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TALKING POINT : SOMALIA'S SEASON OF DESPAIR
…THERE'S ALSO A BRIGHT SIDE TO IT
TAKING POINT BY
M.M. AFRAH
Toronto (Canada)

20, Sep. 2003

SOMALIA'S SEASON OF DESPAIR …THERE'S ALSO A BRIGHT SIDE TO IT
Email: afrah95@hotmail.com
M. M. Afrah

"I've seen the devil of violence and the devil of greed and the devil of hot desire; but, by all the stars! These were strong, lusty, red-eyed devils that swayed and drove men-men, I tell you. But as I stood on that hillside, I foresaw that in the blinding sunshine of that land, I would become acquainted with a flabby, pretending weak-eyed devil of a rapacious and pitiless folly."
--CONRAD, Heart of Darkness


No one doubts that the next President of Somalia will be in an extraordinary position to deal with-a full plate of troubles and desolation. I sympathize with him the more because new and more aggressive faction leaders had entered into the situation to rock the boat.

The hope that long series of betrayals and bloodshed would end and be replaced by some attempts to implement the principles of human rights and a responsible government have been dashed.

An undeclared open defiance and rebellion by hitherto unknown faction leader who goes by the of Bashir Raage Shirar last week entered in the murky Somali situation to rock the city with fear of a renewed bloodshed, by mobilizing his heavily-armed young boys in order to obstruct a scheduled second meeting by the G-5 faction leaders in Mogadishu with the aim at "salvaging" the ongoing Somali talks in Kenya.

Many people smelled another fruitless meeting, but one of these leaders denied their meeting "did not constitute" parallel talks. These are key faction leaders and the TNG President Abdiqassim Salad Hassan who walked out of the long dragging Somali parley at the warthog-infested Mbagathi, a Nairobi suburb, in protest.

Our man in Mogadishu says that the inhabitants of the City of Sorrows who have gone through hell and high water in the past are quite literally keeping their chins up, even with the likelihood of a new carnage in the city. But the days of Afminsharis (influence peddlers) and revolutionaries who instill fear into the minds of the people are gone forever. Business is booming as usual despite the anguish, he reported.

Boys as young as 12 and 14-years-old, with their forefingers on the trigger of their AK-47s are deployed in every corner around the venue of the aborted meeting of the G-5 leaders and are ready to shoot at anything that moved. "The gun has now become the rite of passage for young boys in the country. Some of the boys are not even taller than the average M-16 assault rifle", he concluded in his report.

It remains mystery why this new faction leader mobilized his forces at a time when the proverbial glimmer of hope appeared at the end of the tunnel. Or was it a show of strength as often happens whenever a faction leader feels that he is being sidelined?

One day I was watching a Wild West movie with my 9-year-old grandson in Toronto. On the TV screen, two cowboys were exchanging rifle fire at a distance of thirty meters or so. They were fighting among enormous rounded boulders, and as far as one could tell each was trying to move as close as the other as possible. One cowboy was middle-aged, handsome and smartly dressed, the other young and poorly dressed. There was music. At length, the handsome cowboy surprised the young one loading his weapon. The young cowboy threw his rifle down and attempted to draw a sidearm. The handsome one blew him away. Both men were fighting for the control of a small frontier town called Laramie. Obviously the young cowboy was trying violently against the status quo without a back up.

Most of the warlords are former army officers who graduated from Soviet military academies in the 1970s and favored a sudden, surgical military action instead of political dialogue based on give and take.

I made a quick mental comparison between these two Hollywood cowboys and the Somali warlords. A seasoned warlord is fully prepared to blow away a greenhorn, or a wannabe warlord to protect his domain, and at the same time send a strong signal to others who attempt to risk their lives in a bid to topple him.
"It's the same in Somalia," I told my grandson.
"Are they like those cowboys?" he asked.
"They're worse than mindless robots," I answered him, recalling the red-eyed, drug-crazed devils who massacred innocent civilians in Mogadishu and Baidoa, just because they happened to belong to the wrong tribe and found themselves in the wrong place. In the film, at least the poorly dressed cowboy had a gun and tried to pin down his more powerful opponent.

Perhaps I belong to the vanished era in Somali history. I've been around long enough to witness that the petty politicians in Somalia are modern day Marquis de Sade who are playing teeter tooter in politics, clinging on to their evil domains non-challantly. Maybe I'd hold my hands pressed to my ears in the position of hearing no evil. No, no, not yet, anyway. Because optimism keep pumping into my veins, hoping against hope that one day Somalia would return to the community of nations.

On the bright side, the Somali people are resourceful and had enough wisdom to guide them through the turmoil they are in. But deep down they are stretched beyond the limit of all endurances. However, the years of hardship and mayhem had masked a lot of their emotions to the outside world. They knew they have been abandoned by the oil rich Arabs, the Muslim world (the Islamic Conference Organization), the United Nations and other regional and international organizations of which Somalia was a full member. No other people on earth could endure what the Somali people have undergone and are still undergoing for such a long time. As a matter of fact, they can teach the world how to survive against all odds without the luxury of basic necessities. They can easily beat "THE SURVIVORS", the TV series for surviving in the most dangerous place on earth without outside assistance.

Even those who fled the country, with only the clothes on their backs are doing thriving businesses of their own and added more color and buoyancy to their adopted countries, and in cities like Toronto in Canada and Minnesota in the United States, they outfoxed other ethnic groups who arrived there long before them. One of the newcomer Somalis, Mohamoud Wardhere, has even run for mayor. Many of the newcomers were impressed. To them, it was sort of oxygen in their new life that a newcomer could stand for an election.

After their gruesome trip through hostile territories, they defied silently the artic winter, the culture shock and the language barrier. Similar to the millions of refugees who arrived in the "New World" before them, the majority could not utter a single English word. But after months of relentlessly attending English language classes, and listening carefully people chatter in the American slang, their hosts admired the newcomers' attempts to perfect their English. But their children are doing great in schools and are top on their classes. Some of them have earned awards in swimming and other athletic events.

Historically, the Somalis traded with ancient Egypt and China four hundred years before Christopher Columbus discovered America. The land was then known as the Land of Myrrh and Frankincense.

In St. Paul in Minnesota (USA), Police Chief, Finney, an African-American, joked during a group photo that since Somalis looked like him, and he looks like Somalis, they should be comfortable with each other.

Now in their fashionable new malls in Minnesota, for example, the Somalis quickly opened colorful bazaars and restaurants specializing in Somali foods, freshly imported camel meat (free from Mad cow disease), goat meat, cholesterol free sesame seed oil, currency transfer businesses, travel agencies, barbershops and vibrant bilingual newspapers (with English and Somali sections). The editors and publishers of Juba Weekly and WARSAN are trying to make them stylish.

Juba Weekly, with the slogan "The Political & Economic Mirror of Somali-Americans" displayed a screaming headline on May 16, 2003 that says "DOES BETRAYING ALLIES EMPOWER FOES?" The Editor-in-Chief of the paper, Yuusuf Budle, said: "To many Somali observers some members of our community who are American allies are being marginalized. Furthermore, people rejecting the American system and philosophy are being inaugurated to certain leadership status, according to a secular-minded individuals who want to remain anonymous at the time."

Mr. Budle asks his readers these crucial questions: "Could you one day pay a dear price for being a foreign born pro-American? Would that kind of treatment from the administration, encourage future allies go underground to avoid embarrassment in front of the foes?"

This is a very good start for the sweet taste of democracy and freedom of the press, but the Somali community has a long way to go politically and socially. It is hoped that many potential candidates would run for higher state and city offices, following the example of Mohamoud Wardhere.

Juba Weekly also campaigns for the release of Omar Jamal, founder of St. Paul-based Somali Justice and Advocacy Center. Omar Jamal is the modern day Martin Luther King Jr. for America's largest community of Somali immigrants.

Omar was arrested in early April and released on $6,500 bail with an electronic monitoring device after three days in jail, according to a well-researched article under the title of "Silencing an Uppity Immigrant" by Karl Lyderson, the paper's regular contributor.

To make their presence felt in the United States and Canada, the community had even introduced soccer tournaments in their adopted countries with fledging young Somali teams bracing themselves for national and international competitions. They are tax paying, law-abiding new citizens, according to city officials.

The stalls in the malls would not be out of place in peacetime Mogadishu or Hargeisa. The displays are more or less the same, the same merchandize, the same haggling and the same smile. No price tags are of course necessary for some of the imported merchandize in display, such as clothing, the ankle length floral shapeless gowns known as Dir'a preferred by Somali women and scents. That's where sincere haggling comes in earnest. No more gun-slinging Mooryaans, demanding protection money or else…no more stray bullets flying over their heads, and no more Bakaaraha supermarket of weapons.

Family ties are very strong in Somalia, and the first casualty of the civil/clan wars was the living standard of every family in the war-torn country. And. Because all banking and other financial institutions have been destroyed, Somalis in the Diaspora repatriate millions of dollars each year through Somali operated money transfer companies known as Hawaala, a system based on trust, to their loved ones left behind in the middle of grotesque pileup of tragedies.

However, from our vantage points in the Diaspora, we impatient old geezers assume that the people at home are not really ready for a popular uprising against the modern day Marquis de Sade, not because they do not want it, but because the merciless warlords are heavily armed with the latest in hi-tech weaponry, such as tanks, long range artillery guns, mortars, RPG7s, anti-aircraft guns, night vision goggles (pilfered from the U.S. Marines during the botched Operation Restore Hope) and shoulder-fired missiles, and are jerky to see to it that the people remain divided along clan lines, borrowing a leaf from the old colonialists policy of divide and rule. Thus the people are exposed to day-to-day traumatic events since 1990.

We can't easily forget the fact that the old country has been divided by war criminals into patchwork of clan fiefdoms. They are like androids that do not have a vestige of human feelings.

The great Somali playwright and composer, Mohamed Ali Kaariye drew a memorable line with this question: "WAR ISKU DAALANYEE MAXAA INOO DAN AH?" Undaunted by the bullets flying over his head, Kaariye performed his last play with the same title in a makeshift open-air theatre in north Mogadishu at the height of the civil/clan wars in 1992. He died of natural death in a Nairobi hospital in 1995 with a smile on his face, according to visitors at his hospital deathbed.

Things being the way they are we can't simply afford to ignore Kaariye's legacy, so we must sit down in the traditional Somali way, and ask ourselves the same question in order to find a lasting solution to end the senseless killings and anarchy.
Mohamed Ali Kariye's legacy will be remembered.


By M. M. Afrah©2003,
Email: afrah95@hotmail.com

 


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