Friday, May 21, 2010

The Impact of Globalization on Somali Culture

The impact of globalization is being felt almost everywhere in the world including the “stateless” nation of Somalia whose economy is spiraling at a tremendous pace even with the absence of an effective central government and escalation of war. The purpose of this paper is to examine the positive and negative impacts of globalization on the Somali culture.

What is Globalization?
The term globalization resonates with a novel and emerging global topic whose definition in the myriads of available international relations textbooks and dictionaries conjure up varieties of rudimentary connotations. Charles W. Kegley, Jr. and Shannon N. Blanton, in their book, World Politics: Trend and Transformation (12ed), describe globalization as the integration of states, through increasing contact, communication, and trade, to create a common global culture for all humanity.[1] Globalization has been around the world for a long time since the interaction and integration of different societies through international trade and investment.

Somalia: A Brief introduction
Somalia got its independence in 1960 with Aden Abdille Osman as its first head of state. Situated in the Horn of Africa, the Republic of Somalia has a land area of 637,540 square kilometers which makes it slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Texas. Its terrain mostly consists of plateaus, plains, and highlands. Measuring 3,025km, Somalia has the longest coastline in the African continent followed by South Africa (2,798km). It is bordered by the tiny nation of Djibouti (inhabited by Somali-speaking people) to the northwest, the Gulf of Aden and Yemen to the north, Kenya to the southwest, the Indian Ocean to the East, and Ethiopia to the West. The population of Somalia was estimated by the United Nations in 2003 at 9,890,000 and is placed at number 80 in population among the 193 nations of the world.[2]

Colonial environment and Somali Language
With the exception of Somali which is the national language, other languages spoken in the country include Arabic, English, and Italian. The Somali peripatetic way of life accelerated economic interdependence and regional dominance making Somalis to inhabit the most expansive land that stretch from the Somali-inhabited region in Ethiopia to as far south as Kenya’s eastern and Northern provinces while in between traversing Djibouti and Somalia.

It was only in 1972 when the Somali language came into the glare of publicity after the official writing script developed by Shire Jama Ahmed became the unanimously accepted version in favor of the Latin and Osmaniya scripts-orthography invented in the early twentieth century by the Majeerteen poet and ruler, Osman Yusuf Kenadid.[3]

The Dynamism of Somali Culture
Somalia is a homogenous nation with a mix of rich culture. Somalis speak the same language which is Somali; they have one religion which is Islam, and they enjoy similar customs. It is the clan that determines one’s place in society. In modern times, Somali exposure to foreign ways of life has tremendously altered the previous dividing factors that existed between its various clans. Improved intercommunication due to amalgamation of communal groups alleviated major barriers pertaining to intermarriage. Clans who exclusively observed endogamous marriages due to customary restrictions have eased imposing constraints by allowing partners to partake in the formulation of exogamy thus leading to the creation of a wholly new concept of marital relationships never before seen in Somali culture.

Perhaps, the first European to venture into Somali territory who meticulously described the culture and language of the Somali people was Sir Richard Burton. About the people and their language, he wrote: “The country teems with “poets, poetasters, poetitos, and poetaccios:” Every man has his recognized position in literature as accurately defined as though he had been reviewed in a century of magazines-the fine ear of this people causing them to take the greatest pleasure in harmonious sounds and poetical expressions, whereas a false quantity or a prosaic phrase excite their violent indignation.”[4] Somalia has been described as a “nation of poets”. The most famous Somali poet was Seyyid Mohamed Abdille Hassan who was dubbed “mad mullah” by the British colonial administration in the late 1900s. Poetry and prose play great roles in Somali daily life even in this era of globalization where it is used as a means of communication.

Natural Resources
Somalia is endowed with unexploited mineral resources and vast maritime resources that have been a source of contention since the collapse of the central government in 1991. The absence of a strong and effective central government has left Somalia’s coastline prone to illegal fishing and dumping of toxic waste by foreign trawlers and the dreaded Mafia-an issue even voiced with deep concern by Mauritanian-born Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the UN envoy for Somalia.[5] Somalia’s eastern coastline overlooking the Gulf of Aden has become a hotbed for piracy.[6] Oil explorations carried out by Conoco, Amoco, Chevron, and Philips before the military junta fell point to a strong possibility Somalia could contain significant reserves.[7] In modern times Somalia remains a strategically, economically, politically, culturally and religiously sensitive region.

Globalization and Somalia
Somalia’s proximity to the Middle East and North Africa made it a center for commerce in historical antiquity. During that era, Somali sailors and merchants traded in myrrh, frankincense, and spices with ancient Egyptians, Phoenicians, Mycenaeans, and Babylonians.[8] Even though there could be similarities between Somalia’s previous era of globalization and the current one, today’s experience with globalization is to some degree more intense for Somalia and her trading partners. Somalia’s trial with capitalism got off the ground immediately it gained independence in 1960 when the nation’s leaders adopted democracy as the form of governance for the country. That dream was shuttered by the arrival of a military government in 1969 that changed the nation’s governing style to Leninism-Marxism which ended in 1991 a few years after the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

Preservation of Somali Literature

Several major universities across the globe have taken the responsibility of either teaching or collecting materials related to the advancement of the Somali language. One such example is the University of Indiana in Bloomington which boosts a large collection on Somali literature deposited by the Somali Studies International Association. These materials were acquired by the university with support from the US Department of Education Title VI grant.[9] The University of Ohio has included the teaching of Somali into its African studies program.[10] Several European countries teach the Somali language to Somali children. Higher institutions of learning such as the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) which is part of the University of London, the Swedish Academy in Uppsala, and Rome University have specialized study programs preserved for the Somali language.[11]

Improved Telecommunications
Somalia has seen dramatic improvement in communications. According to a study carried out in sub-Saharan Africa by Benjamin Powell who is an Assistant Professor of economics at Suffolk University and a senior economist with the Beacon Hill Institute, Somalia moved from the 29th place to the eighth in terms of telephone landlines use per 1,000 of population since it became stateless in 1991. It ranks 16th in phone mobile use, 11th in internet users, and it ranks 27th in households with televisions. It takes three days for a telephone line to be installed; the bill for a monthly land-line costs $10 which includes unlimited local calls while international calls cost 50 cents a minute. Due to the explosion of internet cafes, web access costs 50 cents per minute. Using a mobile phone in Somalia is “generally cheaper and clearer than a call from anywhere else in Africa”, according to the economist.[12] The nation’s three biggest mobile phone companies, Hormuud Telecom, Nationlink, and Telecom Somalia have 1.8 million customers who enjoy some of the cheapest rates in the world.[13] Currently, Somalia has a varied and vibrant news media including 12 radio stations, and a handful of newspapers mainly written in the Somali language.

Positive Implications of Globalization

The thousands of Somalis who settled outside Somalia’s borders tremendously altered the political, social, and economic landscape of the Somali nation by injecting millions of dollars in the form of remittances into a once beleaguered, impoverished, and war-ravaged nation thus opening the gates of globalization. In its March 2009 report, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) office for Somalia, estimated that Somali Diaspora remittances to the Horn of Africa nation amounted to over $2 billion in remittance flows. According to the authors of the UNDP report, Somali Diaspora organizations may be credited for supporting or establishing service delivery facilities by providing regular funding flows meant for the payment of salaries to schools or hospitals. The significance of globalization and international political economy has necessitated the transfer of goods and services. Somali businessmen have found it easier to balance supply and demand in almost every region of the country regardless of daily hostilities.

Depending on the size or intricacy of developmental assistance, various Diaspora groups fund multifarious schemes not only in the health and education sectors but in construction, feeding centers, orphanage homes, digging of water wells, farming, banking, manufacturing, fishing, and the transportation sector. In the unrecognized breakaway republic of Somaliland and in the eastern autonomous region of Puntland, the semblance of peace has triggered a progression of various competing air travel companies, foreign-funded educational institutions, maritime trade and investment.
Thanks to the generous contributions of the Somali Diaspora and international organizations currently Somalia has over a dozen universities. When the military junta was in power, Somalia had only one national university. The fall of the Berlin Wall, the break-up of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and the collapse of the military junta in Somalia have made it easier for Somalis to turn to the West for educational opportunities. Every year, in the US, EU, Canada, and Australia, hundreds if not thousands of Somali students, graduate from colleges and universities. The thousands of Somalis educated in the West and elsewhere will undoubtedly spearhead the concepts of globalization in Somalia as the years go by without encumbrances.

Islamists and anti-Globalization
The rise of religious militancy in Somalia has set bad precedents and adversely impacted globalization. The two strongest factions opposed to the current Somali Transitional Federal Government have imposed stringent measures on schools funded by the Diaspora by placing a ban on the teaching of English and the Science and they have prohibited the ringing of school bells during school breaks. They have also slapped a ban on western-style haircuts, western fashion, and western manners; in their efforts to fight vice, all cinema halls and video dens remain closed; all men are required to have their trousers above the ankle otherwise they risk flogging or imprisonment or both; owners of television and radio stations have been told to refrain from playing music or else risk arrest and to make matters worse, the local VOA and BBC transmissions have been taken off the air and their equipments transferred to other radio stations owned by the Islamists. It is worth noting that Islamists only dominate the southern part of Somalia and that they have no stake in Puntland and Somaliland.

Despite acrimony, fear, and division, Somali culture will immensely benefit from Globalization whenever a stable government emerges from the ashes of destruction. Through the concept of convergence and economic growth, Somalia will eventually catch up with richer countries. Its hale and healthy human population will unlock the mysteries of sustained economic growth. The future of globalization in Somalia depends on Muslim-Somali’s ability to wed western-style modernism with Islamic principles, or, in other words to develop Islamic-style modernism without sacrificing Muslim values.

[1] Charles W. Kegley, JR. and Shannon L. Blanton. World Politics: Trend and Transformation (12ed.), Wadsworth, 20 Channel Center Street, Boston, MA 02210
[2] Encyclopedia of the Nations:
(accessed 20 April, 2010)
[3] Shire Jama Ahmed:
(Accessed 23 April, 2010)
[4] Richard F. Burton: First Footsteps in East Africa; Or, an Exploration of Harar. London, Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans. 1856
[5] ‘Toxic Waste’ Behind Somali Piracy by Najad Abdullahi, Aljazeera. October 11, 2008.
(accessed 20 April, 2010)
[6] Helen Kennedy, Piracy big boon to Somalia economy; hotels, restaurants sprout in port of Eyl in pirates' presence, nydailynews, April 9, 2009
(Accessed 21 April, 2010)
[7] Natural Resources (Somalia), Natural Resources.
(Accessed 22 April, 2010)
]8] ^ Civilizations: Culture, Ambition, and the Transformation of Nature By Felipe Armesto Fernandez
(Accessed April 20, 2010)
[9] History of Indiana University’s Somali Collection. (Accessed April 24, 2010)
[10] African Studies director honored by Somali president,,
(Accessed 24 April, 2010)
[11] Mohamed H. Rabi. The Institute of Practical Research and Training: The Role of Somali language in Education
(Accessed 29 April, 2010)
[12] Mohamed H. Rabi. The Institute of Practical Research and Training: The Role of Somali language in Education
(Accessed 29 April, 2010)
[13] Abdi Sheikh and Ibrahim Mohamed. Somali mobile phone firms thrive despite chaos Reuters. Nov 3, 2009. Retrieved May 1, 2010 from
(Accessed May 1, 2010)

Charles W. Kegley, Jr. and Shannon L. Blanton, World Politics: Trend and Transformation (12ed), Wadsworth, 20 Channel Center Street, Boston, MA 02210

Rachel Swarns, “Africa’s Lost Tribe Discovers American Way,” New York Times, 10 March, 2003.

Sir Richard Burton, First Footsteps in East Africa, Tylston and Edwards, The Meccan Press, 3 Soho Square, London, WMDCCCXC1V.

Natural Resources (Somalia), Natural Resources. Retrieved April 22, 2010 from

Helen Kennedy, Piracy big boon to Somalia economy; hotels, restaurants sprout in port of Eyl in pirates' presence, nydailynews, April 9, 2009. Retrieved April 21, 2010 from

Natural Resources (Somalia), Natural Resources. Retrieved April 22, 2010 from

Shire Jama Ahmed. Retrieved April 23, 2010 from

History of Indiana University’s Somali Collection. Retrieved April 24, 2010 from

Mohamed H. Rabi. The Institute of Practical Research and Training: The Role of Somali language in Education. Retrieved 29 April, 2010 from

Benjamin Powell, Somalia: Failed State, Economic Success?, Freeman: Ideas on Liberty, April 2009 • Volume: 59 • Issue: 3. Retrieved May 1, 2010 from

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