I have my quibbles with some of the things he says, but mainly it is a difference of assumption rather than philosophy.
This week he wrote a post talking about the ineffectual nature of the stream of “governments” that have “ruled” Somalia since Siad Barre was thrown from power by a queer arrangement of circumstances and bad decisions. (Yes, if we were discussing this over a beer I would have used finger quotes around those words.)
Gerstle’s argument is that Somalia has lacked a visionary unifier that was able to convince a wide-swath of the Somali community to band together. This is true. There has been no one. Likely there will never be one.
In history no one has been able to rule Somalis by consent. Either it is by force or there is controlled anarchy. And this controlled anarchy is likely to continue into the foreseeable future.
Here in Somaliland there was a group that was able to achieve some of what Gerstle is arguing for, but for a long calculus of reasons that I’m too bored with to go into here and now they were focussed on unifying the people and clans of Somaliland rather than the entirety of the Somali people. Unfortunately for Somaliland and the rest this group of pragmatic visionaries is dead and no one has stepped up and been able to sell a vision to the Somalilanders of where Somaliland is going and why it should go in that direction. But where is Somaliland now after the death of the original visionaries? There is a crazy stew of controlled anarchy spiced up with a bit of controlling top-down authoritarianism just to make the stew interesting and unexpected.
Even though there is a lack of current visionaries, there is no lack of vision which is discussed and debated at nauseum while no one seems to take any steps in any direction – even those directions where everyone agrees. Yet, despite these challenges, everywhere I look I see hope around me.
A young generation is coming up with only knowledge of Somaliland. They are educated and passionate about unification. They have links with diaspora who are helping to curb the clanistic tendencies which the older generation feels deeper than the young.
Largely, Somalis and Americans have lots in common. Especially when you are able to have a philosophical discussion about the role of government in people’s lives. They are deeply distrustful of the government and very private sector focussed. They are comedic, warm (after they know you), and pragmatic. I see so much in common between the problems that Somaliland is facing and the problems that America is facing. Every day I see the frustrations of people here and read about the frustrations of my friends and family back home. Although the scale is different, the problems largely stem from the same source: a feeling of distrust in one’s government which should be there to help.
It is a difficult proposition to project what will happen in Somalia or Somaliland. The problem, as I see it, with the international approaches so far along with the local approaches, is that it is difficult to reconcile the philosophical desires of most Somalis with the history that they have faced in the modern era of authoritarian rule.
Simply put authoritarian rule will not work long term in Somalia. Maybe it will work in more deferential cultures, but Somali culture is about as far from deferential as I’ve every experienced. Someone, I do not doubt, will come along with a vision of how to reconcile these notions and will actually put into practice the tenants of the Somaliland Constitution which was built quite well as a decentralized structure with dissipated power very similar to the US governance model.
Such a visionary, powered by the continued education of most Somalilanders will be the double rainbow which will allow Somaliland to turn the corner. It will not happen simply by a visionary telling the country what it has to do. Somalis will rarely accept such orders. But someone will come along – eventually, inshallah – that will be able to convince people of his or her vision of how to reconcile the dissonance between the historical predicates of Somalia and the cultural desires for decentralized power. When this unselfish visionary comes along the world should ilaalayaa because these people that I have grown to love will be a powerful force.
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