Mahmoud Harbi

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Mahmoud Harbi
محمود الحربي
File:Mahmoud Harbi.jpg
Vice President of the Government Council of French Somaliland
In office
1957 – December 1958
Preceded by n/a
Succeeded by Hassan Gouled Aptidon
Personal details
Born 1921
Ali Sabieh, Djibouti
Died October 1960
Political party Republican Union
Religion Islam

Mahmoud Harbi Farah (Arabic: محمود الحربي‎‎) (b. 1921-October 1960) was a Somali politician. A pan-Somalist, he was the Vice President of the Government Council of French Somaliland from 1957 to December 1958, during Djibouti's pre-independence period.[1]

Early years

Harbi was born in Ali Sabieh, Djibouti in 1921 to a Somali family from the Fourlaba sub-clan of the Isse clan.[1][2] He later joined the colonial army, and was awarded the French Croix de guerre in World War II.[3]

Political career

A fervent Somali nationalist, Harbi actively campaigned throughout his political career for Djibouti to unite with Somalia. He increased his circle of friends in the Middle East through gifts such as the lions he gave to the Imam of Yemen and the King of Saudi Arabia who in return (as is customary) backed him with funds. Harbi's main political rival was Hassan Gouled Aptidon, who in the mid-1950s allegedly expressed a desire to see all foreigners expelled from Djibouti. Harbi capitalized on the blunder by coming to the defense of the foreign communities. As a consequence, he gained the material support of the resident Arabs in general and of Ali Coubeche in particular, son of one of the territory's wealthier merchants.[4] Harbi would later appoint Coubeche as Finance Minister in his Cabinet.[5]

Through the Sultan of Tadjoura, a former comrade in the French army during the World War II campaign, Harbi was introduced to Ali Aref Bourhan, a young Afar politician whom Harbi would eventually take under his wing. Bourhan subsequently served in the territory's representative council as a Harbist politician, strongly supporting Harbi's independence-oriented platform.[6]

In 1958, on the eve of neighboring Somalia's independence in 1960, a referendum was held in French Somaliland to decide whether or not to join the Somali Republic or to remain with France. The plebiscite turned out in favour of a continued association with France, partly due to a combined yes vote by the sizable Afar ethnic group and resident Europeans.[7] There was also widespread vote rigging, with the French expelling thousands of Somalis before the referendum reached the polls.[8] The majority of those who had voted no were Somalis who were strongly in favour of joining a united Somalia, as Harbi had proposed.[7]

Harbi's refusal to acknowledge the plebiscite's results, which he considered doctored, would ultimately cause him to lock heads with the French authorities, who exiled him to Cairo.[9]

Later years

Harbi would eventually settle in Mogadishu, where he frequently joined Somali radio programs and preached Pan-Somalism to the Somalis of the Horn of Africa. In October 1960, he and several of his associates died in a plane crash under mysterious circumstances in Italy on a return trip from China to Somalia.[9]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Djibouti -
  2. Touval, p.125
  3. Hempstone, p.158
  4. Virginia Thompson, Richard Adloff, Djibouti and the Horn of Africa, (Stanford University Press: 1968), pp.65-66.
  5. Virginia Thompson, Richard Adloff, Djibouti and the Horn of Africa, (Stanford University Press: 1968), p.68.
  6. Jacques Foccart et Ali Aref
  7. 7.0 7.1 Barrington, Lowell, After Independence: Making and Protecting the Nation in Postcolonial and Postcommunist States, (University of Michigan Press: 2006), p.115
  8. Kevin Shillington, Encyclopedia of African history, (CRC Press: 2005), p.360.
  9. 9.0 9.1 United States Joint Publications Research Service, Translations on Sub-Saharan Africa, Issues 464-492, (1966), p.24.