In the early 1980s the people of Somaliland* suffered greatly from the negligence of the Siad Barre regime and the effects of the 1977–1978 Ogaden War: Hargeisa did not have adequate basic services such as electricity, water, and healthcare. At the same time, political oppression was blatant. Despite the high risks a group of young professionals, including teachers, engineers, and doctors, initiated self-help activities with the aim of providing voluntary assistance to the people in Somaliland. They started with cleaning and refurbishing the Hargeisa Group Hospital. Local businessmen and community leaders mobilized funding, and a relief organization called German Emergency Doctors (GED) provided additional equipment, staff and funding. Thanks to these activities the conditions of the hospital improved tremendously, and the group grew in popularity.
However, the government started to become suspicious of the self-help group. Its suspicion increased when people working for the state came to possess a newsletter called Uffo (from which the group’s name Uffo originated), which voiced injustices in the region. The newsletter had been produced in secret by two members, who had distributed it through trust-based networks. In November and December 1981, 28 young intellectuals were arrested by the regime and accused of anti-government activities. The regime mainly targeted people from the Isaaq clan, and several of those who had been involved in the activities were not arrested.
“Thanks to these activities the conditions of the hospital improved tremendously, and the group grew in popularity.”
The arrested intellectuals were interrogated and tortured for months. It became known around Hargeisa that the intellectuals were facing death sentences. This created outrage among the population, and on the day of the planned trial, February 20, 1982, students, together with other residents started to protest outside the court building. The police, with help from the military, suppressed the demonstrations, and many students were injured and arrested. On the first day of the protests one student was killed. The protest is remembered as the Dhagax Tuurka. Despite the violent reprisals, the protests continued and spread to other cities.
Due to these reactions, the regime commuted the death sentences to prison sentences ranging from three years to life (eight prisoners were released). The majority served their sentence in solitary confinement in the notorious prison Labaatan Jirow in the south. After their imprisonment, the members of Uffo founded Somaliland’s first humanitarian organization: the Somali Relief and Rehabilitation Association (SORRA). The organization focused on rehabilitating and constructing Hargeisa as well as building schools across the country. In 1993, SORRA raised funds for the Boroma peace conference.