By Abdi Mohamud
Many Somali boys in the diaspora are killed every year. The number is so high and disproportionate compared to other immigrant communities from Africa, Asia, and elsewhere, who live in North America and Europe. The unabated killings of their sons worry and pain Somali parents who are saddened and devastated by the sudden, unexplained death of their sons. Community members sometimes hold discussions when death strikes young men, especially those from prominent, well-known families.
A few years back, the son of the Somali ambassador to China was killed in London, UK.
A week ago, the son of a former Somali ambassador to Kenya, popularly known as Cali America, was killed in Toronto, Canada. Both cases prompted community grief and discussion as to why our boys are getting killed. Average men and women grieve privately with little sympathy and support except those of relatives and close friends.
On both occasions, public debate raged. Discussions were held online, questions probing the deaths of Somali young men were raised, anger and frustrations were expressed, and attempts were made to find answers and offer solutions. I often attend virtual meetings and listen to the discussions on social media platforms such as X (formerly known as Twitter). Discussants try to figure out and understand what is behind the misfortune that befalls our young men. Opinions pertaining to the matter are plenty and varied, but there are common ones that are mentioned by almost everyone who weighs in. Absent or disengaged fathers, living in poor neighbourhoods, and low income are general themes that dominate these discussions.
I agree that these factors may affect one’s upbringing but they are mostly secondary. Their impact can be mitigated and minimized if primary strategies for healthy child upbringing are put in place and maintained. We need to pause, ask questions, and think deeper to have a better perspective of why we are experiencing unending, painful killings of Somali boys.
I have been observing and trying to understand what is causing our peculiar misfortune. Other immigrant communities live in the same neighbourhoods with us and they are not better off than us when it comes to income and living standards. However, they manage their affairs differently than we do. They have fewer children, plan and work together as family members, and do everything in their power that can lead their children to success. They put their children in extracurriculars, learning programs, and tutoring that will improve their chances of getting ahead in education.
These parents enrol their children in sports programs such as swimming, soccer, basketball, running, and so on. They also ensure that their children share home responsibilities. They let them do their fair share of age-appropriate house chores. These types of engagements teach children responsibility and create awareness about expectations and accountabilities. Children groomed in this manner are usually responsible, stay out of trouble, have the ability to respect hierarchy, obey authorities, as well as work with others. In a nutshell, they are equipped with the skills for coping with tough real life situations.
In addition to the family efforts, there is also unity and cohesion in many immigrant communities all over North America and Europe. They understand that they have a common heritage and culture that they should keep alive and pass on to their children. So, they establish community centres in which they regularly hold events and programs that are designed to strengthen their respective communities and keep their cultural heritage and identity in perpetual existence and relevance. The thrill and excitement generated by community activities uplift members’ spirit and strengthen their commitment to their respective communities.
Unfortunately, in our families, fathers are blamed for falling short of their responsibilities. They are either not as engaged as they should be in families’ affairs or they are away pursuing some other interests. The absent or disengaged father neglects his fatherly responsibilities and such failure results in a dysfunctional family in which children feel uncared for and unloved. This makes our boys ill-prepared for challenges in life. They lack the ability to cope with work and school pressures. They are also, in many cases, undisciplined enough to respect hierarchy and obey authorities in the course of their varied duties and responsibilities. In such circumstances, they attempt to opt out and find ways to exit. Such unpleasant experiences make boys doubt themselves and trust others less. They try to find solace in dark places which lead them to join gangs and illicit activities and/or businesses.
Our communities are not often well-organized. We are unable to build self-governing communities that meet the needs of its members in regard to staying cohesive and preserving cultural heritage. Community cohesion and unity enhance collective self-esteem and confidence of the membership. When responsibilities for the children are not fulfilled at a family and community level, it is unrealistic to expect them to be productive, useful, law-abiding members of society. Therefore, the remedies to our ills as Somalis in the diaspora lie in hard work, unity and cohesion at family and community levels. These should be our primary objectives if we are serious about curbing the killings, imprisonment, and unhealthy behaviours of boys in the diaspora.
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