Armed conflict and social upheaval necessarily leaves behind war trauma and stress experiences that impact individuals, families, communities, and entire nations, in small and big ways. This is the case in Somalia, where Africa’s longest running conflict rages unabated. The country’s internationally recognized Federal Government is weak, at times incompetent, and lacks visionary leadership that can re-unite and rebuild the nation.
What is fascinating is the manner and style with which politicians, experts and ordinary Somalis continue to discuss and describe the national struggle for peace and governance.
In reading online articles, watching Somali satellite TV stations or listening to radio debates, it is clear that it has become our culture as Somalis to continuously have our speeches entrenched with referencing numbers and dates, to bolster our argument or persuade an audience.
The examples are plenty. The dates have different meanings and significances, for different regions of Somalia. For example, supporters of the separatist “Republic of Somaliland”, often refer to the Somali military’s persecution of SNM rebels and the “1988” bombings of Hargeisa and Burao. Somaliland recently celebrated “24 years” since its newfound independence from Somalia.
In Puntland, the former military dictatorship’s scorched-earth tactics targeting SSDF rebels in Nugal and Mudug regions began after the failed military coup of “1978”. In “1998”, Somalia’s northeastern regions united to form “Puntland State” as a regional entity seeking to part of a Federal Somalia. Earlier this month, Puntland celebrated “17 years” of statehood.
in “1992”, Baidoa became the dreaded “City of Death” followed by the RRA faction’s liberation of Baidoa in “1999” from Hussein Aideed’s marauding militia.
In Mogadishu, the Barre regime is faulted for targeting local communities in “1989”, leading to a violent uprising and state collapse of “1991”. In “2006”, Mogadishu’s residents briefly celebrated the defeat of despised warlords, before the Ethiopian intervention of “2007”.
On the whole, Somalis share many important dates in contemporary history, including independence and unity in 1960, democratic elections in 1964 and 1968, the “Ogaden War” of 1977-1978, and the state collapse and subsequent civil war of 1991. In 2012, after 22 years, Somalia adopted federal system of government and the first permanent Federal Government came to power.
Somalis also share “25 years” of war legacy and the “4.5 clan formula”, a political representation model that forms the basis of parliamentary seat distribution and national positions since 2000. Even Presidents, Prime Ministers and Parliament Speakers are allocated through this clan formula.
Each of these dates and numbers are important pillars of Somalia’s recent history. Each date or number signifies or marks a moment of triumph – or sadly, a moment of injustice, despair and destruction. But what is truly compelling, in purely general terms, is how our society’s total fascination with numbers and dates forms part of the wider national psyche. So the question remains: is it nostalgia? Is it the undiagnosed impact of war trauma that keeps us stagnated in this way of continuously recalling our history?
Most importantly, by comparison, little or no attention is given to societal indicators that continually list Somalia at the bottom of the world – in corruption, maternal health, and environmental degradation, among others. One wonders if this is intentional avoidance or is our society’s prioritization completely off the mark?
Somalia is not the first country to experience war or live with the legacies of entrenched conflict. War-torn societies have recovered and rebuilt, precisely because they confronted their own history, attitudes, perceptions and actions. Discussing dates and numbers is important, but it risks loosing value when it becomes biased and argumentative. What is more, this approach also deals superficially with a national tragedy, aiming to shelter society from facing its own demons, from recognizing and coming to terms with its own misfortune.
We do not need to relive our tragedy through numbers and dates, or to use them for divisive narratives. But, as a society, we should use numbers and dates to aim higher by reaffirming our unity, building national cohesion through social healing, and setting the historical record. This can empower a new culture of constructive dialogue and inspire social change in Somalia.
Yusuf M. Hassan is the editor of SomaliReview.com. Twitter: @yhassan_
Yusuf M. Hassan is the editor of online journal SomaliReview.com. He is a Somali-American journalist, political and media analyst, and communications adviser. He has appeared on interviews with CNN and the New York Times. In 2005, he co-founded a community radio station in Somalia. For five years in 2013, he served in Puntland State of Somalia as a government communications adviser. Twitter: @yhassan_