Six reasons why the petro-dollar sheikhs are winning the culture wars in Somalia.

1.     Because the progressives live inside Shisha bottles (figuratively, as Shisha bottles are now gentrified and rent is too damn high). 

Full disclosure. I’m an admitted Somali progressive, and I use the word "progressive" because it encompasses a diverse group of Somalis in the ideological service of radical culture in our state. A group informed by a value that things are not okay, and change is not only needed but extremely critical. Some call this group of Somalis "liberals", 'ciyaalka xafaada' , and if you're a member of AS, the 'material we use to clean our swords with".

What do I mean by living in Shisha bottles? Simple, its a euphemism that many locals in Somalia use to describe a group of people more invested in creating a liberal Somalia, where vices are openly indulged, and are only concerned with reliving the fetishized narrative of the "good old days". Instead of directing our movement at reforming our pitiful education sector, where children are literally indoctrinated to believe beef broth is a Zionist conspiracy to weaken the fertility of Somali men, we mobilize our energy at battling superficial cultural norms with collective cries like "why are our women decked in oppressive tents!!!". Yes, the freedom to wear dirac in the Xamar would be nice, but can we get some political representation and be free from sexual violence first? Which leads me to reason #2

2.      Women’s rights have been hijacked by UN-funded conferences and collective demands to bring back the diracs

 I'll admit I’ve been guilty of this, and still can't resist the impulse to roll my eyes every time I see a six-month baby covered in a way that was designed to induce her cardiac arrest, and the kid almost always looks she's in the seventh level of hell. But I’m working on scrutinizing my feelings on this. I’ll also admit that I was once was VIP member of the "bring back the gabasar" online militia, but my years in Somalia have exposed how deeply shallow, offensive, and elitist that position was. I'm proud to admit I've been three years "criticizing Arabs’ sober, with relapses now and then when someone with a name like 'Umm-Palestine-Ibn-Laith' tries to friend me on FB.  Because quite frankly, decrying "Arab tents", while complaining about the rising cost of household maids in Somalia (which is a 100 USD monthly, akin to domestic slavery), is like an anti- abortionist preaching about the sanctity of life but hates free healthcare for all. 

Now before someone challenges rebuttals with the ‘but that’s not all of us’, I’ll agree that there are genuine women, and some men, doing the demanding work of creating a world where women's visibility and full participation in Somalia's political, economic and social life. But unfortunately, Somalia’s cities are now filled with flooded with an influx of the ‘Michael Kors carrying in case you think I'm poor/sunglasses a top hijabs-while-indoors/I'll speak English to you to assert my diaspora status should my accent fail me' feminists, and Barre-era men who truly despise the same women they claim fight on behalf of. If I had a dollar every time a ‘gender activist’ employed under-age girls for less than 100 dollars a month as a domestic slave, while a regular fixture at every human rights conference in Somalia, I would have enough to buy the entire Somali Parliament for the next century.

3.   The young progressives are busy online twitter-fighting white supremacy and holding competitions on who can best speak for us (present company included),  and only show up periodically to condemn Obama's drones (also I'm gonna need people to google how drone strikes work; it usually involves one of your maryooley cousins requesting and/or giving consent). Random aside, can we ban folks from commenting on Somalia publicly if they’re incapable of naming four regions in Somalia without the help of Ugaas Google. 

4.   We hate each other. Let's face it, the ‘crabs in a bucket’ chip is a hallmark of Somalinimo. Show me a successful Somali, and I’ll show you ten of their friends actively working to destroy their joy. And the ‘progressives’ in Somalia take the gold medal in taking each other down into the abyss.

"She works for NGO, what a sell out", "war kaas waa cabtooy (drunkard)", "she/he works for the CIA, filthy jaajus", “war taas has no degree,, I know, we went to school together”are just a few examples of the character assassinations you'll hear in secret facebook DMs and take down sessions in restaurants. Meanwhile in Al-Arabia (I relapsed again) .......the  petrodollar sheikhs will deploy real-life assassins to target the source of any rumours pointing to their double lives in brothels and corruption. In short, progressives ain’t loyal!

5.  We're cheap and would rather hide out in an overpriced hotel for months than live local for fear that a clansman might ask for five dollars.

Now picture this scene, drawn to illustrate point #5; A dinner party in Mogadishu attended by an assortment of outrageously successful, well-educated, diverse, and ultra progressive Somalis. The usual conversation jumps around from an array of subjects on religious policing in Somalia, persecution of minorities, foreign influence, political corruption, depressing levels of poverty, and the miseducation of our community. Someone suggests we do something about it. "Hmmm...maybe we can start a scholarship fund for the youth, or open a school...No, wait, we can fund a playwright centre in Kismayo. " Yes, yes! That's exactly what'll we do; tangible initiatives. Yes!!!! Let's do this! This how we'll take our country back from these Bedouin slaves ruing our nation!!!!! Everyone is motivated, inspired, and ready to serve....until it's time to collect funds......At the mention of putting our pockets where our principles sleep: everyone goes missing faster than darood men when the President is in the market for a new Prime Minister. Crickets, unreturned text messages, and the odd facebook block ensues. 

Yup folks, while the bearded folks spent 20+ years funding their “I literally have no idea what this duugsi is saying” schools, creating businesses that dominate the youth employment market; We were busy taking pictures of Pizza in Mogadishu and sharing vintage Somali photos (guilty as charged). In conclusion, we will not win without a budget, strategies, building with our communities, and the ability to put  individual egos aside.

6.   And finally, we're out of touch about contemporary Somalia. Some of us may live here, but only emerge out of our caves to take Instagram photos designed to drench our social networks back in the diaspora with envy. We copy and paste social justice language and movements completely impervious to context we're living in. This also includes our popular use of English (has its economic merits), but is a seismic cultural barrier, as communication is the most powerful tool in battling those in the service of Bedouins. And Finally, we gotta ask ourselves, Do we want radical change in Somalia as a self-indulgent, intellectual massage project, or are we invested in tangible change? If the latter is the goal, we got a lot of work to do before we draw up the construction plans for art schools in Mogadishu and inclusive political institutions.


Idilay Bilan