The Mass Literacy Campaign (1973-5)

                                                       Qore: Axmed Haybe (Axmed Dawlo)                                                             



Ahmed Haybe (Ahmed Dawlo)


Immediately after the new Script had been introduced, Somali became the sole official language of the state, i.e. the language of administration, education, the press and so forth.  This was followed by a mass literacy campaign in urban and rural areas.

The Somali Democratic Republic has launched many diverse campaigns aimed at the interests of the people.  The first mass literacy campaign was confined to the cities, towns and certain villages.  The Somali civil servants, wherever in the country were taught to read and write the Somali Script within the remarkably six months or even less.  The next step was the teaching of the Somali people in the urban centers within year, mainly relying on volunteers, who were offered certificates of honor if their Pupils passed the state literacy test. At the end of this intensified campaign five hundred thousand people were taught to read and write.  The new script removed the obstacle to written Communication in which only a small percentage of the population used to communicate with each other in several diverse languages.

There is no doubt that the state administrators had gained valuable experience in the first campaign, such as self-confidence, ability, and cooperation in self-help schemes.  These valuable lessons, no doubt, gave the people an immense encouragement to wage a battle against natural disasters and other enemies of mankind.

Before the task of the campaign was undertaken, the president of the SRC Mohamed Siad Barre announced on 7th March that 1974 would be the year of a Rural Development Campaign. It was obvious to the revolution leaders that economical, cultural, social and Political, etc changes could not be overcome, until the life of nomads, who form 80% of the population could be bettered.

On the seventh March 1974, another literacy campaign was launched.  This time the problem of facing up to rural literacy was attacked in the fiercest manner.  The elimination of illiteracy in the rural areas became imperative if the previous, successful campaign was to have any significance.

 The campaign was divided into categories: -

1.       Mass literacy campaign

2.       Improvement of the health of people and domestic animals.

3.       Taking a census of the people and animal population.

The campaign for the development of rural areas was neither the first of its kind to be carried out in Somalia nor the last.  The campaigns had become the particular characteristic of the revolution. (Ministry of Information, 1975). 

It would be beyond the scopes of this thesis to account for the different campaigns that were going on, and I shall concentrate on the mass literacy campaign.  On the Idd Festival in August 1974, the Somalis had committed themselves to wage war on different deadly enemies.  Thousands of vehicles had converged on The 21st October Square in Mogadishu in which men and women were packed.  The weapons of these forces were pens, chalks, blackboards and medicines.  The attack was focused on the farms, the villages, the small towns and the countryside where the deadly enemies lurked furtively.  The battle raged fiercely for seven months.  The forces who, gallantly and heroically took part on this campaign were composed of students, teachers, the victory pioneers (a youth Organization sponsored by the government), the peace-keepers (rural local government officials who liaise with the central government), a contingent of the armed forces, the civil servants and members of the public.  During the campaign all the schools in the Republic were officially closed, as students and teachers, participated in that historic campaign.  The civil servants and armed forces who were involved in the campaign were freed from their regular jobs. (Ministry of Information, 1975). 

On the day of their departure, the President bid these forces farewell.  He gave a speech interspersed with advice, wisdom, encouragement, inspiration and commendation for the forces.  He said:

... the battle you engage in with your forces has more honor than the ordinary one, and has more value than anything you have known, and you would be doing your duty and render a service for humanity. Our enemy would get worried by the fierce attack you are about to mount on it, because its result would have untold benefits to us (Ministry of Information, 1975, p.21). 

The forces that had to participate in the campaign left the capital, Mogadishu, in accompaniment of songs and poems extolling the work on which they are about to embark and promised to tackle the problems for which they had to find permanent solutions.  The central theme of these songs and poems was that they vowed to fulfill their duties in the battle patriotically, heroically and in a revolutionary manner. 

Indeed, these forces proved their readiness to serve for the nation.  Eventually, they successfully freed their people from the chains of backwardness to a large extent.  These can be witnessed by the changes that occurred in the life of Somali nomads and farmers.  It is difficult to describe this in a few words or tell to a person who was not in Somalia during that time.  The campaign is written in indelible ink in Somali history. 

On their return, the inhabitants of the capital welcomed them at a place 30kms away from the centers to which they were returning, garlanded with colored flowers in recognition of their heroic achievements. 

Among the various reasons that brought about the victory in the campaign were the strong will of the participants and their thorough preparation, hard work and a good decision making by the healthy leadership of the revolution.  Before the campaign was launched, 3% of the people were able to read and write.  But after the two mass literacy campaigns, urban and rural, were over, 55% of the population could read and write their native language.  This reveals that Somalis to a large extent had uprooted ignorance, which had been prevailing for a long time.  Nevertheless, there is not a single nation in the world, which has completely overcome the problems, of ignorance, because in every country, there are people who can neither write nor read, no matter what the reasons for this might be. 

A continuation programme at various civic centers throughout the country after it was completed followed the campaign, in order to increase the number of literate people and to prevent relapses into illiteracy. 

Nearly seventy governments in a Africa, Asia and Latin America initiated similar programmes, but it appeared that none of them reached the same level of success.  The rate of illiteracy increased, and the ways the various countries approached the problem were quite different. The system Somalia had adopted to combat this evil was quite different from all other countries; it had wide scale built-in diversity, for it contained large scale of complementary features all designed to implement the major problem for literacy (Ministry of Information, 1975). 

At a reception held in a big Stadium in Mogadishu on seventh March 1975, medals were distributed to the participants of the campaign on various merits.  These medals were the largest number given out at one time.  The people who participated in the campaign numbered not less than 125,000 falling into various categories.  The vehicles which had been working in that campaign were no less than five hundred and the people who passed the final examination in reading and writing the Somali language at the rural areas were 1,257,779.  The expenses incurred for the first year of the campaign were estimated at 305 million Somali Shillings, but later when the public contributed towards this cause and had assumed responsibility for the housing and feeding of the teachers and other expenses the budget of the campaign plummeted to 78 million Somali Shillings.  The most paramount benefit gained during that period was experience.  This campaign largely depended on voluntary teachers and a slogan, which referred to a national orthography said: "Haddaad taqaan bar, haddaanad aqoon baro.  If you know it, teach it- if you don't know it, learn it" (Andrzejewski, 1974a, p.201). The most important feature of the programme, which gripped the minds. And hearts of the population was learning to read and write the Somali language.  It was their dreams, which came true, for they have always had hopes to be able to see their dreams translated into realities one day. 

Benefits accured from the Campaign 

There is no doubt that the writing of the mother tongue was in the forefront of the historical decisions taken in the revolutionary era.  Concrete victories had emerged from the steps of the revolutionary government on 21st October 1969, concerning the writing of the mother tongue.  The hard work of the government, the heavy emphasis and importance it placed on the campaign and series of successive steps taken in connection with this programme all showed the ultimate beneficial aims that would follow from the uprooting of ignorance, and the benefits that come from having education.  The steps, which were to lead the elimination of illiteracy, were: 

1.)     Elimination of ignorance, which had constituted insurmountable problems to millions of Somalis.

2.)     To create a society, which puts a high degree of importance on education and the role, it plays on national development. 

Widespread literacy has created great social changes.  It has made education and participation in public life open to the majority of the people, and enabled men and women of the requisite ability to hold responsible positions without first acquiring the knowledge of a foreign language.  In particular, the accessibility of education through the medium of the mother tongue has had a great impact on the emancipation of women, many of who now participate in public life on terms of equality with men.  Those citizens who are acquainted with foreign languages may still find them useful in their lives, if they are in contact with foreigners, or need to read professional books and journals from abroad, but they no longer form an exclusive elite, set apart from the general public.  The business of inequality between the town and countryside depends on factors in addition to the medium of instruction.  Schools and teachers access to general culture. 

What had greatly surprised the foreign journalists who visited the areas of Rural Development Campaign was the iron will of the young students and how easily they managed to cope with rural life.  Moreover, the relationship between the students and the people whom they were living with during the campaign remained strong and eventually resulted in good relations and visits. 

The Campaign and the Mass Media 

It would be impossible to state here in detail the role of the mass media in the campaign, but it is worth mentioning some of the important factors. 

The Ministry of Information and National Guidance administers:- 

1.)        The State Printing Agency


2.)        Radio Mogadishu and Radio Hargeisa


3.)        The National Theatre


4.)        The National Film Agency 

These were the agencies that had largely contributed to the campaign and enabled it to reach its full potential. 

There was never a single day when the mass media did not carry major news items and features on the literacy campaign beginning on 21st October, 1972, when the writing of Somali was announced.  Of the categories of activity in which mass media were engaged were the following: Publications in press, radio broadcasts, films and stage shows. 

A) The Newspapers 

When the writing of the Somali language was announced, all the papers mounted a fierce attack on ignorance, the illustrations of its evils, the hardships it created for the Somali people, and had heavily underlined that the only way this problem could be eliminated was through education.  However, the newspapers could not reach the communities in remote places, because of the lack of roads and the transportation facilities, as is the case in many third world countries. 

The major things that local papers had done for the campaign were: 

1.) Explaining the pronunciation of the letters of the alphabet, which included pictures.

2.) The rousing of the people in regard to health improvements.

3.) Orientation

4.) Increase of general knowledge

5.) The dissemination of news

(Ministry of Information, 1975) 

The announcement of the new script was followed by its appearance in Somali language.  The October Star (Xiddigta Oktoobar) had become the emblem of change in the Somali press, which brought tangible achievements and every individual could see as a result of these the dissemination of the Somali language in a written form. It was not only the local papers, which wrote about the Somali Campaign; the foreign press (West and East) had also given it extensive coverage.  Some Somalis who were impressed by the campaign had paid serious attention to it and wrote reports, which appeared in the international press, which was of high importance. 

B) The Radio 

The Radio broadcasts in Somalia (Radio Mogadishu and Radio Hargeisa) devoted much of their time imparting the knowledge of written Somali.  During that period the radio played the role of teacher, orientator, newscaster, linker, companion and entertainer. In addition to that, there had been a roving car moving through the regions and districts reporting the daily events.  The radio had also served to enable students and teachers to be in touch with their parents and friends, to talk to each other directly.  The Radio Programme Officers, who consisted of messages of good will, had set up this program known as “the Students requests” and general reports and enquires about health and well being of friends and relatives.  In addition, the reporters were sending the news coverage through this radio (Ministry Of Information, 1975). 

The programme "Learn from the Radio,' was also established, and continued throughout the whole campaign.  The Somali Language Section of Radio Mogadishu was on the air for 63 hours a week, of which 14.37% hours were devoted to the campaign. 

The following tables clearly show the amount of time spent on Rural Development Campaign (RDC) in radio programmes. (see Page 9 and 10)

Radio Programme

for the Rural Development Campaign

Morning                             Noon                 Afternoon     Evening              New Program Time

Saturday:   7-7.20          13.07-13.30           16.40- 16.45   19.45-20.00         21.00-21.20 = 6     1.52

Sunday     6.40-7.20      13.07-13.30           16.40 16.00     19.45-20.00         22.00-22.15 = 6     2.12

Monday         -do-                 -do-                16.48-16.45       -do-                       -do-         = 6      2.12

Tuesday         -do-                 -do-                     -do-               -do-                       =6          2.12

Wednesday    -do-                 -do-                     -do-               -do-                       -do-       = 6      2.12

Thursday        -do-                  -do-                     -do-               -do-                       -do-       =6      2.12

                                                                   17.15-17.30         -do-                        -do-       =1      15

Friday       8.10                        -do-              16.40- 16.45    19.30-19.45                           = 4     1.35


               9.00                        -do-              17.13-17.30     19,45-20.00


Saturday 7.00                13.07-13.30              16.40- 16.45      19.45-20.00          21.00-21.20 =





Week   7                       6          8            8                                                            12 =    41       14-3 7

Month  28                   24        32          32                                                            48 =  164       14.37

3 Months84                72        96          96                                                          144 =  492       175.20

Year     336               288      384        384                                                        576 = 1968       701.37                                              Source: Ministry of information, 1975, p.40 

I can report as a participant observer, that I and some of my friends learned the new script through the radio; and perhaps it is the means by which most people learn it. 

The following table of statistics shows the songs, poems and other programmes, which the Radio released for the year 1974. 

Start                   Programmes                      Programmes                             Songs              Poems

January               52                                                    60                                  18                      2

February             52                                                    52                                  14                      3

March                 52                                                    52                                  20                      4

April                   52                                                    52                                  12                       -

May                   52                                                    52                                  20                      1

June                   52                                                     52                                  16                       -

July                    52                                                     52                                  22                      3

August              108                                                    52                                102                      9

September        108                                                    52                                  87                      8

October            112                                                    52                                  60                      5

November        108                                                     52                                  75                      6

 December        110                                                    52                                  62                      2


1.) Songs    448

2.) Poems     43

3.) Teachings 720

4.) Campaign programs 910

(Ministry of Information, 1975, p.44) 

C)        The National Theatre 

The Somali theatre contributed to the spread of literacy.  Committed in the last four decades to the cause of progress and reform, Somali playwrights introduced into their works didactic themes, which strongly supported the new scripts and attacked, through satire or direct invective those who secretly opposed it.

President Siad, who had given the Ministry unstinted praise, underlined the role, which the Ministry of Information had played in the campaign.  The Ministry's role was a sensitive one, and it had fulfilled its duty with flying colours. 

The Somali government had made great efforts in carrying out the campaign, but ability was another question.  The energies and resources the government had spent on the literacy campaign could not be fully expressed in prose, for they placed heavy emphasis on the success of that campaign.  Both the foreign and local communities have been witnesses to this effort. 


ANDREZEJEWISKI, B. W., 1977a “The Development of National Orthography in Somalia

                                                And the Modernization of Somali Language.” Horn of Africa, 1,3


-----------------------------1977 “Five years of written Somali. A report on progress and

                                                prospects” IAI Bulletin, 47, 4: 4-5

-----------------------------1980, “The implementation of language planning in Somalia:

                                                A Record of Achievement” In: Language Planning Newsletter, 6

                                                I: 1, 4-5


A Great Land Mark in our Revolutionary History.  State Printing Agency, Mogadishu, Somalia.

---------------------------- 1975, Ololaha Horumarinta Reer Miyiga [ Rural Development

                                                Campaign.] State Printing Agency. Mogadishu, Somalia.

MOHAMED, O.O, 1975, From Written Somali to a Rural Development Campaign. Somali

                                                Institute of Development Administration and Management.

                                                Mogadishu, Somalia.

-------------------------1976, Administrative Efficiency and Administrative Language in

                                                    Somalia. Somali Institute of Development and Management.

                                                    Mogadishu, Somalia.

MOHAMED & WEHRMANN, 1976, The Rural Development Campaign in Somalia

                                                    (1974/1975) Paper presented at a seminar on determination

                                                    on learning needs in rural areas,

                                                    held 29 November – 3 December, 1976, Nairobi, Kenya



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