Editor’s Note: On the occasion of the 61th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Somalia and China, the former Somali Ambassador to China (2005-2011), H.E. Mohammed Ahmed Awil, told two stories from a treasure trove of his unforgettable memories on Somalia-China relations, which speak of the long-standing and brotherly relationship between the two countries and peoples.
My relationship with Ambassador Wei Hongtian started in 2005 during my tenure as the Somalia Ambassador to China and he was an employee in the African Department of the Chinese Foreign Ministry. We re-united on the March 8, 2015 when we were both invited for the Somali Women’s Day Celebration by the then First Lady Mama Zahra. We had the opportunity to talk and exchange our numbers for future communication by my virtue of having served as the Somalia Ambassador to China previously. He was a friendly and jovial colleague who made our interactions quite easy. I regularly visited him at the Chinese Embassy in Mogadishu, Somalia located in the Jazeera Palace Hotel for acquaintance and private talks. This was quite convenient given that my resident hotel being just 4km from the location of the Embassy. Our discussions were mainly based on the Somalia-China friendship given our past experiences.
Photo: Courtesy of H.E. Mohammed Ahmed AwilJuly 26, 2015 started just like any other normal day with people going about their normal duties. As I was having my lunch in my residence restaurant, I heard a big explosion that prompted everybody in the building to find out what had happened. We climbed to the hotel’s roof top to have a view of what was happening but that was in vain. On making inquiries, I was informed that a car bomb had exploded at the Jazeera Palace Hotel. We could not immediately establish the aim of their act but I had to quickly call Ambassador Wei to know his fate. He was shocked by my inquiries as he had not been aware of the unfolding events since he was on vacation with his family in Beijing, China. I therefore briefed him on the events and asked him to find out more from his staff whom he could not reach due to the situation within the building. He then requested for me to go find out what had happened.
I took two security men including my bodyguard and went to the scene only to find out that the blasts had seriously damaged the Chinese Embassy. They had actually shattered windows on the floor that housed the Chinese Embassy from the outside and I was informed that one Embassy staffer had also been seriously wounded and was being taken to the Amisom Hospital. I called the accompanying staffer to ask if he could be taken to Erdogan Hospital, built by the Turkish Government, but the staffer said he had arrived and was being attended to. I called the commander in charge of the hospital to just let him know I could arrange for or donate blood if needed which he appreciated but promised that they had enough in store. Throughout this entire time, I was in constant communication with one of the staff members till the unfortunate news of him succumbing to injuries sustained at around 22:30 pm. May the almighty God rest his soul in eternal peace.
Photo: Courtesy of H.E. Mohammed Ahmed AwilThe incident was condemned by many individuals including the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson at the time, Lu Kang, who acted swiftly and relocated other staff members; the then Somalia President, His Excellency Hassan Sheikh Mohamud even vowed to rebuild Jazeera Palace Hotel. The Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility in retaliation for efforts to drive its militants out of Southern Somalia in the previous week by the AMISOM where many civilians lost their lives.
Upon his return, Ambassador Wei requested that I find them armored vehicles which I could not find despite my best efforts but got them a four-wheel-drive Toyota Prado as they made repairs to their damaged official cars including the Ambassador’s own. The Ambassador expressed his appreciation and used the vehicle till his official car was fully repaired. The Ambassador also requested that I assist him to find residences for embassy staff and himself. This was within my capacity as the advisor to the Deputy Prime Minister and even arranged a meeting between the Ambassador and the then Prime Minister, Omar Abdirashid, to discuss a suitable relocation for the Chinese Embassy and its staff. Due to security challenges on all properties that we identified, including the area within the vicinity of Somalia State House, the Ambassador decided to move to the Airport area close to AMISOM headquarters and other Embassies.
The Ambassador also requested that I help locate land within the Airport area for the construction of the embassy, to which I sought the assistance of the Somalia Military. They were very helpful and asked me to take the Ambassador to view the land. We eventually went to the location where several sites were shown and the Chinese Ambassador selected one. The rest is history. The Chinese Embassy in Somalia has stood on this particular site till this day.
Upon the establishment of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia in Kenya, its key challenge was to reconcile all clans and the country as a whole. The TFG President at the time, His Excellency Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed announced the start of this process on March 1, 2007. The process was initially scheduled to be held between April 16 and June 15, 2007, but due to efforts ensuring inclusivity it was postponed three times but finally kicked off on the July 15, 2007 till August 30, 2007. The process was the first major reconciliation effort made on Somalia’s soil under its own government and people.
Photo: Courtesy of H.E. Mohammed Ahmed AwilA key guest to this ceremony was Ambassador Zhang Ming of the People’s Republic of China. I welcomed him at the Airport and led him to a prepared residence in front of Villa Somalia; the official residence and office of the Somali President. The Ambassador who is a fluent Arabic speaker was overwhelmed by the warm welcome accorded to him by the 3,000 plus Somali delegates, interacting easily with them and even decided to spend the night in Mogadishu while the rest of his delegation returned as planned to Nairobi, Kenya for the night. He took his time to visit the Chinese Embassy premises in Mogadishu, Somalia and facilities built by the Chinese Government for Somalia, including the Banadir Hospital, Mogadishu Stadium, National theater, etc. and even met the Somali security personnel who were working for the embassy at the onset of the civil strife in 1991 who took the Chinese emblem at the embassy for safekeeping till that time.
Photo: Courtesy of H.E. Mohammed Ahmed Awil
The delegates’ warm welcome of Ambassador Zhang Ming proved that the long standing relationship between Somalia and China was still being held dearly by Somalis. This showed that Somalis still held on to their historical association with China so dearly and were not ready to let go of it. Somalis are aware of China’s foreign policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries since its lawful seat in the UN Security Council was restored in 1971. It protects the sovereignty of all nations as enshrined in the UN charter and is viewed by third nations as a good international citizen. Hence, its attending of this conference was a hope for Somalis to achieve much desired peace. On the other hand, by the Chinese government sending such a strong delegation, it also showed its commitment to their relations with Somalia and it was ready to pick up from where it had left off.
The author is former Somali Ambassador to China (2005-2011)