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If or when?

By Asha-Kin F. Duale
Saturday, September 01, 2012


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As the Somali crisis took place on personal, group and state level in this brief writing I will try to illustrate how a mixture of contrasting identities have contributed to shaping not only the political landscape but the essence of the Somali model of nationalism.


Are the Somalis nationalists, religious people or/and clanists? Is Somaliness construed on the mixture of these three features and would the prevalence of one over the other two elements in specific time and space determine the Somali identity?


Was the Somali ethnically homogeneous picture, with a common language, religion and culture, and a strong national consciousness a fake image?


At the night when the sky blue coloured with 5 points white star flag was raised for the first time, the feelings of those lucky ones who witnessed that historic moment must have been of immense pride as citizens of the new republic called Somalia.


As Muslims, they must have been grateful to Almighty Allah for granting such a blessing at that specific time and date, when many were under colonial rule and few handful African countries were thinking of liberation or fighting for independence. If clannish mentality existed at that very moment it did have no chance to surface because the sense of unity and brotherhood was at its peak and the commitment to work together for a common purpose and welfare was at its highest point.


Yet, each and everyone present at that ceremony were conscious of belonging to a ‘clan’ and to its infinite sub-clans. The essence of Somaliness was at its right balance: nationalistic and Islamic identities taking the lead while clanism hopelessly lying at bottom of the priority ladder.


After 52 years such order was gradually eroded and totally reversed.


The Istanbul conference on 29 May 2012 triggered series of unexpected events that made me reflect on how manipulating the peaceful co-existence of ‘Somali identities’ and prioritizing one above the others  would willingly or unwillingly affect our life performances and aspirations. It also showed how clan dynamics and interactions can be used to suppress and in certain cases completely to obliterate nationalistic sentiments.


Being Muslim implies the obligation of not engaging in any type of violence, killings, or/and misappropriation of private and public funds and properties of any human beings let alone of your own Somali folks.  For the past decades atrocities have been committed that have no resemblance of Islamic teachings and in certain cases can be defined extremely anti-Islamic. As Muslim, everyone is individually accountable to Almighty Allah, with the full knowledge that no intercession between the Creator and his servants allowed at the day of reckoning.


Although some of us may qualify as accomplices or having condoned anti-Islamic acts the majority of Somalis were victims of manipulation in the name of clan and at the expenses of the Islamic values.


Furthermore, in Somalia where even an unborn child belongs to a clan, being a clan member is a guarantee for one’s identity that would link him or her to a specific group of people who claim to have the same genealogical ancestry. What that means and how does it affects our lives needs an in depth study that cannot be analysed in this brief article.    


However I would like you to ponder for a moment and answer frankly to yourself my troublesome questions:


1.      Why do we pay total loyalty to our clan and why we are accountable to it?

2.      Can clan membership be ever relinquished or substituted? (Has anybody ever come across to anyone who publically relinquished his/membership to a clan?).

3.      What is drawing us to blindly trust and protect a clan member over other fellow Somalis?

4.      Considering our life history/personal experiences can we limit clan’s influence and pressure in our thinking and actions for a common aim: for example when we are aiming to a national cause such as the Constitution or the process of rebuilding the nation?

5.      Why do we accept the collective punishment arising from a clan member’s action whom sometimes we never met?

6.      To what extent a clan member enjoys the leverage of his/her own membership?

7.      How hard is to expose the misconduct of our own clan member or whistle blow the wrong doings of a clan member?


Every African nation is divided into clans and tribes, but besides occasional dictatorial regimes what is keeping them together is their nationalistic sense and citizenship. Just take the case of our neighbour countries: Ethiopia and Kenya.


Somali people do not lack of nationalistic sentiments and citizenship values but once obtained freedom from the colonial power, followed by corrupted or/and oppressive governments and protracted civil strife, the balance has dangerously tipped towards clanism rather than nationalism.


This is a significant hobble on the recovery and restoration of Somalia and the decision to abandon clan mentality ought to be a collective one simply because it has gradually gripped our minds, and has eroded our Islamic values and citizen’s rights and responsibilities.

The paradigms of citizenship vis a vis of clan clearly dictates the need of seeking swift societal changes:


·         As a citizen one can observe all the Islamic teachings because citizenship compliments the Islamic values and principles.

·         As a citizen one is from Somalia and not from a  clan’s enclave

·         As a citizen one is able to identify his/her country’s enemies and best interest beyond the clan’s enemies and interest.

·          As a citizen one is accountable to his/her fellow citizens and not to a clan.

·         As a citizen one is not classified according to the 4.5 power sharing formula, everyone is equal in accessing political power and resources.

·         As a citizen one has the right to demand good governance and respect for fairness, equality, justice and human dignity.

·         As a citizen one is entitled to question and monitor every leader’s and office holder’s work performance as they all accountable to him/her. Hiding behind clan’s screen will be part of history.

·         As a citizen one is not part and parcel of his/her fellow clansmen’s shortcomings and crimes.

·         As a citizen one is not locked into a box with a clan label and further into smaller sub-clan boxes.

·         As a citizen one is free to exercise his/her rights and perform his/her citizenship duties


History shows that in tough times Somalis have been always creative and looked solution within. I believe that this is the right time to restore the civic rights and responsibilities of Somali citizens and change the socio-political landscape. Unless citizens play their rightful roles in rebuilding the nation by owning both the successes and downfalls of their present and future, the re-birth of Somali statehood would be farfetched.


The coming 4 years is crucial for Somalia because this is when the real ‘transition’ from a failed and fragile state to a stable one will take place. Any government during this period is in the best position ever to engage a societal transformation and negotiate for changes promoting citizenship. 


With the election of Prof Jawari, a highly nationalistic and skilful professional, as the Speaker of the Parliament, the stagnant suffering of the Somali Parliament and the meddling of neighbouring countries in the Somali political affairs will be surely altered if not completely stopped. The Somali Parliament will change into a dynamic, functioning and for once accountable to the Somali citizens. 


Surely the word if will be replaced by when.


In fact when the dreadful 4:5 formula is replaced by one man one vote through party candidacy, Somali citizenship will be restored in its full glory. That is yardstick which the success or downfall of this Parliament will be measured. May Allah be with you all!


Moreover, hopes of reverting back the balance from clan mentality to free and independent citizen lies with the younger generations of Somalis.  Although they may have other pressing needs I foresee that their minds are more receptive for change and are not tarnished as the older generations. After all, the future Somalia belongs to them and they have the right to mould it in a better shape.


Having in mind the Somalis’ incredible entrepreneurial skills as well as the untapped natural resource of Somalia, an economic boom is around the corner, thus allowing to all Somali citizens a better life which ultimately will undermine the culture of clan protection and dependency.


But above all I hope that at this time of digital technology Somali citizens will liberate themselves through civic education which will enable them to make choices that would challenge the ancient clan’s norms.


Opportunity exists for those who really strive for it and as an optimistic person I see such opportunity even in this difficult time.

Asha-Kin F. Duale is a Human Rights Lawyer, a former member of the committee of constitutional expert (CoE)

[email protected]


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