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May 14, 2015

By Hassan M. Abukar


At an international conference in Europe three years ago, I met General Gabre Heard, former supreme leader of the Ethiopian military forces in Somalia. A friend, then a cabinet minister, introduced me to the general, and I was caught off guard. We stood in a big halI for a few minutes where dignitaries from many countries had convened to discuss the situation in Somalia.


Yusuf and Gabre

President Yusuf (left) and Gabre (right).

The first thing that came to my mind was not the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia “to fight terror” but an incident in 2007 that involved Gabre and Abdullahi Yusuf, Somalia’s president at the time. Yusuf had invited Ethiopia to enter Somalia and root out the regime of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU). Gabre had become angry when Yusuf repeatedly complained about his indiscriminate pounding of civilians in Mogadishu.


Gabre slapped Yusuf four times until the president fell to the ground. Then, Gabre placed his pistol against Yusuf’s head and threatened to kill him. Yusuf’s bodyguards were left disarmed and Yusuf had to seek protection from the African troops in Mogadishu (AMISOM). The next day, Yusuf’s spokesman denied the whole incident.


Gabre told a Somali delegate at the European conference how Somali politicians and intellectuals continued to beg him for government jobs.


“They ask me if I can help them get appointed as ministers or ambassadors,” said Gabre. “I do not have such power.”


When I first heard of that infamous slap, I was neither disgusted nor surprised. I simply saw it as another manifestation of how Somalia had degenerated.


In 1978, Abdullahi Yusuf became the first Somali politician to seek refuge in Ethiopia, when he aligned himself and his opposition group, the Somali Salvation Front, with Addis Ababa. The tradition of seeking support from there has continued for 20 years among the Somali leadership.


Halane and Gabre

The illustration shows Gabre recommending an official to the current president.

President Abdullahi Yusuf’s road to public and political humiliation began when he was selected head of the transitional government. He was unable to go to Mogadishu, the center of administration and governance, because it was in the hands of the Mogadishu warlords. Yusuf was hosted in Jowhar, a town 100 kilometers north of Mogadishu, by a warlord named Mohamed Omar Habeb, better known as “Mohamed Dheere.” Surprisingly, the warlord held Yusuf hostage in a government house with no windows until the president’s advisors were able to raise tens of thousands of dollars to whisk him out of town.


“When I saw President Yusuf in Jowhar,” a former advisor of the president said, “his body was all bitten by mosquitos.”


Mohamed Dheere was furious when he found out about Yusuf’s departure.




Yusuf remained ambitious and desperately wanted to rule Somalia, but he made a poor move when he invited Ethiopia to invade his country.


Gabre shelled the presidential compound because he wanted Yusuf to defer to him to the point of fawning.


“It was frightening,” said the advisor. “I thought Gabre [would] kill us all.”


Gabre was eventually recalled—not because he had humiliated the Somali president but because of his failure to maintain order in Mogadishu and for being involved in a slew of financial scandals.


Yusuf’s humiliation represents a larger trend among Somali politicians, whose paths to political power are often strewn with indignities and a predominance of self-interest over concern for their nation.


At a social gathering in Nairobi attended by former Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Ali Ghedi, among others, Gabre was reported to have criticized an IGAD meeting in Djibouti. He said only Ethiopia cared about Somalia and wanted to help. A former Somali defense minister immediately seconded that statement.


“Unfortunately,” Gabre added, “many Somalis do not see it that way.”


Hassan M. Abukar




Mr. Abukar is a regular contributor of Wardheernews. He writes about politics, social issues, and Islamic groups. Abukar is also the author of Mogadishu Memoir, soon to be published.

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Sheego caruurtii maa wali waddaan? Kuyeh Maxamed Dheere held Yusuf hostage in Windows less government housing. Regular contributor of WN my foot!

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I think the author was responding to this article:




Anyway, whether or not this incident took place, Somali leaders and by extension our people are humiliated everyday.

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