In the 19th century, my homeland was carved up by imperialists. Now that’s in danger of happening all over again
By Mohamoud Gaildon
April 3, 2022 6:00AM (EDT)
In colonial days, foreign men drew lines on paper to divide the Somali people without their knowledge. Thanks to conservatives in Washington, today it’s happening again.
Back then, foreign men drew lines on paper to divide Somalis without their knowledge. Today, men in Washington — and they are once again almost all men — are working to decide the fate of Somalis as one aspect of global competition with China. Those like Risch and the Heritage Foundation are throwbacks to colonial times, hellbent on reordering Africa as they see fit. For them, Somalia is fair game, a guinea pig, something to be altered with the stroke of a pen. If their intentions were sincere, they would be interested in talking to all sides of this particular conflict and they would not have so smugly ignored the government of the Federal Republic of Somalia. It is no secret that government is frail and unstable, but that is not a good reason for undermining it still further.
In American right-wingers eager to exert power in the Horn of Africa, President Muse Bihi Abdi of Somaliland has finally found dancing partners in his quest to open a wound that healed long ago. The border he wants to revive in order to secede from Somalia carries a history of humiliation and pain, not suffered by him or his tribe but rather by the tribes in the east of what he now likes to call Somaliland.
When the original Somaliland protectorate voluntarily united with Somalia in 1960 and the colonial border between them was erased, it was a great moment. Communities torn apart for decades were finally free to move and mix in the vast land of our ancestors. It is that very border that Bihi and his allies now want to revive, with the comforting knowledge that neither they nor their tribesmen will feel the knife’s edge of separation if things go their way. Neither Risch nor the Heritage Foundation has ever spoken to those whose lives or families would once again be torn asunder. In the tradition of long-ago colonial administrators, they are scribbling words on paper in cozy offices thousands of miles away from the people whose fate they are deciding.
Somaliland’s narrative of independence is based on a deceptive mix of truths, half-truths and outright lies that it has been unable to sell to the Somali people, the African Union or anyone else in the world except — again, for political reasons — the would-be independent island of Taiwan. It’s no wonder that Bihi has found a receptive ear and a helping hand in the Heritage Foundation, known for climate-change denialism, efforts to suppress the votes of minorities in the U.S., and fueling the moral panic over “critical race theory.” It is deeply unfortunate to see the self-described leaders of Somaliland seeking validation from forces in the United States aligned with a racist and neocolonialist agenda. But there’s not much room for pity when the fate of so many poor Somalis hangs in the balance. There’s only room for good people to stand up and tell the American right: Hands off Somalia.
Mohamoud Gaildon is a Somali-American medical physicist. He has worked in a number of major hospitals including Memorial Sloan-Kettering, Beth Israel and Mount Sinai in New York City. He is now a senior medical physicist at St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, Illinois, and is also the author of a novel, “The Yibir of Las Burgabo.”
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