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Salih abu-Bakr bin Husainun (1936-1994)

The ex-Minister for Oil and Mineral Development of the united Yemen, Salih bin Husainun, and his son Anwar were killed in fighting near Fuwa, a few miles west of Mukalla on the Hadhrami coast of Yemen on 4th July 1994.

Sayyid Salih Abubakr bin Husainun was born in a reed hut in about 1936 near Ghail bin Yumain (Benjamin’s Spring) in an area claimed by two Hadhrami sultanates, but controlled by neither.

The Sayyids of the Hadhramaut are descended from the Prophet Mohammed through a group led by Ahmed bin Isa al Muhajir, who arrived from Iraq around 951 AD. The great majority are urban but a few are semi nomadic, living among the mountain tribes between the Wadi Masila and the coast. It is said that they went there to convert the Hamum tribal confederation to the true faith of Islam (which they signally failed to do!) but remained among them as peacemakers, settling the innumerable disputes that arose between warring sections and families. Some Hamumi sayyids became tribalised and acquired the habits of the other Hamum, but Salih’s section, curiously named Mola Dawila (Ancient Deity), remained distinct and carried a degree of respect not accorded to other inhabitants of those mostly barren wastes.

This did not, however, protect them from disastrous famines and Salih’s parents perished in the famine of 1948. He survived and was enrolled in the Beduin Boys School in Mukalla, established there for just such boys and as a junior wing of the Hadhrami Beduin Legion, the British Resident Adviser’s private army.

After primary education, all there was in those days, Salih joined the HBL proper and was trained as a medical orderly, some of his training being at the Keith Falconer Mission Hospital in Aden. Most of his service in the HBL was spent in outposts and most of his "customers" were desert and mountain tribesmen who looked upon him as their doctor. Apart from the very occasional visits of a medical officer, or unless they chose to walk a hundred miles or so, they had no other. Although he only held the rank of sergeant and gave himself no airs, he carried an authority in many distant places.

On independence, in 1967, he chose to remain in the service and was commissioned as a general duties officer. Most of the officers and many other ranks of the HBL chose to leave the force at that time and the rest were merged into the People’s Army. Promotion was rapid and after commanding "brigades" in several areas, Salih was posted to HQ in Aden, where he rose to be Chief of Staff.

In 1979 he was posted to Moscow as the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen’s ambassador, a position he held until 1983, when he returned to Aden as Minister of Communications. After the short but bloody war in January 1986 between two tribal groupings in the Socialist Party government, he played a major part in restoring order in the country and became an acknowledged politician of stature as Minister of Oil and Mineral Development, a position he retained when North and South Yemen united in May 1990. His ministry was highly successful. He studied his subject well and was even described by some Western observers as a technocrat, a title that he denied. Western oil companies were allocated concessions on a competitive basis and the first major oil discovery in South Yemen, known as the Masila field, was in his own home area of Chail bin Yumain. The tribes in the various operating areas knew him and were cooperative. But it was soon evident that the oil and gas reserves were very largely in the south and the civil war that has only recently ended arose over disputes about the distribution of the oil income. Bin Husainun chose to return from Sana’a to the south and was one of the principal organisers of the southern resistance. With his death, resistance collapsed: the south lacked other leaders with the skills and charisma to carry on the fight.

J N Ellis