Political representation is a complex issue in Somali society, which has been devastated by several decades of civil war causing distrust between people and disillusion with the ‘state’.
The clash between clanism and nationbuilding
Somali citizenship broadly derives from the concept of u dhashay (born to a family/group/clan/nation). This ancestral understanding of citizenship stresses the blood relationship of all Somalis, who claim descent from a common forefather.
Before the outbreak of the civil war in the late 1980s Somalis were commonly perceived as a homogenous ‘nation’. The military regime of Siad Barre demanded loyalty to the state above the clan.
Yet behind the nationalist facade clientism and nepotism continued. In their struggle for power later Somali governments as well as factions in the civil war have used notions of clan loyalty to mobilize support.
The difference between nomads, farmers and the people living in the city
Different Somali communities have separate perceptions of belonging:
- Nomads or camel herders: stress family relations. For raiding or in defence, groups of relatives unite.
- Farmers in southern and central Somalia: stress territoriality, because they depend on land and cooperation for survival.
- Urban communities: give religious authorities and leaders a strong influence. Here notions of hierarchy and loyalty is key.
In addition, many members of the diaspora have developed a transnational understanding of belonging, and are simultaneously engaged in their country of residence and the homeland.
The Somali diaspora and issues of representation
More than a million Somalis live outside Somalia, either in refugee camps or in countries such as:
Over the last two decades, political representation and participation in peace talks in Somalia has been based on a mixture of clan, military and financial power. This has often strengthened the prestige of warlords and political elites from the diaspora.
Many delegates at national reconciliation conferences fly in to meetings held outside of Somalia. They are paid by international donors and can simply return abroad if things do not ‘work out’ back home.
Representativeness cannot be created from outside. It has to come from within and to be accountable to those who supposedly are being represented: ordinary Somalis.