Famine Unites Somalis
CAPETOWN- Despite political and clan differences among the Somali community in South Africa, the holy Muslim month of Ramadan and famine in Somalia has brought some measure of unity among them.
“People are more united in this community than ever before. Tribal and political differences have been set aside during this holy month of Ramadan,” an elderly member of the Somali community in Bellville told Africa witness.
He said the famine in their homeland had brought Somali’s together. “I wish the trend would continue like this. Every community member here has been concerned about the situation back home. The famine has affected every clan, every political grouping and religious sect,” he said. “People attend salah (prayers) in any of the two mosques in Bellville, without caring about sect differences anymore.”
Concerns about their homeland have caused the Somali community to dig deeper into their own pockets to raise funds for the famine victims.
Sheikh Abdi Rashid Afi, an executive member of the Somali Community Board (SCOB) in the Western Cape said Somali’s had managed to raise R180, 000 through donations. He said the money was raised in door to door collections, as well as people who donated at the local mosques, giving amounts ranging from R20 – R500, all of which he said made a huge difference.
Amir Sheikh, secretary general of SCOB reported that Somali’s in the Eastern Cape, Gauteng and Northwest had contributed close to half a million rand to help their starving people back home. “The Somali community in Rustenburg yesterday (August 22) contributed eight tons of food which we gave to Gift of the Givers which is sending aid to Somalia,” he said on Monday (August 21), adding that his community was grateful to the South Africans for generously contributing funds to help starving Somali’s.
Somalis living across the globe have dug deeper into their pockets to collect funds for famine- relief at home. The Somali Diaspora has made considerable contributions.
However locally, in South Africa, the Somali humanitarian effort has brought more unity which stands in stark difference to the period before Ramadan where the deep division had been well-known. Prior to Ramadan, some Somalis supported the United Nations backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG), while others supported Al-Shabbab. Earlier this year in Bellville (Cape Town’s Little Mogadishu) there was friction when visiting Muslim scholars from the Salafi sect criticised followers of the Ahle Sunnah wal Jamah sect over practises of celebrating Prophet Muhammad’s birthday known as Maulud anabi.
But these differences for now appear to have moved to the background. Speaking to members of the Somali community now, one hears the heartfelt desire for peace in the Horn of Africa where devastation has sowed over the last two decades. “Most Somalis are tired of this war and want to see peace in their homeland,” 32-year old Omar Ali told Africa witness.
End of war
He said it was painful for most Somali’s to live as refugees in foreign countries. “Most of us are yearning to go back home and build our country.” But for now the deepening famine and ongoing political conflict makes that pipe dream for many.
Abdi Samatar, a geography professor at the University of Minnesota specializing in the Horn of Africa, said Somalia’s future will require “the reconstruction project of a government that’s free and that’s accountable to its people.” This he called “the best defence against terrorists, or famine, for that matter.
Samatar predicts that in the coming months once people have received enough food and rebuilt their lives, they are likely to march for political freedom in a revolutionary style. Local Somalis agree. “I think Somalia’s 20-year old conflict can be solved by Somali people themselves through dialogue and not foreign intervention,” said Yasin Abirakaza, a Somali University student in Johannesburg.
Meanwhile, Professor Afyare Elmi, a lecturer at Qatar University this week wrote in the opinions section of Al Jazeera, that although the international community and the Somali Diaspora had shown unity and leadership in combating the famine by sending donations to the starving people, it was imperative for them to foresee the creation of strong state institutions. Currently more than 12 million people in the Horn of Africa are severely affected by famine and in need of humanitarian assistance.