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Youth: Meditations on them in Mogadishu

By Abdi Latif Ega

The youth, a very serious group of young folks, overly mature for the age. They have faithfully or naively bought into the “good will” of the elders. Namely, the so called leadership.

During the recent elections, I saw them as neither capable of envisioning themselves as part of the political process i.e. organizing, thinking, formulating and leading or even seeing themselves in roles of leadership. They as a group do not see themselves beyond networks of friendships. Some of these are based on clan identification. Somehow, individual agency has been also relinquished. This is a shared conceptual outlook, but somewhat differing to the elders. The problems of individual agency is one that is pervasive within the society at large. The problems of outsourcing what you can rightfully acquire through individual agency i.e. through merit or a well- defined hierarchy of what one needs to achieve this in the youth (generally). Not that meritocracy for example in places elsewhere is strictly adhered to. However, the margins are not at all broad for the general public.

President farmajo’s elections, Feb 2017

Nepotism is indeed universal, the major differences being that there is no hardened consensus on where a certain profession, like say an accountant, will automatically eliminate those who are not accountants. Those who wield power from the very top wield it all, so to speak. A hang over from the previous dictator’s cultivated cult of personality. When it comes to the public sector (government) it might not be farfetched to infer that all livelihood is dispensed by the leader. This goes on down from the president, prime minister and so forth. This historical hold over from the cold war heyday of a world where such order exemplified by the leadership then. Essentially, a one-man show, Chairman Mao, Messer’s Stalin, Tito, Papa doc et al.

Nostalgia: the nearness to

Nostalgia peculiar in relations to the present is somewhat ignored or the nostalgia of the previous government is privileged. There is this to extent of Narco-politics by reviving long since dead leaders, or those barely alive. Through granting their offspring positions of power similar to those held by their often deceased parents. Despite the clear lack of experience both in previous roles in government or equivalent local experience through living. This also goes for eighty-year-old generals some of who were dubiously elevated to begin with. This love affair continues through the propaganda blasted on the radio today. Through the Ministry of information (politicizing, propagandizing the people). So much so, that if you closed your eyes you might think the world stopped and we were all back in the seventies and eighties again!  Everything from the past is great; the present new is not seen and ignored.

One of the pressing issues in the public sphere is the separations of identities. It is true that everyone is Somali up to a certain extent. There are further de/classifications ones. One can be classified through the traditional clan identity, but this identity is further elaborated into these two situational or existential identifications. Both are based on the previous civil war. One is either a “Qorax Joog” Sun Dweller (referring to those who never left Somalia), the second is “Qurba Joog” (in reference to the Somali who fled the anarchy of the civil war).

Each identity has a certain marker entirely based on those who either stayed during the civil war, or those who fled it. Somehow this is reduced to the choice of the individual, notwithstanding the anarchy and mayhem that prevailed during the civil war. The reality however, being one which is quite clear to humanity i.e. when personal safety is severely compromised through the ensuing violence, and suspension of law. From law and order to the very subjective law of individuals. There is a really no choice for those confronted such arbitrary situational violence. Whether one leaves or stays is motivated by circumstances beyond either’s control. No one really had much of a choice in both groups.

Along with these two classifications come certain ideas, meanings that hold sway in public discourses. The definitions of the two “Sun or Snow” dwellers connotes, a life of ease for the “Snow dweller” and one of severe hardship for the “Sun dweller”. Along with this ease and hardship, comes the demarcation or hierarchy based on these imagined categories.

“ Since you have gone” or better yet, “ chose to flee, your position upon return is lesser at best. What is clearly stated here is, by “leaving” you have somewhat forfeited your rights as a citizen of note, first class citizenship etc. but have to sit back because you have arrived conveniently when things are much better.

Somehow based on the choice factor i.e. having left, you left us here in hardship. Therefore, the ease itself is further troubled to implicate a further loss of authenticity directly related to your “Somaliness”. This is in reality an under siege mentality. The curious part is this category of the “Snow dweller” is by far not sweeping. But rather isolated to those who “fled” to the western countries, Britain, Scandinavia, North America, collectively the “West”. Quite a few Somalis also “fled” to the neighboring countries, and as we now popularly know, Africa, especially East Africa, has hosted more refugees from Africa, than western countries. Easily the number of Somali refugees compared to U.K. , USA, is easily much higher. However, this group is considered local. How this is further defined in public sphere is not understood. It is just the way “ Sun dwellers” envision this. Say if you lived a decade in Sudan you are not considered “Diaspora” like someone who went to Spain for the same period. Pursing this rational is a quagmire, and how and when is completely baffling at best. This notion that there are these categories or they exist to the “Sun dweller” albeit a conundrum of sorts very much hold sway.

The “Snow dweller” seems to have a separation or an aloof understanding of the “Sun dweller”. However, it enters not the rights of citizenship nor does it venture into a dispute of their “Somaliness”. The “Snow dweller’s” ideas are more or less directed in direct relation to their ideas of “Modernity” (loosely).

At the heart of the discussion is the privileging of the local. Simply, “ I have been through hell and back , while you were having ice cream”. The notion that one voluntarily re-located to paradise is one that prevails amongst the “Sun dwellers” within public discourses(spaces). Therefore; one has no right to “prosperity” whatever this might be conceived as. There is an idea that “they” the snow people are taking everything remarking the influx of “Snow people” ubiquitous in significant positions of leadership, from the president on down the translation here is wealth. Since the government or public affairs is co-related to private wealth. The “Snow dweller” is better equipped to deal with international organization etc. based on a linguistic advantage acquired in their respective new homes in the west i.e. English etc. This does not necessarily mean they are educationally or experience wise better disposed than the “Sun dweller” every given time. The acquisition of International languages other than Arabic locally is very difficult. This does not exclude those who are educated in the west who have had the privilege of tremendous resources especially in the realm of higher education. Notwithstanding the privilege of education from the “West” in particular, by far appointments are not necessarily based on education but rather more on networks, and the linguistic advantage. There are cases where even these two things have no bearing on position acquired through patronage, friendship etc. by a “Snow dweller”.

This particular discord has sown its seeds in the arena of public office, and other realms, however, valid in some cases. Whether this will morph into a fully blown out and out citizenship, class war as in the case of Liberia is highly unlikely. Particularly because of the former centuries of brewing. Regardless it a conversation that is preeminent in the public spaces, and there needs to be understood and addressed. So there are no such ideas or grievances, real or imagined.

This is something that should not affect one’s “Somaliness”. In other words no group is privileged over the other to determine their citizenship.

There is a certain insensitivity towards the Somali from outside. The bone of contention also lies or stems the idea of privilege i.e. peace, stability, education, and so forth. The rationale is you were gone. While you were gone “we” those who remained lived through what would be considered a complete state of terror.

This is the outlook of the “Sun dwellers” a self-style sobriquet, but what of those who returned i.e. the “Snow dwellers”?

Postscript: Mogadishu Series

Abdi Latif Ega
Abdi Latif Ega is a writer and the author of the novel Guban (Burnt). He can be reached at: [email protected].

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