In surveying the political crisis facing the Somali people, one is often at a great loss, whether to attribute it to the follies of their leaders, or to the cruelty and the immorality of external forces. There are interwoven strings of conspiracy theories prevalent in Somali culture that hold colonialists as culprits for what ails Somalia (despite modern evidence that Somali governance is in shambles). A prevalent theory that is often bantered about goes like this: by and large, the Somali modern state is a scheme constructed by Western imperialists and their allies to quench their own egotistical needs.
Somalis have been manipulated and abused by outsiders at every turn and twist possible, and the history of the country is but a narrative solely sketched and sustained by imperial officers and their indigenous saboteurs. Thanks to these pervasive exploitations, Somalia as a country has become a classic example of a Hobbesian conflict, poverty, misery, bribery, anarchy and many other social and political ills. Reared in that culture I have, by a sheer default, been imbibing these tales for more than two decades of my life. A large part of what went wrong in Somalia must certainly relate to the stupidity of the Somali political establishment or else it would not have destroyed the country, slaughtered and looted the people. Likewise, it is human nature to sanctify oneself and defile others holding him/her the source of all wrongdoings.
In this sense, Somali’s victimization emanates, in a higher extent, from a phenomenon psychologist’s label the self-serving bias – the tendency to embrace success and hurl failures at the heads of others. I believe, nonetheless, the most salient factors accounting for Somalia’s political crisis trace their roots back to cold-blooded plots contrived by foreign agents in secrecy to the exclusion of Somalis. The fact is that virtually all Somalis, when first discovered by colonialists were nomads and/or horticulturists with little knowledge of the outside world. Raw material ready to be used; the colonists capitalized on that occasion, shaping Somali politics in a slate geared towards the colonists’ raison d’état.
A line in Abdi Samatar’s essay, “Debating Somali Identity,” delineates this gruesome tale—albeit in a graceful prose. Citing a study by Mahamoud Mamdani, regarding Africa’s colonization legacies, Abdi jars that colonial powers rearranged the African society’s flora and fauna by introducing an alien scheme of governance based on the conception of tribal entities governed by traditional chiefs. The summum bonum of the scheme is the fragmentation of a society similar in terms of ethnicity and culture into distinctive groups where each is administered by indigenous traditional leader who pays unfettered homage “to the master race and its state.”
This policy, Samatar contends, ushered in an opportunistic distribution of favors among the tribes by colonial authorities, and “over time, these identities gained a reality and logic of their own, defined in relation to state authority and the distribution of public resources.”
The value of Samatar’s analysis is that it lends one the conceptual framework necessary to understand, navigate and get Somalia’s murky landscape and its incessant contemporary political crisis into perspective. Now that we have equipped our mental atmosphere with this insightful framework, let us proceed in the business of evaluating corruption allegations recently made in a report from UN Monitoring Group. The chief concern herein is sifting through and checking whether the allegations are stemming from pure moral grounds, or are empty rhetoric, i.e., doctored propaganda meant to prolong the tutelage of Somali people.
The report commences with statements resembling apocalyptic proclamations: the Transitional Federal Institution is due— in the absence of efficient, legitimate and broad-based national authority ready to fill the vacuum and lead the country— to expire in August 2012. The country “is threatened by the efforts of diverse Somali political leaders and their supporters to hijack or derail the transitional process – outcomes that would fuel continued instability and conflict, potentially reviving the fortunes of an embattled Al-Shabaab” the report warns.
Most of the pages that followed focus on a vague notion of something called “acts that threaten the peace, security, and stability of Somalia” of which “acts of financial mismanagement and [sic] corruption in Somalia’s Transitional Government” get a lion share of attention.
In relaying vices committed by Somali elites, the report passes for a principled testimony: it exposes various malpractices ranging from abusing power to money laundering engaged by successive generations of Somali leaders et al since the collapse of the Somali state. Amen to that. Nevertheless, the report is mum on deadly transgressions carried out by outside world! For instance, the report does not address more disastrous activities, like dumping chemical wastes into Somalia’s seas, plundering its resources and vesting the power in the hands of a few illegitimate leaders. Nor could it find a word to say about imperialistic attitudes of this so called UN Representative in Somalia, Dr. Mahiga, and his acolytes in micromanaging Somalia’s state of affairs in a manner beyond their mandates or the billions of aid dollars allocated to Somalia devoured by Western NGOs.
By dint, a serious analytical report with the intention of deciphering Somalia’s conundrum would focus on the origin of its political crisis: topics concerning bureaucratic chiefs and their customary legal codes defined by patriarchal authorities of senior men who the colonial powers harnessed and their byproduct, the notorious 4.5 formulas, which created a phenomenon the report asserts to have generated “corrosive political and economic practices that have aggravated the conflict and helped thwart the restoration of peace and security in the country.” In this light, the UN Monitoring Group’s report is an ideological choice at best and colonial chimera at worst. This colonial chimera has been leading Somalia’s discourse and dominating the political narrative of that country for so long. But its eclipse is now on the horizon.
Although cognizant of their country’s dysfunctionality and the corruption of their elites, many Somalis are fed up with skewed reports and gimmick dictates jumbled and disseminated by international circles : they see “the systematic misappropriation, embezzlement and outright theft of public resources” by Somali elites as seeds planted by International Community personnel.
They have come to the realization that reality in the realm of international pundits is not a function of facts as such, but a function of perspectives, always colored by the political predilection of the beholder; or more to the point, “actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them” as demonstrated aptly by George Orwell.
Those Somalis are pained by corrosive slurs uttered by colonial officers immortalized in the annals of books that called their forefathers in nineteenth century, expendable backwards and were only useful to buttress an alien authority. In the twenty first century, they can bear no more the vulgar accusations in which Somalis are depicted as an ineffectual bunch lacking the human intelligence essential to tend their own internal affairs.
Their sentiments were succinctly captured by Nurrdiin Farah, a renowned Somali writer, in a short article, “The Truth About Somali Piracy” featured in the Wall Street Journal: “No doubt there is a great deal of criminality in Somalia, never mind her dysfunctionality and statelessness. But the country remains victim to worse press than she deserves. A Somali I met in Puntland recently told me that the image that comes to him when he thinks of Somalia is that of ‘a corpse at which vultures are picking. Why doesn’t the world let us be – to bury our country in peace?’”