By Simon Hayes , The Guardian
My uncle, Abdulrahim Abby Farah, who has died aged 98, progressed from the back streets of Barry, in south Wales, to become, by the time of his retirement, the United Nations assistant secretary general for special political questions.
He worked his way up to the UN via the British Colonial Service and had spells as an ambassador for Somalia before moving to the UN headquarters in New York.
Spending time with him opened my eyes to the rich history that links Britain to Somalia. To enter his house was to step into another age, surrounded by artefacts and photographs accumulated from his years of travel around the world. There were also images of him with figures such as George HW Bush and Haile Selassie.
He was born in Barry to Abby Farah, a Somali entrepreneur, and an English mother, Hilda Anderson, who jointly ran a boarding house. After attending Barry grammar school, his father sent him, at the age of 17, to Hargeisa, in what was then British Somaliland, to begin a career in the Colonial Service.
Starting out as a clerk, he eventually became a magistrate, and during the second world war fought in East Africa as a commando in the British army. After the war he returned to the UK for studies in civic administration at Exeter University and then Exeter College, Oxford, where, having already been married and divorced twice, he met his third wife, Sheila (nee Farrell), who became a history teacher and speechwriter.
After university, he was appointed as Somali ambassador to Ethiopia by the newly independent Somali Republic government in the early 1960s, and eventually became Somalia’s permanent representative to the UN. In 1971 he served as president of the UN security council and arranged that a session be held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which was the first time that body had met in Africa. Having been Somalia’s permanent representative to the UN from 1965 to 1972, he was then appointed as the UN’s assistant secretary general for political questions in 1979, serving in that position until he retired in 1989.
In retirement he established an amputee hospital for landmine victims in Somalia and – through financial support and mentoring – helped many young people to pursue an education. Although he spent many years living away from the UK my uncle never lost his Welsh accent.
Sheila died in 1997. He is survived by his fourth wife, Hodan Goth, whom he married in 2001, by six children – Lulah, from his second marriage, Sandra, Hassan, Laila, Marian and Nadia from his marriage to Sheila – and by his sister, Miriam. Another of his children, Safia, died earlier this year.