Hiiraan online - News and information about Somalia
HyperLink HyperLink HyperLink



Clan Ethos or a New Social Contract: Where Should Somalis Stand?

by Abdullahi Daud*


Majority of Somalis live in rural areas and most of them are nomads. A typical nomadic Somali rural community consists of different clans which share, among other things, water and postural resources. In the unfortunate event of war, members belonging to same clans stand together. To them, losing a war means accepting humiliation and thereby lower status in the community.  However, the only relationship between different clans is mostly through intermarriage and peace negotiation in the aftermath of a conflict. Furthermore, a success of one clan immediately rings alarm bells in other neighboring clans. In other words, a success of a clan is necessarily the painful humiliation of other clans in the vicinity. This ethos served well in nomadic Somali lifestyle but has had a devastating impact on urban centers, which require a different, diverse-constituent based community settings. Although they inherited from European colonial powers a modern system of governance through which different clans share resource, Somalis quickly retreated to their preferred clan comfort-zones immediately after the independence.  In this short essay, I will attempt to shed light on how diverse-constituency based community is much more successful than clan-based one in both modern as well as Islamic perspectives. Moreover, I will conclude my piece with a prediction of likely consequence of Somalis’ beloved clan politics.


A Modern Diverse-Constituent-Based Community:

A modern diverse constituent-based community welcomes into its folds everyone who is willing to play by the rules and accept community standards---the constitution. The United States, for instance, is today by far the best example of a country, which consists of modern, diverse-constituent based communities. Although it has had its ups and downs, America prides itself the prominence of individuals such as Secretary of State Condaleeca Rice and Attorney General Alberto Ganzales who are both from minority racial groups but serve as Washington’s top diplomat and chief law enforcement officer, respectively.  In addition, America welcomes and attracts leading scientists and entrepreneurs from other countries in order to enrich its communities. As late U.S. President Nixon said in his book, “Seize the Moment,” every American who works hard and plays by the rules can one day attain his fullest potential regardless of ones color, race or background.


An Islamic Perspective: The Divinely Inspired Diverse-Constituent-Based Communities of Makka and Madina

The Prophet (P.B.U.H) had established a very diverse Muslim community in Makka and Madina during the early periods of Islam. That community welcomed into its folds any one who was willing to play by the rules and accept community standards---- the Islamic Sharie. Among the prominent Companions of the Prophet (P.B.U.H) who, despite not being from Arabia, have attained well recognition in that community include, Bilal Al-Habashi from Abyssinia, Salman-Al Farasi from Persia and Suhaib Al-Rumi from Europe. To rigidly enforce this policy, the Prophet (P.B.U.H) was authentically narrated to have strongly condemned and harshly criticized one of his Companions, Abu Dar Al-Qafari, who once used a racial slur against Bilal Al-Habashi. Such discrimination based on one’s color or clan has been cleared prohibited in the Koran “The noblest of you in Allah's sight is he who fears Him most.” (Al-Qur'an 49:13)


The Somalis: Where do they stand?

As the above analysis postulates, the way Somalis view community is neither Islamic nor modern. Rather, it has a clan-based structure. This form of community structure is the root cause of backwardness in many nations that have already been left behind.  It also hampers economic, social and political developments. First, it results individuals to behave irrationally by forgoing their fundamental interests in pursuit of elusive clan ego. Economists believe that a consumer is rational when he pursues his personal interests by maximizing his utility (Utility Theory).   The reason why a young Somali man with bright future is risking his own life for the defense of a warlord still puzzles the minds of many Social Scientists. This irrationality is not only confined to those uneducated, innocent young men back home, however. These irrational warriors are also in our midst as they passionately engage Fadhi Ku Dirir---clan-oriented debates in coffee shops and Somali websites.  Also our attitude toward Somali politicians reveals this irrational behavior. By and large, most of us condemn these politicians for prolonging our civil unrest but at the same time give them hero’s welcome when they visit us in our adopted countries. When you condemn someone you want him to change his behavior---in this case you want Somali politicians to bring an end to our agony. However, when you throw a dinner and arrange parties in their honor, you are saying them “good job” and encouraging them to do what they have been doing all along---disturbing peace and community harmony for political expediency! How a rational person could reconcile these apparently contradictory moves?


Second, clan-based community structures prevent people from holding politicians accountable. Since there is no clan-owned schools, clinics or roads it is not possible to hold any clan representative accountable. The most a clan politician does is to bribe few front-runners “Af-Mishaaro” who in turn spread cheap propaganda on his behalf. On the other hand, a diverse-constituent based community can easily hold its representatives and elected officials accountable by asking them how many schools, clinics, roads and other projects has each official brought to the community. Should these elected officials fail to come up to community’s expectations, they are easily voted out of power during elections.



Where Somalis are headed for?

The current state of affairs in Somalia clearly shows that the Somalis have all the hallmark of societies that are on their way to extinction. A host of factors including environmental degradation and the never-ending political instability have accelerated the deterioration of already abysmal social and economic infrastructure in the country.  Today, ordinary Somali have no access to clean running-water, electricity, basic healthcare and education. Consequently, the life expectancy in Somalia is 46% (77% in the U.S.) while school enrollment is only 7% (92% in the U.S.). Worse, the probability at birth of not reaching at age 60 is 52.2%.  If this was not enough, infant mortality rate is 133 per 1000 live births (only 20 in the U.S.). If you think this is nothing but a gloomy imagination on my part, just check out the UNDP’s Human Development Index, which ranks nations according to their citizens' quality of life. Add this to the deadly combination of AIDS and Malaria in Somalia and what you have is nothing but a recipe for extinction! Are we ready to reverse direction and behave rationally before it is too late? I strongly believe that it is time for Somalis to come up with a new social contract.  Time is the essence here. Therefore, we do not have the luxury to delay such a crucial decision.  It is now or never!

* Abdullahi Daud is a graduate student of Information Management at College of Management, Metropolitan State University, Minnesota. He can be reached at [email protected]



The opinions contained in this article are solely those of the writer, and in no way, form or shape represent the editorial opinions of "Hiiraan Online"

0 comment(s) with
0 replies.



Hiiraan Online 

Contact:[email protected]
Copyright © 1999-2006 Hiiraan Online