Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Unsolved Misery and Suffering of Somalia’s Minority Tribes

Croped version of an image formed by the mergi...Image via Wikipedia

“An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor does a black have any superiority over white except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood”-Prophet Muhammad’s farewell message

The West has time and again been accused of pioneering social divide along color lines with whites enjoying the fruits of independence and the black race clinging to the bottom of the ladder in social, economic, and political life. In America, it was as recently as 1965 when Rosa Parks, a black woman riding in a public transportation was plucked out of a metro bus for refusing to vacate her seat to a white man in Montgomery, Alabama. Rosa Parks’ great grandfather was of Scottish/Irish ancestry. This event triggered a racial revolution that continues to have tremendous impact on the daily lives of millions of Americans to this day. In modern-day India, the ancient division of society into categories resulted in the creation of the caste system where the lowest and most despised are categorized as Dalits, untouchables or outcasts. In order to conceal or erase the derogatory name Dalit from the specter of society, Mahatma Gandhi concocted the name Harijan which means ‘children of god’. Similarly, in today’s Europe, descendants of the once thriving Roma civilization are unable to come to grips with daily social huddles and communal stratification. Unfair treatment of the Roma society and denial of basic necessities continue without legal justification. The use of the insulting name ‘gypsy’ is still dominant in many European languages.

Upon taking over the mandate of what was once Ruanda-Urundi (Rwanda-Burundi) from Germany, the Belgians elevated the rank and file of the taller Tutsi tribe over the medium height Hutu and the shorter Twa or forest people. Belgian and French demographers and anthropologists gave conflicting views regarding the cause of the visible height difference between the three Central African tribes. However, it was Marcus Garvey who theoretically attributed the tall stature of the Tutsis to the abundant dietary intake extracted from livestock raring with meat and milk providing vital proteins necessary for growth and development. The survival of the medium height Hutus depended on farming while the Twa or forest people lived off the land as hunters/gatherers.

Until the inauguration of Nelson Mandela in 1994 as the first black president, a form of social stratification known as apartheid (separateness) existed in South Africa. Following the election of 1948, a new legislation that classified inhabitants into black, white, colored, and Indian came into effect. A similar enforcement in 1958 stripped blacks of their South African citizenship. This enforcement paved way for the creation of self-governing homelands known as Bantustans- a raw deal that delivered inferior services to blacks. Up until 1994, white Afrikaners referred to blacks as ‘Kaffir’-a derogatory word borrowed from Arabic that means ‘heathen’, ‘infidel’ or ‘disbeliever’. Portuguese mariners were the first absorb the disparaging word from the Arabs thereafter calling black people they encountered along the coasts ‘Kaffir’. They passed on to the Dutch, Germans, and then the British.

However, in Africa, the legacy of slavery, imperialism, and colonialism left a bleak picture in social demographics with superiority of one tribe over another tribe remaining ubiquitous up to this day in the absence of social control and pertinent legislation. Even though majority of Somalia’s tribes or clans may claim to have suffered the most during the twenty years of the civil war, undoubtedly, it is the minority tribes who have been subjected to pain and anguish and other forms of collective punishment before and during the two decades of hostilities. The rise of the notorious warlords that emerged after the fall of the military junta in 1991 brought to an end to thriving civilizations along the southern coast of Somalia and along the banks of the agriculturally productive Juba and Shebelle rivers respectively.

For centuries, Somalia’s marginalized societies provided the aristocratic warmongering nomadic ‘Tartar Horsemen’ with the essential war implements such as spears and shields, knives, daggers and scabbards, cooking utensils, sewing needles, axes and machetes, and clothing and shoes to conduct warfare, and the grain for warrior survival. In contemporary Somalia- beginning with the proclamation of independence in 1960-a section of majority tribes controlled the military, managed government business, and directed the economic sector while a sizable population lived peripatetic ancient lifestyles raring livestock away from the splendor of civilization. The displacement of the Bravanese, Bajuni, and Bantu tribes that industriously provided the bulk of Somalia’s fishing and agricultural produce triggered shortage of essential commodities and hastened massive national starvation.

In later years, the disintegration of the Somali navy fleet saw the nation’s expansive coastline fall victim to illegal fishing by foreign trawlers dragging internationally prohibited fishing nets consequently depleting the once blooming fish species. The sudden termination and crumbling of the Somali fishing industry resulted in the conception of piracy dragnets coordinated by disgruntled members of the defunct Somali Navy and former fishermen along the world’s busiest shipping lanes eventually prompting international condemnations and allied interventions. Regardless of the arrest, trial, and imprisonment of a handful of pirates by allied navies and the subsequent killing of an equal number, ransom money generated from merchant ships captured by Somali pirates has swamped the dwindling economies of a few Horn of African nations.

In the Juba and Shebelle regions, warlords embarked on massive land grabbing schemes resulting in the confiscation of farmlands belonging to struggling families. These unmitigated actions resulted in the same farmers reduced to playing the task of sharecropping or at times succumbing to the role of laboring in their confiscated farms while earning ‘starvation wages’. Mockingly, some of the warlords replaced the grabbed farmlands with huge marijuana plantations. They forced the displaced farmers to partake in the implementation of their illicit drug industry. Shockingly, the bulk of fighters serving Somalia’s warring factions are displaced farmers, fishermen, tradesmen, widowed mothers and orphaned children.

Even the Digil/ Mirifle, two large tribes occupying Bay region, Somalia’s ‘bread basket- who are anthropologically Somali in physical features but linguistically speak a language unintelligible to the other three bigger tribes, have not been exempt from the atrocities that followed the collapse of the central government. Baidoa, the capital city of Bay province was dubbed ‘the City of Death’ by the western media in 1992 due to widespread hunger that evolved after pitiless militias torched granaries that housed the region’s agricultural produce. It was this atrocity that prompted the international community to declare a humanitarian disaster with the U.S. and the U.N. spearheading what became known as Operation Restore Hope.

Besides, Somalia had a handful of ostracized minority tribes whose primary source of survival was the art of shoemaking, metal forging, and running of slaughterhouses, house décor, tailoring, and ownership of amusement centers. These tribes also produced talented musicians and great entertainers. In Somalia’s capital city of Mogadishu, there is a tribe called ‘Rer Hamar’; because of their light-skinned complexion, Somalis call them ‘Cad-Cad’-meaning whitish. They are industrious, creative, and highly skilled in many trades that are alien to the domineering Somali. There are also the Tumaal and Madhibaan who, despite being highly skilled, have been subjected to harsh living conditions for centuries. The use of derogatory language was rampant in Somalia. While curly or soft-haired Somalis regarded themselves as ‘jileec’, they referred to Somali-Bantus as ‘jareer’-a term denoting thorny or hard-haired. It was not permissible for minority tribes to marry from majority clans and vice versa. The trend continues to this day.
Enhanced by Zemanta

No comments: