Wearing Eswatini’s traditional regalia and participating in the Reed Dance Ceremony has drawn criticism and equal support for Somaliland Foreign Affairs Minister Essa Kayd Mahamoud. The disapproval has come mainly from people within Somalia who consider neighbouring Somaliland as a renegade State. These have criticised the minister for violating Sharia law by displaying ‘nudity’ through the wearing of the Eswatini traditional regalia that exposed some parts of his body. They also called the Reed Dance Ceremony a pagan culture that Muslims should not participate in. Sharia is Islam’s legal system and is derived from the Quran, Islam’s holy book, as well as the Sunnah and Hadith – the deeds and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. Both Somalia and Somaliland observe the Islam religion; people who adhere to the Islam religion are known as Muslims.
religion of the State
Article 2 of the Constitution of Somaliland states that Islam is the religion of the State and no religion other than Islam can be propagated in the country. Article 17, however, which speaks on freedom of religion and belief, states that every person is free to practice his or her religion. The same Article also states that no religion other than Islam can be propagated in the Federal Republic of Somalia. It is reportedly an obligatory precaution in the Islam religion for a man to cover those parts that are commonly covered by men, in the event that he knows that a non-family member woman will look at him.
According to ‘The Laws and Regulations of Islam’, as provided in www.al-islam.org, Rule 102 that relates to ‘Covering For Men’, a man must cover those parts that are commonly covered by men, in the event that he knows that a non-family member woman will look at him. “Therefore: Men must cover the area above their wrist, the chest, the feet and other parts that men usually cover from non-Mahram women who are in their presence. As for covering the other parts such as the head, face, and hands, it is not necessary,” reads part of this rule.
By having his upper body and feet exposed during the Reed Dance Ceremony, the Somaliland minister was seen as being ‘naked’. However, the people of Somaliland have come to the minister’s defence and described his participation in the Reed Dance Ceremony as a form of cultural diplomacy. There were heated or emotional discussions that took place on Twitter and on Somali Spot – an online Somali discussion forum for general topics such as current events and pop culture. Somalia’s independent news outlet, The Daily Jubba, which proclaims itself as ‘the best source of the latest developments on current affairs, political as well as diplomatic shifts in Somalia and the ever-changing landscape of the wider Horn of Africa, Africa & beyond’, reported that the Somaliland minister was taken on a trip to Eswatini by Taiwan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry. This information was also carried on the news outlet’s Twitter account, which was also posted on Somali Spot where the subject became the centre of discussion, particularly the minister’s perceived violation of Sharia or Islam law.
On Twitter, where the Somaliland minister tweeted about his visit to Eswatini and being part of the Reed Dance Ceremony alongside His Majesty King Mswati III and other dignitaries, the criticism was led by a freelance journalist from Somalia. Bidhaan Dahir from BBC Somali tweeted what he said was ‘the naked truth’ as the Somaliland minister was visiting the Kingdom of Eswatini. Some did not find this to be funny, with one Twitter user saying: “I wouldn’t expect this from Bidhaan, making fun of Somaliland.” Another Somali journalist, Mohamed Yusuf Bakayle, tweeted that Somaliland was seeking recognition from Eswatini by the minister’s visit. “This is the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Somaliland who took off his clothes to get recognition,” he wrote alongside a picture of the minister alongside other dignitaries at the Reed Dance. By yesterday, the tweet had attracted over 100 responses that were both criticising and defending the minister.
A Somaliland and United Kingdom news and current affairs platform called Eslander praised the minister’s visit and said: “Wonderful. This is the traditional Reed Dance of Eswatini and Somaliland is honoured to be part of it. Well done to our Foreign Minister for getting into the spirit of such a magnificent cultural event.” Somaliland Political Analyst and Security Expert Abdirisaq Elmi said he was proud of the minister, whom he said had mastered the art of diplomacy. “Really our minister showed how well he knows diplomacy than any minister. We are proud of you and all Somalilanders,” Almi said.
blasted the minister
A Somali Social and Political Activist, only identified as Yassin, who says he strives for united peaceful and prosperous Somalia, blasted the minister for what he said was behaviour that is contrary to Islam. “My God look at this! The secessionists are so desperate to sell their tribal project. What’s the logic behind to twerk for non-Somali person when you can’t even convince your next door neighbour? Dr Essa Kayd is doing very un-Islamic behaviour for the King of little Eswatini Nation,” he wrote. He accused the minister of having ‘exposed himself’ to the King of Eswatini and his people who ‘dance naked’.
However, a global community of patriots from Somaliland, who call themselves the Lander Nation, rebutted Yassin’s accusation against the minister. “It’s called Cultural Diplomacy! A type of public diplomacy and soft power that includes the… ‘exchange of traditional customs, art, language and other aspects of culture among nations and their peoples in order to foster mutual understanding’,” said the Lander Nation, whose mission is the recognition of Somaliland. A female producer, director and writer from Somalia, who proclaims to be a proud Somali and wants to ‘show the world the Somalia I see and Somali youth to have confidence because you are not alone’, brought in the religion card. “It’s called being a sellout and not following the proper Sharia,” she said. A Twitter account called Fruit of the S.N.M Seed, which is aligned to the Somali National Movement (SNM) – a political organisation that engineered the self-determination of Somaliland, said playing the S religion card would not work because Somalilanders ‘only bow down to Allah’.
Realising that the conversation was becoming volatile, the BBC journalist turned around to say that it was all a joke meant for those with a sense of humour, but this was equally condemned by Somalilanders who even said they had reported him to the British broadcaster. “Your hidden message is a mockery of Eswatini tradition. You call it naked, they call it traditional Swazi attire,” said one Somalilander. But a critic of the minister said Somalilanders should show some respect for their dignity before others’ culture. “If in their culture they cut off ear, obviously you’ll do it,” he said. This was met with immediate negation by a Somalilander who said it was pathetic for the critic to talk about dignity and respect only when it came to Somaliland. “At least the people of Eswatini do not blow themselves up on their own people and they don’t practice piracy. So don’t lecture us about something you’re lacking,” said the Somalilander.
One Dr Adali Warsame, who is a Somalilander, wondered what the BBC journalist had hoped to achieve with his tweet. “Are you a serious BBC journalist, or a childish juvenile troll? Grow up dude,” he remarked. He was joined by his fellow countryman identified as Faqashlaaye, who tagged the BBC in his tweet, where he asked if the broadcaster was aware that some of its staff members were promoting racist stereotypes about Africans.
“I find it unacceptable that a public service provider and national broadcaster of the United Kingdom is spreading racism,” he said and further made the journalists aware that he had filed a complaint with his employer (the BBC) whom he hoped would take the necessary steps. Fruit of the S.N.M Seed also came hard on the journalist for what it said was unacceptable behaviour and hatred. “BBC, this is the behaviour we will not accept. Spewing hatred and calling it humour. Do something about your staff and we expect a formal apology to Somaliland’s Foreign Affairs minister and the good people of Eswatini. BBC do you actually have these people who mock African people’s cultures in the 21st Century as paid staff? We will make sure to spread the news of the hatred people in your payroll spew. Somaliland is not Somalia and we will not stand with the views of your ignorant staff,” the account tweeted.
A pro-Somalia Twitter account using the handle @Independentmi20 tweeted a thread about the minister’s visit and its views about not only the Reed Dance Ceremony but other Eswatini cultural practices in relation to the Islam religion. “The so-called foreign minister of the separatists’ entity called Somaliland in North West Somalia went to Eswatini and participated in pagan rituals (which is forbidden in Islam) in his quest for diplomatic recognition,” the account wrote. It alleged that Eswatini has ‘multiple pagan ceremonies’ such as the Incwala ‘where the participants thank the ancestors for good harvest and rain’ and said ‘this ritual is clearly considered shirk in Islam and is therefore absolutely forbidden’.
It continued to allege that Eswatini had many traditional ceremonies ‘which have pagan origins and meanings’, which are for spiritual healing and good luck. “This obviously is forbidden in Islam and that’s why Somali politicians never partcicipate in such ceremonies,” the account tweeted. It then posed a question on whether the Somaliland minister, by participating in the Reed Dance Ceremony dressed as he was dressed, had not participated in a pagan ceremony. The account then uploaded a video of the Incwala Ceremony and said the minister was dressed in the same clothing as those seen in the footage. “Essa Kayd’s participation in pagan rituals should be very worrying considering the fact he allegedly represents an entirely Muslim population whose faith clearly prohibits any participation in pagan rituals, which is why you will never find a Somali politician ever doing so,” the account wrote.
It further posed another rhetoric question on why the Somaliland minister decided to dress and thereby logically participate in such an event yet his colleague from Taiwan decided not to participate in such fashion but merely attended the ceremony. The account then reached an ill-informed conclusion as it said the Somaliland minister had participated in the Incwala Ceremony yet he took part in the Reed Dance Ceremony. Here is the inaccurate conclusion: “We don’t know to what extent Essa Kayd performed the Incwala ritual but I can tell him it won’t get him any recognition whatsoever! All that moves and all that is created is being sustained by the mercy of Allah.”
This was received with mixed reactions and the Somalilanders jumped in to defend the ‘diplomacy at work’ done by their foreign affairs minister. “Dr. Kayd keep doing the job, don’t listen to Somaliland haters of failed state. 20,000 foreign troops are securing them and they appointed an envoy to beg for them. Shame on you beggars,” wrote a Somaliland medical doctor. The doctor went on to question whether it was allowed in Islam to kill, rape, loot and terrorise others but wearing other nations’ clothes considered haram. He alleged that Somali was filled with crime such as terrorism, rape and murder, which they should be focusing on instead of playing holier than thou.
Government Press Secretary Alpheous Nxumalo weighed in on the exchange and said the Somaliland minister did not commit any crime and, therefore, should not be attacked. He said what the minister did was a diplomatic gesture and nothing more. “He came here to cultivate mutual diplomatic ties between the two countries. He arrived at a time when the country was celebrating the Reed Dance Ceremony and he participated. He was not ratifying or endorsing a certain specific dress code but simply performed diplomatic courtesies, which is acceptable,” Nxumalo said.
He said His Majesty King Mswati III once performed a similar diplomatic gesture in 2003 when he returned from Saud Arabia wearing Muslim outfit and this provoked speculation that he was about to convert to Muslim. “People later got to understand that this was all about diplomacy and nothing else,” he said. Nxumalo said there were many other foreign dignitaries who came to Eswatini and were presented with traditional regalia which they wore as part of diplomacy. “Our foreign affairs minister may also reciprocate this gesture when she visits Somaliland. She may be given a Muslim outfit and that would be a diplomatic gesture,” the government spokesperson said. He added that the Somaliland minister did not even take the Eswatini traditional attire with him but left it behind when he left at the conclusion of his visit.
The Somaliland minister met with his Eswatini counterpart, Thuli Dladla, to discuss the establishing of diplomatic ties between the two countries who are the only African States that have established ties with Taiwan. In his twitter page, the minister said he also had a one on one meeting with His Majesty King Mswati III after the Reed Dance where ‘we discussed the future of our two nations’. Somaliland broke away from Somalia in 1991 and has no formal diplomatic relations with any nation. Islam reportedly reached Somaliland in the early 17th century and has since played a major part in the day to day life, law and order of the Somaliland people. What is unique about Somaliland’s Judiciary branch, as stated in the government website, is that Sharia law serves as the guiding principle Somaliland law cannot contradict. However, there are reportedly no formal Sharia Courts in Somaliland.