Due to the many and mostly unproductive gatherings that Diaspora Somalis hold in luxurious hotels in Western capitals, I rarely go beyond the headlines of such stories unless I see the name of Prof. Ahmed Samater in it. No matter how you view him, friend or foe; the man never fails to grab your attention. However, in a meeting that recently took place in Sweden, it was not the professor’s usual eloquence and insurmountable arguments that attracted my attention but that of a rarely noticed comment made as a joke by Said Jama Hussein, a man of letters and a veteran revolutionary.
A founding member of Somali P.E.N. Centre (an affiliate member of International P.E.N. World Association of Writers), and its vice-president until 2010, Said Jama Hussein is a well known Somali scholar who is actively engaged in the promotion of the Somali language and its literature.
While most of the speakers were engrossed in the topic of the meeting which was “whether Somaliland should celebrate May 18 or June 26 as the top National Day”, Hussein had with a few well chosen words tried to shift the audience’s attention to another direction. He started his statement with traditional children’s riddle “ii cug(which I’d roughly translate as “guess what?), thus skilfully changing the attendees’ focus. He repeated this for three times before dropping his bombshell statement in the form of an old Byzantine anecdote about the fall of Constantinople to the besieging Ottoman forces. Below is the story which he told in Somali but I managed to glean it from an authentic source:
“A legendary but nonetheless tenacious anecdote relates that in May 1453, at the hour when Constantinople was falling into the hands of the Turks, an assembly of theologians had gathered in the very heart of the besieged city to debate about the sex of the angels – a quintessential Byzantine dispute, typical of the theology that was disconnected from reality.” Source, Angels and Demons, Serge-Thomas Bonino, OP. Translated by Michael J. Miller, The Catholic University of America Press, Washington D.C, English Translation Copyright 2016, Introduction, page 1.
Hussein related the story without any further elaborations or embellishments except with his unique delivery that betrayed his intended sarcastic lampooning of the debate issue which he saw as trivial given the enormous dangers that face the Somali people and threaten their existence as a sovereign nation. Obviously no one can say for sure what Hussein’s real intention was for telling the anecdote but anyone who is remotely aware of the geopolitical situation of this unfortunate Horn of African country will undoubtedly draw the same conclusion.
Since the collapse of the Somali central government in 1991, the country slipped into feuding tribal fiefdoms becoming easy prey for neighbouring hostile nations who exploit the Somali people’s internal divisions to their own strategic and economical advantage. Ethiopia and Kenya, who themselves have significant Somali territories and populations; have traditionally seen Somalia as a threat to their territorial integrity and Independence. The white five-corned star in the middle of the blue Somali flag remained a constant reminder for them of what they see as Somalia’s “irredentist” strategy of bringing the whole Somali regions in the Horn of Africa under the umbrella of Greater Somalia.
Liberation movements by Somalis in Kenya’s Northern Frontier District, NFD, and Ethiopia’s Somali Western Region usually known as the Ogaden and Reserved Areas have posed persistent nightmare to these two countries since Somalia’s independence in 1960 to the collapse of the Somali state in 1991. But it was Somali fratricide that followed the fall of Siyad Barre’s military regime that placed the fate of the Somali people at the mercy of their historical enemies. Not only do both countries have military presence in Somalia under the cover of being part of the African Peace Mission of AMISOM but both Kenya and Ethiopia have become instrumental in deepening the disintegration of the country into tribal enclaves and dividing it between them into their spheres of influence.
Today, Somalia exists only in name as the country has broken up into tribal Bantustans that are not only slavishly subservient to Ethiopia and Kenya but the puppet leaders of all the mini states go on periodic pilgrimage to Addis Ababa and Nairobi for guidance and blessings from their masters there. The Ethio-Kenyan domination of Somalia goes beyond the expedience of short term political goals and includes long term economic and strategic imperialism that will have dire consequences on the existence of the Somali nation and eventually on the peace and stability of the Horn of African region as a whole.
It must have been painful therefore for Saeed Hussein to have this catastrophic situation in mind and see his countrymen bickering about inconsequential issues while the fate of the whole nation was at stake.
Absolutely, I can feel how Hussein, Somalia’s Trotsky due to his long revolutionary history, and intellectual acuity, can find himself out of place. His torment like that of Dr. Omar Rabi before him reminds me of Nietzsche’s Parable of The Mad Man who kept running in the streets shouting: “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.” Here Hussein was shouting: “Somalia is dead, Somalism is dead. And we have killed it.” And I can find no more plainly expressive words to capture Hussein’s pain than the final words of Nietzsche’s Mad Man who when he finds that no one understands him says: “I have come too early. My time has not come yet. The tremendous event is still on its way, still travelling – it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time, the light of the stars requires time, deeds require time even after they are done, before they can be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than the distant stars – and yet they have done it themselves.”
And finally let me throw back the riddle to Mr. Said Jama Hussein and all Somalis by repeating his question: “ii cug!!!”