Haatuf Media Network
Editor; Yusuf Abdi Gabobe - Asst. Editor: A. Dubad & Abdifatah M.Aidid - Sub. Editors: Hasan Hosh - Layout and Design: Ahmed Jama
Issue 33, Sept. 7, 2002
Somaliland Must Learn How to Win Its Case
According to the Charter of the African Union, colonial boundaries must be maintained. In other words the 1960 Union between the two independent states of Somaliland (Ex-British Protectorate) and Somalia (Ex- Italian colony) had actually existed in violation of AU charter, as the merger removed the colonial boundary lines drawn by the former British and Italian colonial powers that the AU considers tampering with a taboo. Yet when Somaliland reinstated its sovereignty within its former colonial boundary as left by the British on independence day at June 26, 1960, and is now asking for recognition, the international community ignorantly cites the inviolability of colonial borders in Africa as a justification for defying Somaliland’s declaration of independence and its demand for world acceptance of its existence as a sovereign country.
The other main precondition that Somaliland is asked to satisfy in order to become eligible for recognition stipulates that it gets a clearance on the independence issue from other Somali leaders, meaning Mogadishu’s warlords and faction leaders, the friends of Usama Bin Laden in Abdiqasim’s so-called TNG and the rest of all those thugs who are actually wanted here for war crimes and crimes against humanity that they had committed while being in the service of former dictator Siyad Barre.
There are of course a number of other arguments that Somaliland can raise to prove the validity of its case such as the lack of any act of union. There are also precedents in the political history of Africa for disjoining a country.
A good example is the ill-fated union between Senegal and Mali in the early sixties or the more recent independence of Eritrea from Ethiopia.
The world Somalilanders live in, however, knows nothing or little about this history. Neither is the world prepared, under present circumstances, to come to Somaliland to learn. It is actually Somaliland which must go to the world to prove its case.
Compared with his predecessor, President Rayale has been noticeable for placing more emphasis on expressing Somaliland’s demand for recognition to at least visiting foreign delegations. But since the question of gaining recognition is so high on his agenda then he ought to have a coherent policy with specific plan of action for pursuing this issue. It will be more useful to spend government resources on promoting Somaliland’s case rather on advancing UDUB’s stakes in the next elections.
There are a plenty of human resources within the Somaliland diaspora that this government can tap for making its case heard and understood internationally.
Perhaps a network of liaison offices, to be manned preferably by diaspora activists, should be established in every country where significant numbers of Somalilanders live.
There is no doubt that Somaliland has a case. But Somaliland has yet to learn how to win it internationally.
Prospects For Fair Elections Turn Slim
Hargeisa (SL-times) There are growing signs that the Somaliland administration is no longer interested in fair and free elections being held in the country. Contrary to the demands of political opposition groups, the government still continues providing substantial financial subsidies and logistical support to UDUB, the political organization founded last year by late Somaliland President Mohamed Ibrahim Egal.
It is already certain that President Rayale and many other members of his administration are going to run in the coming elections as candidates of UDUB. The organization was originally tailor-designed to fit the political ambitions of the then incumbent, Mr. Egal, to win every election held in Somaliland in his life time.
However, despite the death of Egal last May, no effort has been made so far to transform UDUB into becoming a competitive political organization.
As Dahir Rayale succeeded Egal to become President, the new Somaliland leader had unlike his predecessor shown a desire to improve relations between the government and the opposition.
To this effect, Mr. Rayale had initiated a number of meetings with leaders of various political opposition groups. He also mended fences with the new council of Sultans and successfully sought its expansion to encompass all the country’s top traditional leaders. Ever since however, political opposition organizations have been complaining about the lack of any progress in their attempts to induce the government into introducing a range of political reforms. Of particular concern to the opposition has been the need for reforming of the electoral laws and procedures which despite being incompatible with the principles of fair and free elections, were however, dubiously drawn up to ensure an Egal victory at the polls.
“The only change we have seen is Mr. Rayale’s accession to assume the chairmanship of UDUB,” said a leader one of the political groups.
A demand by the opposition for having a say in the design and supervision of the electoral process was also left unheeded by the government. And with the next municipal elections scheduled to be held by 27th October, leaders of 8 political opposition organizations met on Thursday to hold preliminary discussions on formulating a common position with regard to the elections. “The high expectations that Rayale will dissociate himself from political corruption are dead and we must reassess the situation and adopt a new strategy, ” said one opposition official.
No public statement came out of Thursday’s meeting. But the opposition groups vowed to formulate a position paper in the coming few days.
In God We Trust
By Ali Gulaid, San Jose, California
Somaliland’s political withdrawal from the union is final. The people have spoken loudly by overwhelmingly voting to withdraw from the union in a referendum certified by international observers. To cement the political withdrawal with an economic independence, Somaliland has printed her own currency. This was inevitable since who controls the monetary policy, also controls the economy. Naturally, economic interdependence might be mutually beneficial and might prove to be more difficult to sever. As a result, it is expected that the Somaliweyn shilling commonly known, as “Ginbar” would continue to enjoy limited acceptance in Somaliland but no one expected it to replace the Somaliland Shilling. The tendency to tender Ginbar, a foreign currency, on the day-to-day business transactions in Tugdheer region renders the Ginbar as the National Currency and the Somaliland Shilling as theforeign currency. This practice is weakening the Somaliland shilling and it is against the law. And that should disturb us all.
In order to appreciate the gravity of the problem, the situation is like this:
The Ginbar is the only commonly tendered currency in Tugdheer. Before one effects any transaction in Burco, one has to pay a visit to the moneychanger and exchange the Somaliland shilling, which is supposed to be the local currency to Ginbar, a foreign currency, or is it? That is the norm. Of course, the practice doesn’t make it legal but that is irrelevant. Paradoxically, in Tugdheer, the Somaliland currency is treated as a hard currency. For example, if one decides to pay one’s bills in Somaliland Shilling, it is advised against. Like a dollar, it is advised that one can save more to change the Somaliland shilling first to the foreign currency- Ginbar, which is the local currency in Tugdheer. Confused? You aren’t alone.
Somaliland is bound to trade with Somalia. Globalization might be the order of the day but localization might have its own advantages. It is true that the world is becoming a village and that a trader in Somaliland, given the necessary facilities and infrastructure, can order goods from remote places like Tokyo and Shanghai. But the trader in Somaliland doesn’t have the proper infrastructure to transact the order of the day in a global scale. Under these circumstances, entrepreneurs, middlemen and distributors in hub countries like Dubai bridge the distance and bring the mountain closer to Mohamed figuratively. But even that short cut isn’t an option to the petty traders (sharshari) in Somaliland. Traditionally, in underdeveloped countries like Somaliland, trade is carried out between neighbors, be it individuals or countries. Under the circumstances prevailing in Somaliland such as the absence of national bank with corresponding foreign banks, the traditional neighborly trade is a must and better suited than the more sophisticated one: no travel agent, no travelers cheque, no letter of credit, the language and the cultural barrier less conspicuous; just hop on a lorry and bring the goods for resale next day. No amount of sophistication and infrastructure would eliminate this traditional activity and that would force Somaliland to trade with Somalia at some scale.
As a result, the Ginbar would enjoy limited acceptance and that should surprise no one. This personal analogy illustrates the point: on my way to Somaliland via Djibouti in 1998, I somehow ended up with some French Francs through a moneychanger. It was not a big amount and I thought since Djibouti is so close and French Franc is hard currency anyway, it shouldn’t matter. It did matter. From that experience, I concluded that traders accept more the currency of the bloc they trade with. It is common sense: the trade between Hargeisa and France is non-existent but the traffic among Somaliland, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Somalia could be considerable. It is the demand and that is understandable but substituting foreign currency to the local one, as the case is in Tugdheer, isn’t the same as the limited acceptance currencies of trading partners enjoy. Similarly, the Ethiopian “Birr” has become more conspicuous in Djibouti since Ethiopia started using the Djibouti port as its primary port but the critic’s allege that the “Birr” has taken over the Djibouti Franc and even the bus fare is now paid in “Birr”. In Djibouti, it is an exaggeration but in Tugdheer it is real that all transactions, not few, are tendered in a foreign currency and that is alarming.
On the surface, it might appear the wide acceptance the “Ginbar” is enjoying in Tugdheer is partly attributed to a trade activity between the region and Somalia.
Tugdheer is in the interior of Somaliland. Like most other regions, it opens to the “Haud” in Ethiopia and like other regions there is no significant trade that is going on between the two countries. On the East, it borders with Sanaag and Sool. Sanaag has “Maydh iyo Xiis”, which makes it semi independent from the rest of the country for its’ imports and exports. Even though Sanaag is cut-off from the rest of the country due to the lack of impassable roads, Sanaag was never dependent on Burco for its’ survival. The road between Burco and Ceerigavo, soon to be constructed, is indeed long overdue, and that would introduce the richness of the Sanaag region into the rest of the country in the form of fresh fruits, vegetables and cereal, not to mention the scenery and other natural resources. As a result, trade-wise Sanaag isn’t contributing to the wide acceptance of the Ginbar but Sanaag is, equally guilty and that shouldn’t be overlooked. In sool, it is unfortunate that some people in Sool region has a grudge, justified or not, against the withdrawal from the union. In order to register their displeasure, some parts of Sool have rejected the Somaliland Shilling. This is political dilemma that needs diplomacy, negotiations and allaying the fears of certain clans in the region. Again, Sool region doesn’t depend solely on Tugdheer for her trade and the trade between Sool and Tugdheer is limited and doesn’t justify the illegal act of promoting a foreign currency at the expense of the national currency.
In light of the above, the perception that such practice is to spite Somaliland is gaining substance. It would be hard to characterize it otherwise when the traders admit that the Somaliland Shilling is stronger but keep shunning it anyway. Needless to say the scale of the interdependency doesn’t justify the practice in Tugdheer, which is out of step. Whether the Tugdheer taxpayers pay a visit to the moneychanger to discharge government dues, fines and other tax isn’t clear but what is clear is that the government pays the salaries in those regions in Somaliland shilling;a small step to promote its currency.
Unarguably, Tugdheer is the center of Livestock export. But livestock comes primarily from the (Haud) in Ethiopia and doesn’t come from Somalia by any stretch of the imagination. Some argue trade with Somalia is the culprit, but that isn’t true. For example, the milk sold in Burco that comes from “Suuqsade” is paid in Ginbar. This illustrates that there is no discernable circumstances that would dictate the illegal use of the Ginbar in Tugdheer region. The practice is simply indefensible and no volume of economic activity can justify it. Whenever the issue of the illegal use of the Ginbar in Tugdheer region is raised, some take an issue with the governments presence in Tugdheer and argue, “Dawladdu horta Burco ma gaadhay?” This argument is insinuating a cause and effect relationship between the acceptance of the Ginbar in Tugdheer and the scanty presence of the government in certain regions, which Burco isn’t one of them. Others argue that Egal, may Allah bless his soul, has alienated Tugdheer. But, today Egal is no longer with us and Rayaale’s government is in Tugdheer and beyond with gusto. Bear in mind, that Somaliland government exists by the virtue of the good will of the people of Somaliland; it doesn’t exist by her effectiveness and omnipresence.
Tugdheer is the bellwether in the eastern regions and strengthening the government presence in Tugdheer isn’t only a must but is also desirable. First of all, the second most populated city “Burco” is in Tugdheer. Secondly, Tugdheer is economically the most important in livestock export. Thirdly, it is a gateway to Sanaag and Sool regions, which are isolated for lack of good roads. Fourthly, Burco is roughly the center of the country, which makes it the focal point for roughly half of the population. Fifthly, a good number of Somaliland tycoons hail from Tugdheer region and with their support the Ginbar would make a way for the the Somaliland Shilling. Lastly, Somaliland should embrace decentralization and shun centralization. In principal, the government should be present proportionally where the population is present. For these reasons, it makes strategic sense for the government of Somaliland to be present in Tugdheer in full force. Obviously, the argument “Dawladdu Burco ma gaadhay?” has merit but unfortunately, those who raise that question raise it for the wrong reasons and those it irritates become defensive and overlook its validity. The key for wider acceptance of the Somaliland Shilling is Burco. Undoubtedly, Sanaag and Sool would be forced to use whatever currency is used in Tugdheer. Disappointingly, rather than make it, Burco has decided to break it by tendering the Ginbar.
Treating the Somaliland shilling as a hard currency is hinged on a solid economic foundation. It is true that the Somaliland shilling isn’t buttressed by gold or export earning power, but neither is the Ginbar. Somaliland is a dejure State, democracy is flourishing, the institutions are functioning and the press is free. Unlike Somalia where the whim of a faction leader is beyond reproach and pre-emptory, in Somaliland the will of the people is carried out through their elected representatives. The stability of the country and the rule of law under-pin the value of Somaliland Shilling and that insulate the traders who accept it from the unpredictable fluctuations that plaque the Ginbar. Not to mention that the Somaliland shilling is guarded against counterfeiting. Somalilanders can take some comfort in knowing who controls their currency. And with that knowledge, they can reasonably assess the direction the economy is blowing.
On the other hand, the Ginbar is pegged against the perceived power of a faction leader that is on the run. In Somalia, there are as many currencies as there are faction leaders. Counterfeiting and sabotaging the value and the acceptance of the other faction leader’s currency has become an occupation. Some claim that it is no longer counterfeiting, it is as simple as zeroxing. Somalia is anarchy and that militates against any assurance of flooding the market with paper money. Mogadishu has become a Mecca for unscrupulous traders; terrorism and faction leaders and that would undermine any currency. The value of a currency depreciates as stability decreases and for some time to come the stability in Somalia would be rocky. As a result, accepting the Somaliweyn “Ginbar” is a risky business decision that might eventually haunt those who harbor it today.
Obviously, the Ginbar has no defense against inflation. Inflation decimates the value of currency (cash) like cancer. It is swift and fatal. The Somalilanders portfolio isn’t diversified. The bulk of a typical Somalilander’s wealth is in cash with negligible amount in real estate and inventory, at some point. The inflationary rate of the Somaliland shilling has been so far measured and restrained but that isn’t the case in the Ginbar. The chance that hyperinflation would turn the Ginbar into monopoly money in overnight is great. It is mind-boggling why would anybody subject himself/herself with that type of risk.
Unintentionally this practice is sustaining the relative strength of the Somaliweyn shilling (Ginbar) while inversely is weakening the Somaliland shilling. If Tugdheer, Sanaag and Sool all dump the Ginbar tomorrow, it will go only one way – Nose-dive and down to the floor. The currency is just like stock, the more people hold into it the better the appreciation but the more people sell it, the faster the depreciation and the chances are the less informed would be left with paper money. And of course, the trader in the “Bakaraha” has more reliable intelligence than the one in Tugdheer.
Surely, the economic health of the country is interdependent. Even though this practice would directly affect the traders who have their portfolio in Ginbar, it could have far more consequence. The fear is if the trader in Tugdheer negatively suffers the consequence of the gyrations of the unreliable Ginbar, it would impact indirectly on the country as a whole. Today it appears remote, but it could become real tomorrow and that is the primary reason the Somaliland government should bring this issue to the forefront.
Certainly, the future of Somaliland shilling is promising. The brief civil war and the banning of the livestock export slightly bruised the value of the currency but the peace dividend has sanitized and immunized its value against adversities such as sudden economic jolts. Somaliland is over ten years old; she has survived brief civil war, the banning of livestock export, and the sudden death of a legend. Today, institutions are growing stronger by the day, multiparty elections are on the horizon and the international community is warming for the recognition of Somaliland. Barring ecological disasters such as draught, famine and the like, common sense tells me that, it can only go up. Imagine the potentiality, the possibilities and the pay-off if Somaliland sails through the multiparty elections without violence; imagine if Ethiopia patronizes Berbera port more often and imagine if the Saudi’s lift the export ban suddenly. And one more thing, imagine, thereafter, recognition comes. Hallelujah. No matter what, even if some of these scenarios don’t materialize in the short run, the Somaliland shilling ispoised for higher value.
Opening a national bank in Tugdheer is a step in the right direction but it wouldn’t solve the problem. The commercial/central Bank in Hargeisa is used as government treasury and nothing more. For traders, the incentive to bank with Somaliland National Bank isn’t there. It doesn’t offer any of the banking services such as lending, opening letter of credit, savings, checking accounts and more importantly a piece of mind. For that reason, traders don’t even deposit their currency in the Somaliland Bank. Rather, they place their cash next to their (Kalashkinov; AK-47) and that is no exaggeration. The Tugdheer people have chosen to reject the Somaliland Shilling for the wrong reasons and that is unfortunate. Somaliland has fought against the oppressive regime of Siyad Barre to regain its political and economic independence. On their part, the Tugdheer region has heroically participated and successfully dislodged the tyrant from power. But the struggle isn’t over yet. The most important part of the struggle, the economic independence, a part we can’t afford to loose, is still waging. In the midst of the blaze, Tugdheer has fumbled the economic struggle. Indeed, Tugdheer is unintentionally boosting the value of the Ginbar at the expense of Somaliland Shilling.
The government has recourse: it could enforce the law. It could also suspend the import, export, wholesale and retail licenses of those who accept the tender of an illegal foreign currency in the day-to-day business transactions in Somaliland; it could mandate all “Xawaalad” to be paid in Somaliland shilling, certainly; it could instruct international organizations not to accept the “Ginbar” as a legal tender. But the government doesn’t have to resort to such tactics yet. First, the government should dialogue with the traders, educate and warn them the danger of such practice and its consequences for the sake of their benefit. Second, it should appeal to the patriotism of the people. The economic fall out of the Ginbar would financially cripple the trader who takes that risk but the government has an obligation to enforce the law, to guide and to foster the economic well being of its citizens.
This problem has a simple solution; exchange the Ginbar to the Somaliland shilling immediately. It is that simple. And that wouldn’t prejudice or affect adversely the financial position of the trader in any way. Those who claim that the problem is more complex than a trip to the moneychanger simply want to perpetuate the flaunting of the law for the wrong reason - to snub Somaliland. By default if not by design Somalia would always remain to be a trading partner but that isn’t an excuse. Tugdheer has no compelling reasons to continue this illegal practice. In fairness, this intransigence is not entirely the fault of Tugdheer. The absence of dialogue and the disengaged attitude of the late President has partly prolonged this practice. This is an opportunity for Tugdheer to step up to the plate, accentuate the positive and memorialize the significance of the region by accepting the Somaliland currency. Equally, this is an opportunity for the young, energetic President Rayaale to address and give the attention it deserves. This intransigence would remain to be a thorn in the side of Somaliland, a weakness for critics to pick, a disharmony to point-out and a liability to discredit and discount the commitment of Tugdheer until “Burco” and Rayaale administration face the challenge. It is time Tugdheer complies with the law. At the end of the day, tendering the Somaliland shilling throughout Somaliland doesn’t only make economic sense but it is also the law.
The Arrest, “Trial” And Release Of A Journalist: A Shame For The New Government
By Rakiya A. Omaar
Somaliland prides itself on the freedom of expression enjoyed by journalists, politicians and ordinary people alike. After years of being on guard about what they said publicly and privately under the Siad Barre regime, the ability to speak their minds and to engage each other in discussions and debates is considered a treasure, one for which the people of Somaliland have paid a very heavy price in death, detention and exile. This particular freedom is well-suited to the local culture and temperament; everyone is interested in social and political affairs and has an opinion which they want to air. The large number of private newspapers which have sprung up since 1991e is a testament to the importance which news and information holds in society.
But the governments which have ruled Somaliland have not always shared this attachment to the existence of a vibrant media. Like many other governments in Africa and elsewhere, they have shown sensitivity and intolerance towards journalists they consider overly “critical.” Since I992, I have visited a number of journalists in detention in Hargeisa central prison. The fact that the media today is as confident as it has much to do with the courage and determination of the journalists themselves, and with the public appetite for independent voices that are not afraid to challenge the government of the day.
The latest journalist to run into trouble is Abdirahman Ismail Omer of the newspaper War Jire. When he started working on the new paper in July, little did he know that he would be in prison in a month’s time. His crime? Well, it’s hard to say, at least if you look at the facts objectively. On 26 August, War Jire published two front-page articles which displeased the authorities. The first, and the more important, asked a question about the recent visit of President Dahir Rayaale to Djibouti: “Is it true that President Rayaale and President Ismail Omer Geelle entered into a secret deal? What can be said about it?” (Ma dhabaa, Maxaase ka jira in Madaxweyne Rayaale iyo Madaxweyne Ismaaciil Cumar Geelle, wada galleen Heshiis Qarsoodiya) The article was based on information from a correspondent in Djibouti. It asked whether the recent repatriation of refugees from Djibouti was part of a private agreement whereby these refugees would support President Rayale in the forthcoming elections in exchange for handing over the territory from Lughaya to Lawyacaddo to Djibouti. The newspaper did not claim this as a fact: the title was in the form of a question. It sought to alert the public about what is potentially a grave national matter; it tried to provoke the government into providing a satisfactory answer. If it was frivolous and mischievous, it should have been ignored. If not, it deserves the attention of the public, and it demands an appropriate response from the government.
Instead of dealing with the substance, the government’s reaction was to punish and intimidate the journalist and his newspaper. The following day, 27 August, Abdirahman was summoned to the offices of the CID at 5:30 p.m. He was interrogated for an hour and pressed to name his source in Djibouti which he refused to do. According to the charge from the Attorney-General, the article amounted to “dissemination of false information” (“been abuur”).
He was also questioned about two other articles. The first, also published on 26 August, dealt with a press conference given by the former chairperson of the National Women’s Organisation (NOW) where she complained about the manner in which she said she had been forced to relinquish her position. The CID wanted to know why the paper had written a report about this press conference. This is a strange question indeed. If a newspaper considers a press conference worthy enough to send one of its’ journalists, it is hardly surprising that they would publish an article about it. Perhaps the Ministry of Information should also explain to the CID that normally people organise press conferences precisely because they want to be quoted and to expose their point of view. If they did not want publicity, surely they would not be inviting journalists to hear them talk.
The third article considered “offensive” was published earlier and written by Abdirahman himself. It was the first part of a feature intended to find out how the public sees recent developments in comparison to the period of the late President Egal. It’s difficult to understand why such a feature should be seen in a hostile manner by some officials, unless they have reasons to suspect that the pubic is unhappy with the performance of the government. If that is the case, they need to know exactly what the public thinks so that they can—and should—take corrective measures.
At the end of one hour, at 6:30, Abdirahman was taken to Kod Buur police station where he spent the night. From 7:00-11:30 a.m. the following day, he was taken in a police car and driven around town for several hours. The purpose of this seemingly pointless drive, which must have consumed precious fuel, was not explained. It seemed as if the police were seeking “witnesses.” To what exactly, it was not clear.
At 11:30, he was taken to court, if it can be called a court. The “trial” lasted precisely half an hour. The only witness for the government was the same CID officer who had questioned him. The judge is a man with no legal training. Again, he was told to name the source in Djibouti; he refused to oblige but asked for time to prepare his defence. The request was refused. He was duly sentenced to three months in prison. He was taken away and by 12:30, he was already in Hargeisa central prison.
After about four days, the chairman of his newspaper, Abdirahman Mohamed Goon, asked the district court to ask if the sentence could be exchanged for a fine, 300,000 shillings in accordance with the Penal Code. Once the matter of money came into play, the issue quickly degenerated into a bargain. Goon was told that since his paper had money (it does not), then the sentence had been increased threefold, to one year and two months, and the fine was now 900,000 shillings. Goon said he would appeal the decision; finally, it was maintained at 300,000. For whatever reason, Abdirahman was then released from prison.
The question: who will be the next journalist to be threatened in this manner is not the only relevant question. With elections on the horizon, it is more important than ever before that journalists are free to hold the government, and the opposition, under the spotlight, and that the judiciary is, and is seen to be, efficient and fair. But it is neither, as this episode highlights. The judiciary has been the weakest link in Somaliland for the last ten years, a market place where judges and magistrates, many of them unqualified for their posts, have used bribery and intimidation to deny people justice. Lack of faith in the judiciary is widespread in Somaliland, even among officials who work in the system. In recognition of this fact, one of the President’s early actions was a promise to shake up the judiciary, with the dismissal of many senior officials and the resignation of others. There was interest and hope that there may at last be fundamental reform of the entire system, a root and branch clean up that would make justice accessible and fair.
It may be that Abdirahman’s experience is exceptional. Let us hope so, though it is for the government to show that something went very wrong. Because otherwise it suggests not reform, but rather a return to the bad old days when Siad Barre’s men interrogated who they wanted, when they wanted, put them through speedy “trials” that had nothing to do with any recognisable legal system and impose arbitrary sentences. Somaliland needs to go forward, not backwards, and that includes everyone, and all in aspects of public life.
Finally, the incident is a reminder of the urgency of a broad debate about the bill to regulate the media which has been pending in parliament for more than a year. Many journalists say that the bill, as it currently stands, will make it difficult for them to do their job. The heavy-handed treatment of Abdirahman Ismail Omer will do nothing to increase their confidence. With elections coming up, it is crucial that the government, political parties and the media are all clear about the boundaries. The failure to come up with a bill that promotes the interests of the media and allows the public to enjoy the benefits of lively debate creates confusion and paralysis all around. And that is not in the short or long-term interest of anyone in Somaliland. Journalists also complain about the government’s interference in their efforts to establish an independent association, by insisting that they must accept employees of government-owned outlets as members. If the government is going to police the media, it should at least allow it to police itself.
* Rakiya A. Omaar is the director of the international human rights organisation, African Rights.
Somali Reconciliation Talks Set For End September
Nairobi, 6 Sep 2002 (IRIN) - Kenyan Foreign Minister Marsden
Madoka has suggested that the much-postponed Somali National Reconciliation
Conference should now take place on 30 September.
He told the Council of Ministers of the regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), meeting in the Kenyan capital Nairobi on Friday, that the conference should not be delayed any longer.
The conference was originally scheduled to take place in April, but has been repeatedly postponed. The latest date put forward was 16 September. The talks are due to take place in the western Kenyan town of Eldoret.
Members of the three so-called frontline states - Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya - tasked with preparing for the conference, met alone on Friday morning. In the afternoon, the meeting was expanded to include all IGAD member states.
"As we deliberate today, we should bear in mind that our reconciliation initiative is an ongoing process," Madoka said in a statement received by IRIN. "Our expectations should be realistic in view of the complexity of the task ahead of us... We need to reflect on shortcomings that have impeded the process, and build on positive aspects."
He noted that previous initiatives for peace in Somalia had been unsuccessful, due to "two inter-related factors".
"Somali faction leaders have not been ready to give up their personal interests," he said. "Also external actors, particularly from beyond the immediate sub-region, have involved themselves in initiatives that run counter to the IGAD initiative."
"We must at every opportunity impress upon them the urgent need to seize the window of opportunity," he stressed.
Participants in the meeting are due to discuss and adopt a report by a technical committee, made up of the frontline states and the IGAD secretariat.
UN Envoy Concerned Over Loss Of Lives In Somalia
Nairobi (6 September 2002): The Representative of the Secretary General for Somalia, Mr Winston Tubman, expresses deep concern at the recurring loss of lives as a result of sporadic fighting in many areas of Somalia.
Mogadishu, Baidoa, Puntland and Gedo region have all experienced outbreaks of violence with heavy loss of lives in recent months. The United Nations itself has seen four of its staff held hostage in Mogadishu in the last six months.
“Somalia has become a watchword for violence and anarchy around the world,” Mr Tubman said, “This vicious cycle of violence must stop.” He called on all Somalis to seek peaceful means to settle disputes.
He also said the pervasive climate of insecurity was not conducive to the preparations for the Somalia National Reconciliation conference, currently being prepared by IGAD. The UN in general, and his office, the UN Political Office for Somalia in particular, fully support these efforts. “Somalis should not squander another opportunity to find peace, but should be seeking ways to reconcile among themselves before the international interest in their country dissipates.”
WAR OF WORDS
Oral Poetry, Writing, And Tape Cassettes ...
By Alexander Stille (published in his book The Future of the Past).
[Continued From our last issue]
Faced with this babel of scripts and a set of thorny political problems, the early independent governments chose the path of least resistance: doing nothing.
The paralysis in solving the language problem was emblematic of the failure of the first post independence governments, which were characterized by inefficiency, corruption, and interclan squabbling. The discord paved the way for Siad Barre, who took power in a bloodless coup in 1969, promising order, progress, socialism, and an end to the clan system. He was met with ululation and wild joy in the streets. "I welcomed the revolution like everyone else," Hadrawi said. "We were nationalists."
In fact, far from repudiating writing, Hadrawi had been writing in Somali well before the introduction of an official script. And after returning from his studies in Yemen in 1967, he wrote and performed a couple of poetic plays that helped establish his reputation as a poet. He was invited to teach at the National Teachers Education College, near Mogadishu, one of the new national universities that had sprung up with independence. "Because it was clear that he was a great poet, we insisted on having him at the college as a teacher," said Saeed Sallah, a Somali poet who lives in Minneapolis, a city with a significant Somali refugee community. Sallah was amazed to hear that Hadrawi was now against written language, since they collaborated together on a play called Knowledge and Understanding, produced in 1972, that openly called for the written Somali script, just months before the launch of the government's literacy campaign.
But the way writing was introduced soured Hadrawi on the idea. "There was no substance to it," he said. "[Barre] should have translated world knowledge into Somali. Instead, he only used the script for political propaganda." Emulating Mao's China and Castro's Cuba, Barre sent all high school and university students out to the countryside for a year to teach the nomads in the bush how to read and write about the feats of the revolution. He kept all publishing under strict government control and even made it difficult for an individual to own a typewriter. The principal newspaper, the October Star, printed a picture of Barre on its cover every day and was written in the hagiographic style of the average socialist dictatorship. With little of interest to read, many gradually reverted to illiteracy. Hadrawi went to work for the government's information office but became increasingly disillusioned.
Barre also tried to get an iron grip on poetry. "Siad Barre was one of the most sensitive people to the dangers of poetry," Hadrawi said. "He had a strategic plan to use poetry instead of fighting against it. He tried to control all the poets and everything else in the area of literature. All the Somalia media, Radio Mogadishu, Radio Hargeysa, were focusing on the propaganda of the regime."
This kind of one-way broadcast communication ran against the grain of Somali culture. "People were not accustomed to a 'dictation culture,'" Hadrawi said, using the phrase "dictation culture" in English. Somali nomads live a life of considerable freedom and autonomy and their culture is surprisingly egalitarian. They move around in relatively small encampments of several families who customarily make decisions collectively. "The man who dictates separates himself from others," says a famous Somali proverb. "Even the sultan needs to be taught," says another.
The old oral tradition now found a new ally: the cassette player. "Since Siad Barre had taken over the radio, the medium of the cassettes became stronger," Hadrawi said. "People felt they had lost something when their literature was taken away from them, so that's when the underground literature started." Inexpensive tape recorders became a staple of Somali life in the early 1970s, when Somalis working overseas brought them back in large numbers and gave them to their families so that, in the absence of writing, families could exchange oral "letters." Thus Somalis, already used to making their own tapes, would copy or rerecord poetry cassettes and circulate them.
Somalis began using the tape recorder to transmit dissent in poetic form. Somalis have a long tradition of conducting what are called "poetic duels" or "poetic chains" as a form of public debate. One poet will write a poem on a given theme, using a particular alliterative scheme-Somali poetry is based on the alliteration of a letter or sound in a poem rather than rhyming-and other poets will then answer, addressing the same theme and using the same alliteration. The chain has a competitive element, like a poetry slam, with the poets vying with one another to come up with unusual words or clever neologisms to vary the alliteration while remaining on point. At the same time, the poetic duel is conducted in metaphorical language that allows society to deal with thorny problems without provoking irrevocable conflict. "Allegory cools down speech," an old Somali proverb goes. The poetic duel became a perfect means for dealing with government censorship because the standard tropes of Somali poetry-a bitter drought or a cleansing storm-might either have a subversive meaning or just be about the vicissitudes of nomad life. "People need entertainment," Hadrawi said. "Somalis like to sit around and listen in the afternoon as they chew qat [a green-leafed plant that is a mild stimulant]. So everybody would listen to the tapes and then they would compare interpretations the next morning."
Hadrawi became one of the most popular poets in the informal cassette market because of his political independence. "I was one of the few people who refused to change the nature of my poetry to praise Siad Barre," he said. Hadrawi had already attracted the suspicions of the government through the play Knowledge and Understanding, which toured Somalia. Several of the poetic songs, written by Hadrawi and put to music by one of Somali's leading singers, had become popular favorites. One of them, entitled "Saxarka" (pronounced "Saharla"), sparked a poetic duel that is known as the "Sin-ley" poems, meaning "S-chain" in Somali, because of the "s" sound in "Saxarla." Although "Saxarla" is a love song, the character in the play named Saxarla is a blind woman thought to represent the newly independent Somalia groping around in the dark, and the tone of impatient longing seemed to suggest a hidden political meaning. As a result, the Sin-ley chain of poems evolved into a political debate, albeit masked in allusive poetic language.
To some the song's desire to rescue Saxarla appeared to be a desire to free Somalia from dictatorship; to others it was a call to liberate the Somali-speaking territories in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti. "There were so many interpretations," said Said Sallah. Poems on cassette began pouring in from different parts of Somalia and from Somalis in other countries. Some used strange symbolism like five little sheep or five lamps to represent the different regions of Somalia. And there were poems about a famous spear that served for a cryptic discussion of the government's military might. All these were topics that were impossible to discuss openly. "In Somalia, poetry is not an intellectual exercise, as in the Western world. It is the life of the people," said Saeed Sallah, who contributed two of the approximately forty poems in the chain. Indeed, poetry is so much a part of Sallah's life that he named his eldest daughter Saxarla in honor of Hadrawi's song. And even though he and his family live in the United States, all of Sallah's children and grandchildren have names beginning with the letter S, following the alliterative scheme of the Sin-ley poetic chain. "We are the S-family," he said with a laugh when I interviewed him on the phone.
"The Sin-ley [chain] was very important because it was the first time that people really questioned the identity of Somalia," said Ali Jimale Ahmed, who was in Somalia at the time, left during the civil war of the 1980s, and now teaches comparative literature at the City University of New York in Queens.
"People were changing my poems and making them political," Hadrawi said. Listeners either inferred political meaning in the poems or actually changed the words and rerecorded them. "People were starved for reality and they wanted a chance to talk about social issues and so they read them into the poems. They created their own folk form. People decided to have their own free literature and that's when the revolution started."
Siad Barre paid close attention to the phenomenon and is said to have amassed a formidable collection of tapes. In 1973, he called Hadrawi to the presidential palace. "Ask me whatever you want, any job you want, as long as you don't write poems that are against us," he said, according to Hadrawi, who responded by writing his most overtly political poetry yet. He wrote a poetic play called The She-Camel describing the slaughter for a feast that is enjoyed only by a few while the multitude watch from a distance-an apparent reference to the growing corruption and cronyism of the Barre government. The central poem seemed to allude to an upcoming struggle:
With the news of a slaughtered she-camel
Everybody hurried to the scene.
The fun will be to see the others
Who saw the smoke from the high peaks
And will come rushing down the slopes and the ridges.
Laughter is a crime.
The hero gave his neck.
In the shed there was a snake.
The poem also contained a clear response to Siad Barre's attempt to buy Hadrawi off: "I will not eat the demeaning scraps from your table."
"It was obvious he was talking about Siad Barre," said Professor Ahmed at CUNY. "It was a beautiful poem aesthetically."
The play was performed before the censorship board, attended by the vice president and two ministers of the government. "The play dealt openly with social problems like prostitution and lack of education," problems that were not supposed to exist in Barre's socialist paradise, said Saeed Sallah, who helped produce it. The censors demanded numerous changes, but Hadrawi refused. The play was never performed publicly, and Hadrawi was arrested and sent to live under house arrest in solitary confinement about 350 miles from Mogadishu. But the poem The She-Camel was put to music and circulated widely on tape while Hadrawi was in confinement.
Hadrawi wrote no political poetry while under house arrest, but when he was released in 1978 he found a political situation he could no longer ignore. The previous year, Barre had started a war with Ethiopia in order to annex the Ogaden region, which is inhabited by many ethnic Somalis. But by 1978, the Ethiopians had mounted a major counter-attack sending hundreds of thousands of ethnic Somalis across the border into Somalia and marking the beginning of a twenty-year refugee crisis. Not only did the war create a humanitarian disaster, it stirred up latent ethnic tensions within Somalia, which Barre consciously exploited. Since most of the Somalis in the Ogaden belonged to Barre's clan, the Darod, many Somalis viewed the invasion as an effort to increase the strength of his own clan. Moreover, he tried to solve the refugee crisis by promising his displaced clansmen land that was already occupied by others. Thus, after declaring that he had eliminated the clan system, Siad Barre was favoring his own clan over others. It became clear that Barre had no desire to resolve the plight of the refugees: their numbers deliberately inflated by Barre to increase foreign aid, they became a cash cow for him and his circle, which was increasingly composed of men from his own subclan and immediate family. Since his adversary, Ethiopia, received aid from the Soviet Union, Barre began to play Cold War politics to win massive amounts of military and foreign aid from the United States and Europe. The father of Somali socialism had turned overnight into the bulwark against communism in Africa. Within a few short years, he had revealed that all his grandest proclamations were a sham, amounting to little more than an increasingly rapacious and brutal grab for power and wealth.
"People were absolutely miserable," Hadrawi said, describing the atmosphere after his release.
Not long after returning to Mogadishu, Hadrawi was roused from bed at 5.00 a.m. by agents of Siad Barre and told to come right away to the president's palace. Barre, a chronic insomniac who chain-smoked Benson & Hedges cigarettes much of the night, was in the habit of waking up whomever he wanted to see. "He told me to bring various men of literature with me and he tried to convert us to his ideas," Hadrawi said.
To be continued ……………
Somaliland New Leadership After 100 Days
By: Mohamed-Rashiid Sheikh Hassan
Many people in this country assume that they knew the historical background and the personal political history of the late President Mohamed Ibrahim Egal, but few people including his family may not knew entirely the personality of Egal and his inner life. Indeed he was a complex and a private person. Somaliland historians and political analysts including myself should feel a sense of uneasiness and sadness that we were unable to record from him while he was alive in a historical and analytical manner of his reflections of the Somaliland political history, the general Somali situation as well as his personal experience during his life time. Now, he is gone, it is difficult to understand, interpret and evaluate correctly his entire political life and project what his legacy could be for the future of Somaliland.
In a political culture where the personality seems more important than the issues, many historical and political decisions in this country will be seen for sometime time under the shadow of the late President, good or bad or in another words it will be their political yard stick.
So far the new leadership, President Rayaale and his Vice President Yussuf have been energetically sustaining themselves to be seen as doing a better job compared with the previous leadership, and hence, shaping their own identity too. For instance, President Riyaale made two foreign trips one to Djibouti and the other to Ethiopia; during his meetings with the leaders of these countries he gave priority to the recognition question. He again emphasized this issue during his meeting with the foreign diplomats whom he met since his presidency, and according to sources from the President’s office, Rayaale is also planning for making various trips across the country starting with Sool Region which the government has not so far extended entirely of its administration. Any success of the President in Soole’s intriguing politics will definitely increase the popularity of his leadership.
The cleaning up of the judiciary system and municipalities of Hargeisa and Buroa, sending a delegation of technocratic and businessmen to find a remedy for Berbera port, signing some pending bills and the appointment of one of the energetic and popular women in the country, Edna Aden Ismail as a Minister for Family Development and Social Affairs, a new ministry, all these went well with the public. The vice President’s surprising visits to government departments at unexpected hours resembling Omar Bin khadaab’s excellent sense of duty, is also another positive dimension of the new leadership.
In the forth-coming months, the political temperature of the country will definitely rise. Only three political organizations from the nine present political organizations will emerge from the selection process as a result of the October municipality elections, and will be recognized as the final political parties eligible to stand for the next parliamentary election. A good number of politically motivated persons will be out of the race, whether they will remain to be politicians or become redundant and doing something else, is to be seen. But it is logical that there will not be enough political space for so many self-appointed politicians and even genuine politicians.
Two ideas have been the focus of discussions relating to the current political debate in the country. One in favor of the possibility of extension period for the new leadership, though not strongly pursued nowadays. The other is in favor of all the elections – the local government, the president, and the parliament – to take place, as planned and clearly specified in the constitution, viewing all these as the right direction for democratic practices as well as a good condition for recognition. Those who are in favor of the first idea fall into two categories: The first group who is anxious about what these elections might produce, particularly the parliamentary election.
This group’s anxiety is based on sincerity. Members of this group simply don’t want to see anything that may disrupt the existing peace and tranquility. They also think the period for election preparation is not enough. By contrast, members of the other group seem to have in mind getting some political gains from the extended period. For example they would like to see the possibility of the political debate returning to community-based traditional space (Shir Beeleed).
The result of the parliamentary election will definitely make fundamental changes in the existing parliamentary structure which has not came about as result of an election, but by series of discussions and reconciliation meetings among the clans. The system as it exists is not at all satisfactory. In it, some clans, or districts and regions have more deputies than they should have; while others have less. So any change of the system will be dramatic and even shocking to some clans, and constituencies.
Finally, I believe that the President and the government should not be persuaded by the idea of extension no matter how; and instead should prepare the country for the forthcoming series of elections. Democracy is not an abstract entity but a process of actions, and political experience. It is also political trials and errors that every society, which wants to have a democratic system of governance, undergoes. It is a high time that our country goes through this process of learning and political experience.
At the same time, the country as whole must be better prepared for the new political situation that elections will produce, particularly the parliamentary election to avoid any manipulations, and disruptions whether by clan, group or an individual, while always not violating the human rights of any citizen.
By Mohamed-Rashid Sheikh Hassan, is a Somaliland journalist, Social anthropologist and political analyst who lives at the moment in Hargeisa.
Men And Women: Reversal Of Roles
By Ahmed I. Hassan
The late ‘60’s and early ‘70s were my formative and school days. I grew up in the Goljano suburb of Hargeisa. These were good olden days.
More than nostalgia for carefree youthfulness nourishes my fond memories for these days. These were the days families were families: men as breadwinners; woman as homemakers and children as beloved wards.
The man went out in the mornings in pursuit of work to secure the family needs. It was a given that he should provide for his family and likewise strive to raise its standard of living. He was willing to do anything in order fulfill this important and primary responsibility. And when he had earned money, his priority was to spend it on his family’s basic necessities and not on his personal desires or habits. Many men even cared for other families when unfortunate circumstances degreed it. If a man died, his brother or cousin would assume the deceased’s responsibility towards his family including, most times, becoming a husband to the deceased’s wife (The Dumaal System). If a man became invalid through illness or accident, or unproductive through detention, ditto.
It was rare that you saw women working in other than the professions of nursing, teaching and as office secretaries. They were in deed making progress in education and workplace but by choice not necessity. Women used to look after the children and prudently run their households. Men earned the money but it was the women who managed it. Poor and rich lived in the same place and it was the blessed women who blurred the difference. In their free time, usually in the afternoons, while keeping an eye on the children playing nearby, they used to sit around in their houses’ courtyards, sunning themselves, applying henna to their feet and hands and exchange gossip. It was a pleasant sight. In the evenings sweet whiffs of incense and fragrance permeated from houses. Men came to happy and welcoming homes. The following year you became aware of the addition of several lovely babies to the neighborhood. What a life!
In school when we got naughty or careless in our studies, teachers used to instruct us to bring along our fathers the next day to tell them. This was tantamount to capital punishment as far as the student is concerned. The amazing thing, however, is that it never occurred to our teachers that some of us didn’t have fathers. Those who didn’t brought over their uncles or other male relatives. One resourceful and fatherless schoolmate used to employ a kind of “father-for-hire” technique when he got into trouble. He would raise some funds, usually three or four shillings, from his friends and go the owner of nearby shop.
“Come along with me to the school, you are my ‘father’ today!”
“Go away, I’m busy” The shopkeeper would say
Our schoolmate would then open his palm to display the shillings it held. This unfailingly generated in the shopkeeper an instant and kindly disposition towards our schoolmate.
“Let us go.” The shopkeeper would say, “You are a silly boy. What is it about this time?” Bless your father in the grave who doesn’t have to deal with this nonsense.”
The shopkeeper played the role of the ‘father’ perfectly. He would assume an indignant attitude towards the boy in the presence of the teacher. After the teacher had laid bare the boy’s crimes, he would rage and rave at the boy and to cap it, slap solidly his face. If the slap had been too hard, the boy deducted a shilling from the fee, which exchanged hands after the incident. But generally the matter ended to everyone’s satisfaction. Especially the boy was very happy.
“I would rather kill myself than let my mother face this crab” He once said.
My point is not to tell a trivial story but to assert that even small boys knew that decency required protecting women from ugly situations. And boys learned this commitment early. I am reminded the first time my father left for a long trip. He called my eldest brother, 11 years old at the time, and installed him as the head of the family.
“Look, Mohamed,” He said, “I’m going away for some time and in my absence, you’ll be the man of the house. Make sure to look after the family, especially your mother and sisters.”
As the second eldest son and infected with siblings’ natural rivalry, this turned me green with envy. I protested.
“Dad, let me be the man of the house. I can do it better than Mohamed.”
Mohamed gave that ominous look, which made it clear that as soon as our father turned his back, he would make short work of me. But our father was tactful. While he retained him as the head, he made me his deputy.
Mohamed and I took our assignment too literally. We pestered, almost terrorized our ladies. When they complained, we invoked the powers that were vested in us by our father. Less they had forgotten it, we reminded them that we were the men of the house. Sometimes our mother had to put us in our place by getting physical. This failed to be much of deterrence. When our father came back, the ladies related to him a litany of woes that they had gone through on account of us. Our father, ever tactful, supported Mohamed and I in front of them, but gave us private tuition on how to rule without resorting to tyranny. Eventually, after several more tenures as head and deputy, we mastered the role by trial and error.
Though urbanites, my family, like others, had interest in the rural areas. My father’s sheep and goats were kept in the Guban or lower Oogo under the care of my paternal uncles and his camels grazed in the Haud, looked after by my maternal uncles. During school holidays we used to go to one place or the other if the seasonal rains were bountiful. So I learned a few things about life in the interior as well.
Life in the interior was unbearably hard. The striking thing, however, was the nomads were pretty oblivious to it and it was only we, urbanites, who whined about it. This amused the nomads very much and they called us “Arabs” meaning, I suppose “Softies.” Their resilience was extraordinary. Neither thirst nor hunger seemed to affect them. Darkness and light were one and the same thing. Sounds of wild animals scared us out of our wits, but were music to their ears. Walking long distances exhausted us, but was natural to them.
But one noticed that in the interior too, the brunt of the hardship appropriately fell on men and boys and women and girls were assigned to relatively less strenuous tasks. Men took the camels to far away pastures (daaq geen). They fetched water from distant wells or water reservoirs (Dhaan). If they saw a lightning in the horizon they made exploratory trips in its direction next morning looking for better and newly rain-nourished grazing places (Sahan). If decision was made to move to the new area, they took the lion’s share in packing up and putting the huts’ components on the burdens camels (Rarid). With everything on the move, one of them darted ahead of the pack and guide the group to the best settlement spot through a load guttural sound that traveled for miles (Baaqid). They helped unload the heavy items from the camels back (Dejin). They dealt with thorny bushes to make animal pens (Owdis). They took animals to the water wells (Aroor). They milked the camels (Lisid). They took animals to the market, sell them and exchange the proceeds for food, clothes and other needs (Safar). All this plus their role as protectors of the community from other tribal forays (Gurmad) and sometimes perpetrators of forays themselves into other tribes (Duulaan).
I am not saying that women had an easy ride. If nothing else rural conditions would not allow it. Indeed, their roles and tasks were as vital as their men folks’. But these roles and tasks were normally less strenuous and less dangerous.
Alas, times are a-changing. Things are not the same. A disturbing transformation seems to be taking place that is destabilizing the true and tried, tranquil family way of life and the respective traditional roles of men and women that were the fundamentals of its sustenance.
Increasingly, women have taken over the role of being the de-facto heads and breadwinners for many families. The marketplaces of Hargesia and other major towns these days are filled with women selling all and sundry; from vegetables to electronics. They toil under abhorring conditions usually under naked sun. Some of them even bring along their babies and toddlers because obviously there is no one at home who would care for them. Women are out in force. They are money exchange dealers, shopkeepers, traders, tailors and scores of other things. You find them in foreign countries in more numbers than men buying merchandise to re-sell them back home. And going to foreign countries for business is not all fun. One finds an align culture and unscrupulous traders and dupers and mostly belligerent officialdom. In some places, especially in Arabia, foreign unaccompanied women are usually and mistakenly taken for to be trading in more ways than harmless merchandise. Women are harassed.
It is evident that women are not doing this by choice. This trend is not a sign of feminine progress. I am all for gender equality. It will gladden me to see more women doctors, lawyers, politicians, businesswomen and what else. It is only in countries that had tapped the vast reserves of female talent that made strides in living standards. However, such progress comes through genuine advancement in education and positive changes in attitudes, which do not upset but rather improve family life. The fact is many women are doing the toiling because the very survival of their families depends on them alone.
Where are the men?
It is true that the past oppression and economic deprivation that Somalilanders had suffered under the Southerners brutally removed more men than women from productive life. With their men either dead or invalid and with other male relatives likewise, many women were forced to support themselves and their families. It is true that Somaliland (with indifferent International community that has denied it recognition and with hyenas lurking on its east, west and north borders -Somalia, Djibouti and Arabia- that wishes to tear it to pieces) is undergoing dire economic difficulties. Sure unemployment is widespread. Call that a cruel fate. But what about when men are present and able-bodied?
The sad fact is many men have abdicated their responsibility and duty towards their families without equally relinquishing their rights. They want to be treated as those who wear the pants in the house without being those who put food on the dinner table or may I say, dinner mat. They would not even contribute to other household chores like looking after children, cooking, cleaning, laundering so that women are freed to secure livelihood. They want to eat the cake and keep it too.
Now Asha (name changed to preserve privacy) sells tomatoes and lettuces under the naked sun. You can see she was born a beauty but presently, unprotected from nature’s elements and ravished by constant exertion she is a pale and grotesque shadow of former self. Though in her twenties she looks more forty. She is holding a baby on her lap suckling her and a toddler squatting beside her. She tries to protect herself from sun with a battered umbrella but with her hands otherwise engaged, the umbrella sits on her head. Still she sells and does not complain much. After midday she collects such unsold and still saleable tomatoes and lettuces; stores them in a nearby building and with the baby wrapped on her back and the toddler in hand heads for home. It is not the end of a day for Asha. She still has the family to cook for and the house to clean up.
She has a husband. His name is Omer (name changed again). He is able-bodied. He goes out in the morning. He laments that there is no gainful work to do. What is a man to do when there is no work to? He shrugs his shoulders and says that it was God’s will. Fate is playing an ugly joke on me, he believes. It is not him that brought about such hard times. The lady can worry about food for the family and the household chores all right, but he has a pressing problem. How will he get his daily quota of qat, which he cannot do without? He scratches his head and thinks hard.
In our culture, there are two kinds of beggary. One is straight forward asking for alms (Dawarsi). One solicits it from strangers or acquaintances alike and one takes what is given gratefully. The other type is more clamorous, almost respectable and certainly comical. One goes to an acquaintance or to a relative and his mere presence or a perfunctory word is supposed to produce funds (Shaxaad). The donor is not expected to contribute; rather he is required to cough up all that his solicitor requested and happily do it in such a way as if it were his obligation to give. If the donor comes short and gives less than expected, it will greatly disappoint the solicitor or even draw his ire and the solicitor may say:
“Do you think I am begging you?! If you are hard up I will give you as much?”
The donor then apologizes profusely and explains the reasons for his meanness. The solicitor takes what is given as if it is a part and unsatisfactory repayment of debt he gave earlier and dejectedly walks away.
God forbid, our friend Omer is not a beggar (Dawarsede), but he is a master solicitor (Shaxaade). It has now become his occupation and he does not even bother looking for a job. If it is not his resident friends or relatives in Hargeisa, he looks for travelers from abroad (Janaalayaal). He walks the length and breath of the city looking for a familiar face. Some days he comes to a dead end. Not enough time has elapsed to revisit his local donors, some of whom are of no use anyway because they at last have acquired the courage of saying no. Besides, one does not always find a charitable Janaale. But it is midday and he must quickly get his qat by hook or crook. Suddenly he has an inspiration. He remembers his wife. He heads for home.
Asha takes one look at him and without a word dips into her little egg nest. She gives him such amount that would buy two bundles of qat, his daily consumption. Asha is a smart woman and if she can avert a catastrophe, she would not hesitate. The first time Omer had asked for his qat’s money, she protested. She said if she was providing for the family’s necessities he should not at least bother her with his habits. That brought about a volley of blows to her face and upper body. She was sore and blue for more than a week. Sales were lost and the children nearly went hungry. She learned her lesson.
Omer is happy. It looked like a bad day at first, but now he is enjoying chewing his qat amongst his friends. Asha had been very reasonable lately, he thinks. As Somaliland is a classless society, Omer’s qat-chewing pals are from all walks of life. After an hour of chewing they started getting a little high (marqaan) and presently are volubly discussing the affairs of world. They mostly talk about politics. Problems are expertly dissected and ingenious but simplistic solutions are given. Great plans are made and business alliances are formed amongst themselves. They decide to build skyscrapers soon. Everyone is earnest and means what he says, but it never occurs to them that these are exactly the same issues they discussed and decided on yesterday. Tomorrow glaring reality will present itself and nobody will remember a thing of what is being said now. But who cares about yesterday and tomorrow is another day. The important thing is they are all happy now.
Its now nearly 10 o’clock and the qat session is over. Omer comes home. He finds his wife and children fast asleep. But insomnia due qat keeps him awake. He feels that qat induced feeling that though it inhibits performance tends to gives the urge to do, errr, the thing. He roughly wakes up his wife. Asha is reasonable again. Exhaustion and worry robbed her of both stamina and desire, but she surrenders to her husband’s amorous advances. The alternative is not an option. Mercifully Omar is expedient in such thing. But the last baby is one year old and human conception is the result a joining of two cells irrespective of whether or not their donors enjoyed the process of the cells’ meeting. Asha knows that the unmistakable symptoms of conception will set in soon. Alas, another mouth to feed!
The life of this family is not an exception but an example. One finds too many Ashas and too many Omers in Somaliland these days.
Likewise the structured life in the interior has undergone a similarly destructive shift. It is not unheard of these days of women undertaking traditionally men’s tasks of Daaq geen, Dhaan, Sahan, Rarid, Dejin, Baaqid, Dejin, Owdis, Aroor, Lisid and Safar. War mongering is just about only role exclusively retained by men and this perhaps because war is loathsome to women’s nature.
I recently met an old man who had lost the sight of one of his eyes due to a freak accident. Milking camels one evening with the help of his wife (italicized for stress), he tried to free one baby camel from its pen by pulling the thorny shrub gate. A branch of the shrub sprang at his face and a thorn pierced his eye. He said it had fallen on him and his wife to milk the camels though both were past the time for such chores. His grandchildren, the children of the old man’s sons, and their young wives needed to be fed. Earlier that evening they decided to quit milking the camels to make a point. But the grandchildren, too young to know anything except milk in their bowl were perplexed when milk was not served them at the usual time. One by one they went to their grandfather.
“Grandpa, where is our milk tonight?” they inquired.
Remorse griped the old man. It was sinful to punish innocent children for something that had not been their folly. He called his wife and set out milking the camels and the accident happened.
“Where were the children’s fathers?” I asked him
“They were in the township chewing qat. They do that on most days”
Again this is not an isolated incident. It is a sign of modern times in the interior.
Discord In Diaspora
In last decade many families immigrated to foreign lands especially the western countries. There as well the unique Somalilandian unitary family system seems to be crumpling at an alarming rate. Admittedly cultural shock, different social environment and laws are all contributory factors for this phenomenon. Furthermore the qat has followed the Diaspora to far away places. Men argue that women, suddenly planted in a permissive society and having recourse to legal protection (especially against domestic violence), have gone over their heads. They say women are casually repelling against men’s traditional authority as heads of family. Women counter that men are as much a bundle of trouble as they were back home. They accuse men of not trying to adept to new ways and circumstances. The families’ status as refugees means limitations in income and most men do precious little to look for work (any work) to improve the their lot. Instead many men place disproportionate claims on such meager income to gratify their habits of chewing qat and in some cases alcohol abuse. Women complain that men lay restrictions on the women and children’s behavior and activities, which are impractical and unwarranted under the new social circumstances and way of life.
There is some truth in both allegations. Some women may have failed to distinguish the lines between more freedom and gender equality on one hand and excessive permissiveness on the other. Appearances fool any uninitiated and naive person. Western culture, despite superficial looseness is founded on rock solid values of family cohesion, hard work and the pursuit of knowledge. I have never seen a society where men and women are equal either in their rights or in their responsibilities. Perhaps these are the women who had erroneously believed that back home the odds were against them and that now tables have turned. Revengeful and carried away by seemingly sympathetic law enforcement, they tend to be, to speak figuratively, trigger happy, or may I say 911 happy.
On the whole, however, I tend to side with the women. At home or abroad, if men neglect their primary responsibility of providing for their families, anything women do can be justifiable or defensible.
Qat and other substance abuse are the obvious scapegoats and certainly aggravate the problem. It falls on our government, civic and religious institutions to eradicate or at least control them. But I refuse to ascribe them as its root cause. These products were available when things were better. The root cause is a baffling deterioration of the core values that are the essence of a man’s existence. Unless we return to these core values, God help us!
September 11: A Satanic Attack On America
By: Bashir Sh. Omer Goth, Abu Dhabi
Come September 11 and my heart goes out to the families, relatives and friends of those who perished in one of the most horrendous, most cruel and most hate-driven mass slaughters of human beings in the recent past. My solace and comfort also goes to the millions of Muslims living in the West whose life has been turned upside down by the action of the lunatic, pseudo-Muslim psychopaths who crashed civilian planes onto commercial buildings. Looking back at what might have moved such a demented brigade to wage such meaningless but ferocious attack on human life and man’s achievements, I cannot but recall Friedrich Nietzsche’s words that “ convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies.” Once someone becomes totally besotted with his own fantasies that he and he alone holds the whole truth in his hands, there is no way that any ordinary human reasoning can stop him from falling into the abyss. One can dismiss as sheer lunacy when such a person meets his fate alone, but the alarming tragedy is when he decides to take with him a whole lot of people to his inevitable doom. The whole issue, however, regrettably turns into an episode of a grotesque absurd comedy, when a whole community draws gratification from such a tragedy in a state of mob frenzy of Freudian proportions.
It is unfortunateto seethis heinous crimecommitted by suchreligiouszealotswho should have been languishing inconfinement cells in dingyprisons of theThird Worldwhere they belong, being strenuously defended by hapless clerks, apologetic academicians and hypocrite politicians in various corners of the Islamic world. If anything, these miscreants have brought shame, ridicule and an untold amount of misery and anguish to their brothers and sisters in faith, both inside and outside Muslim countries. I am not fond of describing anybody with vigorous expletives but I have no respect whatsoever for someone who has made it his own mission to hijack my religion, ridicule my humanity, insult my intelligence, defame my dignity, obliterate my cultural pride and forestall my aspirations for a good life and future prosperity for my children to achieve his own God-knows-what perverse fantasies.
Whatcausesmegreat pain and agony is that one year after the attack of September 11, 2001, I have yet to hear a Muslim leader, cleric, academician, or politician, declare an outright condemnation of the crime and offer a sincere sympathy to the American people in general and the relatives of the victims in particular. “We are all Americans” cried the French Le Monde, reacting to the Sept.11 attack, and “Shame” was all that Oriana Fallaci, that ailing and frail but sharp and eloquent Italian writer, could afford amid sobs of grief and gasps of anger in her forthright indignation, published in the Corriere della Sera. Knowing the self-righteous attitude of the Arab and Islamic world, I have never expected such an emotional outpour from their leaders, but considering the magnitude of the crime, I frankly anticipated some sort of outrage. However, the Muslim leaders, particularly Arab despots, have not only failed in shouldering their moral obligation, awesomely, but have been repeatedly and indecently weaving endless chains of conspiracy theories about the event as if evil has to be reasoned to be condemned as evil.
Damned they must be, the perpetrators, and damned they will be in the deepest caverns of hell. This I must say, loudly and bluntly, if those who claim to represent me have no guts to pronounce it in the real vividness and clarity it deserves. For God, the beneficent the merciful, has never and will never sanction evil to be committed in his name.
The following poem is my way of recapturing the gravity of that ominous day, which has not only derailed the trajectory of human history but has also caused unprecedented rift between world civilizations, thus bringing closer Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations by a day or two. It is my way of making sense of the senseless and somehow reaching out to the victims of the attack.
INFERNO OF MANHATTAN
Stench of sizzling human flesh,
Dead, comatose, living,
Whole bodies, part bodies,
Flying charred paper cuts
Inferno of Manhattan
Death, death, death
Silence at ground zero.
Hordes of ghostly human beings
From the hellfire of Hades
Silhouettes of weary
Drenched in hot rancid sweat
Sooty acrid phlegm
Hugs of shock
Lost of virginity
O’ Lord !
Why do they hate us ?
On September eleven
America wakes up
To its naïve nakedness.
Astounded prophets of doom
Baffled scribes, pundits rummage
Through ancient scrolls;
Old wounds, new wrongs,
Ashes of foregone battles
Why do they hate us?
Parchment after parchment
They fumble for ominous answer
“Demonic medieval rage
Pent up anger
Over age-old oligarchies
In far away lands
Over lost gardens in Andalusia
Embroiled in biblical lands”
Outward poetic license
Of the Almighty’s oracle
Laughing to their graves
To reserved paradise
Carrying dowry in pails
Of the infidel’s blood
To the waiting bosoms
Of six dozens
Of doe-eyed maidens”
Up from their scrolls;
On came the airwaves,
The sardonic delight
Of the Sarecean salute !
Rivers of denial, fatwas,
Bereft of denouncements
Of outright condemnation,
Sheer divine ecstasy
Flow in various shades
From the shifting palaces
From the shimmering sands
Of Shehrazade’s abode
“This is war”
Erupts the American soul
“America should win ”
Hands reach for hands
Hearts reach for hearts
One nation, one land
Under God, indivisible
Tremor, Tremor, Tremor
American anger on the move
Heaven is painted red
Either with David or with Goliath
Even the Great Almighty
Should make up his mind.