OpEd: #CadaanStudies, Somali thought leaders and the inadequacy of white colonial scholarshipThe inaugural issue of the Somaliland Journal of African Studies, SJAS was launched in February 2015 after a call for papers that is noticeably missing not only Somali authors, thinkers or scholars but Somali content as part of the final submissions. The four papers they announced, hand-selected from a mind-numbing total submission count of 15, examine South Africa, Kenya and Sierra Leone in some detail. The journal itself does not have a single Somali editor or Somali members on its advisory board.
Safia Aidid, a candidate for a Ph.D degree in African history at Harvard University, in response launched the #CadaanStudies hashtag to speak to larger “questions of power, authority and knowledge production about the Somali territories and how Somalis continue to be marginalized in academic and policy studies concerning them and the Horn of Africa more broadly.” The hashtag elicited responses from Somalis all over the globe, with wide ranging personal experiences, anecdotes, debates and discussion about the place for non-Somali scholars in Somali scholarship, and more critically the ways in which white colonial scholars continue to sideline Somalis from these undertakings.
Markus Hoehne is a member of SJAS’s advisory committee and associate professor at the Institute of Anthropology at Leipzig University, Germany and his research over the past few years has included: odes to IM Lewis (considered the founding father of Somali studies); and the socio-politics of Somali thought, culture and, more recently, state formation. He responded publicly on the same Facebook thread hours later, not only defending a primarily European and colonial canon of white scholarship in Somali studies, but making disparaging classist and racist remarks regarding what he perceives to be the lack of Somali scholars in the field.
There was a flurry of responses not only from Somalis but other Africans as well, rejecting and condemning Hoehne for his attack on Somalis. His words were not only racist in that they called into question the very intelligence of Somalis, but also reproduced very colonial narratives about whose expertise and knowledge is valued. Hoehne himself claims “self-reflection and self-criticism [as] the first and second nature of any social anthropologist, and in this regard I am certainly no beginner.” Yet, his remarks are in opposition to this.
The problem here goes beyond Hoehne and the mammoth sized hole he has managed to dig himself into. It is a generation of European colonial gatekeepers in Somali studies that are imbued with self importance. It is these scholars that consider that living as a Somali is somehow less critical than their time spent in books and institutions. It is these scholars who believe that Somali scholars’ work only has merit when it is authenticated through an institution. The mistake these “scholars” make time and time again is presupposing that we will hear their racist entitlement and silence ourselves. Their mistake is believing that four months spent in Somalia makes them an expert on Somali lives, language, identity and culture. Their mistake is believing that their words will have us police and regulate our ability to speak directly to the heart of whiteness. Their mistake is believing that teaching with a sprinkling of Somali words, and a shout out to free articles on academia.edu is enough for us to listen without complaint, without censure, without criticism, without the ability to clap back. Their mistake is underestimating Somali scholars, thinkers, activists, artists and movement makers and believing that we will not call them to account.
Somalis have cultivated and created modes of knowledge transfer that go years beyond whatever it is institutions consider legitimate. The transmission of stories and histories across space, generation and location has taken place precisely because Somalis have perfected an oral scholarship. An oral scholarship so intriguing European colonial scholars have spent years making profit from a deep undertaking of research. An oral scholarship so complex, varied and unique that Somalis themselves are reconstructing their own history to better understand the stories still being passed from elder to child, stories that haven’t been documented because of an inability of whiteness and white colonial scholars to grasp the intricacies in which Somalis themselves engage in preservation.
Hoehne’s inability to self-reflect as part of these conversations has made it difficult for him to see how it is his whiteness that implicates in these racist imaginings of Somalia and the Somali community. To even suggest that Somalis are not serious scholars, or are uninterested and incapable of quality scholarship is as insulting as it is untrue. The irony of his statement on Ph.D student Safia Aidid’s Facebook wall is laughable at best. There is a long list of notable Somali contributors, which include but are not limited to: Abdi Kusow, Siad Sheikh Samatar, Ubax Cristina Ali Farah, Amina H Adan, Abdi Latif Ega, Cawo M. Abdi, Nadifa Mohamed, Nurrudin Farah, Ali Jimale Ahmed, Shirin Ramzanali Fazel, and the list continues. Not to mention current upcoming, emerged and well-established Somali thinkers: Siham Rayale, Ahmed Ilmi, Bilan Hashi, Suban Nur Cooley, Sagal Jibril, Abdulrahman Jama, Muna Ali, Mohammed & Omar Eno, Yasmin Yousof, Amina Musa, Ladan Osman, Warsan Shire, Diriye Osman, Sahro Ahmed Koshin, Amaal Said and countless others bridging the gaps between orality, art and the written word in both community based and scholarly discourse.
Here is what I know for certain: providing free articles on academia.edu never has and never will change the face of Somali identity or politics, Somalis themselves are rewriting, reclaiming and reframing their own narratives. I know without a doubt that Markus Hoehne’s mediocre understanding of Somali and offensive tribal motivated racial remarks will continue to show up in his subpar scholarship with Somalis themselves continuing to clap back at these foolish and pitiful fumbles of our history and experiences.
Here’s a valuable opportunity to remind us that without Somalis, there is no Somalia. Without Somalis, there are no papers to be written, credentials to be had, or culture and history to write about. To make racist comments attempting to diminish the value of Somalis is not just a poor choice, politically it demonstrates Hoehne’s lack of interest or care for Somali communities. And with this recent surge of Somali organizers, activists, artists, scholars and thinkers, scholars who take this approach make clear that working with them brings no added value into our communities.
So when Somalis tell you to take several seats and listen, it is not only wise to take their advice, it’s prudent. Because #CadaanStudies is under siege, and we are standing at the canons, ready to fire.
Hawa Y. Mire is a diasporic Somali storyteller, writer and strategist who focuses on themes of blackness and indigeneity, (dis)connection and (un)belonging.. Follow her on Twitter @HYMire.