By Abdiaziz Arab
After months of political infights among the Somali politicians over the procedures of the next elections (supposedly should’ve happened three months ago), we have finally an agreement in place. Although that saga thankfully is over, we nearly touched the edges of dangerous territories, and the country could have easily slipped back to old miserable and lawlessness days. Last few elections that we held as a nation, among the politicians and tribe leaders, there was disagreements, political infights (although non-armed conflicts, it had to be said), obstacles and snags. All of these impediments were overcame with some ease in one way or another, and the power was transferred peacefully to the election winners.
The question that we should ask ourselves is why the 2021 election proofed to be a real banana skin, and nearly slithered our country into arm conflicts? Is it because that our government wasn’t prepared for elections? Is it the state leaders were hindering the government’s efforts to hold the elections? Perhaps, the election model (the vexatious 4.5) does not suit the nation’s need for real political representation? Or, was there (as the opposition claimed) a charlatan situation that the president and his entourage were sabotaging the election process? Though one thing is very clear, however, the politicians of all sides played with fire; government and opposition, and they are the real culprits for endangering and gambling the country’s stability, for political gains.
On 27 of May, Somali people around the world had a sigh of relief after hearing that the Somali politicians have agreed on the nation’s election programme. And that is something we should encourage and welcome. But let us turn our attention back to the above questions and examine why this “particular” election nearly knocked us off our perches? To answer these types of questions we need firstly to put aside all our emotions and allegiances to parties, groups, tribes, or individuals. Secondly, we need to be objective and search for the answers in our history and the history of those that had taken a similar path and had come up against comparable adversaries.
The answer to the above questions can be summarised in one word: distrust. The reason I say this is that we are not less intelligent or efforts than other nations, but we just don’t have the same level of trust amongst ourselves that other prosperous nations enjoy. In contrast, the trust meter levels between us are in the red. We will come back to this point later in the article.
Let us rewind the clock to 1960, when Somalia declared independence from the European colonies: the British and the Italians, respectively. Somalis then fought tooth and nail by any means was available to them to drive the colonies out of our country. That was an honourable struggle, and I am sure we all grateful to those heroes. But before that magical year, the vast majority of Somalis were pastoral society living in rural areas of the country and had no prior experience living in cities, apart from a handful of traders. Somalis created a state without first learning how to live in urban areas. It is like attempting to drive a vehicle without learning how to drive first. This was where the confusion and bewilderment that we still suffer first begun. Unfortunately, as of today, we never addressed this issue, instead, we buried it under the carpet and get on moving. As a result of our lack of experience in living in cities let alone governing a whole country, led us to a social and political explosion. The importing of the relatively little-known democracy system to us from the former masters’, also fuelled the situation and escalated our falling. As argued by late Somali poet and philosopher Mohammed Hashi Gaariye (God bless his soul) when Somalis moved to the cities, they did not undergo a proper urbanisation process and did not create a philosophy about how to live and prosper in cities. Instead, they imported the rural philosophy into the city, and they attempted to apply it in the cities. For example, in the rural areas if someone killed your father you take the matter into your hands and avenge for your father. While in the city if someone do the same, there are murder investigators, the police and, the matter will be settled in courts, so on and so forth. According to abwaan Gaariye, this led to a cultural and social explosion. The word explosion here, we don’t mean it a car bomb or anything like that, but a complete social destruction. Also, since the Somali society functions as tribal societies and is camel herders. They treated (and still are treating) the government institutions just like their camel, hence the first anthem for the nation was “aan maalno hasheena maandeeq” “let us milk our she-camel” reflects that. Comparatively to the camel herding society, when a president is elected to the highest office in the country, all his tribe members surround him, defend him no matter what, even if he treats them badly. Because they see him as their she-camel. And the she-camel should be looked after and defended from the enemies in rich and poor, in health and sickness and in drought and rain.
By pure luck or some sort of magic, (or whatever way you believe) we somehow survived the first decade as an independent nation. But not without turmoil, though. This opened the door for another experiment: the communist experiment. Again, the communists like their predecessors failed to address the vital issue of preparing the society’s transitional process from rural life to urban life. In its place, they imported Karl Marx’s manifesto about proletariat rights and movements and the condemnation of the upper class. But in 1969, there was hardly any upper class in Somalia. Like the democratisation attempt in the previous decade, the communist attempt ended in dismay. Even worse, the military rule led the country by an iron fist and no-nonsense approach, which resulted in complete destruction that culminated in the 1991 civil war for almost 30 years. Bang, that was the second explosion. We then dispersed all over the place to the West and the East, confused, blaming the West, the East, the neighbouring countries, but ourselves. While all this chaos and bewilderment was going, some groups tried to hijack the situation by hiding under the umbrella of Islam, they too failed miserably. It is like throwing stones at the enemy’s advancing tanks – as the Somali saying goes “colka waraf ma lagu dayay?”.
Call it luck or destiny again, against all odds, we found some lifeline and a light at the end of the tunnel in the 2000s. This time we told ourselves, that we are more experienced and cleverer than those before us. So, we decided to import yet again another system designed for people other than us. We adopted federalism, or should we say tribal-confederation, I think the latter befits fairly with the current system that we have. Again, all of this happened, without addressing our first issue in 1960: the urbanisation challenges. That’s why I think we should not really blame president Farmaajo or the oppositions, or the state leaders for that matter because our problem as a nation is greater than those individuals and entities. No matter who becomes the president or the prime minister for our country, it will make no difference — until we stop acting and behaving like nomads, we will never get grips with governing ourselves. Correspondingly to the old and famous Somali saying, it seems that in contemporary Somali politics; there is no cold spot in hell, “naari meel qaboow maleh”. Because of our historical failures to adopt and create an urban philosophy, and because of constantly importing systems designed for nations other than us, I don’t think we can blame the current crops of politicians that run our political lives.
In the same fashion, the lack of trust has been the real obstacle to our growth as a society. Trust is key to success both as an individual and a nation. If there is no trust, there is no life. And the world surrounding us is built on trust. Take the giant car manufacturer, Toyota Motor Corporation, for example. It was founded in 1937 by the Japanese pioneer Kiichiro Toyoda. As of 2017 data, Toyota has 364,445 employees worldwide, the vast majority of whom never met let alone knowing one another. But, yet again their product wins the car of the year, year in and year out. Why is that? And how this happened? How a bunch of strangers constituting mechanic engineers and salesmen from all corners of the world managed the success of this magnitude? It is simple, they trusted one another. Toyota has directors and shareholders, but they don’t constitute the company. All of them can be dismissed tomorrow, but the company will remain in existence. Trust is the key to the success of large corporations, and governments and nation-building systems are no different. So, if we want to be a successful nation, we must trust one another. Another example of trust on an individual level is, if you become ill and require surgery, you will go to a doctor. This doctor may not necessarily come from your country and speak your language, and she may not share your belief system. But that will not stop you from trusting her with your life. That level of trust is what we require as a nation to move forward.
On a final note, developed and even developing countries acquired stability and functioning governments by going through the right sequences of revolutions, hardships, and developments. They first created a philosophy about how-to live-in cities by educating the masses. While we tried to pick fruits before first planting the right crops. I don’t have anything against the rural culture, I think the rural culture is beautiful in its place, however, what I am trying to say is that to move forward as a modern society, we need to distinguish the two cultures. In the same token once we onboard and boost our trust levels we will definitely be on track with our counterparts – and the sky will be the limit for our success. But currently, there is no cold spot in hell!!