Ali Jimale Ahmed on Transformation and the Sociopolitical
- January 19, 2023
- By Admin: Osman
Dr Abdulkadir Osman Farah, PhD
“My people: there is such a thing as society!
To the one who says you have no choice,
reply, ‘You have no clue!’
Don’t listen to his braying,
don’t give him the time of day!”
From the poem “Bulsho” “Society” by Hadraawi, 1981 (translated by Said Jama Hussien and Mohamed Hassan “Alto” with W N Hebert)
A society continuously forms and transforms and thus remains fluid and unstable. Those exercising political power, whether in traditional communities or in modern structures (states), insist on a hierarchical sociopolitical organization in which they expect or demand members of the wider society to affirmingly and conformingly participate and contribute. Traditional hierarchical historic groups cautiously seek the preservation of the sociopolitical. Modern rulers favor the acceleration of the sociopolitical with increased public mobilization and manipulation, eventually with expanding inequalities.
In contrast, ordinary members of a society engage in horizontal sociopolitical lifeworld struggles in resolving livelihood challenges and routines.
Balancing such gap and extremes, Ali Jimale Ahmed, a prominent transnational thinker and accredited scholar of comparative studies of societies, proposes a society with a form of a “transformative sociopolitical emancipation” in which members collectively sustain an organic culture with historical wisdom and ethics, combining it with linguistically persuasive literary capabilities- while occasionally fostering beneficial transnational connections.
By insisting on the existence of an engaged society, the prodigious poet and thinker, Hadraawi, might have had the former British Prime Minister, Margret Thatcher in mind. The British premier had once notoriously suggested that “Society does not exist”. Meaning that the people consist of autonomous individuals, each seeking prosperity on their own self-serving terms. In praxis, at the time around early 1980s, Hadraawi was in a fragmented conflictual society- in search of collective identity while simultaneously struggling against harsh authoritarianism. Though from a different perspective than that of the ultra-liberals, autocrats and authoritarians also consider members of a society as atomistic exploitable properties. Whatever the purpose, a society can exist in a variety of forms and constellations. Most societies, however, remain unstable- continually forming and transforming- whether members of that society are aware of such changes or whether they eventually grasp and modify.
According to Hadraawi, the sociopolitical action emerges from the interconnections and interactivities within the concerned society, particularly the ways in which the society forms and transforms the path towards development/underdevelopment. This is not always a vertical oriented process in which dominant groups in a society single-handedly dictate and oppress the rest. The process can also be horizontal- emerging from the active agency, dynamics, and interrelationships between different members of a society. In this regard, members of a society can eventually imagine and construct how that society should form and transform. The more a society collectively resists and rejects irrational and non-contextual propositions, the more such society gains cohesion and independence.
When people confront challenges at the personal level, most consider such obstacles as private trouble. Nonetheless, people’s specific difficulties remain integral to the wider public sociopolitical issues- encompassing the trajectories of most of the society- hereunder leaders as well as public institutions[i]. It is from such dialectics of the domains of privacy, on one side, in relation to and with the domains of publicity, on the other, that eventually dynamic sociopolitical groups engage in public transformation. The process also includes engagement within the lifeworld through practical encounters and interaction as well as the formation and transformation of institutions taking ordinary people’s needs and priorities seriously.
In partially complementing Hadraawi, Ali Jimale Ahmed suggests that certain people seek the preservation of the sociopolitical. Sociopolitical herewith means intentional activities towards the social and political transformations of the society. Alternatively, there are also those who insist on the acceleration of sociopolitical development with intensity and experimentation. While the first process aims at preserving the sociopolitical in the form of a persisting lifeworld sustained by informal horizontal traditional norms and rules, the second accelerates the sociopolitical-in imposing a sort of manipulative hierarchical structures- subsequently increasing the gap between members of the society as well as that of the ruling elites. Such acceleration also includes an emerging transnational cosmopolitan link bringing outward external diversification and global opening.
In bridging the two extremes, Ali Jimale Ahmed proposes a “sociopolitical transformative emancipation” ensuring continuity in which members of the society combine and balance the sociopolitical preservation with the sociopolitical acceleration, thereby transforming the society without necessarily degrading or dismantling it. Such careful and thoughtful transformation thus lets the society temporarily avoid a socio-political “public earthquake”, meaning the spreading of excessive inequalities and mass displacements.
Ali Jimale Ahmed is a prominent transnational thinker, poet, and accredited scholar of comparative studies of societies. He stresses the idea that individual members and groups of a society can form, reform, and transform own societies, and beyond, for better or for worse[ii]. People can do this by preserving the sociopolitical, or accelerating the sociopolitical and eventually, through dynamic cultural platforms, instituting a kind of “transformative sociopolitical emancipation”.
According to Ali Jimale Ahmed, in general, a sociopolitical transformation is a process with a history, current context and consequences. Such process mainly departs from its connectedness to human consciousness. This is not an individualized solitary consciousness, but a kind of “transitive consciousness” embedded in the social and environmental conditions and situations in which people act and interact with each other and with others[iii]. For Ali Jimale Ahmed sociopolitical transformation therefore requires institutionalization, a form of order, in differentiating what is possible and sacrificial and what is not. If, for instance, progressively accelerating transformation neglects people’s contextual traditional well-being, by imposing transformative aspects, external to people’s organic conception, then fragmentation and even collapse seems inevitable. For Ali Jimale Ahmed, mobilization and transformation also emerges from concrete sociopolitical experiences – through actions and interactions with associational platforms- bringing people together- leading to the formation of commonalities and collective action- in search of and for a just society. Herewith, people maintain interrelations and intersubjectivities leading to a form of social and thereby public imaginations in which people consciously modify and transform- depending on the concerns and the priorities they live with or throughout.
Preserving the sociopolitical
Traditional leaders preserve the sociopolitical through horizonal consultations with people. They often do this by accommodating the excluded- and thereby expanding the inclusion. Such leaders might also utilize own life experiences, knowledge of history coupled with linguistic as well as persuading capabilities. Similarly, leaders seeking transition to modern structures also preserve the sociopolitical. They do it through public mobilization often interspersed with discursive manipulation. Modern leaders also introduce schemes mainly designed for public control with particular emphasis on curbing potential public dissidence and resistance. Both Hadraawi and Ali Jimale Ahmed see and define the socio-political as a complex multidimensional process whose preservation and maintenance comes not just from the top.
Despite often concerted strategic top-down framing or unframing, individual agency, people seeking sociopolitical emancipation within society and beyond, persists. Though different people in a society sustain distinct personal, historical, and biographical profiles, people can sometimes choose to converge or diverge. However, the success of social groups adjusting into certain predesigned forms of associational and organizational platforms is therefore far from guaranteed. Though rulers and institutions exert dominance, shared ethical world and traditions enable the society in forestalling social atomism with collective decline.
In preventing societal ruptures and deficiencies, leaders of a traditional society, in conjunction with the wider community, might avoid internal top-down isrifka (tearing each other apart), isjalaafeyn (putting obstacles in front of each other). Such leaders and associates collectively also resist taking public goods disgracefully or unlawfully “Cantoobsi” and “Xantoobsi”[iv]. In addition, by not just aiming at mere survival, in for instance addressing and overcoming immediate internal and external challenges, leaders, together with the wider community, project a clarified “muraad” (aims), occasionally combining it with “maseyr”- reflecting a tinge of rivalry—a healthy or positive jealousy/envy.
With such practical dialogical oriented wisdom, traditional leaders (historically in the form of Webars, Suldaans, Garaads, Malaaqis etc.) might even went further in scrutinizing own lives, including that of their own families, for the sake of the well-being of the wider society. For such leaders, the public wellbeing and security “dadku in ay nabad ku noolaadaan/seexdaan”, as well as the consistency of resolving public issues, gain priority- rather than the immediate private troubles and interests of the ruler or close associates and relatives. In other words, a non-ego-oriented head takes the concerns and the worries of public issues and community’s wellbeing seriously- even if such decisions eventually harm own private interests[v]. Here, society as a collective body has the last word, demanding compromises as well as sacrifices. Though mostly informal, such expressions and activities require the confirmation and conformity of existing normative procedures in which adherents avoid guryan (quarreling), mardabo (deceitful) and harawsi (deceptive manipulation)[vi]. Such grounded public sphere is not just a place of exchanging ideas and opinions, but also a place for engaged co-existence as well as a space for exposing current and potentially degrading sociopolitical spoilers such as “Tuug iyo Taroox” (thieves and thugs)”[vii]. In the process of fostering legitimacy, traditional leaders specifically rely on the support of literary personalities “afmaals” whose capabilities of forming critical novel ideas enable, not just the leader, but also the society overcoming societal as well as natural hardships.
Such a comprehensive approach to the preservation of the sociopolitical includes, first the protection of the environment, families, and traditional institutions. Secondly, members jointly forge conditions in which traditions and transformations do not necessarily contradict but might supplement, through the constructing of commonalities. – particularly the formation of common language and understanding. Thirdly, although some dissatisfied members resist the mainstream, hereunder the way forward, securing discursive legitimacy with grounded sociopolitical preservation lets leaders and associates confidently confront external actors, the so-called “saancadaale” who, despite insufficient knowledge for local traditions impose top-down bureaucratization, instructing indigenous leaders to register and count “Soo tiri duulka aad usha u heyso”. Demands which traditional leaders respond by bringing “jawaan” (a sack) filled with “waambe” (grain seeds)- asking “doorshaan ina saancaladaale” to register and count. In somewhat similar vein, the so-called explorers entertained ahistorical and de-contextual ideas- for instance the claim of Amazonian Nambikwara tribes not having a conception of reading and writing[viii]. Often with self-performing elevations, colonial administrators project themselves as the pioneers and guardians of transformation and development.
Although a society needs a top-down experienced guidance, one-sided preservation of the sociopolitical distorts possibilities and new openings- particularly that of the members who might feel excluded from the center, as well as the distribution of resources and privileges. Such reluctant groups aim to live up to their expectations in search of alternative ways of seeing and dealing with the world. They may know, and are aware of, their past- and intend to move beyond. By stressing the need for renewal of attentiveness, opponents call for a sociopolitical transformation, open for critique and reassessment.
Often by not blindly following the crowd (the mainstream), particularly the youth, feel dissatisfied and disfranchised, eventually ending up resisting and even revolting against elders and thereby the elite. With higher expectations and energy, occasionally sustained by exaggerated optimism and idealism, the youth demand the acceleration of sociopolitical development. In response, certain constituents support and stand with the youth, while others remain skeptical of the experimentation and the call for a sudden acceleration of the sociopolitical infrastructure. In consultation with other influential members, leaders then observe punishment (in the form of “inkaar” (cursing or worse) against transgressors. By recognizing the limits for transformation, leaders here differentiate what changes and what deserves sustainability.
Accelerating the sociopolitical
When the younger generations fail to internalize, adopt, and sustain the overall traditional signification, a society suffers from successive migration and environmental challenges as well as scarcity of resources. Due to the decades prolonged civil strife, the younger generation mostly grew up in an lesser socially and culturally institutionalized environment in which surviving was paramount rather than adopting and sustaining to historical and structural traditions. When the younger generations struggle to survive under civil unrest, most prefer clinching to the survival moment and could neither relate to the past nor to the prospect. Then migration with displacement, as well as lesser attention and concern to natural and environmental resources, ensues. With the lack of broader overview of where the society is from and where it is heading to, the center cannot hold.
Critical to the limitations of the professed mechanical traditional society, new leaders (some of them potentially from the ranks of the youth) propose a shift away from pure historical and cultural grounding towards accelerating transformational and transnational connections (including the importing external ideologies and society models). This is done through the construction of new schools and orientation centers designed for public mobilization. Under such circumstances, ideologies override preservation and continuity. In concrete, modern rationalizing scientific concerns and priorities outweigh traditional authenticity and societal grounding.
Such modernizing yardstick is not limited to the curbing of earlier traditions but also extends to attempts to the managing of overall living conditions of the society. The first to happen is the decontextualization of the sociopolitical as members of the society find themselves sustaining conflicting perspectives and visions for the society. With public miscommunication and misunderstanding, not just the overall signification and consensual collective frame of the society lacks, but people also disagree on basic conceptions of knowledge- resulting skepticism and bewilderment[ix].
Secondly, the acceleration of the sociopolitical favors some parts of society, while excluding others- leading to subordination in the form of dislocation, displacement, and even the feeling of powerlessness. The process begins when people suffer from natural environmental disasters, such as droughts- failing to access material resources. Then leaders whose political, economic, and cultural capital sources could have addressed the challenge- either ignore or miscalculate the occurrences of the suffering of the people they claim to serve. As challenges multiply, the practice produces additional miseries and even partial or complete collapse of the social order. In desperation, diverse social groups flee, blaming themselves, each other, their leaders and others for the disaster and fragmentation.
Thirdly, though the acceleration of the sociopolitical enables the society, in transition, to overcome the presumed restrictive limited traditionalism and dependence, such acceleration mostly relies on coercion combined with rhetorical manipulation- not directly done by the ruling elite- but with the conjunction of recruited and mobilized literary people and artists.
Finally, groups such as transnational communities (diaspora), might engage the sociopolitical. Following their cosmopolitan experiences, many of them expect to bring renewal and additional disclosure to their societies of origin. In seeking beyond affirmation and conformity, transnational communities’ lifeworld, if applied positively, could retrieve people from self-imposed cultural as well as sociopolitical isolation. Such communities often seek accelerating the sociopolitical by occasionally rejecting self-contained nationalism and instead insisting on fostering transnational connections. At the same time, transnational exiles confront numerous socio-political challenges emanating particularly from the dominating elite in the homeland as well as from increasing host society populism and anti-immigrant sentiments[x]. Suffering from “hilow” (homesickness) such communities think and often consider returning/resettling to their societies of origin[xi].
The problem with the formation of unbalanced and uncertain society, through the acceleration of the sociopolitical, carries the price of introducing not just the routinization of underdevelopment through institutions of “maqaar saar” (superficial) but the process also sustains temporal illusions not necessarily leading to tangible beneficial outcomes for the concerned people[xii].
Transformative Sociopolitical Emancipation
For Ali Jimale Ahmed a “transformative sociopolitical emancipation” starts with a traditional community where members are preoccupied with the preservation of history through ethical cultural formations and consistency. Members of such society remain close to each other and might directly learn from each other. The actions of institutions and rulers rely mainly on legitimacy reasoned from oral culture and tradition. In addition, members of such society are required to adhere to these traditions, learn and adapt continually. Though internal disagreements and partisanships exist in such a society, the sharpening of commonalities through joint ventures re-enforces the process. Overtime, the society moves away from restrictive sociopolitical situations towards more of transformative sociopolitical conditions- in which diversification and expansions occur.
Ali Jimale Ahmed herewith implies the existence of an intermediate balancing position of “transformative sociopolitical emancipation”. This is a process in which the past, present, and future, though at the outset appearing lineal and progressive, nonetheless remain temporal and circularly interconnected. Under such dialectical but also dialogical socio-political and socio-cultural connections, the society combines tradition with modernity in reflecting the situations and differentiating what is to change and what is necessarily sustainable. For such a society, everything is not on the table for change. There are, in other words, limits to transforming. If needed, some parts of the society can change, while other aspects of the society prevail. In this regard, the society reflects not purely an objectified outcome or production of societal relations- through cultural and political actions and interactions. Instead, a society with a “transformative sociopolitical emancipation” insists on diverse intersubjectivities in which participants, particularly among the most capable members of the society, pursue a form of practical dialogical wisdom combined with the articulation and expression of linguistic capabilities and persuasion strategies. Consequently, with “transformative sociopolitical emancipation” people simultaneously relate to the preservation of the tradition without necessarily sidelining creative organizational capabilities and even cosmopolitan transnational links – as society becomes global. In this regard, Ali Jimale Ahmed explains the basic defect of what he refers to as “the apocalyptic narration” of the antagonism between, self, society, and history:
“….reality engenders narratives of transition, which are, more often than not, marked by fear, consternation, and angst. Such narratives attempt to account for the dramatic collision between self and history. In the process the collision produces “an unhappy consciousness,” to quote from Hegel. Apocalyptic stories become the staple diet of people with such consciousness. Ironically, the new reality represents the future in reverse. We are back to the future. Our responses to the new reality also resemble those of the past. We find solace in paths already trail-blazed by others before us” [xiii].
Furthermore, Ali Jimale Ahmed proposes not necessarily individualized versus collective or semi-collective understanding of society. But rather members of a society, as groups, becoming both the producers and the products of their actions and interactions simultaneously. Though they see and reflect on the consequences of their activities, they don’t necessarily consider their actions as external to them. Jointly they try to overcome social, political, cultural, and other structural ruptures.
A transformative sociopolitical emancipation rests on the individual as well as the integrity of the collective group (the society)- strengthening the individual’s self-confidence and self-reflection. Accepting imported ideologies and phenomena blindly therefore risks unconscious marching in which people either sidestep or overstep their actual situation “Digrin iyo talin waa isla guri geyn. Kii kuu xadreeya iyo kii kuu taliyaba waxay kaa sugaan in aad u hooriso ama u jiibiso qowl aan weli la sugin ama mid adiga kaa shisheeya” (Rituals and ruling practices share common objectives: the ritualizing and ruling people expect one to join the chanting for the unconfirmed or the unforeseeable.
Ali Jimale Ahmed contemplates the link between transformation and the sociopolitical- not the kind of transformation that brings superficial changes to society but a transformative sociopolitical emancipation. This is a form of transformation that ensures balance in moving beyond structural binaries of the past and present, tradition and modernity, urban and rural, the ruler and ruled, the modern enlightened and the traditionally guided, as well as between the external and the internal. For the involved, it is the constant search and eventually practice of genuine living conditions- departing from a kind of holistic approach to a society rather than taking a society to the uncertain, unfamiliar, and even exotic.
If society longs for transformation without emancipation such society risks becoming subordinate to other societies and might in the process undermine its organic institutional platforms. Such shifts also expand the gap within and beyond the concerned society. For Ali Jimale Ahmed such cultural decline might well accelerate a process in which people lose touch with linguistic and cultural wisdom, unable to identify or select a just and truth-seeking leadership- while simultaneously coping with natural disasters and resource scarcity. Then further deterioration proceeds bringing additional neglect, alienation, and displacement within the society and beyond, resulting exploitative/extractive institutions often serving/preserving/privileging dominant groups and external actors.
Transformative sociopolitical emancipation therefore requires careful attention to the qualities of leadership, the capabilities of articulating precise linguistic and culturally applicable knowledge and history. Through cultural potentialities, societies form and reform continually. As members of a society gather and agree to overcome existing injustices and subordinations in their societies, people reflect on past events, present conditions, and future assessments. Most members can contribute to the process. The privileged and the most powerful lead by guiding and supervising others. The elite utilizes the knowledgeability of past experiences combining it with wisdom, ethics and genuine grasp for community solidarity and cohesion.
Among recent generations, people are increasingly becoming transnational and some of them probably cosmopolitan. Such intensification of interactions and mobilities stretch the society, the country as well as the nation to a transnational and probably to a global level. Despite such drastic transformations, for Ali Jimale Ahmed, maintaining human rootedness remains critical in the quest of prevailing under the current and emerging dispersals – displacements and dispossessions. Resolving such dynamic processes therefore requires sustained attentiveness and care within societies and beyond, particularly through the resistance of domination and unfairness by people’s continuing emphasis on “transformative sociopolitical emancipation”. Such transformative approach specifically calls for societies to provide sufficient spaces for individual freedom/self-creation within the framework of collective sociopolitical bonding/bridging.
[i] Mills, C. W. (2000) The sociological imagination. Oxford University Press.
[ii] Ali Jimale Ahmed (1995) (Ed.) The invention of Somalia. The Red Sea Press.
[iv] Ali Jimale Ahmed (2018) Gaso, Ganuun iyo Gasiin “Kraal, Milk, Sustenance” (2018) Laashin Publications, Sweden, p.19
[v] Ali Jimale Ahmed (2018) Gaso, Ganuun iyo Gasiin “Kraal, Milk, Sustenance” (2018) Laashin Publications, Sweden, p.11
[vi] Ali Jimale Ahmed (2018) Gaso, Ganuun iyo Gasiin “Kraal, Milk, Sustenance” (2018) Laashin Publications, Sweden, p.32
[vii] Ali Jimale Ahmed (2018) Gaso, Ganuun iyo Gasiin “Kraal, Milk, Sustenance” (2018) Laashin Publications, Sweden, p.32
[viii] Ali Jimale Ahmed (2018) Gaso, Ganuun iyo Gasiin “Kraal, Milk, Sustenance” Laashin Publications, Sweden, p.66-68
[ix] Ali Jimale Ahmed (2018) Gaso, Ganuun iyo Gasiin “Kraal, Milk, Sustenance” Laashin Publications, Sweden, p.44
[x] Ali Jimale Ahmed (2018) so, Ganuun iyo Gasiin “Kraal, Milk, Sustenance” (2018) Laashin Publications, Sweden, p.12
[xi] Ali Jimale Ahmed (2018) Gaso, Ganuun iyo Gasiin “Kraal, Milk, Sustenance” (2018) Laashin Publications, Sweden, p.14
[xii] Ali Jimale Ahmed (2018) Gaso, Ganuun iyo Gasiin “Kraal, Milk, Sustenance” (2018) Laashin Publications, Sweden, p.3
[xiii] ALi Jimale Ahmed (2004) Beyond Manichean Poetics: Towards a New Form of Syllogistic Thinking. International Journal, 59(4), 886-892