The Somali community has always lived true to its popular adage that it is an oral society that relies more on word of mouth. From the generation of yore, folklores, poems and songs have been passed over through word of mouth. Despite the exposure to distortion, many of these folklores are often rich and complex with incredible depth. Artists, conscious of cultural norms couldn’t explicitly sing on topics regarded as taboos such as sexual intimacy. Powerful messages on topics such as love were passed through intricate songs, ballads and poems that was difficult to comprehend and interpret. Literature rich songs used figurative devices such as metaphors to describe one thing while implying another. A good example is Hassan Adan Samatar’s song Saxan Saaxo which continues to draw varied interpretations for decades. Such concealing practices attests to a culturally conservative society that was careful with and mindful of speech. Blame it mainly on social media, more specifically on Facebook’s Live function, an unprecedented drastic shift from the guarded speech to unrestrained ranting, shouting and screaming dealt the conservative culture a blow.
Facebooks’ Live function provides the space to spontaneously interact and reach a vastly dispersed audience. For some Somalis, this function continues to enormously contribute to the deviation from conservativeness to unrestrained freedom of expressing anything and everything with complete disregard for moral values - a trend that reeks of moral bankruptcy which, if not contained, will contaminate the minds of the young generation. Cyber bullying, trolling and exposing the underage to adult contents is taken tons of notches higher.
The last few years has seen a rise in the plethora of charlatans masquerading as motivational speakers who trade on tirades, obscenity and address and respond to one another in speeches laced with unprintable words. They often comprise of diverse age groups, mostly based in the West, majority of whom are middle aged women and men perhaps struggling with midlife crisis. When they take on one another which happens often, one wonders what has remained of once upon a time a conservative society that was guided by ethics and moral values. There is a bunch of youngsters too who emulate their ‘role models’ and compete on outdoing each other not in studies and sports but in cyberbullying and trolling.
Some of these social media ‘motivational speakers’ fan the ambers of ethnic strife – a vice that threw the Somalia to the dogs two decades ago and a delicate subject that needs to be handled with extreme caution, if not completely eschewed especially at a crucial time when Somalia is struggling to shake off a protracted period of violence. Unfortunately, these individuals have been made opinion shapers and role models mainly by a set of rudderless youthful audience who get swayed easily. Sometime in 2016, one of these individuals rightfully foretold targets of explosion leaving many shocked as whether he had connections with Al-Shabaab - Al-Qaida’s Somalia franchise which later claimed responsibility. Equally or more harmful are the online ‘doctors without licenses’ that don’t charge consultation fees. Preying on the uneducated Somali women, these ‘doctors’ market their own ‘beauty’ products and ‘medicines.’ The result; dried out bleached faces.
However, in these hostile spaces, there are a number of genuine and inspirational individuals who have taken upon themselves the responsibility to contribute positively to the community. Their sessions ranging from practical demonstration of how to prepare a delicious Somali cuisine to inspirational stories of resilience, their educative and informative topics such as tips on happy marriage, religious sermons and healthy politics generate interest among the young Somali people.
Infuriately, the rise in the immoral ‘motivational speakers’ lying through their teeth continue to eclipse the good ones providing an ample proof of the line, often attributed to Winston Churchill that a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on. It is no doubt that social media is eroding the Somali culture.
By Abdalla Dahir
The author is a Communication consultant. Follow him on Twitter @M_dahir.