Deconstruction, the philosophical method …[Derrida] promoted, means not destroying ideas, but pushing them to the point where they begin to come apart and expose their latent contradictions.
Dr. Ali Jimale Ahmed’s book, Daybreak is near is a controversial book written about pre-and post1991 Somalia. He wrote this book after his volume of edited essays, Invention of Somalia in which he envisioned the road to reconciliation and recovery: “The only way to break out of the [current] vicious cycle is to initiate a politics of emancipation in which the combatants go through the clan system but emerge on the other side ready and empowered to imagine a just society.” Not all Somali clans have sought supremacy through the clan system. Unarmed or minority clans who have borne the brunt of civil war will not be able to benefit from the politics of emancipation born out of a clannish reasoning. In Daybreak is near, Dr. Ahmed aims to consolidate that thesis, and makes an excellent use of close reading to deconstruct what he regards as an official text that heretofore suppressed the opposition text. For Dr Ahmed the total collapse of state in Somalia was partly resulted by the unexamined assumptions that accented homogeneity that is believed to characterise the Somali society. His main thesis is: Siyad Barre co-opted the traditional intellectuals who idealised the Somali homogeneity ; the state collapse has not only brought the inadequacy of homogeneity thesis to light but it also set in motion a fundamental reconfiguration of Somali historiography.
The book consists of seven chapters that touch on Somali literature ( poetry and prose fiction), discussion on Hussein Sheikh Ahmed Kaddare’s novel Warsame iyo Waasuge, and on two novels by Nurrudin Farah, orature, cassette culture, politics of emancipation and ‘post –Barre literary situation.’ Each chapter is discussed within the frame work of literary theory and comparative literature to reinforce points Ahmed is making on Somali literature in an attempt to explore its potential to shed more light on the Somali imbroglio. Dr Ahmed’s discussion of the two novels--From a Crooked Rib and A Naked Needle—by Nurrudin Farah, Somalia’s foremost novelist writing in English, is exceptionally original. By using close reading, knowledge of modern African literature — and knowledge of Somalia’s modern political history-- he highlights strengths and weaknesses in the novelist’s two popular works that capture socio-political realities in pre- and post revolutionary Somalia. According to Dr. Ahmed, Nuruddin Farah's treatment of aspects of Somalia's political history is selective exemplified by Nurrudin's insertion in A Naked Needle some messages devoid of artistic merit. This is an unfair charge given Dr Ahmed's choice to view Somali historiogrpahy as a clan hagiography. It is the clan lenses that distort Dr Ahmed's judgement.
Dr Ahmed dedicates a deservingly ample space to a works by Somalis writers writing in Somali language. Hussein Sheikh Ahmed Kaddare’s novel Warsame iyo Waasug is discussed in detail to spotlight ‘subcultural differences’ and subjectivity that emerge from the dialogue between the two main characters in the book –Waasuge “a peasant … and a living example of a narrative that has yet to see the light of the day” and “Warasme ( a pastoralist …bask[ing] in the glory of a discourse that is woven, sustained, and legitimized by him and which does not reflect Waasuge’s experience.” Other Somali works under discussion include the late Shire Jama Ahmed’s Rooxaan, a novella that shares thematic similarity with Ngugi Wa Thiongo’s Devil on The Cross. Since Rooxaan came before Devil on the Cross, and since no one can prove that Ngugi’s Somali is fluent enough for him to have read the story in the original, the similarities may emanate from an ‘Africanness’ shared by both the ng’ano tradition and the traditional Somali narratology or from a universal narrative tendency to render villainy in corporeal terms,” Dr Ahmed writes.
Ali's discussion on poetic duels—Siinleeey and Deelley—is equally interesting despite his conclusion that it was Siyad Barre, “ …the glue that held together disparate elements wielding power within political society”, who should shoulder the blame for Somalia’s implosion. Dr Ahmed views Siinleey as poems “that exude eerie signs of disintegration.”(p.15). Was the motive of the poets who started ‘the underground poetry’ to facilitate the disintegration of Somalia? Ali seems not to have asked himself the same question when he argued that “Hardrawi’s early poetry resembles [Wole] Soyinka’s The Swamp Dwellers, which attempted on the eve of the independence to caution the Nigerians against complacency.”(p.107). Before the military had overthrown the civilian government in 1969, many song writers and playwrights expressed dissatisfaction with the ruling elite. The following lines from a 1960s poem by the Somali poet, and song writer Saxardiid Maxamed Jebiye, is one example:
Hashaan toban sano u heesaayey
The she-camel I’ve been singing about for ten years
Another song by Saxardiid, sung by the Mohamed Good Shimbir has the following lines:
I made myself suffer
Saxardiid’s songs allude to dashed political and social hopes in pre-revolutionary Somalia, and were played on Radios Mogadishu and Hargaisa. Ali argues that” the pre-colonial literary imperative suffers at the hands of nation-state intent upon weeding out all oppostional voices.” (p.44) only to contradict himself in page 123: “The civilian regimes did not seem to be bothered by the pronouncements of artists. On the contrary, opposition poets were given access to airwaves.”
Contradictions that make Dr Ahmed’s deconstructive engagement with key texts, poetic exchanges and ‘official narratives’ deconstruct itself abound in the book. Those contradictions stem from Ahmed’s selective focus on aspects of Somalia’s recent history. Dr Ahmed believes that Somalis are “…an oral society” for “writing in the Somali context is not, to quote from Brian Stock, ‘the dominant form of cultural representation’.”( P. 28). This very formulation demolishes a point Ali makes in page 9 to underscore the fact that “poetry …is not the only medium through which the people express their feelings, fears, and happiness.” To reinforce his point Ali furnishes an example about “ubiquity of prose narratives and the symbiotic relationship between prose and poetry in the Somali literature.”
Daybreak is near is a book that had benefited from meticulous research. Despite the extensive endnotes, several reference errors had slipped through the net. Those errors add to the litany of contradictions that subvert the book’s main message: the underground text cannot be repressed. Commenting on Abdi Mohamud Amiin’s rise to artistic fame, Dr Ahmed refers to a song Amiin, “ …a singer as well as poet/dramatist of great stature”( p.123), “ sung in a duo with one of the greatest and most principled female singers, Hibo Mohamed. Abdi poses questions in the form of a riddle, while Hibo “reads” and interprets the metalangauge of the riddles so as to furnish apt solutions.”(p.124). The song in question is in Hassan Sheikh Muumin’s classic Somali play Shabeel Naagood, ( Leopard among women) ably translated into English by the late linguist and SOAS professor B.W. Andrzejewski. No mention is made of either the playwright, Hassan Sheikh Muumin, or the play, Shabeel Naagood. Dr Ali is against repressing the text but in favour of repressing a name.
In a discussion on the play Raad Abeeso, by the Somali educationist, Abdulasiis Daqarre, Dr Ahmed outlines the play’s thematic focus on the Somali revolution’s inconsistencies and rhetoric, “ a rhetoric that had hitherto eluded other poets’ and dramatists’ attempt to deconstruct it, especially in public place like the national theatre.” ( P. 122). This assessment is contradicted by Ahmed’s questioning of the playwright’s sincerity to address contradictions in the revolution. About Daqarre’s success to avoid the attention of censors, Ali writes:
First, as a clansman of Barre’s son-in-law and chief of the National Security service (modelled after the now-defunct East German Stazi)…In the fissiparous nature of Somali clan politics, the powers-that-be assumed, sometimes mistakenly, that blood was thicker than water. The assumption is, often, that a clansman will not betray other clansmen because that would prove detrimental to the security and well-being of the whole clan. Based on that logic, Somalis readily accept criticism from members of their respective clans, while the slightest hint of criticism from other quarters is viewed as hostile and nefarious in intent…Daqarre’s stringent criticism of the government was somewhat diluted by his clan affiliations.” (P.118-119)
Inter-clan poetic duels that had become popular Somali lore, and the short but lively democratic experience of Somalia from 1960-1969 out which an exemplary free press emerged attest to the fact that Somalis were not always under a leadership—communal or political—that brooked no opposition or alternative views.
Dr Ahmed points to the military regime’s charlatans as propagandists [who] “produced their own version of a stable, contradiction-free society marked by complete homogeneity” ( p.8), and goes on to quote from Edward Said who wrote: “The job facing the cultural intellectual is therefore not to accept the politics of the identity as given, but to show how all representations are constructed, for what purpose, by whom, and with what components.” Has Dr Ahmed risen to this challenge? Footnote No 51 in page 25 in Daybreak is near can give us a clue as to whether Dr Ahmed was one of the charlatans or not.(1) Moreover, Dr. Ahmed would have given his reader a more critically acute picture of the role of intellectuals during Barre days without being selective.
Those and many other minority groups suffered disproportionately after state collapse in Somalia for they did not belong to armed clans. Dr Ahmed comes across as writer intent on replacing one type of narrative with another, possibly a central play in an inter-pastoral tug-of war. Despite being written in a fit of anger rather than in reflective mood, Daybreak is near is a book that will continue to generate debates on the role of Somali literature in understanding the causes of Somalia’s collective failure.
-Afrax, Maxamed Daahir. 1994 Rural Imagery in Contemporary Somali Urban Poetry: Debilitating Carryover in Transitional Verbal Art www.soas.ac.uk/soaslit/issue1/AFRAX.PDF. Accessed: 13/12/2006
(1) Ali writes: “At one point he [Siyad Barre) told this writer [ Ali Jimale Ahmed] ‘ The Somalis are great people. They have endurance unparalleled to any group”. The date of the interview is not mentioned. Cf for referencing: Ahmed Samatar ( 1988; p.117) In an interview with president Siyad Barre , an on different occasions… Field notes, Mogadishu, Somalia and London, England December 1982-February 1983.
(2) One of the most stimulating works addressing part of this problem is Mohamed Adulkadir Eno’s doctoral dissertation The Homogeneity of the Somali people: A Study of the Somali Bantu People. It is a work that was partly inspired by the clan-paradigm that Dr Ahmed uses in Daybreak is near. Rather that addressing the unjust clan system in Somalia that affect the lives many minority people, Dr Eno paints a totally misleading picture of Somalia’s successive regimes when he writes: “Since Somalia’s independence, the Daarood have utterly manipulated the political arena and the privileges associated with it. In late December 1990, a group of armed Hawiye-militia joined forces to overthrow the Daarood regime led by General Mohamed Siad Barre.”
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