I recently read an article on how businesses adapt their cultures to new leadership, while maintaining their core values. This got me thinking about whether a similar approach could be applied to Somali culture to bring about positive change in the country. As a Somali, I am proud of our “dhaqan” (culture), but I also recognise that there may be aspects of it that could be adapted or changed for the better. In this article, I will explore whether it is possible to adapt and change our cultural norms, and why doing so may be necessary to improve Somalia’s fortunes.
What is Culture?
Culture is the characteristics and knowledge of a particular group of people, encompassing language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music, and arts.
If we go a step further, anthropologist Cristina De Rossi describes culture as “Culture encompasses religion, food, what we wear, how we wear it, our language, marriage, music, what we believe is right or wrong, how we sit at the table, how we greet visitors, how we behave with loved ones and a million other things”.
Now if we take that description, as Somali people, it is obvious to me that there are quite a few things that we can change for the better. A prime example is the absurd cultural practices such as FGM (female genital mutilation) that most agree it is time to leave it behind altogether, but there are numerous less serious but highly destructive behavioural norms that we need to also leave behind.
This makes me wonder. Are there more things in our culture that we can change to turn the country’s fortunes around?
Ghana and South Korea
In a paper called Aid and State Transition in Ghana and South Korea, Jiyeong Kim an anthropologist in the university of Seoul, examines how the questions of why and how foreign assistance was utilised successfully in South Korea but less so in Ghana, with a focus on the role of aid in the process of state building and state transition in these two countries. The paper goes deeply on how in 1957 both countries had a similar GDP per capita income and how one country achieved transformation and the other did not.
In the paper, Jiyeong Kim explores the role of colonial legacy to Ghana’s and South Korea’s modern state. How the Japanese colonial powers contributed to the country’s development and introduced the modern state to the Koreans, while the British colonials did not attempt to introduce modernity and were exploitative, repressive and highly divisive instead.
According to Huntington (2000), culture had a major role in explaining this: “as a culture, South Koreans value thrift, investment, hard work, education, organisation, and discipline”. In short, cultures count. When it comes to Somalia, our culture does not value hard work, organisation, or discipline. We are bad with time, and there is a general lack of trust in institutions and authority figures. These cultural values can have a significant impact on our ability to develop as a nation.
Of course, cultural change is not easy, and it may face resistance from those who are attached to traditional values and ways of life. However, this doesn’t mean that cultural change is impossible. In fact, there are many examples from around the world that suggest that culture can be adapted to promote development and progress. By changing our cultural norms, we may be able to bring about positive change in Somalia.
One way to achieve this is through education. By educating people about the importance of hard work, organisation, and discipline, we can change cultural values from within. This may require a long-term investment in education and public awareness campaigns, but it could be a powerful tool for cultural change.
Another way to bring about cultural change is through policy. Governments can implement policies that promote values such as hard work, innovation, and trust. For instance, the Singaporean government has implemented policies that promote entrepreneurship and innovation, which has helped to make Singapore one of the most prosperous and technologically advanced countries in the world.
Growing up I had five siblings. We were five boys and one girl in total. My sister was the oldest and was basically like a second mother to me and the three boys younger than me. She cared for us, made us meals and snacks, did most of the house chores and still managed to get high grades and went to a great university on a full scholarship. She was so hard-working that she’d often cook with one hand holding a book and the spatula on the other. My mother would complain about it because many times she’d forget a vital ingredient like xawaash (herb) or salt.
Us boys, on the other hand, were different story. All our parents would ever ask of us was to study and get good grades and all of us would only do above average most of the time. My parents were baffled. No chores, no other responsibilities, all these boys had to do was study, and they still aren’t doing so well at school, our parents must have thought. This had me thinking, even on my best days, on my most motivated and disciplined days, I could never match my sister’s hard work. Until one day I heard my sister complain about how when she was younger, Mom & Dad made her do everything and it hit me; hard work is learned through responsibility.
Men should not be expected to achieve great things suddenly when they were never provided with the necessary tools from a young age. Not too long ago in Somalia history there were clearly defined gender roles and each was responsible for their part in upholding the family. Young teenage boys and men were primarily responsible for herding and protecting the livestock, which was the primary source of livelihood for the community. They would often travel long distances with their herds in search of water and pasture. Men were also responsible for providing security and defence for their families and communities while women were primarily responsible for domestic tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and caring for children.
Come modern day, women in Somalia still do most of these things on top of going to school and employment. Us men on the other hand are never taught about responsibility from a young age anymore. This has many bad effects on men such as lack of self-confidence, low motivation, general lack of accountability and just being lazy. This affects individuals’ future success and in turn the country’s. Our parents are not doing us any favours by not instilling a good work ethic in us from young age.
In conclusion, culture plays a significant role in shaping the fortunes of nations. For Somalia to achieve sustainable development and progress, we may need to consider changing our cultural values and norms. This will require a long-term investment in education, policy, and public awareness campaigns, but it could be a powerful tool for positive change. By embracing change, we can build a better future for ourselves and for future generations.
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