Author: Samantha Wangberg
Not knowing a lot about the culture and conflict of Africa, I type in Somalia; the first three articles listed are about a car bomb near the Capital’s Mogadishu airport and how journalism can get you killed. I suppose I could do a search of the US and find an array of news reports of violence. However, having grown up here, I’m able to navigate those realities. As for Somalia, I can only give you summaries of articles, new reports, and in depth studies. I can only try to paint a picture of why someone would need or want to flee Somalia.
Somalia is a country in northeast Africa. Over 15,600,000 people live in this country nearly the size of Texas. The history of Somalia is steeped in colonization, failed governments, and civil wars. In the early 90’s warlords refused classic administration leaving Somalia without a government and after 14 attempts to rebuild a central government, Abdullahi Yusuf was elected president for the new transitional parliament in 2004. Civil wars continue between the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and Supreme Islamic Courts Council, a group affiliated with Al-Qaeda and Al-Shabaab. The TFG was again extended in 2011 adopting Sharia Law which prohibits music, shaving beards, working with humanitarian agencies, as well as theft and adultery by stoning or amputation. By 2016, 275 electoral colleges were formed to make a total of over 14,000 delegates chosen by Somali Clan Elders. Mohamed Abdullahi, once a refugee in the US, was sworn in as president, in hopes of unifying Somalia through stability and elimination of Islamic terrorism.
Clans are the basis of culture in Somalia structured hierarchically going back 30 generations. The four main clan families are Darod, Hawiye, Dir, and Isaaq. Clans can possibly provide security through welfare to members. However, clans govern their own people and all decisions made are based on affiliation. People who belong to a minority clan can face exclusions for governmental decisions, employment, and public access. However, various clans work, marry, and attend school together. Being in a minority clan or a woman without a head of household does increase chances of sexual violence, revenge killings, and taking land by force from groups such as Al-Shabaab.
Single women face risk of being a victim to sexual violence with often no resolve. In many cases, survivors are shamed and vilified. Typically abusers pay compensation to the family or marry the victims. Although illegal since 2014, Female Genitle Mutilation is a common practice. Even if parents don’t agree with having Female Genital Mutilation done, the deciding factor may be a result of social pressures or extended family members. Efforts with organisations such as United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) are making strong efforts in 17 countries and are currently the largest program to accelerate the elimination of Female Genital Mutilation.
Over the last 2 decades armed conflict and natural disasters have caused nearly 900,000 Somalis to flee their country. Over 2 million Somalis are displaced throughout the country itself. Many refugees who have fled to nearby countries in Africa and the Middle East aren’t registered and therefore are unaccounted for in these statistics. Dadaab, a refugee camp in Kenya, hosts over 200,000 refugees. The camp struggles to keep up with medical and food needs, the result being over a third of children under the age of five to die from malnutrition or lack of medical help.
Despite all of this, Somalians, rich in culture, cherish their folklore, and have many inspiring stories among the atrocities, to share with us. Generation to generation, stories are passed on through wood carvings, dances, poetry, and hadith (stories and traditions from the prophet Mohammed). People enjoy grapefruit juice and cardamom spiced milk at meals. Soccer and boxing are popular to watch with friends. Somali’s are warm to company and offer guests to milk an animal (a traditional greeting). True hosts, they create a friendly and inviting space. These moments sound beautiful to me. Like most of us, we all have favorite foods that bring us home, and spaces we love to share. In the face of ongoing challenges, Somali culture is full of color, depth, and warmth.