What was so amazing about Axmed Xasan Cawke? It wasn’t his soothing voice or the lineage he was born into or the town he grew up in. No, Cawke’s qualities were far more grandeur. He is best remembered for his unwavering principles, his optimistic attitude towards a fragile group – his Somali people — forever looped in an endless checker game with clannism, neo-colonialism and opportunism as the only pawns. He remained forever optimistic but that ancient solid optimism’s slowly fading with the passing of every Somali giant, the bearers of the original Somali archetype: proud, resilient, confident and resourceful.
Cawke was born in a small border town called Tog-Wajaale. For a number of us, this random name doesn’t mean anything, for millions of Somalis it represents the memory of the slain soldier (Maxamed Cabdulle Xalane) who died trying to prevent Somalia’s flag from entering Ethiopian hands in 1964.
Cawke finished his secondary studies in Borame in 1971 and was subsequently assigned to a local school in Berbera as a teacher. After finishing his national duty in 1973, he joined Radio Muqdisho amidst a patriotic mood where Somalia was rapidly climbing up the top ranks of Africa’s most powerful militaries. Somalia was flexing its newly-acquired muscles to reclaim the lost territories and everybody was on board.
At the height of the Somalo-Ethio war in 1977, Cawke became an instant house-hold name for he was selected to provide a detailed report of the news of the day. Somalis eagerly waited for his daily analysis about the raging war and it was said that if you missed one of Cawke’s daily analysis, you missed the news of today and no amount of retelling could capture Cawke’s phenomenal sessions. Cawke introduced the phrase Taliskii naf-lacaari (the dying regime) to describe Ethiopia’s Mengistu regime.
In 1980, he became the press secretary of Somalia’s leader at the time, Mohammed Siad Barre, until the fall of the Kacaan regime. Cawke was not only extremely popular amongst Somalis; even Somalia’s traditional enemies admired him from afar.
For instance, during the formation of the Horn of Africa bloc IGAD in 1986, Ethiopia’s ruler at the time Mengistu, approached Siad Barre and asked him directly: “is Cawke with you? I want to meet him”. What follows is beyond this small tribute.
On the onset of the Somali civil war, Cawke continued with his journalistic endeavours — distancing himself from the warring factions — most notably joining the Somali section of BBC.
Whilst in Hargeisa, I was meant to meet him and get his interview about pre-1991 Somalia for the upcoming documentary but as time was tight, and my flight to Xamar was booked, it didn’t happen. In the back of my mind, I reassured myself, you both are reer UK and will catch him in London. That never came and a stark reminder that we plan but Allaah is the best of Planners.
Cawke will be forever remembered for his unmeasurable humility, his clan-less and group-less identity and for his admirable neutrality. If you were a Somali from JigJiga or Gaarisa or Hargeisa or Muqdisho or Kismaayo, you were his brother or sister.
It is for this reason why I love studying the Cawke-like Somalis, for in the midst of those whose outlook doesn’t extend beyond their petty desires, Cawke and his type worked with the mind-set that whatever differences the Somali race is experiencing, the Somali race existed before these differences, will exist during these differences and will continue to exist after these differences.
May Allaah have mercy on him