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Toronto (Canada)

Feb, 21. 2004


M. M. Afrah

Weeks ago one of the faction leaders made some appallingly offensive remarks against the Jareer, (kinky haired people). Mohamed Dheere was reacting about a press conference by Kenyan Foreign Minister about some of the warlords/faction leaders who threatened to walk away from the talks in Nairobi, because it was alleged that somebody, somewhere had altered the Constitution Charter signed by all the Somali participants on January 29.

In an interview with the horn of afrik tv Mohamed Dheere was quoted as saying that: "Amar nama siin karo jareerka Musyoka la yiraahdo " (The kinky haired Musyoka cannot give us orders), referring to Mr.Kalonzo Musyoka, the Kenyan Foreign Minister, a Kamba tribesman who is more handsome and smartly dressed than some of the noisy and scruffy Somali warlords in Mbagathi.


Discriminatory practices against the God-fearing, unwarlike Bantus, the Midgaans, the Tumaals, the Boons and other minorities in Somalia is not really about the conscious or unconscious biases of one particular faction leader, rather, it is to be found in the centuries old structure and culture of the Somali society. Also, there is a heavy reliance on stereotypes that serve to reinforce negative images of minorities.

The Somali Bantus had to settle for the lowest and most undignified occupations, and are prevented from intermarrying with the predominantly Jileec or Waryaa ethnic groups.

Minorities in Somalia know there are two groups in the country-Waryaa and Maay peoples. They also know that there are different rules for each society. An outspoken Waryaa is "aggressive" and "has edge." A member of minority groups with similar traits "has a chip" on his or her shoulder. He or she acquiesces. They go along to get along. To differ is tantamount to death, as had been witnessed the wholesale massacre of the Gosha, Maay, the Bajunis, Hamaris and the Bravanese people during the decade long anarchy in the country following the collapse of Major-General Barre's regime.

Displaced rural agriculturalists, mainly the Somali Bantus and the Maay are congregated at Baidoa-Gosha-Bardera "triangle of death." Most of them were forced to work as slave labourers in their own farms, while others were blocked by the militia gunmen from returning to their places of residence, which were stolen by villainous warlords. The lucky ones sought refuge in neighbouring Kenya, after long and perilous trek, where they could easily blend with the Kenyans, such as the Wakamba and the Kikuyu, if they wanted to.

Other minority groups that have been subjected to second class status, just because they have been part of the Industrial Revolution living among nomadic and camel herding societies, are the Midgaans, the Tumaals and the Boons. These groups are dispersed among all Somali clans who loathe and subject them to all kinds of discrimination similar to the Jareer. Their only "misdemeanor" is that they are technicians and produce equipments used for land cultivation, for domestic use and warfare, such as knives, spoons, spears, arrows, steel bowls and leather shoes.

Simply put, they discovered iron ore and melted them into metals during the Stone Age and quickly produced all kinds of tools necessary for the day-to-day life among the agricultural, the hunting and the nomadic communities all over the country. Yet, just like the Somali Bantus, they were discriminated against by their fellow countrymen, and were denied to intermarry, share meals or even water with other clans.

There is a heavy reliance on stereotypes that reinforce negative images of minorities in our country. The Somali Bantus on the whole faired worse than the Harijans, the "Untouchables" of India before Mahatma Gandhi called them the "Children of God." Their conditions deteriorated particularly during the civil war when militia from other Provinces caused unspeakable horrendous devastations between the two rivers (Juba and Shabelle), where the unwarlike Bantu and the Maay peoples had fashioned Somalia's first Breadbasket.

Paradoxically, as soon as tribal warfare erupts everyone runs to the Tumaals ordering them to produce spears, knives and arrows with which to defend the tribe's water wells, grassing rights and their homestead (the portable shelters), their women, and their livestock.

Mahatma Gandhi

We must find ways to end stigmatizing our brothers and sisters who have been helping us with their expertise in the field of technology and food production, when we were running, half-naked, after unprofitable camels and environmental unfriendly goats for centuries.

Academics and anti-racist groups who have been monitoring, analyzing and working with other Somali scholars on the plight of the Somali Bantus and other minorities for decades concur that there have been negative images of all minorities in Somalia for centuries.

I am sure those of you in the Diaspora are by now ashamed of yourselves and condemn this type of apartheid against hard working, peace loving section of our population. Because while in the Diaspora we have learned the brutal truth that all peoples with dark skin, whether Bantus or non-Bantus are classified as Blacks in many parts of lily white Europe and North America without distinction. Besides Islam or any another religion does not sanction these ridiculous norms among human beings. Every faith on earth proclaim, that: "All Humans are Created Equal" and should be treated as such.

Admittedly, some of these bible peddlers do not always practice what they preach. However, some free thinkers believe that the church, which professes to serve all humanity, is in fact part of the problem.

"They (the churches) depict Satan and the Devil as black men, while they portray the Angel as lily white," writes an outspoken Nigerian editorial writer. There was an immediate uproar against him and was eventually excommunicated or expelled from the Roman Catholic Church, which he belonged.

I honestly believe that this issue is not about skin colour, hair and the size or shape of one's nose, as some people have said in an effort to stimulate the matter. Nor is it just political humour. It is a deep-seated attitude in our culture towards diversity in a society that claimed to be homogenous.

It's clear some people in the political junk don't get it. Certainly Mohamed Dheere doesn't get it. His supporters have been quoted as saying: "It's only the horn of afrik tv boys." . But that's another subject.

There was a widespread appreciation when the Americans agreed to airlift thousands of Somali Bantus to be resettled in the United States after years of atrocious life in Kenyan refugee camps. And in a prompt wave of reaction, the U.S. media pounced on the airlift, describing it as America's second humanitarian intervention in Somalia, and the American public response has been overwhelmingly favourable, despite their uneasiness with the current situation in Iraq, and the economy. As always they shall overcome.

A truly democratic liberal society requires a more inclusive, impartial, transparent and responsible leaders. But given the sorry state of affairs in Somalia that seems a distance dream, and we wish the Somali Bantus and their families a better life in the United States.

By M. M. Afrah©2004

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