Somalia mourns democracy hero Hersi Bulhan Farah


A member of Somalia’s last universal suffrage parliament has died, ending an era most Somalis remember with nostalgia.

Hersi Bulhan Farah (fondly known as Bulhan) died on February 2 at an age presumed to be 100 years, having lived through Somalia’s chaos and survived much of its sate collapse.

Universal suffrage

Mr Bulhan’s death means there aren’t many of the politicians who won seats when Somalia last held a one-person-one-vote election. That type of election has eluded the country for 52 years.

Many people knew him because of his decades-long involvement in politics and administrative life in the Horn of Africa country.

His political career rose when he was voted into the National Assembly (the 123-member parliament of the Somali Republic then) on March 26, 1969. The election was a multiparty contest and he became MP for Eyl town, about 1,200 km northeast of the Somali capital Mogadishu.


Hersi Bulhan Farah, a former Somali MP.

Hersi Bulhan Farah, a former Somali MP. PHOTO | COURTESY

Bulhan was preceded by Jama Aw Nurali (elected in 1964) and Dahir Nur (elected in 1960). The three were elected on different party tickets.

Somalia at the time was a budding democracy and his election was also symbol of tolerance between parties.

President assassinated

A month after the vote, in April 1969, then Somali President Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke reappointed Mohamed Ibrahim Egal as prime minister. In Egal’s new cabinet, Bulhan was appointed Minister of Agriculture.

But within six months, President Sharmarke was assassinated on October 15, 1969 by one of his bodyguards during a tour of Las Anod town, about 1,030 km northwest of Mogadishu. Sharmarke’s body was transported to Mogadishu and buried on October 20, in line with Muslim rites.

The foreign dignitaries who attended Sharmarke’s funeral included Zambia’s President Kenneth Kaunda and Kenya’s then Vice President Daniel arap Moi, who would later become the country’s second president.

Bulhan was among members of the central committee of the ruling party, the Somali Youth League (SYL), who met after the funeral rites were concluded to discuss the replacement of the murdered president.

But, the democratically elected civilian politicians knew little then. At about the same time, a group of army officers were planning to take over power through a coup.

On October 21, 1969, twenty-five officers, calling themselves the Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC) led by Maj-Gen Mohamed Siad Barre, whisked Egal’s cabinet members, including Bulhan, into army buses and took them to a compound in Afgoye town, 30km southwest of Mogadishu.

They remained in detention for more than three years as the nationally endorsed constitution was abolished and the country led into a pseudo-socialist state and strict dictatorship.

In 1973, when the detained politicians were released, Bulhan was appointed Director of Plant Protection and Locust Control Department of the Ministry of Agriculture and later assumed the directorship of the state-run banana company.

Public servant

Prior to becoming an MP, Bulhan had worked with state agencies, both before and after independence in the 1950s and 1960s, accumulating a wealth of public administration experience.

In the late 1970s, when General Barre began consolidating his dictatorial power by forming a single party rule and a fully obedient legislative assembly, and initiated a nationally-manipulated voting that crowned him as president in 1979, Bulhan left the country to join the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF), the first rebel group that dared to confront Barre from abroad.

Bulhan became a member of SSDF’s central committee, returning to Somalia when the rebel groups defeated the dictatorship, forcing Barre to flee Mogadishu.

However, when the rebel militias turned their guns on each other, Bulhan retreated to the northeastern regions from where he hailed, eventually helping in the formation of Puntland, one of the first self-ruled authorities in Somalia.

At the end of the two-year Somali Reconciliation Conference in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, Bulhan was selected to be the Interim Chairman of the Transitional Federal Parliament because he was identified as the oldest MP, a position he held until Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan was elected speaker in September 2004.

Hersi Bulhan Farah, a former Somali MP.

Hersi Bulhan Farah, a former Somali MP. PHOTO | COURTESY

He remained a parliamentarian until August 2012 when he retired from politics, but remained active in the world of business and philanthropy.

Proud of Puntland

Sadik Ahmed Bihi, a friend of Bulhan’s family, told The EastAfrican last week that the former MP, though at an advanced age, expressed happiness that his home town, Eyl, alongside Qardho and Ufeyn, had become one of the three districts in Puntland, where people had exercised the first one-man one-vote election in Somalia since March 1969.

Eight political groups, namely Kaah, Mideeye, Horseed, Caddaalad iyo Sinnaan, Runcad, Mustaqbal, Ifiye and Shaqaalaha, were registered to compete for 87 seats (municipal councillors).

While on a visit in Kenya last week, Puntland President Said Abdullahi Deni sent his condolences to Bulhan’s relatives and Somalis across the world.

“Hersi Bulhan Farah was a giant who spent many years serving the country and dedicated to the externalisation of our statehood,” he said.

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