By trying hard to exemplify the nexus between the average people and their own government I would like to share with the readers ordinary stories from ordinary citizens.
Last week I visited the town of Jazira, the real one not the series of restaurants along the Lido Beach of Mogadishu. That was my very first time riding the rough roads from Mogadishu and seeing the Italian saline and coastal town of Jazira. My first impression was of total peace. There were no soldiers in uniform, no barriers of sands protecting from potential explosion, and no gunshots to disperse the jamming traffic. The white Mosque in the middle of the town seemed to be in perfect symmetry with the surrounding homes barely tightfitting on the major sways of the rocky terrain.
The beach was full of dried seaweed and several small fishing boats were anchored. In the middle of the turquoise-blue sea, the Sheikh Mohamed atoll with its little white mosque was standing toll and white as the ever-lasting witness of the town.
I went to visit Uluma, an 80 something years old lady who just lost her mum, she lived all her life there with her daughter and her grand and great-grand children. The Ashun, the mooye and the burjiko stood in their small area of the cooking area. Refreshment and a lunch of fish, vegetable and soor were offered. Nothing genetically modified. And at night there was always the sugary tea and ambulo with sesame oil. Life is simple here and it has been like that for centuries. The town got no hospital, no police station and one privately run school.
I asked myself what is the nexus between Ulumo’s family in Jazira town and the Federal Government of Somalia? Do they need a government at all? Is Ulumo’s family missing out anything?
Coming back to Mogadishu, I am awakened every dawn by the sounds of Fardousa’s pounding the cinnamon and gloves for her small tea shop on the corner of my home. She has been serving anyone coming or going from that road for the past 20 years except when the security is compromised. Fardousa has her family and her old mother at home waiting for her meager earnings so she closes her teashop by late afternoon to start again at the dawn everyday. Life is hard but apart from her small oven, a pack of charcoal, a dozen of tea glass cups and 2 buckets of water for the washing up she needs nothing else.
Again I raise the question whether there is a nexus between Fardousa and the Somali Federal Government? What impact if any such government has on her daily life?
My 3rd tale relates to Aw Maow, he works as a veteran car mechanic who had his glorious days as an expert of engine modification. He is now on his late 60’s and he needs to still earn to make a living for his family since pension benefit is out of question. I asked him whether he got an ID card that would enable him to pass through the checkpoints when coming to his work place. He answered that he has no a ‘governmental’ ID and that it is creating a real problem when he drives because he is an ordinary person with no connection with the government. However, he seemed quite happy to rather suffer the humiliation of being turned down at the checkpoints than being identified as a ‘government’s worker and risk his own life and limbs.
Is that right that ordinary people should dread any connection with their own government?
For those who can read between the lines, Mohamed’s account of his daily life may be a bittersweet pill to digest. He is a 23 years tuc-tuc driver who never had a formal education because his parents couldn’t afford it. While I loudly complain about my back suffering the nasty pumps of the rough road, he says joyfully that the next road will be better. I asked him whether he pays tax on his vehicle to the Mogadishu Municipally. He quickly made some calculation and offered a more comprehensive answer. If each tuc-tuc pays $15 per month of almost 20,000 tuc-tuc in Mogadishu, the Municipality would have an earning of $3,600.000 (three million six hundred) per year that could cover the road repairs.
At my strong criticism of this missed opportunity, Mohamed calmly reminded me that I could afford to criticize this government because I had information to compare to from the good old days before the civil war or when we had a functioning state. Apparently such memories don’t exist for his generation. He said ‘this is the best government so far with its corruption, political wrangling and lack of urban planning. At least there is a rough road and the tuc-tuc that allow us to earn a daily living.’
Every question that each story has raised leaves us to ponder and to be evaluated against the fundamental responsibilities of the government to serve and protect its citizens.
Ulumo, Fardousa, Aw Maow and Mohamed’s rights as citizens living under a legitimate government are far from being delivered. Their incredible resilience, their sense of self-initiation, their generosity, and their unbelievable survival skills are making their lives bearable even if their basic needs of security, food, health, education, employment and shelter, are almost nonexistent. As ordinary people, they do their daily business with little expectations from their government and without questioning about their entitlements. The never ending hope is: one-day security and social justice will be achieved.
The wanting point is this: how long before this government will be able to discharge its duties towards its own citizens and allow ordinary people who dread its politics and actions to have their rights and appropriate spaces.
Asha-Kin F Duale
Human Rights Lawyer