It is not either too early or too late to come up with the idea; making sense of what has been learned so far and share our experience with the present and eventually future students in the field so that that the future students may at the first place get clues on how it is like that one to be his/her first year in a university.
We are nine students from Somalia. We come from that part of the world where all theories— be they political or economics we have covered in our first year courses— can be seen practically. In other words, all the theories we have until now learned fit for the current political and economic situations that our people, Somalis, are running today.
Furthermore, how it is like to be a Somali student studying political science and economics in one of western universities is the core question we are going to discuss in this paper. Apart from that we originally come from same country, we first met university West in Trollhattan in Sweden august 30th 2020, the first day of the program. We all seemed to be curious about not the destination but how the journey would start.
It is only now, after the first year has completed, that we begin to feel that we are about to figure out the general outlook of the whole picture on the destination of this three-year journey. This may of course still be an assumption that we make, it might be wrong— we can never know until others, not laypeople but people who have knowledge on the field, assess our experience before they give us the green light that would confirm that we are on the right track.
Right and wrong notions
The first thing one is unconsciously trained at universities is that to avoid using terms such as right and wrong. It is this place where one starts to feel uncertain on his/her understanding about the very things he/she though he/she was familiar with, things or let us say knowledge that traditional culture and norms handed down to him/her. Although, it is universities where one begins to feel that he/she is about to understand some important stuffs, it is on the other hand sometimes extremely difficult to let the old assumptions go. It is so easy to remove the objects than to empty old ideas—no matter what they are—in the human minds. For ideas are abstract than objects which are concrete.
When we finished the first semester, haft of our first year at the university, that was really a relief for us fresh students for it seemed that we have found some clues about where we will have been heading, the destination. If we successfully completed the whole program, then the reward would be Bachelor of Arts with a specialisation in political science and economics—this is the solitary goal that we all are aiming for. This is not a simple task, there will be some stops, checkpoints where things in our baggage would not only be checked but also sorted out along the way.
The path that awaits and the work we are engaged in right now
As noted earlier, one of the main reason for writing this paper is to share with you our first year experience. To exemplify how the path that awaits us would look like; what we already have learned is that many of our old ideas and the methods in which we use to present are going to be challenged not that they are old-fashioned, but it seems so difficult to defend them when their contraries are professionally presented.
For the old ideas that we have in our minds now were shaped by many different disciplines together with experience so that we are not armed with the knowledge we would use so that we can defend them when they are challenged. Unlike knowledge driven from traditional culture and experience, universities are places where the person narrowly pursues one discipline according to G. N. M. Tyrrell. In his book the personality of man, New Facts and Their Significance Tyrrell noted ‘‘Knowledge is now too vast for anyone to be able to sum up its significance. The more trees are discovered the harder it becomes to see the wood. Increase in knowledge has meant increase in specialisation; and the specialist keeps on learning ‘more and more about less and less’’ (Tyrrell 1954:21).
Moreover, we live in a world where every second some kind of truth is unlocked or discovered for the public by scholars and it is spread as knowledge by teachers at institutions of leaning such as schools and universities. As a result many of traditional narrations are sometimes questioned. Such task is carried out by physicists, archaeologists and political scientists and each group is busy studying its specific field (Harari 2015:254).
However, in the first place we were told by our teacher who was teaching the introductory course that we had not come to the university “to solve any problem” whatsoever but only try “to understand” the nature of the problem. In order to comprehend the problem we need to have good tools or skills that would enable us to distinguish facts from fallacy and this, in my point of view, is what the professors at the university are ready to provide us before our really (second) mission starts.
Describing how the first mission looks like, Harari said: “of course, physicists analysing the spectra of distant galaxies, archaeologists analysing the finds from a Bronze Age city, and political scientists studying the emergence of capitalism do not disregard tradition. They start by studying what the wise people of the past have said and writing. But from their first year in college, aspiring physicists, archaeologists and political scientists are taught that it is their mission to go beyond what Einstein, Heinrich Schliemann and Max Weber ever knew” (Harari 2015:254).
We are now in the first the mission that is not to disregard the works done by past observers but to try to understand and eventually follow their footsteps until we come to a position where we fully develop new knowledge and add this to the pre-stored one in the libraries.
Ben Fender, British Ambassador to Somalia VS Roble, Somalia Prima Minister
Even though, as Naomi Chomsky used to say ‘‘what matters at universities is what the students discover not what is covered during their studies’’ yet the courses, which we have covered until now, include: Geographical perspectives on resources and development, Political philosophy, International politics and globalization, Global trends of production and trade, Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, Democracy, legitimacy and political institutions and Developing studies. All these courses and many others constitute the program. However, this is the program whose theories we are trained to use as tools to interpret the facts presented by the real world.
As we have noted in the preceding part of the paper, we are from Somalia where the principle theories upon which the above courses were based on can be seen in action. Speaking to the current prime ministry of Somalia Mohamed Hussein Roble at a summit of Somalia Partnership Forum Communique held in Mogadishu, the capital city of Somalia in December 2020, British ambassador to Somalia at that time Ben Fender commenced his words in this way:
‘‘Four hundred years ago a small boy grew up a village close to mine and his name was Thomas Hobbes and he became one of Europe’s great writers on government. When he was the age I am today England descended into lawlessness and chaos and his description of those days became famous and he called it a state of nature. He said in such condition these is no place of industry because the fruit thereof is uncertain, no commodious building, no knowledge of the face of the earth, no arts, no letters no society and the life of man is solitary poor nasty British and short.
His argument was simple that for a nation to rise to become great and prosperous, a sovereign force in the world, there must be what he called a social contract. People must agree to give up a little of their selfish interest to live by a set of rules a constitutions for the benefit and the greater freedom of all. Now I read about that a long time ago but I never really understood its full force until I came to Somalia. Prime minister I believe that everything about Somalia’s future turns on how strongly Somalis believe in the idea of social contract, believe the rebuilding of this nation matters more than their personal, clan or regional interests and whether they are willing to give up little of their selfish interests and live by rules for the good of all’’ (Ben Fender, 7 December 2020 https://www.youtube.com/watch).
Although it is common for the students of the political science to be taught theories of human nature as Steven Pinker (2016) wrote in his book The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature: ‘‘every student of political science is taught that political ideologies are based on theories that of human nature” (Pinker 2016:305). Yet our teacher of political philosophy did not really fail to introduce us human-nature- based-concept of social contract already the second week of the course he was teaching. Through the teachings of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau, he, as we have realized later, laid the foundation and sowed the seeds for all possible political ideologies that would come up. The followed course was International politics and globalization, one of the theories we have discussed has been realism where Machiavelli’s assumption on human nature as selfish has sometimes used as a base.
As we already have stated almost all the theories of the program may fit for our country’s current political condition. In the course Democracy, legitimacy and political institutions, with the help of comparative theory we did learn that our country Somalia at the president day is unable to fulfil all the four most important components of a modern state should have namely: monopoly of legitimate violence, territoriality, sovereignty, and people (Caramani 2020:70). At the present day Somalia as a state lacks what we call in politics “monopoly of legitimate violence (there are many rivalling armed groups that are uncontrolled by the government in the country, Somalia) and sovereignty”, as a nation we cannot defend our borders from the outsiders such as Kenya and Ethiopia.
The Journey has started with big questions
Now it seems that the journey has started, it has just begun by studying the fundamental questions in which the program in general was built around, questions like: what is social science? What is politics? What is economics? What is globalization? Why states go to war? Why are some countries called poor and other rich? All these questions can also be described as philosophical questions because they all are touching sources of origin.
However, the two big questions that we will be studying in the coming two years are what is politics? And what is economics? And the relation between the two. Since such questions characterize to be given different answers, it may be easier to give description on business done by those who work on them, politicians, and economists. According to Thomas Swell: “The first lesson of economics is scarcity; there is never enough of anything to satisfy all those who want it, the first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics” (DK 2018:185).This does mean the one falsifies the other. But we as students of political science and economics have also gotten a work to do before we end up being either politician or economists. We are being taught the skills that would enable us to resolve negative effects caused by wrong political and economic decisions that are sometimes taken by say decision-makers.
Africa, Somalia and Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of Chine and Build Back Better World (B3W) of US and its allies
Here is where the shadow of ignorance has covered that the African continent is one of the richest, in terms of natural resources yet we generally refer to African countries as third-world countries or developing countries. One may wonder ‘why’. One of the students has posed the question after she did learn that the continent is 9.6% of the global oil output, 90% of the world’s platinum supply, 90% of the world’s cobalt supply, 1/2 of the world’s gold supply, 2/3 of the world’s manganese, 35% of the world’s uranium and 75% of the world’s Colton. The question that gnaws at her is that why Africa with all these natural resources is called developing countries.
To find an answer to the inquiry one can turn to the developing studies, one of the courses we have covered in this year. Both modernization, dependence theories and other theories in development studies presented in the course are better place to start to look for an answer to the question posed by that student. In addition, now many African leaders are worrying the consequence that would result from by the rivaling development projects offered by US and its allies under the name of Build Back Better World (B3W) and Chine under The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). According to The Economist (2021), many Africans leader have already felt the burden and one can easily learn their responses: “Ken Ofori-Atta, Ghana’s finance minister, argues that ever since decolonization, Africa has been a “chessboard” for great-power contests and that “hasn’t helped us in any way”. Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya’s president, has warned that Africa is not a prize to be fought over: “we don’t want to be forced to choose.” Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa’s president, has said that Africa should not suffer because of America’s “jealousy” of what Chine can offer the continent” (The Economist the World in 2021, 2021:71).
On the other hand, we as fresh students are now at a gateway to a world of ideas, we do need more than a semester or two in political science and economics— to propose a clear solution to the question, to recommend how or the best way Africa in general and Somalia in particular would benefit and at the same time be careful the challenges of Build Back Better World (B3W) and The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of Chine— we are juniors right now trying to make sense of what we have learned so far.
Are we on the right track?
The main propose now is to test practically what we were told at the very beginning of the program; that we would be given ‘skills that are transferable’ These were the pure words of the teacher who was introducing the program and informing us, as fresh students in their first semester, not only the knowledge we would expect from the program but also what we would be expected to do in our studies.
He said that day that we live in ‘one world with many theories’ and finally closed the introduction lecture that they as teachers of the program would ‘guide us to start to think and shape our brains’. However, whether that came to be true or not would also be known at the end of the program. However, with this paper one would find out that that we, as students who have just completed their first year, are on the right track to objectives mentioned by the teacher and if that happened it would be a clear sing for their commitment that they would ‘guide us to start to think and shape our brain’.
Caramani, Daniele. (2020). Comparative Poliltics. 5. Oxford: Oxford University Press
- (2018).The Economics Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained. DK Publishing.
Harari, Yuval Noah. (2015).Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Random
Pinker, Steven. (2016). Blank Slate, the Modern Denial of Human Nature, 3rd eds. Penguin Books: New York.
The Economist. (2021). The Economist The World in 2021.
Tyrrel, G. N. M. (1957). The Personality of Man, New Facts and Their Significance. Penguin Books: London.
Cismaan Cali Amiin firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Jowhar.com’s editorial stance.