“Calming”, “hopeful”, and “at peace with himself”. These are just some of the messages we have received in tribute to our partner and friend, Abdullahi Isse, who tragically lost his life on Friday 12th July when a hotel in Kismayo, Somalia, was attacked by Al Shabaab.
Our thoughts have remained with Isse, and all those who were affected by the attack. We have been extremely moved by the tributes that have poured in for Isse, not just from those who knew him well or worked with him regularly, but from those who had been touched in any way by his work, his generosity and his warmth of spirit.
As our Executive Director in the US, Bridget Moix shared:
Since we partnered with the Social life and Agricultural Development Organisation (SADO) in 2015, Isse has been an important part of the Peace Direct family. The memories from our team are testament to this. Christine, Administrative & Development Assistant for our US team, remembers Isse as her Somali uncle; highly respected in his field, yet always playful and good-humoured ; “driving around Minnesota, he light-heartedly teased his colleague for singing sad Somali love songs in the back seat.” In July 2018 we held a Peace Exchange in Lebanon, where all our peacebuilding partners came together to share their experiences. During the Exchange, Isse shared that, “peace means everything to me. If there is no peace, there is nothing else”. This encapsulates his commitment and dedication to making Somalia a safer country, a mission he dedicated much of his life to.
A peacebuilder DR Congo shared this message: “My dear compatriot, you left just when your work, and the fruits of your work, are genuinely needed. You left too early, at a time when peace is still not a palpable phenomenon. You died on the battlefield. May your soul rest in peace.”
Many of the tributes to Isse that we have received point to one thing – his vision for a peaceful Somalia was unwavering. It appeared within reach; a practical reality. In the words of John, our Director of US Philanthropy, “the beauty of his life is that his service laid a foundation to have an expansive and long-lasting impact on a people he loved.” Through his work and his commitment to peacebuilding, he shared a vision of his country’s future, and his commitment and passion brought this vision to life for all who knew him.
We saw, and will continue to see, the hope of a peaceful Somalia through Isse, and the potential of Somali civil society to help re-build the country. We will be working closely with SADO to offer them as much support as we can at this difficult time. Although we continue to mourn the loss of a committed peacebuilder and a dear friend, we will do all we can to keep Isse’s vital work alive, empowering young people and women in Kismayo economically and politically, and to build community resilience to violence. We will ensure that the important relationships that SADO has built with communities affected by conflict not only continue, but are strengthened, so that more people see the vision of a peaceful future that Isse created through his work, and believe in the possibilities he saw.
What has struck us in the tributes and memories shared about Isse was his willingness to bring divided communities back together and encourage more dialogue across opposing groups in Somalia. One of SADO’s principal aims is to help vulnerable young people build sustainable livelihoods, so that they have better alternatives than joining militias. Isse believed that peace starts from the grassroots, from the home and the community, and that by working with communities, those vulnerable to violence can find practical alternatives and pathways to peace.
Heartbreakingly, just before he died Isse was working with our Head of Programme Development, Claire May, on developing a project to work with CSOs to see if it was possible to engage extremist groups in community dialogue.
As Claire shared, “it is so unfair and sad that he was a victim of the violence he was working to end.”
A number of our colleagues have shared how during his visit to Washington, Isse had on several occasions explained to US government officials that “for the price of one drone, I can teach over 1,000 young people to build sustainable livelihoods and promote peace in their communities.” He was never afraid to speak to those in power about the realities that communities in Somalia face, and his belief in the potential of young people to be change makers is something that will remain with us. In the words of our colleague Bridget, “He was a powerful voice for local peacebuilding as a more effective, less costly approach than war to create security for communities in Somalia.”
Claire also shared that Isse would often answer a question with ‘inshallah’ (meaning god willing). “I really hope he knew how much we all admired and respected him as a colleague and peacebuilder. I miss him already and he will be impossible to replace.”
Isse’s courage and his kindness have been shared over and over again in the conversations we have had with those who are remembering Isse. It will take courage to come to terms with this loss and to process the grief that many of us are feeling. Beyond courage, we offer our continued commitment, action and support to SADO, the community of Kismayo and Somalia.
Isse inspired so many of us, and through continuing the work and the future he believed so passionately in, we hope to inspire a great deal more.
We are incredibly grateful to the peacebuilding community for its support at this very difficult time. Any additional tributes or memories about Isse would be very welcome.