Stranded in Somaliland, the son of a South Hams water engineer pleads for help from the British Government
‘A child of love, a child of two nations united by history has been abandoned and forgotten by his father’s homeland…’
By STUART NUTTALL
Somalilandsun – THE son of a South Hams water engineer murdered in Africa is pleading for help from the British Government.
Nim’an Bowden, who lives in Somaliland, claims he is one of five children whose father Brian Bowden was from Dartmouth.
Brian Bowden, who was born in Dartmouth in 1928, left Britain in 1958 to work for the Hargeisa Water Agency, in northern Somalia, what is now the self-declared independent state of Somaliland. He later married a Somali woman.
At the start of 1991, as rival tribal militias fought to gain control of the country and overthrow President Mohamed Siad Barre, Mr Bowden was working at the British embassy in Somalia’s capital city Mogadishu.
Ian McCluney, the ambassador at the time, was evacuated by the Americans, along with other embassy staff on January 6, 1991.
Mr Bowden stayed behind to protect his Somali wife and family, as the bloody civil war was being fought around them.
The British Government at the time said Mr Bowden, described by journalist and author Aidan Hartley in his book The Zanzibar Chest as ‘the last Englishman in the whole of Somalia’, had been offered the chance to leave but chose not to, preferring instead to stay behind, look after his wife and children, the embassy and its local staff.
Not long afterwards, Mr Bowden was bludgeoned to death in front of his family.
The Foreign Office said then that he had been ‘killed by an armed gang’ and that Mr Bowden ‘had been given the opportunity to leave’ and the decision to stay was his.
According an African newspaper report at the time, the state-run Mogadishu radio station said: ‘Mr Bowden was murdered at his home by an eight-man gang who made off with gold, money and food.’ The report added that Somali police were hunting the killers.
The BBC reported that, in an interview shortly before his death, Mr Bowden said he had stayed behind because his wife was a Somali and he did not have enough money for a flight to the UK.
The report added: ‘He said when he’d originally considered leaving… the British authorities sent him forms to fill out as the bullets were flying around.’
In an email to this newspaper, Nim’an Bowden, who is now in his mid-20s and living in a refugee camp in Hargeisa, said: ‘My father was the last British citizen working in the British embassy of Somalia in Mogadishu in early 1991 when Somalia entered into chaos and anarchy and the central government collapsed.’
He added that after the British Government had stopped paying staff at the embassy, his father, who was ‘very much a humanitarian’, had borrowed money from a local lender to pay wages. Armed thugs followed him and he was robbed and killed.
Nim’an said that after his father’s murder, the family went back to Hargeisa but ‘we lost my elder brother in the Mogadishu chaos’. He added: ‘My mother, Run Aw Dahir Mohamed, also died in 1994 and then I had to face a difficult time and every hardship in life.
‘I was among the vulnerable street children in the valley of Hargeisa and in the open and who lived on a hook and by a crook – I was doing shoe polishing and every heavy child labour for the business places in Hargeisa.’
He added: ‘I have long suffered from loneliness and have been the victim of severe discrimination as I am regarded an outcast.’
Nim’an wants the British Government to allow him and his wife to have his passports to come to Britain.
Mark Jones, the London-based chief executive of the Horn of Africa Business Association, who is backing Nim’an’s cause, said: ‘[Brian] Bowden’s Somali wife is now dead and his children are in a desperate situation made all the worse by the fact that they are of mixed race. Bowden’s youngest son, Nim’an, has been an orphan since he was six and has to live on the streets since strangers occupied his family home and he has no means of affording legal redress.
‘Nim’an has suffered constant harassment because of his mixed heritage and has felt suicidal because of his desperate situation.
‘Now “living” in Hargeisa, his situation is a dire one, as he is deemed of no tribe, a non-person, an outcast.
‘A child of love, a child of two nations united by history: he has been abandoned and forgotten by his father’s homeland and shunned and derided by the land of his mother.’
He added: ‘Nim’an lives in the capital of a land Britain is yet to officially acknowledge [Somaliland declared its independence from the rest of Somalia in May 1991].
‘The excuses for inaction from British officials and those in Whitehall are and will be legion.
‘In this case sophistry and semantics should not be allowed to triumph. Britain has a moral duty to act and to do the decent thing.
‘Britain owes a debt to Brian Bowden, a debt of honour, one it must pay in full by standing by his children. Nim’an deserves to be allowed to have a future.’
South Hams MP Sarah Wollaston said: ‘I have made enquiries and helped them with the guidance for applications.’
Brian William Thomas Bowden was born in Dartmouth on June 27, 1928, according to photocopies of his passport emailed to this newspaper by representatives of Nim’an.
Aidan Hartley, a Kenyan-born former Reuters foreign correspondent, author and a correspondent for Channel 4’s award-winning current affairs series Unreported World, described meeting Mr Bowden shortly after the British embassy in Mogadishu was evacuated with the help of the Americans.
In his book The Zanzibar Chest, he describes being in Somalia’s capital city in 1991: ‘Almost all the foreigners in Somalia had already been evacuated on the eve of Operation Desert Storm [the first Gulf War to force Saddam Hussein’s forces out of Kuwait].
‘As the fighting in Mogadishu peaked, the US ambassador had gathered scores of foreigners in his compound, posted his diplomatic staff on the walls with rifles and transmitted a mayday calling for help.
‘A flotilla of US ships steaming for the Gulf was diverted and raced to the rescue.
‘A squadron of CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters had taken to the air from the ships as time ran out and flown all night to reach the US embassy before the compound was invaded.
‘As they lifted off, gangs of Somali looters were already scaling the walls.’
He added: ‘I found the last Englishman in the whole of Somalia at the British embassy.
‘At the door of the building, the ambassador’s chauffeur in his peaked cap greeted me, snapping smartly to attention and saluting.
‘He announced that not only had his boss vanished, but the embassy limo had also been looted.
‘Inside, I found an elderly man. He was a familiar, paternal old colonial.
‘He wore patched khaki shorts and sandals, glasses on his nose.
‘The thin hair was plastered back onto his tanned skull. When I returned, he was sitting on a packing crate, sorting scattered papers from the trashed office floor.
‘We shook hands and he said his name was Brian Bowden.
‘When I told him my name, his eyes brightened. “Hartley. Was your father [Brian Hartley] up here once?” I said that he was.
Bowden exclaimed: “Well, well!”
‘The last time he had seen me, he said, I was a towheaded little boy of four.
‘I was taken aback. Bowden motioned me to the packing crate. “And how are your parents?” I said they were fine.
‘Bowden chuckled. “I remember your father…” And immediately he launched into a desert tale that drew a perfect portrait of Dad.
‘Dad and Bowden, it turned out, had become friends many years before.
‘Bowden, a water engineer, had fallen in love with a local girl and never left northern Somalia. As the civil war got worse, he and his wife and five children fled to the city, where he got a slot doing paperwork at the British embassy.
‘Since the collapse, Bowden had stayed in Mogadishu.
‘He said: “It’s been a bit scary, especially with these automatic cannons going off. It’s been dodging bullets to find water.”
‘Daily, Bowden woke at five and joined the city’s residents as they picked their way through the bombed-out warrens, foraging for food and the odd bucket of water.
‘Looters had invaded his house twice, stealing anything they could carry, including clothes and the furniture.
‘Still, at eight sharp Bowden reported for work at the looted embassy, as he had done every day before the slide into chaos.
‘Turning up to work gave Bowden’s formless life the illusion of purpose.
‘He sat on that packing crate, sorting the scattered papers into piles, being especially careful with the confidential documents. It was an act of loyalty to a nation that had forgotten him.
‘He said: “Last week we had a circular signed by the ambassador expressing his thoughts. He told the staff their salaries are being paid in the UK.”
He was obviously impressed. Then, he added: “But we need the money here, not in London.”
‘Despite this, he did not resent Britain, which had yet been great when he had been posted to Somalia. In his mind it was still great.
‘She couldn’t possibly abandon an entire nation, half of whose population were her former colonial subjects.
‘She could certainly never leave her own embassy staff to die of starvation or flying bullets. “It’s been long enough and I personally would say the ambassador should come back,” he shrugged. “But that’s diplomacy. They’re probably waiting…”
‘For what, he didn’t say. In the end I was no better than the British.
‘Africa is full of tribes, which care for their own people in times of distress.
‘Bowden was from my tribe. He stood before me, my father’s long-lost friend, a malnourished old man.
‘There was nobody else to save him. “You must leave,” I pleaded with him. “No,” he said. “I am caught. If I go, I go as a refugee, even back to the UK,” and smiled weakly. “Here is the only future I can see right now.”
‘Mr Hartley later went to the British High Commission in Nairobi, Kenya, with some letters Bowden had asked him to deliver.
He said: ‘I asked why the British were doing nothing to help him.
‘The diplomat explained that under Government regulations, a citizen must cover the cost of his own repatriation, even from a war zone.
‘Bowden was destitute… and he had a black Somali wife and five children.
‘The Government could not under these circumstances evacuate either Bowden or his large mixed-race family.
‘Bowden hung on for months. One day, he borrowed cash from a Somali loan shark to pay wages to the embassy staff since they had no way of getting to their salaries, which accumulated untouched in a London bank.
‘On his way from the moneylender to the embassy, he dropped by his home for a few minutes.
‘A gang of armed thieves that had got wind, forced his family to watch as they beat him to a pulp and when he was dead they made off with the cash.’
When this newspaper spoke to Mr Hartley at his farm in Kenya about what might have happened to Brian Bowden’s family, he said he was aware of Nim’an’s claims.
He added he believed Mr Bowden’s daughters may have fled to Kenya as refugees.
Mr Hartley said he was hoping to go to Mogadishu and Hargeisa later this year.
Jim Shanor, an American who went to Somalia as a volunteer with the Peace Corps and who now lives in Nakuru, Kenya, met Brian Bowden several times.
He told this newspaper that they first met in Hargeisa in the period 1967-69.
He added: ‘I ran across him again in Mogadishu in 1989-90 and we lunched together almost daily at a popular Somali restaurant, Abdi Steak’s place.
‘His work was always with the water and sanitation sector of the government.
‘I knew Brian Hartley in much the same way in Hargeisa. Brian Hartley worked with livestock development and was journalist Aidan Hartley’s father.
‘The two Brians were very regular at the Hargeisa Club, a former British club later opened to other expats and then to Somalis.’
• The Zanzibar Chest, by Aidan Hartley, is published Harper Collins, recommended price £9.99. ISBN: 978-0-00-653121-0.
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