Reflections on recent visit to Somalia

The second generation of Somalis have had a more complex and less privileged life growing up in the west living a double life, on the one hand trying to adapt into a harsh society whilst attempting to retain traditions, culture, language and even our identity. For the majority of our generation being westernized is the ideal way of living.

The East Africa Journal magazine team decided to visit the motherland in search of a complex identity and learn more about our country in order to teach our kids of their parents’ heritage. The plan was to visit the homeland during the Christmas vacation, with a view to visiting several cities in the country, places some of us left when we were only months old – when we were made refugees and had no clue on what to expect. Our views were more or less informed by what we heard from others and the media, and so we wanted to see it for ourselves.

But soon after our lengthy discussions of planning and organizing our trip in November 2015, we heard there were deadly twin bombings that hit Sahafi hotel in central Mogadishu, and Al-Shabab claiming responsibility for it. This was a very sad incident and made a turning point for the majority of the team to call off the trip due to security issues. But few were adamant to still make the journey to visit Mogadishu, rated as the most dangerous city in the world. Most Somalis living in the west would argue that we were going to hell, some of our work colleagues feared that we may not come back alive. After we had our farewells and prayers from our families, friends and colleagues, we were at Heathrow airport waiting to board into Turkish Airlines. I received a fearsome phone call from my father. He was telling me that there was a bomb blast just that very day and that I should go back. I bravely said that I am already boarding the airplane and there is no way back now and just take it as it comes although my fears of coming back alive had increased. I trusted my faith in Allah that I would come back alive and tell my kids about my perspective of Somalia. I was ultimately yearning for a belonging. More importantly than that, my going back to my homeland would hopefully encourage the majority of our generation of Somalis to go back.

We finally reached the Aden Abdulle Airport (Mogadishu City), the fresh air, the smell of the sea and the people’s hospitality at the airport made me feel at peace. The whole fear was dissolved. For example the airport lady told me “we welcome you to Somalia and we would like to extend our courtesy to Somalis wherever they are regardless of their identification document”. At this point I thought why it took me so long to come and have this home feeling. She was speaking in Somali and she was insisting that I speak any word of Somali; I felt I really needed my country to teach me what I could never understand from my parents whilst growing up in the west. As a covered Muslimah, I am always subject to random security checks at western airports, but this time was a totally different treatment, a sense that cannot be described in the English language but rather felt when you are there and for me I have never experienced such heart felt welcome in my life.

During our stay in Mogadishu we learnt a lot, from the Chamber of Commerce running the private sector, who are the major drivers of development in Somalia trying so hard to rebuild the country and giving the human needs to survive, whilst the public sector working on rebuilding the law and the constitution – all whilst subjected to a great deal of fear from Al Shabab. Everyone in the city has a story to tell from life threatening phone calls to losing their loved ones to the extent where a person’s life is meaningless. One can write a whole book on what we have learnt in a few days. However, the real take away for this magazine is that Somalia is rich in natural resources such us agriculture, fishing, livestock and human resources – Its unique location of owning the longest coast in Africa, thus contributing to the world’s economy through water and air trades and much more. There were also clear signs of rapid development i.e. rebuilding of roads and buildings, agriculture and livestock. However oil and gas, education and health are only just starting, but despite whole law and security fear, there is also something good taking place in the country which is development.

Unfortunately there is also a fear of recurring of vicious violence that is slowing down such developments, for example if you walk on the streets you can see poverty and fear around the city, but at the same time people refused to be defeated. The Sahafi hotel that was bombed towards the end of Novemberwas fully functional and back into business when we had arrived in December. Witnesses have claimed that usually within hours of bombings, rebuilding takes place. The resilience of the people is remarkable.

The Somalis are known to be proud, strong, intelligent and brave. So why are people running away from the homeland despite it being rich in natural resources? Why are there few people spoiling for the millions? When asked the few Somali academic professionals why is Somalia so slow in development, roughly 10% of them blame Somalis themselves for creating a division of tribalism of not being together and being tolerant to each other. For me it is so difficult to absorb that such tribalism division to be the root cause of civil strife because growing up in the west, I have only known to be a Somali and thus unified to that name. History proves that Somalis have always been united such that if there is a problem in the North of Somalia, the southerners are extending their helping hand and vice versa.

Unfortunately there has to be many other forces dividing us into causing a civil war and thus slowing down the reaping of our natural resources. The second generation of Somalis would agree that in the West when there is a vision, as long as the group carries a specialized skill in that vision, we tend to form groups or clusters to reach the goal regardless of the tribalism division that seems to exist in the older generation’s minds.

Many professionals and analysts studying the region have suggested that 90% of the slowdown in development seems to be due to other forces such as the Foreign Intervention both regionally and internationally. Why is the world suddenly interested in Somalia? For example Switzerland never had an embassy prior to the war but why now when Somalia is at a much more dire situation than before? We have heard many sad stories from the locals but the one that sticks to my mind is that there is an area in Somalia which is out of bounds for most Somalis, and rumors are afoot that it is some kind of superpower base whereby locals have reported helicopters flying in and out, with ships smuggling through things that Somalis have no say over. Why is the whole world onto Somalia i.e. Ethopia, Kenya, Al Qaeda, UAE, Turkey, China, America, Britain, and the whole of European Union? This has created a whole climate breeding fear, yet we hear very little about the whole matter of sovereignty infringement of Somalia including, though not limited to, dumping of waste and illegal fishing. Somalis need to take a more dominant role with a view to delivering and taking control over its natural and human resources, and controlling the high level of inappropriate foreign involvement.

Young Somalis now are versatile, mobile, educated, intelligent and entrepreneurial in spirit, and therefore there is a need to be courageous on important matters such as accountability and transparency towards sustainable development. Beside all of this taking all precautions of safety and security.

By: Zahra Ali
Deputy Editor East Africa Journal

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