Africa's First Democrats: Somalia's Aden A. Osman and Abdirazak H. Hussen

Africa's First Democrats: Somalia's Aden A. Osman and Abdirazak H. Hussen

Africa's First Democrats: Somalia's Aden A. Osman and Abdirazak H. Hussen

Africa's First Democrats: Somalia's Aden A. Osman and Abdirazak H. Hussen


Abdi Ismail Samatar provides a clear and foundational history of Somalia at the dawn of the country's independence when Africa's first democrats appeared. While many African countries were dominated by authoritarian rulers when they entered the postcolonial era--and scholars have assumed this as a standard feature of political leadership on the continent--Somalia had an authentic democratic leadership. Samatar's political biography of Aden A. Osman and Abdirazak H. Hussen breaks the stereotype of brutal African tyranny. Samatar discusses the framing of democracy in Somalia following the years of control by fascist Italy, the formation of democratic organizations during the political struggle, and the establishment of democratic foundations in the new nation. Even though this early state of affairs did not last, these leaders left behind a strong democratic legacy that may provide a model of good governance for the rest of the continent.


This book has been long in the making because of the encounters I had over the past decade. the unprecedented political and humanitarian disasters in Somalia occupied some of my attention. Further, it took me several years to collect the materials necessary to write the book. This involved tracing people on three continents who either had information about the period covered or knew actors. Translating some of the original documents from Italian into English took an unbearably long time, and family obligations took some of my attention.

The Somali people have been subjected to unimaginable cruelties over forty years by the military regime that destroyed their democracy, warlords who brutalized them, pseudoreligious leaders who failed to honor the basic tenets of Islam, corrupt political leaders whose sole aim has been to steal everything, a vicious Ethiopian and Kenyan military occupation masquerading as African brothers, and an international community that subverts Somali civic commonalities by endorsing sectarian agendas. But the Somali people’s resilience continues to inspire.

On another plane and for over thirty years, Somalis have been told by experts that they cannot dream of rebuilding their democratic republic based on their inclusive cultural and Islamic values. My hope is that when young Somalis read Africa’s First Democrats, they will be inspired by the dedication of those first Somali democratic leaders and their supporters, whose commitment embodied the hopes of a proud people and the essence of liberation.

Africanist scholarship has been dominated by antistatist political projects that assume that Africans do not have the capacity to build capable and effective states and therefore require tutelage from others. This book offers an unambiguous example of the pioneering experience that challenges such notions. Ironically, the stories of these democratic leaders have not attracted the attention of many Africanists interested in Somali affairs or democracy, even though most of the material has been accessible for more than forty-five years. the common wisdom is that Africa needs and has never had ethical, competent, and courageous political leadership. However, this book contradicts that and shows that Africa’s first democrats fulfilled that exemplary leadership, and their legacy is still relevant for Somalia and the continent. I hope this book will stimulate sustained debate about the nature of democratic leadership in Africa.

Working on this book gave me an exceptional opportunity to learn the country’s political history anew through the practice of these leaders and their . . .

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