I met with Poet Khalif Sheikh Mohamud on numerous occasions. He was a modest and humble young man, not keen to talking at all, when he was among his friends, but always attentive and listening, a rather reserved and even shy guy. Unlike many of the Somali poets, singers, and artists at the time, he did not have any personal vices, or addictions like chat-chewing or smoking. Politically, he was not a conformist, and often his vision and convictions came into clashes with the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF) leadership of the day. He always supported the underdog in political and ideological confrontations within the exiled opposition organization. He discretely, but quietly criticized SSDF leaders for poor management of resources and opportunities available to them at the time, and often sided with its opponents within the leadership on the overall conduct of the armed struggle. He was strategic thinker and seized the events of moment with poems, which had affected and shocked the core of the Somali society like an earth-quake. He was a creative genius, who had sparked off a decade of literary renaissance throughout Somalia. He dreamt of a free society, free from dictatorial suppression. He envisioned a nation free to exploit its immense potential, a proud people whose riches are immeasurable. The obstacle to his vision of future Somalia at the time was Siyad Barre Regime as amply described by his major anti-regime poems.
Yet, when Siyad Barre resorted to and intensified his traditional divisive tactics against Somali society in order to cling to his collapsing power and to counter growing influence and popularity of Khalif Sh. Mohamud, by encouraging what they then termed then “Ergo Daarood” with a series of poems with the intention of inciting clan hatred and tribal conflicts, Khalif Sh. Mohamud refused to be drawn in, or to respond to the critics of his poems and cause. He has political vision above the mundane and petty political bickering intended for the survival of the Regime. Instead, Khalif let Dhoodaan and others to respond to his critics at pay of Siyad Barre.
I met Khalif Sheikh Mohamud in Jijiga for the first time in 1982 in a Somali restaurant with a group of young SSDF activists and fighters. He had just come from Addis Ababa at the time to visit fighters at frontline stations. I was posted there as a Political Officer for our mobilisation and propaganda campaigns directed towards Northern Somalia. As we were eating our meals of meat and rice, he suddenly asked me whether I knew the Somali phrase: “Macaan Dharakla”. I answered him with the literal meaning of the phrase as a kind of delicious and favourite piece of meat located at lateral sides of the camel below the hum. Some one from his entourage asked me whether I heard about the poetic verses: “Macaan Dharaklayahay Ceebtu Waa Meheradiinii eh” from the celebrated Khalif’s Poem “Hurgumo”.
The Late President of Somalia, Siyad Barre, was reportedly in shock when he heard Poet Khalif Sheikh Mohamud was killed in action in a battle between SSDF fighters and Somalia’s Army in Galdogob in the former’s offensive to capture the District. Although SSDF had succeeded in winning that battle, Siyad Barre was reported saying that with the death of Khalif Sheikh Mohamud, SSDF had conclusively lost the war against his Regime. No doubt, Siyad Barre was fond of Khalif’s Poems, and he was reported many times instructing his aides to hunt and collect all poems of the poet.
Siyad Barre was often seen replaying Khalif’s scathing verses against his repressive regime, especially one citing “Mareexaan Majeerteen waxay isuyihiin waa iska moogtahay eh …… Mabda’a, siyaasadda xun iyo maamulkaan nacay eh”. A relative of Siyad Barre and one of the last care-givers of the ailing and sick Leader in exile in Nigeria, had reported from Siyad Barre’s death bed that Barre was repeatedly saying the name, “Khalif Sheikh Mohamud”, until his last breath before he passed away. The dying Leader didn’t explain or too weak to elaborate what he meant by repeating Khalif’s name. The attendant neither understood at all nor knew Khalif Sh. Mohamud. One possible explanation or interpretation is that Siyad Barre believed that his Dictatorial Military Regime fell partly due to the powerful influence, popularity, venous and contagious nature of poems by Khalif Sheikh Mohamud.
Khalif was a master of both straight and oblique art of poetic communications.
Ismail H. Warsame
Ismail H. Warsame is the Former Director of SSDF General Secretariat (1983-1989) and Founding Member and First Chief of Staff of Puntland Presidency (1998-2004).