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Unearned Failure: Farah’s Somalia in Links and Maps James W. Hensley University of Louisville
Unearned Failure: Farah’s Somalia in Links and Maps Somalia is a failed state. Wikipedia says so (Somalia). The Failed State Index says so (Failed State Index) and Peter Hitchcock says so. The weight of obviousness in the statement appears to crush denial as well as all sense of counter intuition. Surely, by every measure of what constitutes a failed state, Somalia is its apogee, the epigone of state as disaster, its categorical affirmation? ...If the notion of the failed state required a heuristic device, then Somalia is a pedagogic gimme, the example that so finely tunes the definition that it aspires to a kind of synonym, or referential certainty; "That's not an endangered state, that's a Somalia." It is a statement the refuses contradiction and permits only solemn acknowledgment. (Hitchcock 3) Nuruddin Farah’s work is set Somalia and he is interested in examining life in a state that is failing and a state that has failed. His examination of the state (or statelessness) of Somalia does not come complete with interactive graphics or lists of measures but rather in the characters and the stories of his work. This paper will focus on Links and Maps. These works construct narratives that provide a fictional account of life in a Somalia that is failing, Maps, and a Somalia that has failed, Links, and the way characters navigate random acts of violence and a society in chaos. The characters in Maps and Links are Somalia in particular rather than Somalia in the abstract, sovereign sense. The creation of coherent identity and the search for meaningful social structures are the character’s mission in the texts. Their success, however partial or provisional, is a challenge to the notion that a Somalia that doesn’t fail will look exactly like a stable, Western, democracy. “Recent novelistic experiments largely complement political science research in defining the ‘failed state’ as a more or less normative condition in much of the world” (Marx 597). Marx
Unearned Failure: Farah’s Somalia in Links and Maps goes on to support his argument by referencing Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun to illustrate his point. “Half of a Yellow Sun portrays life during wartime as both intensely violent and remarkably ordinary” (Marx 597). It isn’t, however, Adichie’s or Farah’s portrayal of the tumult of war and crisis that Marx wants to bring to our attention. It’s Adichie’s and, I propose, Farah’s portrayal of unacknowledged expertise and unaccredited analysts and their success in creating an identity and a social structure that Marx wishes to emphasize. “Literature provides alternatives to the London School of Economics researcher and the UN policy wonk with characters like Rebecca West’s Constantine, Timothy Mo’s Adolph Ng, and Chinamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Ugwu” (Marx 628) as well as Farah’s Askar and Jeebleh. Marx acknowledges that Somalia (and Nigeria and Yugoslavia and East Timor) are sites with lethal violence and crippled centralized governments. He contests, however, the notion that a state can fail if it can never be shown to have been a success and that the criteria for deciding when they’ve done their homework and started succeeding may need to be updated for the 21st century. In Maps, after Misra’s funeral, Askar sits in his room and contemplates his incomplete forms; Western Somalia Liberation Front or National University of Somalia (Farah, Maps 255)? Now that so many things have happened, is he going to be a soldier or a scholar? Somalia is beginning to unravel and Askar is reflecting that slow decline. The war with Ethiopia has been lost. The Somali army has failed to “reunite” the Ogaden with Somalia. Misra has been executed without benefit of trial. Lethal force is no longer at the sole prerogative of the sovereign state but Askar still has forms to fill out and identity papers that prove he is a Somali. He has yet to experience the unrestrained power of a despot but Barre won’t disappoint. But it should not have been this way. By every measure the West could devise. Somalia should have been a success. 3
Unearned Failure: Farah’s Somalia in Links and Maps If common culture was the primary criterion of state identity, then Somalia appears to have much stronger logical consistency than many other post-colonial states formed in the crucible of imperial acquisition. Including variations in dialect, Somali speakers can be found in a contiguous zone of more than 400,000 square miles that extends beyond Somalia's recognized borders to Djibouti in the north, the Ogaden of Ethiopia in the west (the scene of a brutal war in both the 1960s and 1970s), and south as far as central Kenya. The folk traditions establishing origin through common ancestry find sustenance throughout the region, and religious belief in Sunni Islam is similarly comprehensive. (Hitchcock 3) Common wisdom (and the Berlin Conference) divided Africa in ways that benefited European colonizers. The wishes and history of the people already living in Africa was irrelevant. Colonies that became independent countries, almost overnight, in the 20th century were a hodge-podge of competing groups and ethnicities. The tensions of competing interests and contests for the control of resources tore them apart. Somalia, however, was homogeneous (for the most part), Mogadishu was cosmopolitan and the colonial occupation of the Somalilands was not as long or as brutal when compared with other colonized areas in Africa. Jeebleh is nostalgic for the cosmopolitan Mogadishu of his youth. Even for Askar immediately after the Ogaden War there are still private cars on the streets, hospitals and doctors to see patients and schools to attend. The cracks in the system, however, have already begun to appear and the problems are not, necessarily, actions that are being taken by the new Somali government.
Unearned Failure: Farah’s Somalia in Links and Maps Just as failed states have often fallen from a concept of statehood they never in fact attained, so the international community represents a level of community that does not exist, and this failure to exist is similarly premised on an unreached state of global interaction. Failed states are then a condition of this troubling analogy, and the state itself fails as a concept to provide the world with an adequate means of interrelation. So much for the Peace of Westphalia. (Hitchcock 10) When Somalia invaded Ethiopia the stated goal was to “reclaim” the Ogaden. Yet the Ogaden War was as much a proxy war between the Soviet Union and the United States as it was a territorial dispute between Somalia and Ethiopia. Perhaps the Soviet Union was a victim of its own success and wasn’t really prepared for the over through of Emperor Haile Selassie and his subsequent death. Perhaps the United States was unwilling to commit to another conflict after the debacle of the Fall of Saigon and the election of a new president. Besides the Revolución Popular Sandinista was much closer to home (Nicaragua) and Somoza’s relationship to the US was much more problematic and politically embarrassing than either the machinations of the Derg or Siad Barre. Somalia would have to wait. Unfortunately, it just didn’t work out. Jeebleh is much more attuned to the situation outside Somalia than Askar. Askar appreciates that forces outside Somalia can effect (and even mislead) with maps. He appreciates that there is an “inside” and an “outside” to his maps and his world. Yet Jeebleh has lived in exile in the United States and was educated in Italy. His college friend Seamus is Irish and works for an NGO. Jeebleh is very much aware and involved in the world outside of Mogadishu.
Unearned Failure: Farah’s Somalia in Links and Maps “Since the U.S. does not have an Embassy or any other diplomatic presence in any part of Somalia, including Somaliland and Puntland, the U.S. government cannot provide any consular services to U.S. citizens in Somalia” (U.S. Department of State). Jeebleh is on his own and there are no “outsiders” to either help or directly influence his behavior. “Outsider,” however, is about to get refined for Jeebleh’s new context. “Jeebleh called his wife at work (on his first morning at the hotel) and gave her a sanitized version of what had happened so far. Lest she beg him to return at once, he omitted any mention of death or tensions. As far as he could remember, this was the first time that he had deliberately kept things from his wife.” (Farah, Links 48). It’s always important to maintain some control over the flow of information.
Outsiders just wouldn’t understand. Part of the contrast between Askar and Jeebleh is also their ages relative to each other. Askar is developing an identity in conjunction with the process of growing up and acquiring all the roles and performances he will need as to function as a person within a specific context. He is much more like the newly independent Somalia bringing its resources to bear on the project of becoming a newly independent political state. Jeebleh, on the other hand, has a life and a history. He already functions in society and has a family. Jeebleh is refining his identity or perhaps it would be better to say, he is enlarging it. Askar’s concern is with what is inside and outside. He wants us to know where the boundaries are. Jeebleh wants to know how he’s connected. He is aware of his separation from his home-in-exile, his relatives still living in Somalia and the context where is most comfortable and familiar. Jeebleh’s concern is whether or not he can be linked to those he left behind in a way that adds to mix rather than making the drink too bitter to swallow. The question is not “in or out?” The question for Jeebleh is “where do we mesh?” 6
Unearned Failure: Farah’s Somalia in Links and Maps Farah is very clear on his feelings about his connectedness to a context and a place. My Africanness is what gives my life sustenance, with my Somaliness supplementing it, enriching it-particularizing a universal. After all, I am a human -- a man to whom the world has been generous; a writer whom the world has hosted. You see, as a writer, one writes from a particular position--and I do so from a Somali location; a Somali rootedness. (Ishmaili 12) But he does not do it from Somali, itself. Yet even though Farah is intimately engaged with postcolonial Somalia (for which has been threatened with assassination on several occasions), or perhaps because of this, he is of interest chiefly to Western literary critics and theorists, ... Farah writes and publishes in English (one of this five languages), and although he has returned to Somalia several times after an exile of twenty-one years, his audience within Somalia is very small. Because of his international prominence Farah has enraged Somalis who believe that his writing caricatures ordinary Somali people and culture, and not just corrupt officials like Barre (Hitchcock 17). Farah’s Somalia and his own Somaliness may be contested by others and, therefore, only loosely ascribed but they are tightly woven into his concept of self and his idea of himself as an author and a person. Jeebleh is making a similar move. He has come to a city that lacks a functioning civil society or political infrastructure in order to commemorate his mother’s grave. He is, in other words, just passing through and has a specific task to accomplish. His public task, however, conceals his more important and overriding goal of making sure Raasta (and Mikka) return home. The kidnapping of the girls spurs his trip. His visit to his mother’s grave is 7
Unearned Failure: Farah’s Somalia in Links and Maps laudable and important but it wasn’t enough motivation to convince him to come to Mogadishu in the past. This new threat to his family must be the straw that broke the camel’s back and impels him to make the trip. This is a very “here I come to save the day” move on Jeebleh’s part. Is he responding to a crisis and having heroism thrust upon him or is he riding over the hill waving his cavalry saber and setting off his pistol? There is no logical reason to believe that he has the personal resources or persuasive abilities to prevail where Bile and Shanta have failed. If he suspected Caloosha from the very beginning then it is possible to believe he has a reasonable chance to browbeat or convince Caloosha to cooperate and return the girls. It is arrogant and unrealistic, however, for Jeebleh to think that someone other than his brother is going to respond to an exile living in America that suddenly turns up with a burning desire to set everything to rights. This Superhero Jeebleh may not be farfetched at all. “If economists, sociologists, historians, and indeed lawyers find the pretext for Somalia obstinately disjunct, Farah suggests that the potential of Somalia has been seriously if not fatally compromised by its own political actors.” (Hitchcock 13). The clan elders want money for a war wagon. Jeebleh is not going to participate in any such foolishness. He is alarmed by the heavily armed teenagers at the airport and witnesses a random murder within minutes of leaving the plane. He sees through the Major’s misdirection and street performance at the cemetery and stands his ground against Caloosha. He has also recruited the mysterious Af-Laawe. Af-Laawe is a troubling image of a disaffiliated and self serving political player with unknown motives that may be presumed to be unsavory. He is a trickster figure with an agenda of his own. Happily, it coincided with Jeebleh’s often. He is still, however, unsavory and kept
Unearned Failure: Farah’s Somalia in Links and Maps at the margins of the ideal of the community and the social order rooted in the symbol of The Refuge. Caloosha or even another smalltime hoodlum has gone so far outside the bounds of common decency then there must be an accounting. Raasta and Makka are innocents. They’re children and they’re a symbol for The Refuge. It isn’t clear if The Refuge is a construct of an ideal Somalia or perhaps an ideal Mogadishu. It is a utopian ideal and a place that contrasts sharply with the war torn city around it. It’s in the territory of the “wrong” clan and it’s open to everyone. As an image of a better Mogadishu, it certainly has points to recommend it. It cannot thrive, however, if Caloosha is allowed to continue working against it. Authoritarianism in the family as well as autocracy in the state, against a background of an intense and passionate search for and assertion of identity by individuals and by groups, form the alternating and often interlocking angles of vision towards which the fiction of Nuruddin Farah moved in the trilogy, Variations on the Theme of an African Dictatorship (Mnthali 175) It is the conflict between Caloosha and Jeebleh that allows Farah to demonstrate that it is possible to go too far and create a situation where radical, violent action is necessary. Caloosha is no Misra. Jeebleh has seen the depths to which his brother can sink and has had to stand up to him in the past. Misra is vilified because she’s a powerless outsider. Caloosha has amassed power (and weapons and money and furniture) in order to create an image of wealth and accomplishment. Caloosha is vilified because he’s a thug and a villain. This is a pattern that Jeebleh’s entire family remembers from their childhood.
Unearned Failure: Farah’s Somalia in Links and Maps Bile has always been Caloosha’s favorite victim. In Caloosha’s world, kidnapping his own niece to punish (get back at, teach a lesson to) his brother is regrettable but certainly a suitable expenditure of resources. It doesn’t matter that his sister will be traumatized further. Her husband, after all, is in on the plan and has arranged for visits. Shanta is a mere woman. Besides, she allowed Bile to touch her inappropriately when Raasta was born. The minor detail that both mother and child would have most likely have died without medical intervention just doesn’t matter all that much. These are all female details. It doesn’t even matter that Jeebleh has arrived from the states. Jeebleh would cooperate with the clan elders anyway so he’s next on the list anyway. If Jeebleh didn’t learn his lesson from his long imprisonment under the dictator then Caloosha will be happy to provide another demonstration. Askar’s Uncle Qorrax (as well as Aw-Adan) is certainly a bully of the first order but there are some limits to his selfaggrandizement and yearning to control. He does take Misra into the household (that doesn’t work out well) and he also cares, in the providing food and shelter sense, for Askar. Askar is provided with an (abusive) education and religious instruction. Caloosha, however, is relentless, remorseless and out of control. Superhero Jeebleh is not going to make a new home for himself in the better Mogadishu or even the Somalia without Caloosha. He has to return to his wife and life in America. The hero rides off into the sunset. This is very different from Askar’s moment of indecision and suspended development. Jeebleh’s particular task is done and he’s ready for a new challenge. Askar’s is still much more clearly in process and can be seen as just getting started. In people and acts as metaphors Farah does not represent the truth of Somalia but the depth of its intricacy. What he has called the country of his imagination is not rendered as the real for transnational consumption but as a continuing question about normative 10
Unearned Failure: Farah’s Somalia in Links and Maps assumptions of Somalia as a nation-state. The metaphors, then, address or frame an impasse in the nation idea for Somalia. (Hitchcock 13) The portrayals of Caloosha and Qorrax are Farah’s main foils to the process of identity creation and society building in Links and Maps. While Jeebleh and Askar are working to create something in themselves and around themselves, Caloosha and Qorrax are rigid and inflexible. They have all the answers and don’t see the need for further questions. Here we meet the new Captains Bligh for the 21st century. They want what, according to the he Oracle in the Matrix Reloaded, all men with power want. More power (Foster). Rigid authoritarianism and the destructive drive to impose an illusionary, facile hindsight on emerging persons and an emerging Somalia are antithetical to the Farah’s method and goals. Farah sees his vocation in fiction as taboo breaking, both politically in challenging the actual path taken by Somalia after independence and culturally by freely mixing myths and history, self-perception and territory, news reports and fantasy. Farah believes that Somalia's nationness as such is deeply riven by the ambiguous identities between tribes, clans, factions, and families, (Hitchcock 17) Simplification and nostalgia have not worked for the Somali people or Somalia as a political entity. The Somalia that has failed was created by Caloosha and Qorrax with the collusion of the Soviet Union and the United States. It has been further abetted by the United Nations and the world (non)community that has looked on in horror as Somalia wends its way through history. Aljazeera even claims that piracy off the coast of Somalia is a free market attempt to create a functioning coast guard and stop polluters from outside Somalia and the continent of Africa from using the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia as a toxic waste dump 11
Unearned Failure: Farah’s Somalia in Links and Maps (Abdullahi). It seems counterintuitive that an illegal waste dump would also be a favored haunt for illegal fishing operations (Hunter) but actions of differing actors do not require logic or coordination. They merely require motivation. Farah's sense of Somalia as a country of his imagination is a crucial lesson about the hubris of the West in its rational creation. I am not saying that a new transnationalism should seek simply to substantiate that dream but that the concept of the failed state is itself a failed vision and that one must begin to look elsewhere for the perquisites of Somalia rather than UN trusteeship. (Hitchcock 18) Little Somalia is not going to grow up some day to be just like the “mature” states of Europe and North America. The 13 post-colonies that eventually became the United States did something new and unprecedented by succeeding in rebellion and surviving to become the sole world superpower in 2010. It doesn’t seem to be a model that can be exported. The dynamics in contests of relative power have changed since the 18th century. It no longer takes an army and a navy to disrupt trade and lay siege to a city. Individual, state-less actors can now intervene with great loss of life and a reasonable chance of obtaining their objectives. The power of recognized sovereign states to abrogate the use of lethal force to themselves is being undermined on a daily basis. If the UN and the nations of the world don’t want to engage in endless war they’re going to have to learn to referee rather than conquer. In the end: We come face to face with those indelible scars which in the end leave us with an Askar who remains an unfulfilled dream, a "soldier" whose emotional and spiritual paralysis render him ineligible for the great mission of liberation for which both his name and the 12
Unearned Failure: Farah’s Somalia in Links and Maps extraordinary circumstances of his birth have prepared us. Askar does not complete his quest for identity and the most haunting question he leaves with us is: "Who is Askar?" This question has been with us from the very beginning of the novel, right through its intricate and groundbreaking narrative design (Mnthali 190). Nuruddin Farah’s Somalia is a work in progress just as Askar and Jeebleh are characters that don’t arrive at the end of Maps and Links with a diploma and a handshake in recognition of their job well done. By refusing to create stock characters that are either Robin Hood or David Cooperfield, Farah leads us through a world where we have to explore alternatives rather than settle for the usual and traditional answer. Even Jeebleh the superhero isn’t allowed to rest easy in the Fortress of Solitude. His acts have consequences and he must avoid falling into the snare that trapped Caloosha (and Qorrax).
Unearned Failure: Farah’s Somalia in Links and Maps
Abdullahi, Najad. Aljazerra.net. 11 October 2008. 27 April 2010 <http://english.aljazeera.net/news/africa/2008/10/2008109174223218644.html>. Failed State Index. June 2009. 27 April 2010 <http://www.fundforpeace.org/web/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=99&Itemid =323>. Farah, Nuruddin. Links. New York: Penguin Books, 2003. —. Maps. New York: Pantheon Books, 1986. Hitchcock, Peter. "Postcolonial Failure and the Politics of Nation." South Atlantic Quarterly (2007): 727-752. Hunter, Robyn. BBC News. 28 October 2008. 27 April 2010 <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7650415.stm>. Ishmaili, Rashidah. "Encountering Nuruddin Farah." Black Renaissance (2006): 10-18. Marx, John. "Failed-State Fiction." Contemporary Literature XLIX (2008): 597-633. Mnthali, Felix. "Autocracy and the Limits of Identity: A Reading of the Novels of Nuruddin Farah." Wright, Derek. Emerging Perspectives on Nuruddin Farah. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2002. 175-194. Somalia. 27 April 2010. 27 April 2010 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Somalia>. The Matrix Reloaded. Dir. Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski. Perf. Gloria Foster. 2003. U.S. Department of State. Bureau of Consular Affairs. 27 April 2010. 27 April 2010 <http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1023.html>.
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