Every Somali has heard or read about presidents, ministers and ambassadors organising a dinner party in honour of some visiting dignitary or elder statesman.
It is instinctively understood that this is done to strengthen ties with the visitor (and by extension their country) or to celebrate the history and achievements of the local statesman.
Yet, in the past fifteen years, the curse of “CashoSharaf” seems to have found its way to every household, organisation or grouping in the Somali world. For example, not a day goes by in any city in Somaliland without banners appearing to celebrate the annual meeting of sub-clans consisting of fifteen people and the CashoSharaf to conclude their (almost always) successful meeting. These are occasions to eat, discuss politics and come out with resolutions to advance the clan’s goals that (mostly) never see the light of day.
But the real place where the CashoSharaf phenomenon really took off is in the diaspora. Here, they celebrate everything; from a person landing a lucrative and prestigious job back home to washed up seventies singers visiting the place for the hundredth time. Nothing and no one is too small or too big for a CashoSharaf. None of these are actual banquets, they hardly take place in any Michelin star restaurants and the menu usually consists of soup, rice and cake.
Some of these dinners are genuine and worthy of applause. They celebrate the work of a tenacious activist who makes the lives of the community better or a rare politician who through their efforts eased the burdens of many people. However, most of the dinners are superfluous bore fests organised by social climbers and people who, simply, just like to eat out.
In most of these cases, money is collected to pass on to the guest of honour as a sign of appreciation (and sometimes gratitude). But what is there to appreciate in a minister who has not begun his or her job yet? In fact, sometimes some of these politicians will get one of these celebratory dinners at the start of the job and another the next time they pop back for a short holiday without having accomplished anything. The people organising them are in no position to act as patrons and demand total loyalty from such politicians. At best, the social climbers, businessmen and budding politicians amongst them simply hope that the favour will be returned and the politician will remember them back with whatever morsels his position allows him/her to throw their way.
The religious folk are not immune to the CashoSharaf disease. To them however, the issue is not really about food, it’s all about money. They need it to build mosques. It doesn’t matter that there is a perfectly adequate mosque down the street, they need to build another because the existing one harbours undesirables from clan X, Y or Z. They need it to help the poor back home and film themselves as they tell Nasra in outer Mongolia that your ten dollars had reached crippled Ardo in the form of two sacks of rice and three bananas. Nasra of course is not overly bothered about Ardo’s fate, she only wants one of the sheikhs (preferably the good looking one) to pray for her because she lately started feeling a throbbing pain behind her left ear and her acquaintances told her it might be a jinni.
The Somali world is so small and so interconnected that one refrains from lampooning it lest the mockery offends a cousin or relative. Alas, because of this interconnectedness, laughable occasions occur where one member of the family is hurriedly contributing to a GoFundMe Account to help a starving pensioner in Burco whilst another is attending a CashoSharaf in honour of the politician in charge of the district where the pensioner lives. One curses the “qabyaalad” and politics that led to the pensioner’s starvation whilst the other praises the politician’s intelligence and worthiness. When they later meet and exchange stories the link never occurs to them.
There is something vulgar about the idea of widespread CashoSharafs. If everyone does it, what sets it apart from ordinary dinners amongst friends? What makes it so special?
On the whole, I point the finger of blame at those who organise such events but in one or two instances (like the roaming professors and the unemployed statesmen) the whole blame is on the guest of honour. They should have known better and set an example for the riffraff of dinner parties.