Last week, a man was burned to death in Mogadishu for belonging to the “wrong clan.” Ahmed Salat was burned alive after his nephew married a woman from one of Somalia’s major clans.
Salat, who belonged to a minority clan, Jareerweyn, was murdered because the killers, who were relatives of the bride, felt their clan was “superior” to Jareerweyn and therefore, “the wedding should never have happened.”
A few days later, a Somali member of parliament from the Jareerweyn clan narrated on the floor of the House his ordeal at the hands of immigration officers at Mogadishu airport. He was mistreated because of his physical appearance and the texture of his hair.
“I arrived at Mogadishu airport with my diplomatic passport. The immigration officers scrutinised me and talked to each other saying ‘this Ugandan has a Somali diplomatic passport’. The officers ordered I pay $50,” Mohamed Nur said.
“They were addressing me in English but I ignored them. Finally, I answered them in Somali and explained who I was … Majority of Somalis are ignorant of the existence of the Somali Bantu community who are nationals of this country.”
Somali societies disapprove of marriages between members of the Jareerweyn community and other Somali clans. Salat’s nephew tried to break that tradition, and the result was the killing of his paternal uncle.
“If we can marry white women in America I don’t understand why our brothers here in Somalia don’t allow us to marry from other clans … Discrimination thrives in Somalia. Let’s be civilised and let’s not allow discrimination in our country,” the lawmaker said.
Nur also called for an end to discrimination against the Bantu community.
The Jareerweyn are also referred to as Somali-Bantu because they are the descendants of a group of Bantu people who were taken to Somalia as slaves by Arab slave lords about two centuries ago. They speak the Somali language and are Muslims. But they are treated differently because of the colour of their skin and texture of their hair.
The Somali-Bantu, comprising of Gosha, Shabelle, Shidle and Boni – number one million and live in the Lower Jubba and Shabelle valleys in the south of the country, and mostly practise farming, according to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.
Bantu communities continue to face daily discrimination, including verbal abuse by members of other Somali clans. They are sometimes referred to as ‘adoon’, a Somali term for slave. This is mainly due to their differing physical characteristics and ancestry from the Cushitic-origin majority of Somalia. The marginalisation of the Somali Bantu community is primarily based on ethno-racial factors, unlike the marginalisation of the Madhiban and other Somali-origin minorities, which is primarily based on their status as a socially-constructed caste.
Bantu were put to work as unpaid labourers on southern agricultural farms that exported items like sorghum and sesame oil to the Middle East and elsewhere. They also worked as livestock herders, domestic servants, concubines and artisans. Some were attached to local Somali family groups, though many lived in separate Bantu settlements.
Anti-discrimination measures under President Siad Barre’s rule opened up state education and state employment, and gave some social recognition and political representation to Bantu and other minorities. While continuing to do work and practise crafts rejected by pastoralists, Bantu also developed new skills within their communities and moved into many modern artisan occupations, notably in mechanical engineering. Vehicle and boat repairing are popular trades. Salat was killed in his garage where he was working at the time. They are also engaged in carpentry, woodcarving, building, masonry and house painting.
Politically, they are also face discrimination. Somalia’s politics is currently based on clan rule where the four major clans share political seats in a system known as 4.5. The 0.5 represents smaller clans including the Bantu.
The term “Jareer” is a derogatory word used by Somalis to refer to “people with hard hair.” The Bantu groups also adopted the term positively as the preferred Somali-language term of self-description. In the 1990s, the term Bantu gained wider currency and became an equally acceptable description.
Al-Shabab has also targeted Bantu communities because of their cultural practices. In 2010, the National Somali Bantu Project (NSBP), an organisation that advocates for the rights of the Bantu community, reported that several Bantu people were killed by Al-Shabab for attending a traditional service in the Lower Juba region. The NSBP also reported the desecration of Bantu graves and forced compliance of Bantu Sheikhs with Al-Shabab ideology, as well as numerous cultural attacks on Bantu dancing, the use of traditional medicine and the imposition of linguistic limitations including being forced to adopt Arabic names. The Al-Qaeda-linked group also recruited Bantu children as soldiers.
Since the collapse of the last effective central government in 1991, the United States has resettled tens of thousands of Bantus.
The Somali government needs to work towards eradicating the discrimination against a group of its citizens by creating effective anti-discrimination laws, and the wider Somali society needs to rethink its attitude and accept these people as part of the community.
Source: 7D News