Friday, December 31, 2010

A message to the Somali youth in 2011

By: Bashir Goth

The youth of my people, the future of the nation, I am addressing this letter to you as a person who grew up in a different era than yours. An era when stories about independence were still fresh; when feelings of Somali nationalism were stronger than clan loyalty; when we sang for a dreamland called Greater Somalia; an era when the blue Somali flag with the five-cornered white star in the middle symbolized a home for all Somalis in the Horn of African region. An era when we were imbibed with nationalistic songs such “NFD dhankeedaa, Dhinacaa Jubuuti, Dhulka la iga haysto, Ee dhaxal wareegay, Inaan dhagar ku galo, Oo dhiig qulqulo ayaan ku dhaarsanee…” An era when as children we slept and woke up with the Somali Radio playing “ Hawd iyo Danood, Haadaamo mee, Sow anaa hurdee, Sow anaa hurdee, Haadka la iima wadhin…” An era when tears used to well up in the people’s eyes and hearts used to pump faster with the melancholic lyrics of Abdillahi Qarshi: “Dadkaa dhawaaqayaa, Dhulkooga doonayaa, Hadday u dhiidhiyeen, Allahayow u dhiib…” the tunes the BBC Somali section still rings in its programs with many people not realizing that the lyrics of this tune were one time the La Marseillaise of the Somali people. An era when Somalis saw each other as brethren and the rallying cry was “Soomaaliyeey toosoo, Toosoo isku tiirsada eey, Hadba kiina taag daraneey, Taageera weligiineey…”.

I am addressing you also as a person who saw all these dreams dissipate; who saw the men and women who fought for these dreams die broken hearted and humiliated and many of them even imprisoned or killed. I am addressing you as a conscientious citizen who watched and observed his country descend into a killing field where brothers brutally slaughter each other in an unprecedented fratricide. As a person who to the best of his ability expressed his pain and frustration over the situation of his people in prose and poetry. I am addressing you not as a saint who has no sins of his own but as a Somali like any other person of his era who sometimes felt weak and almost crushed by the evil of tribalism. A person who knows the pitfalls and trappings of tribalism and can forewarn you of the dead ends and black holes ahead of you.

Harnessing technology

Youth of my people, I want you to look around and take a good stock of your bearings. I am sure what you see is ugly and depressing. It must not be only absurd but starkly anachronistic that you groan under the heavy burden of tollaayey culture in the 21st century when youth of your age elsewhere are changing the world beyond our recognition and for the better.

To remind you of some excellent examples, you already know or heard about Mark Elliot Zuckerberg, the 27-year-old founder of Facebook who was named person of the year by the Time magazine for his epoch making revolution in founding Facebook. By choosing him as The Person of the Year 2010, Time magazine said Zuckerberg has deserved the honor : “For connecting more than half a billion people and mapping the social relations among them, for creating a new system of exchanging information and for changing how we live our lives.”

Another young man Jack Dorsey, created Twitter in 2000 when he was barely 24. As you can read in his biography and I quote it: “Dorsey was fascinated by the technological challenge of coordinating taxi drivers, delivery vans and other fleets of vehicles that needed to remain in constant, real-time communication with one another. When he was 15, Dorsey wrote dispatch software that is still used by some taxicab companies today.”

Back on the continent, a teenager has made history by building a windmill and bringing electricity to his entire village in Malawi. At the age of 14, William Kamkwamba who dropped out of secondary school when his family couldn’t afford the school fees, he taught himself the principles of physics to make the windmill. His story published as a book “The boy who harnessed the windmill” has not only become a best seller but a symbol of defiance for what one can achieve through determination and single-mindedness.

These are only a few examples and obviously there are thousands of youth everywhere in the world silently weaving their own success stories through inventions, writing, learning, sports and music.

I am sure that many of you profusely use these social networks. You go to Facebook and Twitter on daily basis but I am not sure how using these youth-created technology services touch your inner soul. Does it ring a bell in you? Does it trigger your creative talents to do something to make a change to the way your fathers and grandfathers lived? Or does it goad you to use it for your primitive instincts of tribal allegiances -and enables you to add more veracity to the hatred-based clan culture that you inherited from your fathers.

Brain harvesting versus harboring tribal hatred

Youth of my people, as you can see the world as your fathers knew it has changed; technological explosions of volcanic proportions have created new realities, new cultures and new societies. Anyone who denies swimming with the flow or sits on the sidelines will be either crushed by the waves or left to rot on the banks. The pastoral life of your forefathers that was based on herding livestock, small subsistence farming and a primitive culture of small groups of family bloodlines huddling together against perceived enemies is no more sustainable and may soon disappear as the urbanization advances consuming all available land for modernized agriculture and industrialization while climate change takes its toll as well.

The most precious asset that you have in today’s world is indeed your brain. I reflected on this in my poem DAWAN which I wrote on 4th November 1998 on the inauguration of Amoud University:

“…Waxa maanta dunidani
La isku daba furaayaa
Dirirtuna ka joogtaa
Waa maadh dahsoonoon
Daymo lagu arkayn iyo
Dal waliba aqoon iyo
Inta uu garaad da’o…” (Dawan, November 4, 1998)

Yes, this is what you have to invest in and harvest, not rearing camels in barren lands or continuing internecine and outdated clan wars. That was the life of yester years, the life of your nomad forefathers. That does not mean that you cannot go back to the countryside and modernize the way the nomad and farming communities live, but to do so you must first gain education and shape your destiny not only with the aim of getting more income but also by shaping and advancing your thinking and your culture.

As the Somali adage says: “Dhar magaalo sida loo xidhaa way dhib yartahay, dhal magaalo sida loo noqdaase way adag tahay.” (It is easy to dress like city people, but it is difficult to get the character and values of city people – meaning civility)”.

If you think that by going to school, living in a city and dressing like city people you can become a civilized person think again. Education should change your mental attitude, your philosophy of life and should open up your mind to evaluate issues on their moral grounds and not on inherited cultural and tribal mindsets. Baffled by why Somalis do not learn from their interactions with other cultures, Jama Duale, a poet whose reflections I admire, not only comes to the same conclusion but also satirizes about the futility of the Somali claim of brainstorming through Qat sessions in the following lines of a poem he wrote in the 1950s:

“…Maraakiibta way raacayeen, reer masar ahayde
Mijilisyada way garanayaan, laga macaashaaye
Maroongigana way daaqaayaan, maalin iyo layle
Haddii anay mansuukhiin ahayn, maankii laga qaaday
Mirqaankeeedu Soomaali sow, meela uma sheego…”

There is a simple test to do to assess whether education has changed you or not. Your nomad cousin comes to you crying and tells you that the clan’s homestead has been attacked by enemies who just happened to be your mother’s brothers. What will you do? I say this because how you react to this issue will determine whether your education has changed you and made you a better person or whether your brain remains fossilized in old times. If you would rather jump to your gun and follow your illiterate nomad cousin to shoot the hell out of his enemies, in this case your maternal uncles, instead of telling him to go to the authorities and file a case, then you should know that you are only dressed like city people and your education has failed to change you and make you a law abiding citizen. Unfortunately, most of us, Somalis, are so imbibed with the culture of revenge and empty pride that the passion for Tollaayey takes the best of us and we react impulsively to the tribal call.

Tollaayda qabiilku , Maxay dad qareen ah, Xumaan qabasiisay (My poem Qiiro, December 10,1984.)

Youth of my people, if you look at the revenge-based Tollaayey culture that many of us are so beholden to and defend with pride; you will see that there is indeed no pride in it. What pride is there in killing your maternal uncles? What pride is there in killing of any human being at all, let alone a close relative? Have you ever stopped to ask yourself since when did your paternal ancestry become more sacred than your maternal one; since when did your father become more sacred to you than your mother to the point that you can easily kill your mother’s brother but defend your father’s brother to death.

Youth of my nation, you are the cyber generation and the world is your oyster, it will be unfortunate if you limit your ambitions, your careers, your future and your innovation capacity to the clan horizon. Why should you insult your intelligence by narrowing your opportunities while technologies invented by your peers around the world are broadening your horizon and proving to you that there are no barriers to the outreach of the human mind? You do not need to shorten your lives on fighting for clan farms; camels or water wells when all you need to own is a computer to unleash your creative abilities. Why do you allow yourself to fall into the tribal vortex that sucks you to the bottom, dehumanizes your personality and reduces you to your basic animal instincts of revenge and bloodletting? Think about how you can connect half a billion people around the world, break all barriers of culture, time and distance, and create your cyber community like Mark Zuckerberg instead of succumbing to age-old traditions and spending your energy and your talents on scheming how to kill your uncles.

“…Muxuu qab-qab dhaafay
Hoostana ka qalaalan
Intuu qacda foolka
Dibnaha ku qaniinay
Qadaadkana taagay
U qoystay waxyeelo
Tollaayda qabiilku
Maxay dad qareena
Xumaan qabadsiisay.
Nin walba qorigiisa
Intuu qacda waaga
Qorfaha kula hoyday
Miyuu qummuciisa
Walaal ku qiyaasay ?...” (My poem Qiiro, 1984)

Remember whenever you kill your fellow brother on petty tribal issues and you proudly stand on his dead body waving your gun, the world is laughing at you. Your peers in advanced countries see you as a savage. They dismiss you as a primitive, ape-like African fighting on camels and water wells.

“...Aaheey aah
Iyo aah
Sowka sheeka adduun
Ka qoraaya abkay
Ubadkooga iskuul
Afrikaanku alwaax
Inu yahay sida ape
Bahal ayda ku nool
Ku baraaya aqoon…”(My poem Amar Dhacay, December 17, 1984)

Youth of my nation, you have to make a choice. Do you want to be in the 21st century, take these successful young people of your age as role models and make your future and history from a computer screen or do you want to carry on your fathers’ and grandfathers’ mission of self-destruction over barren land and tribal feuds.

The world has changed. Old powers are crumbling and there are new forces on the march. After being many years in the dustbin of history, China and India are today writing the future history of human civilization. The Arab Gulf Countries are heralding the Arab re-awakening and reclaiming the proverbial glory of the Abbasid and Andalusian ages. The African continent is also experiencing what some people call as the African Renaissance. Africa is awakening to the new global reality. The new opportunities created by the access to the Internet and modern telecommunications technology are empowering people to free themselves from the clutches of poverty. It is you, the youth of Africa that have to lead this new movement of liberation against poverty, ignorance and corrupt regimes.

Youth of my nation, the older generation has let you down. They left you a legacy of shame and disgrace. The ruins of our cities, the refugees of our people everywhere in the world and the destruction of our identity and dignity are a living testimony to the stained heritage they left for you. It is a great burden indeed but the ambition and the vitality of youth can overcome all obstacles. All you need is to shun the past with all its ugliness, claim your future, break all barriers and embrace change. It is you and only you who can starve the tribal fire. Life is beautiful and you can make miracles if you follow your dreams instead of brooding over the broken dreams of the older generation. You are not accountable for the failure of the older generation; you are responsible only for what you do with your own times. Just recall the Quranic Ayah: “Those are a people who have passed away. Theirs is that which they earned, and yours is that which ye earn. And ye will not be asked of what they used to do”. (Al Baqara, 2:134)

Don’t ever be discouraged by the grim reality of our people. Grimness of any nation stays only as long as its youth allows it to stay. You have good examples in history. There are countries that are advanced and prosperous today that have seen worst days than we have in our region. The resilience of the human spirit knows no bounders and once you hit the gutter, the only option you have is to climb up to the top. And this is what you should do to wipe out the tears of your mothers and prove to them that their dreams in you, the dream of any mother for her sons and daughter, will be realized. You should reassure them that the long night would soon end, sing to them with me:

“Dalkaygow wallaahiye
Warwarkiyo waxyeeladu
Cidna lama walaaloo
Qofna weerka dhiilada
Wehel looma siiyoo
Kuma waaro ciilkee;
Waxad wayda haysaba
Waagii dhawaayoo
Walaacani ku haystiyo
Walbahaarku wuu tegi;
Wallee maalin dhow waqal
Weelka loo dareershiyo
War caloosha deeqoo
Gaajada badh wiiqoo
Wadnaha ii qaboojiyo
Weedh aan ku diirsado
Waayeelka hirarkiyo
Ababshaha wardoonkiyo
BBCiidu way werin…” (My poem Walbahaarku wuu tegi, 1999)

Youth of my people; you have the tools of enlightenment to fight the darkness of tribalism. You have the pen, the football, the music and the technology in your possession. Create your own sports and cultural clubs. When the nomads and farmers start their fratricide games, you reply to them by playing games together, reading books together, singing together, dancing together and meeting on Facebook and twitter to reach out to each other. When they battle with guns, clash on the pitch in peaceful, bloodless and friendly games. Prove to them that you would better play, dance, sing and embrace the beauty of life with your maternal cousins and uncles than kill them.

Reject the vulture politicians who live on the nation’s carcass, fossilized academicians with retired ideas who trade in intellectual prostitution and extremist mullahs whose mission in life is to kill everything beautiful so they could thrive on the rotting flesh of their mothers, sisters and daughters whom they killed for nothing more than selling vegetables in the market, breast feeding a child, laughing with a neighboring boy, singing in a wedding or wearing a bra.

Youth of my country, you can start your enlightenment revolution by proclaiming 2011 as the year of the Somali Youth Renaissance; a year that you walk out from the cloak of tribalism to the light of civility and modernization; a year that you see your fellow Somalis as your family members and not your enemies and other people everywhere as your brothers in humanity that you share with them one endangered earth and not as infidels that deserve to burn in hell. You should start your renaissance from yourself. Only when you liberate yourself from the clutches of the petrified medieval ideologies and tribalism and you forge ahead with your future shoulder to shoulder with the youth of the world, only then you can look yourself in the mirror and say: “Yes, I am free, I am my own man or woman”, and only then you can help others to stand up as well.

Shining moments

Luckily you don’t have to start from scratch. There are already some success stories with real heroes. The sheer number of universities the Somali people have established over the last chaotic two decades is a stunning example of our people’s resilience. The fact that Ridwan M. Osman, one of the first graduates of Amoud University, the doyen of Somali universities after the country’s collapse, is now pursuing a graduate course in the prestigious Cambridge University is a story of enormous hope. Dr.Hawa Abdi who along with her daughters have been chosen as the “Women of The Year of 2010,” by Glamour Magazine for their fearless efforts of running a hospital in a lawless country where the mere existence of women let alone saving lives in a battle field is a daily struggle, are exemplary heroes that deserve more than a Nobel Prize. A woman of equal tenacity though working in safer conditions is Dr. Edna Adan who established the first maternity hospital in Hargeisa. Fowzia Haji Adan who pioneered and campaigned for the creation of Hargeisa University is another shining example of how one individual can move a whole community to a good cause.

Ayan Ashour, and yes it always has to be a woman, as the inspiring force behind the creation of the fast spreading Readers’ Clubs in Somaliland including Maskaxmaal in Borama, Timacadde in Gabiley, HRC in Hargeisa, BRC in Berbera, Halkaraan in Burao and Anfac in Erigavo, is a woman whose interest and patronage of the Somali literature and music is comparable to what Madame Geoffrin was to the French Enlightenment in the 18th century or to what May Ziadeh and Rose Al Yousef were to the advancement of Arab literature in the 20th century. Not only does Ayan single-handedly organize and hold two major annual Somali cultural festivals in London and Hargeisa, but she also made it ritual of touring all the Reader’s Clubs around the country and attending their book reading sessions. Ayan is a woman who made her mission to keep the Somali culture alive and kicking against the barbaric onslaught being waged by dark forces. In a similar effort, though with less limelight, Maryan Omar Ali, Aryette, has collected, properly documented and archived 9000 songs through her personal effort and money. This is the literary heritage of the Somali people that would otherwise have disappeared into obscurity.

Youth of my people, these are the unsung heroes of our nation that you can keep in the focus. And apart from those outstanding personal stories, you have runaway success stories in the business sector. Isn’t it amazing how a country dubbed by the international media as a failed state has some of the most successful money transfer companies in Africa. How such a failed state managed to have as many airlines as any country in Africa flying to every corner of the country. How the Somali telecommunications companies are one of the best with the cheapest rates in Africa. How the Somali diaspora are despite the stereotyping and cultural stigma following them to every airport have created some of the most booming businesses in East Africa, South Africa, Minnesota and elsewhere. How thousands of second generation Somali-American and Somali-European children have excelled in schools and universities, tenaciously overcoming cultural barriers and the burden of coming from unprivileged refugee underclass. How many of them are educating, integrating and advancing in social and cultural hierarchies, trying like other fellow citizens to follow their dreams of becoming useful, tax-paying citizens. These are stories which are buried under the rubble of our demolished identity; under the hubris of an arrogant media infatuated with a patronizing attitude of nothing good comes out of Africa.

Youth of my people, it is you who have to change this condescending behavior towards our people by contributing positively whereever you are. And this again comes through education, integration and pursuing your rightful dreams. If you are confused about where to contribute back home as you see the Somalia that your fathers knew is no more, I can surely tell you that goodness somewhere is goodness everywhere. So just do it for heaven’s sake no matter where you do it. Does it matter if Dr. Hawa Abdi carries out her humanitarian services in Mogadishu, Kismayo, Dhadhaab or anywhere else in the world as long she saves human lives? Does it matter if Ayan Ashour fulfills her cultural revival passion in Somaliland, UK or elsewhere as long as her aim is to preserve the Somali poetry and music and spread enlightenment among the youth? Does it matter if you volunteer your services to the local community in your suburbs in Minnesota, London, Ottawa or Amsterdam? No, it doesn’t matter. To me goodness anywhere is goodness everywhere and so you should.

All you need is an open mind and to view the world through your own eyes and not through the prism of a tainted inherited culture. One good example about how your entrenched cultural mindset can block your thinking is a story that happened between my son and I. He was about three years old when one day he took some of his toy machines and started building something. Finding him so engrossed, I asked him what he was doing. He said he was trying to come up with a machine that keeps apples fresh all the time and prevents them from rotting. I immediately shot down his idea and told him that only God could do that. Stopping whatever he was doing, he turned to me with a baffled and frustrated look in his face and said: “Then what is the use of being human…” At that moment I realized the damage I did. With my closed mind, I tried to put a culturally tainted lid on my son’s enquiring and open mind. Who knows he might have invented the machine he had in mind. And even if he didn’t he would have at least exercised his mind with freedom and without any cultural barriers blocking his thinking. This is what I never did again. My son taught me a lesson in the power of free thinking. And if you have any doubt just imagine if Zuckerberg and Dorsey would have invented Facebook and Twitter if they had such age-tainted cloaks draped over their vision and looked over their shoulders in every move they made.

Youth of my people, as I conclude this personal appeal which I hope would find its way to your hearts, may I ask you to reflect with me on the words of the following stanza’s which I extracted from a long poem “Miyir Qabow” that I wrote in 1995 to free myself from the clutches of tribalism.

“…Ma dib jiro qabiilow
Qaadhaan ku noolow
Qudde iyo hunguriyow
Dheri qaaxo weynow
Qaddarkii dadkaygow
Qudh aad goyso mooyee
Nin aad qalato mooyee
Hooyo iyo qabkeedood
Kala qaaddo mooyee
Daka kala qaleeyoo
Kala qaybi mooyee
Miyaan reer qormayn iyo
Nabad aad u qaadhiyo
Qorsho iyo wanaag iyo
Kolla qawl macaan iyo
Qabar aan ku seexdiyo
Qurux kaa sugaayaa
Ma dib jiro qabiilow
Qaadhaan ku noolow
Muddaan kugu qarwaayoon
Qawlkii Ilaahiyo
Sidii waxad quraan tahay
Qalbigayga laabtiyo
Loox kugu qoraayee
Waxan qiiro weyn iyo
Qori kugu ilaashaba
Markaad qululo hoosiyo
Qodqod dayni weydeed
Qoys ku soo aroortaan
Gartay qiimahaagoon
Sanka kaa qabsadayoon
Xamaantayda qaatee
Waxba dayrka qoobkiyo
Qoorta ha iiga soo lalin
Abidkaaba soo qooq
Ninkaad xadhig qalloociyo
Booraan qarsooniyo
Qudhun hoosta kuu yaal
Qooraansi eegmada
Ku qaldayso yeelkii
Ani qaaba qowskiyo
Qulubkaad i gelisiyo
Mar haddii quruuxdii
Qaadir iga bogsiiyoon
Maanta miyir qaboobahay
Qabillow udbaha quro
Qummayoy bax oo dhimo
Intaa qaaday oo dhigay
Laynkaan u qaydiyo
Qabadsiiyey dawgee
Tixdu saban qad weeyoo
Waygu soo qayootee
Qormo kalena aan dego
Ninkii cudur qabiiliyo
Xin qareen dhaqaajee
Qoyskayga mirayeen
Qayd aan ku seexdiyo
Qabaal iiga teginee
Aar inaan u qoystiyo
Qori aan cabbaystiyo
Qummuc iga sugaayow
Qaan kuuma haystoo
Qoro inaan qabiil nacay
Ninkii naxali qabiiliyo
Qoonkii awowgii
Qarniyaal horoo tegay
Nin aan qolo wadaagnaa
Qatasha ugu jiidiyo
Qaadhaan fogaadiyo
Ani qabata xoogliyo
Qool ila sugaayow
Anuu qaras gaboodiyo
Wuxu Qaaddirkeen riday
Kaama qaan dhabaayoo
Qoro inaan qabiil nacay
Ninkii hayb qabiil iyo
Qudhac baynu wada nahay
Qadra Aabbaheediyo
Inaan dilo Qammaan madar
iigu qaylinaayow
Qoro inaan qabiil nacay
Gabadhaan ku qooqiyo
Maryan qaararkeedii
Cadawga iga qariyee
Nin ay quudhsanaysoy
Qolonimo wadaagaan
Qoorta uga geliyow
Qoro inaan qabiil nacay
Ninkaan laanta qaadkiyo
Qarjamida wadaagneen
Qaacida iyo heesaha
Qayibo godkeedii
Maalmo kula qayilayow
Saaxiibkaan u qadi jirey
Isna qurubka uu helo
ii qarooci jirey een
Maanta kala qaloonow
Qaan kuuma haystoo
Qoro inaan qabiil nacay
Kii qooddi beer iyo
Qindi meel u jeexiyo
Made qorraxdu duubtiyo
Qalax igu dilaayee
Carradaydi qaatow
Qaan kuuma haystoo
Qoro inaan qabiil nacay… (Miyir Qabow, April 21, 1995).

By Bashir Goth