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Somalia: A Nation in Limbo: Between Islam and Tribalism

By Abdallah A. Hirad

In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful,
“Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious; for the Lord knoweth best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive Guidance. The Qur’an, Surah 16, Al Nahl, 125.

Hardly two years since its inception, that we witnessed the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) crumbling right in front of our eyes. Ministers stampeded to resign. Those Transitional Federal Institutions which took two years to patch up with the assistance of the whole wide world are now almost disintegrating. The sad thing is that it is all happening from within—except, perhaps, for a slight touch from the Islamists, on the one hand, and a little pressure from Ethiopia, on the other. How fragile! And, it is not as if this is happening for the first time. It is the third time that the TFG has been threatened to collapse rather than celebrate a victory, since its inception less than two years ago. First, it failed to celebrate its nativity. No sooner than, at least, two of its institutions—the Parliament and Cabinet—had just formed, that the whole world was surprised by the schism between a sizable segment of the Parliament, led by the Speaker; and the government, together with the other segment of the Parliament, led by the President and the Prime Minister. The split between the parties had denied the government the luxury to move to Mogadishu—the Capital—from Nairobi, where it was conceived.

Then, by a stroke of luck, President Ali Abdallah Saleh of the Yemen Republic intervened and succeeded to strike an agreement between the two parties. The ensuing events led to the convening of an Extraordinary Session of the Parliament in Baidoa, which the TFG uses as its current base. However, the group of Mogadishu warlords, who as well as being members of the TFG Cabinet, had also been part of the opposition, continued to oppose the Aden Accords, and, therefore, kept on denying the TFG to take seat in Mogadishu . Here again, and for the second time, the TFG failed to celebrate the victory achieved by the reconciliation between its parties in conflict until then.

But then, the Islamists defeated the Mogadishu warlords—again—by a stroke of luck. Thanks for the US which supported the warlords, and galvanized the population of Mogadishu hard enough to support the Union of Islamic Courts—thus, producing a popular uprising. Many in the world had, at the time, cautiously viewed the Islamist’s victory as a probable blessing in disguise, hoping that immediate talks between the TFG and the Islamists could produce an agreement, which would make winners of all sides—the Somali people, the Islamists, the TFG and the international community. That did not happen soon enough—not yet, at least—and the prospect of that happening sooner has been overtaken by events, least among them has been that the Islamists crowned a known radical cleric (by western standards), by the name of Hassan Dahir Aweys. The international reaction has been such that the Security Council would recognize the TFG as the sole authority in Somalia. Even then, Mogadishu has remained a no-go area for the TFG.

However, rather than celebrating the victory derived from international recognition this third time, also, we find the TFG crumbling in the face of danger—of being wiped out by the deafening political propaganda of the Islamists, if not by their encroaching military machine. Even worse, the government’s hands are tied by the circumstances of its likely demise. Its inherent inability to fend off an attack is coupled by its internal political paralysis to even reach an agreement within itself to participate in the Khartoum talks—let alone reach one with the Islamists. As a result, and for a moment, the edifice seemed to be dead. Certainly, with little or no devices, of their own to resolve the conflict, the TFG would have been dead today—if it was not for the intervention of the Ethiopian Government, that is. It is now hoped that a reshuffle will be made, within the week with a, hopefully, leaner Cabinet.  So much for secularism and its effective tool—democracy—in Somalia, shall we say? Whatever the base, I pray that it is not the end for the fledgling government, for everybody’s sake.

Actually, the government may have crumbled by simply collapsing under its weight. It has been top heavy—there has hardly been a Cabinet comprising over one hundred members anywhere in the world! At least, it has not been part of the memory of this author. One rationale for the inflated Cabinet, according to the Somali political elite, has been that it met the demand for political equitability under the 4.5-formula regime. An elite which completely disregards public accountability in both political and financial terms. Hence, they sought to exercise their loyalty to the darned 4.5-formula, which means loyalty to themselves and to their individual power bids. The formula was conceived by the warlords in their session in Sodere, Ethiopia, in 1997. But, it was first implemented during the Arta Conference, in the year 2000, under the aegis of the Government of Djibouti. In a paper, posted in Somalia-watch.org., on the eve of the commencement of the Eldoret Conference, in October of 2002, Fatun M. Hassan, the former Charge d’affaires of the Somali Mission to the United Nations and this author wrote as follows about the formula:

“Speaking of the so-called “4.5-formula”, we find it troubling in so far as the objective of the process, in the end, is the formation of a system of government. The goal of clan politics does not transcend the quest for mutual recognition; and it is not definitely a smart approach to running the affairs of a State. It is our strong belief that “clanism”—which is the value that the so-called “4.5-formula” could only, and would definitely, encourage—is almost always counterproductive.  The recent past of the Transitional National Government (TNG) is only but an example. President Barre’s failed government is another case in point.”

When the rallying elite, in Eldoret, led by the same warlords, opted for the 4.5-formula as a power sharing method, for the second time, many of the educated Somalis, including this author, had pleaded with the Conference to, at least, confine the use of the formula to the sharing of the parliament seats, and recommended that the Cabinet posts, and beyond, be allocated (appointed) on merit grounds—by virtue of one’s power base or technical expertise.. It had not happened! Now we understand that the Cabinet will be significantly reduced, as a result of the current crisis. Here again, one keeps their fingers crossed that the leadership can get away with it—especially with the precedent already in place. In other words, will the new Cabinet obtain the Confidence of the Parliament, if the Cabinet members were significantly reduced? Will Ali Geddi pull off with a significantly reduced government?

There is also one other side to the problem. There are so many educated Somalis who blindly, if condescendingly, deride at the merits of the 4.5-formula. They do so in oblivion of the fact that it has been the only thing that worked to bring about a political semblance among the Somalis, even if temporarily. More confusing even, many of those people, who saw the 4.5-formula fit for use as a framework of equitability under the former Transitional National Government, are now distancing themselves from it, on the grounds that the formula is heavily clan-oriented. At the Djibouti conference of 2000, a sample of those same people had defended the 4.5-formula and its negative implications that it was not about “justice” but that the issue was about a “solution”—implying a solution to the protracted statelessness. Those include many who had later supported Abdiqassim Hassan’s National Transitional Government, and who now tacitly or openly support the Islamists. They tend to forget that, clan-based or not, the formula takes care of the factors of political equitably among the Somalis, who are clan-centered by their very nature.

Speaking of clan orientation, I must not pass here without emphasizing the fact that clan segmentation not only defines the Somali social structure, but it is also reflected in the population distribution map of Somalia. Somali clans are geographically divided in their kinship right claims to land and in their trans human migration as nomads. They have not intermingled in their traditional nomadic setup, and are yet to do so, except in major population centers. Even if, and when, finally, a democratic system is installed, Somalia’s administrative and political map will still reflect clan-based regions or federal States. Given this social and geographical reality, how on earth can we escape from clanism in the next few centuries? How can one reconfigure Somalia without a clan-based map, if at all? As a tip for those myopic friends, I may suggest that the challenge is even greater than you can imagine. In fact, we shall have to fight clanism in its own embryo—the clan village—if we ever get there—by introducing direly needed individual and civil society rights and principles . I challenge all for an alternative. What is the alternative? Some might argue: Islam is the only way. And I challenge them: why has not Islam abolished our form of clanism for the last fourteen centuries? And, in fact, one can safely argue that the Somalis have been Muslims for a good part of the last 14 centuries.

Many critics of my previous article: “Somalia is Gone for Good, unless …” posted in warheerNews.com, Hiiran.com and in many other websites, insinuated that I was anti Islam.  But, are we surprised that, only a few days back, the Islamists claimed control of Galkayo? Apart from being an act of disruption for the resumption of talks in Khartoum, it may mean the start of a renewed war in the Mudug region of Somalia. This does not come as a surprise to this writer at all. Long before it happened, I had referred to such a possibility in my earlier article of May 30, 2006:”Somalia: the Dilemma of the TFG”, posted in WardheerNews.com and many other websites too.  In that article I had written as follows:

“Reports have also recently surfaced that Egypt, Eritrea and others have been grooming Abdiqassim Salad Hassan, who has recently been visiting Cairo, for return to office. Abdiqassim Hassan, the former President to the TNG, is said to overseer the network of his militiamen and the war-profiteers, who control the Deep South, largely in the name of Islam, anywhere between Afgoye (25 kilometers south of Mogadishu) to Kismayo (500 miles south of Mogadishu). Conspiracy theorists have been expressing the concern that Abdiqasim's plan embodies a strategy that his forces capture Mogadishu against all odds and then move on gradually as far north as Galkayo. If true, this is an ambitious plan, to say the least. But that may somewhat explain the wild goose chase of the Americans in Mogadishu. The US may have, once again, delved head on into the clan politics of Somalia, by assigning the warlords against their cousins in Mogadishu.”

I simply say that I am not anti-Islam, but I am anti-Islamism—and, therefore, Islamists. As a Muslim, I must share with you how I profess my faith.  A Muslim, simply, is an individual who adheres to the faith as a spiritual human, and who seeks peace within oneself, first, and with the world around her or him, next—therefore surrendering his will to Allah. Islamism, for me, on the other hand, is an ideology—and a radical one—adopted by a group of people of the same faith seeking to dominate all other forms of authority in the land, and perhaps the neighboring entities. They advance a pristine, if honest, conception, not even interpretation, of Islam to delineate their vision and strategies for power grapping and subsequent legitimacy. They galvanize the average illiterate person in the street to modernity, education, culture, some aspects of technology and modern structures in their misinterpretation of the text, if not in their deliberate misrepresentation of the same. Here, I refuse to profess Islam as a source of power—political power for myself. Certainly, unlike many who seek to profess Islam as an ideology to gain power, I fail to rebind myself as a born-again Muslim and for the wrong reason; let alone support anyone on that score. Having cleared up the issues and questions surrounding my faith, I seek to bring your attention, dear Somali, to read the above cited Ayahs (125-128) of Surah 16: Al Nahl,  which I fetched from one of the best translations in the world—that of Abdullah Yusuf Ali.

I believe the text in there is very clear; and I leave the interpretation up to the reader. However, in my interpretation, God gives several instructions to his Prophet, the most loved human being in His Domain. The same message is meant to all of us in humanity, though.  The message is for us to teach about (1) Islam with wisdom and preaching (not by violence or compulsion). (2) Use ways that are polite and kind, for only Allah knows who is on the Right Path. (3) And if for some reason, you must retaliate, you must do this fairly and in equal force or magnitude; not more. (4) In addition, to fairness, Allah requires patience of the faithful; thus instructing that it is preferred that we give some leniency to our foes, because that is the better way in His eyes. (5) Beyond the mandatory patience, Allah instructs His Prophet neither “to grieve himself” nor to “distress himself “because of their plots”. (6) In this context, God promises that He is on the side of those who remain patient and those who do “good”.

The term “good” must be underlined here. In Islam, “good (ness)” is an important element of the faith, which carries the sense that God is always there watching over all, even if there were no observer forces, police or peacekeepers around. One must, and is expected to, do the better thing. One must err on the side of patience by doing the good things. If you do not, ultimately, wining or doing well may mean that you lose on the side of God, which is considered the worst thing that can happen to one. I wonder, therefore, where do Islamists find texts more powerful than this to commit the crimes they do against humanity, social good and existing social, political, and, even, against other spiritual institutions—institutions contrived over a long time with a great difficulty? It is the product of sheer arrogance or utter ignorance, I might safely argue. In Ayah (55), of Surah 7: Al ‘araf, too, the Qur’an reads as follows:

“Call on your Lord with humility and in private for Allah loveth not those who trespass beyond bounds. Do no mischief on the earth, after it hath been set in order. But call on Him with fear and longing (in your hearts): for the Mercy of Allah is always near to those who do good.”

Again, the concept of “good” is repeated here with emphasis that His mercy is near to those who do “good”—al Muhsininn—in Arabic. In fact, any strife which involves killing people and shedding blood (in my interpretation), or endeavor thereof, translates into trespassing of God’s bounds. The consequences could only be worse for those who commit such wrongdoing in His Name. On the other hand, what is better than humility and prayers to God, “with fear and longing”, to improve our lot as humans? Clearly, political games and power jockeying schemes involve rebellion against Allah’s throne (of authority) and are considered, therefore, as “mischief on the earth”—therefore, we are forbidden in Ayah 56, of Surah Al A’raf, of the Qur’an.  The phrase “...after it had been set in order …” must be underlined here—in Arabic, “bacada islaaxiha”—has two connotations. Means (a) “set in order” in divine terms, alluding to the creation, evolution and final design of the earth, and (b) “order” in human terms, in situations where there is peace or, at least, trends towards peace and stability. The first meaning is in a spiritual sense; the second is in a worldly sense, assuming that humans are the vicegerents on the earth, according to the Qur’an (Surah 2: Al Baqarah. Ayah 30).

In addition, in Ayah(s) 159 and 160 of Surah 3: Ali Imran, the Qur’an reads as follows:

“It is part of the Mercy of Allah that thou dost deal gently with them.  Wert thou severe or harsh-hearted, they would have broken away from about thee: so pass over (their faults) and ask for (Allah’s) forgiveness for them; and consult them on affairs (of the moment). Then, when thou hast taken a decision, put thy trust in Allah. For Allah loves those who put their trust (in Him)”

Given the above situation, where the prophet himself, Peace and Prayers be on him, is being commended for being gentle and NOT harsh-hearted to his followers, lest they break away from him, I wonder where do individuals like Mr. Hassan Dahir Aweys and company ever find the vision, the guts and the rationale to try and use Islam for their power ends and with such compulsion? Who the heck are they to claim as much authority as they do? Do not they have the sense that the Somali people have remained Muslims for the good part of fourteen centuries? Do not they see that they, themselves, are inviting the land-locked Ethiopia, next door, who is waiting for such an opportunity? Do not they read history—that, if it was not for the Saudis (despite all the criticisms leveled at them by many Muslims), who had allowed the use of the radio (and later the television); many Islamic countries would have remained dark up to this day? I mean we are here—technologically speaking—because they had enough courage to break many taboos since the inception of the Saudi State during the last century. They had enough courage to let non-Muslims into Saudi Arabia to help them explore and produce oil, which happens to be—in addition to the spiritual blessings—the greatest material blessing of God on that land. They allowed the use of radio, and later, television, despite public grievance—the same media outlets some Islamists in Somalia have been reported to object to today—in this 21st century.

Some Islamists, when asked: where do they find their justification to apply Text Shari’a, as they do; they point to several Ayahs in the Qur’an such as Ayahs 44 of Surah 5: Al Ma ‘idah, which ends with the expression: “…if any do fail to judge by (the light of) what Allah hath revealed, they are (no better than) unbelievers”.  Or, Ayah 45 of the same which ends as follows:”… if any do fail to judge by (the light of) what Allah hath revealed they are (no better than) wrongdoers”. Their misinterpretation is most evident in their literal application of the law of retaliation. An example of the gross misinterpretation, or misrepresentation, they sometimes make has been in allowing a boy to stab someone to death, in public, in retaliation for the killing of his father; or, the Court allowing someone to eat away the defendant’s lower lip in retaliation for his own, in the mid nineties. Here, also, we have educated Somalis, some highly qualified, condoning the rule of law by this method. That cannot be considered the rule of God. It is indeed a great “wrongdoing”, and reeks of great disbelief in Islamic terms. Politically speaking, I need not say more but to quote a statement from Dr. Ali Faqi in his article, “The Brutal Occupation in the South: a litmus Test …”, posted in WardheerNews, of august 5, 2006, regarding the wrongdoings some who are in the upper echelon of the leadership of the Islamic courts perpetrate on the people of some of the southern regions:

“The barbaric rule in the Lower Shabelle region for example collects illegal taxes including a 40,000 Somali Shillings a month per house from residents of most districts of the Lower Shabelle who do not have jobs and sources of income. Anyone who does not pay these fees either goes to jail or loses his property. The revenue generated from illegal taxation, chopping trees for charcoal and over fishing is used as a financial source for acquiring military arsenals to maintain the illegal occupation. Let me remind you again that these are the only places in Somalia where outside clans abuse the locals and impose rigid rules. It is a religious and moral responsibility to speak out against injustice and evildoers and this is what I am doing.”

Of course, the experiences of the people of the South, as Dr. Ali Faqi recounts it above, has nothing to do with Islam or anything Islamic. That is sheer tyranny. But in a general sense, the above Ayahs (55, 56) of Surah 5: Al ‘araf, speak to a situation where there is no sense or regime of justice; or where the leadership seeks to conceal or fail to apply the existing system of justice—where tyranny, despotism and extreme injustice is the rule rather than the exception. The Somali people had, for centuries, had their sense and system of justice, derived from Islam, very well intertwined with their culture. The people of Somalia do not need to alter that aspect of their existence for the worse. Applying Shari’a law in the new Islamist fashion can only make the system worse for all.

For now, Somalia is hanging between tribalism and Islamism as a system of government. In the meantime, and pending the jury’s return on the choice between the two main proposed frames for government in today’s Somalia, can they be boxed in together into one ideology? No one knows! Today though, that is what reconciliation requires of the parties in contention for power in Somalia. Simply put, the coalition of Islamists are themselves denominated by their clannish divides; and the TFG is essentially a contrived juxtaposition of clans under the so-called 4.5-formula. For the two parties to come to a settlement and form a government together, they will need to endorse one another’s ideologies and acknowledge each other’s structure. And, why not? Both tribalism and Islam have been here—coexisting for centuries. Actually, what is new is the type of leadership. The wadads (clerics) and waranles (temporal leaders) of old had somehow managed to make it together. It seems that a similar expectation has become the challenge to the current political elite and to the new breed of political clerics, alike. Those two features—ideology and structure—of the differences between the two sides shall remain the knot they will need to work around, if not to resolve them completely. The question is: can they? Will they? What if they cannot?

But then, one only hopes that that is the end of the problems. Because, even when, somehow, the division along temporal versus theocratic rule is finally, and if finally, resolved, there comes the next inherent problem. Our Somali elite are intently bent on obtaining political posts—beyond reason, indeed. Every one of us requires offices for himself and then for his brothers, then for his cousins and, then, distant cousins, because they constitute one’s political party, so far. Ali Elmi Afyare, a Somali poet, had once observed in one of his poems of the sixties: “Dawlad wada Karraanniyi dunidaba ma joogto eh”. Roughly translated, it means: “There is no such a government where all of its people hold offices in the government”. This last Cabinet—in which more than one hundred of its two-hundred-and-seventy-five member parliament held Cabinet posts—was typical.

In the end, one wonders if it matters, at all, which ism works. After all, the average Somali citizen had been politically manipulated under the banner of one ism or another since independence in 1960. Former governments used nationalism, exploiting the greater Somalia goal, which only galvanized the neighboring countries towards Somalia and had almost rendered the young Somali Republic isolated in the international political and diplomatic circles. The Islamists and their cohorts seem to be repeating the same mistake today. They are forgetting that we have hardly recuperated from the damages the nation has suffered because of that misguided policy in their propaganda against the neighboring countries. The gullible people have also spent the last two decades without a government, suffering the designs and manipulations of its political elite, which kept them apart, stateless and doomed to become the victims of waste dumping, environmental degradation, poor social services and diminishing economic and industrial infrastructure. It shall be unfair that they do also become divided and manipulated in the name of their Faith this third time around—Islamism—God for bid. Hence I shall end this paper by quoting from the Qur’an again, that it might reach the eyes, ears and hearts of those who are wrongly trying to employ Islam as a political tool. I will conclude this piece with Ayah (256), Surah 2: Albaqarah, which reads as follows:

“Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy handhold that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things.’

Abdalla a. Hirad
[email protected] 


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