Somalia: Do Somalis need a state?
The debate about the type of a state Somalis need pits those in favour a federal state again those in favour of decentralised state. Nearly seven years ago when federalism was mooted and made the foundation-stone on which the transitional federal institutions are based, the pro-federalism camp had the advantage of not having federalism tested.
Now the pro-federalism camp’s “untestedness” advantage is not as water-tight as it was seven years ago because the feeble transitional federal government and parliament have been in existence since October 2004. The pro- decentralised state camp has posed several questions about the viability of federalism in Somalia. “Among the factors that might/would justify federalism for any given country are: the existence of unbridgeable and irreconcilable ethnic, religious or other cultural differences, and/or geographical barriers that would make inter-action/interconnection among the inhabitants difficult or impossible. Fortunately, none of …those factors exist in Somalia,” argued Abdirazak Haji Hussein, former prime minister of Somalia ( 1964-1967). Homogeneity has not prevented Somalis from having “ethnic, religious… and political differences” that have so far proved ‘unbridgeable’ and ‘irreconcilable.’
The gap between pro-federalism camp and pro- decentralised state camp is so big but the debate has moved on from “ dowlad xun baa dowlad-la’aan ka wanaagsan” ( Bad government is better than anarchy” although bad government paved the way for full-blown anarchy.
The question— what type of state Somalis need?— is as difficult to answer as the question “ what went wrong in Somalia after the overthrow of the military dictatorship in 1991?”— because answering either question does not solve Somalia’s persistent political problems.
Somalia’s political and cultural elite have contested over the spoils of the post –colonial state. This trend is partly exemplified by a line from a popular Somali song in 1960s: af-qalaad aqoontu miyaa? ( Is aforeign language a knowledge? ) . In 1960s Somalis who have facility with a foreign language ( English, Italian or Arabic ) had better employment opportunities to join the civil service, the army, the police or political parties. Somalia’s cultural elite (playwrights and singers) enjoyed celebrity status but felt overshadowed by foreign-language-speaking politicians and civil servants who knew Somali was an unwritten language; it was a microcosm of elite rivalry that foreshadowed political rivalries that made Somalia a country with contrasting political, economic and security realities.
Publicly owned camels
Sa’eed Osman Keenadiid, the Somali satirist captured the brittle Somali state under the toppled military dictatorship when , in 1989, he contributed to now-defunct Codka Macallinka, a satire entitled Hadduu Jiri Lahaa Geel dad-wayne ( If only there were public camels” Angered by the impunity with which many Somalis working for the government in different capacities had misappropriated public money and bought, among other things, fashionable Toyota Cressida model XL ( Somalis read the acronym as xoolo la-xaday “ stolen goods”), Keenadiid suggested that many Somalis could relate to plight of Somalis whose camels were “ embezzled”, and could have been moved to action had one embezzled hypothetical publicly owned camels. Clan members are bound by duty to protect camels of the clansmen but in a modern-day Somalia people did not feel they were bound by duty to prevent public resources from being stolen by civil servants or politicians with no scruples.
Nearly a decade before Somalia’s northern and southern provinces united to form the Republic of Somalia in 1960, a Somali poet in Hargeisa had composed a poem that was included in Somali language syllabus in primary schools. The poem, Almadar, challenged aspiring students in pre-independence Somalia to tell society how their new knowledge and skills would benefit society. The Somali linguist , Abdirahman Farah (Barwaaqo) had to this say about the origin of Almadar poem:
“ a pupil who went to local school had been asked what he learned in the school. ‘We learn Almadar (the rain), a song’: Naxnu idaa jaa’a al-madar, Najrii wa nalcabu bi-Zahar, (when it rains we run and play on the flowers ).”
The following lines are from Almadar, the Somali poem :
Duqeydii dhammaatee tolow, dirirka yaa eegi (The elders have departed, O clansmen and clanswomen, who will look up in the sky for the Dirir star?)
Degmo tuhun ma guurtee aayaa, sahanka loo dooran (No nomadic settlement moves to another locality on guesswork , who will conduct rain reconnaissance )
Reerkoo yagleel dagey ayaa, guri u soo deyri (When the family settles a new locality, who will make fence for the house?)
Hadday gacal is diidaan tolow, dirirta yaa baajin? (If kith and kins fall out, who will prevent fights?)
Dakharrada lafaha yaa ka guri, doogi nimay gaadhay? (Who will treat a man for injuries sustained in a fight?)
Almadar duug ma reebtee tolow dumarka yaa guursan? (Almadar ‘ the young school-goers’ don’t leave a lasting legacy, who will marry women )
The poet was not against educating the new generation but was asking if new skills and knowledge would deprive the young generation of countryside-specific skills. He was asking if new knowledge and skills would give them the wisdom to know that literacy does not make survival skills in the countryside irrelevant . He might have been speaking to Somalia’s future political elite who prefer idealism to pragmatism. Do Somalia’s political elite have the skills to reestablish and sustain a state? If Somalia’s political past is consulted in an attempt to answer that question, the answer is resounding no.
Liban Ahmad is editor of Somalia Research Report
Note: The Somali poem, Almadar, was attributed to Caaqil Xaaji Cabdi Cabdilahi.