Obituary: Dr. Hashim Gamal A-Din A-Shami
Dr. Hashim Gamal A-Din A-Shami passed away in Istanbul, Turkey, where he was taking medical treatment on Monday, August 1, 2022. Dr. Hashim was born in the Red Sea coastal city of Tio, Eritrea, in 1948, to his father, Sheikh Gamal A-Din Ibrahim Khalil, and mother, Handia Humo Motala.
A veteran UN official and a writer, Dr. Hashim was a well-versed intellectual interested in peoples' causes in the region and beyond. He was interested in the history and studies of East Africa and the Southern Arabian Peninsula. Dr. A-Shami was a man of high integrity, social, kind, and generous. Though born in Eritrea, he felt he belonged to all Afar in Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Djibouti. His most significant contribution to the Afar was his book, 'Al Manhal: The Source in the History and Narratives of the Afar (Danakil),' which was issued in 1991 in Arabic with a second edition in 1996. The book is about 750 pages. The book was translated to Amharic, with additions to the Arabic version in 2007 with the title ዓፋር (ደንከል) ታሪክና መረጃ አርክ ምንጭ. The book was translated to English in 2018.
The book presents analytical and documentary accounts of Afar (Danakil/Adal) in relations with neighboring peoples around the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. It includes over 30 colored maps and copies of 19 fundamental conventions, protocols, treaties, and pacts between Afar (Danakil, Adal) Sultanates and Sheikhdoms with colonial powers (Italy and France).
Moreover, it covers various dimensions: Afar political history; structure of the Afar Sultanates; degree of decentralization; religious aspects from pre-Christianity and pre-Islamic ages up to date (2017); social systems; the pedigree of Afar tribes; Afar social and economic life according to the categories for the period 1800-1960; Afar socio-civilizational manifestations from 600 BC to 10 AD which includes Afar ports, cities and ways of living, particularly in Afar coastal belt from the north of Dahlak Archipelago to Zeila; the presence of the Ottoman empire over very few points of the Afar coast during 1647-1866; and the Egyptian existence in some of the Afar mentioned ports up to 1885.
Dr. Hashim descended from an Islamic religious family, and his grandfather was an Islamic scholar who made Tio a spiritual center. After completing elementary and secondary school, Dr. Hashim traveled to Egypt, where he got his bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics and agronomy from Cairo High Polytechnic Institute in 1970 with outstanding results and was the first in his batch. After returning from Cairo, managed the Awsa informal cooperative, a semi-mechanized farm of 25,000 hectares in the lower Awash Valley. He got his MSc degree at Arizona State University with honors in Agricultural Economics in 1974 and completed his Ph.D. studies in Economics at Wisconsin University in 1979.
From 1980 to 1985, he worked as an Economist for the oil, gas, water, agriculture, and desalination conomist based in Rome and was a Regional officer for Near East and North Africa, 1985-1989.
Dr. Hashim was appointed Chief Technical Advisor, Senior Planning Economist, and Team Leader at the United Nations Department of Social Affairs from 1989 to 1996. He was FAO representative in Nigeria and Yemen 1996-2008. During his term in Nigeria, he also engaged and contributed to the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS). During his tenure in the United Nations, he met many leaders in the countries he worked and visited which gave him an in-depth knowledge of Horn of Africa, in particular and Africa and the Middle East. He retired in 2008. Dr. Hashim served as Development Adviser to the Government of Djibouti from 2009-2014.
While studying at the university in Egypt, Dr. Hashim accompanied Sultan Ali Mirah Hanafi in his meetings with Egyptian officials in 1967. He witnessed an undeclared agreement between Egypt (represented in the person of Mr. Mohammed Fayek, Head of the Department of African Affairs in the Egyptian Presidency) and Afar leader Ali Arif Burhan and Sultan Ali Mirah Hanfari. Egypt agreed to the independence of Djibouti for the first time. Egypt also convinced other Arab countries to follow suit. Previously Egypt supported the accession of Djibouti to Somalia. As it is well known that both Somalia and Ethiopia claimed Djibouti. The opinion of the Sultan was if Djibouti was not independent, there might be a war between Ethiopia and Somalia on the issue. Just before the independence of Djibouti, the Government of the Republic of Somalia, particularly the President, Mr. Mohamed Siad Barre, approved it. Thus, Djibouti obtained its independence without obstacles. Sultan Ali Mirah Hanfari got scholarships to Afar students from Egypt in 1967. Egypt also provided a radio broadcast in the Afar language, where Dr. Hashim worked for a short while.
As a personal note, Dr. Akrem Ali Altom, introduced to Dr. Hashim in Egypt, and we became close friends from the first day. He was a mentor, and I have learned many issues from him pertaining to the Afar people and the region's political dynamics. He not only encouraged me to author a book about Eritrea but kept pushing me till I finished it, "The Dynamics of the unfinished African Dream: Ancient Times to 1968". He introduced me to many valuable references. He also contributed substantially to the chapter about the ancient history of Eritrea but did not permit me to acknowledge that in the book. I spoke to him regularly. Almost at least once a week, we exchanged views on regional developments. He will be deeply missed.
Dr. Hashim is survived by two sons, two daughters, and several grandchildren.
Mohamed Kheir Omer