How does a girl raised up in Europe think of the Al-Shabaab group of Southern Somalia........
They have all the physical qualities of men but I don’t think they deserve to be called men,” says Kaha Mohamed Aden, with a strained smile.
“Particularly as all their rules are geared towards discriminating women.” Kaha’s anger is directed towards Muslim extremists, who now control Somalia. She is an Italian writer of Somali origin. She was recently in Nairobi, courtesy of the Italian Cultural Institute. Kaha is unlikely to be mollified by the decision of Al Shabab recently to execute two women for spying for the Somalia Transitional Government. She believes that Al Shabaab and the warlords in Somalia misinterpret the teachings of the Quran to suit their own needs.
“When some of us heard that the Islamists wanted to govern Somalia as per the rules of Islam, we were happy that justice would finally come back to the country,” she said, adding that the word Islam means justice. Kaha made her comments is a session with writers, organised by Kwani? Trust. “But it seems that their kind of justice is only applied when it comes to women, and especially women’s clothing,” she says with a touch of sarcasm.
In her presentation, titled The Fourth Way, Kaha demonstrates how Somalia has changed from the time when Mogadishu, facing the Indian Ocean, offered a bridge to East. It traces Somalia’s progression under colonisation by the Italians, the fight against colonialism, independence, to its current state where Mogadishu is in virtual ruins. The underlying theme of her presentation is the place of women under such circumstances.
“Women have cast off the clothes of hope and freedom and have locked themselves, covering their bodies as if they were trying to protect themselves from a situation of violence and unpredictable danger.” She says that the current mode of dressing where women cover their whole bodies leaving only a tiny opening for the eyes, is a survival tactic if only to “save their bodies from violence.” She equates the kind of Islam being practised in Somalia to a prison. Using images, she demonstrated that women in Somalia have not always worn the burqa. She showed pictures of Somalia in the 1970s and 80s, where young men and women spotted Afro hairstyles. Somalia then was no different from other African nations. Young women would even wear clothes that exposed their shoulders, only wearing a piece of clothing that covered their shoulders.
“This shoulder wrapper, which was basically transparent, was the women’s way of negotiating with Islam,” Kaha says.
Before the disintegration of Somalia, there used to be a thriving Christian community living side by side with the majority Muslims. Kaha showed pictures of Catholic cathedrals in Mogadishu, which were largely a heritage of the Italians, who colonised Somalia. For your information, Somalis have been Muslims ever since Islam came from the Arabian Peninsula around 800 A.D
Kaha traces the root of Somalia’s problems to clannism. “In Somalia, we speak only one language,” she says. “Hence people like identifying themselves in terms of their different clans, which is also a source of all the differences.” Clannism has wreaked havoc to Kaha and her family. Her father, Mohamed Aden Sheikh, a minister under Siad Barre, was imprisoned by the then dictator. Incidentally, Kaha’s father and Barre belonged to the same clan. “The irony of it all is that when Barre was deposed, our family was subjected to harassment for being members of Barre’s clan.
In 1986, when her father was still in prison, Kaha escaped to Italy, where she lives to date. She studied Economics at the University of Pavia and did her Masters at the European School for Advanced Studies in Cooperation and Development IUSS in Pavia, Italy. Her first book, Fra-intendimenti, was published in September.