Meet Somalia’s Youngest Chief of Staff

General Odowa

Odowa Yusuf Rageh became Somalia’s youngest Brigadier General at 32 in 2019. Since his promotion by President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, he has been targeted by opponents of the President’s policies.

The opposition, which now include Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble, hostile nations and foreign war profiteers, has called into question the young general’s age and his ability to lead the Somali National Army (SNA).

General Odowa is a career soldier who joined the ranks of the Somali army after the civil war when he was still a teenager in 2007. He has proven himself on the battlefield and has all the credentials to lead the new SNA.

The opportunity for him to move faster through the ranks came at a time when the SNA wanted to replace an aging Soviet-trained senior officer. Most of them lived in exile for almost two decades after the army was disbanded in 1991 by then Prime Minister Umar Arteh Qalib.

Those senior officers who stayed behind either joined clan militias or used military bases and assets as their own properties. This changing of the guard was necessary and President Farmajo knew that the younger generation of officers, untainted by the ills of our society, should be tasked with leading the next generation of SNA.

This is not the first time that Somalia has had very young senior officers. At independence in 1960, the average age of officers was 30 years old. General Daud Abdulle Hirsi himself was only 35 when, as the highest ranking officer, he became Chief of Staff of the fledgling SNA.

Odowa may be young to a Brigadier General, but he’s not the first as there is a long list of young army commanders who have made history in the world. To only cite a few. In Spain, Francisco Franco became the youngest general in European history at 33. In the United States, Uriah G. Pennypacker still holds the record for the youngest brigadier general, promoted at just 20 years old during the American Civil War.

To quickly climb the ranks of the army, age does not matter, especially in times of war. Most importantly, the officer exhibits personal qualities such as integrity, courage, loyalty, selflessness and self-discipline. It is also necessary for a future commander to be vigilant, efficient, and know how to make decisions quickly in the event of unforeseen events. Finally, you have to have an extraordinary ability to learn and adapt.

In times of war, the need for quality soldiers becomes pressing and the occasions to demonstrate one’s abilities offer themselves more quickly than in time of peace. As mentioned above, Somalia needs young commanders to lead a growing army at war against insurgents and other chaotic militias. Thus, our young general has more than once demonstrated his courage, his leadership and his versatility on the battlefield.

It is no coincidence that the Americans have promoted more young officers to the level of brigadier general than any other country. The United States has always been involved in wars since its insurrection in 1776, through the expansion westward and towards the Rio Grande, the Civil War, colonialism in the Caribbean and the Pacific, the world wars, Korea, Vietnam, and many more other wars on all continents.

So-called experts, such as New Zealand’s Colin Robinson criticized the promotion of young General Odowa on the basis of his young age. However, according to the criteria mentioned above, which are validated by modern military history, the security situation in Somalia, and Odowa’s experience and personal abilities show the correctness of President Farmajo’s choice.

Robinson, despite his supposed background in the military art detailed in his CV, actively disparaged the ability of the Somali National Army. It is now clear, however, that his action was intended to support organizations profiting from the war like Sahan Research or the Crisis Group.

His hostile articles convince no one except those who veil their faces about the professionalism of the Somali army and those who share the same hostility, including the foreign-funded opposition politicians. The Somali justice got wind of his actions to sabotage this national institution and took the right action by sentencing him to five years in prison.

In a nutshell, General Odowa has, since his promotion in 2019, shown more maturity than Prime Minister Roble and all the opposition leaders. In addition, he had personally led many campaigns against Al-Shabab. With more resources and less polarized politics, and without the current UN sanctions and counterproductive foreign oversight, he would have been better equipped to deal with the prevailing insecurity in parts of Somalia.