Kismayo and the Myth of Somali Homogeneity

By IndepthAfrica
In Article
Nov 1st, 2012
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By Sadik B Abdullahi

Kismayo
My recent piece on Kismayu was mostly as a response to an article that I thought had two derogatory words that should not be used by any sane person in the 21st century. More importantly, I thought, and this is where I agreed with Dubet, that the clan supremacy wars that have dogged Kismayu for years now is nothing but a meaningless struggle that only seeks to make Somalis lose focus on the bigger picture. Yes, the same big picture that Warsame talks about in his article.

However, I realize Somalis still have a long way to go in learning about the people of Somalia and the meaning of the word Somali. Actually, the name Somali has two meanings that refers to people that may both not be apparent to all – even to many Somalis themselves. What I mean here is that there is the Somali that refers to nationals of Somalia; essentially, anyone who is a national of the land in between Ras Kiamboni and Ras Aseyr. So, even before we go to the second meaning of the noun Somali; who are the residents of Ras Kiamboni, what language do they speak? I think these are important questions worthy of reflection for any Somali – in whatever sense of the word Somali.

Secondly, the name Somali applies to people like me who are not nationals of Somalia but rather are ethnic Somalis. This is where you have the likes of Ismail Omar Guelleh of Djibouti; Mohamed Yusuf Haji – the Minister of Defense for Kenya; the disgraced Abdi Mohamed Omer (Iley) of Ethiopia; and many other Somalis who are mostly nationals of Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti.  So, a distinction needs always be made between the two meanings of the word Somali regardless of whether one subscribes to the irredentist notion of a Greater Somalia or not.

I am particularly concerned about the differentiation of the two meanings of the word Somali because of what usually happens to the minority Somalis groups and especially those who live within Somalia itself. Of course, we are all aware of the much circulated myth about Somalia portraying the same as one of the most homogenous societies in Africa. However, we all know that among the Somalis we have Somalis who are essentially not Somalis in the second sense above but are nonetheless Somalis in the first sense above; these are the Somali Bantus and other similar groups.

Also, not all Somalis speak the mainstream Somali dialect – ‘ Maxaa Tiri’, rather we have the ‘Maay’ speakers as well. The Maay language probably has different sub-dialects that might not be mutually intelligible to each other just like the mainstream Somali speakers would not understand the Maay speakers. Other languages spoken in Somalia and are native to the same include Bravanese (also known as Chimwiini or Chimbalazi), Bajuni (also known as Kigunya).

I am trying to explain all these so that we appreciate, take pride in and celebrate the heterogeneity of the Somali people. We can only do these by firstly unlearning the myths that we have been fed over the years. For, in our ignorance about the Somali peoples and languages that seems to be inherent in most Somalis (in the second meaning of the word Somali as explained above) lies the main cause of our prejudice and maltreatment of many a minority group in Somalia especially the Bantus.

It is indeed disheartening for one to try and set the record straight regarding a particular issue and warn others not to commit an offence in the same light only for the same mistake to be committed by a member of the audience that received the previous message. It was in Garowe, I said, when I met someone who manifestly proved his ignorance about the existence of a Somali community that, even though the majority lives in Kenya, calls Kismayu their home. This is the Bajuni community and whether it is pleasant to our ears or not lives in many coastal towns in the southernmost part of Somalia. As I said before they happen to be the community that bequeathed the name Kismayu to the city plus the adjacent islands that also bears their name. Thus, they cannot in anyway be referred to foreigners or foreign powers – something else maybe but that description can certainly not apply to the Bajunis. This actually reminds of a famous Somali Bajuni singer Asha Abdow Saleeban who is known as Malika Mohammed in Kenya.

So, while we fight for supremacy in Kismet, let’s not blind ourselves from historical facts. And, we should also not try to revise a well known history of southern Somalia.

Anyway, another clarification that I need to make is that when I said it is the Bajunis who own Kismayu, I never in anyway was alluding to the fact that no other Somali clan has the right to fight for the emancipation of Kismayu. My aim, rather, was that these supremacy wars are just but meaningless fights that only distract Somalis from overcoming their bigger enemies; insecurity, underdevelopment, poverty, sickness and hordes of many other underperforming indicators that places Somalia at the bottom of many a list published internationally.

Lastly, as regards the administration of Kismayu and managing the affairs of the same, I somewhat agree with both Muktar M Omer and Osman Hassan in their recent articles also published in WardheerNews..

Sadik B Abdullahi
Email:sdiq77@gmail.com

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