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Is Corruption a Somali Culture?

by Ali Osman
Monday, January 26, 2015

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The parliament forced The Prime Minister of Somalia to annul his Ministerial choices, apparently, he feared the parliament may not approve it without making significant changes. There are a lots of debates of whys but the underlying reason cannot be denied, it is because there are such a demand and stampede for these official positions.

Consider this fact, how many honest folks are willing to trade a comfortable job in an advanced country to a job that pays less than $1000 per month with the added risk of being assassinated, blamed and still be expected to do a professional job? In addition, they are not getting an AC, hot shower, a fridge, and all the amenities they have been accustomed to! They are also going to be fighting a very aggressive flies that want to eat their breakfast! Only sincere few will be interested for such a job.

This brings me to a statement that I hear at Somali gatherings that corruption cannot be eliminated because we have a culture of corruption. But do we really have corruption as a culture? I beg to differ.

All nations drive their culture from their religious identity whether it is Islam, Christianity, Judaism or Buddhism. Somali culture’s DNA is that of Islam. We may have incorporated into our ways of doing things but the overarching framework and  reference for the Somali culture is that of Islam. Islam  is evident in our major life events such as marriage, death, birth, blood money, reconciliation or Gar Qaad.

The question that arises then is, does Islam condone corruption? If we go back to the Islamic sources we find that Islam as Universal Systems has unequivocally condemned all forms of corruption. Take for example the following Hadith:

The Prophet appointed a man from the tribe of Bani Asad, called Ibn Al-Utabiyya to collect the Zakat. When he returned (with the money) he said (to the Prophet), "This is for you and this has been given to me as a gift." The Prophet stood up on the pulpit (Sufyan said he ascended the pulpit), and after glorifying and praising Allah, he said, "What is wrong with the employee whom we send (to collect Zakat from the public) that he returns to say, 'This is for you and that is for me?' Why didn't he stay at his father's and mother's house to see whether he will be given gifts or not? By Him in Whose Hand my life is, whoever takes anything illegally will bring it on the Day of Resurrection by carrying it over his neck: if it is a camel, it will be grunting: if it is a cow, it will be mooing: and if it is a sheep it will be bleating!" The Prophet then raised both his hands till we saw the whiteness of his armpits (and he said), "No doubt! Haven't I conveyed Allah's Message?" And he repeated it three times.

Narrated Abu Humaid Al-Sa'idi: Sahih Bukhari: Translator: M. Muhsin Khan: Volume 9, Book 89, Number 286:

The hadith is such a profound when you consider the world culture at the time was a relationship based,  honor, family, filial, friendship, tribe, and Monarchical duty was paramount and highly respected foundation. Therefore, the hadith shook the foundation of not only the Arabs but the entire world order by introducing a universal system and rules for public officials.

It put into a motion, the universal values that an elected or an appointed officials must adhere to regardless of the demands of their culture, familial, tribal or Royal duties. After this day all avenues of corruption and conflict of interest is been closed in public service arena. In another words, if one takes a public service job, it comes with responsibilities and rules that must be followed and be held accountable.

The action of the Prophet Muhammad PBUH was to lay the foundation for this universal values that is based on clear and understandable and unambiguous rules.  It is the clearest evidence that you cannot combine public service work  with personal interests. It is highly cautionary hadith for those campaigning to hold, or perform public duty.

The centuries that these universal values were followed and defended, the world saw human progress and development that the world have never seen before. The European Enlightenment of  the middle of the 17th century has been kindled by these principles and values.

The Somali culture is based on these universal values that are just, humane, practical, beneficial and progressive. It applies to all humanity regardless of their ethnicity, geographic location, tribal affiliation and language.

The Somali culture’s aversion to corruption is well known in our history. For example, the coup d'état of October 21, 1969 was brought because of rampant corruption with post-colonial government. The Supreme Revolutionary Council took power because the citizens were disillusioned with the corruption infested post-colonial government.

If there is a corruption because  of greed, personal relationships,  honor, family, filial, friendship, tribe, and Monarchical it is an aberration that must be corrected.  It is certainly not our culture.

There is an obligation not only for Somalis, but humanity at large to defend these universal values.  Without them,  development, progress, welfare, human rights, culture and arts will not be possible.

By Ali Osman
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