By Nur Hersi Bahal
Ambrose Bierce once said that politics is â€œstrife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage. â€ I share his insight and I detest it for its dishonesty and its trivial pursuit of making fact into fiction and fiction into fact. But let us give the devil his due: Most societies, to the exclusion of the Somalis, have a purpose and a common objective or a national agenda respected equally by all. This is, for example, the reason that the position of the United States of America towards the Middle East does not change regardless of what party comes to power. Politics, in a society with a plan, becomes a tool that fosters and accommodates a variety of views. Do Somalis have a common goal? Whereas the rest of the world draws on a system such as democracy to foster an atmosphere of stability that nurtures progress we have opted for tribocracy. The war-lord-paradise where every time there is reconciliation the worst of their lot comes to the top to claim legitimacy in leadership has more to blame than just the power-hungry war lords.
For a long time, we have ignored the role of the general populace and their share in maintaining the continued grip of the predatory warlords and facilitating the warlordsâ€™ ever growing confidence to make their gun-wielding politics a reality. It takes a number of partners in crime for social deconstruction to succeed to the point of anarchy. The stance of the warlords flourishes on the availability of manpower and grassroots support. Hoards of young males, including some who are barely in their teens, look to warlords for employment and in turn provide the much need bands of armed militia. An equally dangerous support is garnered from inside and, more importantly, outside the country where clan and tribe members are poised to support â€˜theirâ€™ warlord morally, materially and ideologically. If 15 years of lawlessness, draughts, natural disasters, the death of over 500,000 people and the daily ravage of killings and crimes perpetrated against their nation and their brethren does not convince them of the heinousness of their thought process, what will it take to get them to wake up?
Introduced by Arab Sheikhs sometime around three hundred years after the birth of Islam in Arabia, groups of Somalis in a locality formed a confederacy to a particular sheikh who taught them Islam. They became his â€œXerâ€ commonly referred to as the â€œXertii Sheekh Hebelâ€ â€“ The Religious Confederacy of Sheikh so and so. Given enough time, such confederacies developed into full blown tribes with their line of paternal ancestry adjusted to go back to the Sheikh himself and instead of â€œxerti Sheekh Hebelâ€ it became â€œreer Hebelâ€. There is a simple prove for this: The average line of ancestry (abtiris) is 20 grandfathers to the Sheikh. The average life span in those days was not more than 60 years. Therefore, the ancestral lineage or tribe is only 1200 years old. But Somalis existed in the Horn of Africa for the last 5000 years evidenced by the recorded trade and interactions with the Phoenicians, Ancient Egyptians, the Chinese, and Indians etc. way before the Christian era. Without belittling the influence of Arabs and the relationship with Arabia, the fact that Somalis have a distinct language and an idiosyncratic physical feature that endured over the ions is a clear indication that Somalis are a race onto itself parallel to the Arab race.
The overarching principle in tribalism is collective liability. The tribe is jointly responsible for the wrong-doing of its members. The individual was insured into a tribal â€˜policyâ€™ where unanimously agreed upon elders advocate for and stand in his/her stead in the event of a mishap. The tribe used to impose the necessary punitive measures required to impede individuals from taking advantage of tribal allegiance. The advent of Western governance in Somalia, and in most African countries, introduced an alien element in tribal thinking. Politics and the politicization of tribe altered the course of deserved trust and altruistic interactions between tribes to attain or maximize peace, coexistence and stability. The average Somali looks at politics as the art of out-manouvering others, including clans of his own tribe, by any means necessary. In the Somali language politics (siyaasad) is synonymous with deceit, cheating, dishonesty, treachery etc. and therefore, it is not a mere coincidence that tribal politics has a propensity to by-pass the inherent limitations in any fair dealing or the expected accountability that accompanies any position of responsibility. Without the restrictions on behaviour imposed by the old tribal rules such as morality, honesty, cooperation, and in the absence of tribal mechanisms that require compliance to the rules and regulations which avoid conflict, leadership within a tribe is also synonymous with a contest between the few who can afford to give. The current divide of each tribe into clans is an attribute of not only the natural continues partitioning of tribalism into smaller and smaller units but also the effects of loss of the tribalismâ€™s pillar; unanimous acknowledgement of tribal leadership, a character that brings harmony and coherence into people with a variety of inspirations. Elders whose outlook on the tribal affairs involves peaceful dealing and compromise with others are endangered species today with their ideas equated or referred to as antiquated.
This multi-layered and multifarious new breed of delusional thought requires a society to espouse a position towards those who use patriarchy to attain a self-serving end if she aims to relinquish decades of ravage and war. Tribalists are very savvy in refusing to concede that the interest of their tribe is dependent upon a fully functioning Somali nation. At a time when tribal politics has emerged as a tool of survival, it is infantile to harbor any believe that lets you imagine the possibility of your tribe at the realm of a nation to the exclusion of others. Todayâ€™s political impasse in Somalia is a direct result of tribes constantly swimming against the current, each claiming to be fighting for the right thing. Unless and until each and every tribe holds its members accountable for their actions it will be futile to even think of peace and stability in Somalia. War lords, above all, should be made accountable. After all it is their tribe that fuels the imagination of their undeterred egos. If a war lord does possess the courage to bring peace even to his fellow tribesmen and women then what good is he to them? Even in Somaliland where peace prevailed over the last 14 years, one can see the ravages of tribocracy and its intrinsic vices. Somaliland has lost the opportunity to use the most expensive commodity - peace - to its advantage. Squabbling over tribal lines and dirty musing of tribal politics has wasted time and resource that could have lifted the people spirits and given them hope of progress and the realization of their potential. But I digress. Let me come back to the issue at hand!
At the height of this moronic debacle called Somali peace process and politics is the Diaspora. A living, thinking, society builds upon its common goals to arrive at beneficial aims that adds to the betterment of the value of their life. It should learn from other societies and enrich itself as a result of getting access to knowledge and experience not available to their folks back in Somalia. It has the opportunity to gain insights into how members of other cultures cooperate to ensure their survival, progress and prosperity. The Somali Diaspora has deliberately failed to augment its thought process and closed itself in a cocoon unaffected by the world of progress built on a health thought process and logic. Our Diaspora employs antediluvian thinking in a world decided by selection of the best possible strategy to ensure success. Tribocracy is the only thing the Somali Diaspora knows and it has not even procured a strategy to develop tribalism to bring cooperation to them and facilitate peace and nation building in Somalia. It seems to me that the Diaspora is feeding the fire of the nation whose problems they immigrated from.
The Somalis in North America chose to take sides between the warring factions. The President of the TFG and the Chairman of the TFG Parliament were in recently in North America to attend a UN session for the 60 th birthday of the United Nations and the World Parliament Day. It was a golden opportunity for the Diaspora to bring this groups to the table and give them an ultimatum to reconcile or else! I was shocked to read that groups loyal to the Chairman of the TFG Parliament apprehended â€œspiesâ€ from the TFG President support who wanted take back information. Equally amazing, is the fact that scores of people loyal to Abdillahi Yusuf left Toronto to meet him in New York. Chairman of the Parliament came to Toronto. There were guards at the door to stop â€œunfriendlyâ€ and â€œspies to beâ€. Of course identification was on tribal basis. What do you expect!!! I was supposed to speak at the Chairmanâ€™s visit in Toronto but I was taken off the list. Actually, no body spoke. The reception was changed to a question and answer session. I am speculating that the group that prepared the reception was not ready for tough questions. I intention, were I allowed to say a few words, was to tell the Chairman that both he and Abdillahi Yusuf are operating the outside the agreed upon constitution. In that case, no one is right. I was going to tell him that while they squabble like band of baboons a 150 Somali kids die every day. I was going to tell him that Abdillahi Yusuf cannot tell us that he wants to solve their differences by using peace and persuasion and then turn around and ask the Security Council to lift the arms embargo. Who does he think he is kidding! There are 100 million guns in Somalia. He wants the Security Council to scrap the article that prohibits a nation to invade another. In this case he is paving the way for Ethiopia to invade Somalia. I was going to tell him that he, Mr. Shariff, cannot tell us that Mogadishu is safe and the government can move in while foreigners and Somalis who fight for justice and peace are slaughtered in broad daylight every day of the week. I was going to tell him that while Mogadishu is hostage to a tribal militia, it will impossible to dream of peace. I was going to tell him that if he and Abdillahi Yusuf are not willing to follow, they do not deserve to lead. I was going to tell him that it is too late to trick me anymore. I have grown, matured and learned and I came onto my own. I can see a lying politician a mile away. I am not going to sing the Guulwade anymore for I cannot see victory in the blood of the Somali children. I was going to say that he and Abdillahi Yusuf and each and every war lord can go to Hell!!!
Nur Hersi Bahal
Toronto , Canada
I thought dis was a nice piece.