Italophone Somali diaspora and social change in Somalia : education, communication, and institutions of social control

This research project is about social change, and major hindrances to it, in Somalia. Drawing from Somali studies, migration/diaspora studies, and development communication, Somali diaspora members are proposed here as new (old) social change agents. The underpinning question is how they frame, promote, and communicate social change in their home country. Within this (ex) diaspora, those with an Italophone background could make up, I argue, a distinguished sub-group: the Italophone Somali diaspora, which is a major finding in itself. They are educated, at least in relative terms compared to the majority of their contemporaries, they are Italophone (among others), and they have been inspired by a modernization ideal. After addressing characteristics and background of this particular group of people, I explore their voices about social change and the main challenges they are confronted with. I first define, as rooted in the accounts of my interviewees (permanent and transitory diaspora members, returnees), the current main actors in the Somali social arena. These pertain to the so-called outer world, a notion that I put forward for the purpose of this research. Yet, the real battle for social change, I posit, is fought at the level of the inner world: the world of thoughts, beliefs, hopes, and fears. At this level, three main social institutions regulate Somali society: clan, tradition, and Islam. (Overlapping) rules and normative codes derive from these institutions, which embody forms of social or mass control. Within this understanding, and from an Italophone Somali diaspora perspective, social change is conceived as the lessening of the pervasive social control associated with these institutions. The impact of these forces, and especially of the new religious code in force, is far-reaching, resulting in a pervasive state of fear and widespread self-censorship that are full of implications for communication for social change. Within this framework, I then discuss the role that the Italophone Somali diaspora sub-group assigns to three (potential) vectors of social change. First, the Somali Diaspora as a whole, with its distinctive social change capital, as I call it. This is a form of socio-cultural capital, with a pro-active potential, that works as a source of inspiration for promoting social change. Second, development communication as a vector of social change in itself, and as pursued in practice by the members of the Italophone Somali diaspora. Messages and strategies of their “civic engagement” in Somalia are analysed with respect to the constraints deriving from the main social institutions. Third, education in its broad sense, which plays a paramount role in shaping the mindset and the socio-cultural capital of the Italophone Somali diaspora, in explaining current forms of communication for social change, and in constituting, in their eyes, the ultimate source of any possible social change in Somalia today.


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