The main tragedy in Somalia is not state failure but a failure to create a new center to stop the nation from further bleeding.
As we are a people from a failed state we are at the brink of extinction from lack of a centre. In this article I wish to highlight the growing disintegration of the Somali Diaspora in the backdrop of collapsed state institutions and widespread chaos and strife in their motherland. I will also look into possibilities of recreating a center for the people in the Diaspora while appealing to the International Community, particularly those nations to which we migrated, not to lump us with other immigrants who have come from countries with viable state institutions and structures.
To further elaborate this point, immigrants from nations with intact state mechanism have at least something to call home. Though residing far away from their home country, these immigrants in the Diaspora have all the means to exist as a community as they have established state representations at diplomatic and cultural levels in their new environs thus having the advantage of reconnecting with their culture and language. The existence of a state in their home country gives the immigrants a sense of identity, coherence and mutual understanding among themselves as a community in the Diaspora. In addition to that, they revolve around a center of their own in coordination with the overall system of the host nation while paying respect to other communities who practice different cultural and religious beliefs. They preserve their roots and always remain abreast with the developments of their country while sending new roots in the new land. But we Somalis have nothing of that sort. We have nothing to claim as a state. Our country is divided into patches of lands and tribal enclaves controlled by insurgents and clan chiefs. Our cultural and historical legacy is being uprooted by the day through bombings and mass killings of innocent populations. People inside the country are displaced within their tribal lands and those who had the chance to flee have their wish vanishing to a point of despondency as they are losing hope of seeing Somalia back again to itself as a state.
Current Status of The Somali Diaspora
We are in Africa, we are in Europe and America. We are everywhere in the world but unfortunately we are disintegrating. Families lost families, brothers are no more in contact with brothers, sisters are married in different countries and their children can hardly understand each other in the phone as they speak different languages. They may not meet even once during their lifetime and parents feel distressed as they witness their children growing without knowing each other. The pain runs deeper when we consider the plight of some famiily members who are still stranded in Somalia, hopelessly waiting to reunite with their beloved ones in Europe. The recent decision of the The Swedish Migration authority further deteriorates the situation. According to this decision, family members who are cut off in Somalia or starving in refugee camps cannot reunite with their families unless they come up with a legal document to proves their identity. It is difficult for a stateless person like a Somali to come up with such identification papers. Worse still those members in Sweden cannot visit Somalia to meet their other half inside the country as insecurity is enormously high in Somalia especially Mogadishu and the entire southern part of the country. Due to these barriers the Somali family in the diaspora is facing remendous hardships which shake the stability of the family to its very foundation. Children in such houses do not get the necessary emotional support and would definitely falter in education and interaction with other children of their age. Thus parents become obsesed with their children as they see them showing negative behaviours or slowly slipping away from their hands especially when children begin rubbing shouldres with the wrong company. More horrible than this is the fact that the only hope these children have for a better future in the Diaspora is to integrate into the new life though their chances of becoming part of a new society are very slim due to the fact that they come from families who are split in many ways as a result of a gradual loss of their cultural base. This makes it difficult for children to enjoy life during the critical years of childhood and to maintain a good standing in education at schools. So our children are always baffled by the storms of parental deficiency on one hand and the stress of the fast-advancing life of the Diaspora on the other.
The most serious disaster of statelessness is the loss of direction of a whole community in the Diaspora. We are melting away in other societies and communities as the Somali child who is born in one part of a European city will mature to an adult without knowing the other Somali child in the other part of the city. It is only the parents who can get in touch with each other sometimes through social, public or religious contacts in the streets or places like the so-called community centers or mosques but children have no such rare advantages to spend enough time with other Somali children apart from the time they are at the playfield in the backyard of their houses. The problem is that we do not hold especial events for children to let them learn the cultural dances and songs of their motherland. This is where our weakness as a community is most visible and it is where we differ from other immigrant communities who organize cultural gatherings for their children under the umbrella of one community. It seems that we are delinking ourselves from anything that could link us up. Children are the best and strongest thread that can create a bond of peace and cooperation among the parents but we are not utilizing such a resource as a means of re-establishing ourselves as a unified Somali community in the Diaspora. However I should mention that we sometimes see youth activities such as occasional football encounters which take place between two Somali teams though football is more of a game that creates friendship among communities rather than generating ethnic cohesiveness within a community. It is sad that our children are growing up without having anything in common apart from sharing a common background of belonging to Somali families who migrated to Europe after civil war broke out in their country.
Road to Doom
The most astonishing aspect of statelessness is the fact that Somalis live in Europe as if they are still in the tattered nation of Somalia. They know themselves as tribes but the host nations know them as Somalis even if they belong to Somali-land or Ogaden or other territories in Ethiopia and Northeast Kenya. By the time an asylum seeker claims that he is a Somali, the first condition he or she should fulfil is to speak a Somali through an interpreter who confirms to the immigration officials that the person (under interview)spoke Somali. Language is the sole document we could show to prove our identity. It is the last thread that binds us together and if children of the coming generations fail to speak Somali then our Somali identity will undoubtedly die and nothing else will connect us. But what worsens the already depressed situation is the fact that our Somali language is lying on its deathbed, gasping for a last breath due to lack of state structures that should protect it. Absence of state machinery at national level creates passive and divided community groups in the Diaspora which in turn leads to the desertion of the language. I stress the importance of language because I consider it as the bedrock of a nation’s identity, culture and tradition. Unless we re-establish our state it is absolutely impossible to expect a potentially effective Somali community in the Diaspora. Whether we like it or not we are on the road to doom.
Why Can´t We Act Like Other Immigrants?
Let us take a glimpse to other immigrant communities in the Diaspora such as the Iraqis, Kurds, Iranians the Turks etc who have lived in the Diaspora for almost one hundred years or more. They are well-established communities who still retain their culture and language as if they have arrived yesterday. They are communities who have preserved and retained their culture and language for quite a long time and continue to do so till there is a drop of blood in their veins. What is wrong with us? Why can’t we act like other immigrants? The answer is simple: We originate from a failed state and our community is dysfunctional. We are not a community, nor are we a people, I’m afraid. We are just Somalis in the Diaspora. We seem to be lacking the basic understanding of community mechanism and its primary functions. To my shallow knowledge on these issues, a community is a mass of people sharing a common culture, history, language etc. They are devoted to the protection and advancement of their community by cooperating but not competing among themselves destructively. They are a people who have a common interest and a space to defend in case their identity or existence is threatened. They are people who seek a social power by actively taking part in the political process of the host nation. They cannot be exploited by interest groups from other communities who wish to create rifts and divisions among brothers with the intention to use them as free lance criminals. In the national statistical reports and daily media news they are not at least labelled as lagging behind other communities in the country.. Do we have such community strengths in the Somali Diaspora? No, not at least to my scant knowledge on these matters.
With the exception of crime we are at the bottom of every list ranging from social integration, education, business (though we are by nature entrepreneurs) and employment.. Crime seems to be an area where we can earn high marks with relatively little effort given the sizeable boys languishing in the US jails, the teenage Somali gangs in the UK, the khat addicts in the Netherlands and more recently the uprising in Somali-populated area of Tensta in Stockholm, Sweden. In the sphere of education, for example we rank the lowest of all communities in Sweden as published in the country’s papers. This makes every Somali sick with headache and nausea as idiocy at school is not part of our background.. We were among the top when Somalis studied in abroad with other students from around the world. Brilliancy has been a domain in which we so glaringly contested and shined. What happened to our children in Europe today? Why are they not performing as much vigorously as other immigrants? To answer these questions I have to put the blame squarely upon the shoulders of the parents but in addition to that I have to say this: First and foremost our children in the Diaspora are paying the price of a community disintegration, secondly they are suffering the pain of parental neglect due to a malfunctioning family and thirdly, they are affected by the horrors of a failed state.
In a small town called Kisa, Sweden, where I happened to visit last week to conduct education and human rights seminar, the school headmasters of Kisa have presented figures that showed the poor performance of Somali students in Swedish schools as compared to other communities in the country. Apart from that the headmasters complained of increasing disobedience or even violence among the Somali students in their schools. If you look at it from one angle you feel deeply sad to hear that people who were sheltered from war and provided with basic necessities to sustain life in Europe are not willing to benefit from this ample opportunity of educating their children. But from the opposite angle you see that the root cause of this shame is disorientation of our people as a result of statelessness and the failure to create a new center in the Diaspora. If we continue like this we will definitely disappear from the face of the earth not as human beings but as Somalis with an identity of language, history and culture. First July is a witness of this impending catastrophe. In few minutes from now, as I conclude this article, we observe the 50th anniversary of the day we achieved our independence from the Italian and British colonial powers. We celebrate in various tribal settlements and even in various places within the same town or city in the Diaspora. First July is a symbol of unity for the Somali people but we welcome it with a mark of disunity.
Tips to create a new center:
1. Educating the young Somali generation of their history and language
2. Reviving the cultural ethics of the Somali people
3. Organizing community events at all levels
4. Integrating with the new life without losing the old one
5. Creating an atmosphere of peace among Somali groups
6. building bridges of understanding with other communities
7. Commencing community education programs on peace and human rights
8. Observe religious tolerance
9. Enhancing child participation in daily activities of the school
10. Stepping up into business activities for youth and women
11. Creating pressure groups that can influence international community policies towards Somalia.
12. Enhancing ways and means of restoring peace and stability in Somalia.
13 Mobilizing social and religious organizations to support the Somali families
14. Rescue Somalia in the Diaspora campaign should be waged
15. Somali women in the Diaspora should play a role to rescue Somalis.
16. The Swedish immigration policies on family re-unification should be reviewed
17. The need to reconcile among the warring groups should be stressed