The Inglorious Absentee Father in Contemporary Somali Politics
By A. Duale Sii'arag
Feb. 27, 2010
“Ninkii tiisaba daryeela tu kale ku dara”
“He who fulfils his own responsibility is best suited to take upon other more important duties".
An old Somali adage.
“I don’t know how it feels to be held by my father. He never sent a birthday card, attended a school play or any sporting event. He never took part in parent-teacher meetings or took me to a movie”, says ten years old Guled who is known by his schoolmates as Ina Dahabo - which literally means the son of Dahabo - his mother. None of his schoolmates had ever seen his invisible dad hence dubbing him his mother’s son.
Dahabo does not mince words when commenting on husbands who are adrift. “Making a husband out of today’s men requires commonsense, faith, perseverance, agility, adaptation and a prayer for good measure”, she says. “There are plenty of surprise husbands out there; some consolation prizes and very few prizes”, she asserts.
Dahabo, a buoyant and vivaciously lovely lady, begot two sons named Guled, 10 and Artan, 8. They both love their papa who went AWOL and disappeared from their daily lives in their tender, formative years in school - when they needed most the caresses and cuddles of their father. She single-handedly parented for the past eight turbulent years with difficulty, while her estranged husband fancied himself as a self-appointed politician, roaming around the world and relishing the media glare. But she is not alone in managing mothering in the total absence of her husband.
Hundreds of faithful and diligent Somali wives were deserted by their beloved husbands who gave up their moral and familial responsibilities and failed to lend a helping hand in bringing up their children and giving them a family atmosphere. Teetering on the edge of destitution and at the bottom of the earning scale, many of these deserted families cannot support themselves and are entirely dependent on welfare payments and dwell on government subsidized housing.
The family fabric of many Diaspora households was torn asunder by crisis of parenthood, marital break-ups, absentee fathers, prevalence of child delinquency and resultant child-soldier freelancing for terror. Much of these social pathologies obviously stem from homes with the father-turned-politicians abdicating their familial responsibilities.
Hundreds of Somali families who fled from the anarchy and the cataclysmic events that bedeviled their beloved country and took sanctuary in predominantly hospitable Western countries had experienced immense untold difficulties in adjusting to their new environment and with all the attendant cultural, social and economic pressures and emotional distresses. A specter of vulnerability and doom haunted many of the fleeing families as they set foot into their dreamlands. Hence many families who survived the traumatic experiences of savagery in their home turf had succumbed to the vagaries of their new milieu - a milieu they have been accidentally thrust into as their migration to the New World was not a planned migration but what is termed as “forced migration”.
One of the underlying factors that continue to exacerbate the breakdown of many Somali families is the absent father. Completely derelict in his fatherly responsibilities, the absentee father has abandoned his family in Europe, North America and Australia, gyrating from one Somali peace conference to another like a whirling Dervish and hanging out with other like-minded deserters in Hargeisa, Garowe, Mogadishu, Djibouti, Nairobi and elsewhere and in trendy salons of pleasure where arm-chair pundits give flight to their imaginations. The absentee father who has children of his own often shirks the responsibilities that come with being a parent. He is characterized by multiple failed marriages, neglected children and the urge of consorting with young ladies here and there, like a drunken sailor who cavorts with any women he encounters at any port of call.
In old, time-honored Somali tradition, family has been upheld as an indispensable collective mark of a healthy household. Love and respect had been the cornerstone of family relations, kindness and compassion the bonds that cement family ties. Family has been one and united through thick and thin, and devices to prevent marriage break-ups were firmly rooted in the cultural mores. The father was regarded as a venerated head of the nuclear family, a responsibility bestowed to him by both religion and the natural phenomenon. The prime function and responsibilities of both parents were presumed to be rearing, upbringing and caring for their offspring.
But that time-honored tradition seems lacking today in many Somali families in the Diaspora. Long cherished values have slowly given way to something different. Families headed by mothers with no father present and single-parent households have cropped up to replace the family wholeness. Love, compassion and amorous activities between parents are on the wane and parental responsibility is fast disappearing.
While absentee fathers loaf and loiter away and are out-of-sight (but never out of mind of their offspring and the toiling wives struggling to wrest their livelihoods from crushing poverty), many families became utterly dysfunctional. Female headed families have multiplied and, in dramatic reversal of roles, more and more women have become the sole earners of victuals for their children.
The great majority of the children in troubled homes grew up with no meaningful relationships with their father and is inherently deprived of their most fundamental protection mechanism. Children-at-risk cannot benefit from early cognitive and social development opportunities and are unable to build healthy relationships with their peers and with adults.
The social cost and stigma stemming from the absentee father is phenomenal. Children from troubled households become exposed and easy prey to exploitative predators. According to some estimates, “roughly 65% of Somali teens/youth languishing in detention in North America, and in the U.K., 75% of high school dropouts and 70% of those enlisted by Al Shabab for terror errands in the past three years” hail from broken homes or families with vanished fathers.
I recently met with quite a number of these notoriously famous, bumbling absentee fathers in Nairobi. Incidentally, one struck my attention more than others. This particular absent father – the bald, bespectacled Warsame (not his real name) - was invisible to his family for much of the past decade, earning celebrity status and a household name in the murky politics of Somalia and membership in Somalia’s shambolic transitional parliament, as a bonus. I met him at the lobby of a posh hotel frequented by Somali politicians and the highly-paid expatriates that conveniently fleece the poor they ostensibly assist out of compassion, albeit a feigned compassion. He was sitting in a sofa in a compromising position – cozily ensconced between two beautiful teenage girls who were much younger than his own daughters studying at the university. Oozing with confidence, the familiar confidence of the mediocre, and an unearned aura of entitlement, he forthrightly introduced them to me as his “staff” – a local euphemism for female groupies and cronies of warlords.
Warsame is known as a truly worldly man - Influential, extravagant, savvy, well-travelled, aggressively likable and completely in his elements, which essentially masks his inferiority complex borne out of utter lack of accomplishments. Always preening, vibrant and engaging and often full of himself, he can easily disarm his critics with his affable manners and contrived humility, a characteristic smile and animating arguments. And judging by appearances, he was fit to parlay with the chattering classes. Yet, equipped with a resilient ego, he has unilaterally forsaken all emotional and financial responsibilities to his family.
He wanders around the globe unchecked and with impunity and is unaccountable to anyone. In essence, he is unburdened by any form of conscience. He is individualistic, narcissistic, hypocrite and snobbish, with a larger-than-life image. He frequently relies on guile and deception; breathes the oxygen of publicity and has a talent for creating a cult of personality. He symbolizes the new breed of craving, power-crazy politicians who sing their own praises ingloriously and believe to be holding the destiny of Somalia in their clutches.
Warsame and his absentee father friends assert that they were forced to abandon their families by the continued harassment of domineering alpha wives bent on exercising their newly-acquired rights and entitlements, who sought to make them henpecked husbands, by way of “revenge”. It should be noted that these immoral creatures all blame the specific Western countries in which they have abandoned their families for affording “dubious rights” to their wives and justify their flight of fancy on this account. This lame argument hardly justifies the desertion of the absentee fathers and their shirking from the burdens of their responsibilities.
The long-absentee father – Warsame - is anything but a devoted family man. He is literally out of touch and out of date with his wife and progeny. He failed to serve as a positive role model, a figure of identification and a hero for his children who are deprived of the much-needed privilege of enjoying the full physical, emotional and psychological support and love of both parents.
Chilling out with likeminded acolytes and often ogling and flirting with the Horn of Africa’s gorgeous women, the father-in-abstentia gained the reputation of being a lustful womanizer with a deep penchant for beautiful ladies. Whilst not always being discreet about his romance with a coterie of attractive concubines, yet, like so many of his ilk, he would never consider himself a philanderer.
That ubiquitous “superstar” politician, pleasure-seeking voyager strolling along the white sandy beach of Mombasa - that absentee father partying in Nairobi was none other than the runaway dad of Guled – the cheerful child chided by his schoolmate as “Ina Dahabo”. Guled’s absent father, Warsame, remorseless and indifferent to the plight of his family, entertained a delusional belief that he was on mission to salvage the beleaguered country of Somalia from its bottomless abyss. What he and countless such fathers forget is that Somalia hardly needs or deserves the services of individuals who failed in their responsibility to the smallest units in the Somali community, their own families. I would not be uncharitable to contextually apply here the Somali Proverb: “Ninkaad kabo ka tolanayso kuwiisaa la eegaa” which roughly translates to “Look at his shoes, before you buy shoes from a shoemaker ”.
In normal societies, including other poor African countries, persons who aspire to a political office possess certain, tangible and measurable qualities. Foremost among those qualities is a commitment to family and community, while other qualities include integrity, honesty, and a CV that delineates exceptional accomplishments and experiences in either academia, business or other professional backgrounds. Not Somalia. It seems that in the Somali case, the moral standards that hold all over the world have been royally inverted and as a result any free-floating, con artist, nincompoop, half-wit prodigal prince or deadbeat dad can aspire to political office without registering any irony in the public psyche.
This nefarious betrayal of the absentee father must be brought to an end; the Somali public must scrutinize the backgrounds of the men (no women, by the way) who are in the fore front of the Somali political arena.
It is about time that Warsame and other absentee fathers reveling in well-lubricated Qat salons and rendezvous bars, running after elusive political status or opportunistically looking for greener pastures in the wilderness of conflict-ridden Horn of Africa region, shoulder their moral responsibilities and reacquaint with their children, and perhaps redeem themselves.
By A. Duale Sii'arag
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