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Somali Intellectual Disconnect

Mohamed Ali Arkow
Thursday, July 14, 2016

In my attempt to shed light on the untenable situation of the Somali intellectual, I’m not going to delve into a discussion about the meaning of the word Intellectual. Philosopher Jean Amery tried to define it before he took his life, and Dr. Primo Levi tried to add something to Jean Amery’s definition. Levi himself committed suicide years later. They were both haunted by demons that followed them from concentration camps in Poland. An intellectual is not necessarily a university graduate. The founders of the Somali Youth League (SYL) were intellectuals. They definitely fit Goran Hyden’s definition as they were men “—with defined system of values and the capacity to command influence of the general trends in society by mastering oral or written means of persuasion”. 

However, my discussion is focused on the Somali men and women who have earned a university degree and their role in the NATION BUILDING PROJECT. Very few of this educated class will meet the criteria of any possible definition of an intellectual. The majority fall in the category of CAREERIST. The sole purpose of a careerist is personal success. He believes in I, ME AND MYSELF and he does not take anything for granted. Under normal circumstances, the careerist is an asset to the country. With his education and determination, he can be at the forefront of good governance. He harbors no political ambition, and he performs his job well. All what he demands is good salary and fairness in institutional hierarchy. The dangerous mix is when the state machinery collapses, and the careerist sees an opportunity in the mess. To seize the moment, he starts to act and speak like a leader.  For a careerist, there is no such thing as national humiliation; there is only a reality to face, embrace, and survive. Legacy is a vague word associated with dead people. To him, failure in leadership means losing your job, and he literally follows the money (forget about the idiomatic meaning).  In present day Somalia, the careerist is at the helm of the political power.

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Soon after the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, so many educated Iraqi careerists flooded the country claiming to be the saviors of the nation. It did not take that long for them to realize that the sacrifice in blood was far beyond what they could offer. They went back to their social niches in the West and the Middle East.  In his book, FIASCO, Thomas E. Ricks describes a possible future leader that may unify Iraq as someone “young, energetic, moral, modest, even austere, spurning luxury------ Admirers may speak of how he retreats into the desert for a week at a time to cleanse himself spiritually through solitary meditation-----There would be embellished tales of his spontaneous generosity, taking care of widows and children, and giving away personal goods without hesitation--------But he likely also would have a harsh side , perhaps illustrated by his summary execution with his pistol of one of his soldiers caught in the act of raping a woman”.  In this picture, there is no place for careerism.   

Based on what they write and the speeches they make, Somali intellectuals love their country. Apart from the HIIL QARAN STYLE SHIFTING PATRIOTISM, intellectuals are sincere in their feeling for the country. However, they do very little to match their words with deeds. In other words, there is a disconnect between their stated patriotic views and the sacrifices they are willing to make. Recently, some highly respected intellectuals delivered scathing criticism of President Hassan’s leadership, and put forward hypothetical terms of reference for the next president. Relying on the power of words at the expense of practical work is a classical example of intellectual elitism.

Criticizing the men at the top of the political echelon will not save our country. If those who are free from tribal chauvinism don’t organize themselves, and put their reputation and life on the line, Somalia will be at the mercy of religious fanatics and foreign powers.


Mohamed Ali Arkow
[email protected]

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