Somalia was traditionally an oral society where word and learning often travelled by mouth. In the modern world, poets, writers and presidents have often emerged. They have rarely mixed, however.
This is why when Hussein Halane indicated interest in the Somali presidency, he was joining a whole new arena.
Halane, however, is not just a poet. His CV shows he is a technocrat and a behind-the-scenes policy maker. In September, he declared he would run for Somalia’s presidency when elections come in February 2021.
The declaration of the 65-year-old former Finance Minister raises the number of presidential candidates to over 26, making it the most crowded race in the country in recent years.
Some analysts say he stands a good chance given that Somalia has not re-elected an incumbent since 2012. But given the clan-based and money-inspired system, there are no guarantees.
Critics say that Halane does not have much to offer apart from introducing monetary reforms in two administrations, and banking on the jinx of the incumbency.
Born in 1955 in El Berde District, Bakool Region, South-West State, he spent his early childhood in that region and in neighbouring areas along the border with the Somali Region of Ethiopia. He went to school in El Berde and Mogadishu.
He attended the then prestigious Somali Institute of Political Science and graduated with a diploma in 1978. He then proceeded to the University of Pittsburg in the US where he studied Executive Management at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.
A string of other postgraduate diplomas and degrees followed. Principally at Pacific Western (BSc Public Administration 1991); Oxford (Forced Migration 1998); and George Mason (MSc Conflict Analysis and Resolution 2005).
Halane is married with two children. For over three decades between 1989 and 2010, he served with a number of international humanitarian agencies at senior executive and management levels.
During this long career in the aid sector (mostly with Save the Children and Care International), Halane traversed continents and dealt with some of the most dire humanitarian and conflict emergencies in Africa at the time – in Sudan’s Darfur, in Angola and Ethiopia.
In 2010, he was appointed Finance and Treasury Minister by President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. He is widely credited with leading efforts to rebuild the Central Bank of Somalia and laying the early foundations for a functional state financial bureaucracy.
Halane was re-appointed to the same post by President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud in 2014. A year later, Halane was appointed a Special Envoy on Remittances by the regional body, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (igad). He held the post for a year.
In 2016, Halane joined Sahan Research and became Executive Director and Senior Political Adviser. This was an important career stop for him – a much-needed pause to reflect on the root causes of his homeland’s torturously slow progress in institution-building, national reconciliation and stabilisation.
Drawing on his vast institutional memory, experience in government and academic background in conflict analysis, Halane played an instrumental role in expanding and deepening Sahan’s research and analyses, besides mentoring its team of young field analysts.
He believes that the post gave him a unique platform to inform and influence policy on Somalia. A political pragmatist with remarkable ability to talk to all sides, the former minister’s personal intervention and high-level stakeholder engagement were crucial in narrowing differences and building consensus on the upcoming elections.
Halane is a published poet, one of the most prolific and accomplished of his generation. Somalis call him “Abwaan” (The Bard), a rare honorific title conferred only to those who have distinguished themselves in poetry.
He has published two volumes of poetry and two more are currently under review for publication. His poetry is diverse and tackles a wide range of themes that speak to the Somali condition.
His latest anthology, a collection of poems spanning over four decades, called Cibaaro (Signpost), has been acclaimed by critics as a literary milestone – one of the best literary masterpieces to have emerged out of Somalia in the last three decades.
Halane is characteristically modest about his poetry and literary achievements and reluctant to leverage it to popularise his candidature.
In a nation mad about poetry and disillusioned with politics and politicians, maybe this extra talent could be Halane’s selling point.
“Poetry is the heart and soul of the Somali nation. It means a lot to me, of course. However, in declaring my intention to stand for the presidency, I want people to focus on my record, my experience and my vision,” he says.