THE 2007 TRIENNIAL CONGRESS OF THE SOMALI STUDIES INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION (SSIA):
An Academic Convention or a Gathering of 'Wreckers and Spoilers' ?
by Khalif Samakaab
Saturday, August 18, 2007
The 2007 Triennial Congress of the Somali Studies International Association (SSIA) is scheduled to be held at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, from 15 to 18 August this year and will consider the theme "Somali Studies in The 21st Century: Local and Global Perspectives".
The twenty-first century finds Somalia in a deplorable state: largely destroyed and deeply divided but trying to put its pieces together as it plods precariously to an uncertain future. Mother Somalia is still harassed by her own children, especially the educated few who owe her a large debt of gratitude - those who were supposed to come to its rescue in the hour of its greatest need and heal the bleeding wounds that were inflicted on her by her own sons and daughters. It is truly sad when your own children turn against you after you have nursed them, and fed them, protected them, and sheltered them, and educated them and then tear your heart apart when they themselves turn against one another.
But the century also finds the SSIA in a similar state. How unfortunate! The academics and others who will gather in the Triennial Congress are well-known; their respective positions vis-à-vis what has been and is going on in the country is also well-known. Although most of them come from academia they have not been able to rise above their own personal and clan prejudices, and have seldom, if at all, treated issues with the objectivity and detachment on which academics generally establish their authority and build their names. Flat and unsubstantiated statements bordering on demagoguery, which many of them have been making in radio and television interviews, and in their writings as well, have been out of spite and nothing to do with the academic titles under which they proffered those statements. If any thing at all, they have only deepened the political and clan cleavages that continue to hamper efforts towards reconciliation.
Different types of groups will likely attend the gathering so far as we know. Some are secessionist die-hards who spare no effort in perpetuating the tragedy in the Deep South of the country so as to gain the sympathy of the International Community for their nefarious scheme. They even include hired foreigners who for a few pennies distort our history and paint, under the cloak of scholarship, a political picture of our North which is far from the objective reality. Others are TFG-haters among who are the sympathizers of Islamic Courts - sympathizers who are blind to, and even implicitly condone, the assassination of government officers and TFG supporters, the use of terror tactics against innocent civilians, etc. merely to demonstrate to the world that Mogadishu is neither safe nor secure in the hands of the TFG. The third group consists of those who are against certain leaders of the TFG and includes persons from the Arta Group who can only see the TFG through jaundiced eyes. To make matters worse the Head of the BBC (Somali Service) - that mouthpiece of all anti-TFG forces – is also on the list of those who will attend, not to expiate his sins but to rationalize them and feel at home with his friends.
All these groups constitute together what Lord Triesman, Britain's former Minister for Africa, called the "wreckers and spoilers" of the Somalia peace and reconciliation process. They are a negative force which casts aspersions on whoever supports the TFG and the reconciliation process, demonizes the TFG leadership, attacks American policy and calls, under false nationalist pretenses, for a war of “liberation” against the Ethiopian and African Union Peacekeepers in Mogadishu. Their active negativity fuels the violence in our country and gives an air of legitimacy, albeit false, to extremist elements.
It is not being argued here that there should be no opposition in our new post-civil-war polity. Opposition is necessary for a healthy political system and even good for the government itself because, as observed by Disraeli long ago, “No Government can be long secure without a formidable Opposition”. But, there are times when Government and Opposition should be on the same side. There are times when even civil liberties are suspended for the greater good of saving a nation. Whilst it would be absolute folly to insinuate to or encourage the TFG to trample on our rights we are, as Somalis, duty-bound to put all our efforts together, setting our rancor and differences aside, in order to create a viable polity in which we can all exercise our political and civil rights and even aspire to, and compete for, political power. This, indeed, is the time for a veritable Harambee to make that possible.
Admittedly, there will be a minority of level-headed attendees who, having no axe to grind, will try to be objective and constructive in the true fashion of credible academics. It is hoped – and that may prove a forlorn hope – that their voices will not be drowned by the shouting of the tendentious majority.
With that background the Triennial Congress should muster enough courage to rise to the glaring internal as well as external challenges that it faces, if the SSIA is to achieve credibility. Its first challenge is to put itself above clan and personal prejudices and refrain from advancing certain counterproductive political agendas of a personal or clannish nature;
Secondly, the Prime Minister has, in his address to the National Reconciliation Conference in Mogadishu, unveiled the program of his government for paving the ground for elections to take place in 2009 as envisaged in the Charter. We should all welcome that. The second challenge, therefore, is to come up with credible solutions that will bolster peace in our capital and help the Somali State stand erect on its own feet and create an atmosphere conducive to holding general elections as scheduled.
The third challenge is to initiate, or at least propose, concrete steps that will lead to the reversal of two decades of brain drain and the return of the talents so necessary for the huge reconstruction task that awaits all of us.
The fourth challenge is to explore the possibilities of making sense out of the mushrooming of unplanned and under-funded universities and to consolidate them with a view to creating few but better-quality universities which will benefit by the pooling of resources.
We know that the SSIA should ideally be devoted, not only to credible research driven by a sense of scholarship, but also the exchange and dissemination of unadulterated knowledge. That will only be possible, however, if its individual members go through a process of catharsis so as to rid themselves of the personal and clan prejudices that detract from the quality of their contributions. We hope and pray that the congress will meet these challenges and that the SSIA will henceforth metamorphosize into an unambiguous and credible instrument for a true understanding of our multifaceted problems with a view to finding possible solutions.
Save Somalia Society,
Email: [email protected]