The Crisis at Heart of the Somali Psyche:


” Mohamed Siad Barre still rules Somalia from the grave.”

Somalilandsun – A well known Somali intellectual said recently, “ʺthis country is still ruled by Mohamed Siad Barre from the grave.”ʺ It was a weighty statement of significant consequences. Take a cursory look across the Somali leadership spectrum, and it is painfully evident that a generational shift, or more importantly, a shift of mindset is yet to occur yet in Somali politics.

The children of the late President, those whose hearts and minds he colonized, rule the country and shape, rather, misshape its future.

Examine the small details in customs: the red beret is back in action, the President’ʹs (as is in Somaliland and Puntland) photo hang in every office, and the soldier with the small cane stands behind the President. On his return from foreign trips, the President is welcomed by the entire cabinet and parliamentarians who line up in the tarmac to shake his hand. Has anybody ever asked themselves why a President is greeted by so much pomp and circumstance? A tradition imposed by a dictator (himself mimicking tin pot communist dictatorships) who demanded obedience is being replicated without anyone questioning its logic or necessity. Why are we replicating the very same government and mindset the Somali people supposedly rebelled against in 1991? There are two of schools of thought concurrently competing for Somalia’ʹs future, albeit the political players seem not to realise this and soldier on like drones guided by an impulse beyond them. The first is a mindset stuck in 1976; Somalia is the land of milk and honey, the Ethiopian war and defeat to the army is yet to come. The revolutionary government (Kacaan) is at its peak, and the spirits and morale of the Somali nation is high, forced patriotism and faux Socialism is the talk of the town. This culture, supposedly the epicenter and the apex of human civilization, is in full swing. No wrongs had ever taken place; brotherly love bound together an entire nation from Zayla to Ras Kamboni.

The second school of thought acknowledges that even at its peak, the Somali nation state was a fragile state, one on par with other post colonial African states. The Somali people had inherited a system devised by Europeans for their personal rule, hastily it has to be said, without the right preparation or training in administering a democratic governance system based on multiple party systems and the rule of law. Corruption and mismanagement became a shorthand term for describing the course and policy of the civilian government before a military coup ground this nine year experiment to a halt. The military regime eventually became a Soviet satellite, financed, supported and guided from Moscow. Russian personnel to the tune of 5000 technocrats permeated the civilian and military structures, guiding affairs from behind the scenes.

With the culmination of the Somali-¬‐ Ethiopian war in 1977, the Soviet expertise was expelled from the country. The military defeat and the absence of expertise provided by the Soviet Union combined to initiate a process of gradual unraveling across state institutions. The revolutionary government carried on its hind legs with the support of the United States and US Aid to the tune of $10 billion dollars a year due to a marriage of convenience based on Cold War calculations. The fall of the Berlin wall called curtains on the show and the US decided to cut the funding pipeline and withdraw support for the Somali state. Within a few months, the gradual unraveling initiated in 1977 evolved into a rapid and full collapse of the State leading to a protracted Civil War and the annihilation of all public institutions.

Outside of a very small clique of intellectual circles, this discussion and alternative narrative of the history of the Somali state is yet to take place in Somali society. Kacaan officials work side by side with a new generation of Somalis educated in Western (or Eastern) institutions with a very different mindset and vision of where the future of Somalia lies, and yet, neither seems to be aware of the other’s world view. They speak of “ʺprogress”ʺ, “ʺdevelopment”ʺ, and “ʺrebuilding the country”ʺ falsely assuming they are on the same page.

The crisis at the heart of the Somali psyche lies within the conflicting ideologies of Kacaan officials and the contemporary educated, pro-¬‐ democratic Somalis. The Kacaan official is busy replicating the quasi-¬‐ Communist institutions of the revolutionary government in his mind; he is headed towards the past and 1976. The romanticised aroma and allure of those heady days is far too strong. The contemporary educated Somali is looking elsewhere for inspiration whether it’ʹs Rwanda in the African continent or Singapore in a wider world context and headed towards the future, hoping to create a modern state capable of partaking and playing its role in this globalised world, and therein lies the crisis at the heart of the Somali psyche. The Cabinet is headed in different directions, the civil service is headed in different directions, the diplomatic corps is headed in different directions, and policymakers are headed in different directions.

Solving this crisis and schizophrenia at the heart of Somali political thought is of a paramount nature. To some, this has the appearance of a side issue. However, the future of Somalia lies in solving these complex dynamics. Do we recreate the past, or alternatively learn from the models and examples that exist in the external world? The potential is there for creating a Somalianised version of contemporary governance models, one that fits best with our customs, traditions and way of life whilst engaging meaningfully with the rest of the world. That is the crossroads we find ourselves in. The direction we take will invariably determine the Somalia of tomorrow.


Tariq A. Bihi


Policy & Communications Analyst