By Ismail H. Warsame
Truth in Somali political debate has been replaced by personal and clannish perceptions irrespective of realities and facts on the ground. Everybody seems to be spinning his/her emotional version at the expense of truth. There is no accountability for lies and deception.
One would wonder how this phenomenon came into its present reality. A Muslim society is strictly supposed to never lie while following its Islamic teachings and traditional culture whose cherished values include “a man’s word is as important as himself”, and to be called “a liar” was the ultimate insult to a person. A person caught in lies used to have lost credibility and good standing in the society, and presumed to have strayed from God’s right path as well.
In nomadic society, keen to listen to the latest information on resources (rain, water, grazing etc) and security, they would come to listen to the news from a visitor from distant places, but would double check first any information concerning whether the new visitor is reliable and worthy of his word. If they would find out he is not reliable, they wouldn’t mind debriefing him. That was how we were for thousands of years.
What has happened in Somali society is a case study for sociologists, anthropologists’ and other experts of human studies. As a layman, I can share my personal observations.
There are three venues where you can gauge how truth has died in Somali politics, possibly in other areas of human endeavour:
- Online political debates (social media), TV and other media outlets of Somali origin.
- Live group discussions among Somalis on events happening in their country
- The so-called Clan Spokespersons lately appearing on the political scene (Afhayeenka Beelaha Hawiye, Hag, Somali Concern, armed factional organizations, some of the civil society organizations, etc. as examples).
After observing, reading, listening to and watching the contents of the efforts of these groupings, I have tried to figure out what was the root cause of this strange culture of lies and misrepresentations of facts in Somalia. Are there historical roots for the current all-encompassing phenomenon?
I am finding out that national and clan politics are hugely contradictory. National politics is a new phenomenon in Somali tribal society. Central authority was born in Somalia with the colonial powers of Italy, Britain and France. The word “Somalia” rarely existed before these powers came in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Yes, there was the word Somali, but not Somalia as we know it.
National politics in an early stage started from Sayid Mohamed Abdallah Hassan Darwiish Movement. This was the first attempt by a political figure to transcend beyond the clan lines in both Italian and British occupied Somalia. Before that moment, Somalis were clans and sub-clans. Clans or tribes had no national politics. There were no interests beyond those of the clan, whether they involved resources or clan security.
As political parties started to appear in the urban centers of the colonies, attempts were made to bring clans together for a common cause: Political Independence. Surely, the members of the most popular political party, the Somali Youth league (SYL) knew and quickly took steps to fight clannism, which was public enemy Number One, worse than the occupying colonial powers. Clannism was the single most important obstacle to building a nation-state. They succeeded in uniting Somalis to some extent, but fell short of a long term solution to the problem. Clannism re-emerged immediately as Somalis started to self-govern. Political parties established themselves along clan lines. The old modus operandi of safeguarding clan interests took precedence in governance. Suspicion and clan-hatred took deep roots. Deception and lies and morale degradation took hold among the new rulers of Somalia. Other enemies of Somalia such as ignorance, hunger, diseases, and backwardness had been forgotten altogether. There was no vision for Somalia to be and to prosper. In the end, it collapsed and became a failed state.
Now that that had happened, are there any lessons learned for the current leaders of Somalia, if it is going to be Somalia? Some people doubt very much. Others are quite sceptical. Still others believe that we could keep trying to benefit from the past mistakes despite strong centrifugal and centripetal forces acting on the possibility of realizing a Somali “nation-state” one day.
What you see today is the growth of clan politics at macro-level in the form of regional administrations and micro-level in the shape of clan representation in central government. The mentality here is no different from of that of 18th century when there was no Central Somali Authority, except in lies and mischaracterization. It is an attempt to mislead, misrule and misappropriate. It is self-denial leading to another failure for repeating past mistakes over and over again. It is like making your past your present and future. It is actually like missing “Both Worlds”. It is denying the truth.
Ismail H. Warsame
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