In the early morning of May 29, 2022, I woke up to the terrible news of the death of my friend, the long-time peace activist Abdullahi Shirwac. Following a sudden stroke, he was in a coma for about a week in a local hospital in Mogadishu where he died. It was entirely unexpected heartbreaking news for me as well as his close family, friends, and acquaintances. I could not digest the news for a while.
Abdullahi Mohamed Shirwac was a renowned peace and reconciliation activist who dedicated his life to serving the Somali public. He was the chairperson of the Somali Peace Line, a non-profit and non-governmental organization established in 1995 to advance lasting and sustainable peace in Somalia. He was also the chair of the Drought Response Committee established by Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble in February this year. He was a very close friend to me and Somali Public Agenda.
I don’t remember the exact date of our first encounter, but it was around 2014. He was a key member of the Somali civil society. He was always full of wisdom and ideas on pressing issues in Somalia. He was a mentor and someone I learned a lot from. When we started Somali Public Agenda in early 2018, Abdullahi Shirwac and I became even closer. He was our regular contact for SPA forums and research. He used to help me better understand issues such as reconciliation, elections, and local governments. He regularly attended Somali Public Agenda forums and other events we organized. When he could not attend the events, he used to let us know in advance. When he confirmed his attendance, he was always on time.
When we convened an annual Iftar gathering in late April this year, he was the first to come to the venue. Abdullahi and I chatted about the incoming presidential elections. After the Iftar, we asked Abdullahi Shirwac to talk to the participants. He said that it would be a missed opportunity not to convey a message to the youthful intellectuals who had gathered. He said, as aptly captured by Sakariye Cismaan in his recent tribute, “try to do two things to help your country: obey the law even if you don’t agree with it, and everything that you do, always do it to the best of your abilities”. His words that night still echo in my head.
His mission in life was not to get titles or be appointed to public offices. On the contrary, I was told had repeatedly declined ministerial appointments offered to him. That is a very rare quality in Somalia where so many intellectuals chase titles and positions of power. When I requested him to join Somali Public Agenda’s board in 2019, he declined respectfully, pointing out that he was already a board member of several organizations and did not want to take additional responsibility.
During the April 2021 violence in Mogadishu that resulted from the 2-year extension to the parliament and president, he was actively advocating for peace. He and a core civil society committee were regularly meeting with the president, prime minister, and the opposition politicians, and even armed forces to calm down the tense situation. He read a communique issued by the civil society on the situation. During this period, he used to discuss with me how the Somali youth in Mogadishu could play a positive role in the situation such as organizing a peace caravan in the streets of Mogadishu and in the areas where armed forces were staying.
When Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble appointed him as chair of the drought response committee earlier this year, Shirwac discussed with me how the youth can collect funds and can also contribute to the awareness of the drought. He felt that the deteriorating drought situation was not getting attention and people were busy with the elections.
To enhance public awareness of peace and governance, Abdullahi Shirwac launched a radio programme called Ogaal on Goobjoog radio in January 2019. He used to invite politicians and experts to discuss key governance issues in Somalia, presumably to raise the awareness and understanding of the citizenry on such issues.
Abdullahi Shirwac was born in Ceelbuur town in the central Somalia state of Galmudug. He finished high school in the Cadalle district. In 1979, the military government arrested him for expressing his views on the Ogaden war in 1977-78. He spent 20 months, almost two years, in Labaatan Jirow, a maximum-security prison near Baidoa city. He even wrote a paper titled ‘20 bilood iyo Labaatan Jirow’ (‘20 months in Labaatan Jirow’). After his release, Abdullahi studied for his first and second university degrees in Russia.
He played a key role in various reconciliation initiatives after the state collapse in 1991. He attended a reconciliation conference in France in 1995 where the Somali Peace Line was founded. Shirwac also played an important role in the Arta peace process in 2000 in Djibouti. He took on a key role in Somalia’s drought response and disaster management efforts in 2011 and was the chair of the Somalia South-Central Non-State Actors (SOSCENSA) – now Somalia Non-State Actors (SONSA) – between 2013 and 2016.
Abdulahi Shirwac was someone who lived a simple and modest life. He lived in the center of the city with his two wives and four kids. He did most of his drought response and peace activism work voluntarily. Shirwac was a tolerant and brave person. I never saw him angry or arguing with anyone.
Abdullahi Shirwac left us too soon, but his legacy will remain inscribed in our hearts and minds forever. Public service and the common good were always his priorities, a rare quality in Somalia where many people look after their narrow personal interests. He was a living example for many including myself.
May Allah rest Abdullahi’s soul in eternal peace and grant him the highest place in Jannah.