John Leefe OBE
This article appeared in the first SES Newsletter, Autumn 1999
In May 1993, as UK representative of the Somali Ecological Society (SES), I produced an article "The First Ten Years of SES" and it seems fitting to first present same highlights from this article, as it provided an accurate account of the development of SES between 1983 and 1993.
The Society was initiated in 1983 because myself and Michael Madany, Range Management Lecturer of the National Range Agency (NRA) decided that a means had to be found for bringing together numerous technical and specialists in natural resources that were working in Somalia. Through an exchange of information it was hoped that Somali environmental issues could be more clearly identified and solutions sought.
Initially, the activities consisted of recruiting new members and organising monthly lectures at the NRA. A management committee, consisting of equal number of Somali and Expatriate members, was established with strong support being provided by the NRA. After a while Dr Jim Crees, a veterinary surgeon, suggested that a small area of riverine forest remaining on the banks of the Shabeelle River near Balcad could form an interesting nature reserve. How true this was, as later studies revealed that there were over 200 bird species in the reserve, including the African fish eagle, Goliath heron, and Carmine bee eater, plus 24 animal species, including yellow baboons, blue monkeys and the aardvark. To add interest, in the river there was no shortage of crocodiles.
With the enthusiastic support of Dr A.A. Karani, General Manager of the NRA, permission was granted for 42 hectares of land to be enclosed, subsequently enlarged by April 1987 to 190 hectares. Richard Holt, a most energetic and tough Australian, undertook the mammoth task of fencing the reserve. In a nearby house a field centre was also set up.
In 1987 and 1988 two British volunteers, Tim Dodman and Yvonne Guinan, worked very hard as conservation officers/wardens to help develop the reserve, field centre and the Society generally. It should be noted that they worked very closely with the two senior Co-chairman of the Management Committee, Dr Mohamed Abdurrahman and Richard Holt. Also with the Somali Conservation Officer A.M. Dahir, who, in addition, was keeper of the National Herbarium at the NRA.
A number of detailed publications were produced and membership greatly increased. The result was that by 1990 the SES had become a very effective organisation, recognised by the Somali government and increasingly attracting international support. It was therefore a great tragedy when the activities ceased at the end of 1990, due to the civil war, many of SES members having now become refugees
In parallel with the 1987-1990 development periods in Somalia, as UK representative, I decided to organise the Friends of SES, to raise funds for further development of the Society. Through subscriptions, donations and sale of publications some income was derived, part of which was sent out to Abdullah Goot Elmi, who had worked at Balcad and was now a refugee in Hargeisa. In 1991 he wrote to say there were 37 member of the re-formed SES in the Republic of Somaliland and that they had formed a temporary management committee. Later 1992 he informed me that the Government had recognised the Society as a Non-Government Organisation and that they were trying to have Ga'an Libah, which they had visited, and Daalo to be declared as nature reserves. There were however, problems with minefield at Ga'an Libah.
Also they were pressing the Government to stop or restrict charcoal exports to the Gulf States and Ethiopia. Unfortunately in 1993, after sending some further funds via a British Veterinary surgeon travelling to Hargeisa, no further word was heard of the Society’s activities. Similarly, with the cessation of the newsletters from Somalia and the continued fighting in the country, the need for the Friends ceased, although interest in the SES publications continued.
No account of the period 1983-1990 would be complete without mention of a number of people who made valuable contributions to the work of the SES, including Dr Herbert Schels and his wife Christina Schels from Germany, who jointly produced “Bird watching in Southern Somalia" after Christina had written "Birds of the Balcad Nature Reserve”. Nicolette Lavoyer, from Switzerland, beautifully illustrated the later publication. Dr Talib Ali, in his role as FAO representative to Somalia during the civil war period, did his best to continue the work of SES. His wife Dianne also helped to raise funds by producing postcards with line drawings of Somali wildlife. Prior to the civil war Dr John Sale, an FAO Wildlife consultant, gave great support to the Society, as a member of the Management Committee and now provides a link with the past as Treasurer of the new Management Committee. Well that was the past, how about the present and future?
I find it most encouraging to record that since an exploratory meeting held on 30th November 1996 in London, which was chaired by Mohamoud Omer Sh. Ibrahim, that allowed discussion of two issues:
- The Potential role of SES as an effective Somali Environmental NGO
- How to initiate environmental activities in Somalia.
Through a grant of £4,000 obtained from the Cuthbert Horn Trust a structured SES organisation has emerged and the Society has established a temporary office in London with telefax facilities. Also, a member of the management committee, Osman Yusuf, has been on a fact-finding mission to the Northern part of Somalia. Contact is also being maintained with the SES of Southern Somalia, the Director being Abshir M Mohamed, and funds have been sent to enable a fact-finding mission to be carried out in Southern Somalia. Once the information gathered in the North and the South has been collated and analysed, it should be possible to draft appropriate, small-scale conservation projects for implementation by local working parties, supporting the aims and objectives of the SES. This assumes, of course that sufficient funds can be raised in the UK and the forthcoming Annual Conference to be held on 7th October 1999, should provide an indication of the support likely to be received. Finally, if we can increase our membership, liase successfully with NGO's working in Somalia, the UN and other International bodies and initiate some small scale conservation projects, I believe the Society can make further valuable contributions to the conservation of the Somali environment in the next Millennium.