Debate: Clanism in Somalia

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:

  • Italy
  • Canada
  • USA
  • Denmark

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.



En tanke om “Debate: Clanism in Somalia”

  1. Hi, I just want to comment about the concept of tribe in general.

    I was born under Siad Barre government, where the word “qabiil”, tribe in Somali was a shameful word. Yes, I grew up that way, not knowing, the tribes of my closest friend and mine for that matter, cool! eh, not really.

    After 22 years of living in the west, and so many years of schooling, I found that was completely wrong, to abolish qabiil.

    We, humans completely forgot our nature, which is to classify things and name them, so that we might know them, that is how our brain works. So, how do we classify people, if we really want to know them, or them, to know each other.

    Do we identify a person by merely giving them a social secuirty number and country name, which are by the way, all temporary, or do we identify them permanent by origin, location, and name.

    For a corporation and a government, which, in essence do not find useful to care for your origin as long as they can I identify an employee or a tax payer, for their narrow purpose, by number, the rest of humanity demands more permanent, more fundamental and more meaningful way of identifying a person.

    The creator says “O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another.” Surah al-Hujurat (49:13)

    As long as we are concerned with knowing each other, not ganging on, the tribal system is the best way.

    Thank you.

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