Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Comprehensive History of Somalia: A Book Review
Adan Makina
June 14, 2012

A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history-Mahatma Gandhi

When Ismail Ali Ismail started writing his newly published book that synchronously details the history of Somalia and the Somali people, he had one thing in mind: the delivery of a sequence of events that is free from preconceived notions, preferential treatments, tribal inclinations, and irrelevant gossip. The book, Governance: The Scourge and Hope of Somalia, is a comprehensive history of Somalia and the Somali people and traces the root causes of the miasma and mendacity that have become the hallmarks of the ongoing irremediable Somali intransigence that is like a malignant cancer consuming the very core of Somali political fabric to this day. The book was published by Trafford Publishing in 2010 with the assigned International Standard Book Numbers being ISBN 978-1-4269-1980-0 for its soft cover and ISBN 978-1-4269-2099-0 for the hard cover. An academic, a public servant of previous Somali governments, and a long time diplomat assigned to various official responsibilities, Ismail’s knowledge of the Somali people and their political ideals may be described as unrivalled and as well unparalleled.

Unlike litigious historical chronicles penned down by past and present opinionated foreign or Somali writers, Ismail’s penmanship will remain evident in its nature of journalism and scholarly research for quite some time. His energy to write has been fuelled by a passion to expose the truth about a people and a nation whose history has become negligible.

What makes the book most attractive is the magnificence and eloquence of language and its cheerfulness and eagerness to marvelously calibrate undiagnosed historical phantasms. Like a camel herder traversing a desert storm in search of sustenance, the author perilously struggled to scramble through bookshelves and internet sites with the sole aim of unearthing and putting together a historical exegesis of profound importance to anyone interested in deciphering the circumstances surrounding Somalia’s exhaustive political entanglement. Voluminous and over four-hundred pages, Governance: The Scourge and Hope of Somalia, has a lot to tell the reader from the beginning chapter to the end.  It is a well researched book that has been written with good intentions. Almost every chapter begins with an ayah (verse) from the Holy Qur’an followed by eye-catching remarks by distinguished historical figures espousing unblemished character, dignity, and great wisdom. In giving a broader meaning to the term clash of civilizations, the author explains how the struggle between Islam and Christianity affected the people of the Horn of Africa. 

The might of Somali pastoral democracy and Somali past history stretch back several millenniums as opposed to the unfounded and untested lexicon of exaggerations that populate imperial libraries. The author illuminates the might of former sultans whose tutelage, according to territorial and ethnographic location, varied in the manner of their sovereignty and hierarchical applications across the expansive Somali peninsula.
The author uses numerous scholarly references to disentangle causes of past Somali obduracy and other malevolent historical dynamics that accelerated the rupturing of the once homogeneous Somali pastoral society. It is quite painful and mind-blowing for modern Somalis to experience the worst form of divisions, tribalism, and shocking forms of slaughter using all avenues of destruction including the application of modern war machinery while during the Somali Youth League (SYL) era there was little or no resistance among the few concerned nationalists whose unity rested on getting rid of the shackles of colonialism. Somalis are volatile, violent, and virulent when fighting among themselves and peaceful, graceful, and generous, when dealing with foreigners sharing equal thoughts and processes.

Somali volatility preceded the colonial administrations of Britain and Italy respectively. For centuries, tribal animosity and blood feuds have been the hallmarks of the unmarked greater Somali tribal territories where violence triggered by flimsy altercations led to unstoppable virulence spreading like wildfire and consequently consuming inhabitants of homesteads and kraals scattered countrywide. Periods of peace and prosperity allowed peripatetic nomads in search of pasture to traverse extensive territories and open a path for European explorers dedicated to charting avenues for future jingoistic imperialism followed by malevolent colonization. News of Somali valor and perseverance against European colonialism pilfered through Somalia’s southern neighbors Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania resulting in the historical events that became known as Mau Mau, Maji Maji, and Hehe rebellions. To the Arabs of South Arabia, the message was simple and clear: “if Somalis are free, why not us”.

The first chapter of the book scrutinizes the near century of colonial governance where Somalia was divided along colonial powers England and Italy leading to the pitiless British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland mandates that resulted in the partition of Somali territories the same time leaders of the mighty African continent were engaged in struggles for self-determination. In making comparative investigations of the two distinct administrations, the author pinpoints the lugubrious nature of the Italian colonial administration and the noninterference of the British in the Somali social makeup. The Italians callously manipulated Somali sovereignty by imposing a variety of restrictions that were meant to dismantle existing Somali social structure.

Thus, the very authoritarian fabrics of Rome transcended the borders of Italy finally arriving as anarchical condiments in areas of the mighty African continent where Italian totalitarianism reigned supreme. Italy’s loss of Libya and Eritrea culminated in Italian ersatz imperialism to grab the agriculturally fertile southern Somalia territories straddling the meandering Juba and Shebelle rivers. Despite pilfering Somali natural and human resources for close to a century, colonial powers Britain and Italy did little to diffuse to the Somalis the virtues of democratic organization, authority and control, and the principle and conduct of governance. Naturally, Somalis are an egalitarian society and it is incomprehensible for the British and Italians to abandon Somalia without injecting an iota of reliable governance.

Perhaps, what southern Somalis inherited from the Italians is nothing but pasta di semola di grano duro and pasta di soia. And as for the northern Somalis, what they inherited from the British is nothing but the leaves of Camellia sinensis, otherwise known as tea that was introduced in East Africa by British barons who oversaw the cultivation of vast tracts of land around the White Highlands-land that straddles the lush green Rift Valley in Kenya. The Rift Valley originates in Jordan and ends in the lower Zambezi Valley Mozambique in southern Africa.

Somali stiff resistance to colonialism paved the way for self-determination and complete independence for the northern British Somaliland and the southern Italian Somaliland territories that had been separated for quite some time. The proclamation of independence on the 1st of July, 1960 heralded an era of unification a
nd the intermingling of two homogeneously related communities but ideologically clothed in contorted English and Italian administrative styles. The sudden separation from British and Italian apathy led the two Somalis to chart a new avenue for a honeymoon that would last less than a decade. Unfortunately, Africa’s first democratic government headquartered in Mogadishu-“the seat of the Shah”-crumbled after a coup d’état orchestrated by a group of military officers took the nation by surprise at a time when military leadership was a political fashion in Africa and some parts of Asia.  

There is a lot to learn from Ismail’s penmanship. The book is comprehensive in context as it dwells into the historical aspects of the collapse of the military junta in 1991 consequently plunging Somalia into myriads of problems that include foreign interference in the form of humanitarian missions, warlord supremacy, extremism and religious anarchy, tribal hostilities, maritime depletion, armed insurrections, prolonged droughts and environmental degradation, political obscurantism in almost every conceivable canton, piracy, assassinations, and the meteoric rise of Islamists.

If you are writing a paper for your college on Somalia or if you are in the process of preparing a thesis or dissertation that is exclusive to Somalia, the book, Governance: The Scourge and Hope of Somalia, is one important document you would want to consult and reference before embarking on your erudite and scholarly journey to academic success. Adding it to your exotic library for future use could be an added advantage.

Adan Makina

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