Amazing article that I have stumbled upon, written by the late Dr Omar Osman Rabeh. A visionary who predicted in this article (written a whole year before the central government collapsed in 1991) the vicious cycle that the country would be engulfed in for decades to come.
Dr Omar Osman, hailing from Awdal, northern Somalia died a year ago in Egypt. The article is lengthy and I’ve left out the last part which I will post in due time. Every paragraph emanates wisdom, full of memorable lines. It is worth the read.
1 January, 1990
What has the nation been going through? How did it happen? What lessons can we draw from this experience? What does the future hold? Such are the questions we must confront.
I- WHAT HAS THE NATION BEEN GOING THROUGH?
While the national coat of arms includes two tigers holding a star together, it must be admitted that by a sad and surprising reversion, we have leaped on one another and are tearing each other apart with total, terrible ferocity. Nothing found mercy or favour in our eyes blinded by a flood of destructive hatred:
Neither the pious selflessness of our mothers nor the gentle tenderness of our wives ;neither the unassailable pride of our daughters nor the pure innocence of our children neither the venerable wisdom of our fathers, grey with age, nor the worthy admiration of heroes of earlier days. Neither the love of country nor the respect we owe to ourselves as a free people which values its dignity, identity and history. No, nothing was spared.
We tortured both logic and our own intelligence. We wounded our hearts, trampled our souls. We suddenly and completely rejected everything, turning our values into litter. Never before had aggravation provoked such a rage of sacrilegious determination to curse ourselves, to systematically sack our country, to thoroughly profane every lofty image or ideal we held sacred.
II – HOW DID IT HAPPEN?
Medical science makes a methodological distinction between the cause of an illness on the hand, and its pathological symptoms on the other. Without accurate knowledge of the former, the latter can never be understood, much less overcome. It has been said that society is a living being thus its life cycle includes periods of imbalance, of abnormal conditions. Our national community is experiencing such a situation today. So the question then arises: What are its causes?
Understanding should precede action, and mankind should be guided by enlightened minds through the night of life, were problems await like traps. Otherwise, mankind has to grope along like a man blindfolded; and if boldness is added to this state of blindness, he becomes no more than a dangerous madman rolling around in an abyss. False knowledge and superficial explanations are even worse than ignorance, for they lead deeper into error. A true explanation must take into account the whole and its parts, in all their reciprocally dynamic relationships across time as well as in space, according to the order of things. It should be neither incomplete nor partisan, neither superficial nor peremptory (and it must leave the door open to dialogue, not try to be exhaustive). Nor should it ignore the historical factor by sticking only to isolated present facts, overlooking the how and in what way of what has happened.
It would seem that there are two basic and general causes which exist at both the base and the pinnacle of our society; these are permanent, structural causes, and together they have determined the Nation’s entire destiny by establishing the framework and direction of its development and consequently, its problems.
1) The first of these two social political and territorial causes is colonial partition (1884)-that is to say the dismembering of the Nation as a geographic, economic, cultural and human whole. Partition therefore had a reductive effect on our possibilities, breaking the natural space of our national development. Since that time, our diminished and seriously crippled Nation has had to drag itself down its destined road with difficulty. Like a man with an arm and a leg bound together whose head is constantly preoccupied with trying to free his chained limbs! We Somalis have difficulty imagining what we could be like as a Nation finally united and sovereign, free to face the future … A narrow and broken horizon has become the cursed counterpart to the yoke of partition around our necks.
In addition, partition has consistently absorbed most of our national energy, through periodic efforts to struggle to overcome and regain the dismembered parts of our national body. How many times has our young Republic already been to the brink of the cliff to draw other parts out of the abyss! Everyone acknowledges that the Nation’s internal problems hardly existed prior to the war of liberation in western Somalia (1977-78). To the contrary, we were confident and united, moving upward in all respects given the impressive results racked up in so few years. As is also known, we won that war. Our brilliant victory was very nearly definitive. And no one today realizes the problems of a different order which we would have encountered if national unity had not been once again stolen from us.
Partition thus represents the organic cause of our fundamental problems. Partition is basic to any understanding of our history and our national reality. Neither our desperate effort to free ourselves from this terrible shackle nor our constitution and the special nature of our flag will make any sense, nor will the conflicts with our neighbours, nor our stormy relationships with former friends.
All these problems constitute the inevitable trail of our quest for unity. Our Nation, just like any other, has the inalienable right to physical and conceptual unity.
Yes, partition has become an ever-present ghost presaging our national death- a pain so heavy that it weighs on our hearts every day, an existential obsession which troubles wise men’s nights and children’s dreams, a tenacious and evil effigy haunting our history. There will be neither life nor rest for us until we exorcise this ghost. And every worthy son of the Nation, every beloved daughter – as symbol of the Nation–will assume the legitimate, vital and urgent task of abolishing it, calling on the tireless application of their intelligence and the impetuous ardour of their courage … for the honour and survival of their Nation.
2) The second cause entails a psychological element, that of our nomadic mentality. The Nation has been pilloried by partition. Those who applied this torture, to their own benefit, remain opposed to the Nation’s liberation which might almost seem normal. But, unbeknownst to us, they have found an admirable ally within our very camp that is to say in our nomadic mentality. And this forces us to stop and think. The dismembering of our country simultaneously generated draconian limitations on our possibilities and a prodigious accumulation of obstacles in the path toward development.
The nomadic mentality has proven to be unfortunate in that it has prevented us from adopting a coherent and consistent method of compensating for this artificial inferiority by drawing maximum profit from the limited resources available. To the contrary, this mentality has sometimes led us to act in a manner dangerously and diametrically opposed to our real needs. Without going into details, several of the basic features of this nomadic mentality can be briefly sketched:
1. It ignores the value of order and hierarchy. Yet without these, no lasting organization is possible. Each of us is “king unto himself “ and by that very fact nothing to anyone else. No one admits that another might be superior in any way or fashion. The feeling of independence and self-esteem is so strong that often it clouds our minds. How can we then communicate with one another, obey one another?
2. It values tribal membership over competence. But without a sense of competence, there can be neither distribution of tasks nor efficient labour, thus neither merit nor reward, and subsequently neither responsibility nor justice.
All those who feel praiseworthy stirrings of exceptional skills, who aspire to greatness and harbour lofty ideals will be sworn enemies of tribalism forever. For the tribal state of mind is an incredible obstacle to the intellectual and social development of the individual.
3. It neglects knowledge. Yet without knowledge there can be no solution to problem, nor any progress whatsoever. No science, no scholars, no technology nor education. Knowledge attributes each being a place in the rightful order of the world. Without it, there can be no hierarchy of things and values-everything would be the same as everything else interchangeable, which would mean the end of everything.
4. In the final instance, it believes only in clan solidarity. And the clan represents the Anti-State par excellence.
5. It is unaware of the creative force of effort, of the constructive value of time, of the virtue of patience and the force of perseverance which makes time a component of reality. It is too hurried and too lazy to understand overall growth through progressive accumulation, etc.
II- WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED?
Remaining oblivious to mistakes means being condemned to repeat them forever, which means vegetating, slowly unravelling, and coming to an end before one’s time. Persisting and prospering in life, on the other hand means strictly adopting the opposite approach: seeking out and analysing previous mistakes. For error is the shadow, the multifarious underside of truth.
All results are subordinated to conditions determined as to their number, order, and means of action. A setback tells us that man has failed on one level or another, and unless the weak point is discovered (thereby providing additional knowledge), he will continue to fall, like a child, into the same trap. Nature provides neither miracles nor exceptions; everything exists and evolves according to its laws.
The moment has come to analyse our mistakes as a nation, at least since independence; this would entail an historical analysis beyond the scope of this editorial. But we can, for a start, establish certain points of reference, by indicating_ the preliminary conditions for such an analysis of our mistakes, and by suggesting a classification giving their origin and the nature of their cause.
1) Preliminary Conditions
a. We must first of all keep our heads clear, to avoid falling head first into confusion and chaos. We need to get some distance on events, taking a point of view which encompasses the Nation’s destiny in all its continuity.
b. Next, admitting mistakes must not be considered a threat to honour and self-esteem, but rather as an increase in strength and enlightenment which enhances each individual’s aptitude and chances in the struggle for survival.
c. Finally, we must display intellectual honesty in order to avoid the potential temptation to exploit the confessions of others to partisan ends, thereby transforming truly constructive dialogue into an ambush of the other. And we must, of course, speak the language of truth, free from demagogy and sophistry, those enemies of good sense and social peace.
2) Different Types of Mistakes
a. Some errors are related to a collective vision of society and therefore pertain to its type of culture. They stem from cultural perception, the way a given community refracts problems through its own intellectual prism. These errors are inevitable and general, and therefore the fault of one in particular. They occur and reoccur for as long as the point of view giving rise to the problem persists. These are, we feel, the mistakes triggered by what we call the nomadic mentality.
b. Other errors stem from outside historical events (colonisation, for instance), whose perverting consequences were violently imposed on an entire people’s condition of existence. Such are, in truth, the mistakes we’ve committed since 1884, which are directly or indirectly linked to colonial partition and its implications
c. A government necessarily makes mistakes .It would be astonishing if this were not the case. A government is a living entity and is therefore bound by the law of species-its force of action and longevity are proportional to its ability to adapt to the demands of the social environment. The monumental and pathetic overnight collapse of the imposing edifices of East bloc countries in the face of popular uprising demonstrates how a sustained divorce from truth and history can have breath-taking consequences
3) State, Society and Nomadic Mentality
a. We feel that the advent of statehood is the most important event to have taken place in our society. But, as experience demonstrates, we are far from being fully aware of a State’s historic mission.
Organizing means reducing loss of energy. The greatest and most immediate loss is that of death. Now, a State currently represents the materialization of organisational ability, taken to its highest qualitative and quantitative degree. The State uses intelligence, historical memory, science and technology to reduce the dimensions of space and time in accomplishing human undertakings.
Yet the nomadic mentality grants little value to these concepts of time and space. From this fact follows the precariousness of any State or systematic organization which must bow to nomadic conditions … (an analysis from this perspective would be extremely productive but unfortunately can’t be elaborated here). If our State staggers at the least push, if its gears grind to a halt over nothing, that’s because its reality still doesn’t exist on a firm and solid basis (as founded on reason) in our minds, due to this nomadic mentality.
b. This nomadic mentality also rejects the justification for and point of instituting social organization even prior to the establishment of the State.
The day when men realized that the survival requirements of each far surpassed an individual’s power, they had to either accept the death of all through dispersal or find a collective path to salvation Humankind found the unique and ingenious solution (complicated yet adequate) of a collective sharing of the power to protect the goods and person of every member of society. In exchange, naturally, for certain inevitable constraints known as the rules of life in society.
Only by this means was it possible to preserve, thanks to a new collective power to which all contributed, the general interest which in fact was, as far as the individual was concerned, simply the organized and rationally managed sum of the special interests of the all others.
To benefit from this vital necessity yet not pay the normal price represents a squaring of the circle, which the nomadic mentality thought it had achieved. But the exclusively egotistical pursuit of individual interests, at the expense of the public interest, soon results in a return to the natural state of a war of all against one and one against all … A natural state where there is neither order nor peace, neither security nor liberty, but merely the reign of disorder, violence and death
4) The Need for an Intellectual Revolution to overcome the Nomadic Mentality
Partition is like a yawning chasm under our feet, threatening to swallow up our Nation at any moment. While the nomadic mentality continually lays itself open to every attack from nature from adversaries, and from ourselves. In time, we must accomplish a veritable reform of our mistaken way of seeing and judging things. Only this intellectual transformation can defuse the explosive combination of partition and nomadic mentality.
Nomadic mentality thus becomes the problem, and solving it is an essential condition to solving all the others.
5) Absurdity and Impasse in Tribal War
We must bring the hatred which blinds us to an end, along with the resentment and bitterness on which our unhappiness feeds.
We must put an end to the hurricane of the civil war which, like some hideous monster, consumes our intelligence, our lives, our values. We should bow to overwhelming reason:
1. Disdaining the need to understand each other, we thought we could impose our points of view on one another by force. While violence can sometimes vanquish, it can never convince. A man can be arrested, but not an idea.
2. Tribal war is by definition devoid of principles and therefore of true and reliable objectives and of rational methods. It therefore leads to an impasse, the very one in which we find ourselves today, for:
a. When we have exterminated all men able to bear arms, destroyed our cities and villages, sacked our crops and our government and decimated our livestock our already fragile economy will go up in smoke. And we will hit a bottom so deep we will never be able to rise up again
b. For if the Nation-today under terrible threat dies itself, and then the bloody theatre of our internal struggles will come to an end for want of combatants, having already forgotten its initial goal.
c. If we devote so much energy and false logic to remain in disagreement, “somebody” will soon come along, inevitably to make us fall into agreement … and into the dust of Death I Thus we will all be losers, all will be lost. And the few survivors will be subjected to the yoke of slavery! … Maybe then they will finally open their eyes, only to see nothing … For time will inform them that, “It’s all over, you’re too late!”
3. We still have time to recover, but time is running out fast! First of all we must stop cursing one another, for if we all excommunicate each other there will obviously be no one left! To the contrary, each should reach out to the other. Easier said than done, you may be thinking; yet we must be able to accomplish at least this if we want to live. Unfortunately, we all think we’re right as opposed to the others, instead of being right together, of having collective problems. Because each one of us is trapped in his darling little truths, unable to perceive that they’re no longer good for anything, that they get repeated out of habit, like something obsessively chewed over
4. We lack neither the means nor the good sense to understand one another. What we lack are determination and courage. In order for a people to solve its problems, it has to want to solve them. Otherwise, nothing is possible. Courage refers not only that physical attribute which we demonstrate a thousand times each day to our own detriment, but refers above all the moral quality of pardoning rather than seeking vengeance when one has been wronged, of admitting that one has taken a wrong or unreasonable path in life. If we stop playing ostrich when faced with our own mistakes, if we learn from experience, we will find a point of convergence amid our very differences, enabling us to discover our better and other selves.