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Toronto (Canada)

02, May 2003

M. M. Afrah

Fear is a powerful anaesthetic. First it dulls sensibilities then the brain.
Even from the distance and "comfort" of North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, many Somalis easily feel these effects.

Somalis in the Diaspora are certainly worried sick about their loved ones back home and the future of the country after more than a decade of crisscrossing the continents, face to face with stony-faced immigration officials, bigoted landlords, (from warlords to landlords!), bullying security guards, racial and religious- profiling, not to mention the harsh winter, and culture shock.

Our hosts should be ashamed of these acts and the people who call this "unusual times" should know that their ancestors too arrived in the "New World" as refugees and immigrants with only the clothes on their backs. They should know that there is nothing wrong with being a refugee or immigrant. After all it was the refugees and immigrants who built the "New World" with their sweat and blood.

Even Albert Einstein was a penniless refugee.

Since what is known as 911 tragedy coming to America has turned out to be a nightmare for people with Muslim sounding names or who looked "different."

A recent case in point is a former colleague of mine who was photographed, interrogated and fingerprinted. He passed immigration and security at New York's JFK Airport, yet he was determined to pose a threat of some kind by some Home Security people just because he wore a turban (Cimmaamad), carrying worry beads and his name was Mohamed Hussein. This people should know that the name Mohamed or Hussein are just any other name, such as Smith, John, MacDonald or Cohen. One can only wonder what the authorities would have done if the people who committed the heinous crimes against the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York City and the Pentagon carried Christian names.

In the case of Mohamed Hussein, it transpired later that the captain and crew had radioed the Home Security that a "potential terrorist" is traveling a first class cabin in their airliner and that the passengers and crew feared his presence in the plane.

It is strange that airlines report a "different" looking fare-paying, law-abiding person to airport security, while at the same time are saying that they would go bankrupt if they don't get people to fly.

They too should be ashamed of these ridiculous acts, or else they would go bankrupt, because for one thing, the people who fly these days look what they perceive as "different" from them.

The Indian born, award winning author, Rohintan Mistry, after one interrogation too many at airports, abandoned a US book tour in frustration. One of his books, "We must all say No" tells it all.

Another case in point is the allegation that Omar Jamal of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center in the US has allegedly committed fraud filing immigration documents in Tennessee years ago. And following the 2001 terrorist attacks, Jamal pleaded with US government officials to fight terrorism without targeting the innocents.
"If I get deported, it will be with a big smile, knowing that I have received so much support," Omar Jamal said before hundreds of Somalis at a recent meeting about his case.

Deport to where?

I could not grasp why now after more than seven years in the United States? Why single out Jamal from among thousands of Somalis who made their homes in the United States after fleeing the inferno that is Somalia? Is it because of his outspokenness on behalf of the Somalis in the US? Just wondering.


As if that is not enough the world closed its eyes, covered its ears and shut its mouth, even when it is evident that the streets in Somalia still run with blood. But the world fled to cross another line, because there's no oil in Somalia to attract the attention of the oil barons.

Shoved headlong into the random violence that once seemed to happen only to other people in other places, or in the movies, Somalia has momentarily lost its equilibrium as it tries to reach safety and stability that eludes it. But fear, like other anaesthetic, eventually wears off. Given more time, sensibilities return and the brain recovers. When that happens, a nation created to deliver the freedom that comes with homogeneity and religious tolerance will adjust itself, show the warlords the door, bury clan worshipping and regain its natural course.

The warlords/faction leaders have been meeting in Kenya since October last year. It wasn't for the purpose of establishing a broad-based responsible government, but to farther divide an already fragmented people, the purpose of which is to maintain the status quo. It was clear from day one at the old Eldoret venue that most of the warlords/faction leaders represented themselves, talking one thing while having other things in mind.

There are several basic questions that concern the ordinary Somali people: To disarm the gunmen once and for all, remove the chain of makeshift barricades from the streets, a credible police force to keep law and order, an independent judicial system, the supremacy of human rights, the restoration of vital civic services such as the reopening of the schools and hospitals, reopening the main airport and seaport and the provision of clean drinking water. Regional and international organization can play a pivotal role in putting Somalia on its own feet again.

As Julius Nyerere said in his book, "Uhuru na Ujama" :"The essential point is that no individual or group of individuals would be able to hold ransom either the society as a whole, or other individuals by means of their exclusive control of an instrument which is necessary to the increasing well-being of the community."

It is difficult to see how this could be achieved without the existence of some system of free elections in a country where the gun rules. Hence the importance of nation-wide disarmament in order to pave the way for elections free from violence and intimidation, which I believe is the logical approach of rebuilding a country like Somalia from scratch.

It's a shaky theory because some of the warlords do not like to change their horrendous décor at home, fearing that some day there would be an accountability and would end up in a corner to answer their past records---they will have to account for their crimes against humanity.


It is now apparent that, after failed peace talks in the past, the Somalis have to deal with their own problems in their own ways instead of relying on others to settle their problems for them. One recent suggestion is that the Southerners should take their unending problems to Hargeisa for a workable solution. After all, it was the Northerners who came to Mogadishu in 1960. "We can learn from the Northerners and that the healing must start now", the suggestion says. But I doubt very much if the Northerners would have anything to do with the Southern debacle anymore.

One bogeyman that frightens our brothers in Somaliland is that "all" Southerners were responsible for the destruction of Hargeisa during General Siyad Barre's autocratic rule and that Southerners held all key ministerial portfolios and top military and civil service positions during Barre's 21 years rule in Somalia. They have a point there, but they should know that Barre was a master of manipulations and had played one clan against another in order to remain in power. They should also know that, like every dictator in Africa, these key positions in government were usually held none other than by his own clan and we were all complacent.

None of us, including the Northerners, could speak out for obvious reason. To do so at the time would have been tantamount to committing mass suicide both in the North and the South. Regrettably, we continued to sing "Caynaanka hay, weligaa hay." And felt good about it until the brain returned. But it led us to self-destruction never seen in our history. Just ask Maxamad Warsame Xadraawi. He is the one man who had suffered in isolation and incommunicado the most for a long time.

Despite all the pain and suffering, I am confident we will surmount the pumps on the road to peace and stability. Only time will reveal.

The Jury is out!

M.M. Afrah 2003


Mr. Afrah is an outspoken Author/Journalist and a member of the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) and the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). He contributes hard-hitting articles to Canadian and international newspapers and magazines on the Somalia situation "through the eyes of a man who covered the country for more than two decades".

Many of us remember his critical articles in his weekly English language HEEGAN newspaper, despite a mandatory self-censorship introduced by Guddiga Baarista Hisbiga Xisbiga Hantiwadaagga Somaaliyeed in 1984 and the dreaded NSS. I am very proud to know that Mr. Afrah openly defied the draconian censorship laws and went ahead to write what he thought was wrong in the country. He received several death threats from the warlords and was briefly held hostage by gunmen in 1993. But he remained defiant and continued to send his stories of carnage and destruction to Reuters news agency. He still is!


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