My father, Ismail Ahmed Ismail, who has died aged 94, was the founding commander of the Custodial Corps of Somalia, overseeing the country’s prison system. From 1970 to 1988 he expanded the corps from a force of 1,500 men and women to around 12,000. They were responsible for the security, supervision and management of penal institutions in the republic, including special units and a series of schools for homeless young people.
Ismail was born near Erigabo, in the British Somaliland Protectorate. His father, Ahmed Ismail, was a policeman in Aden, Yemen, and Jubaland territory under the British East Africa administration. He later became a head clerk in the port of Aden. Ismail’s mother, Halwo Mohamoud, was a multi-linguist from Aden. She ran a successful business trading spices, food and clothes between the region’s Red Sea coastal towns and Yemen.
One of 14 siblings from his father’s four marriages, Ismail’s early-age schooling was in Erigabo, but at the age of seven he was sent to Aden for further education, there being no proper education system in Somaliland at the time.
On leaving school in 1948, he returned to the British Somaliland Protectorate, where he joined the civil service as a junior clerk — the highest ranking position the government offered to Somalis. In 1954 the protectorate administration sent him to England to train at the police and prisons college in Wakefield, Yorkshire. On his return to Somalia he became a prison officer, progressing through the ranks and reaching the top of the scale through the required academic examinations. He then joined the police force as an officer.
In 1960, when the British administration ended in Somaliland, he was appointed commissioner of prisons in the newly independent Somali Republic, with the rank of major general, in charge of the entire prisons service. In that role and through his ranks after becoming a major general, he was instrumental in integrating Somalia’s and Somaliland’s prison systems at a time when the prisons operated with two different judicial systems.
In 1988 he became a political adviser to the country’s then president, Siad Barre, which he regarded as a disappointing demotion, having left his professional service. After 1991, when Somalia had ceased to function as a viable state, he emigrated to the US, and led a quieter life of retirement in Greensboro, North Carolina, until in 2018 he went back to Somalia, where he died in Mogadishu.
A humble and compassionate man, he enjoyed life to the full, and even in his senior years loved playing tennis and golf.
He is survived by his wife, Khadija Ibrahim, 12 children from four marriages, and by 11 grandchildren. Two other children predeceased him.