By Mohamoud A Gaildon
Mr. Faisal Roble’s article on WardheerNews evoked in me a poignant memory. It was the fall of 1976, when the senior class of Sheikh Secondary School (dignified Somali Senior Secondary School Sheikh, we liked to call it) embarked on a visit to 1st July and Amoud Secondary Schools,of Hargeisa and Borama respectively. Brash, ambitious, in some ways foolish and haughty, wevery much enjoyed the journey, passing our time singing and playing jokes on one another—the only way one could endure the jarring jolts on the back of an old truck running on a rough and unpaved road. To me, of that trip two things stand out: the lay of the land west of Hargeisa and the youth from Jigjiga that I met at both 1st July and Amoud Secondary Schools.
How these youth and I were introduced I can’t remember. But once we met, the connection was electric and, I should add, mutually appreciated. Much as the tumultuous years since have done quite a job on me, memory of the young men from Jijiga has never left my mind. Such were the times that tribal origin could not keep the boys apart. An overriding sense of idealism and a common purpose united them; and they had a great story to tell, which some shared with me.
Later, the senior classes of both schools visited Sheikh, and I was able to once again meet and have further conversations with members of the group. About to graduate in less than a year, we were thrilled and filled with vim and vigor. How foolish! For little did we know that in graduating from high school (in July of 1977) we would right away join the nation in its proud and brazen march off a cliff.
Now, thirty-seven years later, faces, obscured by the fog of time, come to mind and the names are few and disjointed. There was Arbe, there was Mohamed Ali (dark and brawny), there was a Samatar (a tall fellow), and yes there was a short (short like me) expressive guy by the name of Faisal.
Fond memories of a bygone era!
This short story is more than a mere nostalgic expression. It is a sad but uncanny metaphor for the nation we had then and the one we now have: what was and what is. In much the same way, the story of Somalia’s failure is the story everywhere in Somalia of young men and women born bright, had the benefit of schooling, once brimmed with hope and dreams for themselves and for the Somali nation, but now stand divided for the most pathetic of reasons. It is the story of raw potential never realized, promise never fulfilled, desire for grandeur never satisfied. And it is also the story of surrender without a fight: surrender by Somalia’s intellectual class to clannish impulses, to the forces of division that set the agenda, and to foreigners that seek to control Somalia and manage its people as one would primitive clans in some rainforest.
Surrender! In Somali lexicon, a most abhorred word.
At every level of leadership, we have failed. We have failed at the national level; we have failed at the regional and tribal level; and as the class of educated men and women we collectively have failed.
At the national level, I do not see President Hassan Sh. Mohamoud as partisan. As the chief advocate for Central Authority, the President’s stand on Jubbaland is, in my view, essentially right. In him, I do not see the demagogy of his predecessor who engaged in dispensations and extensive political horse trading to gain support. And his years as a peace activist in Mogadishu grant him undeniable credentials few can boast. Yet, his ability to lead is seriously hampered.
He has failed to be an inspiration for the Somali people. He has failed to outline and articulate to the public his vision for Somalia and the path to its realization. And he has failed to recognize that tribal hegemony in and around Mogadishu, the economic and political clout that come with it, and the unlawful holding of private and public property together serve as a major obstacle to the restoration of Somalia. What’s more, frequent missed steps as well as missteps are a gratuitous supply of ammunition to his unscrupulous political opponents and threaten to derail his tenure as President. Perhaps most important, President Hassan Sh. Mohamoud came in with virtually no plan. Hastily drawn tactics with no grand strategy never work.
In my estimation, federalist regional leaders are deserving of a yet lower mark. Their absurd cavorting with foreign powers is detrimental to national interest. Their scope is never national.
Parochialism is their modus operandi. Their persistent and vociferous advocacy for federalism is never backed up with a comprehensive proposal for its implementation. Can they tell us how federalism will be anything other than tribal entities? Have we not tried this approach before when under the crushing weight of tyranny, we organized as clans only to succeed in hastening the destruction of our nation? Have we ever asked ourselves why could SSDF, USC, and SNM not come together and unite? The same rotten instincts that kept Abdullahi Yousuf, Silanyo, and Aidid apart will keep their counterparts of today apart. For today’s lands are nothing but yesterday’s tribal appellations in camouflage. Federalism in Somalia is a continuation of the Civil War by other means, an immoral exploitation of disorder and fear born of a narrow provincial mindset that is incapable of providing the nation with direction or leadership.
Yet, by far the biggest failure of leadership is that of the educated class. We have failed to enlighten the public; failed to frame the debate and take leaders, both national and regional, and each other to task; and failed to produce the kind of transforming leadership that Somalia sorely needs. Instead, and this is dreadful indeed, many so-called intellectuals have become cheerleaders for this or that group. It is not that we lack the intellectual ability, but rather that we lack the necessary intellectual courage and discipline. Ours is a digital world of good or bad, true or false, friend or foe. Any idea that makes us uncomfortable is necessarily bad. We seek comfort in the familiar and in groupthink, and treat mental provocation as a disease or as blasphemy. We like to remain unchanged, the same forever . And this is where we fail ourselves and fail our nation.
The most casual look at the history of nations in periods of great political upheaval reveals equally great intellectual exertion and turmoil. No society experiences drastic change for the better but that it has gone through a period of intellectual fermentation when intelligent people think deeply and intensely about salient issues, debate one another, clash over ideas, and in the process enrich one another and enlighten society. Thus are produced great men and women that by their leadership transform societies. By contrast, the most casual look at the Somali society over the past six decades reveals the opposite: intellectual thought and activity reacting to and following events on the ground. Those that actually have ventured afield to lead have so far done so by submitting to local sectarian forces, a feat one can achieve only by the immoral abdication of one’s intellectuality.
Left to their traditional devices and ways of thinking, Somalis will continue to behave in ways incompatible with the requirements of a modern nation state. And the Civil War has brought that propensity to the fore and really thrown the nation back to the era of statelessness, only this time made worse by the vanishing of time-tested traditional mechanisms of conflict resolution. Much of what we are witnessing today is Somali clans being just that: clans, with the more powerful ones achieving their narrowly defined goals: modern nation-state be damned! The countless moves and counter moves, the constant game of outmaneuvering one another, the brinkmanship, the bluster; these have resulted in the current status quo where real progress is impossible. The motivation is vague no more, the positions are clear, the lines drawn. For each major clan, a winning formula: one that has no place for the nation. It is an atavistic expression of tribal pride and independence. Call it secession, tribal federalism, tribal hegemony over the capital, it all amounts to one and the same thing: robbing the nation to empower the clan.
Clans win, nation loses! But without the nation, can clans survive?
The claim is made that we should let our people evolve in an organic way as has been the case with all advanced nations. Such arguments forget, maybe too conveniently, that since the Industrial Revolution and Colonialism that venue of development is no longer available. We either quickly achieve what in the past took other societies centuries, if not millennia, to achieve, or we do not survive as a nation in this world. I hold that the current world order is more fluid and more in flux than we would like to think. For societies like ours, it is sink or swim. No mercy for slow learners!
This is where the educated come in: we can speed things up, immensely, and go into history as the generation that turned things around. In life, no matter how long or short, few things stand as gratifying as the feeling you have been part of something truly great. Educated of Somalia, we have a chance to be great!
We can start with self-liberation; for one himself in bondage to the old tribal ways of thinking cannot be expected to be part of the solution. And we should learn to differ without acrimony. A healthy clash of opposed ideas is a sign of intellectual maturity. The only pre-condition is honesty: an idea dishonestly arrived at stinks and can never be concealed. Professional success and material comfort must not be allowed to blind us. For live where and how we may, be it in the halls of the universities of fame, the lofty offices of the West’s corporate world, the comfort of suburban life in America and Europe; no matter how high up we climb on the ladder of achievement or how far removed we are from good old Somalia, the dark shame of failure follows us like a shadow.
We can do better!
Finally, I leave you with these recurring specters:
Be it in the deserts where thirst and exposure to the sun drop them one by one, or the mountains where a rock gives way and they fall and break their necks, or they freeze from the cold, or yet the high seas where their crowded boats sink or they are thrown overboard, and they huddle and grab one another from fear of impending doom, and their bodies are by the sea swept ashore in some distant foreign land, and some foreigners find them and line them up on the beach, and they bring in the cameras and snap pictures of their grotesquely twisted bodies for the world to see: Somali boys and Somali girls alike laid out for what evidence I don’t know, and the world speaks of them as doomed Somalis, no names, no ages, nothing! Just Somali boys and Somali girls! And back home, their parents fret and wait for the phone calls that will never come; no matter where or how they die, death brings them together and makes them brothers and sisters again. In death together as in life apart!
Mohamoud A Gaildon