Tobin Jones

World News


Marginalization of the Somali Intellectual Class

In every society there is a small group of people who possess adequate authority to influence positive (or negative) change. This group—often referred to as The Elite—could come from any sector of a society from military, economic, political, social, spiritual, to the intellectual. In one way or another, every one of these circles of authority has participated in the failure of the Somali state. However, none has rejected that notion more than the Intellectual Class, whether religious, secular, or in-between.

Of course, contrary to the common misconception, not all intelligent persons, high achievers, or academically credentialed people who become experts in one field or another are intellectuals. Unlike the segment often referred to as experts and technocrats whose function is often focused on the micro level of structure and governance, intellectuals, by and large, focus on the macro. They produce ideas that influence powers that be and shape history by moving societies towards one direction or another.

With few exceptions, the civil war has divided the Somali Intellectual Class into four categories: First, the Diffident Lot who could not muster the confidence and the will to consolidate their mind power against the might of the gun. Second, the Aloof Lot, who, due to self-interest, intellectual narcissism, or a subservient aim to please foreign interest groups derail peace processes by their actions or lack thereof. Third, the Co-opted Lot who unabashedly carry the banners of their clans’ chauvinistic agendas. Fourth, the Reformist Lot who try to influence from within and without the system.

It is within that context that the Intellectual Class has failed to articulate any vision the Somali people can unite around, or to craft any strategy to bail the nation out of the current political predicament. They failed to recognize their role in inspiring the public toward positive change, toward the recovery from the trauma of the fratricide, toward justice, toward peace and reconciliation, toward the appreciation of rule of law, toward the rebuilding of governmental and civic institutions, and toward good governance. The biggest dilemma facing the Somali Intellectual Class is their challenge to liberate themselves from the exploitative and oppressive clan paradigm. Most still remain active in their chosen role to cleverly recycle the clichés and the self-serving narratives of their respective clans.

Putting the Cart before the Horse

The current trend in which a number of Somali intellectuals and activists are either establishing their own political party or declaring themselves regional President raises some concerns. Of course, there is a big difference between those establishing political parties to compete within the state political parameters (though that is yet to be developed) and those who are carving out “their” clan’s territories. Nonetheless, when the Intellectual Class dedicates much of its energy in the creation of exclusive political clubs and arbitrary claims to clan exclusive rights at this volatile juncture is the equivalent to doctors in a trauma center abandoning their patient to work on administrative issues, or on how to maximize profit. So much for prioritizing issues!

Dedicating their intellectual foresight and activist energy to such special interest endeavors before the country is reconciled, its sovereignty regained, and its destroyed institutions are rebuilt is a lamentable turn of events and a costly predicament for the nation. Instead of setting aside their clan and ideological differences in order to save the nation, they are now card-carrying loyalists to one interest group or another, thus contributing to the further fragmentation of the country. Their choices are drawing new political demarcations and prematurely caging themselves within the confines of myopic principles and political agendas.

Admittedly, I, among others, have been advocating that the most practical way to systematically eradicate the institutionalized clanism known as the “4.5 system” is by replacing it with legitimate political parties that are willing to compete through a democratic process. But, I have never fathomed the situation at hand. The more this trend continues, the more divided Somalia would be. The more divided Somalia remains, the less likely for it to emerge out of its failed status. The more Somalia remains a failed state, the more likely the balkanization process (currently underway) is justified. The Failed States Index considers “Factionalized Elites” as one of the key factors that determine the failure of a state.

With the Right Frame of Mind, the Sky’s the Limit

The marginalization of the Intellectual Class is mainly self-imposed and changing that condition will require introspection, vision, and the courage to transcend personal and clan interests. Throughout that process, the Intellectual Class must come to the realization that loyalty, at this critical juncture, ought not to be solely devoted to a party or a particular region, but to the salvation of the nation. As the political vultures ominously hover overhead, Somalia is evermore in need of the brainpower and the collective resources and energy of all its citizens. Today, the nation is in a condition that is profoundly more dangerous than the colonial era. As in the liberation movement, Somalia needs a broad-based persistent struggle to reconcile our differences, to win back our sovereignty, and to pave the way for a better future.

Naturally, the issue of human capital—the lifeblood of all functioning societies—still remains as one of the most serious challenges facing Somalia. During the civil war of the past two decades, the nation became the epitome of Africa’s brain-drain. Therefore, it is not an overestimation to assume that such an effort can only be started by the Somalis in the Diaspora who could then push that “open door movement” throughout the homeland.