Somaliland:Discrimination in Somali Pastoral Culture
A Stain in our History; The Greatest Shame of our Present
Subject of the discrimination suffered by the Gaboye community in Somali culture is not a topic that is much written about by Somali commentators. Indeed, it is usually ignored when Somali academics and social analysts wax eloquent about the indigenous democracy of our pastoral culture and the inherent egalitarianism of our society. I must confess that I have been guilty of such grievous oversight of this issue which is undoubtedly the most important, single social and cultural ill facing Somali society today. The discrimination faced by the Gaboye community is a festering wound on our social, cultural and political life, and it is all the more painful and unacceptable since it is self-inflicted. This discrimination is not a legacy of our colonial past, neither is it imported from foreign cultures, but is, rather, an integral feature of our pastoral culture wherein artisanship and sedentary crop cultivation were historically considered inferior to the nomadic warrior ideal.
This paper does not seek to explore the historic origins of this social dichotomy and the discrimination it has engendered, that is better left to historians and anthropologists which are better equipped to undertake such study. It is also true that many societies have developed socio-cultural discriminatory practices and matrixes throughout history and that many of these practices and rationales survive to the present day. However, it is also true that as societies develop and increase their knowledge of the world and themselves, people question these anachronistic practices and their underlying rationales. This process of self-awareness requires that these outdated and irrational attitudes and practices be brought into the open and subjected to critique and question in the cold light of reasoned discourse. The event that brought this issue into sharp relief for me, and prompted this paper was a recent exchange between one of the Presidential candidates and a Gaboye parliamentarian, in which the candidate disparaged the parliamentarian because of his ancestry. The attitude of the candidate was extremely distasteful and shamed me to the core.
However, the sad fact is that the candidate seeking elective office was able to express such discrimination in public because it is such a prevalent feature of common discourse. I remembered the discrimination suffered by a great female singer (who happens to hail from the Gaboye community) at the hands of arguably our greatest living poet when she dedicated to him a wonderful song celebrating Somaliland’s achievements since recovering its independence, and he casually rebuffed her suggesting instead that she dedicate it to another poet/singer of her community. This discrimination is a cancer on our society, culture and body politic that must be eradicated and consigned to the dustbin of history. Further, it is a sin against Allah and the teachings of our faith which clearly and unequivocally state that we are all ‘Abd Allah’, His creation and subject to His Divine Will. I am pleased to observe that this invidious social bigotry is less prevalent among the younger generations and this is a positive indication for the future – indeed some maintain that it will inevitably die out over time as the level of education and social development expands throughout our population over time. But this is by no means sufficient or acceptable.
We must take active steps and concerted action to confront and combat this social evil and eradicate it from our social discourse and cultural geography. It is a relic born of historical ignorance rooted in pastoral chauvinism and bigotry which has no place in the democratic and inclusive society that we are seeking to build and bequeath to our children. We must recognize it for the bigotry that it is and delegitimize it in our social discourse as many other societies have done with similar bigotry, e.g. racism and cast discrimination. It must be no longer acceptable to display such discrimination in normal discourse, and those who demonstrate such attitudes must be subjected to the same social disgrace and ostracism as those who display racism in Western societies or in South Africa. It is the youth which must take the lead in this mission to delegitimize such bigotry in our society as the future belongs to them. I am confident that they will rise to this challenge and I encourage and support them with all my heart.
The Gaboye community must not hesitate to expose such discrimination for the bigotry that it is and they must be supported by all decent Somalis in demanding and securing their social and political rights. The struggle of the Gaboye community for social justice and equality is the defining social cause of our time in Somali social and cultural life and we must not be found wanting in advancing and supporting this cause. Somaliland’s dream of freedom, justice, independence and representative government will be nothing but ashes in our mouths if we do not face up to and overcome this social evil in our society.
Ahmed M.I. Egal