You may wonder why I am sharing with you now such a belated tribute to Sacid Maygag Samatar, who passed away on 5/7/2008 at a young age. Partly, because I could not bring myself around earlier to face off the issue, and partly I intentionally waited to do this tribute around this time (in mid August). The week of 8/8/2008 is an extra-special calendar to Sacid and his family. More on that later on!
I met the late Sacid some time in August1981 at the residence of Peter Gabriel (Roble Nuur) and Hinda Salah in Inglewood, California. Just like most of us, Sacid came to Los Angeles (LA) in search of education and a new life. His most recent home until then was the United Kingdom of Saudi Arabia where he lived and ran a successful business since the 1970s. Sacid came to LA on his own effort and did not have the generous scholarships that most Somali students at UCLA had.
In the summer of 1982, he invited me to a1982 Somali Night Convention in Oakland, California, where he was one of the key organizers. After we concluded a follow up discussion hosted at the house of Zanab Matukade, who at the time was a supporter of Somali Salivation Democratic Front (SSDF), Sacid and I realized that we held different views on the Somalia question, yet we maintained friendship based on small non-traditional things, including ideology and our resolve to succeed at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA).
But most of all, because his mother was from a family rooted in Jigjiga, we felt special affinity with each other. Additionally, owing to our progressive world outlook at the time, we immediately connected. Soon, we began to passionately exchange views on Somali history, current events in Somalia and the Horn, often both of us employing Marxist analysis of issues at hand and arriving at a unified position.
Thanks to his ability to always aim for a higher goal, we soon began to critically assess the type of education we were receiving at UCLA. (He was enrolled at the African Studied Center, and I was with the Afro-American Center - In my case, Professor Amina Adan was helpful in getting admission to UCLA).
As the gregarious and the go-getter that he was, an attribute that previous tributes acknowledged, Sacid sought and got to enroll at UCLA’s Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning (GSAUP), which had a concurrent program with the African Studies Center, thus making Sacid the first Somali Student to join a graduate program in Urban and Regional Planning); he later on encouraged me to do the same. His thinking at the time was that we need critical and effective skills set to deal with rural and regional poverty in our society. The program at GSAUP was known to have the right skills set that we needed to make any meaningful contribution both to Somalia and to the larger region from which we came.
At GSAUP, Sacid and I joined a substantial African and international student body whose goals and objectives mirrored ours. We trained ourselves solidly on the theories of rural development, the politics of rural poverty, and regional and national settlement policies under some of America’s preeminent scholars in the field. John Friedman, author of “Re-tracking America” and Ed Soja, an expert on spatial/national settlement policy were the most prominent ones. We jointly attended lecture courses given by the likes of Samir Amin, Robert Bates, David Harvey, Paulo Freire, Manuel Castelles, et al. who all were highly priced visiting scholars. Sacid loved to talk about theories of “growth pole” and “capital accumulation and world systems” with passion. He particularly loved to read and discourse the works of Immanuel Wallerstein and Samir Amin.
Sacid always challenged those around him to go one step past the obvious, ceaselessly talking about ways to apply critical knowledge and finding ways to unify theory and practice in our own context. It was this particular intellectual persuasion that led Sacid to always remain passionate about the rights of the underdog, whether they lived in Ethiopia, Somalia, or what later become, in his evolution, “Somaliland.”
At a personal level Sacid was a remarkable man! He somehow conveyed a deep sense of sincerity and a naked gentleness rooted in supreme personal integrity. In the twenty six years that I have known Sacid, he always represented all that is good about being Hargaysawi. His warm and energetic salutation of “war so-and-so bal ii warn, Xaaji,” sweetened with a distinct and easily recognizable Hargaisawi accent, and throwing his body sideways, Sacid never failed to send that one simple yet rich verbal and/or nonverbal message: a message that gave one respect and comfort. He was true to what Somalis say about his community; he was a magnanimous and generous person (in Somali, sida rerka uu ka dhashay, faxal iyo deeqsi buu ahaa) who never shied away from sharing what he has.
On another note, he was one of the most consistent persons I ever met. From day one, his political views were the same. To him, Somalia was a failed state and Somaliland had to go its own way, especially in the presence of the never-ending blood-letting saga that has been taking place in the South for close to now 20 years. In the words of one of his friends, “He got to this consciously crafted position with obvious pain and sympathy for the rest of Somalis, either in the South, or in Ethiopia.”
Another obvious attribute to his political believe that I early on detected was his disgust with the Barre regime, and he had this view early on. As inter-clan conflicts in the Somali society consumed the better part of this once cohesive society, and Barre’s dictatorial regime turned the inner belly of the social fabric inside out, his resolve towards fighting the Barre regime intensified. Least to say, he was the most activist and organizer one would encounter, simply because once he believed in a cause, he gave it all to!
Defying Somalis’ number one attribute, i.e., intolerance, Sacid maintained, if not public, private personal friendship with those he disagreed. At least in my case, we often chose to magnify our little common interests that were there (our professional commitment to urban/regional planning and social change), and he chose not to severe the bonds that held us together.
I have personally yet to meet a Somali person who, like the late Sacid, possessed the rare God-given gift of respecting differing viewpoints as much as he did his own. For that, I will always remain to respect him.
Any time we meet, or if we talked over the phone (he would often call me on questions related to his real estate enterprises and I would go out of my way to do anything possible), we would converse about things we could do together for those places in the region that are peaceful. (Often Hargaysa or Jigjiga would feature our conversation.) He never lost sight of the beauty in chit-chatting about small things; he would often kid with me by suggesting that “one day he would convince me to practice planning in his home town, Hargaysa.” As most of you know by now, Sacid dreamed big and his boundless optimism would have achieved him bigger things in life had death did not come to him early.
The last time I talked to him, he was at UCLA’s hospital, thanks to Haji Mousa and Abdi Goud who got me his telephone number. I called him one Wednesday and arranged to see him. I wanted so badly to bid him my last farewell. In my haste to get from Downtown LA to the Westside (UCLA), a good ten miles, I almost had two accidents. God did not wish me to see him! As soon as I got there, his nurses moved him to a scheduled treatment, which took hours.
After he passed away, a number of people asked me what kind of person Sacid was? My short answer is always this: He was a decent man, cosmopolitan with a good sense of humor. He enjoyed the company of all and commanded the respect of all those around him. As others before me said, he was a born-leader and a gifted entrepreneur- a man who always dared to take up a new enterprise. He had a restaurant business in the Middle East, a vocational training referral businesses in LA, later on he was aid to an elected official and later on a real estate developer. By all standards, Sacid succeeded in all.
Now, let me briefly share with you why I waited so long to write this tribute about Sacid Maygag Samatar. I knew that the second week of August was immensely special to Said and to his family; In particular, the date of 8/8/2008 would have been the icing on the cake. As I remember back twenty years ago, his first son, Kanadid, was born on the fateful day of 8/8/88. In that week, I still recall Sacid and a number of us talking about his son’s birth and listening to the news regarding the birth of another child, only this one born to the British royalty. That other birth, I believe, took place in 8/8/1888, fatefully one hundred years ago from that date, a rare occurrence for the number 8 to line up this way. For Sacid and his family, this past weekend of August 8, 2008 marks the 20th birthday of their first son, and would have been a huge family event. (Wacnaan lahaydaa, Eebahayse ma odhan!)
While drafting this tribute, I was reminded of another death of a mutual friend and former colleague at GSAUP. Stella Figueroa, who was a planner in the Department of City Planning in Los Angeles, formerly an advocate and an organizer of undocumented aliens, was killed in 1992 while standing at a bus stop. At the time of her death, she was waiting for her son’s school bus scheduled to arrive and collect the toddler at 7:00 am, a daily routine of Stella’s before coming to work. She was killed when a drunken driver (fatefully driven by an undocumented alien) lost control of his car and crashed into the bus shelter. Miraculously, her three-year-old son survived the accident.
Two or so days after, I informed Sacid about Stella’s accidental death and also told him that her colleagues and former schoolmates set a Scholarship Trust Fund for her surviving son. Sacid immediately came to my office and insisted that we go together to the point person in charge of organizing the effort. Just like the rest of the colleagues, he readily paid the $250.00 that each one of her colleagues contributed to the Trust Fund.
Acknowledging that the Maygag Samatar family has played a major role in the modernization of education in the Somali inhabited areas, both as great teachers, scholars (Ibrahim and Sacid as serious scholars) or opening up the first chain of bookstores both in the North and the South (like the Samtars bookshop, where I purchased my first copy ever of Newsweek magazine), it would be a great tribute to Sacid to do something along these lines to memorialize his name.
Unless it has already been done by his family and close associates, one way to pay tribute to Sacid by his large pole of friends and family members could be to set a Trust Fund to establish a center or department at Hargaysa University in the field that he liked most (urban/regional or rural planning). I hope, and I say this out of deep respect to Sacid and his family, that Marwo Amran Musa, his surviving wife and guardian of the family name, would give this idea some consideration.
So Long comrade!
The 1980s was a tumultuous time lest the Somali society was plagued by adversities such as war, inter-clan strife and political polarization. Despite all that, Sacid was everyone’s friend.
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