Musa Haji Deria: a Somali Cantabrigian (St John's, 1960-1963)

Musa Haji Deria Mohamed was born in 1938 in the small village of Taleh to Haji Deria Mohamed, a successful businessman and Halwo Jama.
For two years from 1945, Musa attended the Las Anod Primary School. When it was time to leave this school, Haji Deria wanted his son to follow him into his business but Musa wanted to carry on at school. The ensuing battle of wills produced a compromise: Musa could go to school but Haji Deria would not pay his fees. Musa solved this evident problem by coming top of his class at Sheikh Intermediate School each year from 1945 to 1951, which meant that his fees were waived. From there, he graduated to the Protectorate’s only secondary school at Amoud where his headmaster was Richard R. Darlington.

Musa’s progress there earned him a scholarship to study A-Levels in the UK (1958-60) which he did at Southend-on-Sea in Essex.

From Southend, Musa gained a place at St John’s College, Cambridge. At Cambridge, he dabbled successively in natural sciences, geography and economics before settling on the law which was to steering influence on the rest of his life. In the Somali manner, he took an interest in world politics and engaged in vigorous debate, being mortified by South African apartheid and the lack of civil rights in the USA.

Upon returning to his homeland, Musa was appointed Judge in the Hargeisa District Court, a post to which was attached the considerable salary. By 1964, under President Aden Abdulle Osman, he was promoted to Judge of the Regional Court where one of his duties was to contribute directly to the formulation of Somali law.

In 1968, he was appointed Vice President of the Supreme Court in Mogadishu but the task of learning Italian did not appeal. When Prime Minister Mohamed Ibrahim Egal recognised Musa’s skills and qualities were more valuable in Hargeisa, Musa returned to his former position as Regional Court Judge in 1969, where he worked on the introduction of the jury system.

Despite only a brief earlier experience of Mogadishu, Musa now returned there as Attorney-General of the Somali Republic, serving from 1970 to 1976. Amid the optimism and promise of justice and an independent judiciary in the early 1970s, Musa worked to fuse the traditional Somali law system of xeer (pronounced “heer”) with elements of western legal systems.

At the end of the 1970s, after a lapse of some thirty years, Musa followed in his father’s footsteps in setting up his own business. He established contacts for exporting Somali livestock by visiting Saudi Arabia. Within two years, he was in charge of a highly successful business.

At the same time, he continued to use his knowledge of the law, acting, for example, as an adviser to the Chamber of Commerce. In order to expand his business, Musa H. Deria Co. Ltd., Musa returned to Mogadishu once more in 1981.

In 1995, Musa fell ill. Musa and Kamal met in Dubai where disease was diagnosed in the right kidney. Back in Hargeisa, he became ill again in June 1996. Given the circumstances, there was great difficulty in obtaining a visa for the purpose of visiting either Germany or the UK for treatment. Eventually, in March 1997, father and son travelled to Germany. There, he underwent treatment but he was, by then, fatally ill. He died on 18 April 1997 and his passing was announced by the BBC Somali Service. He was buried in the German city, Bonn. 120 Somalis flew to Germany from other countries to attend his memorial service.

This biographical note was edited by Haroun Mahmud, a British-Somali history undergraduate at King’s College, Cambridge for the uses of the Black Cantabs’ Project. The biography of Musa Haji Deria Mohamed was originally published in the bi-annual Journal of the Anglo-Somali Society [Warsidaha Ururka Ingiriiska iyo Soomaalida], Autumn 2005, Issue 38, Page 14. Thanks to the Editor of this publication, David Brooks, for his help in sourcing the biography and for allowing it to be republished.

Haroun

Haroun is a Cambridge undergraduate and researcher.

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