Somalia’s new government: Will change of direction possible?
by Omar Ugas
Six years ago in my article, Somalia’s plight: what can be done, I had stated that change usually comes in small increments, just as we cannot actually see when a child is growing, though we can certainly recognize the growth. I had also implied that if we behave the same way, we get the same results, and if we behave differently we get different results.
From there, we can figure out that success takes time, effort, perseverance, and patience. That means, we should be patient, hang in there, and don’t give up, and hopefully we will break through. It also shows that the key component of any miracle is commitment, and that no one can have one without the other
In this article, I would like keep on the discussion further as the change have taken place. This discussion may at least remind some Somali leaders about what happened in Somalia, what can we learn from, and what can we do differently?
In July 2011, I met a Somali man, who was feeling that all Somali leaders had let him down according to his expectations. I asked him what he would do differently if he were the president of Somalia. His answer first astonished me, but later I thought he was at least honest about his beliefs. He said that if he were the president of Somalia, he would certainly conduct himself in keeping with his understanding of the ways Somali presidents have acted in the past. His judgment was that every president from Aden Abdulla Osman to Sharif Sh. Ahmed, have used their time in office to make themselves comfortable, and take care of their families, friends, and supporters. He suggested that service for a common good has never been the primary purpose in the Somalia’s history of governance
For example, when Hassan Mohamoud, the new Somali president was elected on September 10, 2012, many Somalis were in a euphoria/ jubilation situation, as the president would change everything in days. The truth is that no leader can gain unless his people are ready to cooperate, and when there are a bad people; their leader will likely be as bad as the people.
Yes, I believe that the leader has to manage by wisdom rather than ruling by force, acquire ability, clean hands, patience and impartiality. Nevertheless, I believe that a leader of a country is bit like a parent; both must make decisions for the future that will not necessarily bring much credit. Their agenda is like compiling a grocery shopping list to bring food on the table, however, when some parents get to the market they would discover that some items are not available, some are not grown the current season, some have wilted, and others may not match the parent’s budget as they may have too high price tags.
As Somalis we may generally seek to change the behaviour of others, though it is so much more powerful to work on changing ourselves. Studies have shown that others will change automatically when we first change ourselves because we have given them a room to bloom. In many ways, we may not like to change because we are afraid of new things without enough reason. Plato was once quoted as saying, “we can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark, but the real tragedy of life is when an adult is afraid of light.”
No doubt that what the Somali people want in their country among others is security, affordable food, clean water and sanitation, the ability to support their families, educational opportunities, and access to health care.
I do not feel that we have to be special to do special things. I sense that we must do something, anything and try our best. We Somalis may be waiting for a perfect plan to come from somewhere, most likely from the International Communities. In that case we may be waiting forever.
Many Somalis seem to have a “wish list”, while the International Community seems to have a “want list”. I do not think you can disagree with me that today’s International Community look like employers and Somalis are like employees.
According to many knowledgeable people, no luck is going to come to us or to anybody else at first until we go out and create the kind of development and support we are looking for.
It should be clear that the key to allowing ourselves to take hard choices and risks is the key to acknowledging that we can handle everything that comes our way. I believe that taking risks and ignoring imagined fear will teach us that security is not having, but it is handling things.
As Somalis, it appears that we have difficulty in making decisions to moving forward, which means stay where you are and never try to change. For us, negotiating, compromising and coming into consensus solutions is a big loss.
There are many Somalis who believe that all Somalia’s reconciliation trials were taking one side of the warring sides, maybe that is why we are still blaming and criticizing one another, unable to believe each other and sometimes ourselves. Perhaps that is the main reason of why we cannot have a leader who is able to gain the trust of other Somalis. Our problem as Somalis is that most of the stuff we are afraid of, may never come close to happening.
It seems that the biggest problem that prevents Somalis from coming together is the imagined fear. Many of them feel that clan so, and so, want to sit in the seat of the presidency to kill their clan members for revenge and finally dominate and make them their slaves. It is highly probable that the reason why that is happening is because Somalia’s history of governance was full of corruption, injustice, and nepotism, without transparency and accountability. Hence, many Somalis may have developed feelings of betrayal, abuse and trauma that they lost their ability to trust each other or even themselves. Furthermore, many Somalis would individually hope to be greeted as a good person and even as a leader. They would magically think that they can be elected to the office of the president with no leadership skills and qualifications for such an office or the will of the people.
According to some Somali elders, for almost a century Somalis did not experience an opportunity and ability of people to participate in and steer the governance of their region and the country either directly or indirectly through voting and electing a real representatives who speak for their constituencies with the context of established rules and a constitution. Additionally, Somali minorities never got a way to have a significant voice in decision-making.
I have learned from talking and working with the Somali Community that Somalia’s trust in each other in the civil war era was not damaged recently or the last 22 years only. Somalia’s capacity to trust each other may have been damaged long in the previous administrations before the big civil war in 1991. Therefore, instead of thinking solving today’s problems it might be wise to place special attention on Somalia’s earliest recollections of governance and how they could or could not trust each other. There is a belief that the history of Somalia since the independence 1960-90, was operated on the principle that who rules writes the history, while after 1990s, it operated on the principle that who holds the guns gets the power.
The point that I am trying to make is, many Somalis believe that they were lied to, deceived, tricked, or let down in many ways by their respective leaders. Everyone they trusted later turned on them. They feel that their leaders fooled them all along as in a hoax or confidence game. Some Somalis were given names like “half Somalis”. They feel that their leaders took advantage of their vulnerability, ignored them, and broke their confidence. They believe that they shut down and punished them because of who they were and never had safety and freedom to express their authentic customs, values and feelings because of their perceived low position in the society. They do not relate to the big tribes, and were seen light in weight. They are poor and are regarded as casts and untouchables in many ways such as intermarriage and sharing business with them.
This proves how we are unable to understand that our differences mean the truth of our being as Somalis, our richness and our interconnectedness. Instead of accepting our differences in ways that promotes our brotherhood, dignity and prosperity, we use our differences as a means of fighting and hating each other, of us and them, of him and her and so on. It is the bad behaviour that finally led to our crash, breakdown, failure, devastation, and destruction.
It points to the conclusion that being a Somali is like wearing a pair of ugly, bad fitting shoes. It does not look good, it does not feel good. It makes you have calluses that probably never go away. Being a Somali has made many Somalis in the country and the Diaspora, feel embarrassed, ashamed, afraid, ugly, dishonest, unimportant, and numb.
It is said that the main tool that gives us confidence in our abilities is positive thinking or thinking positively. It appears that some Somalis want change and growth. They are courageous to get out of the old pattern. They would dare what others cannot see possible. They seem to be visionaries who can see what others miss. An example of this can be observed as the new president and his team. They are trying to implement new changes. They deserve to have time to takeoff. And there are some Somalis who want to remain in their tribal, safe, and familiar clan territory. Many Somalis would want to sweep very clear facts under the rug. They would deny these facts and prevent it come into the air.
This indicates that we are not aware that we do not want to change the destructive behaviour of the last 22 years, which brought us here. And because of that, we will have little or no chance of any measurable progress. No good idea or good leader can do anything for us when our way of thinking and behaving is working against them.
In short, I do not think that Somalia’s first need is UN humanitarian support, or US money or African Union’s troops; I think Somalia’s first need is to get someone who can help them make better choices in their lives. However, the truth of the matter is that we Somalis, at least for now, are experts at choosing to behave against our lives, growth, progress, our future and all our individual and common interests. We may ask ourselves what changed our lives, because we have not been this way in any case before 1991, when Somali government was overrun by unorganized militias equipped only with guns and clan ideologies.
Consequently, I would suggest that we should learn that the first step of any healing process is always acknowledgment and acceptance of what is true right now. On the other hand, we should remember that healing does not happen overnight, it is an ongoing and sometimes painful process. We should not try to compare our process of reconciliation with that of Chad, Burundi or South of Africa. We should walk on our pace focusing on our own culture, and specifics. A good time should be allocated for contemplating, discussing and listening. In my opinion, unless we can change our current behaviour, the International Community will and should remain our caregivers just like a child, or a senior.
Finally, I assume that you would agree with me this situation in Somalia, and together, we may be watching and thinking about our expectations from the new president, would he provide new leadership and direction, or he will become one of the has-beens, preserving only the status quo?
Omar Ugas, Master of Social Work and Registered Social Worker