For years, Dr Mohamed Dahir Afrah, a Somali author who had been living in London, was seen as the face of the diaspora for the Horn of Africa country.
It is no wonder that news of his death on Sunday spread like bushfire, both among the Somalis in Somalia and in the diaspora.
Villa Somalia, the statehouse in Mogadishu, was one of the offices that reacted to the demise of Dr Afrah, undoubtedly a celebrated literary giant, especially when President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo issued a statement sending condolences to his family, friends and the Somali people at large.
“I am certain that Dr Afrah was a man who spent most of his life towards the development of the Somali language and maintenance of the Somali culture, leaving the Somali people a lasting heritage,” stated Farmaajo in remembrance of the author of Maana-faay, an impactful novel in Somali language.
Somali speakers know Maana-faay, authored in 1979. It is still a popular book today.
Wherever he went or attended conferences, Dr Afrah was always asked about that particular novel as the most distinguished of his many works.
Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble paid his tribute to Afrah as a man who brought Somalia’s literary status to world view through books, articles and other performance works.
Said Salah Ahmed, another Somali literary giant and an old friend of the author, told the media that Dr Farah’s works have no parallel.
Ahmed, currently living and lecturing in Minnesota, US, said that Dr Farah’s work and guidance had unquestionably more impact on the Somali culture.
“In his Maana-faay novel he managed to enlighten the general public about their own circumstances in a manner easily assimilated by those who read the book or followed through serialisation in the newspapers or via the airwaves,” remarked Ahmed, the Ustad (teacher) who created IFTIN, the artistic group that served Somalia’s education sector.
Equally written in Somali language, Afrah’s other novels Guur-ku-sheeg (1975) and Galti-macruuf (1980) were also appreciated, celebrated and continuously republished.
Born in Somalia, Afrah had achieved many academic credentials including a PhD on Somalia’s transitional nature of post-independent poetry. Over the years, he became known as novelist, playwright, journalist and scholar.
While in UK, he organised the Somali chapter of PEN International, Somali PEN, an association of poets, editors and novelists.
Abdinasir Yusuf Moalim, the representative of Somali PEN in Mogadishu, told the Nation on Sunday that Afrah managed to transfer the base of Somali PEN from London to Djibouti.
In 2000, Afrah was one of the top organisers of the Somali Reconciliation Conference held in Arta town in Djibouti, closely assisting Djibouti leader Ismaïl Omar Guelleh to render the months-long meeting a successful undertaking, resulting in the formation of the Transitional National Government for Somalia.
At the end of the conference, Afrah became a member of the transitional parliament and a state minister in the transitional government.
The celebrated literary master convinced Djibouti President Guelleh to assign 21st February as the Somali Language Day, as remembrance of year 1972 when the Latin alphabet was adopted for the Somali language.
African Union programmes
Afrah was involved in programmes initiated by the African Union in invigorating African languages.
In 2012 a council formed in Djibouti to lead an academy dedicated for the Somali language known as AGA (Akadamiya Goboleedka Afka-Soomaaliga), Afrah was chosen as its director.
Not only academic and poetic, Afrah had also written politically stimulating books including Dal Dad Waayey iyo Duni Damiir Beeshay: Soomaaliya Dib ma u Dhalan Doontaa? (A Land without Leaders in a World without Conscience: Can Somalia be Resurrected?) in 2004.
In 2015, Afrah was appointed a member of Somalia’s National Independent Constitutional Review and Implementation Commission, which he chaired, replacing Ms Asha Guelleh Dirie who had resigned.
Although he had predominantly written in Somali, Afrah had also written in Arabic and English.
He was aged 69.