Located in the Horn of Africa on the eastern coast of the African Continent lies the country of Somalia. Somalia's terrain consists of plateaus, plains and highlands and it is a place where close to 10 million people of numerous and varied ethnic groups currently live, divided by European-imposed boundaries.
The country's history is one of much internecine bloodshed and strife, both political and ethnic which has been helped along by outside forces according to some scholars. In Amherst, Massachusetts there is a small population of Somalis who are working, living, receiving education and also attempting to bring attention to their country's violent history, in hopes that one day soon the people of Somalia can overcome the institutionalized violence and continuous mishandling of the country by its leaders and past occupiers.
On a recent cold and blustery Autumn evening Abdi Samatar, professor of geography and global studies at the University of Minnesota gave an expansive speech at the downtown "Food For Thought" bookstore touching on "two tendencies" in the politics of Somalian society which in turn he believes has created vast and violent struggles in the context of two recent wars - the Cold War and the more ambiguous War on Terror.
“Prior to 1960 there were what I would argue two tendencies in the politics of [Somalian] society. One that I would suggest was a civic tendency; a democratic one, sort of a public service one, and one that was sectarian in nature," said Professor Samatar. The professor believes this is where the many facets of conflicts between other countries has affected Somalian society.
"It’s the way in which these two played into the hands with outsiders that creates the crisis with the population we have right here,” the professor said as he pointed to a map of Somalia. Samatar also is hopeful that the current election results in America will lead to inspiration in the Somali Republic.
“I think something happened two weeks ago in our country which hopefully, I’m skeptical but I am always an optimistic person, hopefully will provide new spaces for civic minded people to bring our country together, allowing local people to determine their fate.” The bookstore was ghostly quiet as Samatar spoke and the 70 or so attendees sitting on metal folding chairs were listening closely and taking in his message of hope.
“The professor seems to feel that Somalia is a case where people power could actually overcome institutionalized violence," said Dean Cycon founder of Dean’s Beans organic coffee company. "And I hope he’s right, and I hope it happens in the next decade or so because it’s been such a sad situation for so long there,” he added.
The ethnic Somalian women's group "Walaaloo," was in attendance as well. Walaaloo is a group of Somalian "sisters," who have come together in Amherst to share each others stories of survival and mutual love for their war-torn country. "I am part of the Walaalo, Somali sisters collectivists, and we are proud of it, and we want to tell our story to the world, said founding member and translator Nasra Ali.
Yasmin Ahmed, also a founding member of Walaalo, translator and storyteller wasn't as optimistic as Cycon as she expressed her concern for the American media's portrayal of her birth place.
“When people hear now-a-days, Somalia, especially you watch the media, whether its CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, you know the main media all they hear about is the pirates in Somalia and the ships,” she said.
Although, with inspired people and dedicated groups such as Walaalo and Professor Samatar, bringing attention to the causes of the Somalian problem and the subsequent solutions will soon become more of a reality.