Following is part 1 of a 4 parts article that Professor Said Samatar wrote on Somalia's problems some years ago. The editors of Wardheernews believe that his characterization of Somalia's problems is more relevant today than any other time. This article will be posted in four parts. Professor Samatar makes a strong argument that Somalia is a problem child of Africa. It may as well be the problem child of the world.
Memory seduces the mind, naively believing as it does in the notion of the good old days, when in fact there never have been any such. Still, remembering Somalis (of whom there may not be many) surely must lament the loss of their nationhood along with their dignity and, consequently, their becoming the laughingstock of the world; for statelessness and anarchy have become the synonym of the word Somali.
Although the modern outlook ranks statelessness the most primitive state of human existence, who, one could reasonably ask, says a human community must exist in a state in order to have happiness and dignity? Still, the urge to belong to a national community, to have a state, a flag, a passport and a corner of the earth remains a universal longing, and those who lack these are invariably the object of universal scorn. Thus it may be that the yearning for respect and for collective self-esteem must prompt members of the Somali elite to remember the past, the idyllic yesterday when theirs was counted a nation among the community of nations.
To judge, though, by the mutually brutalizing behavior of this same elite in the preceding dozen years, run-away selfishness, blind, unthinking individualism and unbridled, galloping greed stand in the way of the dream for the restoration of the national state ever being realized. Practically each and everyone of the estimated five to seven million Somalis is, in his inflamed ambition, inflexibly bent on having the top job in the country, namely the presidency, and if he cannot have it, he will not hesitate to visit ruination on everyone, including immediate members of his own kin. Thus did Siad Barre used to boast: "When I am finally forced to relinquish power, there will be no nation left to govern." In other words, he had decided long beforehand that when the time of his final removal came, he would ensure the ruin of it all.
How truly and perfectly he lived up to his word! Thus did General Mohammed F. Aydiid add a new proverb to Somali lore: "Cadyahow ama ku cunay ama ku ciideeyey," "O, thou beautiful cut of meat (meaning the national state), either I will eat you all by myself or I will ensure to soil you in the dirt so that no other can have you." He died in the attempt of eating it all alone.
The winner, hands down, though, of the dubious distinction of unyielding greed must be the elder Ali Geedi Shadoor, a parliamentarian and a wily-deal-maker during the civilian administrations. (More of him shortly). On the eve of the 1969 election, General Abshir of the police force and General Barre of the military were called upon by the Abdirashiid-Igaal government to detail the police and military units that would oversee and enforce the rigging of the election. Rather than consent, Abshir felt decency-bound to refuse. He resigned honorably rather than soil his hands in the blood of fellow Somalis, since the stealing of the election must necessarily have involved the violent suppression of the cheated. Mr. Barre, on the other hand, went along with the shady scheme with alacrity and enthusiasm. (It may be pointed out in passing that the participation in this crime catapulted Siad Barre to the seizure and tenure of absolute power for twenty-two years, while Abshir's honest conscience and moral probity landed him in solitary confinement for ten solid years. Such are the baffling ways of the curmudgeon called Allah!)
In this election Shadoor's seat was in jeopardy because his opponent, belonging to a rival faction of Shadoor’s clan, was out to garner more votes. Conveniently, Mr. Barre lent a helping hand by eagerly providing a military unit commanded by Lieutenant Mohammed Shadoor, the son of the elder Shadoor. The opponent was detained under trumped-up charges during the election, and so he lost; whereupon the opponent's close kin felt outraged by this bold-faced fraud and plunged a knife in the lieutenant's stomach, stabbing him to death. A messenger was sent post haste to Mogadishu to bring Mr. Shadoor the news of his son's demise. The messenger arrived with a heavy heart, terrified of the legendarily irascible old man's reaction upon receipt of the unwelcome news. "Mr. Shadoor," the bearer of bad tidings is alleged to have said, "I have good news and I have bad."
To return to the business of memory, some thirty years ago, shortly after the Ethio-Somali war over the Ogaadeen, an Ethiopian scholar, Mesfin Wolde-Mariam, put out a work entitled: Somalia: the Problem Child of Africa. The title serves to indicate the savagery and incivility of the attack: among other intemperate vituperative flings, Somalis are lambasted as latter-day Hitlerians. Moved equally by an urge to justly set the record straight and by a nationalistic itch for my then beloved Somalia, I attempted a counterattack, which was published in a book on African boundary problems. I chided Mesfin for lapsing into an unedifying name-calling, a deplorable yelp that was unworthy of his established reputation as a scholar of considerable erudition, integrity and intellectual reach. The chiding may be worth reproducing:
More than thirty years later and the sinking of Somalia in the sand dunes of the Horn, I write this expressly to apologize to Professor Mesfin whose judgement of the Somalis as a nation turned out to be remarkably prescient and to the point. Somalia did indeed prove to be the problem child of Africa. Professor Mesfin can take little comfort from this, though, for Ethiopia itself today, riven by ethnic conflict and regional antagonism, seems to be lurching heedlessly towards Somalia's fate.
part 1 of a 4 parts Article
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