After decades of reflection and discussions, there is today a certain consensus among analysts about what to be done to respond to people’s aspirations for peace, democracy and development. As we all know, what we really need is not the wishful thinking but the political will and motivation to take the appropriate measures. In Africa in general and in our region in particular, rhetoric about solutions has become part of the problem.
In the perspective of working on new solutions, we need to confront with the moral crisis of the Horn of Africa and understand the logic behind the disastrous heritage of violence, famine, poverty and massive human rights abuse, which seem to characterize our region. Many questions remain unanswered: What are the cultural and mental processes which push us to accept and participate in catastrophic policies in our respective countries? Why did a country like Somalia, which seems to fill the usually required conditions to build a nation fail so dramatically and fall in a devastating civil war, beating the highest record of absence of a central government in recent history? Why did Ethiopia and Eritrea, two allied countries impoverished by decades of conflict surprise most of observers by engaging their peoples into another terrible war combining the vulnerability of trenches of the First World War with the weaponry of mass destruction of the Second World War? Why did a tiny country like Djibouti go through an armed conflict and is currently experiencing post-election political turmoil? Why was Sudan torn by a conflict driven by religious fundamentalism which led to the cessation of the South? Why is Kenya, the only country in the region that succeeded thus far to avoid civil war is haunted to this point by social violence, banditry and now terrorism?
Fatalistic responses do not help us meet the challenge. God has nothing to do with the chronic disasters in our region, they are man -made calamities: colonial time bombs, violent power race between local power mongers, venal conflicts of interests among fortune seekers, dictatorship, religious and ideological manipulation, unequal sharing of meagre resources. This list can be completed at length.
Indeed, there are historical, political, socioeconomic causes that could explain this legacy. But this rational explanation turns into a problem as it reduces individuals to the position of simple objects of destiny. It overvalues external causes and neglects the personal involvement in these tragic events. This systematic search of external causes overlooks our status as subjects or makers of our history and ignores the very notion of individual responsibility. Paradoxically, this rational approach seems to meet our irrational expectation of victimized people who consider that “Hell is Others’ product” as observed by the famous French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. We have tendency to easily believe in discourses that ascribe the source of our trouble to external factors: the devil, the barbarian neighbour, the vicious foreigner, the rampant internal enemy.
We do not like to disturb our conscience by determining our part of responsibility in the moral crisis of our society. Indeed, finding escape goats to transfer our culpability is a universal human behavior but in the Horn of Africa, it has reached a psychopathic level. Running away from responsibility has become a national sport like marathon. Blame game is our favourite game in the countries and in the diasporas.
Peoples of the Horn do not like to be publically confronted with the shameful side of their social patterns. They overestimate themselves so much that they feel degraded by accounts revealing their sins in the face of the world. Instead of discussing about the inner motive of our complicity in the horror of the region, we prefer cultivating the nostalgia of our lost innocence.
Our reluctance to accept analysis of our psychology may explain the fact that the peoples of the Horn have not produced significant literature in terms of novels or cinematography .The few famous novelists we have in the region are much more known and read abroad than in their own countries. Instead of novels, we have developed a culture of poetry, tails, epics, essays, which are literary genres that emphasize the metaphorical aspects of messages. We generally disregard the account of facts and appreciate the lyricism of declarative statements. The Intellectuals of the region rarely exchange and confront their ideas, analyses and visions directly. Most of the time, they prefer dialogue through foreigners, mainly Westerners. Each of our countries has created its own circles of studies like Ethiopian studies or Somali studies but scholars of the neighbouring countries are rarely invited to participate in the debate. We do not like to hear another perspective on our history which could challenge our certainties.
What is going on in our respective countries in terms of social pathology and individual disorder calls for new intellectual and psychological approaches, new literacy tools, new forms of expression. We need to find new ways and words to tell the ugly sides of our history. We need to constitute group therapies to see our tenebrous images and reflect on the moral crisis that we are facing in the Horn of Africa. This crisis is far different from the various declines that our peoples have overcome in the past. It is shaking the fundamental values of our societies : dignity, honour, integrity, hosnesty, "imaan", solidarity and sense of justice. Even our Sheikhs and Priests who seem well equipped to explain the decadent behaviours of their communities are today confronted with new sins that they have not yet integrated in their redemption offer. Many of them affirmed having identified more signs than enough to announce the End of the Creation.
Let me take one emblematic example of this loss of value and ethics. It is a true story that happened a few years ago in Somalia. A Somali refugee living in a Western country came back to Mogadiscio to see his old mother and give her the money he saved for her. An old uncle who got informed about his visit, contacted one of those awarlords operating in the city to kidnap the visitor and ask for a ransom to liberate him. The uncle then proposed his service to the poor mother to negotiate with the bandits and advised her to pay the ransom if she wanted to see her son alive. In this immoral operation, the uncle gained a small part of the money from the bandits who obliged their victim to leave urgently the country. This sad story illustrates the extent of deterioration of one of the pillars of Somali society: the family ties and solidarity, mutual obligations, the respectability of the elder. I can give further examples from neighbouring countries as no one has the monopoly of insanity.
Beyond enumerating cases of decadence, we need to ask ourselves why this moral crisis is deeper and more alarming than the previous ones. In order to respond to this question, we should understand first the necessity of shifting from an explanation based on external causes to an approach centered on the inner motivations of the actors as subject of their history. This crisis is not only a consequence of domination, economic hardship, socio-political turmoil or war. It highlights other factors, which facilitated the emergence of these causes and aggravated their consequences, which become causes for other consequences. A vicious circle so to speak.
Searching individual responsibility in this mess is in itself a moral stand. We should ask ourselves :What did I do during the crucial moments at my personal level ? What am I doing to prevent the same things to happen again ? What would I like to leave for the coming generations ?
While asking these questions, we should also be aware of the limits of our personal responsibility in the situation of our country and not replace our tendency to put the guilty on others by a sterile self-accusation. Our personal responsibility in this moral crisis is mitigated by the effects of mass psychology.
It is worth recalling that individuals are capable to commit the worse or to accomplish the best, all depends on how they are captured in the movement of crowds and the historical process in which they are involved. The religious metaphor of the angel on our right shoulder and the devil on our left shoulder competing to influence our action is a good illustration of this ambivalence. A collective behavior is not the sum of individual attitudes. It is a new dynamic that transforms individuals and transcends their personality. Remember that the "the heros is the one who defets himself"
The moral crisis of our region is a perfect example of this complex combination between individual acts and collective dynamic. We all share the responsibility of what happened in our country by having successively or simultaneously played the role of spectator, victim and author of the horror.
For so many years, we, the peoples of the Horn of Africa have spent our time and energy by asking the wrong questions to understand our problems. I do hope that the current moral crisis could at least have the therapeutic effect to make us realize that the solution begins by asking the right questions to ourselves. After all “what is important is not that much what has been done to us but rather what we personally do with what has been done to us”
By Ali Moussa Iye