EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is part of a four-part series on Somali political history and current trends by one of our featured contributors.
By Ismail Hussein
Somalia’s historical problem started in the early 1960s, when diverse Somali clans who were autonomous were put together into a single national government. This came as a legacy of colonialism.
These diverse clans united on a political ‘wind’ to get rid of the ‘colonizers’. This approach worked to unite Somali clans, but only for a temporary period. In history, this technique has always been used to unite people to get their eyes on something bigger. But when that something else leaves a vacuum, that is when they return back to themselves and can break down along class, clan, religion, and political views.
In the 1960s, Somalia had early warning signs indicating that the nation was heading towards a problem. There were some 100 clan-based political parties, there was the troubling 1964 attempted northern coup, and the 1969 assasination of Somali President Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke. At this stage, something needed to be done but ‘political winds’ dominated the political landscape, especially the ‘anti-Ethiopia sentiment’.
Then came the 21-year dictatorship of Major General Mohamed Siyad Barre, who implemented a similar approach: ‘unite Somalis against Ethiopia’. Again, this strategy worked but only temporarily because when that ‘wind’ came to an end, the Somali people returned back to the dividing blocks between us: the clans. Factions, rebel groups and warlords came into being. Notice how the dividing factor – ‘the clan’ – turns into a political issue of the day. Something that is relevant geo-politically, rebel groups, were huge in Africa at the time. Today that political issue is ‘radical Islam’ as that is the geopolitical wind of our times and Somalia has Al Shabaab.
The crunch of the matter between the Somalis, which has been consistent from the beginning, has been a lack of trust. We use a number of masks (nationalism, Islam, 4.5, external enemy, secession, federalism). We are using these masks as we try to conceal the lack of the trust between us as a nation and as a people. So it does not matter. If we attempt to create an ‘Islamic state’ or a ‘federal state’ or ‘central state’ or any other mode of government, all our institutions will be weak as the lack of trust is still there and divisions will widen.
That is when you start to see the cycle of ‘the leader’ being more powerful then the institution. ‘The leader’ will push for the interest of his ‘clan, region, political party etc., and this begins a vicious cycle of every leader doing the same thing when they are in power, resulting in the people returning back to age-old reliable socio-traditional institutions.
When that cycle happens, corruption, fear mongering, tit for tat, and weakening of institutions are seen: police officers taking bribes, President offshoring money, people being jailed for no reason, media crack downs, businesses operating inefficiently. You start to see that a whole society failing in every sector of the country.
In Somalia, we are trying to use a clan approach to solve the problem. Some 27 years later, that approach has been tried and the result is evident. Why are Somalis going back to something that has failed? The reason the system has failed is that the people will only ‘see’ a clan in power, and politicians can wear all the national logos they wish, but the public view the leaders as a clan, meaning that the specter of clan warfare is there.
Ismail Hussein is a political commentator on Somali affairs and a Featured Contributor on Somali Review. He can be reached by E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: Somali Review