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The Land of Punt, beyond loss and indignity – annotations from the horrifying, the transforming and the liberating times

A call for re organisation

As I sat quietly, contemplating on my day, almost half aware, of the noises and the people riding the bus with me, I heard someone murmuring

“are you Egyptian..?” he said.  …I carried on looking away through the windows…starring at the nothingness “Are you Egyptian..?” this time I could not ignore the voice it was loud enough to alert me.  I looked to my left and I saw a young man with fine features and dark skin, looking almost like a Somali, so…I answered “no….” I then returned the question “are you a Somali” .  No…I am a Nubian…” “ oh …that explains it….I am from the Land of Punt, I am from Somalia”.  He looked at me embezzled saying “no..no way…the land of the ancestors…” .

I answered almost relieved that someone remembered “yes…the land of the ancestors…so you know that…” I added

“of course….. we are the same people..” he answered “It is so sad what’s happening in your country….it is unbearable ..”he whispered as though in agony “no human being can watch what’s happening in Somalia…” he continued

“yes…” I replied while feeling choked with emotions “ it is unbearable to me…I am in pain too”…I added almost in tears. “perhaps one day…your pain and ours will go away…” he said

“perhaps one day….perhaps one day” I said before turning my face away to continue with my thoughts ..”damn you…damn you….” I said silently…did you have to remind me of all this…..” I cried in silence, my chest cinched in pain.

The organised chaos in Somalia will continue to haunt us, touching every one of us in the same way and level; the loss of homes and lives, the mess in our beloved capital of the young proud Republic, the loss of our sense of who we were, the senseless smothering of aspirations, and most importantly the loss of our morality as we allowed greed to guide us.

It is hard to ascribe meanings to the defeat of Somalia at the hands of its sons and daughters.  The men and women who laid claim on their territories, demanding freedoms are the very people who broke Somalia’s spirit.  No amount of prophecies could have prepared us to the coming catastrophe, the madness that has unfolded.

The bearings this history has had on us is so profound, these bitter experiences stroked the country to its very core.   It is not a nationhood that has been lost; it is our morality, the essence of our humanity.  The signs of defeat stare us in the eye and are all around us, from the lost youth inside the country or in the Diaspora, the social deconstructions of the society and its hub “the family”, the political hooliganism, the disorder, the dishonesty, the immorality of corruption, the mistrust and the shadows of this bitter memories that are hanging over us.    Ultimately though it is us, the people of this land, who need to work through this dogmatism of clan and social antagonism, in order to reinstall our identity and veer away from these dark moments in our history.

We need to look around us, to as far a place as China, and India to unveil the lessons of history, the remarkable stories of recovery and ability to rise as world powers. Post conflict recovery starts from paying a great deal of attention to the reconstruction of morality.

The recovery zones, Puntland and Somaliland have sprouted from the ruins of the Somali state, and embarked on marvellous journeys of self discovery.  Central to their reconstruction movements has been reinstalling morality through law and order, pursuing in this way a future that is far more certain and real.

There is so much to learn from India, from her hero Ghandi, he for instant, described the role of morality in any civilised society:

“Civilisation is that mode of conduct which points out to man the path of duty.  Performance of duty and observance of morality are convertible terms.  To observe morality is to attain mastery over our mind and our passions.  So doing, we know ourselves”

The conflict in our mother land continues to date, the hatred and the desire to destroy each other is on going.  It is therefore important for Puntland to understand and appreciate the nature of conflicts, in order to contain them and to move beyond them.  The recent peace agreement signed between two brotherly clans in Bari region is very important.  This process has ended one of the longest and bloodiest conflicts in the history of modern Puntland.  Key to its success is the elimination of the middle man.

An honest and direct dialogue must be fostered and encouraged amongst all warring clans in Puntland.  The middle men usually come with varying experiences and interests.  Peace brokers from all sides must be trusted men of integrity and courage.  The lack of honest and direct dialogue make people vulnerable to manipulations of third parties, such as the political thugs, the men of suitcases and the creators of hate and divisions.  The disinterested movements in Puntland and beyond have a time limit on them, because their foundations are hate and prejudices.  Going beyond them means eliminating the conditions by which they do breed.

Conflicts usually turn people’s lives around, rights become wrongs, wrongs become rights, and the people become pre occupied with personal sense of injustice and a desire for revenge.  Conflicts therefore require a level of dehumanisation in order to inflict maximum damage and pain on the opponent.  It is just through the moments of silence, that how far we came and on what expense becomes apparent.  In these moments, the damage can seem irreversible.  Yet the evidence that they are reversible is all around us.  However, progress can be bleak unless we re humanise, reinstall these attributes that made us people.  The Somali nation in general, therefore, would need to re learn the basics, the very set of rights and wrongs (i.e. that killing people simply because they belong to the out group or hold different opinions is wrong, that corruption is stealing and stealing is wrong).

Beside rights and wrongs, it is necessary that we have people who observe the truth and others that enforce it.  Law and order does not mean capturing and imprisonment, it means the balanced and the fair application of the law.  It means that we are equal in the eyes of the law and that punishments fit the crime.

Morality also includes addressing social exclusion.  The unnatural exclusion of certain clans and women from the public discourse must end, and the myths that such practises continue to exist under must be exposed.  Exclusions and prejudices are the evil that have burned our mother land, Somalia.

In addition to morality another important area for consideration in post conflict societies is confidence building.  Individuals in post conflict societies become haggard by a great sense of guilt, shame and anger which affects their confidence and social functioning.

Addressing confidence building will enable us to be ourselves and to grow in away that guarantees cultural and historical relevance.   Puntland’s history, whether recent or old should never be forgotten, forgetting would enhance the chance of history being repeated.

We must remember also that Puntland, is the birth place of the modern mankind, forgetting this will come with a great deal of loss.

It is important to remember that Somalis are ancient people, and it is equally essential to re discover the survival skills that enabled us to continue all these centuries.  Believing in ourselves and who we were pre conflict is therefore what stands between us and a brighter tomorrow.

For India, getting in touch with her sense of identity was crucial to her re emergence as a world power.  Holding on to who we are, would help us through these difficult times.  We are very lucky as people, to be still standing with a rich history and culture, we don’t have to invent a new history, we will just have to learn to appreciate it.  Ghandi has told his people:

“The people of EU earn their lessons from the writings of the men of Greece or Rome, which exist no longer in their former glory.  Such is their pitiable condition.  In the midst of all this India remains immovable and that is her glory.  It is a charge against India that her people are uncivilised, ignorant and stolid, that it is no possible to induce them to adopt any changes.  It is a charge really against our merit.  What we have tested and found true on the anvil of experience, we dare not change.  Many thrust their advice upon India, and share remains steady.  This is her Beauty: it is the sheet-anchor of our hope.”

Puntland and Somaliland in particular have survived the storms of life because of ancient traditions.  How to marry the old and the new continues to form a challenge, however, one cannot refute the wisdom inherent in the old.  As Ghandi has continued to describe:

“there was true wisdom in the sages of old having so regulated society as to limit the material condition of the people”.

The political future for Puntland and decentralisation of power:

Centralised governance is not possible in the vast land that is Somalia which is so scarcely populated and surely not twenty years after our self help movement.  The ultimate goal therefore should be that we reach at a government that governs the least.  Ghandi portrays the benefit of so doing:

“Political power in my opinion, cannot be our ultimate aim.  It is one of the means used by men for their all-round advancement.  The power to control national life through national representatives is called political power.  Representatives will become unnecessary if the national life becomes so perfect as to be self controlled.  It will then be a state of enlightened anarchy in which each person will become his own ruler.  He will conduct himself in such a way that his behaviour will not hamper the well-being of his neighbours.  In an ideal state there will be no political institution and therefore no political power.  That is why Thoreau has said in his classic statement that that government is the best which governs the least”.

Continuing with the decentralisation agenda is essential, whilst attending to the dangers of the concentration of power with individuals, groups, or agencies.  We must have arbitrations services, courts, higher courts, and upper house, which look into grievances by every side.  Nationally the pursuit of federalism must continue.   The question is then whose role is it to ensure that democratisation and decentralisations happens in Puntland, and in Somalia?  The answer is not single administration or head of states.  This is the role of the governed; the people of Puntland and Somalia have to hold their representatives to account.  It is not politicians’ duty; it is our duty as citizens of this forgiving land.

National and international challenges for Puntland:

Beside the post conflict issues Puntland has to deal with, there are also two major external challenges.  The first external threat is the internal TFG struggle between the Centralists and Federalists.  I could empathise with the reasons that make a human to seek absolute centralised God like powers.  However, we should never forget that seeking absolutism is such a miscalculation.

Puntland and the TFG must find a creative way of ensuring a clever transitional success by establishing a common purpose on the out set.   Agreeing on a direction is therefore vital.  I personally support the calls for Puntland to temporarily disengage with the TFG, until the latter honours its commitment and its position of its charter becomes clear.

Generally, there is no doubt that Somalia’s states can no longer afford avoiding each other, for the hope that gratification is delayed through the lack of honest and direct dialogue.  The confrontation will happen whether we like it or not, and avoiding the pain of confronting our past will no longer be sufficient.  Therefore, in order for Somalia to continue post TFG, it is important to begin a triangled negotiations and dialogue between the TFG, Puntland and Somaliland.  This will be an emotional endeavour, but nevertheless will help us to mend and heal our relationships.

Another external threat is the conflicting international community’s approaches to Somalia.  There is the US’s dual track and the two state Somalia approaches of others.  The US’s approach is the best of its kind in the history of the US’s foreign policy.  It clearly means that the US will decentralise in away that fits federal Somalia and that it will engage fairly and equally with all stakeholders.  On the other hand, the two state Somalia approach is very much contagious and takes us back to the colonial era.  Even if the two state solutions become inevitable it has to come from the Somalis themselves.  Again moving forward will mean that we talk, and talking has to start relatively soon.

Warsan Cismaan Saalax


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1 Jawaab " The Land of Punt, beyond loss and indignity – annotations from the horrifying, the transforming and the liberating times "

  1. gaashaanle says:

    thank u u very much for your wonderful article , i utlized alot from it infact i didn know that puntland is the birth place for human man kind .

    i thank u alot ance an again may give Allah grant u peace and health…