Who failed Somalia?

Who failed Somalia?

by Said Ahmed Salah
Sunday, March 31, 2013

“Of all ignorance, the ignorance of the educated is the most dangerous.  Not only are educated people likely to have more influence, they are the last people to suspect that they don’t know what they are talking about when they go outside their narrow fields.” — Thomas Sowell

Somalia has everything it needs for regaining momentum to succeed at this juncture of its turbulent history, with one exception: critical masses of thinkers, analysts and policy specialists who can help unleash the creative potential of the Somali people and build a functioning government and policy structures that will facilitate a new wave of nationalism and successes in nation building. Figuring out of  why so many of our intellectuals and  experts are so poorly equipped to play a constructive role-and figuring out how to develop the leadership we currently lack- may be the single most important work Somalis need to work on right now.

I think that Somalia is walking on a thorny road, and that we are stuck with a tribal-based model that doesn’t work, or, may I say that can’t go toe-in-toe with a modern national life. No matter how we try to numerically simplify, or amplify our tribal base structures (4.5, 5,), or give a particular spin on the importance, or no-importance of “federalism”, the tribal-based governance model is about to fail. I have no desire to inundate you on the relevance of this argument; we all could see how the gathering storms would look like. Unless we tend to betray our senses, we live in a modern era in which tribal affinity and existing tribal structures make no sense any more. Our social unity demands emphasis of modern concepts and social constructs such as businesses, professional structures, citizenship, or families.

There is a great deal of work ahead to enable us meet the challenges. I am optimistic that we, as a people, can make the right moves. Our people are stronger than they know. Our culture of enterprise and risk-taking is still strong: a critical mass of Somalis still has the values and characteristics that helped us form the Somali Republic in the first place, and to overcome the challenges of the last two decades.

But when I look the problems we face, I worry. It is not that our national life and cohesiveness is eroding, because we committed sins of pride, tribalism and sectarianism, and that, so far, our leaders are short of offering a perspective that provides some coherence to politics and current events. And it is not about the hefty task of reconstruction: we can and will deal with that if we get our policies and politics right.  And it is certainly not the blatant international meddling of our affairs: Our neighbors and the rest of the world will afford us mutual respect and weigh our wishes once we make proper footing.

No, what worries me most today is the state of the people who should be the natural leaders of the next Somali transformation: our intellectuals and professionals: sons and daughters of Somalia who lost track of the important issues. Not all of them, I hasten to say: we have great scholars and some daring thinkers, who, at minimum, keep on writing on the rough-and-tumble of Somali politics.

But the sad reality today is that so many of Somalia’s best-educated, best-placed people are too invested on old social models and primordial values to do a real job and help Somalia transition to the next level. Instead of opportunities for change they see threats; instead of hope they see danger; instead of healing a broken nation they inflame gaping wounds; and instead of the possibility of progress they duel on revisionism, and the undoing of everything that was true and worthy to stand.

Too many of the very people who should be leading the country in to a process of renewal that would allow us to harness the full power of modern knowledge and technology and make the average person incomparably better off and more in control of his or her own destiny than ever before, are devoting their considerable talent and energy to petty squabbles, trivial chatter and tribal pontification that relives the ugly past rather than to transcend it.

Even though higher learning has flourished among generations of Somalis who were lucky enough to migrate to a number of key receiving countries, including the United States, Canada, and Europe. Yet, a significant number have shown a feeling that they are generally not concerned, may I say sufficiently, with Somalia’s rebirth, perhaps of vastly embedded mediocrity or a general tendency and inclination to express parochial loyalties and sentiments that favor inter-tribe conflicts.

It is obvious we are still haunted by nomadic memories! Whenever and wherever our academics, professionals, leaders of the government interact and converse remains ravaged by baseless arguments and ad-hominem attacks. Rather than facing the stark reality of existing national problems, and finding cure for the political breakdown of the nation, the discourse tends dominated by the elastic tribal sense of grievance and victimhood, beneath which an inter-group hatred lurk.

This entails the rather disturbing recognition that we are more prone today (more than any other time), relinquishing our own sense of ‘Somali’ identity. . We cannot say for sure we have the right leaders to run the country. No one seems to know for sure what kind of government system we will have and survive in the long haul. It appears no one knows who will win or lose in both the distribution of political and economic power.

Somali politics became dominated by an unpleasant and destructive discourse, mixing self-pity and arrogance in equal parts. Each of our frequent failures has a pre-fabricated excuse; each of our occasional successes, generates significant controversy.

This problem will continue if the ruling elite limit their outreach, do not fully absorb the reality on the ground, and do not fully respect the lines of division drawn between them according to positions in the vertical and horizontal distribution of power. This problem will continue if the educated classes do not try to rectify their shortcomings, errors and failures of the entire Somali landscape and current political dispensation.

Said Ahmed Salah
Sterling, VA