Coronavirus has muted Somali ‘Fadhi ku dirir’ – the street political analysts.

Having a cup of tea and catching up with friends is an everyday part of life for Somalis around the world. Because of this, tea joints and coffee shops have sprung up.

Tea joints have become an important institution for Somalis across the Horn of Africa region, and those in the West. They do not only serve tea, but also other purposes such as relaying and receiving information, mostly on politics.

Not all come to these joint for tea, they come for ‘Fadhi ku dirir’. Each day, at dawn, the male exodus from the household begins as the cities and towns come back to life. Those who do not work make their way to the cafés after an early breakfast, they remain in armchair combat until returning home for lunch and the afternoon siesta. Those who work will join them following the afternoon asr prayers; both groups return to their homes only for dinner and sleep.

These are the ‘fadhi ku dirir’ political analysts. They are the Somali men gathered in public spaces, especially in tea and coffee shops, some in open spaces and under trees in rural areas and small towns, debating and analysing current political affairs in Somalia and Somali dominated regions across the Horn of Africa. These are the men discussing politics over a session of coffee and tea in Java and Starbucks. These men are not actively involved in politics, but they have the desire to talk about it. They support opposing sides, not because of ideology but because of belonging to the same clan. They are the informal political analysts, they do ‘fadhi ku dirir’ – fighting while sitting down.

During ‘Fadhi ku diri’ is a debate that has its roots in the clan divisions that tore Somalia apart, and continues to do so.

These are also political gossipers. In an oral society, speakers can reach everyday people in ways writers cannot.

‘Fadhi ku dirir’ existed during the colonial period, and went on until 1991 when a coalition of clan militias forced military president Siyad Barre out of power and forced him to flee the country. But it flourished from then and became an essential activity for Somalis around the world.

Now, because of the threat posed by the coronavirus, ‘Fadhi ku dirir’ has been affected. Everyone is staying at home, quarantined or self-isolating. No more ‘fighting while sitting down.’ Coffee shops only offer take-aways and drive-through. Some restaurants are closed.

“I used to go to ‘Shah macan’ area every afternoon for Fadhi ku dirir. Now I can’t because we need to practice social-distancing, and the government has banned gathering of people,” says Hassan Abdi, a Nairobi resident.

‘Shah macan’ – sweet tea – is a popular tea joints in Nairobi’s Eastleigh district. Tea stalls dot along 12th Street, and the men sip their tea in the open, debating the latest political stories and analysing them.

‘Shah macan’ is open 24 hours a day. But no more.

The most affected ‘Fadhi ku dirir’ session is the one that happens at Starbucks, located at Riverside area in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

No matter the time, whether it’s over the weekend, a Wednesday afternoon, or Friday night, you will find groups of Somali men, in deep discussion, most disagreeing on everything under discussion, sometimes till midnight – especially during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

“I used to go to ‘Shah macan’ area every afternoon for Fadhi ku dirir. Now I can’t because we need to practice social-distancing, and the government has banned gathering of people,” says Hassan Abdi, a Nairobi resident.

“I am missing it.”

‘Shah macan’ – sweet tea – is a popular tea joints in Nairobi’s Eastleigh district. Tea stalls dot along 12th Street, and the men sip their tea in the open, debating the latest political stories and analysing them.

‘Shah macan’ is open 24 hours a day. But no more.

The most affected ‘Fadhi ku dirir’ session is the one that happens at Starbucks, located at Riverside area in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

No matter the time, whether it’s over the weekend, a Wednesday afternoon, or Friday night, you will find groups of Somali men, in deep discussion, most disagreeing on everything under discussion, sometimes till midnight – especially during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Somalis have been resettled in Minnesota when they fled a civil war in their country in 1991, and Minneapolis became a hub for the Somali community, and soon the city had the largest Somali population in the United States. The Cedar-Riverside area, where the Starbucks is located, is often called Little Mogadishu. It is where Somalis have lived, worked, and socialized since resettlement.

The Starbucks at Cedar-Riverside is the global headquarters for Somali ‘Fadhi ku dirir.’ Here, Somali politics is debated, government opposed and supported, and clan praised and others disparaged.

‘Somali Starbucks’ is now ‘deserted.’ the talkers can’t have debates in it, they have to wait until the coronavirus vanishes. For now, they can only order for a take-away.

As coronavirus continues to kill tens of thousands of people across the world, the ‘Fadhi ku dirir’ experts and the informal political analysts will remain at home. But when the virus goes away, and we don’t know when, they will be back and with a new agenda to discuss. By then, Somalia will be preparing to go to the polls.

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