Politics without Principle

There was a post by one young man on Facebook that I found interesting. He said his page was like a billboard that he was ready to rent to any candidate running for the Galmudug Presidency. He was responding to other members of the youths, journalists and politicians, who host on their pages any and all emerging candidates, with a claim for each that he/she is the best candidate. This is not limited to the Galmudug candidates; it is a common occurrence across the country.

In early 1990s when I first went to Sudan for studies, friends who were in the country ahead of us took us to the University of Khartoum. There was a debate corner, where various groups debate certain topics and each party is given a night to present their ideas, which are then debated by the others.

That night, the debate was organized by youths from the Ummah Party, led by Sadiq al-Mahdi. They piled condemnation on top of condemnation against the then ruling party, the Islamic Front of Sudan. I kept on looking around and over my shoulder, expecting for red berets to storm the place and arrest those at the discussion any minute.

A few supporters of the ruling party were later given a chance to defend the government, and they did. Then, both sides of the debate joined in a feast of Ful, a common meal in Sudan, and had fun for the rest of the night.

Later, when I was in the country long enough, I learned that the Sudanese population was divided into various political parties such as the Islamists, the communists, the socialists, liberals and left and right wings. Often they would ask us what we were fighting over as Somalis, given that we share the same religion, culture, language and land. These were questions not easily answered, because there were no identifiable opposing political ideologies represented by different groups.

Different sub-clans of a single clan were killing each other, and one would find it hard to explain why. Every society has elites in the fields of politics, religion, economy, arts and sports.

The elites of pastoralist/rural communities are the brave, the fighters, the horse riders, the generous, the poets and the rich. Similarly in urban communities, the elites are the academics and intellectuals, business tycoons, media moguls, and poets/artists, the influential and powerful, all with a platform to present their ideas, principles and creativity.

When I look at our people today, I see a society that easily overlooks knowledge, ideals, and independent thought. We are a society suffering from an erosion of intellectualism. The result is that we are no longer able to tell the good from the bad. We easily accept hearsay and rumor, and the ensuing myths have reached a level where one would find people seeking cure for vehicles supposedly possessed by evil spirits. We treat as sacred truth one-sided messages that are an insult to the intellect.

Antonio Gramsci was an Italian intellectual, journalist and thinker who had an in-depth look at intellectualism and its role in social change. He divided intellectuals into the regular — those who try to find justifications for the ruling class of the day as well as outstanding issues—and independents who dare to criticize the same.

He argued that intellectualism has little impact until it penetrates the collective conscious of the society and, in the service of people’s everyday life, becomes the common sense.

He pointed out that every academic was not an intellectual, saying “sewing up a torn cloth does not make one a tailor, just as frying a few eggs does not make one a cook”.

When Mussolini could no longer take Gramsci’s insights and maxims, he put him in prison for 11 years until he died.

Still, he wrote 32 memoires combined into 3000 pages, which used to be smuggled out of the prison.

Looking at the root cause of the current damage and destruction in our country, one can easily find two reasons: The use of clan allegiances as a twisted tool of brutality and misconception about the role of the religion in politics and public life.

And so, given that our woes are a result of destructive ideologies, it is unacceptable for those seeking solutions for the country, top among them the political leaders, to be void of thought and doctrine.

It is impossible to get past these problems if our political elites, those one would hope are seeking solutions for the country’s difficulties, go into politics to make a living.

So long as our politics is that shallow and callous, so long as we have no interest in political thoughts and principles that could usher in change, we will remain stuck with the mindset that led us to where we are today.

This is because we cannot fight without an ideology, thought and philosophy; we cannot govern a country without them too. Any nation is guided by faith, conscience, values, knowledge and awareness.

Whatever be the future political system in Somalia, the duty of a statesman is to safeguard the welfare of the citizens. The biggest problem with Somali politics today is that politicians have forgotten this responsibility. Politics is not meant for the fulfillment of selfish aims and greed, its purpose is to serve the common good.  Unless we get leaders who can rise above their personal interests and act for the sake of humanity, none of the political systems are going to work in Somalia.

As poet Hadrawi said, “You know you did not win yet if the conscience is not content”.