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Somalis live Everywhere, Somalis live Nowhere: Part I

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Camel with supplies.

Camel 
and woman, Dadaab, Kenya, December 2005

. Photo by Abdi Roble

By Shakur Ali

The Psycho-Social Effects of War: Disengaged Civic Life


Most people are able to think of several reasons why Somalia is regarded as a failed state. Without getting into too much detail, it is always helpful to briefly recap in a chronological sense how Somalia as a nation has gotten herself to where she is today. We should at first understand that there are many different factors and actors, both internal and external ones that have contributed to, sped up, and maintained the collapse of the Somali State.

Civil war, clan factionalism, war lords, state collapse are just a few descriptors of the mutation of statelessness from the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s – with the 2000s transforming it into a more ‘globalized ideological’ conflict. The violence and atrocious crimes committed throughout those periods and well into today came in and come in intra, inter, and extra state formats; of which all raised and still raise significant human rights concerns and humanitarian crises in the Horn of Africa – causing many to flee while the remainder had to lay victim in witness of intra-clan resource quarrels, warring between powerful clan factions, and sectarian violence between Islamic groups and so forth. Moreover, those who remained in Somalia throughout the 2000s were also victimized by the Ethiopian intervention (2006), which eventually led to the 2009-present day conflict between the Somali Government and Al-Shabaab. And not to mention, those left behind also were on the receiving end to US covert actions, and drones ‘targeted’ ‘specifically’ at Al Shabaab leaders and their bases – in operation by none other than the United States dishonorable War on Terror (which has had severe implications on people who stayed back and also on the Somali Diaspora.

Nevertheless, Somalia has been unstable and in chaos for the past 25 plus years and still is relatively unpredictable in the year 2015. The country has not been a fully functioning state since 1991, and strictly speaking, isn’t only overdue in regards to safety and security but also belated for a transformation of systemic cultural and societal characteristics. Since the beginning of the conflict, consequently, there have been huge waves of migration from Somalia to neighboring countries and other parts of the Globe. Violence (also environmental reasons), played a significant role and is indeed a determining factor in the country’s two decade plus emigration epoch. (Migration because of Violence, Unstable Nations create Unstable People)

Protracted wars have created a timid ambiance (in the physical and psychological wellbeing sense), which in turn prohibited people from thinking – progression and longevity, to living along the lines of – survival in the interim. (Short-sightedness because of violence)

This had serious repercussions on civic engagement capacity (I use this as a reference point, as civil society plays a crucial role in the reconciliation and transformation processes of war –torn societies) of Somalis in Somalia, and an argument will be made to indicate that this way of thinking is also relevant to first generation Somali migrants of the Diaspora – who have magnified this approach by accommodating it into their transnational ways of being and disallowing integration to bear fruit in the societies in which they migrated to. (Lack of civic engagement capacity, because of Short-Sightedness)

Somalia as a nation has had its fair share of (political) violence, with its ever changing face and format. Even when ‘peace’ follows battles; it often becomes short lived caused by underlying security issues, weak reconciliation efforts and poor governance. This has caused people to live in precarious conditions; because Somalia lacks the needed security measures, people cannot rely on ‘peacetime’, as there is always a chance something violent will happen again (this is clearly demonstrated by the rather random suicide attacks Al Shabaab carry out today in Somalia). Making it instinctive to think of a “ceasefire” not as a time for the implementation of local or national reconciliation efforts, but rather as a ‘time in between chaos’. This ‘in between chaos’ attitude decreases the chances for any civic engagement to happen between Somalis in the intra let alone in an interstate sphere. In addition, this ‘in between’ mindset is also applicable to Somalis of the Diaspora who ultimately lead lives in which they live ‘neither here nor there’. In the sense that some members of the Somali Diaspora have allowed themselves to become a metaphysical form of an internally (internationally) displaced peoples, in where like IDPs – they were forced to flee their home yet they still, culturally, socially, mentally and even religiously ‘live’ in the place from which they flew; making them ‘inbetweeners’.

A precarious mentality, as I will suggest, can be blamed for the inability of Somalis to cooperate pluralistic ally in Somalia and has been transferred by first generation Somalis in the Diaspora through their transnational practices. The prime culprit, violence, has undoubtedly caused not only societal consequences, but more importantly psychological issues. There are three vignettes that contribute to and facilitate this precarious mentality.

  • Firstly, on the society; the reconstruction of it after a period of violence.
  • Secondly, on the human psychology: the construction of ‘others’ or the lack thereof based on emotion and memories of past violence.
  • Lastly, on clan politics; the customary laws based on clan and kinship.

The first two vignettes re-establish the precarious mentality of Somalis in Somalia and the third facilitates the continuity of the first two. All three together play an important role to further our understanding of the different dynamics at play when considering both the Somali migration and reconciliation experience. The experience of American civil society after 9/11 will be used (in the next post) to illustrate how violence has the ability to restructure what would otherwise be normal social relations.

This article was reproduced with the permission of the author. You can follow Shakur Ali on Twitter @shakurrali or visit his blog at shakurrali.wordpress.com

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