The Complementarity of Somali Diaspora Intellectuals and the local Traditional Leaders


BaziBusuri20130615There is a Somali Saying “Yaaq Yaambo Ma Goyso” describing the strength, endurance, and resilience of a Baobab (Yaaq) tree.  Baobab tree is very difficult to kill, they can be burnt, or stripped of their bark, and they will just form new bark and carry on growing.   Somalia itself can at best be described as a Baobab Tree in terms of its resilience, because of its long history and rich culture.  But the Yaaq or Baobab tree despite its longevity and endurance dies from within by simply rotting from the inside which leads to its collapse and disappearance.  Similarly, political infighting and our inability to get out of our clannish self is leading Somalia to rot from inside and collapse. For example, there is a gulf of incomprehension and ill will that currently exists between the Diaspora intellectuals and the local traditional leaders. In reality, traditional leaders’ local experience and our intellectual Diaspora’s vision are complementary in their strength and weaknesses.  Combined they may achieve advances which neither could alone. 

For such combinations to materialise, both parties need to step down from their pedestals, sit down, listen and learn from one another.  Both groups need to collectively take off the lens of “How much can I get? And put on another labelled “How much can I give”. Diasporas are often criticised for suffering from superiority complex with respect to local and traditional leaders. Some accuse them of being self-seeking who exploit Somalia’s difficulties for personal gain and stating “Somali problem is hard enough without them around to make it harder”. The local traditional leaders are also criticised for being unreceptive generally rigid and stubborn in their behaviour and thinking. One also must acknowledge the positive contributions made by both groups such as:

  • The traditional leaders in Mogadishu played a big role in stopping the war between Aided and Ali Mahdi. Many people attribute the success of political reconstruction in Somaliland with the involvement of ‘traditional’ leaders and lesser foreign intervention. In Puntland, traditional leaders worked well together with their Diasporas in rebuilding their region.
  • The importance of the Diaspora community and leadership cannot be ignored and they have been a major contributor to the Somali economy and its livelihoods through remittances, humanitarian assistance and participation in recovery and reconstruction efforts.

However, one of our biggest problems is our obsession with the belief that there is only one right answer.  The one right answer syndrome is normally developed during our schooling period and it is one of the main causes of disharmony and infighting. We really need to liberate ourselves from this ideology and instead of looking at our problem like “5+5=10”, let us look at it through different lenses and reframe it to“? +? = 10”. By viewing the problem in the latter way allows those in conflict to consider a range of possibilities which will ultimately lead to a viable agreement. When we try to deeply understand the Somali proverb “Colka Waraf Ma lugu dayay”, it shows our ancestors were trying to consider all possibilities to end the subject.

Another key issue is finding ways to combine the skills of both Diaspora and traditional leaders to create a break through.  The most dramatic results always happen when ideas are combined and this is what produced some of history’s breakthroughs.  Somalia itself has demonstrated that with taking the idea of adapting the Latin alphabet, creating variation and eventually inventing the Somali script. It must have been time consuming and tinkering task for those involved, but this will be remembered as creative and historical breakthrough. We also need to follow the same pattern on the issues we are facing today and treat ideas such as Federalism the same way our predecessors treated the Latin alphabet.  Let us just not copy or replicate, but create variation on not applicable areas, transform and adapt Federalism to make it our own.

Additionally, Diaspora leaders must borrow the social skills used by the traditional leaders (Egalitarian character). They have to reconcile the newly acquired individualistic leadership style with the demands of group oriented society. The Somali Society functions better through approaches that put more emphasis on collective rather than individualistic leadership style. In other words, focus more on people and less on projects to inspire ownership.  At the moment, they are spending too much time explaining the project and little time understanding people.  Even the private organisations acknowledged that People focused organizations provide ownership to employees whereas project focused organizations retain ownership in few hands and this philosophy hinders growth.

Public sentiment is the most important, without it nothing can succeed.  At the moment, ordinary Somalis abroad and at home are really tired of waiting for the lasting peace they have dreamt for decades.  One Somali mother expressing her agony and longing for lasting peace said: “My tears no longer drop outwards, it started dropping inwards and the tears that drop inwards are more painful than the ones released outwards”.   Such feeling of tiredness among the public is highly conducive to initiate a Somali Spring as history shows, the Bus Boycott in Alabama started from a tired woman (Rosa Park).  She felt too tired to give up her seat to a white passenger. She withdrew her consent on segregation laws and the campaign led to the desegregation across of whole of America.  The same way Somali people are capable of withdrawing their consent on clan allegiance and say enough is enough. We hope and pray for the Somali Spring if it occurs not to be as counterproductive as the Arab Spring.

Finally, For Individual Somalis (abroad and home), we need to do deep soul searching and change ourselves in order for our leaders to change as it is said “Every Society gets the leader it deserves”.  We need to get out of our clannish self and acknowledge the interdependency of the Somali community everywhere.  Our children will not care about how good our intentions were, they will care about how effective our actions were.

Bazi Bussuri Sheikh