By Mohamed Harun
Immense socio-economic and political challenges anywhere produce, more often than not, a new wave of political thoughts and the people to turn them to a reality. In this part of the world, that is not the case. Challenges do exist and accumulate, but they rarely inspire new ideas or individuals to become catalyst for change. Having said that, sometimes rather unexpectedly, wild ideas and individuals turn up from somewhere, maybe from obscurity or bewilderment. This time in moment, Barkhad, the brave man of Somaliland’s traditionally marginalised communities, do fit these arbitrary criteria.
Against all the odds, from his birth to the present day, Barkhad has lived with, and miraculously overcome, enormous socio-economic and political challenges. With limited resources and limited examples to inspire him, Barkhad has graduated from the law school of Hargeisa University. He then moved on to fight in the employment market which, sadly enough, knows no mercy or rules for a level playing field. He then moved on to join the local political movements which, in no time, he rose through their rank and file to become the spokesperson of the main opposition party. By now, he is considered a battle-hardened soldier, who always wins. He is now preparing himself, and his community by extension, for another battle to fight. He put himself forward as a candidate for the upcoming Somaliland’s parliamentary elections, scheduled in May this year. This battle is more important and obviously, more challenging than any one he previously wrestled.
This young and charismatic politician belongs to the Gaboya clans, who are unfairly treated throughout the history. His community possesses unmatched edge in numerous traditional professions, which include, but not limited to, leatherworking, shoemaking, all forms of arts and crafts, knife/iron-smelting and whole range of inter-generational ingenuity. Weirdly enough, their talent and profession, which would have been much admired in a logical world, draws more oppression and discriminatory practices from the majority nomadic clans.
As part of that long-sustained oppression, their children get little or no chance to education, which perpetuates a vicious cycle of poverty and deprivation. He stood up to right this long-existed wrong. Coming from that backdrop, Barkhad is here to challenge us all. He is resolute and knows where he is heading. His eyes are set and fixed on the goal. He is challenging the fabric of our moral being. He says enough is enough. He knows social, economic, and political rights are not, and will never be, something to be given out effortlessly, but something to be tirelessly demanded with unwavering commitment and conviction.
Barkhad has been in the spotlight for a long time as a public figure, and I knew him from the distance for quite some time. It was only four years ago when I began to engage with him directly. I had the honour to have conversations with him on several occasions, but the most important and the most fruitful of all was the one we had on the road to/from Berbera in November 2017. On both phases of the trip, we barely had a time to discuss any other subject other than that of the community he belongs to, and the kind of solutions he envisages. I asked him how he see things – I mean the challenges facing the Gaboya community – and what kind of tangible ideas he might have which can be turned into a deliverable programme.
When discussing these issues, he was not short of ideas at all. He eloquently dived into the matter with great degree of confidence and conciseness. I vividly recall how much time he spent, for instance, on one subject among many – the educational challenges facing youngsters of the Gaboya community, and the kind of solutions that must be devised at the state level. He possesses a huge pool of first-hand experience to the matter, and great first-hand ideas which are absolutely tailored to the needs of the concerned community. I followed his thought-provoking discussion with great passion, though I found some of them quite extreme. He was strongly against the idea of expecting children from the Gaboya community to benefit from the ordinary mainstream education, be it public or private.
Barkhad totally rebuffed that notion. “Our children’s needs are quite extra-ordinary, and need extra-ordinary solutions, albeit in the short term,” he said. By this he meant, specific kind of parallel education, along the mainstream one, to be developed for the children of those marginalised communities. For instance, he talked about exclusive boarding schools, dedicated for those children. Those children, he said, due to their deeply rooted socio-economic background, they need something that is way more than classroom and teacher. Many of those pupils, Barkhad argued, come from extremely poor or sometimes broken families, and their parents often place little or no value to formal education. Parents push their kids, quite at a young age, to go to work and financially contribute to their household.
Therefore, Barkhad argued, school aged children of those communities must be given a better chance and better environment which is conducive to their learning. His argument and reasoning, I must say, was of a high standard and very compelling. However, despite my political thoughts about the education of people with disability, whom I belong to, which places great value and preference on the inclusive education as oppose to the exclusive one, I still did not get the words to oppose his argument. I was cognisant of my limitations. One cannot dare to challenge a guru in his field. However, although I recall that I have raised some downsides of the exclusive education, like the long-term impact of the exclusivity on students and how difficult it might be for them to survive in the real world Nevertheless, my remarks were no where near to be considered a challenge to his views.
Having said that, regardless of the efficacy of Barkhad’s views on the education of this particular society, which may or may not work, the bold truth here is the fact that this community urgently need genuine attention. Through affirmative action or positive discrimination measures, series of programmes and policies pertaining to education, employment, public health, and hygiene must be designed and delivered. Every area of Hargeisa desperately needs those things and more, but some areas have more dire situation than others, and Daami is coming first in the line in that regard. Hargeisa owes a great debt to this community and the next parliament must legislate measures forceing every municipal council to earmark particular budget for the regeneration of those suburbs throughout the country. This is where Barkhad’s involvement is becoming overly critical; all other MPs/councillors must support this move as well.
Upon our return from that fateful trip, we dropped Barkhad at his home address in Daami – North Eastern suburb of Hargeisa which, predominantly inhabited by Barkhad’s constituency. Hargeisa has a kind of segregation, albeit unsystematic, where each sub-clan found themselves concentrated on a particular quarter of the city, and ‘Daami’ is where majority of the Gaboya community reside. Daami is considered extremely deprived and under-developed, even in the standards of Hargeisa, which are not advanced anyway. That is where Barkhad made his home and fervently expressed his desire and conviction to live among his community. I am under no illusion that he has both the ability and the choice to move on to another area of the city, which is relatively better off compare to Daami, but he chose not to. This helped him urn the trust and respect of his constituency and exposed him to the day-to-day live experience of their reality. As a result, they support his grassroot movement and even donate from their meagre resources to help him fund his campaign. They feal ownership and approve of everything he stands for. His mission is theirs, and they are for him.
In conclusion, I see Barkhad’s movement as a new beginning. A new beginning for a new dawn. To me, this is a history in the making. Barkhad is prepared to do all it takes to bring about a change. As MP, his election, the first of its kind in Somaliland, will create hope and confidence for many people in Hargeisa and beyond. His imminent victory will also reverberate across the country, and others will doutlessly follow suit. Of course, Barkhad cannot go alone in this – all other MPs, particularly those from the Hargeisa region, must make Daami’s case a priority. What happened to Daami and its community IE, poverty, backwardness, social degradation, and lack of opportunity, are just a result of our own wrongdoing. In another word, this is a result of a long-standing collective failure, which requires a collective solution, and this is where to begin. Yes, no one can do everything, but everyone can do something, and Barkhad is here to lead the way.
By: Mohamed Harun Biihi – firstname.lastname@example.org