessity to dispel the notion that Italy is not intentioned to grant independence to Somalis in 1960. (Enrico Martino, Due Anno in Somalia, Mogadiscio 1955, p, 37) The notion of an extension of the mandate was further discredited by British sources in Rome, which revealed that Italy regarded the trusteeship mandate it as “an expensive, unprofitable, and potentially embarrassing responsibility” (TNA FO 371/131463, April 19, 1954)
Ustad Osman was murdered outside his home in the Hamar Weyn district of Mogadiscio one day ahead of his planned departure for Lake Success. His body bore twenty-three knife wounds. (TNA FO 371/102566) The police made three arrests in connection with the murder, two of them members of the hit squad known as ‘Horseed’. Hussein’s assailants, all hailing from the Somali nomadic clans of the central region of Mudugh were:
24-year old Mohamed Ali Haji Abdurahman, a laundryman, 30 year-old Aden Abdurahman Farah ‘Gurei’, employee of the ‘Farmacia Imperiale’ and 29-year old Mohamoud Mohamed Gouled ‘Gagale’, employee of the AFIS printing press, known as ‘Stamperia AFIS’ (ASMAE, Afis, Bollettino informazione del mese di Maggio 1953)
Feelings ran very high in Mogadiscio and other parts of the territory. In Baidoa, the Hizbia stronghold, the local members of the party were prepared to take mass revenge on the adherents of the local Lega branch, but the Italian authorities issued firm instructions for the maintenance of order.
The Hizbia dispatched their president, Abdinour Mohamed Hussein, to New York in place of the murdered councilor, amid rumors that he would ask for an extension of the trusteeship period for a further ten years. (I could not find any evidence of initiatives taken by the HDM at the United Nations to prolong the trusteeship duration).
The murder of Ustad Osman Hussein Mohamed entered into history as the first politically motivated assassination ever committed in Somalia, as opposed to the many other cases of killings occasioned by tribal feuds. The killing caused great consternation in the Hizbia camp, which issued the following communiqué:“The party and committee members of the Hizbia Dighil Mirifle are firmly convinced that Ustad Osman Hussein fell victim of a vile, premeditated and intentional political plot.
The Executive Committee of the HDM acquiesced in the collaboration of all citizens for the tracking down of the perpetrators and exhorted all party members, wherever they may be, to exercise restraint and remain calm, placing their faith in the work of the Police and the Justice system”. A reward of Somali Shilling 5,000 was offered by the HDM for information leading to the capture of the murderers of Ustad Osman. (Somalia Nuova Maggio 31, 1953) The crime became something of a cause célèbre and further strained the relations between the Lega dei Giovani Somali (LGS) and the Trusteeship Authorities.
On June 27 1953; the Administrator. Enrico Martino paid an emotional tribute to the slain councilor on opening the second session of the Territorial Council, using the occasion to remember the rare qualities of Councilor Osman Hussein. In this inaugural speech, the Administrator told his audience “certain that every one of you, at this moment, has remembered the capacity and talents of Osman Mohamed, but above all, his quality in the educational and spiritual fields for which he was known in Somalia as ‘Ustad” – that is ‘Professor’.
The greatness of his personality puts in full relief the shameful crime of his murderers who waited for him, at night, on a street corner, while he was absorbed in his work and in the future of his beloved Somalia, returning to his home, where his wife and beloved sons awaited him.
But, whatever his assassins’ intention might have been, they were deceiving themselves if they thought that by killing one man they could kill an idea. I hope I am interpreting your wishes when I say that an everlasting marker should be erected at the place where Osman Mohamed was murdered. The place which today holds memories of blood and shadow will thus become a beacon of light and life. If a project of this kind is decided upon, the Administration will facilitate its realization.” (Enrico Martino’s speech made at the opening of the second session of the Territorial Council on June 27, 1953) To commemorate the Councilor’s memory, a street in the capital, located near his house in the Hamar Weyn district, was named after him, becoming Via Ustad Osman.
(Corriere della Somalia July 30, 1953) In paying tribute to Ustad Osman before the Territorial Council, Ambassador Martino did not ascribe the crime to the Lega but to what he called “extremist elements linked to that party whose acts have not been disowned” (TNA FO 371/102567) Perhaps few people know that Ustad Osman was in the past politically associated with, and a member of, the Lega dei Giovani Somali party.
He was recruited as an Arabic teacher for the party’s privately-run schools in Galkayo. Italian intelligence sources suggest that, in view of his political maturity, ability and good linguistic skills, a requirement hardly possessed at the time by any of his party fellows, he was seen as the best candidate to represent his previous political party at Lake Success during the debate on the future of former Italian colonies in Africa.
He was fluent in Arabic, English and French, and spoke a decent Italian. However, despite his cultural advantage over his fellow party members, he had been side-lined and “a different envoy was sent in his place on purely tribal considerations.” (ASMAE, Bollettino Informazione del mese di Maggio 1953)
A politician with an extremely sharp mind, he switched sides, joining the Hizbia Dighil Mirifle, thus making enemies and risking his own security.