Somali Week: Identity and Diversity

Key information

7:00 PM to 10:00 PM
Russell Square: College Buildings

About this event

The Somali regions are at a critical juncture. As a federal, national government tries   to assert itself across a politically fragmented and contested territory, important   questions are being raised about belonging and rights. What it means to be a   Somali, a citizen, and a member of the multiple groupings within society is in flux.

As part of Somali Week and Black History Month, we are organizing an evening event that continues a long tradition of debating Somali affairs at SOAS. This event   brings together scholars and activists to offer their perspectives on Somali identities   and diversities. The aim is to go beyond the dominant imagining of Somali identity (strongly associated with the nomadic pastoralist) and explore other perspectives from young people, women, and people from marginalised social groups, as well as the role of migration and conflict in shaping how people think about themselves.  What may this mean for Somali culture and politics at this key moment and in the future?

Following contributions by prominent speakers, and audience debate, there will be the opportunity for more informal discussion over light refreshments.

This event is chaired by Dr Laura Hammond, and organized by Dr Anna Lindley, who both work on Somali issues in the Development Studies Department at SOAS. Dr Michael Walls of UCL, a specialist in Somali politics, has agreed to act as discussant. KAYD is very grateful to SOAS’s Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies and UCL’s Development Planning Unit for sponsoring this event. For more info on Somali Week 2014 please see

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Somali Week: Identity and Diversity

Speaker backgrounds

Hussien Abdilahi Bulhan has a PhD in Clinical Psychology and Masters in Public Health from Harvard University. He continued his academic and clinical career in Boston before moving into health consulting. In 1999 he founded the Academy for Peace and Development in Hargeisa, and became its first director, later moving into health-focused organisations. In 2008-2011 he served as President/ Chancellor of the University of Hargeisa. He currently acts as Chief of Staff Counselling and Welfare for UNAMID, the African Union/UN operation in Darfur which focuses on civilian protection. He is the author of Frantz Fanon and the Psychology of Oppression; Politics of Cain: One Hundred Years of Crises in Somali Politics and Society; and In-Between Three Civilizations- Reconstructing the Distant Past  and Shattered Worlds of Somalis.

Dr Bulhan will speak about the certainties and ambiguities of Somali identity, exploring the personal, political and social conflicts that exist, particularly addressing the role of the military regime; clan ethos and the delusion of clan superiority; and the role of indigenous, Muslim/Arab and European/colonial forces in Somali identity formation.

Ilwad Elman is the Director of Programs and Development at the Elman Peace and Human Rights Organization in Somalia, which is chaired by her mother, Fartun Adan. Her father was an ardent peace activist, spreading the mantra “Put down the gun, pick up the pen”, but was assassinated in 1996. Ilwad returned from Canada to Mogadishu over 4 years ago, co-founding the first rape crisis centre, working with survivors of rape and other forms of gender-based violence, and on the rehabilitation of child soldiers. She has been active in many nationwide and global advocacy campaigns to raise awareness of human rights, peace and gender issues in Somalia, including TEDx Mogadishu and the One Young World 2013 Summit. She was among the youngest to be selected for the Washington Fellowship, a flagship program of President Barrack Obama for Young African Leaders. Ilwad will focus her comments on gender, youth and Somali identity.

Professor Omar A. Eno is a multilingual scholar and a poet. He teaches Interdisciplinary Studies at Atlas University of Somalia and is Adjunct Professor of African History at Portland State University, Oregon, USA, where he formerly directed the African Migration and Development Research Program. He previously taught at York University in Toronto, Canada and has won several grants including   from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In the mid-1990s, he along with other concerned parties sought and succeeded in securing the resettlement of about 14,000 members of the marginalized Somali Bantu ethnic community in the US between 2003 and 2009. He is currently coordinating several academic and community-based projects in Somalia, including Atlas University of   Somalia, a newly established higher education institution. Dr Eno’s research focuses on Somali studies, East African political history, the African diaspora within Africa and in the Arabian context. Recent publications include “Somalia: An Overview of Primary and Secondary Education,” Journal of Somali Studies (2014) Vol. 1, No. 1, (pp. 11-33); “US-China Competition for African Resources: Looming Proxy Wars Amid Possible Alternatives,” Asian Journal of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities (2014) Vol. 2, No, 1, (pp 20-35); “Discrimination and Prejudice in the Nucleus of African Society: Empirical Evidence from Somalia,” African Renaissance (2013) Vol. 10, No. 3&4, (pp 13-36). His contribution at this event will focus on exploring the Bantu-Jareer factor in Somali history, looking at identity, diversity and discrimination.

Claire Thomas of Minority Rights Group, is an expert on global minority issues, and the co-ordinator of a project on building the capacity of Somali Minority Women and organizations working with and for them. As part of this project MRG will publish in November 2014 a report provisionally titled “Loo Ma Ooyin / No One Cries for Them” on the situation of and prospects for Minority Women in Somalia. Claire will compare and contrast the situation in Somalia with other situations in Africa and will talk about plans to carry out international advocacy and awareness raising, as well as touching on thinking about the most effective future work with grassroots organizations working with minority communities in Somalia.

Organiser: Dr Anna Lindley

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