All Return Is Not The Same Return Blog

Who is the Somali?

I talk about this a lot lately. There’s few things we acknowledge in our ideas of what it means to be Somali and who is often restricted from that category. It is precisely the displacement of Somalis across the globe that places us in the position to have to think about clarifying identity more broadly. Somalis in the diaspora are clamouring to understand themselves the context of diaspora which forces us to begin to think about the stories we have taken as truth for so long. If we have to figure out between us what makes us similar, we begin to have to understand what connects us all across lines of difference, similarity or what it means to operate in these places of tension.

What does it mean to return?

First we have to acknowledge that all return isn’t the same return. More precisely not all people have the ability to return. So when we think about what it means to return we have to also unpack our assumptions that return guarantees that you are welcome in the first place, and that return doesn’t come with years of social stratified baggage.

Im interested in the term diaspora privilege lately: the blanket assumption that returning to Somalia with a Western passport, education and language gives you unprecedented access. Let me be clear I’m not contesting the vast amount of privilege associated with these things. But I am questioning the assumption that returning with all of those things means you are 100% of the time granted a spatial and class based mobility.

All return is not the same return.

I’m disputing diaspora privilege as a universal way to describe Somalis that have returned because of its inherent assumption that to be of the diaspora and to be a local are two separate identities. One of which is more authentic than the other. I reject this because of what it allows to be hidden under fancy jargon and what it refuses to unpack.

The point of return is a concept that will have to be unpacked for Somalis with more quickness than before particularly in light of the increasing stability of the Somali region (despite what is said by international media). Across the Somali territories there is more and more talk of “returnees”. The point of return must be theorized on and therefore it’s connection to identity must be understood.

But in order to understand return we must understand departure. How do people come to leave a place and why?

These ideas of diaspora and locals within Somalia and the Somali territories isn’t new. From the Somali sailors now settled in Cardiff, to students who went off to Italy for pharmaceutical post secondary schools to promising religious scholars who learned at Islamic schools offered in the Arab peninsulas Somalis have been leaving the Somali territories for generations. The departure of Somalis is as much a part of the region as is their subsequent return. And yet something is different: their departure didn’t result in the disavowal of their Somalinimo. So why in the context of drought and civil war and trauma do we choose now to differentiate between who becomes more or less authentically Somalis with little nuance or understanding of geopolitics? Does war legitimize the policing of identity identity? Does class decide who belongs? These are difficult questions to answer, and I want to be clear that the raising of these questions are critical to understanding ourselves as functional parts of these ideas.

This is a way to begin to examine what it means to leave and then return to a place. To never leave, and to challenge the motion of diaspora privilege as a carte blanche ticket to power. Who leaves? Who returns? Who is allowed to return? And how do terms like diaspora privilege for those of us who CANNOT return suddenly create inadvertent division?

As a young Madhibaan-Somali woman, what do I return to? A 4.5 system that gives me limited to no political power? If my family fled because that very Madhibaan identity posed incalculable risk, where do I go when I return? Where do young Somali women who aren’t connected to high ranking political families return to? When Somali male journalists are jailed for highlighting women’s experiences of rape, where are other places of recourse for Somali women? What do we return to? And why must we return?

I ask all this to have us think more seriously about we are attempting to get at and to perhaps engage more constructively in dialogue about home, homeland and place. Who goes and who comes, and who has ability to do is complex to think through. I prefer the complexity, it leads us to multiple sites of solidarity. The simple understandings only pit us further against one another.


Hawa Y. Mire is a diasporic Somali storyteller, writer, and strategist who focuses on themes of Blackness and Indigeniety, (dis)connection and (un)belonging. Her writing is seated somewhere between oral tradition and the written word, celestial and myth, past and present, ancestry and spirit. An MES candidate in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University, her research incorporates traditional Somali stories with discourses of constructed identity while pulling from archival histories of resistance and radical curatorial practises.

Comments

  1. Fowsia Abdulkadir Says: November 24, 2015 at 2:39 pm

    Thank you Hawa Mire for yet another thoughtful piece, which forces us to ponder these critical questions you pose. This is a must read for all Somalis wherever they might be.

  2. Great Article. Very thoughtful indeed.
    My favourite yet.

    I was, however, a little confused to what you were referring to when you said, ” So why in the context of drought and civil war and trauma do we choose now to differentiate between who becomes more or less authentically Somalis with little nuance or understanding of geopolitics? “

  3. Sharmarke Says: December 3, 2015 at 2:24 am

    What constitutes to be a Somali citizen is simply anyone who is of Somali origin irrespective of geographical location or anyone who’s migrated to Somalia, embraced the local culture along with its values, learnt the local language/s and called Somalia as his/her home is a Somali citizen. Deconstructing the numerous claims made by the author requires one to make clear the distinction between circular and chain migrations. The former is a temporary migration to a foreign country as a result of employment or education whereas the latter is a permanent migration to a foreign country resulted by wars or economic conditions. Fast forward, to answer why the return of the Somali diasporas is now lauded and celebrated is in part because of an indication pointing an improvement of the conditions that set many Somalis to sail in the first place.

    Hence, “as young Somali Madiban woman…4.5”. It’s sad fact that Somalis have in the past demonised, marginalised and segregated some sections of its own people. The generations that have institutionalised this discriminatory practice are long gone or if there are any groups who still hold this view are in the fringe minority. The 4.5 formula is also another curse foisted upon us and it’s the elephant in the room. All Somalis should’ve level playing field in the efforts to reconstitute what was once vibrant Unitarian Somali Republic. Indeed all Somali citizens should have equal rights to realise their potential. The premise that “all returnees are not equal” this assertion appears that it doesn’t provide enough evidence to back it up. I assume though reasons for returnees largely depends on the amount of social capital or network one has on the ground. While perhaps the tribe that one hails from May in some instances give him/her an edge, yet it’s arguably not the whole answer to gauge one’s place in the social ladder. I’ve left Somalia as a teenage in 1991. I still have some happy memories back then, would love to go back but my plate is full. I got lots of things to contend with and there are lots of people like me. In sum, the author have raised important issues, it’s incumbent upon us though to remedy past injustices. Let me make this clear it’s the responsibility of aparticular group but us as a collective and put Somalia a different course which leads to social cohesion and harmony. United we are strong.

  4. Sharmarke Says: December 3, 2015 at 2:30 am

    What constitutes to be a Somali citizen is simply anyone who is of Somali origin irrespective of geographical location or anyone who’s migrated to Somalia, embraced the local culture along with its values, learnt the local language/s and called Somalia as his/her home is a Somali citizen. Deconstructing the numerous claims made by the author requires one to make clear the distinction between circular and chain migrations. The former is a temporary migration to a foreign country as a result of employment or education whereas the latter is a permanent migration to a foreign country resulted by wars or economic conditions. Fast forward, to answer why the return of the Somali diasporas is now lauded and celebrated is in part because of an indication pointing an improvement of the conditions that set many Somalis to sail in the first place.

    Hence, “as young Somali Madiban woman…4.5”. It’s sad fact that Somalis have in the past demonised, marginalised and segregated some sections of its own people. The generations that have institutionalised this discriminatory practice are long gone or if there are any groups who still hold this view are in the fringe minority. The 4.5 formula is also another curse foisted upon us and it’s the elephant in the room. All Somalis should’ve level playing field in the efforts to reconstitute what was once vibrant Unitarian Somali Republic. Indeed all Somali citizens should have equal rights to realise their potential. The premise that “all returnees are not equal” this assertion appears that it doesn’t provide enough evidence to back it up. I assume though reasons for returnees largely depends on the amount of social capital or network one has on the ground. While perhaps the tribe that one hails from May in some instances give him/her an edge, yet it’s arguably not the whole answer to gauge one’s place in the social ladder. I’ve left Somalia as a teenage in 1991. I still have some happy memories back then, would love to go back but my plate is full. I got lots of things to contend with and there are lots of people like me. In sum, the author have raised important issues, it’s incumbent upon us though to remedy past injustices. Let me make this clear it’s not the responsibility of a particular group but us as a collective and put Somalia a different course which leads to social cohesion and harmony. United we are strong.

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