Sunday, May 16, 2021
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The Essence of Somaliness: Open Letter

By Abdirazak Osman

It has become a normative wisdom that one cannot discourse about Somali politics in reflective and relevant ways without ridicule and vilification. If one indeed advances any political proposition, we as Somalis filter that argument through our tribal grid, through our genealogical consciousness. So, if our tribal genealogy has transpired to be antithesis of any rational political debate, let us shift our subjective frame to our historical genealogy. I am certain that many fellow august compatriots will concur that our historical genealogy, our essence of Somaliness creates political synthesis, unifies horizons and harmonises our contrapuntal voices. In this open letter, it is not my intention to propose a grandeur political theory as a solution to our political condition, but rather to share a few obvious points with my august compatriots regarding our current government, its opposing forces and the international community, and I will take each point in turn.

Somali youth holding the Somali flag

I give the essence of Somaliness as an appellation to this open letter, and I am not proposing a definition of the term Somaliness for it is not something that one can superimpose denotational and connotational signs; it is about emotions; it is about our expression of Being as Martin Heidegger would say; it is that which determines our existence other than our Muslimness. Before colonialism, Somaliness and Muslimness were indeed synonymous terms in Somali lexicology. So, I would like to commence this conversation in the light of this shared expression of Somaliness that transcends our tribal, regional and communal arrangements; and hope that our future conversations will be guided by this universally shared essence. Indeed, no individual, community or region has a monopoly on ideas, on intelligence, on solutions; but the unification of our collective rational and practical wisdom would lead us to political resolution: Hayeeshee quluub wada jirtaa qaniya sheekhoowe.

Before I share my viewpoints with my august compatriots, let me digress and raise a question that puzzled imperial explorers, colonial officers and anthropologists: how Somali people whose tribalism is almost a religious doctrine maintained their Somaliness, defended this huge land and created a universally shared cultural wholeness? Lidwien Kapteijns following a great anthropologist, I.M. Lewis, provides incomplete yet significant rationalisation and notes that it is due to:

[T]he concrete, lived, socio-political consequences of affinal ties. […] Moreover, because of the strong rules of exogamy Somalis used to observe, married women constituted the dense web of crisscrossing socio-political connections between the clans. […] Without the relationship men constructed through women and the institution of marriage, no group calling itself Somali would have existed (emphasis original).     

Although Kapteijns ignores other important factors such as the unifying power of Islam and the ancient history of this land and its people, she acknowledges that there have been powerful cultural institutions that transcended tribal boundaries. What Kapteijns does not acknowledge of course is the concretisation, projection and institutionalisation of these tribal boundaries though colonial administration, which transpired to be systems of rules, inclusions and exclusions. The history of Somali poetry from Raage Ugaas to Hadraawi taught us the power of Somali women and how they symbolise our land, language and learning; but what is interesting here is that anthropologists, who examine everything though the lenses of cultural imperialism, acknowledge the power of affinal ties. This strong rule of exogamy is flourishing today and consequently our essence of Somaliness will endure. May Allah Bless Somali Women.

We could begin our modern political history at any point in the last five hundred years, but I would like to focus on the nine years that followed independence,  for our nation witnessed two elected Presidents and three Prime Ministers. During this period, Greece and Spain were ruled by Military Generals. Additionally, I want you to cast your mind back to this period and imagine the political systems of the Republic of Kenya and the United Arab Emirates. I will leave you with this image and trust your charitable but critical mind, all I say is: Ma runbaa cismaanow aduun raasa maal maleh.

I do not want to dwell on how we as Somalis came to this point since plenty of ink has been split without resolution; instead I want to highlight a few obvious yet unacknowledged political transformation and governance, achieved by the current government. Firstly, for the first time in 30 years, we have a robust military institution that is not accountable to tribal warlords but accountable to us as Somalis to preserve our dignity, our land and our being. Secondly, for the first time in 30 years, we have a fully functioning security apparatus, whose sole objective is to protect us from visible and invisible harms. Thirdly, for the first time in 30 years, we have a government with fiscal responsibilities that has been endorsed by the international financial institutions. Fourthly, for the first time in 30 years, we have a government that is gaining international credibility and cultivating the essence of Somaliness in our hearts with its resultant dignity, collectivity and collaboration. Fifthly, for the first time in 30 years, we have public servants who are looked after or at least get their monthly salary without interruption. I can provide a long list of tangible political transformations, but the above illustrations will suffice as a representation of what this government and its patriotic public servants have achieved.

I am certain some of my august compatriots will argue that this conversation took allegiant turn, and has become another verbatim account supporting Nabad iyo Nolol. All I would like to say to my august compatriots is that I am fully aware that Somali people are suffering from the collision of two spectres, one inherited and the other created. The inherited ghost is tribalism and the created one is political chaos. Let me remind you that although clanship was a system that organised our social, economic and cultural arrangements, it had inherent virtues. Our culture of clanship indeed venerated the virtues of justice, temperance, courage and truthfulness. One might question the resemblance of these virtues to Greek ones, but there are amble evidences in our oral history illustrating Somali’s love of wisdom resembling the ancient Greeks. The point I am labouring here is that our tradition that was organised around clanship never invisiblised the concept of justice: Maandhow asxaan lagama tago eed haddad faliye. Therefore, the contemporary political chaos not only blinded us from our traditional virtues, our sense of fairness, our essence of Somaliness, but created a doubt on our sense of self, who we are as individuals and as a nation.

We can indeed disagree but that divergence of viewpoints should not normalise the culture of unfairness. Whatever deficiencies we as Somalis possess, which are countless, we have never been known as a people without justice, as a people without courage, as a people without pride. Today we need a justful courage more than ever before to priotise our country over individuals, our dignity over disdainfulness, our nationhood over tribalism. All I am reminding my august compatriots is that when we are evaluating the achievements of our current government, let us assess them while proportioning their achievements to the evidence.  

In relation to the opposing forces of the government – who are one clan-based politicians in Mogadishu, and Puntland and Jubaland leaders – I will again state a few obvious points for detail delineation of current Somali oppositions will be like opening Pandora ’s Box with its hidden complications and wounds. To have opposition  is vital in any political system based on democratic principles. In a democratic political system, which is what we are mimicking, the people elect who governs them and the function of the politicians is to persuade electorates through their political programme.

The problem I have with the one clan-based politicians in Mogadishu is that they have never tried to persuade us through political engagement. They have never entertained the battle of ideas and conducted themselves as decent, fair-minded politicians who deserve to lead our nation. They have never shared their political principles or what they stand for with the public, and they have never governed their tongues as ideal leaders would. In other words, they have never demonstrated the prerequisite character and competence necessary for political leadership. The only thing they demonstrated is their will of usurping the power. It seems that the spectre of political chaos that we have created blinded their sense of nationhood to the extent that there is no difference between their discourse and the discourse of adversaries. As a result, we as Somalis should reject these agnatic, self-serving individuals and their ugly, idle and vitriolic tribalism.

Regarding Puntland and Jubaland leaders, they are simply the enemy of the people. I apologise about the contemporary connotation of the expression but I could not coin a more suitable, alternative description of these two leaders. They represent everything against Somali dignity, decency and independency. The positive thing is that the Somali people know who they are and thus we should publically and continuously condemn them. I wish I could share a more optimistic commentary about our current opposition leaders who are united to divide us, but if anyone knows about their mysterious qualities, qualities that they themselves could not demonstrate, the purpose of this open letter is to disseminate our shared expression of Somaliness, provided it is reflective and relevant.      

This brings me to the international community. Although the international community was endeavouring to preserve the stability of the Somali political situation, their recent interventions have been ineffective, divisive and timid, despite the clear rights and wrongs. Firstly, the Somali people want clarification about the position of the international community regarding these individuals – one-clan-based politicians in Mogadishu, and Puntland and Jubaland leaders – who rejected all the attempts to hold an election. Secondly, the Somali people demand from the international community to condemn these individuals and their ongoing political and security destabilisation. If the international community allows these individuals to prevent the process of election and continue the destabilisation of the country, the Somali people will reach their own conclusions. Thirdly, the Somali people expect the international community to preserve the political and institutional development gained over the last four years.

Given these moral duties, the international community can no longer sit on the fence; they have to clarify whether they are genuine about the Somali political and institutional rebuilding and accordingly choose between the Somali people and the handful of destructive individuals. The only conclusion that one draw from  their recent divisive and destructive interventions is that the international community’s mission is no longer aligned to a stable, sovereign Somali political system, implying that their interest cannot co-exist with the existence of Somali nationhood. The international community’s communication for the last few days was an insult not only to our sovereignty as a nation but our dignity and pride as a people.

As I have started this conversation, the last word goes to my august compatriots. We have learnt invaluable lessons over the last 30 years regarding deceitful and divisive international community, our merciless politicians, and our broken souls. What did not change over the last 30 years, is the Somali political condition and its causation of anger, sorrow and hopelessness. Today, the mood is different despite the setbacks. So, let us dig deep and abandon the notion that the international community and our politicians will somehow construct a durable political solution. We have to stop doubting ourselves by shaking off the dark clouds of the last 30 years, and create a culture of collaboration, dialogue and unity. I can assure you that the unbearableness of the future is easier to confront than the current Somali political condition. Gadhka xiira gaashaan dhigbay gobi u aydaaye/Uguntada Illaahbaa u gar niqi Gaaliyo Islaame (Ali Oday)

President Farmaajo will either stay or vacate the office. If he stays, we demand three times what he has achieved in his first term. If he does not, we demand someone who advances what his predecessor has built by bringing hope and unity to Somali hearts. I am not interested in who holds the position, but rather their character, competence and compassion. The beautiful hope is that the collective Somali voices are emerging; voices that will bring a new logic of political equilibrium that cultivates our true essence Somaliness and situates our aspiration of constructing nationhood at the heart of our essence of fairness.   

Abdirazak Osman
Email: [email protected]

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