On Saturday 14th October 2017, East Africa witnessed the single most deadly terrorist attack after a truck bomb was detonated in the Somali capital of Mogadishu, killing more than 350 people. The response from world media was slow at best and completely lacking at worst. In doing research for this blog entry, I struggled to find basic information on the who, what, where and how around the attack (try for yourself, I’ll wait). In an age where social media profile pictures are changed within hours such attacks, it is shocking that these basic points are not even addressed in the first paragraph of news articles…why do African lives not matter?
The theme of this year’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence was ‘safeguarding women and girls before, during and after conflict’. We know that women and girls are disproportionately affected in times of conflict. In the aftermath of a civil war, in the midst of drought and now living with the impact of the attacks (plural – yes, 21 to be exact) that have taken place in Mogadishu in 2017 alone, one can only imagine how women and girls have been affected.
Angela, FORWARD’s Africa Diapsora Programme Intern, spoke to Hafsam, President of Brunel’s Somali Society and Shukri, Rahma and Osob, members of LSE Somali Society, Rahma, and Hafsa
Expressing a sense of frustration and compelled to take action, many Somali university societies across the UK continue to raise awareness and support efforts on the ground. I was curious to hear their views on the ongoing issues and on the role of social actors to inspire action or, in some cases, inaction.
Angela: The attack that took place on Saturday 14th October was not the first. What about this event made you eager to take action in your universities? How did you raise awareness about the issue?
Shukri: As we’re quite a small society, we tried to support other Somali Societies (Som Socs) for instance we attended the vigil held by Kings College Som Soc. We also got in touch with LSE Islamic Society to help share the message about some organisations that we were supporting. Now that we have an official committee, we want to offer our own efforts. At the time we didn’t really have the manpower but it was great to go and support what other societies were doing and to join in prayers for Somalia. For me, the experience highlighted what the youth can actually do. I think a lot of us realize that it is our responsibility to help at home. No one else is going to do it so it has to be us pushing it forward.
Osob: The number of deaths had a lot to do with why there was such a huge response from the Somali community. Obviously there’s been a lot of conflict and terror attacks since the civil war but the numbers we’ve seen since the 14th October are just ridiculous; its been called the 9/11 of Somalia. It’s sad to say but I think that’s why people were interested. I think a lot of Som Socs wanted to get involved because there was no media coverage and most people were getting their information from twitter and that’s a problem.
Shukri: Think about it, so many people died and their names aren’t shared, their faces weren’t put in newspapers.
Angela: The Rohingya crisis continues to play out and was going on at the time of the Mogadishu attack, however Mogadishu did not receive a morsel of the coverage the Myanmar issue has. Does race have a role to play in the Mogadishu crisis?
Rahma: Race has a HUGE part to play – definitely a massive part to play! I think it’s such a big problem. Just look at the university scene, Islamic Societies (ISOCs) are usually dominated by Asian Muslims and even when people in the UK think of a Muslim, they think of an Asian Muslim. Even though these atrocities took place, we ourselves had to reach out to the Islamic societies – we shouldn’t have had to ask.
Shukri: I asked why [the Islamic societies] hadn’t responded immediately and I was met with a vague answer which at the time made me very upset. What I was trying to make them understand is that it was and is a dire issue! Eventually, they did share links to some of the organisations we were supporting.
Hafsa: More or less Somalis tend to do things ourselves. For me, it was really difficult getting a response from the ISOC, it was frustrating. I just think it is so much easier to do things by ourselves. I would urge Somalis to stick together, which we’re very good at anyway. In staying together we can break the barriers that we face as a community. I think the government and media have the capacity to do something, of course they do. I’ve seen so much on Syria but I don’t see much on Somalia. It’s been mainly us using twitter to spread the news.
Rahma: It just seems to me that the fairer skinned Muslim gets more attention than the darker skinned Muslim. We never hear about what happens in Nigeria with Boko Haram. I don’t know if I necessarily blame ISOCs themselves because I genuinely think they are not aware that they’re doing it. However, there is a massive blockage where some Asian Muslims are more empathetic to fairer skin Muslims and vice versa.
Osob: For me, I don’t think it’s ignorance, it’s active blindness. You’ve grown up in the UK, you have some notion of the racial tensions. When something’s happening to a black person, they are desensitized.
Angela: So we’ve mentioned race and religion but there’s a gender aspect to it too in my opinion. My question is: what role can women play in bringing these conflicts to light ?
Shukri: In terms of the Somali demographics, there are a lot more Somali women than men in higher education so it will definitely be women pushing it forward. However, Somali boys and men still have a part to play and Som Socs this year have been doing so much, they have grown so much.
There has been a lot of conflict and terror attacks since the civil war but the numbers we have seen from the 14th October are just ridiculous; its been called the 9/11 of Somalia.
Rahma: I feel that compared to other ethnicities, Somali girls are not that held back. If I was to say to my mum and dad I want to do this or that and I want to study abroad, they wouldn’t say no. I still feel, however, that the household expectations are there.
Osob: Definitely, Somali homes are very matriarchal. Women in the house are the ones that run things. So I feel like this idea of the matriarch in the family trickles down to Somali girls being expected to strive and not have any social barriers. I think in this respect, we are able to be more active when it comes to raising awareness about such atrocities. This is is not to say that Somali boys aren’t active, it’s just that most of the notable action comes from high level institutions and there isn’t a massive representation of Somali boys there; it’s mainly girls.
Shukri: Because of the way we are raised in terms of the household, Somali girls are given a lot of responsibility at such a young age. It’s empowering, you’re still expected to go to school, do well in school, hold down a job and excel. We’ve been taught to do seven roles at once and we’re okay with it. It’s an expectation and I do think it’s a good expectation – I’m killing the game inside and I’m killing it outside. But I do think it’s sad because it means boys don’t have good role models. Somali girls have so many role models to aspire to.
Rahma: As with many other cultures, the older generation may have a particular view of the things that are more appropriate for women and girls to do. However, I’ve been always raised to believe that there’s nothing I cannot do.
Angela: What can the Somali Diaspora do to raise awareness especially women and girls?
Rahma: Try and increase female education back home because I feel most of the money goes toward drought. It’s not a long term investment.
Shukri: Once Somalia’s been stabilized in terms of long term goals. Its about female education and increasing access to education.
Osob: For now its pretty limited at the moment in terms of what Somali girls can do, Somalia is still very unstable, so I feel like there’s not a lot of space for Somali girls to be active and to help with society because, as Shukri said, it’s about basic necessities. In terms of diaspora, its about being aware of what’s going on at home and not being detached.
Shukri: I think we sometimes take for granted the opportunity to be educated here and to live here. We have access to organizations such as FORWARD where we can spread the word.
Hafsa: I think the youth in London have a great standing. We have opportunities to help those at home through our outreach and our networks. The collaborative efforts among Som Socs for example is a great place to start. I would say, don’t be afraid to do something for your people. Be brave and bold, you’ll always have the support of a handful of people.
Special thanks to:
Hafsa – BA Accounting & Finance, Brunel Somali Society President
Osob – BA History, LSE Somali Society Member
Rahma – BA History, LSE Somali Society Member
Shukri – BA International Relations & History, LSE Somali Society Member
Words by @AngOBB