Somalia in Crisis: Why?

Published on 23rd December 2008

There is hardly any difference among Somalis that there is a crisis. Our very existence as a nation is in serious jeopardy and our territorial integrity is being threatened. There are many people making various diagnosis of this malaise that is plaguing the nation today. But indeed this only identifies the symptoms rather than the real roots of the problem. The heart of this crisis is basically in two folds: secularism and negative tribalism. First one is inherited from the colonial powers and it separates Islam from the affairs of the state; the second one is self-inflicted social decease that stems from the dark side of tribal institutions exploited by politicians. First is a form of governance developed by nations whose views of authority, morality, and history are different than ours. The later is a tool often used by wicked leaders in the time of crises.


For over hundred years, Somalia has faced the challenge of the so-called European enlightenment and modernity. While the rulers and nearly all of the nation’s elite have embraced European political systems, Somali public has witnessed total failure of these concepts in their country. We never had inquisition courts persecuting innocent civilians or clergy class that is allied with or justified the excess of ruling elite. Yet the imposition of European ideologies on us was justified as step forward. Ideologies that emerged the conditions of modernity (such as Marxism and Liberalism) have failed miserably and, to our dismay, they continue to compete with Islam in trying to shape our society today. Secularism, as is understood in the West, is the view that public education and other matters of civil policy should be conducted without the introduction of a religious element. Our brand was a bit different as it allowed diluted and neutralized Islamic legal system in few areas of the constitution. We always had alternative systems other than colonial legacies left behind by European masters. Islamic political system is one of these options but we never explore it. But why did our leaders buy that nonsensical view? These political views do not resonate to the large public, nor do they conform to the values and ethical system that we hold so dearly. It was a deliberate self-deception to believe that Islamic political thought inhibits modernity or progressive ideas. It does not inhibit either of them and the historical record affirms that.


In the sixties, we wholeheartedly embraced Democracy. Among other things, it politicized tribalism. Justice was an option that enjoyed political support. Nepotism was the norm. The old notion of clan-based allegiance had taken new relevance. When the army revolted and ousted the government illegally, the public did not shed tears. To the contrary, they explicitly supported the military junta. The new military regime and horrors it inflicted to the Somalis is well known to the survivors. Under Communism, the government had declared war to Islam. The system collapsed at a time the government had been waging undeclared war with very people it is supposed to protect. Both governments had one thing in common: they both advocated secularism. They truly believed an alien political system was needed to assure the development that country was desperately needed. Democratic government in sixties allowed tribal institutions and nomadic justice system based on shari’a but made subject to the dictates of secular law that government adopted as its constitution. On other hand, military regime separated Islam and government as matter of principal.


The bare statement that secularism works is not impressive. Of course, it works in the West because this view has relevance to their collective history. After all, it is the result of their experience. What makes secularism impressive is the extent it worked or whether it will ever work for us. The fact of the matter is it did not work in Somalia. The only relevant question is how much colonial political systems contributed to the crisis we are in today. Secular proponents led us in the wrong direction not only because they were indifferent to the interest of their nation but also they were ignorant about other alternatives or unwilling to embrace them.


At the height of the cold war, world super powers had compelling interests in persuading nations that have geo-political value. One of the conditions of getting their support was submission to their ideology. Thus corrupt regimes like ours, which would have otherwise been ousted by public uprising, got second chance to prolong their grip of power. Our leaders were asking for handouts-begging- in the true sense of the word for foreign aid by declaring that they implemented the policies that were favorable to the donors. The very systems that were supposed to modernize our means of production and lead us to prosperity reduced us to recipients of corn shipments that could be easily grown on our fertile land. The junk of that aid shipment didn’t reach the intended target but was sold to business racketeers. While it subsidized the agricultural industry of donor nations, it put the domestic farmers out of business. There was no incentive to grow corn that you cannot sell due to the competition of cheap aid shipments present in the market.


We could have easily found out the reasons that made our farmers fail to mass-produce and then ask the assistance of others to rectify the problem. The mismanagement of public funds, corruption, and other social ills were symptoms of the problem not its cause. One may argue that this kind of problem is just indication of corrupt leadership more than failure of the system. But the leaders are the authors of the system and the public relies on their character more than the system since it is open for changes that supposedly reflect public desires.


Moreover previous governments launched campaigns to “educate” the public so that they would have the skills to be productive citizens. The “educated” few have been perpetuating the same system. Absent from this curriculum, endorsed by the state, was the meaning and wisdom behind the Koran that most Somali children learned by heart at age ten. Yet the old ways of nomadic belief that moral authority comes from supremacy of Almighty God remained intact and conviction that they are accountable to no one but Allah is true as it was in early days. This coexistence of shari’a and secular government created duality of authority. Striped of its moral authority, government was seen as entity that serves the interest of leaders and their tribes. Thus strong clans had implicitly declared their candidacy of the leadership position and made clear their resolve to achieve it by any means necessary.


Confused and betrayed, the Somali public had been suffering the blunders of the old-school politicians left behind by colonial masters. Laws written by philosophers that do not take into account the faith and code of conduct of communities that live on this side of the globe are doomed to fail. The reason is that Somalis are Muslim and Islam condemned shirki. Recognition of any authority as the highest or ultimate authority in place of god constitutes as shirki. The government used its might to enforce what most Somalis knew to be shirki. Nevertheless we were told that these ideologies provide tools that enable us to succeed.


If one believes that we are masters to our future because we are free beings; one must also understand that we are equally the slaves of our past and must pay folly’s price by not realizing the correlation between our present conditions and past decisions.


To be continued


By Burhan 'Beddel' Dalmar

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