Obama’s Election, Race Factor and Somalia: Keep Things in Prospect
It was a historic event of monumental scale to see as the USA elected its first African-America person to the highest office. This was almost seemed messianic touch on the part of America’s political establishment and the masses that also sent powerful message to the rest of the world. Of late, America’s stature has suffered great deal of setback whereas even some likened its current status to an empire which is increasingly on the ropes in terms of socio-economic decay, policy of unilateralism orthodox, and open-ended of the war on terror. One thing is now crystal clear though: America’s image around the world has been tarnished for sometime and hopefully this move will be some partial victory to reclaim its lost glory and prestige.
Meantime, as I followed election night along with a boisterous crowd in a typical smoke-choked Somali mijlis in Ottawa I could not help but disagree with the interpretation of the oft-repeated race factor in the event and implication aboard. At times, debate around the topic conveyed as if the race factor by itself was put on referendum. Given complexity of the race card, I thought the sort of argument put forward was either too vague or simplistic to capture essence of the issue at hand. For example, people talked about how blacks would be proud of the president-elect or how he would change the fortunes of the black race in America and elsewhere (including Somalia) or why Americans discriminated against black people so long and so forth. Later, I heard similar line of arguments from other talking heads of the corporate media.
True, there is no denying as being historical watershed when comes to black man’s achievement in recent history after Mandela, and came as a result of long struggle for emancipation that started with fight against slavery and other forms of human exploitation practices. I was too momentarily moved by the waltz of the prevailing fraternity spirit in the room whereby a rupture of emotional intellect overwhelmed the rational one, but again we should keep things in prospective, lest we miss something in the big picture.
It was quite interesting experience to watch reaction of the crowd. Particularly the point of view among Warya revelers and the near anonymity on the topic which seemed ironic at times but not-so-surprising notion altogether – not surprising because of the overarching group allegiance (race, tribe etc.) seems primordial characteristics among adult Somali males. But there was irony missed in the scene of cheering crowd and it had two folds. First is that these folks were neither descendents of the native black slaves who were historically denied to see leaders of their own kind in higher places nor the post-collapse of generation-y and –x who were deprived to witness the glories of role models occupying higher offices in their nation of origin. No, most of them had vivid memories about power-crazed black presidents who wrought havoc their own nations and citizens’ welfare before. Still others were lifelong sympathizers of the Somalia’s warlord rank and file. Secondly, these men were well versed with the infamous and the within Somali groups chauvinistic malady- tribalism- but they still had audacity to judge how others conduct their business in their backyard without sensing slightest contradiction. Isn’t someone said before that charity starts right at home?
Much of the Barack Obama’s decisive victory to the White House has little to do with race and racial politics. To think otherwise does bode ill with the man’s meteoric success against all odds. A combination of intellect, message, celebrity appeal and quasi flawless public persona played major role in the winning formula. Also, few unforeseen circumstances such as collapse of the American financial nerve center and two ongoing unpopular wars, not to mention fecklessness of his rival and the republican’s ideological malaise, all contributed to Mr. Obama’s favor. Americans, regardless of white, black and creed or age cohort needed this man for the job to save itself more than anyone else.
As for race problem or institutional racism in America and elsewhere, it is a fact of life. Webster Dictionary defines race as “is a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular group.” Our world is far from being post-racial utopia place anytime soon. It can be improved but it might take different hoes and categories. Racial injustice will not go way easily as long as humans compete over resources, space, opportunity and status. Let us be realistic folks! Barrack Obama’s election might have some historical and psychological boost on black America and particularly on younger generations (better to relate other role models than gangista’ rapper Fifty Cents and Mike Tyson types.) But truth of matter is that this will not bring about immediate changes on other pressing socio-economic issue that trapped two-third of African-American citizens at the bottom of socio-economic ladder according to social researchers. What’s more, any perceived impact of the president-elect on African continent’s specter of genocidal tribal wars, endemic corruption, starvation scenes and leadership failures, including Somalia’s sad file, is just wishful thinking. Solutions for African problems should come from indigenous initiatives and less from extraterritorial agents.
Race factor is very complex issue which mutates along the historical, cultural and economic status of a given society. While the open form is no longer practical in the West, including Canada, other systemic and subterranean variants are more prevalent. Tolerance for others doesn’t necessarily mean genuine acceptance within the mainstream group. Especially such is the case when it comes to fair competition for opportunities, power and status. Put it differently, intra-group solidarity of the society trumps inter-group equality though extent depends on the specifics. States can only do so much about the code of conduct of individuals, community and institutions but not everything. As Canadian Professor noted “race is to America what is cast system to India, class to the old Britain, religion to Israel in the middle-east “, and we might as well add to what is clan card to Somalis. Comparatively, color, religion, class, ethnic and more importantly clan (the one Somalis insidiously practice) are forms of racism. One cannot entirely dismiss race factor in the America’s politico and social landscape as some right wing populists would have us make believe in the wake of the election.
That said, this doesn’t necessarily mean not to give where the credit is due. At least Americans are making some progress, be it symbolism form or otherwise, compared to other places and it is worthy to emulate. Somalia’s clannish case is pedaling backward with alarming rate. Politicized and malignant clan issue, whether open or subtle, is more rampant than ever in the Somali social psyche of Diaspora and back home. Situation is increasingly getting worse and even the formerly hopeful Somaliland community is not immune from it. I’m not referring to what has been done to the traditionally oppressed groups of like Gaboye people. I am talking about constant tug-of-war between the so-called main groups where some are hell-bent to undermine other one’s very existence and inalienable rights. To say that mainly clan supremacy, besides few other external interventions, brought down foundations of Somalia’s old institutions while making it difficult to resurrect another one for two decades is understatement.
Despite the all hype and high expectations of foreign and domestic matters associated with the president-elect’s race factor and his future administration, still fact remains that these issues will weigh little with regard to other specific American policy priorities. Let us put it in prospective: economics and other hard pressing domestic agendas remain the main focus of the president-elect and his new regime. As per foreign policy, remember the core objectives of American foreign policy doesn’t shift much regardless of whether democrat or republican regime in the power. Of course one side appears overtly belligerent and blunt but fundamentals stay the same. While Iraq and Afghanistan files are among top of the do list, as he already mentioned in the campaign trail, engaging with other foreign issues of like the fate of enfant terrible (Somalia) largely depends on how it is well connected to the adnmistration’s policy priority by the interested foreign parties. Success will depend on efforts of activism politics and usual diplomacy of the needy foreign countries.
Allegedly, both current Ethiopian regime and main opposition are in full force to align with the Obama’s new administration policy interest and the main connecting issue? Islamic terrorism. Can Somalis effectively encounter with its kind and through cooperation, discipline and urgently needed political acumen? No chance. One should not rule out godsend miracles, but status quo will remain unscathed as long as stakeholder divided over petty clannish argument and the merits of power seeking pseudo-religious fanatics or other doomed warlord institution lead by tottering figure heartbeat from gravesite.
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