By Hassan M. Abukar
The recent murder and burning in Mogadishu of Ahmed Mukhtar Salah “Ahmed Dowlo”, a family man and father of 12 children, was a human tragedy that has elicited widespread outrage and condemnation from many Somalis.
Besides the horrific manner in which Ahmed Dowlo, a Somali Bantu, died, the reason for his death evoked disbelief and dismay. Unlike other victims of violence in the city, he was not killed by an Al-Shabaab terrorist, a wayward bullet from an ill-trained soldier, or by liquidation from a business rival. His murder was simply a hate crime. His nephew, Mohamed, had married a young lady, Ruqia, from a bigger tribe. The message was clear: A man “from a lower caste clan” has no business marring someone from a “better clan lineage.” The heinous crime was committed by five individuals, three of them women, using spears, fish hooks, machetes, and a can of gasoline. It was an act of unpatrolled barbarity inflicted on a victim who was totally innocent.
Historically, Somalis have discriminated against the Somali Bantu, the Madhiban, the Tumal, and the Yibir and treated them unfairly as low-caste citizens. Many clans simply shun these minority groups and seldom intermarry with them.
The government of Siad Barre (1969-1991) was the first to openly condemn injustice and discrimination toward minorities. By opening the doors of equality and justice before the law to minority groups, Barre sent a clear message to Somalis: no more discrimination and no more asking people about their clans Nevertheless, social practices of discrimination against the minorities persisted.
The burning and killing of Ahmed Dowlo for being a Bantu comes as a defining moment in the modern history of Mogadishu, one that has sent ripples of shame and disgust through Somali society. In the past, there have been some incidents of violence and deeply entrenched discrimination in the northern part of the country. But this murder in Mogadishu was a shocker. The capital of Somalia has always been a favorite for many minorities because no one cares much about their clan identity. However, in the north, where the question “Qolamaa tahay?” to which clan do you belong?) is as normal as greeting someone with “How are you?” Mogadishu is home to all kinds of Somali clans.
The recent hate crime was brutal and unique in its atrocity. The use of machetes, spears, fish hooks, and gasoline was a culmination of evil intent and sheer disregard for the sanctity of life. Fortunately, many Somalis condemned the crime vigorously and the mass media outlets, such as Dalsan TV (the best reporting, so far), RTN Channel, Universal TV, Hiiraan online, Facebook, and Twitter did a commendable job. I think a few good things came out of this crisis, such as the need for a bottom-up approach to social justice, one that focuses on pursuing criminals and financially compensating the victims, developing leadership among the youth, and defining the role social media can play as agents of change. This interest also is for us to reexamine our religious faith.
Realistically, the Somali federal government is too weak to be an agent of change for social justice. The recent deterioration in security in Mogadishu is unprecedented. In the span of one week, children as young as four and nine were killed; a young college student was assassinated in her class in front of her professor and classmates. And there was the hate crime against Ahmed Dowlo. The Somali president and his prime minister have yet to issue a statement about these gruesome crimes. No government official attended Ahmed Dowlo’s funeral. In fact, the president was attending a soccer game the day after Ahmed Dowlo was buried.
In the absence of a viable federal government, it is the people and the grassroots organizations that need to mobilize against acts of discrimination and injustice. There are many NGOs in Mogadishu. Perhaps, the fight for justice, fairness, and equal protection before the law should be the rallying call for many of these entities.
Equally important is the formation of grassroots organizations by the minority groups themselves to further their cause and document any discriminatory acts or harassment.
Youth as pioneers
I have written about the centrality of youth in any change that must happen in Somalia. I am pleased with the level of outrage and condemnation of this hate crime by the young people. They have been incandescent with anger and were the most active on social media—they talked about the crime, shared streams of news and stories, and registered their disdain of acts of discrimination and inhumanity. Hundreds marched in protest during the victim’s funeral. I am positive they will continue to talk about the pernicious disease of discrimination and racism in Somalia.
The young couple’s marriage, which infuriated the perpetrators of the crime, were simply in love and had no intention of making unwanted headlines. In a way, their marriage was an act of defiance to anachronistic, racist cultural mores.
Focus on the criminals, too
It is good that many Somalis have offered to help the victim’s family. However, there should be an all-out campaign to apprehend the perpetrators of the crime. Only one of them is in custody, and the rest are being assisted by friends or relatives to evade the authorities. I strongly urge that a generous reward be posted all around the country for the capture of these dangerous criminals. The victim’s family was wise and courageous to decline any financial compensation (diya) from the relatives of the criminals, as is the custom in many parts of Somalia. Instead, the family asked for justice in a court of law.
Demonizing an entire clan
Just as it is wrong to demean and maltreat members of minority clans, it is also unfair and misguided to castigate the clan of the perpetrators. Members of this clan did not commit this grisly crime, it is evil act of a few people. They are the ones who should be condemned and shamed, not their clan.
Reexamining religious beliefs
There is a dichotomy between Somalis’ Islamic belief in equality, justice, and kindness and their cultural sense of superiority over certain people, who are fellow Muslim brethren.
A young man once challenged an elderly man about discriminating against minorities. The elderly man, like many Somalis, was a complex person. He said, “I know we are Muslims, son, but we have our culture, too.” Mixing culture and religion has become a game of musical chairs. For Somalis, culture often supersedes religious moral values, thereby making a mockery of such values, which in turn demeans the culture.
I have heard the cries for justice and respect by Somali Bantu leaders. One member of the Federal Parliament questioned why members of his community in America can marry white Americans, and not Somalis. Some Bantu have lamented: “Jamaykaan waa guursanee, Jareerna waa diide” (You marry a Jamaican, yet you reject a Jareer (Bantu).
Finally, I would like to mention an anecdote concerning an encounter between a Somali woman in California, whose daughter eloped with an African-American, and a Somali Bantu man.
“What am I going to do?” the woman said. “I am angry and disappointed with my daughter.”
“In Somalia, no one would let us Bantu marry the daughters of other Somalis,” the man said, sarcastically. “How sad!”
“But these Americans are Muslims,” the woman said, seeking sympathy.
“Oh I see, and we, the Somali Bantu, are not Muslims!”
I saw the woman cry and apologize to the man. It was a moment of reflection and introspection for both of them and some of us who were there to hear the exchange. Somalis need to reconcile their Islamic faith, which abhors and prohibits discrimination, injustice, and cruelty, and condemns the unjust subjugation of minority groups. The good aspects of Somali culture, such as boundless generosity, kindness, compassion, and good neighborliness must be nourished and reinforced. Now, all Somalis have to add justice, egalitarianism for all, human rights, and respect for the sanctity of human life.
Hassan M. Abukar
Mr. Abukar is a writer, a contributor to Wardheernews, and the author of Mogadishu Memoir. He can be reached at: [email protected].
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