The Monkey-See-Monkey-Do of the Somali Political Saga


It has been over four decades, 47 years to be exact, since Somalia became an independent nation, and the British and the Italian Somali-lands have united into one democratic nation – the first of its kind in Africa. In due course, this budding nation would become Africa’s most dysfunctional, its first failed state, and its first to be occupied by another African nation.

On this sad reality virtually all Somalis agree. However, on the cause(s) that led to the current situation, almost all disagree. Bring five Somali experts to discuss the fundamental cause of their country’s political conundrum and you are likely to get a dozen different answers. Of course this is what Meles’ Ethiopia exploited over the years.

To some it is that dreaded “clanism”; that narcissistic system that classifies Somali polities into superior “laan dheer” and inferior “laan gab” where the first is perpetually conniving and positioning itself to subjugate the latter. Others would argue it is simply a rebellious anti-autocratic movement run amok. Yet others would claim it is the natural order of things when resources are limited: it is that classic Darwinian “survival of the fittest”. Yet others would argue it is the ultra aggressive culture of certain regions against more pacifist and pluralistic ones. Yet others would claim it is about land-grab and systematically establishing new demographic facts on the ground in favor of specific clans. Still others would have more causes to point out to…

And while their perception of the cause(s) may differ, their perception of who is the victim has at least one thing in common- regardless of what their actual clan record may be, the victim-seat is exclusively reserved for the narrator’s own.

It is with this backdrop that the current “National Reconciliation Congress” is being organized. Never mind that the Ethiopian occupation and the recent massacre of Mogadishu add another facet of complexity to the matter. Never mind how common sense dictates that no problem is ever solved without first being accurately defined. The race to symbolism is at full speed and donor nations remain blindfolded.

Business is as usual. No one knows what the problem is and its root cause? Why has violence become the dominant problem-solving method among a society famed for its oral tradition conflict resolution? How did it all start and who is accountable?

For almost two decades, (by and large) the Somali clan leaders and intellectuals who have partaken in the fourteen previously failed reconciliation conferences have taken the path of the least resistance in their attempt to solve the Somali political conundrum. They submitted to the powerful urge to gang up against any one who either challenged that all too familiar notion that ‘clanism is the problem and power-sharing is the remedy’ or argued that the Somali problem is a multifaceted in nature and as such requires something beyond “power-sharing”. People are conditioned to react certain predictable ways when they are not sure why.

Five monkeys were put in a cage. Inside the cage a banana was hanged on a string and a set of stairs was placed under it. Predictably, one of the monkeys tried to climb up the stairs and reach for the banana. The minute the monkey touched the stairs all other monkeys were sprayed with cold water, shocking them senseless. The same setting is recreated again. Shortly after, another monkey made the same attempt, and like the first time, all other monkeys were sprayed with cold water. Pretty soon the monkeys got the picture- they felt they had to prevent this from happening again.

At this stage, the water hose is removed; also, one of the five monkeys was replaced with a new one and the same experiment is repeated. Upon seeing the banana and trying to reach for it, the new monkey was surprised with ferocious gang-beating. After another attempt and another attack, the new monkey came to understand that his actions would result a harsh punishment.

Next, another one of the original five was removed and replaced with a new one. When the new monkey went to the stairs, the monkey is attacked ferociously. The other monkey who arrived right before him enthusiastically joined the beating though the first never experienced the collective punishment suffered by his caged fellows. Again, the third monkey of the original five is removed and replaced with a new one…later the fourth and the fifth monkey were replaced with new ones. Each time the same reaction was the outcome. To them this was the way things ought to be.

For a long time the profiteers of the Somali civil war, the warlords, the anarchists, and the current occupational force have controlled the water hose and conditioned the people to accept the erroneous notion that a sustainable reconciliation is attainable without addressing what is at issue, without admitting wrongs, without accountability, and without willingness to compromise and indeed forgive.

Make no mistake, for a genuine reconciliation to be attained, a new paradigm that puts all grievances into account is direly needed. So is a safe venue conducive to sincere dialogue. Therefore, the first order of business should be to develop a practical conceptual framework for that paradigm and to secure the right venue, not arm-twisting, coercion, and compulsion.