Tag-arkiv: qabil

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.

 

 

From Somalia to Denmark and back

I have long wished to visit Somalia for three main reasons: It is my place of birth, I am a journalist and I sense great opportunity. Somalia is in the midst of forming a government and I for one would love to witness the process first hand.

My place of birth

The inevitable first question that Somalis ask one another when they meet is: “What is your qabil?”. Qabil means ‘clan’ and it has nearly always been the defining charateristic for Somali people.

Whenever I am asked this question, I always respond with: “I was born in Mogadishu”. In my opinion, the question of qabil in my case is utter nonsense. I have nearly spent 22 years in Denmark. And so my clan means absolutely nothing to me.

Instead, I like to say, that my mom is related to the popular singer Ahmed Nagi. Or that my grandfather worked for the Somali government in Mogadishu back in the 80s. Or that I once lived in the city of Medina, not far from where you could buy or sell gold.

My mother and I, age 3, in the woods of Afgooye

I am a journalist 

I might as well admit it. I have aspirations of becoming a foreign correspondent. I am passionate about exploring new ways of communication and interacting with people of different cultures.

As the only Danish journalist of Somalian descent (that I know of), I have a personal stake in the crisis Somalia is engulfed in. I have a remarkable opportunity to gather valuable information about the conflict that might advance the Danish policy in Somalia.

 

With my multicultural background I have the ability to take the reporting of the conflict to a whole new dimension. The Danish journalist population is still very homogeneous and can only benefit from this.

I sense great opportunity

Under the rule of former president Siad Barre, which my mom wholeheartedly supported, it was considered anathema to the purpose of a modern state to ask questions about ones clan. Somalis began to pointedly ask, “What is your ex-clan?”

On a symbolic level, the sort of transformation that Siad Barre envisioned for his people was to abandon clanism – that “whom do you know?” be changed with “what do you know?”. This sort of reasoning is much more in line with my frame of mind.

With the new roadmap in place, there is a great opportunity for the Somali people to overcome their differences in terms of clanism. Many might argue qabil did not cause the crisis in Somalia, but the question of qabil should never be an issue for any Somali. Period.