‘There has been a natural curiosity about the “DALKA”’. So began the editorial of the first issue in 1965. ‘What journal is it going to be? Who is behind it? What line is it going to take in the various urgent problems facing us?’
As the present writer went about reviving the publication after a hiatus of some 48 years (the last edition was published on 15 October 1969), the same exact questions were asked. ‘Would it be pro or against the Government? Right or Left? Extreme or moderate?’ This editorial will hopefully illuminate the answers to these and other timely questions.
The desire to memorialise significant dates in one’s national history seems primordial. The emperors of ancient Rome, for instance, fond of pomp and pageantry, would often inaugurate festivals to mark milestones such as victories on the battlefield against their foes. In 60 AD, Emperor Nero set up the Quinquennial Neronia—a three-part festival involving music, oratory, poetry and games—to mark the anniversary of his reign. It was no coincidence that the first of July was chosen both now and back in 1965 for the launch of the magazine.
Since 1960, the first of July has occupied a particular prominence in the Somali imaginary, marking the date both in which the former Italian colony gained independence and also united with the ex-British Protectorate, which was freed from colonial rule just days earlier on 26 June.
But in 1965, alongside the usual display of ceremony and jubilation, independence day celebrations were accompanied by a novel occurrence, which for the nation’s politicians would have been more a cause for concern than celebration.
On that day, Yousuf Jama Ali Duhul, a British-educated Somali lawyer, published the first issue of his current affairs magazine, Dalka, publishing many articles under the pseudonym ‘DAJY’, the initials of his full name spelt backwards. A young lawyer in private practice—he had been called to the Bar just five years earlier in 1960—Duhul had modelled the journal on the New Statesman, which had left its mark on him and some of his fellow Somalis during their studies in the UK.
The publication, as one of those ‘peripherally’ involved recently reminded me, proved ‘a storm in the side’ of the government, because it was those in power in the nascent nation-state who were the subject of Duhul and his fellows’ censure.
A brainchild of Duhul’s, whose pioneering enthusiasm not only brought about the publication but more importantly, ensured its maintenance, the journal rapidly took after the high profile of its editor. At the time, he was gaining a reputation in the new republic, having served as the defence of the junior, Sandhurst-trained army officers who staged the failed coup in north Somalia in 1961.
In a reprint of Dalka published in 1997—twenty years ago this year—Duhul recalled gratifyingly how ‘so widely remembered, and remembered with fondness’ the publication was, almost three decades after it was last published. Commenting on the fact he had been urged to revive the journal, he found this ‘a most impossible and impractical suggestion’ since it had been a ‘child of its time’ and ‘you cannot recreate the past’. He concluded his preface, however, with the hope that the reprint would allow ‘a new generation to see, to read, to laugh at or to criticise, maybe even to be inspired by’.
It is on these last words that this revival hangs. Despite the proliferation, especially in the last decade or so, of Somali-related content on the World Wide Web, the present author identified a void where Dalka once stood. It is here, then, that the publication’s mission statement can be easily found. The first is to inject some of the cautious optimism that the Dalka brand was so well-known; ‘cautious’ in the sense that although on the face of the publication criticised sitting politicians, it did so with the hope this scrutiny would encourage (or goad!) them into aspiring to the high standards of the fledgling parliamentary democracy in which they served.
The last few decades too have seen to the coarsening of public opinion against the ruling establishment (and rightly so) but in the media coverage, this is rarely tempered by even the faintest expectation that things can get better. We hope to change this.
In the planning stages, contemplating what title to use for this incarnation of the publication, the editor initially toyed with Dhulka to try and capture some of the dislocation effected on the Somali condition in the last few decades and the resulting polycentrism. The response from those who had been familiar with the original was that it was a dull shadow of the optimism encapsulated by the original name. In this way then, the publication will seek to marry the past, the present and the future—what was, what is and what can be. Along the way, the reader can be sure of one thing: incisive analysis is our trade and wit, our currency.
Secondly, New Dalka will showcase the best of Somali long-form journalism. Just as the original Dalka ran everything from book reviews to musings on pressing existential questions such as the fate of the young Intellectual, our pages will bring to life some of the key cultural and social questions facing the Somali people.
Occasionally, we will also take a leaf out of the history books. It is with great pleasure then to have in this, the first issue, an article by Abdulkadir Ali Bollay, about the fifty-seventh anniversary of Somalia’s independence. Contributions like these will strengthen our link to the past. Although not himself involved with Dalka, Bollay is a veteran journalist, who had written for and edited newspapers such as the government-owned, Italian-language daily Corriere della Somalia from the 1950s and its Somali successor, Xiddigta Oktoobar from 1972.
Naturally, when such a long time has passed since the original was first published, this publication will be different in its own way. Coming in the ‘Internet Age’, it will begin life as an online publication, being able to effortlessly reach farther audiences. Engaging with a readership, scattered through the world, our content will adopt a suitably international outlook, integrating fresh perspectives and insights drawn from across the globe.
But still, some things haven’t changed. As before, this ‘journal of the people’ will be neutral in so far as we are not ‘for or against’ anyone. ‘Our approach’, as Duhul wrote in the first editorial, ‘will be empirical. We will examine each issue, problem or situation on its own merit’. But neutrality will not—and should not—absolve us of speaking the truth and saying what needs to be said. As ever, ‘We believe that the cause of the man who cannot defend himself, the weak, should be espoused’.
This reincarnation, as with the original Dalka, will rely on ‘the cooperation of all those who believe that our effort is worthwhile’. Readers are warmly encouraged to send in their submissions—either as written pieces or proposals, or simply Emails to the Editor. The former should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org and the latter to email@example.com. The words of the first editorial that ‘We want to discover those with unexplored literary talent’ still hold true as does the promise that ‘We will certainly publish any material, provided only it is of the acceptable standard’.
Like the Quinquennial Neronia, which was celebrated only twice at an interval of four years, by its fifth anniversary, Dalka was no longer in print. But like this publication, Nero’s Games would be revived, decades later, in their case by a later Roman emperor, Domitian.
From the start, Dalka was actively seen by the political class as an inconvenience, finding themselves—both as a category and in some cases, individually—reprimanded in its pages.
Whatever they may have thought of Dalka back then, it is our sincere belief that that first generation of Somali politicians would—had they been alive—welcomed its reappearance (even simply for the nostalgia). For it represented much of what was good and memorable of that now-bygone era, 1960s Somalia, where ‘every Somali [was] his own political party, with an opinion to express on every issue’, all expressed without fearing arrest or worse, for his or her life. If this reincarnation goes some way to revitalising that optimism tempered by a culture of healthy cynicism, it would have surely served its purpose.