Foreign Policy Blogs

The Corroding “Lead Camel” Effect

 

As in old caravans “Where the lead camel goes, so shall others.” Such goes the Somali proverb, notwithstanding its regional variations and dialectical flavors. The Lead Camel Effect (LCE) describes a syndrome or a common human tendency to blindly follow leaders, role-models, and all those whom authority is attributed to even if such individuals were leading them astray.

LCE is not unique to one particular culture or society. Think of how the American Generation X who, though born decades later in a different social and political environment, emulated their Baby Boomer parents’ counter-culture ideals; the hallmark carefree lifestyles flavored with cynicism, cultish mentality, defiance of authority, drug abuse, and sexual promiscuity.

In that context one could say where post-independence Somali political, professional and intellectual elite went, so did the second. Of course there are exceptions, though few and far between.

Biliqo Sub-culture

As Somalia was approaching independence (July 1, 1960) clan and personal political agenda was already eclipsing the vision of building robust institutions to sustain the young democracy. By independence, Machiavellian individuals exploiting the newly founded state’s lack of sophisticated capacity in good governance as well as the gullibility and the groupthink mentality of the clan-loyalists have had the groundwork set for the loot-frenzy (bililiqo) of the following decades. The impetus that set that frenzy in motion was the self-serving affirmative answer giving to the ethical question of “who had the legitimate right to inherit the residential properties left behind by the Italian colonial power?”

Adan Abdulle Osman, the first President, was adamantly against the proposition to distribute the mansions and villas to a few privileged individuals within the circle of power as personal properties. He forewarned such behavior would not help the nation and would motivate the new power-brokers to “think like the colonial masters.” Despite his objection, the properties were distributed. This behavior of treating national assets as spoils has set a precedent that legitimized corruption and ensured almost all high government officials up until the civil war at least a mansion or a villa of one’s own, or the equivalent in cash since then. This corrupt sub-culture has systematically corroded trust and became the fuel that kept clan conflict burning.

Contrary to the common perception of the past two decades, corrupt officials are not only those who employ Kleptocracy as a system of governance who habitually steal the revenues and resources entrusted on them, but also those who practice nepotism or give themselves extraordinary privileges, those who employ selective justice, reject policies and prevent building institutions of checks and balances.

As the painful history of the past two decades indicates, the great majority of these generations of trend-setters and imitators have allocated great deal of their intellectual energy and ingenuity to myopically advance one personal/clan-interest or another at the expense of the national interest or the common good.

The Lost Generations

Especially those among them who were considered intellectuals in various facets of life including the spiritual, who, instead of claiming their ordained role as the young nation’s critical conscience; instead of putting matters in their historical perspective, connecting the dots, devising coherent strategy and offering viable alternatives to save the fragile state, most assumed the enabler or the intellectual commissar role for one despot, political overlord, sectarian group or another.  To most whose moral justification was “everyone is doing it,” all that mattered was high posts and loots.

Perhaps due to the colonial inferiority complex of their mentors in the first generation, the second generation of intellectuals valued symbolism much more profoundly than substance. One had to look the part or play the part however dysfunctional to gain external approval.  That desperate dependency, needless to say, blurs, if not subjugates, their objectivity. In that context it is not surprising that there are intellectual and professional chameleons that, on one hand, match well against their peers in terms of scholarship, academic discipline as well as knowhow and production; on the other, persistently clinch on their clannish mentality and resort to uncompromising zero-sum games when it comes to advancing matters of national interest.

Sadly, it is this duality, or rather intellectual schizophrenia that defines the average Somali intellectual. Because clanism provides surrogate claim to superiority, in the past two decades, most of our intellectuals have been on a relentless pursuit to get ample boost of self-esteem within their respective clan apparatus. In order to climb high within the clan stature or be revered as a hero one must become the flag-bearer of certain primitive norms. In the past two decades it became too difficult to distinguish between most of these intellectuals and the A’rabi (chronically uncivilized nomads) in his crudeness, xenophobia, and hyper-protection of territorial (clan) identity.

Nature of the Dysfunction

A hindsight scan of what went wrong in Somalia leads one to the pathological role that this group of professionals and intellectuals has played in perpetuating two decades of societal hemorrhage. More than the warlords, political opportunists, economic parasites, neo-Islamists, this particular group of intellectual class has contributed to the Balkanization of Somalia, both physically and psychologically. No other group has consistently been sowing negativity for the past two decades more than the Somali intellectuals. If this particular group had any contribution at all it must be the fact that they changed the Somali national character from a “Nation of Poets” into a “Nation of Presidents”!

As an oral society that met many challenges in its transition into modern, citizen-based, statehood, Somalia’s indigenous historic figures of sometimes illiterate public intellectuals of poets, mullahs, bards, and lyricists are by and large replaced by intellectually destructive or do-nothings. For evidence all one has to do is randomly Google up a few of the hundreds of Somali “News” websites and see how many articles, editorial pieces, Op-Eds, or essays about reconciliation or reinvention of a better Somalia from ground up that you come across. The litmus test of the Somali “intellectual” is his/her record of publicly criticize admonishing his/her clan against their shortcomings or saying something that contradicts that of the party line.

The Intergenerational New Breed

Breaking this vicious cycle of negative emulation, a hope-inspiring new generation made of the few who survived the aforementioned syndrome and their visionary younger intellectual activists who refused to surrender to negativity and become handicapped by hate. This new generation has been actively initiating new ideas for Somalia’s revival and recovery through writings, lectures, poetry, and political cartoons.

Nothing describes the conscience of that new generation more eloquently than these verses composed by Ilhan Dahir, a young Somali-American poet, for the bitter sweet occasion of 50 years after independence:

“Men who wash their sins off with blood/will receive no absolution…/Let’s create vibrations that turn into waves/let’s flood the shores of the East with the words that we say/Let’s forge a path to unity; Let’s never sway/because our differences have held us captive far too long/And the one who was most right is still very wrong!”

Somalia has entered a new phase of introspection, reinvention, and rebuilding. This, needless to say, makes it incumbent upon all Somalis of good will and vision to participate in the on-going engineering of a viable, just, peaceful, and progressive State. Whether or not the old guards would finally redeem themselves by participating and contributing positively to this process remain to be seen.

 

 
  • Afyare

    Thank you very much for writing this interesting article.
    I agree that the so-called intellectuals could have done better job. But, I wish that you define what you mean by “intelectual”‘ in Somali language we have waxgarad or indheergarad which means wise and aqoonyahan (someone who has formal school credentials). Every aqoonyahan is not wise and every wise person did not get the opportunity to master a profession. Abukar, I believe both can be criticised for not doing enough. But, the latter group with formal credentials is what I think the article addresses.
    Thanks again
    Afyare

    • Mohamed Amir

      Thank you very much for writing this interesting article.
      To differentiate the two intellectuals; can we call them Traditional and Modern intellectuals who both of them share the blame one way or the other?
      Thank you again.
      Amiir

      • Abukar Arman

        Thank you, Amiir, for the feedback. Interesting proposition, indeed.

    • Abukar Arman

      Thank you, Prof Afyare,for the feedback. Under the sub-title “The Lost Generation” the term “intellectuals” is now hyper-linked to an article on the (by and large) self-marginalized Somali intellectuals that might help, though it does not necessarily focus on the cultural nuances surrounding the term…

  • http://www.facebook.com/afyare.elmi Afyare A. Elmi

    Thank you very much for writing this interesting article. I agree that the so-called intellectuals could have done better job. But, I wish that you define what you mean by “intelectual”‘ in Somali language we have waxgarad or indheergarad which means wise and aqoonyahan (someone who has formal school credentials). Every aqoonyahan is not wise and every wise person did not get the opportunity to master a profession. Abukar, I believe both can be criticised for not doing enough. But, the latter group with formal credentials is what I think the article addresses.
    Thanks again
    Afyare

  • Abdinasir Amin

    Great article Arman and sheds light on a great deal of what’s wrong – how about shedding some light on the role of the intellectual in the public space? How do you envisage that? Also, like Afyare points out, would be good to be on the same page on definitions of what’s what. Surely there is a world of a difference between a clannish pundit writing an op-ed as a service to his/her clan in a thinly disguised clan website and a dedicated scholar sifting through mounds of data and carefully researched evidence and weighting issues. You seem to have lumped all and sundry together…i could be mistaken of course!

    • Abukar Arman

      Thank you, Abdinasir, for the feedback. You are absolutely right “…there is a world of a difference between a clannish pundit
      writing an op-ed as a service to his/her clan in a thinly disguised clan
      website and a dedicated scholar sifting through mounds of data and
      carefully researched evidence and weighting issues.”

      There is exception to the prevalent dysfunction of the group at hand and the article acknowledges that in this: “… one could say where post-independence Somali political,
      professional and intellectual elite went, so did the second. Of course
      there are exceptions, though few and far between.”

  • Muktar Omer

    Surely not all who criticize what the “proponents of new Somalia” are tyring to are not coming from clannish stanspoint. Surely many of the “new breed” Abukar praises are not seen as saints by a wide section of the people. By not naming groups – either from the ones he sees as progressives or the retrogressive bunch he despises – Abukar is not only displaying a debilitating intellectual timidity but more importantly the article has lost sense because it is about everything and yet nothing and no concerete recommendations are not communicated. The concluing lines are sort of a threat to those who disgaree with Somalia’s new leaders – not necessary because they wish the leaders harm or failure – but because they are convinced the leadership is using the wrong tactics or rethorics. These threatening lines may haunt Abukar in the no so distant future as it clear to many that the new leadership lacks the capacity to take Somalia out of its present quagmire.

    Apart from that, once more a brilliant and beneficial article from Abukar.

  • Muktar Omer

    Surely not all who criticize what the “proponents of new Somalia” are trying to do are not coming from clannish stanspoint. Surely many of the “new breed” Abukar praises are not seen as saints by a wide section of the people. By not naming groups – either from the ones he sees as progressives or the retrogressive bunch he despises – or by failing to present which ideas he disagrees with in the ensuing national debates, Abukar is not only displaying a debilitating intellectual timidity but more importantly the article has lost sense because it is about everything and yet nothing and no concerete recommendations are communicated. He also made it hard to engage his dissenting ideas, without resorting to “name-calling and categorizing”. His concluing lines are sort of a threat to those who disgaree with Somalia’s new leaders – not necessary because they wish the leaders harm or failure – but because they are convinced the leadership is using the wrong tactics or rethorics. These threatening lines may haunt Abukar in the no so distant future as it is clear to many that the new leadership lacks the capacity to take Somalia out of its present quagmire.

    Apart from that a brilliant and beneficial article by Abukar. The takeaway from the article is not clear but his positivity and optimism amid so much gloom is admirable. I agree with him though in that whether we oppose the new leaders or not, we should learn the culture of accepting their decisions as elected national leaders and should not call for chaos and anarchy every time a decision here and there seems inappropriate to us!

    • Abukar Arman

      Thank you, Mukhtar, for the feedback. I think you and I agree on core issues. No, intellectual dissidence does not automatically indicate that one is a clan-loyalist. However, in my opinion, we can establish that with level of certainty when a dissident is routinely defends the same predictable clan issue with zero-sum approach. I think it in our collective best interest to have people scrutinize any and all who are entrusted with power.

      • Fowsia Abdulkadir

        Abukar, thanks for a thoughtful article. There is a Somali saying: “Qof waliba waayihiisuu hadlaa”! Roughly translated it means, “people’s world views are bound by the context and the times they live in:

        Makes you wonder if post-independence states were replica of the colonial state, which was predatory, when will Somalis unlearn all that they have learned from their colonial masters???

        Abukar, you are kind to Somalis, because it is not only the so called intellectuals, (both aqoonyahan & indheer garad) but traditional leaders, mothers and fathers; “neo-Islamists” of the last two generations that have failed the state.

        Notwithstanding the lack of definition of who the intellectuals are, as Afyare pointed out; and your political correctness of not pushing one political standpoint or another, as Mukhtar pointed out, this is a critical analysis and leaves one with some food for thought.

        Fowsia Abdulkadir

        • Abukar Arman

          Thank you, Fowsia, the feedback and kind words. I agree “…it is not only the so called intellectuals, (both aqoonyahan & indheer
          garad) but traditional leaders, mothers and fathers; “neo-Islamists” of
          the last two generations that have failed the state.”

  • Dahir Guled

    Thank you again. I think changing from “Nation of Poets” into a “Nation of Presidents”! reflects overall changing traditional Somali culture and values into a identity crisis, anarchism, chaos and rebellion culture. Today, there are more Presidents than Poets in Somalia. If I named few Presidents such as, Somali Federal President, Somaliland President, Puntland President, Khatumo President, Gal-Mudug President, Ximan iyo Xeeb President, Doha State President, Mareeg State President, Hiiraan State President, Jubaland President, Central State President or more. What happened Somali Poets? Why they are silent?

    • Abukar Arman

      Thank you, Dahir. I am very much encouraged by the positive energy emanating from the systematic ousting of al-Shabaab and the subsequent elections. More and more people came to realize that the resuscitation of the Somali state back into life is possible. We can build on that momentum.

  • Sr. Hiba

    Far from “waffling,” I thought your article lent perspective and hope in spite of it all. Like a painful rise from the ashes. God willing.

    • Abukar Arman

      Many thanks, Hiba, for the feedback and kind words. God-willing, indeed.

  • mohamoud

    Thank you, you wrote an eye opening and pointed where the problem, we like to blame and point finger to the others.Somalis’s have to look with in and come up bottom up solutions. Yes from thedays the colonial left until today we are staping our nation, from our elect officals , the army and intelectuals.

    • Abukar Arman

      Thank you, Mohamoud, for the kind words.

  • http://www.facebook.com/hsamatar Hussein Samatar

    Somalia’s governance has been in trouble since its independence and coming together on July 01, 1960. I strongly believe if Somalia had adopted very strong local governance structure then Somalia could have saved its peaceful and spiritual nature. After more than fifty years of mayhem, Somalia has now the change with the new leadership in Mogadishu to charter new era by developing the rules for federal system.

    This is truly a golden opportunity. My hope is the president, his prime minister, his ministers and the parliament will show the courage to have an honest dialogue with the Somali people. And realize Somalia in 2012 is way different then when President Siad Barre is being ousted in 1991.

    Nobody will ever love or care about Somalia more than Somalis. And there is not one single country in the world developed by U.N. or with the international aid. Somalis will need each other more than ever before. And broad power sharing might do it this time around.

    Educating the Somali masses is the way forward. And I mean true and practical education for all.

    • Abukar Arman

      Thank you, Hussein, for the feedback. You said it well.

  • Guest

    “Optimism create positivism” and sometimes is good to celebrate early,
    This is new page and new chapter for Somalia and Somalis,& nothing changes if nothing changes. The time for change has come with god willing. What we need now as Somalis to change our attitude towards our future, we need to think differently and see things differently. Somalis need positive mental attitude and be more optimistic about the future as they had a lot of difficult times and hardships in the past..Its about time Somalia finally gets the peace it deserves and the people who desire this should stand for it in reality by putting all our differences aside and putting Somalia and the people first.Somalia is far much greater than any individual. God bless Somalia.
    Thanks for another excellent piece Abukar!

    • Abukar Arman

      Thank you for the feedback and kind words.

  • Faizal

    Thanks Arman for your exceptional article that sheds light on a complex matter, many of us fall short to address or fear to pinpoint. The so-called Somali intellectuals/scholars are not only part of the problem, they are the foremost in all troubles that befall the nation; while some, as you put it, “contribute to Balkanisation of Somalia”, others go to great length to build an artificial national consensus on their clan’s own view of politics. Sadly, all foreign universities across the world are awash with thesis by Somali graduates that misread the identity, political, and cultural history of Somalia, full of factual mistakes aimed at defending one’s own clan. These are the work of a young generation meant to be the country’s future asset. I believe this form of practice is the most dangerous and demoralizing to an already incapacitated nation and will have serious impact on the way others see the country and its people.
    In a nutshell, the people you called ‘intellectuals’ have renovated the tribalism, nepotism and all forms of injustice, and passed it to a new generation that will carry these mutated genes and prolong the chaos more than their nomad ancestors. No wonder it expands with G4 technology. Two decades ago, no one was predicting that each Somali clan would have ‘her’ own media outlet for its verbal war.
    I asked a member of British Foreign & Common wealth office involved in Somalia, how many letters they receive directly from Somali clans. ‘Too many, but we’ve trained staff for that. That’s what we are paid for”, he replied. May Allah save Somalia from its own predators!

    • Abukar Arman

      Allahuma Amiin!
      Thank you Faizal for the feedback and kind words. Keep your spirit high. The pendulum of history is on a reverse course.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mohamedrashaaad Mohamed Omar Hassan

    Thanks bro abukar arman it’s really great article.

    • Abukar Arman

      Thank you, Br. Mohamed, for the kind words.

  • mayank

    Brilliant article, @twitter-74768403:disqus I am a phd candidate at IHEID, geneva. Been trying to get in touch with you about my research on somali armed groups. Do please connect when you get a chance. email: mayank.bubna[at]graduateinstitute.ch Thanks!

    • Abukar Arman

      Thank you Mayank for the kind words. You should have my e-mail address now that I just sent you one.

  • http://twitter.com/iamidris Omar Al-harith

    thank you for writing this piece. Brilliant and thoughtful article indeed. I second samatar’s comment about educating the masses ” And I mean true and practical education for all”…. Looking forward to reading your next article Arman.

    • Abukar Arman

      Thank you, Omar, for the kind words.

  • Ismail

    Abukar, all said and done, the erosion of the Somali moral fabric after decades of poor education and abuse of traditional norms are the root causes of the bad leadership we are seeing. Also, it is usual for the people to get the leaders they deserve! Leadership is learned and this is through years of drilling and creating a culture of leadership. I wonder how you envision leadership to emerge when there is no structure in place traditional or democratic? The omission of religious leadership is intended. Leadership has to be nurtured and each generation learns from the other even if they never Woodstock! Where will the Somali Woodstock be or Tahrir Square? When will the Somali people say enough is enough and revolt against mediocre leadership? (Nne of the gentlemen commenting here is known to have called the late Abdullahi Yusuf a Somali hero – you see what I mean).

    • Abukar Arman

      Thank you, Ismail, for the feedback and the question: “…how you envision
      leadership to emerge when there is no structure in place traditional or
      democratic?”

      I am not sure if there is only one or perhaps a number of prerequisite
      conditions for emergence of good leadership; likewise if there are
      conditions outside which the emergence of good leadership is impossible.

      That said, I am sure you would agree that at this juncture our society needs

      more than fair-weather leadership; we need transformation-minded
      leadership in every sector. And while these kinds of leaders could be cultivated, there is ample historical evidence affirming how they could
      emerge out unlikely circumstances and environments.

      [some thoughts on transformational leadership http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBLnLzhW-Yo ]

      Ismail, though it is not in full force, the “enough is enough and revolt against

      mediocre leadership” has certainly been gaining momentum both in the
      homeland and the diaspora.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1616503508 Ismail Osman

    Brother Abukar Arman – As usual well written article – Can we walk the walk and not talk the talk? In my opinion, – Somalia failed because of lack of intellectuals and more of lazy thinkers. As usual – We know how to put a good piece of article or author a decsent book, but do we know how to find a solution to our problems? In every society people fight, confront each other. name calling. That is not a bad thing nor the problem. Tribalism exist, no doubt. But, when we failed to find a common solution. That in my opinion is not the out-come fighting, confronting, name calling. or tribalism. its pure lack of intellects. Well written Op-Ed’s will not bring a solution. My 2 cents

    • Abukar Arman

      Thank you, Br. Ismail, for the feedback and kind words. The article argues the main reasons why ” we failed to find a common solution” are because of the loot-thy-nation culture and the diversionary clan interests and loyalties of the 1st and 2nd generation of our political and intellectual elite. You seem to disagree, which is fine.

  • Sadat Geesh

    very interesting piece, I think its time to recognize between right and wrong and between bad and good, between lifeless ideas and livable ones..its time to denounce every acquired or accumulated post-disintegration habits….the real intellectuals must be free from any structural obstacles…placed in front of them…..we are about to enter the reviewing time and the prescription era…I always find..Arman’s articles most market place of ideas…………… I like them…

    • Abukar Arman

      Thank you, Sadat, for the feedback and kind words. Very humbling indeed.

  • http://www.facebook.com/abdiraheem.warsame Abdiraheem Warsame

    Great article, well done Bro! Amidst of the destructions, Somalia has a unique
    opportunity that rarely comes by, which is a due over. We got it wrong after the 1960 Independence; we have another opportunity now after more than 20 years of destructions and lawlessness to do it right. We have an opportunity to reinvent our nation, build transparent and modern government institutions that obey the laws and are accountable to the people.

    When I think of the present opportunity in Somalia, I think of GM Company. Although there aren’t many comparisons in between, the two had due
    over. GM went to bankruptcy and turned it around and now the world’s largest automaker. I am not suggesting Somalia will be the #1 nation in the world but given the opportunity in Somalia and if there is a right leadership, Somalia could be in 20 years a modeled nation.

    Thank you,
    Abdiraheem Warsame

    • Abukar Arman

      Thank you, Abdiraheem, for the inspirational feedback. Failure is not a permanent state unless we as people give up. The more our people start thinking like you the quicker Somalia could recover.

  • Mohamed Wardere

    good job brother arman

    • Abukar Arman

      Many thanks brother.

  • Ahmed Hamud

    Asalam Alaykum
    Honestly this is a beautiful article, I thank you Mr. Abukar Arman for your emphasis of our known and unknown problems, matter of fact, this is helpful for those who started their hope or, instead of that, started their work to rebuild our country and to educate our people. I wish we all understand your perspective, and take that path to once again raise up our people and our country.
    Thank you once again.
    Wsc.

    • Abukar Arman

      Wa alaikum as-salaam,

      Thank you, Hamud, for the kind words and feedback. It is inspiring to know that old timers like yourself are still part of the on-going struggle to resuscitate our nation and create a healthy environment where a better Somalia could emerge.

Author

Abukar Arman
Abukar Arman

Abukar Arman is a former diplomat (Somalia's Special Envoy to the US). He is a widely published analyst. His focus is Foreign policy/Islam/post-civil war Somalia/extremism. He is a DiploAct of a sort (fusion of diplomacy & activism).
You may follow him on Twitter: @4DialogSK or reach him via e-mail: [email protected]

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