As a Somali journalist, I’m ashamed to be associated with the profession, especially when operating in the country. Somali journalists fail to recognise their basic responsibilities to the public “ Jamal Osman
In recent days, many of us active in the Somali social media realm have been engrossed in Jamal Osman’s piece in the Guardian entitled, “Somali journalists are dying from corruption as much as conflict”-causing a firestorm of controversy that has many hailing Jamal Osman as a trailblazer, and others critical of his laissez faire approach to the political violence against Journalists in Somalia. I sat with my thoughts about this article for a few days, and really wanted the implications of his accusations and claims to simmer before I levied any accusations or offered any praise. The issue of political violence against one of our most hardworking, undervalued, marginalized citizens; Somali journalists, is one that can easily ignite emotional rhetoric, often derived from political allegiances, and at times, privilege. Ahh, that word, privilege; a word I aim to dissect in relation to Jamal Osman’s recent parlay into the political nature of media in Somalia, and believe much of his arguments borrow heavily from the comforts that are a western address and Channel 4 as your employer.
Now this isn’t’ an attack on Jamal Osman, and many of us political/cultural junkies are hip to his impressive CV, and admirable list of prestigious accolades, and it need not be stated that he is a respected member of our community, and trusted amongst his colleagues, but in this case, I believe Jamal Osman has concocted an outrageously irresponsible, slanderous and dangerous piece that achieved gains in only normalizing volence against Journalists in Somalia; But also serving as a political tool that panders to Western caricatures of Somalia as a land without hope, riddled with corruption, depravity, violence, and he did this in a British newspaper.
Now before I get into some of my issues with his claims, I need to clarify my role in this discussion, and in anticipation of any critiques against my impending critique of Osman’s piece. I feel the need to address any perceived bias, and efforts to silence discussion on my part, and use this an opportunity to discuss the nuances between productive discussions that address taboo political/cultural norms, and arguments that manipulate facts, distorting reality, and in essence, serving only as a caricature of Spivak’s native informant (the savage ‘other’ constructed by colonial imagination, and manipulated to serve as a gateway between the west, and ‘us’),-thus failing to change the material circumstances of the society one aims to change.
I run a political blog with a very liberal slate, and often many of my critics accuse me of pandering to western narratives, and yet I continue to tackle issues involving women’s rights, religion, cultural norms, sexuality, identity politics, and a plethora of other topics that many would rather we not ‘wash in public’. Now my responsibility, although just a blogger, is to be mindful of my privileged position as a holder of a western passport, communicating to my people in a language that isn’t indigenous to us, and preaching to them about values they may find hostile. Now that doesn’t mean my role as a member of the Somali Diaspora alleviate Somalis from my critique and deconstruction of our political landscape, but it does mean that I must be mindful of my privilege, my biases, and how some of my deeply held principles may perhaps give ammunition to voices who seek to marginalize and silence the voice of Somalis, and Africans at large. And that privilege is my cross to bear as I navigate these political discussions, which call accountability and transparency of my own political agenda. And I’m just a blogger, so you can imagine, what responsibility you have as a Journalist operating in Britain, criticizing without a shred of tangible evidence, a group of marginalized Somalis who risk life and limb to report the news. I tell you these facts in anticipation of rebuttals that might dismiss me as simply a disgruntled Somali in opposition to rigorous introspection of our cultural and political problems, and if that’s your position, I encourage you do a quick run through of the topics I cover, as you may find your charges to be without merit. I don’t encourage the silencing of dissent, and believe we Somalis must poke at these painful political/cultural places, if we’re serious about our attempt to rehabilitate our fractured nation. In other words, let’s discuss our issues, but what I will not do, is support lazy journalism cushioned and paid for by western media conglomerates, to simply regurgitate the clichéd motif of ‘Africa as a bastion of corruption’.
Jamal Osman’s article provided zero evidence of his claims, and instead was riddle with dangerously generalized statements like, “The sad reality is that such behavior can be witnessed on a regular basis. Something I often say to fellow Somali journalists is that we were meant to expose corruption; instead, we are the bad guys.” As an avid reader of the Guardian, I’m left wondering if such vague and unsubstantiated statements from an English Journalist conducting an expose into the corrupt British media landscape would make it past an intern in the quality control assembly line. And it doesn’t stop there, Osman continues to provide us with quantitative and qualitative evidence like, “ I can even recognize if the reporter was happy with the amount of money that she or he was paid”. It seems Osman here is operating with ‘truthiness’ as his guide, a political term, coined by satirist Stephen Colbert to name the phenomenon of constructing truth claims from gut reactions, and emotional responses. I’m sorry ladies and gentleman, but I’m at a loss for words, and left wondering when did anecdotes become a legitimate source? I’m not suggesting that Osman is incorrect about his observations, but as a Journalist who is entrusted and paid to uncover hard-hitting facts, and to provide well-researched journalism, I suspect this caliber of investigative journalism might be problematic- Especially, when one is aiming to dismiss the violence against Journalists as a product of their own moral decline.
Now let’s assume Jamal Osman is right, and that media landscape in Somalia is rift with greedy, tribalistic, incompetent journalists making it hard for real honest guys like him-Let’s imagine that narrative as true for a minute. Dare I then ask, Monsieur Osman, what do you think might cause a journalist living and working in Somalia to take bribes? As a cultural/politic junkie, I have a propensity for valuing the importance of variables in analyzing a particular social/political phenomenon. Before one speaks of corruption amongst Somali Journalists, I’m left wondering about economic, political landscape that offers little protection and financial assistance for the men and women who risk their lives to provide the masses with an inclusive look into post-conflict Somalia, often without the financial and political stability afforded to Channel 4’s Jamal Osman.
I think context and nuance are an integral part of analyzing any social/political cause, especially when this analysis aims to explain why our Journalist are being hunted down by powerful factions, terrorist groups, and corrupt government officials. Osman provided little information on the demands made by government officials, and other factions groups against these journalists, and much of his analysis was one-sided, biased, and without factual merit. Since, we’re a fan of anecdotal evidence, I know of many Journalists who’ve had their lives threatened if they did not provide favorable reporting in defense of certain political leaders, and believe any discussion about media corruption should also involve the powerbrokers in this region, namely IGOs, NGOs, AMISOM, government officials, warlords, and the bane of our existence, dear old Al-Shabaab.
Interesting note on Jamal’s analysis of rehabilitation tactics against journalists, Al-Shabaab labels as pro-government hacks. Osman observes, “Second, those journalists working for government-run or pro-government media are seen as “soldiers” by opposition groups such as al-Shabaab, the Islamist group linked to al-Qaida”, a presumptuous statement that gives legitimacy to the grievances of a terrorist organization that routinely executes local Somalis for selling tea to government officials as evidence of their double-dealing espionage. This is the group Osman aims to provide legitimacy with. According to his logic, if there is suspicion of AL-Shabab as the culprits of these crimes, it must point to corruption on the part of the victims journalists-An argument that yields to and presents the grievances and paranoia of a terrorist group that bans bras and samosas as evidence of corruption. So in other words, if Al-Shabab is onto you, its safe to assume you’re in the pockets of government officials, even if you’re just a local shoe-shiner, shining the shoes of a man who knows someone who knew someone who worked for the government. To call this deductive reasoning problematic is, well, a lesson in futility, as we’ve since passed the point of how problematic this expose is.
It’s fair to say I’m skeptical about Osman’s motives like many of his critics. His article points to a media landscape rife with corruption, and Somali Journalists as a demographic lacking an iota of professional integrity, incapable of non-partisan reporting, and inept at their position. I think this narrative is very convenient for the western media, as it can dismiss, and has dismissed local journalists as incompetent, and that for one to really access information from the region, one can only trust in western voices. After all, they’re not susceptible to the influence of tribal allegiances, and cultural biases, issues that apparently only plague us miscreant Africans. There’s a scarcity in discussions about the integrity of the countless western reporters operating in the region, and their questionable and casual approach to ethics (I’ll give you a clue, most of these guys probably wrote a book about us at some point), but plenty of ‘Oh’s’ and ‘Ah’s’ about the ramifications of entrusting the Somali to pen an article without lining his pockets with Shillings. I think Osman’s article was a nice topping to complement the already hostile media landscape on Somali coverage that reduces us to Pirates, terrorists, warlords, and now apparently even our journalists can’t keep their hands out of the proverbial cookie jar.
Lastly, I ask Jamal Osman, if he were serious about getting to the root of the political violence against Journalists, why not provide us with commentary from institutions and journalists who actively work against this practice? Is everyone corrupt? judging by your article, it would certainly seem that way. Why instead offer generalized caricatures of Somali journalists, supported by anecdotal evidence? Did you not foresee the implications of dismissing the targeted, meticulous and systematic attacks against your colleagues as simply corruption on their part? Well to be fair, Osman acknowledges the reality of a ‘dangerous Somalia’ as a possible variable, should his thesis fail to withstand further investigation. With one article comprised of anecdotes and generalizations, Osman has succeeded in giving legitimacy to those who work vigorously to silence Journalists in Somalia. I’m also fascinated by Jamal Osman’s failure to contact the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) about his thesis. Is it fair to assume that a journalist ought to perhaps bring the issue of political violence against corrupt journalist to the Union responsible for representing journalists in the region? If not, at least for a sound bite?
I can already hear the critics decrying, ‘well why would he do that when NUSOJ could also be corrupt, and might dismiss his claims’. Perhaps, but it might be wise to note that NUSOJ is a trusted Union that has campaigned on behalf of Journalists since 2002. It was recently awarded the ‘Democracy Courage Award’ by the Washington D.C based Solidarity Center, an organization that works in labor union advocacy (for those of you that require our organizations be stamped with a seal of approval from western organizations). According to NUSOJ, its aim is “to ensure media freedom, ethical standards in media by 1. Protect and Promote Freedom of the Press, Speech and Information. 2. Improve working conditions and safety & security of journalists. 3. Defend and promote principles and practice of the journalistic profession.” I believe its fair to assume that before one dismisses the media climate in Somalia as corrupt, it might be wise to invite the organization entrusted to spread and promote ethics in journalism, and lobbying for a more transparent media climate, to the a seat at the dialogue table.
Final note, my aim in this discussion is to not derail nor dismiss the charges of corruption in Somali media as an irrelevant issue, and believe this is a conversation that needs a platform immediately. Corruption is real, and rife in Somalia, but it is real and rife everywhere, and we Africans do not have a monopoly on questionable media ethics. But if one is sincere about challenging media corruption, then one has a responsibility to speak to the community it aims to address, and not speak about them. Jamal Osman is a respected journalist, but also a privileged agent with an opportunity to communicate his grievances through major western media conglomerates, in a language not spoken by a large majority of the group he seeks to indict, while conveniently speaking to an audience that has already dismissed Somalia as beyond moral and political repair.
There are countless Somali journalists in recent days that’ve challenged his claims through Somali newspapers and online sources, but unfortunately, many do not have the cultural and economic capital to address their grievance in english to an english speaking audience, and on the Guardian. And that’s precisely why I felt compiled to respond to this, and left angered by those marginalized voices that are now left fighting for their lives reporting our lives with integrity and bravery. As a journalist living in London, Osman has access to a network of journalist, works for a reputable network, and could easily locate finances that could support an environment where this discussion could take place amongst Somalis, but opted for a more convenient route. Parting thoughts, many of my brilliant critics often ask me, ‘Is your aim to speak to us, or about us’, when I engage in uncomfortable and controversial sociopolitical issues, a question that calls for accountability, and recognition of one’s privileged position as an insider reporting back to the west about the misbehaved savage. I pose a similar question to you Jamal Osman, and hope this episode can serve as a teachable moment about the responsibility we bare as privileged Somalis. Finally, in solidarity with Journalists in Somalia, and in conflict regions everywhere who bring us our stories and give our narratives, as uncomfortable as they may be at times, a voice.
About a year ago, I discovered the twitter account @InnovateAfrica that could’ve possibly saved me four years of university student loans. I was mesmerized, and within minutes, engulfed in a world filled with Diaspora Africans deconstructing our identity, essentialist accounts of the African experience, media coverage, and development initiatives. For the first time, I suddenly felt connected to Africans in a way that wasn’t fetishized or idealistic but holistic and empowering. @InnovateAfrica became my daily go to source for African analysis, at times challenging conversations, and I was transformed into a groupie instantly. During my initial
stalking research, I discovered that the account belonged to Solome Lemma, A social media guru, activist, development specialist, and all around dynamic figure. I’ve always held this idea that my identity is challenged by my lived experience as a member of the diaspora, and rarely did I find solace or hope in this identity role. Now here was a voice, amplified by strong diaspora community tapping into our privileged role as Diaspora communities, and encouraging that we utilize this platform to facilitate a connection to the continent in a way that is symbiotic and conducive to our development aims.
Solome Lemma, through her activism, and decade of development work is a strong believer in the political/social/economic power that Africans in the Diaspora can yield, and argues that in this demographic, exists a resource pool untapped by our communities as of yet. Rather than consistently operating as reactionaries to misinformation, marginalization and fetishization of Africa, why not instead set up organizations, and a new paradigm that demands we create a reality that empowers ‘Africans for Africa’. Well I always thought it was easier said than done, but not anymore. Africans in the Diaspora(AiD) will launch its website this Tuesday October 9th 2012, and had the pleasure of engaging with Lemma, Co-founder and Executive Director about AiD’s purpose and how this organization can tap in the resource pool that is Africans in the Diaspora. According to Lemma, Africans in the Diaspora (AiD), “Through its Funds, Connections, and Voices Program, will offer an online platform for Diaspora Africans to give back to Africa. Funds enables Diaspora Africans and allies to invest directly in innovate African social organizations; Connections facilitates the exchange of expertise between the Diaspora and Africans on the continent; and Voices a multi-media blog, amplifies the voices of Africans and their contributions to Africa’s progress.”.
As a member of the Somali Diaspora, I’m particularly interested in AiD’s Funds program, as I think this type of initiative is an important step in responding to the NGO industrial complex that often misuses funds, and perpetuates a state of dependency that compromises African autonomy. I think the diaspora is gaining momentum, and now is the time to pool our resources together, and implement structural frameworks that can transform us into agents of change rather than dependent reactionaries. Through social media, we now have access to a rich network of Africans throughout the globe, who’ve come together to respond to orientliast depictions of our experiences, and who also challenge those voices in positions of power who seek to drown out our own. But, we also need to go a step further, and actually set up organizations that not only act as reactionaries but give us the platform to respond and empower continent through direct investment.
AfroLens is excited about AiD, and we will be live on twitter this Tuesday October 9th, where Africans in the Diaspora (AiD) will launch its site and will answer any questions and concerns regarding this exciting new project. You can contact Africans in the Diaspora (AiD) @…
Twitter : https://twitter.com/AIDInnovations
Website : http://africansinthediaspora.org/
Facebook: Africans in the Diaspora (AiD)
See you Tuesday!
“You must understand the difference between Islam and Arabism-Something which is difficult for African people to understand. The Arab did to Islam what the European did to Christianity, he subtracted the spirituality, and made it a political instrument to conquer the African. But when it comes to the African, he accepted the spiritual aspect of it, and forget the political.”
Dr. John Henrik Clarke.
Before we dive into this discussion, I must grace you with my usual set of disclaimers. 1) This is a discussion on why/if Somalis (and to a larger extent, contemporary Africans) hold a belief that Islam can only be accessed vis a vis the appropriation of linguistic and cultural norms of the Arabian peninsula, which loosely means that this conversation isn’t an attack on Islam, religiosity or traditional values, but an inquiry into the changing religious/cultural climate of post-1991 Somalia, and whether these developments are the precursors to an imminent cultural genocide. 2) I’m really not interested in having this conversation with the mouth-breathers of Somalia-The ones who proudly boast of our ‘Arabness’, and spend beaucoup hours on facebook conducting fatwa’s and policing hijab styles. No, mate, you’re not invited to this discussion, as we’ve already seen the fruits of your intellectual legacy-banned bras, Hyena sandwiches and an unjust war against samosas. To you lot, I say, a Wahhabi plague upon your houses and hope that welfare state become a thing of the past.
Now onto the quote above-If you’re unfamiliar with Dr. John Henrik Clarke, I strongly encourage you increase your standard of living by indulging in his body of work. This man was a brilliant historian and an outrageously gifted orator who had a way of challenging our contemporary understanding of African spirituality and our relationship as converted peoples to Christianity and Islam-An unpopular topic amongst the African intelligentsia. In this discussion, I’m particularly fascinated by this quote, as it puts an emphasis on the distinction between Islam and Arabism-the latter being a paradigm that borrows inspiration from the Arabian peninsula in matters of culture, language, and spiritual guidance, the former the chosen religious path of most Somalis.
It must be stated that the history of Islam in Africa, particularly in regions like Somalia is as old as the religion itself, and while history points to a troubling relationship between African and Arab peoples, there is also a powerful historical link that predates Islam in the form of trading, conquest, and movement of tribes between these regions. I state these obvious facts in anticipation of critics who will readily dismiss the signs of an aggressive Arabization of contemporary Somalia by pointing to our historical ties to this region. They argue that we’ve always had this knack for plagiarizing Arabia and that this seemingly new phenomenon is nothing but a divisive tactic, conjured in hopes of straining the love affair between Arabs and Somalis. Now look, we know, we had/have ties to the Arab world, but there’s a distinction between loose political ties and a metamorphosis of an entire culture in the span of two decades. Basically, this is my fancy way of asking, when the hell did we go from this…
I’ve really struggled with using these images of Somali women, as its easy to reduce this entire process to women’s clothing of choice, and believe this process is much more complicated and nuanced. But one can’t deny that the aesthetic transformation of Somalis is reminiscent of other regions, I’ll let you guess where, and that this change is largely connected to this idea that a ‘good muslim/Somali woman’ has a specific uniform-I’ll also let you guess the geographical origin of this uniform (I’ll give you a hint, not from Malaysia, Sudan nor Turkey). But yes, this is the physical representation of what many Somalis are witnessing.
So far I’ve pieced together that conflict and abject poverty are often the close cousins of religious fundamentalism, and understand that the conflict in Somalia has done a number on our collective cultural memory, and it’s only natural that people turn to religious devotion in times of grave despair. I get it, I really do.
But there’s a problem, umm…this discussion isn’t only limited to Somalia and its contemporary political turmoil, but also an epidemic in the Diaspora. One can easily argue that this process of arabization is more pronounced in the diaspora than in Somalia. From the Somali-dominated environs of West London to Toronto to Stockholm to
Minnihopeless Minneapolis, one can witness a seismic cultural shift that is often traumatizing to any Somali with vivid memories of our distinct culture and traditions. We’ve been relegated to the world of nostalgia filled with youtube clips of our Waberi musicians and Fadumo Qasim in secreracy for fear that the religious gestapo may revoke our ‘Somali card’, and dismiss us as western infidels.
We’re bombarded with more jilbabs and niqaabs than gabisars, more Abu-somethings than Libans and Ragehs. A friend once said, ‘gone are the days of ‘subax wanagsan’ (good morning in Somali) and areligious greetings now replaced by traditional Arabic greetings. It’s really okay to say good morning in your language, I promise no piety points will be lost during this process. The self-appointed religious police scrutinize and attack any remnants of our secular past, police our cultural singers, and ostracize anyone (especially if you have a vagina) who dares to reflect on this changing environment, often charging them with heresy and declaring them person non grata.
What happened? Where did it go wrong? and did it go wrong? We went from a secular society in possession of an unique and indigenous link to Islam to a society that…well…quite frankly, a society that resembles what happens when self-hating negros get a hold of religion; they become Saudi Arabia. But to be fair, perhaps this trend is a good thing?
Brain-dead miscreants Some Somali would argue that this cultural shift is a positive thing, and that Somalis are on a righteous path towards spiritual enlightenment, and through this paradigm shift, Somalia may begin to transform from a tribalistic, corrupt, and morally bankrupt society to a theocratic utopia. Now granted most of the people that argue this often possess a strong aversion to books and women, but their perspective is equally valid and deserves a seat at the ‘what to replace tribalism with’ conversation.
I think these are the type of conversations in need during this redevelopment period, and I understand it is in the interest of certain individuals to promote the idea that dialogue in Somalia is dead, and wahhabism has won. Wrong. Many Somalis are outraged, bewildered, and in a state of trepidation, and believe we’re on the cusp of culture wars in the coming years as we begin to restructure and stabilize this region. Speaking of culture wars, I once accused a friend of yielding to Arabism after witnessing his Saudi-style Al-defeh outfit, and he replied, “You’ve chosen the West, and I, the Arabs,” a poignant social commentary on the various forms of cultural imperialism that left me thinking, ‘where’s Somalia in all this?’. So, I’m asking this uncomfortable question, ‘what the hell happened to Somalia? – Enquiring bloggers wanna know, and particularly interested in your insight to the following questions.
1) Is there a process of ‘arabization’ currently underway in Somalia? If so, is this a good thing?
2) A wise man once said, ‘The African; more Arab than the Arab’, which points to a tradition of black Africans appropriating and exalting anything foreign in lieu of anything indigenous and black. True of False?
3) What’s the status on the permissibility of Hyena consumption, now that Kismayo has fallen? I’m asking for a friend :/
4) Fellow Africans Muslims or Africans from African states with a sizable Muslim population, do you also notice a similar trend of appropriating Arabism? I’m thinking Mali, Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea might have something to add to this discussion.
P.S. This is the Somalia, many are aiming to erase.
A young Somalilander brother, born in Mogadishu, educated in Djibouti, reared in West London by a British-born Somali father (the beauty of multi-layered identities), did something no Brit has achieved;
ended the British feud with dentistry won the gold model in the 10,000 m race. The UK cheered, the world looked on in envy, and Somalis, proud of their native son, united, if only for a brief moment in collective euphoric bliss. For a split second, Somalis and Somalilanders, from Hargeisa to Mogadishu, diverse in their political ideals, and patriotic afflictions, stood together in solidarity and awe of Mo Farah. It was a beautiful moment. words suppressed, rhetoric delayed, and ethnic pride took centre stage. It was perfect. But, Mo Farah did this…
And then some of us did this…
and I did this…
Now look, I’m all for well researched and nuanced discussion about the Somaliland/Somalia conflict, and never one to censor reasoned discourse, irrespective of its capacity to stir conspiracy. However, Mo Farah’s historic win was not the platform nor space for this discussion. I can’t believe we just did that. I’ve quit Somalis twice since, and applied for a Burundi passport. We did not just reduce a pivotal moment in the history of all Somali bodies to a moment seized to spew political and divisive propaganda. No! We couldn’t. We wouldn’t. No way! This can’t be, said the little girl. But so it was.
Rather than parlay into the political world of African secessionism (all for it), or dissect the validity of Somaliland’s separatist claim (I support it, Somaliland is/and will become an independent nation), I’ll instead give you a list of characters I’m convinced are detrimental to the peace and stability of this region, with/without Somaliland’s separation. I’m convinced the source of all mistrust/misinformation and spiteful rhetoric stem from an array of folks hellbent on challenging any chance of reconciliation and progress. These miscreants should be avoided at all costs, and any fantastical assumptions of rationality on their part, and naïve-laden attempts engaging them in civil discourse is both a lesson in futility and a task reserved for those folks who ban bras. Without further ado, I present you, Somalis we should elect for euthanasia experiments.
1) Ali and Asha ‘Somaliland Ha Nolaato’ Warsame
Found: Inhabiting any and all boroughs in the Greater London region (Never attempt to engage in any/all critiques of Somaliland and/or the implications/complications/nuance of separatism while in Londontown. They travel in packs, are relentless, and you’re life will thank you for it)
Favorite holiday: May 18th. To most Somalilanders and Somalis sympathetic to Somaliland’ secessionism, May 18th represents the day Somaliland declared its sovereignty, and claimed its autonomy. It is a glorious day. It is a day to be celebrated, exalted and remembered. Well, that’s how reasonable Somalilanders view this historic date, to Ali and Asha. May 18th represents the beginning of history; the day they escaped from the clutches of evil, the rapture predicted in the book of relevations. This day is not one of nation-building, love, and citizenry, but rather one of hate, rhetoric, and the occasional Somali flag burning.
Favorite Activities: Somaliland memes, summer vacations to Burco, profile pictures of the Somaliland flag, and referring to the Somalia as ‘the Dirty South’
Things not to say: Inquire about the ethnic origin of Somalilanders, and the root source of their national identity. 1988. Siad Barre. Somalinimo,
bananas as a side dish.
2) Farax and Halimo ‘Somali-weyn till death do us part’ Shirwac
Found: In every city in every welfare state (diverse group of Somalis that trascend all tribal/political allegiances, but united by a shared common hate for
books Somaliland. From Helsinki to Budapest, to twitter, these Negros are there.
Favorite holiday: July 1st, Somali Independence Day. They’ll rarely acknowledge the holidays of the countries they’re supported by and reside in. Rarely acknowledge and congratulate their neighbors on their independence. To these folks, May 18th, June 26th, June 27th are merely days for confused/mentally colonized Somalis. They also really love Ramadan. A lot. Well, at least will publicly remind any stranger within 5 mile radius of their love for Ramadan.
Favorite activities: Naming and claiming every person with a five- finger forehead as Somali. Stockpiling images of Mogadishu. Policing ‘Somalinimo’. Welfare offices. Conspiracy theories about how the whole world solely exists to destroy Somalia (some of these theories include a three way espionage between Israel, Bhutan and Ethiopia). Claiming Knaan as a cousin, and
calling Iman a whore.
Things not to say/do: ”When will you get a job, sir?”.Comparisons to other Africans. Inquire about his/her migration from Somalia to current locale. Support for Somaliland. Pan-Africanism. Encouraging introspection on their part.
3) Farhia and Yassin “I’m from Ogadenia, Ethiopia and have no Business Instigating This Mess’ Jamac.
Found: I have no idea, I’ve never seen these guys outside of Jijiga. They’re experts at going ‘stealth mode’. But from their undisclosed locations, have managed to brilliantly instigate the Somaliland/Somalia rap battle. Can be seen playing both sides, and offering unsolicited political prescriptions.
Favourite holiday: All of 1977-1978
Favourite activities: Dhaanto
Things not to say/do: “Shut up Habaasho”, “Viva Zenawi”, “ONLF are/aren’t terrorists (depending on political allegiances”, and lastly, never, ever, ever, attempt to niiko during the dhaanto.
4) Khadra and Yusuf “But What about Puntland?” Hussein
Found: In many cities, but headquarters are in Virginia, United States.
Favourite holiday: August 1st (Unfortunately this holiday hasn’t caught on, and these guys can be found celebrating alone in a corner)
Favourite activities: Denying the horrible legacy/privileges under the Siad Barre regime. Presenting themselves as the sole victims/victors/intelligentsia of this entire region. Longwinded stories of ‘Mogadishu’s glory days’ (no one else seems to remember this period except them).
Nurradin Farah novels. Secularism. Cabdulahi yusuf. Comparing their plight to that of the Jews. Khatuumo state parties.
Things not to say or do: An inquiry about oil reserves in Puntland. General Morgan. 1988. Siad Barre. Present-day Mogadishu. TFG. Silanyo. The whereabouts about Al-Shabaab’s headquarters. Identity yourself as a journalist.
There you have it folks. These are the seedy characters one must avoid at all cost, if one has any hopes of engaging a community at peace. These deviants are caricatures of a caricature, and hell-bent on preserving the status quo, the endurance of ignorance, and keeping all promises of peace and prosperity at bay. Some of these characters are our family, and friends, and one must be careful not to excuse this behavior, even when it exists in polite and parochial company. And lastly, for the love of all good in this world, stop enabling these looney tunes, and delete them from our consciousness and history books of our region. For peace to endure, we need reasoned citizens with gazes of solidarity and a love for one’s kin that transcends political borders.
P.S. Mo Farah only waived the Union Jack that evening, image used for satirical/illustration purposes. Should, any of Mo Farah’s relatives stumble upon this, your son is still our King
P.S.S. I’m not really Patrick Stewart.
Why do I poke around in these awkward intellectual spaces? I’ve been trying to find a way to conceptualize sexuality and beauty within the context of ‘Somalinimo’ (an abstract system of Somali nationalism), and in having these conversations with friends; I’m reminded and advised to leave this particular can of worms alone. You know I can’t do that. Muahahaha! I live for these uncomfortable intellectual spaces. But first, rather than set this up as an opinion piece where I vandalize your mind with my conclusions, (that I believe to be a bastion of rationality, don’t get it twisted ), I’ll instead set it up as a list of questions and comments I’ve compiled surrounding issues of beauty/aesthetics in the Horn of Africa. I also wanna tackle this through diaspora lens, as this is the space where East African (a term, geographically/politically problematic, but in this case, referring to the Horn of Africa region) women have had their experiences collide with that of other women of the continent/diaspora. Ok, now my disclaimers. 1) I’m setting this up as conversation as opposed to a community of like minded people who only cosign each others intellectual conclusions, which is a short way of saying, ‘please come for me, because I’m about to bait the shit out of you’. 2) Come correct with evidence and clear arguments, but sans the rhetoric/emotional outburst (I’m guilty of this, but this is an important conversation, let’s not derail) por favor. 3) I know there are African women not originating from the Horn who exhibit similar features. I know this. But the people who single out Horn of African women as the sole carriers of this aesthetic do not know this. So please don’t respond with ‘It’s not only Somali women, women from Burundi also have soft hair and long noses’. Please don’t do that. 4) Anyone seen Dark Knight Rises yet? :/ (Can’t have a list of disclaimers with only three points now).
And off to deconstruction land we go. First thing is first, obey your thirst, drink sprite :/ Ok, let’s try this one more time. I want to discuss the issue of East African women and the way their bodies are fetishised by internal and external communities (the internal part needs a dissertation and critical theory). But I want to do this in a manner that is true to scholarly brevity, while paying particular attention to the nuance of representation of African female bodies (emphasis on want, I’ll inevitably fail at both, this I’m sure of). As a Somali woman (and most Horn of Africa women can cosign this narrative), I’m often rewarded with instant ‘beauty points’ because of the phenotypic features of the women from my region. When one conjures an image of a Somali, an Ethiopian, an Eritrean, its usually involves some form of slender noses, loosely curly/wave hair, a face that looks like it was a ‘white woman dipped in chocolate’ as a poetic friend once pointed out. This is what people think, and this is the image we as a community boast of, and perpetuate the shit out of it. We’ve internalized these narratives and replicate a standard of beauty that marginalizes other forms of blackness. Para example, to some Somalis, other Africans are ‘Jareers’ (degorative term meaning nappy-headed), and hell yes, I’m putting us on blast. I will not be binded by code of ethnic solidarity that makes use of oppressive language used to demonize our African brothers and sisters, while simultaneously effective in distancing ourselves from any perceived kinship with other Africans/blackness. I’m not about that.
Also, while challenging european ideals as a member of the diaspora, I’m often reminded that white supremacist paradigms grow strongly in the petri dish that is the minds of my own community. Now, I know this cultural ‘place’ I’m trying to unpackage is rife with problematic language and narratives. Confounded are issues of internalized self-hate on top of narratives that seek to remove the ‘Horn of Africa’ region from the consciousness of any collective black consciousness. We just don’t make the cut. It’s difficult to blog about in such a concise way, but I’ll try it with a set of questions and comments/declarative statements that point to some of the issues I have when it comes to East African women and theorizing their bodies and spaces.
1) Is there such thing as ‘East-African’ privilege in the context of African bodies? Are we allowed to occupy spaces because our features legitimize anti-black narratives? Have you experienced this? Are you consistently complimented on your ‘features’ and how often do you hear remarks like ‘East African women are so gorgeous’ (they are indeed; but all African women are stuff of dreams, but that reality can exist while challenging the roots of the paradigms that legitimize that narrative)
2) Non-East African black women, do you consider us one of your own? Or is our black-ness something to be contested? Are we ‘mixed’ to you? When/if you believe in a universal African narrative, are we a part of it? or a region protected from anti-black rhetoric. Growing up, I remember my Jamaican schoolmates consistently downplaying my role as legitimate member of the black community in Canada. Apparently my facial features and the texture of my hair were enough to dismiss my Somali peers and I as ‘mixed-chicks’ or ‘probably Indian or some shit’
3) We’re not mixed. Rewriting the histories of people/cultures is not an effective tool to dissect the political/cultural implications of valuing Horn of African beauty above other African women. I’ve spent years convincing/educating my African sisters that the rumors of our ‘mixed’ heritage are without evidence. What form of mass colonialization took place in Ethiopia to justify the phenotypic features of our Ethiopian brothers and sisters? What special admixture happened in the horn of Africa that didn’t couldn’t happen to African slaves removed from their home, mixed with Europeans and Native communities? I’m not convinced. I need evidence. And if so, so what if we’re mixed? How does that diminish our role in any construction of an universal African consciousness? This whole ‘let’s exalt blackness by limiting it’ is problematic IMO.
4) If you continue to promote the lie that Somalis are mixed with Arabs, I’ll have your spleen removed and dipped in ranch dressing. WE ARE NOT MIXED! Are there ethnic groups in the region with Arab ancestry? yes, they’re unique communities, and we’re aware of their existence. They’re aware of their lineage, too. We’re all aware of the roots of our ancestors, so as much as we appreciate self-made Archaeologists chiming in, we got this. And if you’re so inclined, do me a favour, grab a Kuwaiti women and a brother from Benin, and if they can produce a child that looks Somali, I’ll concede. Till then, keep your Arabs out of my family lineage please. Shout-outs to my Arab brothers and sisters
5) I will not have my ‘African-ness’ questioned in order to give legitimacy to those who’ve fetishized this region as that only consisting only of kente clothes, and West Africa. There are others on this continent too, you know. Those who do not conform to your fabricated illustration of what Africa looks like. The Tuaregs are just as African as the Ashanti people. We can challenge anti-black rhetoric without reducing our continent to one phenotype; setting it as the standard, and dismissing everything else as something perverse and diluted.
6) Non-East-African men who tell us we’re beautiful, please stop. We know! As are all African women (and all women). But we’re also suspicious of your need to single us out(the few that do). The texture of our hair is as ancient as cave paintings in Las Gaal( shoutouts to Somaliland), but I’m also aware of the cultural climate that allows you to value mine above a sister who has tightly coiled curls. I’m onto you. We’re onto you. And we do not need your fetishized gaze. Go fetishize the women of your own nation, and learn to exalt their beauty as divine.
7) East-African women, sit down and shut up once in awhile. Be present to how your looks can replicate oppressive ideals of what blackness looks like. Do not take pride in an aesthetic (although indigenious to your community) that is used to belittle the black bodies of your brothers and sisters. This is nothing to be proud of/ashamed of. It just ‘is’. Infact, pick a book, and be more than this high-fashion model caricature. I love you!
8) Somalis, if I hear the sentence ‘Oh I didn’t know he/she was Somali, they don’t look it’, I’ll sentence you to the invasive enhanced pat down and a lifetime without Diana skin lightning cream. Just as those who seek to reduce Africa to a reductionist representation are guilty, you’re also indicted for reducing our diverse country to high foreheads and slender noses. Cut it out already! The only thing is that authentically ‘Somali’ is our love for welfare states
9) And to my sisters from the region in question, have you been ostracized for not conforming to the standard of what it means to be ‘ an Ethiopian’, a ‘Somali’, etc?
Anyway, friends and foes, what say you of my questions and charges? I really wanna hear from the diaspora on this one. Is there a semblance of truth to some of my concerns and conclusions? Or I have constructed a fictitious world where people find East-African women beautiful? runs off into the moonlight to work on the cure for five-finger Somali foreheads
Warning: The following post contains an opinion held by a complete stranger that cannot be policed or silenced because it hurts your feelings
The Internet is a wonderful place. Thanks to the internet, we have access to a diverse group of amazing African writers, humanitarians, Nicholas Kristof’s facebook statuses, comedians, paradigm breakers (this is a valid occupation, don’t you dare dispute it), and Kanye West’s tweets. Ideas are exchanged, narratives challenged, and experiences shared. But there is unfortunately, a dark side to this public discourse medium, other Africans. Inspired by recent discourse on this blog regarding polemic African figures, my anxieties about the pressures of cultural and religious loyalties were activated. Cognitive dissonance became catch of the day, as I was caught between defending my political positions and navigating the various ways on how-to-not alienate my cultural and ethnic kin. This conflict is a reality for many Africans who espouse progressive ideals like ‘the gays shouldn’t be murdered’ and ‘how about we not take a saw to a female’s clitoris because God said so’.
These Africans (really anyone with a soul) are usually berated by the cultural and religious thought police for promoting ‘western’ ideals and essentially ‘selling out’. I don’t deny that I’m capable of both crimes, but I suspect my status as a grad student blogger would make the plausibility of ‘selling out’ worthy of further inquiry. These cultural Gestapo merely exist to hold others to essentialized/subjective, and out-of- touch accounts of what it means to be an ’African’, ‘a Somali’, an ‘African women’ and quite frankly usually lead to a daunting exercise for those of us seeking to challenge the implications, the conclusions, and the methods of our individual intellectual/personal journeys (damn that was a long ass sentence). You know those people, first ones to tweet scripture, surahs, cliched proverbs in response to a political/social position you’ve posited that may challenge their sanctimonious ideals. As a famous Somali samosa seller in a market in Mogadishu once said, “L’enfer, c’est les Autres,” and this particular brand of Homo Sapien, I speak of, is a testament to that narrative-hell is indeed other people. These individuals often use culture and religion to mask their anxiety as marginalized people, and can make the process of unpackaging paradigms and ideologies, an exercise that leaves many in fear of being ostracized, ridiculed or reduced to labels- And at times, in fear for one’s personal safety. So how then, does one challenge and reprimand these miscreants?
I think I’ve devised a plan, but gotta be careful with how I write this, as I could potentially be writing ‘exhibit A’ in my trial for apostasy in Somalia one day, and must be careful to not leave any traces of my supposed religious abandonment in this how-to-manual on decreasing the frequency of unpleasant human interactions with the cultural/religious Polizei. Guys, the religious/cultural apologists will leave you alone if you pretend to be an atheist. I swear to God, Atheism works. Let me explain, rather than give a treatise on my sociological position on the demerits/merits of theism, I’ll instead say, ‘Hi, I was raised in a Muslim Household, and Bertrand Russell broke my spiritual soul’. In navigating and constructing my position on the nature of humans/the purpose of life, political/social leanings, and/or the existence of God, I’ve come to realize that questioning religion (more popularly known as ‘the improbable’) in many African social circles, is usually the easiest path to party of one dinner dates, twitter un-follows, solo movie nights, and snickering relatives. For a Somali woman like I, the mere thought of professing solidarity with anti-theistic positions is criminal in many circles, and by many circles I mean, people who rhyme with ‘uslims’. :/
One minute, you’re overwhelmed with family, friends, and a community that claims and reveres you for the wonderful work you do in challenging that idea of Somalis as the ‘locusts predicted in the book of Revelations’, and life is grand. The next, you’re the subject of conspiracy theories and irrational speculations regarding your recent political/social proclamations. Rumors like ‘ Why would she defend the gays? She’s definitely a Zionist and my favorite, ‘You know, now that I think about it, she doesn’t really look Somali, definitely couldn’t be one of us’ become normalized and those who dare to challenge some of the implications of cultural and religious dogma are branded ‘un-African’ and ostracized like Romania during an EU summit. What you once considered to be merely inclusive and progressive political positions are instead used to relegate you to the periphery of an already outlier religious and cultural community. Religious skeptics are easily two life points bellow women and one above homosexuals (the math ends up, don’t challenge me), rendering one’s life ‘FAIL, try again’.
But fret not; It’s not all doom and gloom, and I’ve discovered the perks that come with secular living after turning in your God card (I didn’t say I was atheist. Important point here incase someone should indict me). For those of us more socially challenged, abandoning religion is the easiest way to lose dogmatic and irrational friends and alienate annoying Africans. This is a good thing, guys. Other than the obvious benefits of not being held to a subjective rubric of strict ‘African-ness’, and intellectual freedom, skepticism can also offer something much more attractive…let me explain
For example, remember that meddling aunt whose always critiquing your above-the –recommended derrière size? Or that time she berated you for your inability to procure the affections of your twice removed cousin, secure his monogamy, and make babies? No? just me? Well, for all 3 of you who’ve had the pleasure; I can safely report that outing yourself as a godless vagrant will end her meddling phone calls, and your aunt will only be stuff of nightmares. Goes as follows
Aunt: You’re already 28, you’re womb is poisoned and soon only 70 yr old men will find you attractive.
Moi: But auntie, it’s hard finding a good Somali man who believes in evolution
Aunt: wtf :/
It doesn’t stop there. It gets better folks- unannounced family members suddenly take on the role of absentee fathers, and disappear faster than most friends at the arrival of a dinner bill. No more uninvited houseguests, and matchmaking attempts by well-meaning relatives. No one wants anything to do with you now. You’re no longer under the protection of God, and very few will stand by your side as the Almighty could very well potentially strike your vagina down with a Thunderbolt. You sacrilegious hoe.
But wait, the perks don’t stop there. I remember I was recently on the receiving end of unsolicited and an unrequited sexual solicitation from an unsavory and an awfully boring man. This man was relentless. You know this type, the ones who post copious facebook pictures of *insert your African city’ and write nothing but esssentialist and nostalgic bullshit about your shared homeland, usually between random declarations of love for his mother and Quranic verses. Anyway, this little gremlin managed to evade all my attempts to respectfully reject his advances, and tenaciously continued to harass my Facebook inbox. That’s when I decided it was time to bring out the big guns, and end this farce. The thing is, Patient X was a devout Muslim, and often spoke of a near future where he would settle down in some outrageously devout Islamic yet to-be-recognized state that would be known as the Islamic Republic of South Somalia (I suggested Ikhwaan-Al-Haaywan and he promise to entertain my recommendation) to follow the Quran and Sunnah. This was my in. I had one shot at ending this amorous hostage situation, and I took it. I told Patient X that I was unsuited for theocratic living due to my unwavering love for Russian spirits, atheist writers, unrequited fellatios, and found life according to Islamic doctrine to be quite honestly, a tad bit much. Before I could finish my rejection, I was subjected to an onslaught of choice epithets that rhyme with ‘clut’ and ‘hitch’, and then he un-friended me. It seems there was a God after all, as he answered my secular prayers. I’m kidding. There’s no God (that’s not an admission of apostasy either).
And that’s when I decided to patent this genius, and use it as my go to mechanism for ridding oneself of unpleasant African company online and offline. This trick is particularly useful in reducing excessive facebook friends, annoying twitter followers, you’re too passive aggressive to delete and/or unfollow. We’ve all been there. Logged online, only to be bombarded with statuses and tweets like ‘God is good, keep him in your heart, and all will be great’, and my favourite ‘Ughh, just saw a bunch of men staring at a woman’s butt, so glad to be a Muslim woman!’, that left you wanting to Fisticuff babies quit earth and its wretched inhabitants. But wait, why not fight back, and bombard your fictitious facebook friends, social media buddies with proclamations of your own to the beat of something like ‘Ayan Hirsi Ali is great. She’s my favorite’ and gleefully watch that facebook buddies quit you like a retail job. It works like a charm. But I’ll warn you, it does get awfully lonely out there. Not that I would. I’m a woman of God. :/