Sunday, December 23, 2012


The following verse is a tribute to the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012.


Tiny fingers, nimble minds             

Tender flowers of the nation

Kids, kids, kids

Kids learning

Kids playing

Kids asking

Kids wondering 

Kids not knowing

But also knowing

Hell was breaking

Death was coming

Childhood was losing

The world was changing

Right in their school

A gun man was moving

Senselessly shooting…

In Sandy Hook, Newtown

Right in their school

In the freezing winter

Kids were hiding

Holding their breaths

Holding their hands

Huddling together 

Hearing the shooting

The cries, the moaning

The wails of their friends

The feeble whispers

The failing voices

The fearful silence

Of their teachers

The footsteps of death

Right in their school

Life was freezing

Christmas was fading

Memories fleeting

Gifts, gifts, gifts

Gifts for Christmas

O how excited they were

About gifts waiting

Never to be unwrapped

Never to be unwrapped

Never to be unwrapped  

   -       Bashir Goth

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Somali President has spoken, can anyone hear his agony?

Bashir Goth 

In a speech that I consider to be one of the most powerful and most compassionate speeches that any Somali leader has delivered for a long time, Somalia’s new President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud has spoken candidly and explicitly about some of the most serious challenges that his government faces and called for the nation’s collective and urgent attention to tackle these issues in order to restore the dignity of the Somali people and the country’s statehood.

He lamented that Somalia has become a brand name for terrorism, piracy, refugees and failure as a state. 

“We know that terrorist actions committed by some of our people may only be a small fraction of international terrorism but we unfortunately carry the name. We are much better  than to be called  terrorists, better than be branded as pirates, better than having the largest refugee camps in the world and better than being known as the most failed state in the world.”

The president talked about how the Somali people have lost their pride in their identity as one can see wealthy businesspeople running away from their homeland to settle in foreign countries just to obtain foreign passports.  He described this as the lowest one can reach when someone views his nationality as a shame.

He spoke about the ubiquitous and notorious checkpoints locally known as Isbaaro which have siphoned off the people’s meager incomes and sapped their strength for survival and hope.  

One of the most critical issues, however, that the President raised and caught my attention was the topic of violence against women and particularly rape.  And I am sure he inadvertently forgot to mention that Somalia has also become known as “the worst place to be a woman in the world” among the notorious names he listed.

The most disheartening and saddening example that he told was the tragic story of an elderly woman who was gang-raped by young men in full view of her husband. The couple had just finished their dinner and performed their evening prayers together when criminal gangs stormed their little home and committed their heinous crime.  The president said he couldn’t sleep several nights after he heard that tragedy and he understandably sounded helpless and wanted to convey the enormity of the crime and the indignity and humiliation that the Somali people in general and Somali women in particular are  subjected to on daily basis. 

He admitted that rape was the ugliest manifestation of the state of insecurity that the country has descended to over the past 20 years, reminding the regional governors that he was addressing prior to his departure on 26th November 2012 on a tour of neighboring countries that it was their responsibility and that of the Somali people with them to extricate the country from this ugliness.

President Mahmoud sent a strong message against rape by announcing that his government was working on enacting new laws that would call for death penalty for rapists.  As commendable as this step maybe for challenging a crime whose perpetrators have until now gone away with impunity, another more effective way to punish and shame such immoral men may be to snip their male organs in public places, thus denying them the ability to commit such crimes in future and making them live with this constant reminder for the rest of their lives. 

Anyone who thinks this may be a harsh has just to remember how many mothers, sisters, wives  or daughters that such measure could safeguard  from being subjected to one of the most despicable crimes and live-long scars that one can endure. 

In a similar development, Somaliland’s Minister of Labor and Social Affairs launched an awareness week against the rape of women and young boys in Hargeisa. Talking to the press on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25th November 2012, Mahmoud Ahmed Garaad said that the general hospital of Hargeisa, Somaliland’s capital, receives almost one case of rape everyday. Among the shocking statistics he disclosed was that recorded figures of rape cases have increased in 2012 from what they were in 2011. He pointed out that over the last six months of 2012 alone, Hargeisa Hospital has treated 147 victims of rape of whom 127 were women and 20 were boys as young as 12 years of age. This doesn’t include other violence against women whether physical or mental as well as the tradition-driven abuse of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) that forces women to sexual bondage.

What makes this crime even worse in the Somali society as I mentioned in  a previous article and also reiterated by President Mahmoud of Somalia is the staunch defense that the rapists get from the community who shield them against any legal persecution due to tribal loyalties. This does not only encourage the continuity of rape but it also makes Somali women feel worthless and deprives them of living in dignity and denies them their rights as citizens. But the irony is that despite being victims to such inhuman treatment, Somali women, both inside the country and overseas, have proven to be the pillars without which the Somali people could not have survived through natural and man-made catastrophes over more than 20 years as  I highlighted in previous articles such as  Thebetter half and SomalilandWomen as oppressed breadwinners and peacemakers and Dumarka Soomaaliyeed Waa Dheemanta LaguBabaaday. 

The president has spoken about the security and social obstacles that hamper the country’s return to normalcy and the restoration of the people’s dignity. And at the top of these is the inhuman treatment of women. Therefore, with the nightmare of Al Shabab who kept women in both physical and mental darkness on the wane, one wonders if anyone can empathize with the President’s agony of helplessness and truly hear his appeal for action and change.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Somalia’s Taboo Breaker First Woman Foreign Minister

By Bashir  Goth

No matter what one thinks, or in what color one tries to see the appointment of Fawzia Yusuf Haji Adam as the first woman Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Somalia and indeed in the Horn of Africa and the Arab World, it is the historical significance of a woman reaching this far in tribal-based Muslim society, where women are seen only as an appendage if not indeed a property to their menfolk, that should not escape any conscientious person’s attention.

Given to the plight, suffering and humiliation that Somali women went through over the last 20 years despite being the pillars that sustain the existence of the Somali people both inside the country and the Diaspora, what better image is there to see than an educated and refined woman being the face of Somalia to the outside world, what a better answer to Al- Shabab who couldn’t see women anything more than a bra and an obscene body to be shrouded and hidden away in dark houses. What better answer to the Arab world where women despite spearheading the Arab Spring are being pushed to live in the 7th century by religious fanatic who themselves aren’t shy to indulge in the 21st century luxuries including smart phones and who spread their reactionary ideologies through modern social media. What better PR to the Islah-led government of President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud; what a better bridge to use to bring Somaliland to the fold than a woman who does not only hail from Somaliland but also contributed more than anyone else to making a better future for the youth there and whose own children hail from Mogadishu, a symbol of unity through her own life like numerous other Somali women. 

I congratulate Fawzia Yusuf Haji Adam for winning such a historic achievement for Somali women. I say winning, because Fawzia has indeed waged a long and persistent struggle to prove that Somali women can take a leadership position by their own merit and not through charity quotas.

I don’t know Fawzia, never met her and never even spoken to hear, but I was following her mammoth efforts and initiatives for community development and her political ambition over a number of years. Fawzia first attracted my attention when she initiated the founding of the University of Hargeisa in the late 1990s. I remember how she strove relentlessly to make the university a reality which she did. She again came to my radar in 2008 with the launching of RAADTV, another great project through which she tried to give a different perspective to the Somali issue other than the hackneyed failed state, war-ridden, bowl-holding, refugee camp squatters stereotype image pushed by the international media.

In her vigorous and persistent endeavor not to leave only men to the leadership landscape, Fawzia again made a comeback in late 2011 when she created the Nabad, Dimoqraadiyad iyo Barwaaqo (NDB) (Peace, Democracy and Prosperity Party) in Somaliland with the long term objective of competing for Somaliland’s presidency. It was the first time in the history of the Somali people that a woman had shown the audacity to create and lead a political party in a society that frowns on women in terms of leadership.

Although Fawzia’s NDB party did well in the primaries and the communities had come out in full support to the rallies she held in the various regions of the country and she fulfilled all the required conditions, the Silanyo government of Somaliland has declared Fawzia’s party unqualified to be registered as an official party. Knowing that she was targeted for being a woman, Fawzia refused to go down without a fight. She organized a peaceful protest in Hargeisa where hundreds of people came out to back her cause. However, the Silanyo government did not hesitate to arrest her and keep her in detention until her supporters were disbanded.  Earlier, the government also aborted Fawzia’s attempt to become the chairperson of the Board of Hargeisa University, an institution that she was instrumental in establishing it. 

It is against this taboo breaking tradition that Fawzia again surprised the Somali people when she was recently appointed as Somalia’s first woman foreign minister. Here I recall Neil Armstrong's words when he first set foot on the moon, in 1969, and he said: “That is a small step for a man, a giant leap for mankind.” And the appointment of Fawzia as Somalia’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister is indeed a small step for Fawzia, a giant leap for Somali women, Horn of African and Arab women. It was in the middle of the 1980s when the eminent Kenyan-American scholar Dr. Ali Mazrui predicted on a BBC documentary on Africa that if ever a woman becomes a president in an African country it would be in Somalia. Mazrui made that statement in reflection of his visit to Somalia in the early eighties and how he saw Somali women actively contributing to the country’s development in all sectors. The Somali women have missed that opportunity due to the disasters caused by their menfolk but they played a crucial role in holding the Somali community together and keeping their children’s dream alive for a better tomorrow.

No matter how much I try I cannot emphasize enough the historical importance of this achievement for Somali women. But at the same time, I have no illusions about the enormity of suffering that Somali women endure and I am fully aware that getting a leadership position will not be a magic bullet to wipe out all their hardships. 

Today and for many years to come, I know Somali women will still be victims to the cruel practise of Female Genital Mutilation, that millions of Somali mothers will still be sacrificing their careers and their lives to raise kids and to put food on the table while their men are beholden to their narcotic addition of Kat, that many mothers will die while giving birth due to the lack of medical facilities, that the majority of Somali women will be struggling against odds to give warmth and shelter to their kids let alone education due to a grinding poverty, that millions of them will be mending and repairing the ruptures caused in their homes and their neighbourhoods by men fighting on hollowed pride and primitive tribal egos, that Somali women in the countryside will still be cultivating the land, looking after livestock in harsh terrain and moving children and family belongings like a mule on their backs while their men are enjoying their shameless AWOL, that millions of them who are in refugee camps or in internally displaced camps are preoccupied in eking out a living and do not care if a woman leads the country or not. 

All that is true and Fawia’s achievement will have no immediate impact on them, but I also know that like all human beings Somali mothers want to see their daughters have a dream. And at the top of this is a dream for freedom. Somali girls want to be free to have a choice in life and pursue their dreams; they want to be educated to improve their living standards, they want be part of the country’s decision making, they want to have their voice heard, to take their destiny in their hands and to have the right to lead and be followed if they so wish. And Fawzia’s appointment just gives them that dream. Today, girls from the squalid Dhadhaab Refugee Camp can look up to Fawzia and dream of a better future for themselves as well.

On the political side, I know many people may accuse Fawzia of being a Machiavellian and question her political honesty and credibility given to her recent political ambitions in Somaliland. But on the contrary, I believe that Fawzia is the best person that can take us to a new direction due to her well deserved name in Somaliland and the huge personal sacrifices she made to fashion a better future for the youth of Somaliland through education. There is no better investment to raise people’s awareness and enlighten them about their life conditions other than education. Today, as thousands of graduates from Hargeisa University are loitering in the dusty streets of Hargeisa without any jobs and without any hope for the future and while many of them take the risk of crossing or dying in the high seas to escape from the hopeless situation at home, it was time for a visionary person like Fawzia to give them another alternative. She did not give them education to see them all die on the high seas. One can argue that the few months that Fawzia campaigned for her NDB party in Somaliland have given her a great insight into the real conditions of the people. She found out that Somaliland was committing suicide if it continued in its current course. In fact, not only Fawzia but we must all have learned a lesson or two over the last twenty years that no part of the country could survive alone without giving allegiance and becoming under the suzerainty of a neighbouring power. Neither Somaliland nor Puntland or any other of the mushrooming foreign created tribal enclaves will be able to stand independently alone without bending their destiny to the wishes and dictates of foreign countries whose desire is to kill the old dream of greater Somalia by carving Somalia itself into insignificant and feuding mini-states.

It is with this conviction and geopolitical realization as well as the abhorring and debilitated state of Somaliland’s economic and social underdevelopment, lack of institutional systems, political bankruptcy, and growing dependency on nepotism, tribalism and corruption due to diminishing resources and visible absence of vision and creative leadership that prompted Fawzia to change course. It is only wise leaders who can take their people to a different direction when they see the road leading to a dead end. 

Fawzia is definitely not the first nor she would be the last Somaliland politician to go to Mogadishu, in fact one may argue with a degree of certainty that there is not a single Somaliland politician who is not willing to go to Mogadishu if and when the right opportunity arises. So why is the Hargeisa government making such a hypocritical uproar about Fawzia’s appointment? The truth is Silanyo government doesn’t object a Somalilander to have a leading position in the Mogadishu government, but what they do not want is to see a person with independent thinking and a vision like Fawzia to be their counterpart in Mogadishu. Fawzia has proven to be a wise Somaliland politician who wants to save her beloved Somaliland from its current political Guantanamo status and the Somaliland government has to welcome her and embrace her as their woman in Mogadishu who can superbly steer the Somalia-Somaliland dialogue with a politician’s shrewdness, the passion of a mother and a care of a daughter.

The new government of Mogadishu should also be reminded that they should not try to use Fawzia as window dressing and should give her full authority to be the country’s foreign policy steward. Any tampering with her authority will only backfire on them and erase the best action that they have done so far besides forming a lean cabinet, another praiseworthy first step.

Monday, October 01, 2012


 By Bashir Goth

With the death of Mohammed Hashi Damac (Gaarriye), the Somali people have lost a great poet and a literary custodian. Apart from the many masterpieces and deeply intellectual poetry that he left behind, Gaarriye will be remembered in particular for his monumental efforts in founding and teaching the metrical structure of Somali poetry. He is to Somali poetry what Al Khalil ibn Ahmed Al Farahidi is to Arabic poetry. 
I had the honour of meeting Gaarriye in July 1998 when we both participated in a poetry evening at a fund-raising event for Amoud University in Abu Dhabi. One cannot find words to mourn the loss of such a literary giant, but silence at such a great calamity is not an option either especially from a fellow poet.

Therefore, I wrote the following elegy to capture at least some glimpses of his memory as a poet. I will suffice myself to convey to the readers the impression I got from him during the almost four-hour awareness raising event and my social interaction with him the following day.

The poem will try to shed light on his versatile character and the unique style of his delivery, his strong presence and his passionate and electrifying engagement with the audience during poetry recitations.

Gaarriye used to appear in a fighting mood when reciting a poem. He used to muster all his physical, emotional and intellectual power to interact with the audience. His sonorous voice that rose and fell with the intonation of the verse defied his petite physical look. He roared, electrified and mesmerised the audience. As the American sports writer Tom Smith is attributed to have said: “it is really very easy to be a writer – all you have to do is sit down at the typewriter and open a vein.” So if Gaarriye opened a vein in writing his poems, he opened many veins in trying to pass his poetry’s ownership to his audience.  His style reminded me of a line by the Arab Abbasid poet Abu Tayyeb Al Mutanabi who said:

أنا الذي نظر الأعمى إلى أدبي/ و أسمعت كلماتي من به صمم

(I am the one whose poetry even the blind can see and made even the deaf hear my words.)

My tribute poem, therefore, tries to capture this with the following lines:

Carraduu ka goohuu

Gucumaale aar iyo

Siduu yahay gudgude roob

Gurxanka iyo yeedhmada

Ka gariirin jiray iyo...

Although every poem in Gaarriye’s anthology can constitute a masterpiece by itself, I can arguably say that the most important poems of all his verse will remain Ergo and Hagarlaawe. Just like Timacadde has been immortalized by his “Kaana siib, Kanna Saar” and his “Dugsi ma leh qabyaaladi” and Sayyid Mohamed Abdulle Hassan is remembered by his poem “ Koofilow Adaa Jiitay oon Dunida Joogayne...”, remembering Gaarriye’s name will also invoke the following lines in the memory of the Somali speaking people:

“Dharaar baa iman doonta-irsiqa laysku cidhiidhiyoo- wax la uunto la waayo.
Dharaar baa iman doonta mujrim -oogo madowoo- islaam sheeganayaa agablaay hambadaada- isa sii kaba raasho…

“Hadeydaan i adeecinoo- ergedaan ahay maanta ka abaal ka dhacdaan- Ilaahay balankii ibtilaa dhici doonta

Dhulkay eyro ku fooftana Afrikaan madmadowiyo
Ajnabaa degi doona iyagaa talin doona

“Sidaan aaminsanahayna, Abkuu doono ha sheegtee

Wuxuun baa ehel ii ah, Dadka kaan af aqaano

Ee si wax iila arkaaya, Ee ina midayso ujeedo..

--Cutubyadaas sare waa wada Ergo

“Anigana hadhow iyo faallo, Halista inaan ka hafeeftay

Oo weliba hiifi iga gaadhay,  Hagarlaawe, ii geli buuga…”

It was reported that when the Abbassid poet and philosopher Abu Al Ala Al Marri heard one of Al Mutanabi’s lines he admired it so much to the extent that he said: if Al Mutanabi did not write any other poetry but that line it would have been enough. The line was:

لك يا منازل في القلوب منازل

(O, my homesteads, you have homes in my heart)

I can also arguably say that if Gaarriye did not write any other poetry but Ergo and Hagarlaawe they would have by themselves constituted an entire anthology due to their profundity and literary richness.

In the following stanza of my tribute I tried to sum up the depth, breadth and intellectuality of Gaarriye’s works:

 Wallee gabay mug weyn iyo
Murti gaaxinteediyo

Ma la hoyday geeraar

Iyo garasho waaayeel

For non-Somali speakers, in the fourth stanza it mentions how he was a man of tenacity, an ebbless river and a fearless hero under whose protection people felt safe. It describes his words as shooting out of his heart like arrows (Abwaan erayaduu gano) but turning into the sweet fruits of the Gob tree when they reach the ears of his audience. It marks how his words echo with the people and are quoted as maxims on every occasion. It shows how he was an ever lit fire from which people took embers to warm up; a man of bounty whose generosity reached all the community and a man of integrity (gob – sweet fruits) in supporting justice and thorns in the tyrant’s side (Ma ahaa gob iyo qodax).

In the 5th stanza the poem reassures Gaarriye that a man like him who travelled through the journey of life; both good days and bad days, who witnessed the days of independence (Gobaad) with its dreams and promises and later saw war and hostilities and stood on the ruins of once prosperous cities ( Guluf iyo colaad iyo, Guri ba’ay dul joogsaday...); a man who promoted peace and good neighbourliness; a man who rejected injustice and evil (his Ergo and Hagarlaawe poems in mind); A man who left behind such enormous history cannot be buried by death ( Taarikh gu’ weyn dhigay, geeridu ma duugtee).

The last stanza applauds Gaarriye’s command of the Somali language and his talent and skill in weaving verses with grace and beauty. It finds a befitting conclusion to bid him farewell in words of lyric (Tix baan kugu gunaanaday).
Abiidaba nin loo go’o
Oo lagu galaashiyo
Geesigu ma waaree
Gaarriye hadduu tegay
Tixdu gibil madaw iyo
Geybmaar ma xidhatoo
Ma goblamay afkeenii
Ma gaagaxday odhaahdii
Ma gallooftay heestii
Gegyigiyo dadkeenii
Carraduu ka goohuu
Gucumaale aariyo
Siduu yahay gudgude roob
Gurxanka iyo yeedhmada
Ka gariirin jiray iyo
Ma gammiintay ciiddii
Wallee gabay mug weyn iyo
Murti gaaxinteediyo
Ma la hoyday geeraar
Iyo garasho waaayeel
Wallee geed adayg iyo
Durdur aan gudhayn iyo
Halyey lagu gabbada oon
Gibidhsiga aqoon iyo
Abwaan erayaduu gano
Goonyaha dalkoo idil
Laga goosan jirayoo
Goobtii la joogaba
Xikmaddiisa gaarka ah
Gaarriye siduu yidhi
Gundhigga iyo sheekada
Lagu goyni jiray iyo
Gole laga dab qaatiyo
Godol reera deeqiyo
Ma ahaa gob iyo qodax
Gaarriyow gobaad iyo
Nin sidaada geeddiga
Guluf iyo colaad iyo
Guri ba’ay dul joogsaday
Oo gacal wanaagiyo
Nabad soo gardaadshoo
Ka gilgishay xumaanoo
Taariikh gu’ weyn dhigay
Geeridu ma duugtee
Af Soomaaligaad galab
Iyo goor arooryaad
Sidii geenyo shaaximan
Goobayn taqaaniyo
Galladdii Ilaahay
Gaar kuugu deeqaan
Kugu sii galbiyayoo
Tix baan kugu gunaanaday
Guullana firdawsiyo
Inuu goobta aakhiro
Guryo samo ku geeyaan
Duco kuugu guusoon
Gurmad kuugu soo diray
-Bashir Goth, Oct.1, 2012.