Somalia: Omar Arte Ghalib – The man I hold in high esteem
As the year of 2012 and its traumatic experience close its dark blanket on us, I could not resist but to go back in history when a few good men epitomized Somalia and the Somali people. To do so, I reached out far into the distant past of 1978, when the Somali nation state was transitioning from one of reputable nation to its current dismal existence on the globe, where it is today nothing but, in the words of a great British historian, a “geographic expression” on the map.
In 1978, right after the withdrawal of Somali forces from Western Somalia, I was sent to Khartoum, Sudan, by the Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF) to participate in talks sponsored by the Organization of African Unity (OAU). The OAU Summit was attended by prominent African Heads of State including Egypt’s President Sadat, Angola’s new leader, Augostino Neto, Gen. Olesegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, and Somali President, Gen. Mohamed Siyad Barre, etc. I went there to lobby for Western Somali cause attempting to encounter, as much as possible, the delegates at the conference Hall distributing printed materials relating to the root cause of the problem and our vision for a durable solution.
Omar Arte, at that time, was the Minister of State at the President’s office.
I was contacted by a group of desperate Somalis who, after talking to them, I found out were in Khartoum for sometime. Their story was quite a gut wrenching one recounting how they were forcibly conscripted into the Ethiopian army; they told me they were sent to fight in Eritrea during the Mengistu Haile Mariam’s ill-starred Red Star Campaign against the Eritrean Liberation Front. The group had been sleeping beside the Khartoun railroad tracks in hunger and without shelter. Their repeated request for help from the officials at the Somali Embassy was unsuccessful. In fact, they were advised to avoid entering its precincts. I was shocked to hear this for the first time, but powerless. I wondered what to do about it. After pondering on the matter, I finally went to the conference hall, where I met a bunch of Somali Ambassadors who were there to augment the Somali delegation. They did not seem friendly, and I could only gues then that may be my presence in their company was nothing more than a nuisance factor. They never gave me a chance to explain to them what I had in mind.
Luckily, I saw Omar Arte, a regale, tall and slender man with the most fit body mass, whose presence commanded full attention. I told Mr. Arte about the plight of the young men stranded in Khartoum. He was filled with humility and was emotionally moved beyond description and asked me what I wanted him to do to which I replied “travel documents for the men and means to send them to Somalia.”
The overall capital’s security was so tight that planes bringing delegation from different countries were not allowed to take passengers back. Mr. Arte had ordered the Somali Embassy to immediately issue them travel documents. What’s more, he employed his considerable international prestige and charisma to make for the group possible to board the Somali Airline to Mogadishu.
My aim here is not to write a biography about this eminent personality but to cite just an example of the myriad noble deeds which Omar Arte has done.
Mr. Arte, without a doubt, has been responsible for even more complicated political and diplomatic feats whether in Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia, during his tenure as Somali Ambassador there during Haile Selasse’s reign, or the raising of Somalia’s profile in the international scene. He is indeed the most effective and most notable Foreign Minister in Somalia’s history, and more so in the Mohamed Siyad’s regime.
Somalia’s foreign policy collapsed right after he was removed from that position. Unfortunately, Omar Arte was imprisoned, along with other prominent officials like Dr. Mohamed Adan Sheikh. The accusation the Barre government leveled against him that he was ‘Qaran Dumis’ which meant “Enemy of the State,” was preposterous yesterday and it is so today.
Completely false and absurd charges were mostly made by certain Darod clan renegades, to which I hail from. How can one fall for such meaningless character assassination?
It is time Somalis recognize those who made indelible marks on their national history. Certainly Omar Arte Ghalib, whose towering contribution to Somalia’s foreign policy and international diplomacy makes his a rare and unparalleled great in our lives.
Ahmed Hussein Haile