By Hassan M. Abukar
The arrival of social media in conservative Somalia has prompted the rise of smart, educated, activists who have become champions for the voiceless. However, the medium has also led to the emergence of a different class of people: extremists of all classes—religious fanatics and clannish hatemongers, misfits, charlatans, and sociopaths. Not a week goes by without someone going viral. The recent sensation is Malyun Ali Feer, who refers to herself simply as M. M. S (Mama Malyun Suuban). She pronounces her nickname like a rapper promoting her album and then adds, “BAM!”
The phenomenon of Mama Malyun on social media is unique and interesting. She is articulate, funny, mentally agile, and outspoken. She is pretty, gregarious, and radiant. That is not only my opinion—it’s hers, too. She looks good on screen, is in good shape, and does not shy away rubbing a cream on her face and hands as she tapes her videos. In fact, she has a side business selling that very brand of cream, and she uses her videos to promote it.
For Somali men who constantly approach her, she has a penchant for blocking them from her Facebook and deriding them for being nuisance. “Waryaa (hey, you), you are not my type,” she bellows. She does not conceal her age. ‘I am 52, single, and not interested in a relationship,” she said. She explains she has had enough relationships to last a lifetime. Mama Malyun knows what kind of man she wants. “I will test him,” she says, “and ask him about his credit score, honesty, hygiene, health, education, and whether or not he is clannish.” If you have a bankruptcy on your record, that is a major red flag to her and you need not to apply.
Mama Malyun’s videos are full of humor, sarcasm, songs, and a bit of self-promotion. She does little to hide her disdain of men who are irresponsible deadbeats. She advises women to exit humdrum marriages. Her first video, which put her on the map, drew howls of outrage because she said she had been married 13 times. “No, wait a minute,” she suddenly paused as though her memory was failing. ”It is actually 15 husbands. I forgot two guys.” Then, she turned to the camera and scolded her audience to learn math.
Now, how many men or women would go publicly and declare the dozens of spouses that they had in their lifetime? Not many, I suppose. Mama Malyun has no qualms about marrying many men. Apparently, she does not crumble at night in self-pity and despair. She talks openly about her marriages and admits she had a dizzying ride of ups and downs. Some of her marriages started with a sizzle and ended with a fizzle. She gushes about the ones who were good to her, while chronicling those who owe her dowry money, and the ones who took her money and vanished. Some ex-husbands, of course, left traces in her heart—not all her husbands were bad.
What is unique about Mama Malyun is that she has listed the clans of the men she married. The majority of them are her clan, Darod, and 10 are Majertein, her sub-clan. The other two were Hawiye and Isaaq respectively. She jokes that her marriage to the Hawiye (Murursade) guy means that she is the sister-in-law of Prime Minister Hassan Kheyre, and she laments that she had not married a Marehan, the president’s clan. The Isaaq man is the father of her son and she proudly announces that she is, in essence, a Somalilander. There goes the 4.5 clan power structure in Somalia! Her ex-husbands only cover three of the five clan groupings. Missing, of course, are the Digil/Mirifle and Beesha Shanaad. It is their misfortune that they did not make it on the vaunted list. Or perhaps, they dodged a bullet. Who knows how Mama Malyun would have castigated them?
Mama Malyun did something that gave many Somali men a bit of whiplash: She named several ex-husbands, and posted their pictures, mentioned their clans, places of employment, and residences. One is a famous former reporter of the Voice of America (VOA). These men had allegedly crossed her and she is adamant to expose them. To her admirers, she is a ruthless, single-minded, woman who is exposing injustice and abuse. To her critics, she is a tornado wreaking havoc. “I don’t care what people say,” Mama Malyun quips.
Mama Malyun’s constant message is to expose bad husbands. In her recent videos, she has adopted a campaign of a gender equality. On her Facebook page, she says she is an advocate for Somali families and the rights of women and children. Her message is clear: Men have to stop marrying women and then leaving them for no reason. “Any man who divorces a woman,” she declares, “is nothing but the butt of a burned cigarette.” She is troubled by the large number of single mothers in the diaspora. “Where are their men?” she roars. Women need help in raising their children, she says, because they can’t do it by themselves. She is quick to note that she is a single mom, her daughter is a single mom, and her late mother was a single mom. “That’s wrong,” she explains.
Women have to speak up even if Somali men abhor it, she pleads. She wants women to stop hiding men’s egregious abandonment, neglect, and abuse. Communication is the key to a successful relationship, she preaches. She wants women to ask themselves if the men in their lives are smart or liars, or are they good providers or deadbeats? The ones who are awful, she reiterates, must be exposed.
When Sheikh Mohamoud Shibli, a leading cleric based in Kenya, advised men to engage in polygamy and not to heed the pleas of women who oppose the practice, Mama Malyun was so piqued she nearly exploded in fury. Shibli had the audacity to advise men to hide the passwords of their cellphones and computers from women. “That is wrong,” Mama Malyun said. Then, she dissolved into tears and made the necessary parameters of the spousal relationship clear: Love, care, fairness, and gentleness, are paramount.
Although Mama Malyun talks about the clans of the men she married, she is quick to denounce clannism. She urges her listeners to expunge tribalism from their hearts and lives. She claims she is the perfect example as she had married many men from three different clans when most women only marry within their own clan.
In a nutshell, Mama Malyun is a compelling personality who wants to be heard loud and clear. Her message is a blend of feminism—broadly conceived—and an indictment of men who fail women. She wants to exercise her free speech, educate women, and advocate on their behalf. Her reception on social media has been mixed: There was an explosion of joy on one side and recrimination on the other. In other words, many have rallied around her, while others have vilified her. However, she will not be dissuaded. The more women speak up, says Mama Malyun, the better it is for them and their children. Then, in an Obama-like exuberance, she chants, “Yes, we can.” BAM!.
Hassan M. Abukar