August 25, 2010

Quit complaining about the Somalis, get involved

Somalipic — Pouting, whining, caterwauling, kvetching and scowling all over the place with long faces isn’t the solution.  It won’t help non-Somali African immigrants in Columbus get through the doors of government opportunities.

Understand one thing, please:  ‘squeaky wheel gets the grease.’   And that’s pretty much what’s playing out here.

Of course, it is abundantly clear, unless one has been camping out in a cave, that the Somalis, for what it is worth, are soaking up all the oxygen of attention from governments and community groups compared to other African immigrant communities?

But why?

For one thing, a stampede of them arrived here as hapless refugees needing a smorgasbord of government assistance to settle in a strange land.

But let’s be clear, that’s hardly the only reason.  Part of it, I think, is also that Somali groups have for years labored in the trenches of social activism capitalizing on a plethora of issues in their community as a springboard to engage the political process and chummy up with local politicians.  Many of them have been able to articulate their once scattered orb into viable, focused and visible pockets of communal advocacy now being championed by a rash of pushy cabals constantly dangling their pain before swooning government officials.

But in contrast, other African communities, especially West African communities, have not been able to match the Somalis in this fundamental regard.  Yet, many refugees also arrived from Sierra Leone, Liberia and other places, and very much like the Somalis are also facing a catalogue of difficult challenges.

To be fair though, it is not as though West Africans are a bevy of clueless naifs wallowing in their lack of desire to form groups.  No – they form groups, too.

But the question is, to what ends?

Seemingly, the kind of associations emerging out of West African immigrant communities often take the form of esoteric social clubs, the kind we have back home, that cater only to the interests of their uppity members.  Far too often, the leaders of these groups are quite boffo at promoting dancehall shindigs than the interest of their community before government officials, which in a way, easily explains why they are blasé about the communal ululations tormenting the poor in their communities.

True, not all West African organizations are woeful culprits, but far too many of them suffer from this contagious prodrome.  Much of it, I think, is because some of these groups sprouted out of a restless and cavorting phalanx of elitist leaning folks united in their phalangeal seclusion from the concerns of the puisnes among them.

That’s why, these inchoate camarillas are inherently not agents of community mitzvah.

How often do you see a West African organization representative before a committee of the city council or the Franklin County Board of Commissioners trumpeting community issues?

The fact is, West African groups have a woeful track record regarding this.   But in contrast, Somalis do it all the time.

To be clear though, I’m not knocking non-activist groups.  It’s OK to form groups allowing restricted membership, by a swashing bunch craving uppity hobnobbing with no interest in social activism.  It is entirely OK.  But if that’s how you want it, then for heaven’s sake, get off the back of the Somalis if you are unwilling to get involved in community work. You just can’t have it both ways.

West African hoipolloi, many of them toiling in dual jobs as nursing aides, babysitters, store cashiers, factory workers, and restaurant factotums, constantly grumble about their plight being ignored by government leaders they say often cater to Somalis’ every tantrum.

Some have questioned the veracity of this claim.  But those making it uncompromisingly believe that the Somalis are lopsidedly being coshered with love while  they receive shabby treatment.

To resolve this indaba here would amount to a lofty orb, and I won’t even try.  Yet if there’s any dram of truth to this raging claim, then a hefty dose of the blame should be dumped right at the doorstep of those tone-deaf government officials who for some nutty reason just would not quit treating the Somalis as though they are non-Africans.  It only deepens the rift.

But having said all of that, constantly being on a rampage caviling, brickbating and begrudging the Somalis won’t help.  It is a copout.

What to do?

Quickly get off the dead horse and mount the farm cart of social advocacy, instead.  While on the wagon, swiftly purge the old, stale, lethargic order by organizing and pushing to reform and refocus these hedonistic and feckless West African cabals littered all over the city for a noble role in social activism.  That is essentially how the Somalis have been able to establish a noteworthy presence deep in central Ohio’s political scene.

One gallant effort to form an activist West African organization took place a couple of years ago, but the group, which was called African Women Empowerment Network (AWEN), despite the initial euphoria touting all the great things it wanted to do for the community, limped through a tide of debilitating hurdles before it ultimately died on the vine for lack of support from both the government and the community it was swooning to help.

But truth be told, that wasn’t really the only reason it collapsed.  It was also because its founders failed to sustain their initial gusto and commitment to the project.  And that’s not too far from the linchpin of all this, which is that folks in the West African communities often prefer to tackle their issues solo and outside of the integrated communal solutions.  Yet while communal spirit is also evident in these communities, the problem is that narcissistic socializing often trumps the noble idea of being ‘my brother’s keeper.’

Many of them regard being involved in community work as fundamentally counterproductive, a mindset rooted in the recognition that having superior college education, skills, experience, and deeper connectedness to the system are enough to assure them desired economic sufficiency.

Mgbatogu is a freelance writer and editor of based in Columbus. He can be reached by email at:

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Ike Mgbatogu

Mgbatogu is a freelance writer and editor of based in Columbus, Ohio. He can be reached by email at

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