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Hyper-activism: The Wrong Political Culture

By   /  December 30, 2009  /  1 Comment

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Throughout modern history, lack of motivation has been a commonly perceived cause of underachievement among teenagers. The essence of this universal assumption lies in the belief that teenagers with diminished inspiration to participate in social and political activities often end up dropping out of school and flitting into delinquency. Unconventionally, the exact opposite of this assumption was strikingly proven true by Omar, a 17-year old Mogadishuan secondary school dropout and a brilliant underachiever. In his pre-teen years, growing up in a lawless city coupled with scarcity of financial and educational resources posed no major obstacles to his academic success. Omar was astonishingly smart, and a hafiz who passed all his primary school courses with flying colors. Unfortunately, when he came of age recently, this young boy tended to show egregious behaviors, persistent truancy, and repeatedly exam failures which eventually led him to quit school altogether. As a family acquaintance, I felt overwhelmingly concerned about how a teen so far off kilter could be corrected. However, on one Friday afternoon of the last year, Omar made an unpredictable stunning move that caught almost all of his relatives by surprise. Calling in from Mogadishu under a pseudonym, he bombarded prominent politicians and other knowledgeable guests on BBC Somalia’s Friday talk show with questions and comments too critical of Sheikh Sharif presidency and polices. Despite his young age, Omar’s gradual gravitation towards political activism cost him his education and dropped him down in the hands of raging insurgents. This is certainly not an isolated incident but an eye-opening occurrence representative of a contagious activist spirit that spread like a wildfire across all circles of the Somali people. An analysis of this rampant participant political culture reveals that clan politics and national responses to ephemeral foreign interventions created an irreversible hyper-activism which, in turn, perpetuated the already existing political instability and generated crippling economic inefficiencies.

Since the end of World War II, culture has been viewed as important to the study of politics for many reasons. First, the significance of culture lies in the belief that studying culture is the key to understanding differences between peoples and states, and their relative political choices and outcomes. Second, culture is a useful tool to explain why some groups hold power and how the mobs challenge those in power. Following this further, political culture is distinct form of culture that is primarily concerned with the relationship between the level of population’s participation in the political process and political stability. Essentially, this means that too much citizen activism tends to cause instability and chaos. Since it is obvious that Somalia is suffering greatly from hyper-activism, it is fair to ask ourselves this question: what are the underlying causes of the hyper-activism? The answer is very clear: clan politics and foreign intervention.

To understand clan politics, let us first look at the liberal democratic countries around the world, where candidates representing different political parties, compete for legislative seats. Under this kind of party systems, any given candidate runs for political office on specific party platforms – or ideas — that might not sometimes resonate even with the candidate’s close relatives. So it will come as no surprise to a candidate if his/her brother votes for the wrong candidate. Conversely, clan politics does not take party platforms into account. The only factor that matters is the identity of the individual regardless of views. Interestingly enough, a political actor under clan system always counts on the support of his/her clan under all circumstances even if he/she sides with the devil himself! Unlike party systems where only small portion of the population belong to an interest group or parties with political agendas, the clan politics encompasses all citizens for everyone belongs to a clan. Therefore clan politics is a major cause of hyper-activism.

Ephemeral Foreign interventions are also a major cause of hyper-activism that gripped Somalia. This is self-evident and needs no further explanations because when citizens of a country feel that their religion and sovereignty are under attack, they have no choice but resistance. While the first cause of hyper-activism led many people of different ages to promote and fight for their clans, the second one is what dropped down Omar in the hands of sanctimonious insurgents.

The evidence of this irreversible hyper-activism can be found everywhere. Due to the absence of state regulatory agencies, Somalia has a large number of children, as young as ten, who are trained to operate any sort of heavy weaponry. The country has produced uncountable number of politicians, warlords, untrained journalists, political analyst status claimants, fake religious scholars and too many fighters. To see more statistical evidence of this phenomenon, let us turn our attention to the Internet. The number of individually owned Somali political news websites is record-breaking. The number of Paltalk rooms listed under Somalia exceeds hundred- the largest listed under a single country. Honorary and otherwise, titles such Dr., expert, professor, sheikh, General, Colonel, chairman, leader and scholar no longer mean anything valuable to average Somalis because any one can claim them all once and get away with it. Professions as tough and knowledge demanding as journalism have become easily attainable career choices as long as one can imitate the deep voice of Abdisalam Hareri or Awke. Evidently, the hyper-activism created by clan politics and foreign interventions created Ana Amir wa Anta Ami r kind of society, very hard to govern. Before the advent of the Islamic Courts Union in 2006, the country was divided into several fiefdoms each dominated by power-hungry clan warlords. This dangerous and often subtle political culture has perpetuated the so-far irremediable political instability in Somalia.

On the other hand, the emergency of hyper-activist political culture was detrimental to our ailing economy. In fact, it created immeasurable economic inefficiencies: loss of human resources, shortage of skilled trades such as electricians, tailors, carpenters, mechanics, welders and so on. The few men spared by this phenomenon are farmers and small businessmen. Although some would likely blame this work aversion disorder on the remittances flowing from Diaspora to relatives inside Somalia, the undeniable fact is that it is only a very tiny party of the problem because the majority of those affected by the work aversion disorder are men. The last time I have been to Bakara Market in Mogadishu, two-thirds of business owners were women, why? Because unlike women, most of men not longer feel content with their traditional role of being family breadwinner. Some of them even abandon wives and children only to fill unpaid positions as long as it gives them a good-sounding title.

Hyper-activism is an invisible dangerous political culture with destructive political and economic consequences. It poses a real threat to anybody who happens to hold a political leadership in Somalia, whether it is UN-backed like Sheikh Sharif’s Transitional National Unity Government or popular religious movement such as Alshabab. In order for any peace-building effort to bear fruits, hyper-activist political culture needs to be curbed. Obliviously, the underlying causes of this problem cannot be uprooted in the short-run; however, certain steps must be taken in order to successfully contain further spread of this contagious disease. The main players in the political arena should establish regulatory agencies and licensing boards to provide license or certifications to only qualified candidates of any profession and thus, prohibit the practice of certifiable professions by others. Moreover, they should adopt policies encouraging Diaspora communities to invest in their country and come up with entrepreneurial ideas. Finally, awareness campaigns must be launched in order to remove occupational stigma from some productive careers such as blacksmithing, shoemaking, and other construction trades. A combination of these steps is likely to create a less politically oriented society of which its members are gainfully employed hard workers, capable of meeting their monetary needs.

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1 Comment

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