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Somalia: Our Sense of Place in the World and Beyond

By Mohamed Ibrahim & Abdirachid Fidow

Sunday, December 25, 2016


It is with great sadness that we write this article about our place in the world, which seems not so rosy.  In our quest of making sense of it all, we have engaged in deep conversations with researchers, journalists, poets, politicians, business men, musicians and almost every Somali entity that we could think of that could be helpful in allowing us to comprehend and understand more about our sense of place in the world today and beyond.


How do we envision our place in the world? Whereby today our country (Somalia) has been labelled as a hub for terrorism, piracy, land of chaos, hunger, violence, destruction and as a “failed state” (although in more recent times, this description has been reformed to reflect recent developments and currently stands as a “fragile state”)


We tried to imagine what sort of people Somalis used to be before the collapse of the Somali state.  We remember much admired philosopher and a great poet Abdikadir Hirsi (YamYam)’s poem entitled “I am a Somali” – Soomaali Baan Ahay” in which he talks about what being Somali was during his time and before. Below is extracts from this valuable work:


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“He asked: The moving times, the successive days, reflect over the seasons, if you a learned person, go back to the accounts of history, who is a Somali? Somalis answer:

I am on equal footing with equality. Not allow a single soul to be superior to me. I do not employ deception, and confer them as gifts.

I am a Somali. Neither a man's stroking of my head nor his lace on my legs (duplicity) do i accept. Persuasion I do not approve. As for secrets (about me) I say, a ‘saab’ (vessel) that hold no water, I am a Somali.


Though I am impoverished yet my hardships I endure as I stretch no hand (to beg), I do not equate a friend of mine with my enemy. I am a Somali. My destiny has been determined. My hoard (of food for that journey) is an aloe. My intent is known to all. My sword is (made of) poison. My soul has been suspended from a tree. I am a Somali. A man who endangers me lives not in peace. He, who is swung at me will not sit idle. Gratitude I have not yet abandoned. Nor do I support any transgression. And a wronged man I compare not with others. I am a Somali.


I am a guest for peace, and from enmity I am terrified; but (from the battlefield) I flee not, I fear not and the man who brings wounds from his hands I await not (I launch assault). I am a Somali. I am of a step with the wind, and on impulse I do not act. I am like fangs of poisonous snake (when provoked). And a times, the bearer of good deeds. I am swathed in patience.


I am a Somali. To whom my ways do not appeal, as he wishes I do not comply with.  Like some parts of the world, compulsion I do not accept; nor do I carry any man's shoes. I am a Somali. Oh you who is wealthier than I, flaunting your charity, would not tempt me (in no terms at all). Say not, to persuade the ignorant, for I have not a conscious that sleeps. I am a Somali


I am a single entity (Greater Somalia) that had been torn apart, forever branded all over (With Somali). Some men once disintegrated me, whilst I tended to my flocks. The obligation of unity I (still) carry. I am a Somali”


Through travelling, one meets and greets other people and learns a lot about their environments, its people and what they think of us as Somalis. By travelling, one begins to see our sense of place in the world, earned through the prism of our recent unfortunate history.


I was prompted and encouraged to contribute to this article by a discussion I had with a Danish citizen living in Nairobi, Kenya. During my son’s sports day event at school, I started chatting with the Danish citizen about why he has moved from Europe and what he does in Kenya. He asked me the same questions over a coffee. While we waited for our children to finish the event, he asked me a question that blew me away and got me thinking about our place in the world. If I am not mistaken, these are what I can recall from his innocent words few weeks ago:


Mohamed, I wanted to pick your brains a bit. I have recently bought a land in a Masai area in Kenya, quite hostile, not hospitable and volatile area. I have decided to sale it off. Would your people (Somali people) be interested in buying this land as an investment?”


 Thinking quickly, I asked myself  - who would invest in such a hostile place? I replied politely with a sense of bemusement and irony, “I think, Harold, you will find not a lot of people would invest in such place” I felt the answer was quite clear – but substantially it exposed to me how others view us due to our recent history. I felt, by attempting to pick my brains, he at the same time insulted my intelligence. Without taking an issue with the fellow parent, it reflected something fundamentally profound and unsettling about our image as people, impacting on our place in the world.


As the Somali State collapsed and chaos ensued, the image and reputation of Somalia has suffered enormously impacting on the social, economic and political sustainability and sovereignty of Somalia. This has also effected the confidence and the social cohesion of the Somali people and our perception in the world – where our historical developments, beautiful people, land, artist and landscape of Somalia has been overshadowed by wars, chaos and instability that has occurred during and after the civil war, and continued to be plagued by a modern of political and social fragmentations.


As people with sense of historical dignity and pride we should not take this lightly as this  (whatever our background might be) is essentially our common intellectual property as people. We rise and fall as society as one, leaving history behind for better or worse.


For our leaders across Somalia, as we jockey for political space within, please note the road ahead is long and steep, and your actions or lack of it has enormous impact on our place in the world and beyond.

Sometimes we feel our people over-look this issue as a distant issue, as if, we live alone in this world, engulfed and consumed by our competition within, further losing track of global competition, space and existence and influence. In this context, one cannot help thinking, maybe should all return to our nomad rural lives and cease to be a nation state, if we cannot hack the nature of global competition.


When our people are constantly harassed or stopped at international airports for only having Somali/Muslim resemblance, please take note our collective actions or lack of it forms the basis of our sense of belonging and our place in the world, and beyond.

Mohamed Ibrahim: mohamedlsyf@gmail.com
Abdirachid Fidow: abdirachid.fidow@theatm.org

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