Said was born in 1943 in the Ogaden to Faduma and Sheikh Samatar. He comes from a large family consisting of fourteen people, including his father's second wife.
Samatar spent his early years in a nomadic environment, where he writes that "seasons of plenty" with "fragrant flowers blooming all over the fallowed fields, abundant milk and meat" alternated with the "perennial threat of starvation during droughts, marauding gangs of enemy clans bent on murder and mayhem, stripping you of your livestock, the ever-present danger of ravenous predators."
In 1958, his father, who had been working for the government as an Islamic magistrate since 1948, sent for him to begin schooling. Samatar subsequently moved to the town of Qalaafo, transitioning from nomadic life to urban life. A sixteen year old at the time, Samatar found himself surrounded by eight year old classmates. He says that while the experience in general was humiliating, he endured.
In 1970, Samatar began working at the National Teaching College in Somalia alongside several American librarians. There, an American friend suggested that he continue his education at a university in the United States.
Coming to the United States on a scholarship, Samatar commenced studies at Goshen College in Goshen, Indiana. He attended early morning and night classes, while working during the day as a welder to support his wife, who at the time was pregnant with their two kids. Samatar graduated from Goshen College in 1973 with a degree in history and literature. He followed that with a Master's degree in Northeast African history, and received a graduate certificate in African studies. In 1979, he obtained a doctorate in African history from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.
Soon after, a job offer arrived from Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, Kentucky, where Samatar taught from 1979-1981. In July 1981, he accepted a post at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey, where he has since remained.
Samatar has authored a number of books, including a series on Somalia. In addition, he has written a variety of articles, scholarly papers and book reviews, and has served as managing editor of the Horn of Africa journal since 1988. A member of the executive committee of the Somali Studies International Association since 1979, Samatar was also a consultant to The Somali Experience project and is a member of the African Studies Association. He is currently working on a project titled, "The Somali Collapse: Its Causes, Consequences and Context," and also oversees Somali-related programming on Voice of America.
Samatar is a regular fixture in the popular media. In 1992, as part of the Social Science Research Council team's reassessment of the "Teaching and Study of the Humanities in Africa," he went to Somalia as a consultant and interpreter for the ABC news program Nightline with the American journalist Ted Koppel. Since 1983, Samatar has appeared on BBC shows for interviews regarding Northeast Africa, and has discussed Somalia on NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN International, as well as PBS' The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer and Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's radio and television news programs. Samatar has been cited in Time, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, The New York Times and The Washington Post.
- Oral poetry and Somali nationalism: the case of Sayyid Mahammad 'Abdille Hasan. Cambridge University Press, 1982. ISBN 0-521-23833-1
- Somalia: nation in search of a State (co-author: Laitin, David D.). Westview Press, 1987
- Somalia: a nation in turmoil. Minority Rights Group, 1991
- (Ed.) In the shadow of conquest: Islam in colonial Northeast Africa. Red Sea Press, 1992
- In Samatar '92: chapter 3: Shaykh Uways Muhammad of Baraawe, 1847-1909: Mystic Reformer in East Africa
- "Oral poetry and political dissent in Somali society : the Hurgumo series", Ufahamu: A Journal of African Studies, 1989
- "How to Run an SNM Gauntlet", Horn of Africa, 13, Nos. 1-2, April–June 1990, 78-87.
- "The Search for Political Accountability in African Governance: The Somali Case"., African Governance in the 1990s (Atlanta: The Carter Center, 1990), pp. 165–168.
- "How to Save Somalia", Washington Post, December 1, 1992, A19.
- "The Politics of Poetry", Africa Report (September/October 1993), pp. 16–17.
- "Remembering B.W. Andrzejewski: Poland's Somali Genius", 1998
- "'Sarbeeb' : the art of oblique communication in Somali culture", Wardheernews Online
- "Unhappy masses and the challenge of political Islam in the Horn of Africa", Horn of Africa, 2002
|Said Sheikh Samatar|
سعيد الشيخ سمتر
|Born||Saciid Sheekh Samatar|
|Alma mater||Goshen College (1973)|
Northwestern University (1979)
|Notable work(s)||Oral poetry and Somali nationalism (1982)|
Somalia: Nation in Search of a State (1987)