The Endemic Obsession With Titles: A Challenging Moral and Intellectual Problem

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Often, we use formal titles to address certain individuals in society, not because we like them, but rather we want to recognise and acknowledge their real and documented achievements. However, there is a damaging culture among Somalis: an obsession with titles. It is not unusual to hear all sorts of titles, and it won’t take you long to meet someone boastfully claiming one.

Everywhere in Somalia, one is bombarded with all sorts of fraudulent titles: professor, doctor, scholar, writer, engineer, and even president. Every title you can think of is claimed by an unmerited wannabe. This is particularly common on social media, where every entitled charlatan and grifter is seeking validation for his/her views and in many cases, to use it as a leverage for certain opportunities. What is profound about this endemic is how it is normalised, and it seems no one is questioning the impact such a problem could have on society. What urged and necessitated this article is the importance of questioning this social phenomenon and the need to put it under scrutiny if we, as a society, want to move forward.

The country’s obsession with titles is a society-wide problem. It can be attributed to many existing challenges, including the country’s staggeringly low literacy rate, which is one of the worst among nations; the prevalence of fraud and corruption; and the prolonged social trauma as a result of the never-ending civil and armed conflicts. All of these have damaged Somalis culturally, morally, and politically.

The very things one ought to be ashamed of have been normalised. The problem is so big that even simply being a university teacher is believed to qualify one as a professor. Holding a public office, even for a short period of time, renders one an expert. Being a lecturer doesn’t make one a professor, and certainly having a degree does not make one a scholar. These are the highest academic achievements, and unless one has earned it, one should not entertain such claims as it will harm both the individual claiming them and the society as a whole.

The impacts of falsely claimed titles

This moral and intellectual dilemma has enabled a prevailing culture of incompetence and buried our aspiration to be a meritocratic society. Many offices and institutions are led by people with beautiful titles and questionable academic backgrounds. This has also widened the gap of mistrust and distrust among the intelligentsia and society. How can the ordinary Somali citizen differentiate the intellectual from the conman when the layman and the learned are both dragging around identical fancy titles?

What is peculiar about this wicked culture is that those supposed to be challenging these moral and logical fallacies and self-fanaticisms are completely silent, enabling such behaviour to prevail and as a result allowing intellectual fraudsters to squander opportunities that should have gone to deserving candidates. We should all collectively refrain from entertaining those indulging in self-entitlement. If we don’t, aspirations for academic achievements and seeking excellence will be dampened and meritocracy will die a slow death.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of this publication

Mahbub Mohamed Abdillahi
Mahbub Mohamed Abdillahi
Mahbub Mohamed Abdillahi is a lecturer, researcher, and independent environmental health and safety consultant. He’s also a staff writer at Gorfayn where he writes about environmental, climate change, social, and cultural issues.

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