Somalis’ National Archive System?
by Muuse Yuusuf
Saturday, October 3, 2020
A polite request: please read on before judging me.
Somalis are not known as great keepers of national archives or for this matter as collectors and keepers of state documents. Of course, apart from great ulumas or religious scholars with their tradition of maintaining and preserving books of Islamic studies, such as the holy Quran, Islamic philosophy and jurisprudence and then passing them on from generations to generations.
And of course do not forget Somalis’ rich oral tradition that has kept their national identity, culture and conscience alive throughout the centuries. Indeed, Somalis are probably one of few and rare societies in the world in which fathers teach their children how to trace or count their ancestral/family trees up to 30 known generations. And quite rightly Somalis are proud of this great culture because it has kept them as one close net of extended families who look after each other in good and difficult times.
To understand the importance and uniqueness of this culture, ask a New Yorker or a Londoner about their family tree and they would probably tell you their granddad’s name, and then say how much they would have liked to have known more about their ancestry.
Then in the 19th century, colonial powers introduced the word “archive or archivio” in Somalis’ contemporary political history and national conscience. However, colonial powers kept majority of the archive and documents relating to their colonies in their national archives and libraries exactly as they kept looted treasures in their museums.
Somalis’ post-colonial elites inherited what was left-over by the colonial masters, such as small libraries, biblioteque or a museum. Then the military regime expanded and improved national archiving and state record systems due to the writing of the Somali language, which created huge bureaucracy and required massive national record keeping. Remember “maktabadda qaranka” or the national library, which was created by the regime?
As we know, the civil war destroyed what remained of the national archiving systems apart Radio Mogadishu, which has survived this national tragedy. Indeed, Aden Abdulle Osman, former and the first democratically elected Somali president, was the man who captured and articulated that tragedy. Asked to compare the 1960 Somalia with post 1990 Somalia, the former president made it clear that they were incomparable and said:
“Somalia of 1960 was united country. Today there is not even a single document archived. Somalia went backwards by 100 years…”
Since the collapse of the central government in 1991, a new system of national archive has emerged. This is what I have described as “one man’s national archive system”.
In all governments created since that time, almost all new ministers have been complaining about lack of paperwork or proper filing/documentation systems from previous ministers. When they asked, they were told that documents related to government institutions, such as ministries or the security services were in former minister’s suitcase. In other words, no single document was available to the new incumbent! And in their own words they had to start from the scratch. If you need evidence for this just ask current or former ministers.
This vicious cycle of lack of continuity and a proper national filing systems is one of malaises that are negatively affecting current government structures, which are emerging from the ashes of the civil war. Imagine copies of international economic and financial treaties or political agreements getting lost or disappearing in ministers’ suitcases! This is not a joke it is a reality.
Using a former president’s slogan “aan dhamestiro qabyada ee idoorta”, which translates elect me to finish the job in hand, for the sake of continuity, I hesitantly recommend four more years for President Formaajo in order to prevent or save a national embarrassment caused by a new president saying: “I have to start from scratch as there is no single document in the office.”
Indeed, as I write this article, we are still waiting to see official transfer of documents and files from the outgoing prime minister Kheyre’s office to the new incumbent. Let us hope there will be no embarrassment!