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Deconstructing Clan Framework: A Search for New Interpretation



By Daud Ed


"Most other African countries are colonially created states in search of a sense of nationhood. The Somali, by contrast, are a pre-colonial nation in search of a unified post colonial state.”[1]--Ali A. Mazrui--


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The recent development of Somali Conflict beginning with the formation of Transitional Federal government (TFG) in Kenya in November 2004 and the subsequent confrontation between the warlords – who have been terrorizing the civilians and destroying the public infrastructure in last fifteen years – and the Union Islamic Courts (UIC) – who wanted to introduce some kind of order in the areas they control,   and the swift victory of the UIC to have unified control in Mogadishu the capital city for the first time in fifteen years as well as other cities such as Jowhar and most recently Kismayo and Lower Shabbele region is very interesting one, which indicates that Somalia is experiencing a great political and social  transformation from old regime based on very rigid and irrational clan politics to a more dynamic politics based on rational politics with ideology. In this essay I will review the current debate and reactions of this transformation and how the new discourse doesn’t take into account the paradigm shift and always based on false analogy, Islam phobia and obsolete clan framework. I will also discuss the causes and the nature of this transformation and how international community could engage nation building in Somalia.


It is always customary to discuss Somali politics on a clan interest and shifting clan alliances which characterizes irrationality, unpredictability, and contradiction. In contrast, the victory of the Union of Islamic Courts has created a paradigm shift and irrational clan framework rendered obsolete and irrelevant when explaining Somali politics. However, the current debate on the new development in Somali crisis produced two competing view – those who well come the new change and direction we are heading, and those who appose it – and each group attempt to win the argument by explaining how this change will positively or negatively effect Somalis and the East African region.


The first group is very enthusiastic about the new development and always point to the positive out come of this change such as the relative stability and security achieved by the Union of Islamic Courts and opening of the Mogadishu airport and the seaport, which has been unimagined before the ICU come power. Therefore, they don’t want international community to intervene internal Somali politics at this juncture, since there is gradual improvement, intervention will only complicate the evolutionary process. Mostly this group lost hope in Somalia’s political crisis, because of the indifference of international community to intervene in Somalia’s conflict, and instead of pressuring the warlords come to the table or else face International Criminal Court, all they have seen was warlord being treated as state guests by member states of Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) – which includes six East African countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Sudan, and Djibouti – and   other neighboring countries. And more surprisingly when ever these warlords reject peace process they gain more prestige and military power with the help of Ethiopian regime. The characteristic of this group is that they have no clan affiliation.


The second group wants the unpopular Transitional Federal Government based in Baidao be supported by IGAD member’s peace keeping force - which is apposed by the majority of the Somalis because of the relative stability achieved in the Southern Somalia by Union of Islamic Courts. Thus, this group has a faith in foreign intervention and the use of force as a means of stabilization and nation building. Some of the characteristics of this camp are that they either having strong clan affiliation and accuse the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) as conspiracy to advance the interest of one clan, or appose the UIC as being radical group who want to establish Taliban style Islamic regime.


The third and last group is non Somalis, mostly western journalists, former diplomats, and members of a Think Tanks, who praise the Somalia’s current development and warn against peace keeping force – specially when involved IGAD member countries - and lifting United Nations Arms embargo as having destabilizing effect in Somalia, and the countries in the region, however, they call international community to pressure both TFG and UIC continue Khartoum peace talks, and  advice United States and other western countries pressure Ethiopia not to involve in internal Somali politics.


Those who appose the current development employ wrong framework which produces nothing more then incorrect analogy, Islam phobia, and fallacies. However, without recognizing the new political and social transformation in Somalia, this group sees a growing threat of Islamic militancy similar with the Taliban in Afghanistan and the only way to contain this militancy is to empower Transitional Federal Government, lift United Nations Arms Embargo in Somalia, and send peacekeeping force. Unlike the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Union of Islamic Courts is heterogeneous group in term of their ideology, clan membership, and their background. Unlike Taliban – which represented Pushtun tribe, UIC is a coalition of Islamists from various clans, with different interpretations, i.e. they include moderates and extremist. Thus, it is inconceivable for one group to dictate the direction the UIC will take, but one thing that the experts agreed upon is that, for the time being the extremist elements in the UIC are not popular, however it depends on how the presence of Ethiopian troops in Somali affect public opinion.


The comparison between Taliban and the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) is Islam phobic and misleading because the assumption is that every group that has “Islam” in its name must be militant/ terrorist and must be contained, however this assumption is very dangerous, and its out come is very predictable and indeed catastrophic. The countries who are concerned such as United State and European Union could adopt poor policies that will alienate the UIC - which is the only hope that Somalia’s have achieved after fifteen years of anarchy – and create instability and another round of violence, which is going to be worse than the one before. Somalia’s previous conflict has been fought by rival clans and mad warlord, but this one could be seen an attack of their religion and the stability they have achieved, it may also have spill over in the neighboring countries.


The benefactor of this comparison is Ethiopian regime, who has been capitalizing this opportunity in order to get American assistance. This is an observation of Gregory Winger a senior research assistant at the National Defense Council Foundation he went farther by saying “In matters of war, America must be wary of an ally who greets her a beggar’s hand. This is the case with Ethiopia and its involvement in the war on terror: The country hopes that if it helps keep radical Islam at bay in the horn of Africa, the US will send aid its way.”[2] In addition, winger also pointed out Ethiopian Prime Minister is doing this out desperation because the US Congress has passed a bill condemning Ethiopian regime as being undemocratic and abuser of human rights because of the result of last election, and the country has lost aid that used come from international donors.


However, to understand the causes and the nature of this political and social transformation one can look the incompatibility of state concept with decentralized traditional clan political system in Somalia, and the states accompanying agenda of urbanization, which has led to the collapse of Somali state, and ensuing clan alliance for political power, that generated unending violence, and the lose of hundreds of thousands of lives as well as displacement and mass migration. The collapse of the Somali state have created vacuum in which different clans form an alliances and violently contest political power, however the intensity and the magnitude of this violence which has never seen before could be explained the different role that the clan is playing after the collapse of the state. Before the Europeans introduced modern state in Somalia, different clans have lived harmoniously with a decentralized clan system - even though there were sporadic clashes over scarce resources such as water and grassland in the border areas – since each clan has settled and controlled certain territory without organized militia, each clan is vulnerable and that vulnerability acted as deterrence for all out war or what Tomas Hobbes call “state of nature.”


The creation of the state has interrupted the clan system and introduced new concepts such as citizenship, and individualism with out changing peoples perception and loyalty, and also encouraged urbanization as modernization project without industrialization, or what prominent scholar Ali Mazrui rightly described “revolution in urbanization rather than industrialization. A revolution in expending number of people squeezed into limited space, rather than transformation in method and skill of economic output.”[3] As a result state prescription did not achieved the objective of its colonial masters, as an engine for economic growth, and means to enhance live, liberty and persuade of happiness for its citizens. The Cold War policies that had maintained so long the existence of Somali state has ended in 1990, and the state with its high level of contradiction was unable to function with out subsidy and doomed to fail. However, the fundamental change that the state has created was profound and impossible to reverse. The clans that have occupied separate territories, before the state introduction, are now living in urban areas, and sharing same space. Furthermore, for the last fifteen years, Somalis have been searching a new consensus, and this consensus has been reached, when Islamists took the initiative - with overwhelming public support - to create local sharia courts as an alternative to the warlord’s deadly checkpoints and green lines.


Another issue is the need for peacekeeping force in Somalia, which has been the main agenda of Transitional Federal Government from the time it was created. Despite the overwhelming opposition from Somali people, as well as the relative stability achieved by the UIC, the TFG continue to demand. Further more, the issue of peacekeeping is outrageous, after southern Somalia achieved relative stability and the opening of sea port and the airport. However, those who assert the need for peacekeeping force, are either TFG officials who are desperate for power, or are honest people who have trust on foreign intervention but doesn’t know the truck record of foreign intervention, specially the result of Iraq and Afghanistan, or when one needs a peacekeeping force.


The consensus that came out after the Iraqi and Afghanistan experiment of nation building is that “nation building” is a difficult task and no one knows how it works. According Francis Fukuyama “nation building is a difficult, long-term enterprise with high cost in manpower, lives and resources. The places where it has been most successful – Germany, Japan and the Philippines – are ones where U.S forces have remained for generations.”[4] And even went further by warning the United States not to engage if they are not willing to pay those costs.


In the literature the nation building has two very separate phases, the first phase is stabilizing the country such as improving security, providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, rebuilding the infrastructure, and jump-stating the economy. The second phase is development and starts immediately after the first phase is achieved and includes creating self sustaining political and economic institutions that will enable democratic governance and free market and economic growth. In addition, Fukuyama showed the irony of international community as a “capacity building” by quoting Human rights expert Michael Ignafieff “where as the mantra of the international community is “capacity building” the reality is often “capacity sucking-out,” as well-endowed international agencies, contractors, and NGO’s arrive with their cell phones, laptops, and First World salaries.”[5] Therefore, the best way the International Community could help Somalis to help them selves - by creating sustainable state institutions and rebuild their country - is to adopt pragmatic approach for the new development in Somalia, and to judge the performance of UIC, because it is a new experiment of nation building from bottom up, as apposed to the common experience of top down.    


[1] Ali A. Mazrui “The Africans: A Triple Heritage.” (Toronto: Little, Brown and Company), Page 71

[2] Gregory H. Winger “Get Ethiopian Troops out of Somalia” www.hiiraan.com

[3] Ali A. Mazrui, Ibid., page 15

[4] Francis Fukuyama “Nation Building 101” The Atlantic Monthly January/February 2004 www.theatlantic.com

[5] Ibid., page 5.



Daud Ed

 E-mail: [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"


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