A Response to Organizers of the Somali Studies International Association Congress, Helsinki Blog

To the organizers of the SSIA Helsinki congress:

It is regrettable that the belated first statement issued by Helsinki organizers on #CadaanStudies over four months after events is one that only confirms the central issues and questions that prompted the initial intervention. Interrogating how systems of power and histories of racialization and whiteness – key terms of the conversation inexplicably absent and sanitized from this statement in its abstraction – continue to shape knowledge production in Somali Studies is an overdue move for this subfield. Faced with the opportunity to welcome a necessary conversation through formal inclusion in the SSIA Congress program, to make the responsible decision to take advantage of a rare convergence of Somali and non-Somali Somali Studies scholars in one place that occurs only once every three years, you have instead chosen to relegate the voices of young Somali scholars to the literal margins. Deemed neither urgent nor important enough to make any changes to the existing program, you have decided that the most appropriate forum for conversations about race, power and knowledge production are listserv emails and break time discussions.

I am further concerned by the appropriative language of the statement, which states that Helsinki SSIA organizers “hope to start a tradition of reflecting on the field of Somali Studies with the aim of improving and developing it as a field that is more relevant, robust, and ethical in the knowledge it produces” and that this is “the beginning of a conversation.” This is a conversation that exists and that you are only now entering, one that emerged out of the interventions of young Somali scholars months ago, and it is that existing conversation to which you now speak. One of the central contentions of #CadaanStudies has been the issue of Somali erasure, and the notion that Western scholars are the only ones capable of ideas and productive academic discourse. Here we are told that the conversation and reflection only begins four months later when SSIA organizers declare it has started and rehearse watered down versions of arguments we have already made, after refusing to engage with #CadaanStudies at its most critical time.

There is only one way to show that SSIA Helsinki organizers have understood, respect and affirm the importance and urgency of the issues at stake, and that is through formal inclusion in the SSIA Congress. As it stands, we have only seen insincere, empty calls for reflection while refusing to make space for a necessary conversation.
Safia Aidid
Harvard University

Safia Aidid is a PhD Candidate in History at Harvard University, whose research focuses on Somali nationalism and its interaction with the Ethiopian state. You can find her on Twitter @SafiaA.


  1. How do you see this debate to go down? Who do you think will debate against you? Do non Somalis have the right to study about Somalia and Somalis without including any Somali person as a collaborator?

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