Anyone with even the faintest knowledge of Somali music will be familiar with its alluring love songs. But looks, as the besotted will tell you, can be deceiving. Almost without fail, before the song’s end, some interesting quirk turns what was once a promising tale to its tragic end. Somali lyricists—composing what are now the “classics” in the latetwentieth century—typically chose their ‘endings’ from a set of possibilities, though by no means exhaustive list. Often, the love would be unrequited, recoiling on its initiator. In other instances, one of the parties would set off on a long journey, bringing the courting to a interludial hiatus. But these tunes had meaning for more than just the lovelorn. Musicians, trying to subvert some of the constraints of censorship, used their bittersweet tunes as subtle commentaries on the social, political and moral realities of life in late-twentieth century Somalia. “Ah,” this Editor has often heard from others, listening to any song from those halcyon days, “I wonder what political event prompted this ballad?” “Yes!” another might interject. “I know exactly who that estranged lover was meant to represent!” Sometimes, no love was lost between the devotees: it was a diatribe against a certain person or group of people all along.
The last month has been particularly busy in the world of Somali current affairs. A number of events in close succession—first, Bariire and then the arrest and extradition of Qalbi Dhagax—have detained the Somali imagination. Like the besotted, Somali websites and social media groups were talking of little else. But, much of the online discourse —on all sides—was characterised by flights of fancy, bouts of high intensity, but ultimately unsustainable, passion. Discussants often waded in with their contributions, often based on snap judgements rather than careful deliberation. Like much of social media, they seemed to make a virtue of rage and aggression.
Reflecting on this state of affairs, in conversation with one thoughtful Somali, the present Editor was left asking whether excitability gave away a lack of intellectual commitment to a cause. No sooner had people started talking about Bariire than when it was forgotten, buried by another issue. Why is it that our attention spans are as long as headlines, only to be snatched away or diverted by yet another breaking newsflash?
Bringing about something worthwhile—whether that be change, tangible results, accomplishments or answers to pressing questions—takes time and without a doubt, commitment. Rome, after all, was not built in a day. As a monthly, New Dalka enjoys a pronounced advantage over other titles and outlets. Going to press once a month means, unlike others, we are not in the business of providing round-theclock news, which tends towards sensationalism and in fact “newsmaking” on the part of journalists eager to make a splash.
But that does not mean we are not in a race against time. Producing one issue a month, of high-quality, insightful journalism, with a modest editorial team poses its own challenges. If as the phrase (of obscure origins) goes, ‘A week is a long time in politics’, then it can be reasonably assumed that working against a monthly cycle allows us to defy the stereotypes and dig deep, much deeper in fact, than the headlines and the attendant histrionics.
We believe that standing above the fray will endow our magazine with vision, which will hopefully be noticeable in the publication, in both form and content. To describe something or someone as a visionary carries with it connotations of creativity, insight, prescience. It is often associated with the Somali phrase aragti-fog, which can be literally translated as ‘longsightedness’ or foresight. The sense conveyed in all these cases is breadth of vision; in other words, not being taken in by the minutiae and the finer details but being able to ‘see the bigger picture’.
Rather naturally, opting for breadth imposes limitations of another kind. It means, for instance, particularly given the constraints imposed by time and a modest editorial team that we cannot expect— or be expected—to cover everything and anything. Where appropriate, however, each article will, amidst tackling an elected topic, issue or development, make reference to relevant matters beyond its immediate scope. This synthesis is best on show in the Dalka Diarist segment, which appears for the first time in this, the third issue. A digest of some of the major political events over the last month, it makes the connections which others have missed, hopefully stimulating further discussion.
Articles, it is worth pointing out, are not the last word on any given matter. Given the variety between them, some—such as features on a certain aspect or event in history—may be more conclusive than others, say, an Opinion piece. For instance, one Letter to the Editor, written in response to an article in the last issue, is reproduced here, querying as it does the interpretation proffered by the writer of that particular piece. It is then followed by a response from the Editor.
This issue also gladly carries an article by one of our loyal readers, who had originally written a Letter to the Editor too, which was included in the second issue. We hope that more of our readers will consider sending in their much valued contributions. To date—and indicative of the standards of transparency to which we adhere— we have published every article submitted to us. The efforts of the editorial team are thereby supplemented by contributors from farther afield. In this way, our publication, by way of suggestions, contributions and correspondence retains a unique vitality. There will, naturally, be those who will try to ‘read between the lines’, trying to find (with no success, we can assure you) of slant, prejudice or bias within our pages and in our coverage. As long as submissions are factually correct, reasonable and proper—that is, they are not libellous or slanderous—they will get published. Although articles are the sole responsibility of their writers and do not reflect the opinions of New Dalka, the editorial team tries to be as even-handed and fair as possible. In the Dalka Diarist, for instance, we sympathise with some of the recent criticism of the Federal Government, while calling those same detractors to their senses, cautioning that they should have waited to establish the facts before launching off into diatribes. Indeed, if, in the heat of the moment, we prove ourselves inclined more to fieriness than to facts, one may lay themselves open to the charge of being personally-driven by point scoring rather than a commitment to the reality. Equally, while we give air to an article which looks unfavourably upon the legacy of the outgoing administration in Hargeisa, we also find space for a piece which acknowledges, somewhat in passing, some of its more enduring successes.
Thus, since all articles are a reflection of their writers’ opinions and since most articles’ authors are named, readers are encouraged to interrogate these pieces for themselves. The editorial team, for instance, hold their own reservations with regard to the odd statement here or there. Hosting a plethora of views— however conflicting and varied they may be between themselves—allows us to see things from different perspectives, avoiding the trap of the the modern world, with its soundbites and the risk of living in echo chambers. Was, for example, one writer right to write in a fairly critical tone about a certain category of veteran politicians for the role they played in the Siad Barre regime, before eventually opposing it? Equally, is another writer justified in speaking in congratulatory tones about the way the peace was kept in the self-declared self-declared republic through local reconciliation conferences, thereby allowing them to overcome the conundrum which afflicted the rest of Somalia, namely clannism. Does this argument fail to note, for instance, that other factors could have been at play which led to different outcomes in Mogadishu and Hargeisa; demography, particularly in a discussion about the phenomenon of clannism, being an important variable between the two contexts? Could said writer have done more to mention and interrogate instances of clannism in the self-declared republic of Somaliland, particularly against the marginalised communities, as well as other clan communities, cases of which have been recently welladvertised through Somali cable television and social media? Why does, the author could have asked, clannism—acting alongside other factors, no doubt—inhibit the brokering of peace in Mogadishu and why is relative peace flourishing in Hargeisa in spite of the same factor? Is it, as suggested earlier, to do with the demography question?
These questions and many others require that all of us think long and hard. Soundbites and social media raging will, unfortunately, not suffice. Last month saw the tenth annual book fair take place in Hargeisa; this month, the second annual Mogadishu Book Fair and July, the second annual Garowe Book Fair. At both these literary festivals, among the books of poetry, biographies and histories were a great number of novels, written in Somali. This literary form —if one is to excuse the pun—is somewhat of a novelty in Somali literature, not forgetting of course Faarax M. J. Cawl’s Aqoondarro waa u nacab jacayl published in 1974. As those novels find their way to bookshelves and land into the hands of eager readers, one can hope they can literally and figuratively rewrite the political discourse, from being like love songs, characterised by momentary sallies of passion, but the calm, considered pen of the novelist and the complex narrative it produces, stretching across many pages, chapters, traversing innumerable scenes and scenarios.
To read the third issue of New Dalka, click here or use the menu at the top of this page to read each article individually.