Monday, June 18, 2018
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Absence of Memory or Avoidance of History

By Jama Hersi

‘A world had deceived me. The day I had strength I had no good sense; today as I have good sense I have no strength.’  Adan Galaydh

 Few days ago I was indulging myself reading an informative and well researched article by Faisal Roble ‘Ports, Politics and the Humbug of Farmajo’s Government  in WardheerNews. This article eloquently substantiated sensitive issues that Somali people were confusingly discoursing for the last several months. My allurement of the article however was not the enlightenment of those deceitful deals (illegal economic pillage), but profound Somali sentiment, a tone that portrays the loss of deeper sense of being. What Roble, a prolific writer who engages every issue with rigour and dignity even when he is partial, took for granted is that unquestionable shared sense of Somaliness, a cognitive mapping substance that we all politically share and treasure. I reluctantly tried to locate this genetic substance of Somaliness in the following fragmentary thoughts and asked myself whether the issue Somalis suffer is an absence of memory to give a meaningful narrative to our current political deeds or undertake conscious avoidance of history due to the painful experiences of contemporary Somali political crisis.

Either way what is lacking in the contemporary Somali consciousness is the sense of being, an authentic definition of who we are, a deeper ontological understanding of Somaliness, to discover untouchable substance of our bond and being. What is apparent in the history of human thought is the interdependence of memory and identity. Memory precipitates continuous sense of consciousness that creates collective and individual identity of community. If there is an absence of memory, of experience, of narrative; then one lacks the past tense to cherish, and struggle to chart the future contemplation of one’s existence. Indeed a temporal confinement where the past and the future become simultaneous equation in one’s cognition; and as a result Somalis struggle to demarcate  where the past ends and future commences, where the tradition ends and modernism commences, where the clan codes ends and country constitution commences, stagnation of ‘unknowable future against unforgiving present’.

In any case memory provides a continuous narrative of our identity and saves the records of our sense of self. One neurologist once argued that ‘if you lose your memory, you as you cease to exist’, and perhaps Somalis suffer political amnesia and ceased to exist as a nation.  Historically though, Somalis had memories recorded in their oral and poetic traditions that sustained and nourished their identity and continuous sense of collective and individual selfhood. As a result there are recent commentators who harangue reincarnation of our literary tradition to redeem ourselves from current identity crisis, a tradition that is full of verses that strengthen both war and peace, but nevertheless a record of our history, memory and identity. These commentators’ proposition is that yesterday Somali conflict was based on pastoral and water feud, today we lack the characterisation of our conflict but has the appellation of political bewilderment, yesterday we had traditional clan legal code, today we lack functioning constitutional legal code, yesterday we had tradition that strengthened the culture of peace, today we lack the culture that strengthens rule of law. However the problem in the reincarnation of our traditional spectre is that they were articulated with different temporal, cultural and social issues and this melancholic reminiscence highlights the desperation of our thinking   and the absence of ready intelligibility.

Secondly one of our pressing issues today is political disaffection, a genre that is not addressed in our literary and oral records before colonial epoch. I mean the term politics as a concept that transcends traditional clan literary and legal codes, a conception that harnesses common identity, collective prioritisation and cultural capital. One of the Somali traditional epistemology that I would advocate though is the innate characteristics that traditional leaders possessed – conviction, commitment, confidence and capacity of linguistic resources. ‘I do not speak of fools, I speak of wisest men; and it is among them that imagination has great gift of persuasion.’ Albeit this statement was characteristically articulated by French man, a cultured Somali person would be familiar with the expenditure of energy on words, rhetorical devices, complexity of language; an attitude that embraces the disputatiousness of ideas through aesthetic quality of imaginative endeavour. These characteristics are part of proud Somali genealogy of high culture (poetry, camel herding, equestrianism, love of knowledge etcetera).

Indeed artistic imagination of Somalis is well documented but what is absent in historical oeuvres is critical thinking of Somali world view to give a meaning to the complex issues that they have confronted. Let me briefly recall how Somalis imagined one of the most momentous modern projects that the world had ever witnessed, colonialism. This was one of the periods that poetry was only capable of rationalising the reality by ‘condensing it into something graspable, something that otherwise couldn’t be retained by the mind.’ As a result the poet and thinker Farah Nuur composed Aakhiru Sabaan, to deconstruct, educate and warn about European colonial enterprise, and its far-reaching consequences; a poem that highlights an exterior and interior intentionality of the imperial project, a poem that beseeches resistance of this eschatological exhibition. Late S.S, Samar aptly regarded Nuur as an African Spokesperson of 19th century. In the poem Nuur lamented ‘waa duni lakala iibsadoon nala ogaysiine’, a lamentation that beautifully summarizes Roble’s article. This poem does not target only Somalis, believers, colonised people, but fulfills the principles of universalism and presaged the evilness of culture of imperialism. Therefore if there is reincarnation of Somali tradition I would advocate this critical and imaginative contemplation of our culture.

Nevertheless there is significant minority who believe that ‘looking backward is more rewarding than its opposite’ and insist that can learn a lot from our traditional cultural and literary systems.  For example Somali literary historian explored the multifaceted etymologies of the term nobility (Gobanimo) in Somali context. One of the characteristics of the term gobanimo in classical Somali culture is ‘being a law-abiding lineage which discussed matters and made collective decisions which they all followed —— [and] both leaders and grassroots recognised.’ Reading this classical Somali sensibility demonstrates the embodiment of their culture and conduct, something that appears modern political consciousness but nevertheless absent in our today’s leaders and grassroots.  My point here is that we lack resemblance of the classical belief system that safeguarded cohesion of the past society, for they shared and preserved a legal code to protect the nobility of their lineage, to the extent that they proudly pronounce ‘each man is what his lineage is’ not each man is what his nation is. So I would argue that Contemporary Somali political consciousness merely exists in an abstraction of sense perception, reification of empty consciousness that lacks realisation.

Some commentators might evoke in this juncture the epoch of nationalism and plethora of sword and songs operationalised in the height of Somali conscious raising odyssey during liberation struggle, but the question is how long that prideful era lasted? If the shared Somaliness was once based upon the notion of liberation, honour, self-identity, existentialism – that harmonic sentiments were erased from the Somali psyche, and the rupture of new political psychology pervaded our thinking (whatever the causes might be), and that ‘psychological acquisition became more real than real estate.’  When I say we need a novel ontological understanding of Somaliness, what I am searching is whether we possess politically a fundamental value and foundation that bonds us together as a Somali speaking lineage. Yes, we exist linguistically, geographically, ethnically, religiously, but all these natural significations failed to match psychically ‘each man is what his lineage is’.  May be I am rarefying Somali density or commandeering the task of the traitors but beyond the sophistry abstraction of Somaliness, what concrete political ingredients are there that we all adhere to and defend with conviction and confidence? ‘One is perhaps less than ‘one.’’

Therefore if Somali people had historical memories and narratives to chart their worldly challenges, it is quite axiomatic that they lost their principled traditions and disciplined representation of the world around them unlike Faarah Nuur generations. One must say however Somalis is not unique in the torment of modernity and its human disintegration, but one can say what is unique in us is the lack of ontological understanding of Somaliness, a coherent organic theoretical framework that guides us through horrifying manifestations of postcolonial period. Something resembles classical Greek theory of understanding that we do not have to understand each other as an individual people but to view same world from one another’s standpoint, to agree to see the same in different ways. By coherent theory, I do not mean grand philosophical doctrine, but an integration of Somali perspective and modern practical political conception that enables us to manoeuvre in the uncharted political topography, to contain conflict, maintain peace and agree on basic structure of authority. The only thing that modernity of statehood brought to Somalis is the destruction of aspiration and harmony, and every virtue that traditional social arrangements possessed were looked at with condemnation, and yet that destruction of traditional principles was not converted into modern political and social principles. It is quite surreal to imagine that how so profoundly principled people who believed ‘selfishness is the night, unity is the light of life’ to the core, became the practitioners of ‘politics without principle.’

Today we have a government led by a team who encountered western institutional sensibilities and yet overshadowed by the semiotics of tribal signatures. Only Somalis will endorse the hybridisation of clan and country codes, a thesis and antithesis without synthesis; but this is the time we ought to overcome this vicious cycle and it is the responsibility of the government to operate from unified position and employ all apparatuses at their disposal, traditional or modern, to enthuse the people, repaint lifeless political horizon and implant healthy Somali political reproduction system.  During decolonisation period, there was a tautological cliché that Somalis were not cognitively literate enough to comprehend the treasure they were reclaiming, independence. Current situation nevertheless enforces us to discover answers whether old or new and realise as animal rationale that we have to fashion new beginning in both thought and action; or is the Somalis in Aadan Galaydh’s situation? ‘A world had deceived me. The day I had strength I had no good sense; today as I have good sense I have no strength’; a dictum that exemplifies the absence of memory, avoidance of history and the finiteness of human capacity.

Jama Hersi

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