Musician K’Naan on the hope and hopelessness of Somalia

The Takeaway

Story by The Takeaway. Listen to audio for full report.

Through the famine and the war that continues to plague Somalia, writer and musician K’Naan has found hope for the future. “The truth about this place is, I always found that we have kind of stripped it out of context,” he says. People tend see the problems inside the country and not where they came from. “Then it becomes scary in that spooky way,” he told The Takeaway, “it becomes thorny and no one wants to address a place like that.”

“Somalia isn’t scary mysteriously, it’s scary for a reason,” K’Naan explains, “it’s people without a centralized government for 20 years, it’s filled with arms, it’s poverty infested, it’s a complex conflict.”

K’Naan recently returned to Somalia and found many of the complex contradictions inside the hospital where he was born. “You saw this incredibly large feeling of hopelessness sort of surrounding this place,” he says, describing the hospital. But at the same time, K’Naan also saw what he calls, “the work of hope.”

“The doctors were volunteers, nurses were volunteers; people were just doing everything that they can to make life work, to make life continue,” K’Naan said.

The problems of Somalia aren’t intractable, according to the musician. “If we, in fact, start to travel towards the road back, I don’t think it’s far away to get there,” he says. “We’re under an ocean of trouble, but I do believe that in one breath allocated to the right part of the lung, we can come out and breath.”

Any effort to solve the situation, though, requires Somali, rather than international, expertise. “That’s a systematic situation, that is something that needs real thought and it needs real experience in the Somali political sphere, and Somali people’s vision to make that happen,” he says. “The trouble with the world has been that there’s been a lot of foreign policy affecting Somalia without the Somali expertise in mind at all.”

K’Naan emphasizes that he is a musician, and when he sees these problems, he immediately goes to words and music. At the same time, “I don’t see anybody else doing much else for my country, so I step into places where I don’t feel the best in but I can kind of survive,” he says. “I want to create hopefully a dialogue — a real dialogue — around Somalia that opens up the world’s fenced heart, because right now no one looks Somalia and doesn’t feel like they’ve been betrayed by it and so they blame it and so they don’t want to address it.”


“The Takeaway” is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what’s ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH.

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