Nation Building: The State of Intellectualism in Somaliland

Another year will soon come to an end and be gone in the life of the Somaliland Nation, so what are we to make of it?

Abstract:

Let me begin by saying that, for some, Somaliland has taken a step or two backwards in many ways. After all, the nation is still not internationally recognized, the quality of the nation’s fledgling democracy seems to have regressed, the homeland seems to be mired, at times, in political and civil unrest, and the freedom of the press continues to be under assault. For others, Somaliland has never been in a better position– nothing is wrong and all is fine and dandy. To a sizable swath of Somalilanders, however, the reality of the nation’s standing is somewhere between the aforementioned positions: it’s not as good as the Yea Sayers are saying and certainly not as bad as the Nay Sayers are saying. Count me among those in the middle. I must, nevertheless, say that recent developments in the Home Land are a cause for concern, if not outright alarming. One could point out many reasons for this concern, but to me one particular reason really stands out:

In the last 12 years or so, the educated class, perhaps better described as the enlightened class of Somaliland (the intellectual class, if you will), has taken sides and are largely divided today along tribal lines and similarly (by extension) along political party affiliation—Many of these intellectuals have abandoned their ideals while pursuing personal gain to the detriment of Somaliland and its people.

Below is an objective analysis of the role the educated class play in Somaliland as well as a closer look at the current state of intellectualism and intellectual thought in the Nation.

Who is an intellectual and what does intellectualism mean?

Perhaps a good way to answer that important question is by looking at a few definitions of the two terms that can be found in reputable dictionaries. For example:

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word intellectual as “of or relating to the intellect or its use.” It also alludes to a person who may be described as an intellectual as he who “engaged in activity requiring the creative use of the intellect.”

Dictionary.com refers to intellectual as “a person who places a high value on or pursues things of interest to the intellect or the more complex forms and fields of knowledge, as aesthetic or philosophical matters, especially on an abstract and general level.”

The Longman dictionary describes an intellectual as “well-educated and interested in serious ideas and subjects such as science, literature etc.”

The definitions above are as good as any. Moreover, a description of who is an intellectual could reasonably be arrived at. We could provide our own portrait of what and who an intellectual is as follows:

An intellectual is a person who may or may not have formal education who is capable of using his or her mind (intellect) effectively to engage in the constructive exploration, discussion, articulation and formulation of ideas while employing the tools of reason and logic to systematically arrive at innovative, rational, objective– conclusions, proposals and solutions to help clarify, address and fix society’s real life problems and challenges

Intellectuals as Conceivers and Incubators of Fresh Thought

Perhaps one of the most apparent hallmarks of intellectuals is that they are often the originators of new and authentic ideas in society. History is filled with men and women of great intellectual caliber who have shaped and reshaped the course of mankind by articulating fresh ideas that often led to great progress never before thought possible.

Intellectuals as Fierce Activists/Advocates

Not only do Intellectuals originate new ideas but they are often the dynamo that kicks these new ideas into action. The dedication to further nurture the fresh and genuine ideas born out of the creative output of the minds of these intellectuals is rooted in the very fabric of the DNA of who they actually are: principled, disciplined and committed visionaries with unwavering belief in the existential nature of their calling.

Intellectuals as Agents of Change

Given the above differing roles that intellectuals take in society, it is no wonder that they have an out-sized and disproportionate effect on the net trajectory a nation may take towards the adoption of fresh, new and innovative ideas. In that sense, intellectuals serve as catalysts for meaningful/tangible change in nations. It is intuitive to realize that there is little possibility that no nation could realistically achieve lasting progress without the foundation of a strong and viable intellectual fabric. Intellectuals supply both the spark and the fuel that so often ignite, usher, and propel nations into greatness.

Given the interpretation above of who an intellectual is and what is it exactly that they do the significance of having a vibrant, independent and objective intellectual sector in a nation is evident and clear.

The Current State of the Intellectuals of Somaliland: All gleam and beam or gloom and doom?

The Case for All Gloom and Doom:

There is a growing and intensifying disposition among the intellectuals of Somaliland that should be of a great cause for concern for a simple and straightforward reason. It seems that some of the nations most educated have lost the capacity to think independently and objectively regarding the myriad of challenging issues facing the nation. Astonishing because these intellectuals continue to choose to forget every bit of enlightenment, education, or intellectual honesty they have attained over the course of their education and experiences, opting instead to disintegrate into the dark vortex of primal ignorance and irrationality. If even the self-proclaimed critical thinkers and the intellectuals of Somaliland cannot get past their own prejudices, clan loyalties, political party affiliations and blatant self-service, then it is exceedingly difficult to imagine who will.

To be clear, this is not a new phenomenon because, to a degree, many of Somaliland’s well-educated, men and women alike have done just that in the past

What is new, however, is the fact that, in the recent past, the educated class of Somaliland has increasingly, openly and blatantly been identifying themselves as affiliated with the respective tribes they hail from. On their downward journey to futility (of mind, soul and conscious) anecdotal and empirical evidence point to a near complete and flagrant disregard of the pillars supposedly held near and dear by the thinkers/educated class of Somaliland. In the race to the bottom, they have forgotten that they have professed to champion civic duty, the rule of law and the supremacy of facts as an ever increasing fraction of intellectuals have engaged in practices that could only be described as “self-serving” at best, to the detriment of that which best for society as a whole. Today, it can be reasonably concluded that this perplexing deviation from the letter and spirit of their calling as unwavering intellectuals has, in part, contributed to the fragmentation and futility of the intellectual movement as unifying and driving agent of change and innovation.

Analysis:

Developing, uniting and harnessing the immense potential of the intellectuals of Somaliland have been difficult. In particular, efforts to accomplish that goal through social media outlets such as Facebook have at best been minimally effective and greatly fragmented. Why? Below are some possible explanations.

         While there is no question that each individual social media group tends to add value to the overall intellectual well-being of the intellectuals movement/ cause, the sheer number of these competing social media groups is partly to blame for the weakened state. Collectively, they have the promise to be a formidable force that must be reckoned with. Singly, their power and reach is greatly dissipated because they tend to have a cancelling effect on each other, much like opposing dipoles do always negate each other. Compounding this futility is the absence of any visible, selfless leadership in the ranks of the Intellectuals in Somaliland and in the Diaspora.

         A more obvious reason but one that is potentially far more damaging to the ideals championed by the intellectual movement is the corrupting influence of those who advocate the preservation of the Status quo in all its forms: social, economic, and of course political. It is not absent on the elite of Somaliland (the political class, the business class, and yes the tribal class) the potential power the intellectuals movement could muster. No wonder then, that many of the promising leaders of the Intellectuals movement have historically been targeted in various ways, with the primary goal of “limiting or containing” them.

        The main method employed by the elite to fulfill such a goal is the well-known” Carrot and Stick” strategy– Carrots: conform and you will individually be rewarded (with a job, political position, monetary/real estate handouts or even the promise of advocating a lesser version of ideals championed by the Youth/intellectual movement. Stick: rebel and we will deny you all the carrots have to offer. In addition you will receive “flak” and admonishment from members of your tribe/ political party/relatives/friends and so forth, resulting in your marginalization as “disloyal, unpatriotic and/or dangerous!”

As it turns out, not much is often needed to compel or constrain many of Somaliland’s intellectuals because a good many use what the carrot and stick method entails to their advantage, as a stepping stone to secure “that” job, political position, and monetary/real-state handouts. These pseudo intellectuals who tend to be opportunistic in every sense of the word, habitually and invariably take form the old playbook that could be titled:

Criticize, criticize and criticize (a political party, a current government or a sitting president) up to and until you are rewarded and silenced with a political appointment.”

Once “conditioned,” many of the tamed intellectuals are assimilated into the ranks of those they previously deemed and detested as “largely irrational, overtly tribal and/or blindly political.” The disgraced intellectuals– now called the “Intellectuals of Habar This or Habar That,” or the “Intellectual of This Political Party or That Political Party,”— without so much as a flinch, and with complete disregard of facts and decorum, often proceed to be vocal advocates of many of the policies they previously objected to and railed about, leaving one to wonder about not only the intellectual backbone of these men and women but also about their shifty moral fortitude.

The Case for All Gleam and Beam:

By any objective measure, it could be argued that there had been an explosion of intellectual thought especially in the social media realm over the last decade or so. This is evident in the number of groups and the pages that claim/strife to be of intellectual nature. It can also be seen in the proliferation of the number of articles and/or research papers of intellectual persuasions. More people than ever engage in lively, spirited and sometimes highly intellectual discussions online and in person every day.

Long gone are the days when there was a shortage of higher education institutions and universities. Today, on the contrary, there is abundance if not an overflow of universities across Somaliland. Every year these universities churn out thousands of graduates who are endowed with degrees ranging from those at the B.S, B.A level to higher degrees at the Masters and PhD level. Graduation ceremonies at these universities where feelings of hope and optimism run deep and strong, are indeed a major source of pride for graduates, their families and indeed the nation. Many of these graduates reflect on the challenges facing them as well as the opportunities presented to them openly in private and public discussions. Others do the same online where on any given day thousands of conversations and/or debates take place. A good many of these discussions are of intellectual persuasion where topics in multitude areas of knowledge such as economics, science, the humanities and the arts are articulated. It could reasonably be concluded that intellectual thought and intellectualism is alive and well in Somaliland.

Analysis:

It is no coincidence that this pervasive proliferation in intellectual thought has coincided with equally impressive growth in the number of graduates of Somaliland universities which seem to grow exponentially every year. The rapid growth in intellectual thought can also directly be attributed to the wide availability of the internet and as well as technological advancements in general.

Somaliland people have always been an oral society. Some of the most creative poets/orators in Africa have hailed from the region. However because of the nature of oral knowledge, it had been difficult to preserve an accurate record of insight gained from generation to generation. This has naturally made it difficult for new innovators to build on what has already been accomplished opting to start anew in all situations because of the lack of previous record.

The internet has given the intellectuals of Somaliland the chance to electronically archive and share ideas as well as research findings. The void created by the absence of a conventional framework for information dissemination, sharing and archiving has allowed for the emergence of a patchwork of loosely connected entities of social media blogs, groups and pages the void created by the absence of a conventional framework. It is noteworthy to mention that while this patchwork of a framework has been a positive development, it has been far from being effective and, in fact, has proven to be counterproductive at times, particularly where large scale cooperation and messaging are concerned.

Conclusions

Some of the responsibility for the futility, fragmentation, dysfunction and inefficiency, if not all of the responsibility, falls squarely on the shoulders of the intellectuals of Somaliland. This simply must be true even if it maybe unpalatable to many in the intellectual community. It can be reasonably concluded that the perplexing deviation from the letter and spirit of their calling as unwavering intellectuals has, in part, contributed to the fragmentation and futility of the intellectual movement as a unifying and driving agent of change and innovation.

The intellectuals of Somaliland may not and should not be viewed as a monolithic grouping because of the diverse interests they subscribe to and because of vastly differing professional and personal backgrounds they hail from. It is to be noted and expected, however, that these same intellectuals have more traits that unite them than separate them. Perhaps the greatest nexus among intellectuals of all inclinations is that which can be found in the definition that we have provided earlier in this article: Intellectuals strife to employ the tools of reason and logic to systematically arrive at innovative, rational, objective– conclusions, proposals and solutions to help clarify, address and fix society’s real life problems and challenges. Once these ideals described above are betrayed, for personal benefit, clan or political party loyalty, the adjectives of “rational, logical and objective” would hardly be applicable to those who aspire and/or claim to be intellectuals. If the intellectuals of Somaliland are to continue to be the trail blazers for progress and innovation they aspire to be, and if they are to be that beacon of hope for the nation’s prosperity and future then they must return collectively and individually to that which made them the great patriots of yesterday.

Ali H Meygag
Somaliland Intellectuals Institute
Email: alihmeygag@somalilandintellectualsinstitute.org

Ali is based in Toronto, Canada and is the Chairman of Somaliland intellectuals” where the future architects of the progress of Somaliland use the raw materials of hope, imagination, determination, cooperation and willpower as inputs to help weave the dreams, aspiration and potential of their brethren into tangible reality one thread at a time.

Somaliland Intellectuals Institute (SII) strives to help transform the future and fortunes of Somaliland and its citizens, by liberating the genius within its nationals, through relentless activism, unwavering dedication and total belief in their potential to innovate, excel and prosper.”