The Unattached Intelligentsia: New Bottle, Old Wine – N. Farah and Ilma Ismail Samatar
By Sagal Say Wallahi
In the 30’s, Karl Mannheim was writing about a free-floating intelligentsia, a socially unattached and classless stratum. Unfettered by the bounds of reality, this happy few would sit, according to K. Mannheim, in a supposedly in-between zone in which a synthesis of divergent political ideas would emerge. This conception of the intellectual stratum was clearly pure wishful thinking, for this group has theoretical and political ties and roots. The world knows now new international elites without borders – and without power – who are trying to shape political events in Africa while catching planes from one country to another. Somalis are not strangers to these new credit card holders and their bird’s-eye view on political matters.
In the Somali scene, Nurradine Farah and the Samatar brothers are the ClubMed hack writers par excellence. What do they have in common? Just like their superficial diagnosis in the 80’s and 90’s, their “analyses” consider the political elite (specially the Isaaq “petite-bourgeoisie”) and the clan the enemies of the “people”, a hindrance to the emergence of Pan-Somalism. If only someone could erase these two evils from the political space, we would finally find ourselves in a beautiful dreamland, a kind of Hargeisa without the wind during the xagaa season. In this promise land, Somalis would find nabad iyo caano and would finally fart exactly the same way since they all speak the same language, swim in the same culture and sing the never-ending litanies of “Somalia tostoye”, “dugsi male qabyaladdi waxeey dumisoo moyee” and “dhulka hooyo waa laa maa huuraan”.Where is this homeland, anyways? For them, home is everywhere and nowhere at the same time, but mostly in the air, constantly skydiving at the top of a beautiful cloud nine full of delightful creeds.
Clearly, these “aqoon yaan” are all past masters in the art of sidestepping their political and theoretical opponents by creating a debate clearly conspicuous for its intellectual vacuity and personal nastiness in the Somali Weeyn media. They all speak, never without pathos, in supposedly common man’s terms: romanticism high in color combined with an archaic simplism, populism and vulgarism, familiar rutted roads for an average simple-minded Pan-Somali “nationalist”.
Always in sight and, let’s not forget, in a self-congratulation happy moment, these fast-thinkers build political fantasies which are in fact an obstacle to social “truths”, for they are harping on about the same old things and substituting trendy shortcuts full of catastrophe (Somalism and Islamism, a deadly rendezvous) for sober peace deals based on concrete social contracts in step with today’s Somali clan politics. Neither Nurradine nor ilma Samatar ever tackle, by some quirk of nature, real issues. Instead they talk about themselves and their writing skills. And…And yes, there’s more. They always tell the same story, which they arrange every which way. What follows it is a parody of their diffused style in which we could find elements of both the comic and the tragic.
Farah: prolific but a political void filled with blather
The best way to put things into N. Farha’s ideological prism is to swim through the Op-Ed world in which our popular author conflates text and seemingly “real life” experience, face to face with Southern providential leaders guided by their zero-sum game politics. Let’s quickly take Farah’s My life as a diplomat as a comical example. This apparently little fluke gave me hives and reactivated my usual dizziness and nausea hard to overcome. Nothing new here for me because I experience this whenever I find myself before an idea going faster than its shadow. Any respectful reader with basic analytical tools should sense the platitude of this account, for this take on Somali politics leaves a lot to be desired. Stripped of their pretentious verbiage, Farah’s ideas on diplomacy rub with a child-like narcissism. Somali politics is not about you and your self-importance, self-satisfaction and kitsch novels. Why kitsch? From a Somali perspective, of course, not from a western reader’s in need of an exotic inquiry into the heart of Somali darkness with its secrets and maps very common in popular genre. We know you can write though mostly straight from the dictionary! Unworldly our Somali pen master, you might say. Or is he really as naïve as he wants us to believe? A little bit of both, I imagine. One thing for sure, Farah’s facile presentation of our mind-boggling conflict comes drenched in his poor understanding of Somali political metaphors and analogies.
Needless to say, not everyone can juggle easily through Somali imaginaries, especially not N. Farah who started his adventurous writings as a revolutionary ideologue and who spat out, rather with unprecedented grime and drabness, From a Crooked rib originally prepared for the first Somali family law and published in the Xidigta Octobar in soap opera form in the heady days just after the military coup. The novel pretends to show the supposedly reactionary attitude of the Somali male culture. The young Farah found himself in a kind of Zero year feminism: no resistance before me. A tabula rasa! If you are not one of those exegete literary couch critics engaged in a narcissistic reading à deux, you will see also Farah’s tendency novels.
Oddly enough, our hack and prolix writer always complains about Somali readers and blames them for being an oral herd, an unschooled hordes unable to taste fictional preciosity. Does it ever occur to him that Somalis prefer to read narratives suitable to their intellectual needs? And for sure, Somalis do not confuse artistic beauty with Bollywood-like writings of a second rate ideologue turned novelist. What you write counts, not what you use to interpret Somali cultural imaginary. Then again African writers – with the exception of Chinua Achebe, M. Kourouma and few others – are still suffering under the yoke of colonialism and trying to please Western coffee shops blokes. So Farah, you are not alone in this!
On the memory chapter, Farah seems to be very selective when it comes to Somalis’ tragic history; we have only heard about his strange love for Somalis in 1991. This exotic writer never disturbed his pen in 1988 when millions of Isaaqs were fleeing terror and genocide! I guess he was busy with his sweet and sour soliloquy and verbose schizophrenia. Or was it more of a subconscious laisser-faire pogrom? In your face kind of a steak flambé for anyone who does not subscribe to my political solipsism! They did not consult me on how to textually overthrow, may I remind you, a fascist regime from within (Farah was, for the first years of ignorant afweeynee’s drums, in a wait-and-see “Saxrlay haa fudu daan” kind of mood”) But revolution is never televised and revolution does not wait for the opposite of an organic intellectual. And…Definitely, a new Somali identity will not be based on Farah’s excessive simplifications of the diasporas in Yesterday, Tomorrow. Voices from the Somali Diaspora, a Somali version of ClubMed anthropology. In any case, the SNM and the Issaaq have destroyed his dream of an Ogadeen territory free from the Ethiopians. Farah must recall his adeero, the tyranic and reer mii Sayiid Mullax. As for the other figureheads – Ilma Samatar as they are commonly known - of Somali Weeyn media, quite frankly, the way in which they indulge in cheap self-advertisement is mystifying. Let’s take a quick look at the most mind-boggling, self-proclaimed Somali Weeyen gun for hire fast thinkers.
The Samatars : inveterate poseurs or scholars?
Lauded by most reer konfureed and reviled by Somalilandders, Abdi and Ahmed. Samatar spend, aping democratic creeds and going around any serious intellectual debate, their time and energy advocating a cavalier policy in the Somali political space. But honestly what can we say about the Samatar brothers? Should I say few words about their abrasive manner and caustic remarks against their contradictors? What about their well known intentional and controversial bias against Somaliland? Morbidly fascinating from a psychological point of view! Should I give a quick blurb about their lavish account of has-been presidents and prime ministers from the times of Wanla Weeyn widespread vote-rigging crisis, our own Tammany Hall orchestrated by the Somali Youth League? Should I review their websites elementary graphorrhea tartufferies? And their constant carping? Baffling! Let me just briefly say few things about their insufferably glib talk and tendentious accounts of Somaliland politics.
Squalling at every gathering with a schoolmarmish seriousness and blasting off every microphone with an overweening volubility and unabashed braggadocio, they are ubiquitous without “grounding” with the “people” (Walter Rodney). Seemingly, neither Issaaq nor Samaroon, neither reer konfureed nor Somalilander and armed with an immaculate conception, these two claim to be speaking from a universal perspective, but they are only lost in a simplistic abstract view full of hotchpotch ideas. The question is: why walaweyn give ilma Samatar such undue and undeserved importance? Simple. Ilma samatar walaweynta way kiinli kileyaan with bathos and Somaliland/Isaaq bashing. The Samatars brothers are masters of pomposities and are so pretentious in telling who is to be considered a great man, the best Somali president. Abdi and Ahmed or AAs – always in cahoots and strangely getting closer to the definition of an ideological incest – are in a continuous biidh biidh like their Bidhaan, an inane periodical designed to belittle anyone who does not share their conception of “Somalinimo”. Ilma Samatar mention each other names even when they are saying what it is well known to any social scientists. For example, Abdi quotes his older brother, Ahmed: “the fullness of understanding a given situation is [not] coterminous (coterminous is a fancy word for connected [emphasis mine]) with the immediate and experiential. Rather, any visible elements of a particular reality are usually signals that other more factors could be at work” (A. Samatar, The Journal of Modern African Studies: p.625) Insightful! What is so original about this statement? Social scientists have known this methodological principle for 200 years. Also in bidh bidh pages, Ilma Samatars never thinly veiled catty remarks against Lewis are a common occurrence, an exasperated saga. No need to dwell on their attacks driven by a pathological need to demolish and tarnish the image of the dean of Somali studies. The snag: I M. Lewis has done his fieldwork in Somaliland for two years applying rigorous social science methods whereas Ilma Samatar conveniently content themselves with an armchair theoretical recycling of existing literature. Even for the untrained eye, their books are far from being serious work of political science. Moreover, their critique of functionalism was articulated long before they started their trip to the land of the free, long before they could speak any English. So nothing original there!
At the risk of sounding an 18th century polemist, their political crusade against Somaliland could be traced to their ideological usage of social science. Somaliland’s political experience is the only familiar terrain in which the Samatars unleash their most primeval instinct and yet this is the only time that they are not inconsequent in their incoherent jumble. Even their recent acknowledgment of Somaliland’s positive changes is just a way of exorcising their guilt conscience. A way to wash away the stains of long years of collaboration with the dictator! Nevertheless, Somalilanders know these little tactics of stating the obvious (“Somaliland is peaceful” etc.) and cannot forget their reports based on speculation, rumors and innuendo. They deliberately practise the art of falsifications.
Hiding behind Somali unity, Ilma Samatar confuse complaining with sound arguments, causes with consequences, basic Marxist automatisms with reflexivity, intellectual engagements with a highly promiscuous political media cenacle (for example, their seemingly venal happenings with BBC’s Yusuf Garad who represents the height of the absurdity or their endless sleepovers with little shifty dictators from obscure banana republics – Djibouti’s Puff daddy). They do all of this, of course, in the name of intellectual lucidity and, according to them, to be a half-breed is necessary and sufficient for a scientific explication.The worst kind of sophistry! But ilma Samatar do not mind using Central Somaliland communities for Issaq. Despite their euphemism, they do not mind pointing fingers at the Issaaq, particularly the Jibril Aboker, when things get tough for their Bah Samaroon condition in Gabilay. For instance, Ilma Samatar claim, using Rajagopal and Carroll’s report as evidence, that the SNM hired lawyers “to convince the international community” that Somaliland belongs to the Issaaq family:
“ …the Somali National Movement (S.N.M.) in the north has spent over $60, 000 in the United States in commissioning a firm of consultants to try and convince the international community that the original inhabitants of the former British Somaliland were all members of the Issaq clan, and that “their territory” has legitimate historical claim to sovereignty and hence statehood”, Abdi Samatar (1992), Destruction of State and Society in Somalia: Beyond the Tribal Convention, The Journal of Modern African Studies, 30, 4, pp. 625-641. This article blames everything on the clan, I.M. Lewis and the Isaq political elite.
Oddly enough, in their diatribe against the ICG “International Crisis Group Report on Somaliland: An Alternative Somali Response”, we are told the same report was making the claim in the first draft:
“The quotation is from a consultant’s report, whose fees were paid by the regional administration. The report’s original draft asserted that the original inhabitants of the former British Somaliland were all members of the Issaq clan, and that “their territory” has legitimate historical claim to sovereignty and hence statehood” Abdi and Ahmed Samatar( 2003) “International Crisis Group Report on Somaliland: An Alternative Somali Response”, note 7, Walweeyn web site. Note the cut and paste, word for word. Do not be astonished if I do the same!
How did they get hold of the first draft? It beats me! Everyone knows that Ilma Samatar “cook up” convincing explanations for evil-hearted walweeyns who are struggling with their delusions of grandeur! By the way, what do they mean by “An Alternative Somali Response”. Have they become trendy Afrocentrists? When did they get off their Marxist soapbox? The fact that they are Somalis makes them the only authority on Somali affairs, I suppose. Bal adbaa! In any case, one does not need to be Albert Einstein to see their hatred for the Issaaq. If Ilma Samatar decide to be foxy, they should do a better job, because they are not good at hiding their aversion. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact they were bullied in their teenage days in Gabilay during their orphan years. It is just a popular belief. But let’s not intellectualize their lack of judgment and their intentional bias against Somaliland. I mean the Issaq. Oops!
From justifying Siyad’s rule in Socialism: Myth or reality – a PhD thesis full of the usual Marxist bromides, mostly based on Charles Geshekter (an American historian who was looking for a noble savage and ended up romanticizing MAD Mulax’s so-called anti-imperialistic wars) simplistic definition of the mode of production and concocted in the comfort of an Ivory Tour somewhere in the United States – to shedding some crocodile tears after the facts at the 1989 Somali Studies in Mogadiscio, Ahmed Samatar has always been full of himself, ranting and raving on every occasion just like his younger brother. For our Gabiley boy, whether as faaliya in Africa Events (pp. 40-1, 1987) or as Ahmed Samatar in his PhD thesis/book, the SNM was unable to articulate an oppositional discourse, a coherent theory of mobilization and renewal. Say Wallahi! Hollow phrases from a radical chic hipster sipping a grande in a North American coffee shop! Anyways, their much vaunted discoveries are in fact vulgar Marxist commonplace, they simply practice a Somali style feeble jdanovism from way above, in the States, but without any impact on the course of history. Let’s just say Samatar-esque will not be the adjective of the day anytime soon: still the prosaic and provincial hicks from Gabilay district despite the mumbo-jumbo theoretical coy disguises. Too bad, too sad!
Never in touch with the average fellow, Farah and the Samatar brothers, members of a new breed of media-friendly globe-trotter Somalis, unite in their rhetoric and spend more time rubbing out historical and political contradictions, and, as a result, reifying the past and deifying few supposedly universal political figures. The Samatars and Farah are confusing, in the final, their imaginary lost paradise with Somalis’ disenchantment, The suns of independence (M. Kourouma), in other word, they mistake their logic for the logic of things, to paraphrase Karl Marx. Incapable of dealing with their intense angst and hyping up worn out ideas, they spend their time in flitting like some wicked wraith from one airport to another always chasing their own tails.
Sagal Say Wallahi