The past eight months I’ve spent in Somaliland have been amongst the most exciting, memorable and humbling of my life. Immersing oneself in the customs and local aspects of such a great culture can prove difficult even for those whose blood it is native to.
I was new and naïve in my previous articles but will not apologise to those who found my continued criticisms of our country difficult to swallow. I will, however, apologise to those who somehow perceived my genuine excitement/bewilderment and discovery of my family’s rich history and roots in Somaliland as outright bragging. Being a member of the Diaspora and genuinely feeling let-down by the level of our accomplishments in comparison to members of other nations who migrated en masse; I was happy to see my people doing so well for themselves here at home. As ‘Somalilanders’, I can still say that, we have a lot to accomplish both inside and outside of our borders. The truth hurts but it is only the truth and real reflection that can vindicate us of our shortcomings.
Not much has changed in the eight months I’ve been here that is easily visible. While I have left and returned three times in that period many of the same feelings and experiences I initially had remain true. I still feel proud that we are not a lawless nation, and that we have a government that caters to a certain degree for its citizens; but there is a lot more that needs to be done.
Before drifting off into politics I’ll explain what I’ve been up to in the past eight months. I’ve learnt a great deal about our culture and gained a lot as well as lost a great deal. I had to bury my uncle Ali Marshaal who was a true lion and patriot of Somaliland as well as experience the hardships of setting up business legitimately in a country where the rule of law is often left to the hands of dishonest and money hungry government employees. I’ve been privileged enough to take part in events where Faisal Ali Warrabe was speaking and have never heard so many quotable Somali punch lines come from one man. While I do not think the time for his party has arrived, this man has definitely been given the ‘gift of the gab.’
I have also had the experience of falling victim to the Somaliland Gem’s Scam in which low quality grade imported from other countries such as India and neighbouring African countries (genuine materials that are not suitable for any form of jewellery production beyond cabochons, etc [essentially the leftovers]) are used to ‘salt’ mines and sold on at above 1000% to susceptible and naïve travellers from abroad who dream of making easy millions. I learned my lesson with a smile like the time I purchased a laptop bag full of Argos catalogues off of Irishman (instead of the two laptops I paid for) and moved on.
While there are genuine gems here and real deposits I would sincerely advise those interested in this trade to take precaution and not be fooled by the apparent lustre of the low-grade gems presented to them by the highly intelligent and heartless men who happily perpetrate this fraud. The old adage of ‘if it seems too good to be true then it probably is’ is a lesson I had to learn a second time around. Doh!
The most meaningful experience I have had while here is that I had the chance to become one with my people. I take the bus and prefer to walk even when offered a ride so I can immerse myself in the culture completely. I no longer get harassed by others for being an ‘outsider’ and have been accepted as ‘one of us’ or ‘inankeena’. I try my best to exemplify ‘when in Rome do as the Romans do’ and avoid standing out like a sore thumb. There are a few things I still do that may seem odd; such as having three pet dogs (Arsene, Gunner and Walcott!) and chiding children for throwing rocks at wild animals, but for the most part I am one with my countrymen.
My neighbourhood initially thought we were crazy for keeping pets until I told them that I used them to protect me from the wild goats! That left them confused just long enough for me to avoid their passing harsh judgement and stop cursing me, and I have made up for it by leaving my shorts sitting idle in my closet and avoiding the temptation to wear them like food during Ramadan.
I feel like I now understand what it means to be a Somalilander and can relate to the dreams and aspirations of the local population. We all want the same basic necessities in life and it’s a simple matter of fate that has placed the equally capable in various personal situations and standards of living. Having read old documents belonging to my parents from the early SNM period written by SNM heroes I can only marvel at the fact that what those brave people worked towards accomplishing is partially here for me to witness today. When we are in a position where equal opportunities are available for everyone, and all can pursue endeavours they choose freely; will be the day I will agree that the job of the SNM is fully completed.
I still live and breathe and eat Somaliland and I recently sent a nasty response to my embassy in Kenya after they emailed me a warning about being in ‘Somalia’. I told them to get their facts straight and that Hargeisa is in Somaliland and not Somalia! I also told them I’ve been hiking with my Caucasian friends to the middle of nowhere without security and that they are just as safe here as I am. I also told them that I had expected Canadians to be better at geography than Americans and that they should go take a hike themselves! I’m sure they felt insulted by the tone of my letter but they now know that I was equally insulted by their confusing Somaliland with Somalia.
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Now, gone are the days I worried about recognition and I am now only concerned with the improvement and development of our infrastructure so that the local population can benefit directly. While we will eventually require recognition so that all of our citizens are free to travel and pursue their dreams internationally, I am of the opinion that seeking recognition hastily and without considering the consequences and repercussions will lead to outright exploitation.
Like the old movie field of dreams (and the story of Dubai) I believe in the ‘If You Build It; They Will Come’ philosophy. We no longer need the outside world to give us everything like when they brought us electricity and airplanes. If we can pull together on a greater level, and with good government oversight; we can start to build a stronger nation in isolation and the world will be forced to recognise our accomplishment. Until we have good governance, yes, we will depend heavily on the generosity of the Diaspora and their increasing intellectual capacity to get things done.
My forecast is that this dependence will decrease dramatically as the output of our many universities supplying us with a brilliant and ambitious future generation muscles its way into both the private and public sectors. A good example of where our current organisational level and transparency stands is that the bridge in Hargeisa is yet to be completed and has fallen greatly beyond schedule due to either financial mismanagement or outright incompetence. If we can’t build one bridge then how can we build our nation? Yes there are many other bridges that have been built privately but this one is in a strategic location (around the corner from the President’s house). Equally concerning is that the government won’t reveal how much money they made off of the sale of prime government owned land that was sold to the private sector (India Line) or where the money has gone.
Forgetting the government for a moment, it’s only after the ‘I’m new’ feeling wears off you start to see things here that wouldn’t have made themselves apparent unless you had a long time to observe and reflect on them. When you see things going utterly wrong you can only point fingers for a while before asking yourself what you have brought to the table. I began to realize this and appreciate thoroughly that I am more fortunate than some and have made it my personal obligation and priority to help those in genuine need and to share whatever I have of benefit to whoever seeks it. This not only makes me feel more in touch with my people but also makes me more human.
The people of Somaliland are amongst the most ingenious and creative when given the chance, and the vibrant cities are buzzing with the activity of an entire nation rebuilding itself after enduring forty-odd years of suffering then neglect. The markets are also buzzing and commerce is steadily increasing and we are moving from being mere consumers to exporters and manufacturers. A lot of our produce is exported to neighbouring Ethiopia and you would be happy to find that many of the items consumed in Somaliland are manufactured in Somaliland itself. We also benefit heavily from a landlocked Ethiopia relying on our port to import their goods. Many a wise businessmen have begun to import goods solely for the purpose of re-exporting them to Ethiopia. [Oh you wise businessmen! Maybe one of you can invest in a recycling plant so we can stop burning valuable recyclable plastic and paper in our dry creeks?]
Anyhow, yesterday, Silaanyo made a triumphant return to Somaliland to the cheers of the hundreds of thousands who showed up to welcome the SNM Hero. I’m sure that even the president’s inner circle found it both comical and ironic that he should be ‘banned’ from Somaliland by an administration headed by a former NSS agent. The recent news from the former Udub spokesman indicating that the previous election result was a sham only goes to highlight what most are already aware of; the current administration does not have the interest of this country at heart and that it is only the will and determination of the Somaliland people to live in peace and avoid conflict that has kept our country together. I remembering being annoyed that I had to pay an ‘Eastern Tax’ at the ministries when I was well aware that not a penny would reach our eastern states and that they would still be left in neglect and essentially left to fend for themselves. Maybe the next government will be able to use this tax appropriately?
The current government is not all bad though, and I am not an enemy of Udub, or a partisan but a patriot. I would be happy to vote Udub in another four years if they revert to the ideals of our country’s founder the late Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal. There have been some notable accomplishments from members of the Udub government including the recent news arriving from China regarding the rebuilding and expansion of Hargeisa Airport and it testifies to the fact that the Aviation Minister as an individual is a highly competent man who has and will continue to fulfil the obligations of his post.
The recent addition of a new Director General at the Ministry of Commerce has also been immensely beneficial as the ministry is now perhaps the only one fully employed for the hours of operation stated and the previous pay as you go method of getting things done has been thrown out the window. No longer are bribes accepted at that ministry, however, anyone who would like to donate office supplies and equipment are welcome to do just that. This ultimately benefits the business community by empowering and enhancing the abilities of the Ministry of Commerce to do their job more effectively. I raise both my hands to both of these patriots (and all credit is due to others I may have missed.)
The last subject I would like to touch on is the fact that Somaliland has been a safe-haven for many people fleeing their country either due to conflict, persecution or famine. I commend Somaliland for being able to give and share from what little they have but at the same time feel used to the point where I have no choice but to thumb my nose at the Neo-Faqash movement. I find it surprising that the same ones who actively deny and undermine Somaliland are also the same ones waiting in lines at Somaliland owned Dahabshiil to send their relatives money while they live in peace in, um, Somaliland!
The endless finger pointing and bitterness that has brought their country to an endless cycle of civil war has also lead to them falsely accusing Somaliland of being a fantasy state or nation. I find it doubly ironic that it is this fantasy state that they urge their relatives to move to in order to escape persecution while at the same time cheering the complete rubbish and hate filled nonsense spewed by Mohammed ‘Peanut-Brain’ Shamsudinn Maglomitis and terrorist organisations such as the NSUM who have nothing better to do with their lives than hate the great nation of Somaliland. My message to you is that we will continue to take the high road and pray that at some point you remember the late Michael Jackson’s words and start talking to the man in the mirror. We will not take responsibility for your personal situation and will only engage you in dialogue when you are willing to accept the hard cold fact that Somaliland exists and is here to stay. No longer will I pay attention to the members of the Neo-Faqash movement (Somaliland deniers) and they can busy themselves by barking at each other and debating whether their fantasy government in Nairobi actually exists.
But let’s forget those petty enemies for a moment. We have bigger enemies present who are actively working to prevent the bright future that is in store for this nation; enemies such as greed, selfishness, incompetency, complacency and overt laziness. In closing I would like to call all of my fellow Somalilanders to arms. Not the arms that project bullets but the arms that project peace, change and prosperity. I urge all Somalilanders who have never been home to skip that vacation and come and see your country for the first time. I ask those who visit to go back thinking of ways to improve their country so that they can ultimately return to and settle in it permanently. I urge all that are in Somaliland to be patient while at the same time working towards the betterment of our nation. I call on all nations and the AU in particular to accept us now rather than later and to not hold back our eventual recognition. I call on the Neo-Faqash movement to give up its laughable and futile campaign to discredit and undermine Somaliland. I call on our current government to pull itself up by the bootstraps (boots, get it?) and remember that they are inheritors of a struggle that cost a great deal in blood and lives. I call on all my fellow Somalilanders to at least make the chewing of qat a once in a while social activity and not a full time occupation. I call on all the youth currently studying in Somaliland to take their studies seriously and to be patient as the opportunities will eventually arise, and for those abroad to pick their subjects and professions with Somaliland in mind. I call on all of those entrusted with finances from generous donors to know that they will be held accountable for how they spend every penny whether in this life or another and to act responsibly. I ask all those who encounter the orphans of the war and SNM fighters who have fallen to mental illness to not be afraid to give from what they are able to when they see them and specifically call on the government to do more for them. I call on all who are eligible to vote to go out and vote and to vote in the interests of Somaliland as a nation and to put their personal financial gains and tribal ties aside. I ask all Somalilanders worldwide to remember that what makes us Somalilanders is what we give to our country, and not what we take and will end with the words of the late JFK; “ask not what your country can do for you, but ask for what you can do for your country.”
I thank you all for joining me on this journey and series and would like to dedicate this final instalment to the Madax Yar family of Dhahran, KSA.
Somalilandpress, 2 February 2010