Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Cultural Diversity and the SomaliConflict: Myth or Reality?

Cultural Diversity and the Somali
Conflict: Myth or Reality?
Abdulahi A. Osman
The current conflict in Somalia has proven to be long and devastating to
its people where thousands were killed, raped, robbed and made refugees
or internally displaced. Despite its deadly impact, the conflict has
defied all expectations both theoretical and practical. However, there are
several studies that attempt to explain the conflict and its causes. These
causes include the role of cultural diversity in both bringing and maintaining
the conflict in Somalia and Africa in general. This article argues
that despite the existence of many studies that emphasise this relationship,
they remain empirically inconclusive. The Somali society consists
of many communities that differ linguistically and socio-economically.
Despite their differences, the conflict in Somalia and Sub-Saharan Africa
in general stems primarily from inequality worsened by economic decline
* Parts of this article have appeared in earlier publications and presentations by the
author. The author would like to thank many people especially Gerard Hagg, Kidane
Mengisteab, Mohamed H. Mukhtar and all who played any role in completing this article.
The article is dedicated to the many thousands of Somalis who lost their lives or loved
ones, and to those who have been impoverished by the mindless and unending conflict
that is engulfing their country.
** Dr Abdulahi Osman is an Assistant Professor at the Department of International Affairs
and the African Studies Institute at the University of Georgia, Athens Georgia.
Abdulahi A. Osman
plus the easy availability of weapons that resulted from the massive sale of
arms by members of the armed forces. The article concludes with several
suggestions for bringing about resolution to this prolonged conflict in
Somalia. One of the main suggestions would be an attempt to attract the
vast wealth and brain power of the Diaspora communities.
The majority of the armed bandits in Somalia often act on behalf and
under direction of brutal warlords battling for the control of the state.
The bloodbath that resulted from this brutal power struggle, as well as
subsequent droughts, claimed thousands of lives, created thousands of
refugees outside the country and displaced thousands internally.
Despite this human catastrophe and suffering, the literature on the
causes of Somalia’s conflict remains inconclusive. The conflict has been
explained as stemming from the problem of governance and bad leadership
(Samatar 1993; Samatar 1994; Hashim 1997), from the problem
of resources (Kusow 1994; Mukhtar & Kusow 1993; Besteman 1999;
Casanelli and Besteman 1996) or from bad economic policy and lack of
sustainable development (Osman 2007; Mubarak 1996). Other analyses
portrayed the Somali conflict as ‘continuing from Stone Age ancestral
clan rivalries’, but using ‘Star Wars military violence’ (Besteman 1999:4).
Most of the literature that examines conflicts in Somalia and the region
in general give ‘ethnicity’ and ‘contested identity’ priority. Specifically,
the literature concentrates on ‘ethnicity’ or ‘ethnic-primordialism’ as the
main cause (Gurr & Harff 1994; Horowitz 1985). Over the years, however,
a number of scholars have questioned the validity of such a causal link
(Eyoh 1995; Adedeji 1999; Mamdani 1996; Braathen et al 2000). This
article argues that ethnicity is indeed an important factor in explaining
these wars, but in a specific manner not yet adequately addressed in the
literature. It is insufficient to establish that often the members of the
warring factions belong to different ethnic, clan or tribal groups. What
must rather be explained, is why the warring factions are fighting.
Cultural Diversity and the Somali Conflict: Myth or Reality?
This article examines the Somali conflict and the role that cultural
diversity played in bringing and maintaining the conflict. In addition to
social, ethnic, economic and political factors, Somalia’s location has been
a central factor in these conflicts. Many forces, both inside and outside
the region, have always desired to control the strategic crossroads located
in Somalia. Over the years these forces have been attempting to influence
the Somali political systems. These forces include the Kingdom of
Oman, the Mamluks of Egypt, several European empires during the 18th
and 19th centuries and the superpowers during the 20th century Cold
War (1945-1990). At the end of the Cold War in 1990, Somalia unfortunately
descended into chaos. And since then the continued supply of
fresh weaponry has further exacerbated the precarious situation of the
country. Thus, the combination of social, economic and political factors
along with the available weaponry has prolonged the Somali conflict.
This article concentrates on internal factors, specifically the role of cultural
diversity, in both bringing and maintaining the conflict for the past
16 years. But, the article argues that despite the existence of the tribal/
clan differences that are competing for the control of the state institutions;
the Somali conflict resulted from three interrelated factors:
inequality, economic decline of the 1980s and availability of weapons
in the country. The article will be divided into four parts. The first part
examines the causes of the Somali conflict. The second part examines the
role of the cultural diversity in the Somali conflict. The third part examines
the potential role that cultural diversity can play in the resolution of
the Somali conflict. Finally, concluding remarks will be offered.
The causes of the Somali conflict
The causes of the Somali conflict have their roots both in local factors,
including social, cultural, economic and political traits of the Somalis,
and external factors, including the geo-political and strategic desire of
powers from inside and outside the region. Since its beginning, however,
the causes of the internal war in Somalia have remained a mystery for both
Abdulahi A. Osman
Somalis and non-Somalis. The central question is, as Professor Ahmed
Samatar (1993:69), one of the leading scholars in Somali studies, brilliantly
put it as ‘… why and how could this society, one of the few nations
in the continent with one ethnic group, one culture, one language, and
one religion, find itself in such parlous circumstances – verging on self
There are two explanations that are offered. On the one hand, Professor
Samatar and others explained the internal war in Somalia as one that is
stemming from:
The characteristics of human Š. nature oriented towards a ‘historical
livelihood’ (Samatar 1993:69).
Š. The collapse of the ‘public space and institutions’, coupled with the
political and economic failures of the former regimes, especially
that of Siad Barre.
Š. The longevity of Barre’s dictatorial regime that created ‘myriad
defects and antipodal propensities of anti-regime groups and
forces’ (Samatar 1993:60-70).
Š. The lack of planning on the part of the anti-regime forces.
In short, Professor Samatar and a great number of scholars explained
the Somali conflict as coming from a colonial legacy, militarism, anarchy,
political struggle, tribalism and other related factors.
On the other hand, there are scholars who argue that the causes of the
Somali civil war go much deeper than the explanations mentioned
above. According to them, the main causes of the Somali conflict are
attributable to the traditional socio-economic mode of production of
the Somalis, which is pastoralism or agro-pastoralism (Kusow 1994:25).
The Somali society, according to these scholars, can be divided into two
groups, which differ in language, culture, and most of all in mode of
production. Therefore, the conflict in Somalia stems from ‘… conflict/
competition between Daroods and Hawiye for the control and domination
of the inter-riverine region’ (Mukhtar & Kusow 1993:2). Still others
Cultural Diversity and the Somali Conflict: Myth or Reality?
blame Somalia’s geo-political location, which regional and world powers
have regarded as strategically important. First, it is in close proximity to
the all-important oil production centres of the Middle East. Secondly, it
controls the important trade route through the Suez Canal and the Red
Sea. Over the centuries Somalia received military and economic aid from
these powers.
The above contradiction is an indication as to why Somalia’s civil strife
is a mystery, and indeed why it is prolonged. These scholars fall into two
schools of thought: homogeneous and heterogeneous. The homogeneous
school assumes that the Somali people originated from Southern Arabia,
that they share language, culture and common ancestry, that they subscribe
to Islam, engage in camel nomadism, and especially that, unlike
the rest of Africa, Somalis have been considered a nation.1 This school
became the standard among the scholars and students of Somali studies,
and among the successive Somali governments from 1960 to 1991, the
majority of which came from the nomadic clans of the Mudug and
Majertinia regions.2
The heterogeneous school, on the other hand, assumes that the Somali
society consists of settled as well as unsettled communities. This school
points to the existence of communities that practice farming, fishing,
ironwork, a mixture of farming and herding, trading, etc. in the country,
specifically in the southern part (Kusow 1994:27-28). Also, this school
argues that Somalis are a multi-lingual society where other languages such
as Maay, Jiidu and Dabarre are spoken (Mukhtar 1989; Ahmed 1995).
1 For a similar idea see Laitin & Samatar 1987 and Samatar 1988. This line of thought is
the most accepted. This does not mean that other lines of thought were non-existent,
but they were never encouraged or were even totally ignored.
2 At independence the news on radio Mogadishu was broadcasted both in Maay and
Mahaa languages and by 1961 the government decided to use only Mahaa, which
was the language of the ruling clan. The glorification of their culture and language
continued. One example is the creation of the Department of Culture in the Ministry
of Education during the 1960s. During the 1970s this department was elevated to the
Ministry of Culture and Higher Education. The main idea behind this department was
to collect and promote the nomadic cultures. See Mukhtar 1989.
Abdulahi A. Osman
In fact, I. M. Lewis (1980:5) described the difference between the Maay
and Mahaa languages as ‘to the same extent as Portuguese and Spanish’.
This issue, however, has become a point of contention among the students
of Somali studies. In 1994 Professor Samatar mentioned in a
footnote the existence of other languages in Somalia, but he insisted −
despite their existence − that Somalis are homogeneous (Samatar 1994).
Professor Samatar went on to say that the homogeneity of the Somali
people ‘is more than defensible’. In light of the explanations offered by
these two schools, the question is then: What is the root causes of the
Somali conflict? Before we address this question we need to put the
Somali conflict in perspective since it began in 1991.
Since 1991, the Somali internal war has had several observable patterns.
First, there is the concentration Š. of the war in the southern part of
the country. The inhabitants of this area continue to carry the bulk
of the death and destruction of the war.
Š. Second, the inhabitants of the most fertile parts of the country
became the majority of the victims of this man-made starvation
in Somalia. This was due to the looting of their reservoir, keeping
them from all productive activities and finally blocking and looting
the food and medicine that were provided by the international
donor community in 1992. This blockage and looting caused millions
of southern Somalis to die from this man-made starvation,
and eventually this area was named the triangle of death.
Š. Third, the overwhelming majority of the warring factions,
including the recent Islamic Courts and Transitional government,
are from the nomadic clans of Mudug and Majertinia regions
(Osman 2006). In light of this background and perspective then,
the question is what are the main causes of the prolonged internal
war in Somalia?
Cultural Diversity and the Somali Conflict: Myth or Reality?
Genesis of the Somali conflict
This paper argues that internal wars in Sub-Saharan Africa in general,
and Somalia in particular, resulted from three interrelated factors, all of
which exist because of actions by the colonial and post-colonial states as
they responded to the whims of the international political economy.
1. The social inequality that was brought about by the colonial and postcolonial
states has been extracting the country’s wealth. This extraction
was accomplished either directly through state-owned enterprises or
indirectly through domination of the country’s economic activities. The
successive Somali governments created patrimonial paths to state benefits
and became the creators and enforcers of social inequality within
the society. The beneficiaries of this unequal distribution of state benefits
in Somalia are advantaged on the basis of clanism, tribalism and
regionalism. The result has been a decline in investment in social capital
such as healthcare and education, and an increase in political instability
and poverty.
2. The economic decline in the mid-1980s that resulted from among other
things the reduction of the economic aid, which funded these states
throughout the 1960s and 1970s, and the end of the Cold War in the
late 1980s. The result was the disappearance or diminishing of the large
and corrupt central government’s ability to maintain its reciprocal relation
with the various groups (usually the relatives of the ruler) in the
3. The access to weapons among the civilians, which occurred when civilians
turned to weapons as a mode of survival and defence during the
disparate economic times of the 1980s. The abundance of the weapons
was the result of Somalia’s hyper-militarisation since independence,
coupled with the armed forces who were impoverished by the economic
decline and rampant inflation of the 1980s.
The following section explores the impact of these three factors on
Somalia’s internal war.
Abdulahi A. Osman
Inequality and the Somali conflict
According to the British anthropologist I.M. Lewis and many others,
the Somali society could be described as fundamentally egalitarian and
democratic. Lewis (2007) argues: ‘Traditionally, decisions are made by
councils of men. These councils are egalitarian… Somali egalitarianism
permeates all aspects of society. In Somalia, it is not at all unusual for a
poor and uneducated nomad to approach a high government official as an
equal and engage him in a discussion about the affairs of state’.3 However,
in contradiction to this, Lewis (2007) goes on to say: ‘While Somalia’s
political culture is basically egalitarian, social and political changes have
created new patterns of social life. In recent years, a new urban group
educated in Western-type schools and working as merchants or in government
has emerged. These urbanites enjoy more wealth, better access
to government services, and greater educational opportunities for their
children than do other sectors of society.’
In the above paragraph Lewis establishes the existence of both an egalitarian
as well as a stratified society in Somalia. The question is then who
are these Western educated elite who enjoy the disproportional access to
wealth and influence in this ‘egalitarian’ society? A careful review reveals
that some groups disproportionately make up the majority of this elite
club. As already mentioned, the arena in which Somalia’s inequality and
social exclusion function, is that of clanism and tribalism. It is evident
that the Somali political and economic arena has been dominated by the
nomadic clans of the Mudug and Majertinia regions since independence.
4 The members of these clans made up the majority of the ruling
class throughout the short-lived Somali state (1960-1990). Moreover, the
members of these clans are at the forefront of the devastating current
internal war in Somalia.
3 Lewis 2007 http://www.culturalorientation.net/somali/ssoc.html
4 Please note that these regions are based on the six regional administrations that Italian
colonialists used, which the government of Siad Barre (1969-1990) sub-divided into
smaller regions. Also, parts of the former Majertinia region were renamed as the
Northeastern region.
Cultural Diversity and the Somali Conflict: Myth or Reality?
The Italian colonial state and its impact on the Somali state
Colonial administrations provided the blueprint for the post-colonial
states in Africa. Italy has specifically been the precursor of the failed Somali
state by recruiting its future ruling elites. These elites were not recruited
for their ability to develop the political, economic and social interests of
the Somali people but were rather selected, as in many colonial states, for
their contribution to the efficient functioning of the extractive colonial
state. Therefore, historicism and the loaded dice analogy (implicitly or
explicitly) established the Somali post-colonial political and economic
structure, and the subsequent conflict that followed after 1991.
The seeds of the current suffering in Somali were planted at the end
of the 19th century when the European colonial administrations of the
British, the Italians and the French were established in Somalia. For the
purpose of this paper, however, we will specifically examine the impact
of the Italian colonial administration and its contribution towards establishing
the current clan hierarchy of the country. Italy first established
its authority in Somalia in 1889 when it created a small protectorate
in the central zone. Italy expanded to the south and northeast, a territory
deserted by the Sultan of Zanzibar. In 1925, the Jubaland treaty
was signed, which detached the area east of the Juba River from Kenya
to become the westernmost part of the Italian colony. In 1936, Italian
Somaliland was combined with Somali-speaking districts of Ethiopia
to form a province of the newly formed Italian East Africa. During
the Second World War, Italian forces invaded British Somaliland. The
British, however, operating from Kenya, retook the whole region in 1941,
including Italian Somaliland, where it ruled until 1950.
Italy renounced its claim to the rights and titles of the territory in 1947
under Article 23 of the 1947 peace treaty. On November 21, 1949, the
General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution recommending
that Italian Somaliland be placed under an international
trusteeship system for 10 years. Italy, using tremendous local manoeuvres,
won this trusteeship and the General Assembly granted Italy the
Abdulahi A. Osman
authority to administer its former Somaliland territory.5 Italy established
the Amministrazione Fiduciaria della Somalia (AFIS) which led
to Somalia’s independence on July 1, 1960. Immediately the northern
British territory of Somaliland, which gained its independence on June
26th, 1960 joined the South and formed the Somali Republic.6
During its administration, Italy promoted the members of the nomadic
clans from the Mudug and Majertinia regions as the local elites. One
main reason was that the Italians needed agricultural products which
were available in the south. Therefore, Italy created a system that helped
them to effectively fulfil their exploitative ambitions, while at the same
time using as little Italian manpower as possible. Italy established a patrimonial
path to state where they hired the members of the Mudug and
Majertinia clans to fill up the lower and mid-level jobs. 7 Such promotion
of clan members from these ‘chosen’ regions forced the southern agrarian
communities to pay heavily for the extractive colonial and post-colonial
states. Additionally, this extractive nature of Somalia’s governance has
further spilled over into the anarchy that followed the collapse of the
state in 1991.
Inequality and the politics in Somalia since 1960
As argued, Somalia’s elites are overwhelmingly from Mudug and
Majertinia regions despite the fact that these clans are minorities in
number.8 In 1960 Somalia established a unitary government with a
5 For details on the Italian manipulation during this period, see Mukhtar 1989.
6 This union has been broken since 1991 when the former British colony of Somaliland
declared its separation. However, this breakaway republic has yet to receive international
7 This system was used extensively during the colonial era. A case in point is the Hausa’s
political domination of Nigeria. For details on this practice, see Rodney 1977.
8 Please note that this is based on the 1958 census, which is the only census available.
This census showed a total population of 1,263,584 and was based on the entire Italian
Somaliland’s six regions: Majertinia 82,653 (7%), Mudug 141,120 (11%), Hiiraan
176,528 (14%), Banadir 387,600 (31%), Upper Jubba 362,234 (29%) and Lower Jubba
113,449 (9%). This makes the Southern regions of Hiiraan, Banadir, Upper and Lower
Jubba the majority with 82% of the population. For details on the 1958 census, see
Cultural Diversity and the Somali Conflict: Myth or Reality?
parliament that had 123 members from all the regions of the country
at the time (eight, including two regions from British Somaliland). The
government had a President and a Prime Minister who in turn appointed
the cabinet. During the years between 1960 and 1969 the dominance of
the Mudugian clans was clear. For example, members of these clans who
occupied the posts of president and cabinet ministers between 1960 and
1969 were roughly two-thirds compared to the one-third occupied by all
the other clans.
On October 21, 1969, army units took over the control of the government.
The commander of the armed forces Brigadier General Mohamed
Siad Barre assumed leadership (although he is not regarded as the author
of the military takeover) of the officers who deposed the civilian government.
President Siad Barre, himself from Mudug region and a member
of the elite clans, installed a governing body, the Supreme Revolutionary
Council (SRC), and became its president. The SRC arrested and detained
leading members of the government, including the late Prime Minister
Mohamed Ibrahim Igaal.9 The SRC banned all political parties, abolished
the National Assembly and suspended the constitution.
The regime identified itself as a Marxist revolution that adopted the
radical transformation of Somali society through the application of ‘scientific
socialism’. The regime promised, among other things, an end to
tribalism, nepotism, corruption and misrule. The new motto became:
maxaa taqaan and not ayaa taqaan, which means ‘it is what you know’,
and not ‘who you know’. Immediately in 1970, the government of Barre
Mukhtar 1989:26. These regions remained intact until the Barre regime (1969-1991)
subdivided them into eighteen regions. This division was mainly intended to create
administrative enclaves for the Mudugian clans and facilitate the Darood expansion
to Southern Somalia. For example, the Upper Jubba region was divided into Baay,
Bakool, Gedo and parts of current Middle Jubba region. Specifically, the Gedo region
was created for Barre’s Marehan clan. The capital city for the region was made a town
called Garbaharrey – a small, mountainous and literally empty town – instead of the
larger city of Bardhere, a boom city on the banks of Jubba river that has a very long
history that is estimated at over 500 years.
9 Mohamed Ibrahim Igaal later became the president of the breakaway Republic of
Abdulahi A. Osman
organised a huge public rally, where a dummy symbolising tribalism
was burned and buried. However, Barre established a totalitarian regime
complete with indisputable absolutist power. His regime constituted an
even more polarised clan-based structure than the previous regimes. For
example, Barre’s first cabinet in 1969 consisted of 14 ministers of which
seven (or 50%)10 were members Barre’s Darood clan. As time progressed
this domination became even blunter.
The overall domination of the Mudugian clans in the Somali politics has
been clear through the years. For example, between 1960 and 1990 there
were 26 governments that nominated a total of 567 posts. The Darood
clan took 216 posts, Hawiye 125, Isaaq 102 and Digil and Mirifle 31. This
domination was also clear in the individuals that were nominated for
government posts. For example, there were 155 individuals that made
up the ruling elite in Somalia’s government including president, vicepresident,
prime minister, and ministers. The members from the Darood
clan and their sub-clans made up 62,11 followed by the Hawiye with
36 and Isaaqs with 30 (see figure 1). This domination of the nomadic
clans continues in post-1991 Somalian politics. For example, 11 out
of the 15 warlords that attended the talks in Addis Ababa, including
the late General Mohamed Farah Aideed, are from the Mudug region.
Additionally, the leaders of the current political formation in Somalia,
the Islamic Courts under Shekh Dahir Hassan Aweys and the transitional
government under Colonel Abdulahi Yusuf Ahmed, are members of the
Mudug clans. Despite the apparent inequality that continues in Somalia,
social inequality alone does not explain why conflict in Somalia started
and continues to bring misery to its people.
10 Up from 32% in the government of the late Abdirsahid Sharmaarke (1967-1969).
11 Including two prime ministers – in 1967-69 under the late President Sharmaarke and
in 1990 under Siad Barre.
Cultural Diversity and the Somali Conflict: Myth or Reality?
Figure 1: The clan and sub-clans of individuals who held posts, including
presidents, vice-presidents, prime ministers, and ministers between 1960
and 1990.12
Source constructed from Hagi & Hagi 1998:118-131.
Economic decline
The economic decline in most African states, including Somalia, has
resulted from social inequality coupled with the reduction of international
donations during the 1980s. Over the years Somalia has been
the darling of the international Donor Organisations. This was partly
the result of the ideological war between the East and West during the
Cold War. The Somali ruling elites over the years had received millions
of dollars in foreign aid from various donors, which maintained their
control of power for more than three decades. For example, between
1965 and 1987, despite the fact that the country’s economy had stagnated,
Somalia received over US $ 800 million from the United States
(U.S.) alone (Ayittey 1994:3). The main reasons for the stagnation were
corruption and the misguided economic policies of the various governments
run by the regional and clan-based elites.
International aid had given the Barre regime the ability to maintain its
grip on the state and keep the challengers at bay. Somalia, because of its
12 D & M signifies the clans of Digil and Mirifle
Reer hamar
Number in the ruling elite
Abdulahi A. Osman
strategic location, had been a magnet for the combatants of the Cold War
(1945-1990). The port city of Berbera on the Red Sea has been, in specific,
a point of contest and money machine for the regime. The former
Soviet Union first established a naval base in the area and in return
provided plenty of military hardware for the regime, thereby making
Somalia’s military one of the strongest armies in Sub-Saharan Africa.
However, in 1977 during the Ogaden war between Somalia and Ethiopia,
the Soviets switched their alliance to Ethiopia. The regime then turned
to the U.S. for help. In 1980 the Carter administration promised supports
for Barre on the condition that he would severe all relations with
the Soviets. During that same year Washington and Mogadishu signed
an agreement that would allow the U.S. navy to use the naval facilities at
Berbera in exchange for military and economic aid. The Carter administration
provided a package of about US $ 45 million, which consisted of
military, economic and budgetary support.
The Barre regime also received aid from its former colonial power, the
Italian government, through its aid agency Funda Aiuto Italiana. Italy
invested more than one billion dollars in various projects, but the majority
of these projects were wasteful and misguided. Among the many projects
was the over US $ 250 million spent on the 450 km road in the sparsely
populated and barren desert area between Garowe and Bosaaso (Ayittey
1994:3). The funds from these projects had been spent in a very wasteful
and corrupted fashion and ironically the Italian government was aware
of it. According to Italian Embassy in Mogadishu employee: ‘[The] Italian
aid program was used to exploit the pastoral populations and to support
a regime that did nothing to promote internal development and was
responsible for the death of many of its people’ (Ayittey 1994:3). This aid
increased the inequality among the Somalis. For example, the number of
luxury cars in Mogadishu increased, where it was not a surprise to see
a Mercedes or a Toyota Land Cruiser in the streets and markets. More
importantly was the increase in the number of luxury houses complete
with swimming pools, air conditioners and all modern amenities. In
fact, a whole area in southern Mogadishu where huge luxurious houses
Cultural Diversity and the Somali Conflict: Myth or Reality?
were built by the elites became known as ‘Booli Qaran’ meaning ‘stolen
public money’.
By the end of the 1980s, however, the large amount of aid that went to
many African states, including Somalia, was devastating to their already
weakened economies.13 Keen (1998) argues that poor social service and
poverty fuel conflict from below. Historically, poor parts of the society
tend to turn towards banditry and other illegal activities. For example, in
the late 1980s the city of Mogadishu has seen an unprecedented increase
in the number of bandit groups and unruly teenagers from the poor
parts of the city. One such group was a gang of former orphan children
named Ciyaal Faay Cali, ‘the children of Faay Ali’.14
The dissatisfaction that results from social inequality can become violent
and may often lead to larger society-wide conflicts when it is accompanied
by economic decline (internal or external) in the society. Bayart (1993)
13 Foreign aid has proven to be a burden on many African economies. During the decade
of 1970s and 1980s many countries opted for the easily available foreign aid and as
a result ran into debt. Of the 32 countries with the highest debt, 25 belonged to Sub
Saharan Africa. While many view foreign aid as beneficial to the economies of the
recipient countries, others argue that aid flow has been disastrous to many developing
economies. There are four factors behind the disastrous outcome. (1) Aid flows were
generally closely tied to the geopolitical interest of the donor nations, mainly the West.
(2) Aid revenue was not directly attached to production and has been continuously
provided regardless of the recipient country’s productivity or growth, which in turn
hindered the incentive for local economy to grow. (3) Autocratic regimes became
grant writers that declared what they intended to do with the funds, rather than
promoting the country’s economic development. Moreover, aid flows helped to
increase the ‘kleptocracy’ among the ruling elite who had access to ready cash and
used it for salaries and lavish lifestyles and for maintaining networks of patronage
rather than productivity. (4) Aid has always been dependent on the domestic politics
of the donor countries, which tend to distort any long-term economic planning and
strategies (Brautingham 2000; Leonard & Straus 2003).
14 The name comes from a lady named Faay Ali who raised a number of orphans. These
children reached adolescence during the 1980s, which coincided with the weakening
of the Siad Barre regime. The gang was notorious for brutal actions including robbing,
raping and even murders. But, importantly, they were partially responsible for the
dismantling of the regime and the creation of public dissatisfaction and apathy towards
the regime. This is based on an interview the author conducted during 1993-94 in
Abdulahi A. Osman
argues that in the conditions of extreme poverty, scarcity, insecurity and
political instability that exist in Africa, everyone is engaged in life-anddeath
struggles, both to survive and to accumulate wealth and power.
In this struggle both rich and poor strategically attach themselves to
networks and organise factions primarily based on one’s family, friends,
clan or ethnic alliance. This struggle is central to the understanding of
political action in Africa. Its objective is the control of ‘the distribution of
the possibilities of realizing a primitive accumulation, in the strict sense
of the concept, by the confiscation of the means of production and trade’
(Bayart 1993:234). These factions, whilst engaged in the obtainment of
an acceptable livelihood and security, provide the arena in which conflict
and violence become more probable. Bayart concludes: ‘Today, as yesterday,
what is being fought for is the exclusive right to the riches claimed
by the holders of ‘absolute seniority’ (Bayart 1993:241).
Overall, there is little doubt that the number of violent conflicts and
internal wars has increased in the poorer countries of the third world.
There is also little argument that the increase in the number of these
conflicts was severe for Sub-Saharan Africa, coinciding as it was with
an era of economic decline due to, among other things, the end of the
Cold War. Stewart and Fitzpatrick (2001) assert that the high incidence
of conflicts in poor countries results from three interrelated factors: (1)
a widening inequality in wealth and income between vertical (social)
groups and horizontal (territorial) groups in the country; (2) an increase
in the uncertainty of future prospects; and (3) a weakened capacity of
the state.
Access to weapons and the Somali conflict
The economic decline, which resulted both from internal social inequality
and from external factors such as the decline in the amount of aid and the
enforcement of Structural Adjustment Programs, created an environment
of declined security both economically and physically. Military expenditure
is an issue of the security for the state. Hutchful (2000:211) argues
Cultural Diversity and the Somali Conflict: Myth or Reality?
that among other things the state is created as a ‘security racket’. He says,
‘The relationship between governance and security is at once intimate
and obvious. First, governance is both about creating and the management
of the instruments of violence that at the same time necessarily
underpins assuring conditions of security. Second, governance involves
the effective administration, regulation and control of the instruments
of violence’. However, Jackson (1992) argues that the security of the
states in the post World War II era has been guaranteed by external
forces e.g. former colonial powers, cold war superpowers, international
and/or regional organisations (United Nations, North Atlantic Treaty
Organisation, Economic Community Of West African States, African
Union, etc.) and the state is secured from external threat. Despite this
minimum external security threat the African militaries expanded tremendously.
For example, in 1963 the average African state had 0.73
soldiers per 1000 people, but by 1979 this figure had jumped to 3.10 per
1000 people (Herbst 2000:105). Therefore, over the years the state militaries
became palace guards and a tool for the ruling elite to dominate
the rest of the society.
The rulers of most post-colonial states in Africa have used the military
as a reward for their clansmen. For example, in Kenya the Kamba and
Kalenjin made up 34% of the Military in 1963, while these clans together
accounted for only 9-11% of the total population. Also, in the same year
in Nigeria, there were a total of 81 officers and 60 of them were Ibos
(Odetola 1982). During Siad Barre’s regime (1969-1991), the Somalia
security apparatus was controlled by three groups: the Marehaan, which
are Barre’s clan, the Ogaden, his mother’s clan and the Dhulbahante, his
son-in-law’s clan, who all fall within a larger clan family of Darood, an
alliance labelled among the Somalis as MOD (Laitin & Samatar 1987).
Over the years this large and tribalised military created an insecurity
dilemma, where the average citizen was afraid of the military of his/her
own country. Additionally, military expenditure dragged the economies
of Sub-Saharan African countries to the ground. The result was that
the responsibility for the security and welfare of individuals and groups
Abdulahi A. Osman
that were not part of the military or the bureaucracy fell to other social
organisations such as clans or clan and kinship groups. There is no place
where this issue was as grave as it was in Somalia.
Since its independence, Somalia received great attention from the combatants
of the Cold War: the former Union of Socialist Soviet Republics
(USSR), and the US, which showered the country with huge supplies of
weapons. Somalia always had a great appetite for weapons which was
then matched by the willingness of the superpowers (during the Cold
War) and regional powers (such as Egypt) to satisfy this demand. Since
its independence in 1960, different Somali governments engaged in a
policy of hyper-militarisation. Somalia spent an average of 20.45% of its
budget on the military between 1960 and 1990 and had an average of 8
soldiers per 1000 of the population, well above the regional average of
less than 4 per 1000 (Osman 2007). Between 1960 and 1990 Somalia’s
military grew steadily despite being one of the poorest states in the world.
For example, the military expanded from 5,000 troops at independence
in 1960 to 65,000 in 1990 (Lefebvre 1991).
Somalia’s hyper-militarisation was greatly affected by its location, which
is of great geo-political and strategic interest to the regional and great
powers. During the early 1970s, the Soviets were allowed to establish a
naval base at the strategic northern coastal city of Berbera, located at the
entrance of the Red Sea. This was made mainly as a reaction to the largescale
American military support of Somalia’s rival Ethiopia. During
the war between Ethiopia and Somali war in 1977-1978, superpowers
switched their allegiances. Soviets became allies of the Marxist regime
of Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam of Ethiopia (1974-1991), while the U.S.
became an ally of Somalia. Between 1979 and 1990 the U.S. sent hundreds
of millions of dollars worth of arms to Barre’s regime in return for
the use of military facilities at Berbera (Ayittey 1994; Lefebver 1991). In
addition to the support from the superpowers, the country also received
military support from Arab countries, China, West Germany, Italy and
Apartheid South Africa (Ottaway 1982; Lefebvre 1991).
Cultural Diversity and the Somali Conflict: Myth or Reality?
In January 1991, Siad Barre’s 21-year reign finally ended and Somalia
descended into full-scale internal war. The Somali internal war had
been in the making for several years. It resulted from a combination of
several factors – local and international – and involved many different
actors. At the national level, several years of continued frustration over
basic human needs caused social unrest. Additionally, the government’s
ineffective policies created economic stagnation and brought
about extreme poverty. Moreover, this decline made the government
unstable as evidenced by the constant cabinet reshuffles, defections,
loss of state authority and, worst of all, it politicised the armed forces.
The difficult living conditions in turn created an incentive for young
men to join factional militia that were opposed to the government of
Siad Barre.
The economic hardship of the 1980s facilitated the transference of
weapons to the public. Thus, by the beginning of the war in 1991 law
and order immediately became non-existent and Somalia descended
into total chaos. The chaos was further exacerbated by the failure of
the international community to resolve the conflict at its early stages.
All international organisations, including the UN and NGOs, and all
diplomatic missions pulled out from the country. Regional organisations
did not help either. Somalia is a member of the Organisation of
Islamic Conference (OIC), the Organisation of African Unity/African
Union and the Arab League but unfortunately not one of them had the
capacity or the willingness to interfere. It took several thousands of
Somalis to die, millions of dollars worth of property to be destroyed,
and millions of refugees to show up in the neighbouring countries
and as far as Canada and USA, for the west to come to the rescue.
The Somali warring factions were left alone to fight and destroy the
infrastructure of the country. In 1992 the UN Security Council passed
Resolution 733 which called for an embargo on weapons and military
equipment being sent to Somalia. However, since its passing, this resolution
had become one of the most violated resolutions as Somalis kept
Abdulahi A. Osman
receiving fresh supplies of weapons from Arab and Ethiopian sources
in clear violation of the embargo.15
The high military spending led to an economic slow-down in many
Sub-Saharan African countries. As a country’s economy declined it led
to declining security and a leak of weapons through sale and theft into
the hands of civilians. Where the bad economy is coupled with the availability
of arms, the state becomes weaker and incapable of providing
security (physically and economically), and this may lead to chaos and
possibly the collapse of the state. As the central power weakened, and in
some cases collapsed, the emerging groups must pay attention to their
power relative to other groups. Power struggles ensue as these groups
prepare and pool their resources in order to preserve their existence.
These groups must organise themselves, choose leaders, set up bureaucracies
to collect taxes (or sometimes loot others) and organise security
forces in order to enforce internal cohesion and military forces to insure
external security (Posen 1993). The power resources of the old regime,
especially materials (e.g. weapons, money) and contacts (e.g. diplomatic
relations), then become spoils for the contesting groups. For example, in
the Somali internal war, the clans that had heavy representation in the
military and the administration were best positioned to benefit from the
disintegration of the state, both materially and politically. These groups
were mainly from the clans of Mudug and Majertinia, in other words
Darood and Hawiye. Overall, the conflict in Somalia resulted from the
proliferation of weapons during the Cold War and the continued supply
15 Time and again the Security Council revisited the observance of the resolution and
came to the same conclusion. As early as July 1992 the violation of the resolution and
the frustration of UN Secretary-General Boutros Ghali were apparent. For example, a
report he furnished on 22 July 1992, says: ‘… the situation regarding the flow of arms
and ammunition from outside and the continuing use of military weapons on a large
scale inside Somalia had not changed since the last report.’ (S/24343). This violation
has been repeated several times since Boutros Ghali’s report. A report furnished by the
UN in November 1993 states: ‘Major violations of the arms embargo against Somalia
have taken place over a six-month period, but the weapons now arrive continuously in
many small quantities, while large quantities arrive less often, a monitoring panel has
told the United Nations Security Council.’
Cultural Diversity and the Somali Conflict: Myth or Reality?
of weapons after 1991, which ignited and continues to ignite the war
efforts among the grieving Somali clans.
Somalia’s shared cultural values and heritage
Earlier we have established the existence of two schools of thought in
Somalia: homogeneous and heterogeneous. Depending on which school
one subscribes to, one’s conclusion is predictable. Somalis speak 13
living languages including Jiddu, Dabarre, Boni and Garre.16 However,
the overwhelming majority of Somalis speak the Maay and Mahaa languages.
Despite the description of Somalis as a monolingual society, the
speakers from each of these two languages are not intelligible to each
other. In spite of this fact, however, I.M. Lewis, founder of the Somali
homogeneous school of thought, described the difference between
these two languages as similar to the difference between Portuguese and
Spanish (Lewis 1980:5).
Closely following linguistic differences is the role of the clan. The Somali
society is divided into six major groups who speak two distinct languages.
These are (1) Hawiye, Dir, Darood, and Isaaq who are overwhelmingly
nomadic and speak the ‘Mahaa tiri’ language, and (2) Digil and Mirifle
who practice agro-pastoralism (a mixture of dry farming and herding)
and speak the ‘Maay’ language. Additionally, there are smaller clans that
include Bantu, Arab and Persian descendents.
The southern settled communities make up the overwhelming majority
of the Somali population. According to the 1958 census17 roughly 82%
of the population of the Italian Somaliland live in the area south of
Shabelle River. The Italian colonial administration divided the country
into six administrative regions. These regions remained intact until the
Barre regime (1969-1991) further divided them into eighteen regions.
16 http://www.ethnologue.com/show_country.asp?name=SO
17 In 1974 the Barre government made another census, but its results were never
published. For details on the 1958 census see footnote 9 above.
Abdulahi A. Osman
This division was mainly intended to create administrative enclaves for
the Mudugian clans, specifically, the Darood expansion into Southern
Somalia. For example, the Upper Jubba region was divided into Baay,
Bakool, Gedo,18 and parts of current Middle Jubba regions. But, let’s look
at the relationship between cultural differences and conflicts.
Cultural diversity and conflict
The relationship between ethnic diversity and internal war can be traced
back to Aristotle who had suggested that diverse nations are more susceptible
to internal conflicts than their homogenous counterparts (Lipjhart
1977). Indeed, ethnicity per se constitutes the critical, if not the determinant,
source of conflicts in general and in Africa particularly.
Most of the literature on conflicts gives ‘ethnicity’ and ‘contested identity’
priority. Specifically, the literature concentrates on ‘ethnicity’ or ‘ethnicprimordialism’
as the main cause of the increased number of conflicts
(Gurr & Harff 1993; Gurr & Harff 1994; Horowitz 1985). Many internal
wars in Sub Sahara Africa are attributed strictly to ‘tribal warfare’ and
many Western analysts attempt to put the causes of these wars and violence
on sociological factors inherent to Africa. This school looks at
ethnicity as given, so that a person will belong to a group automatically
at birth (Kaplan 1993; Connor 1994). The membership of these groups
is given whether it is based on clan/tribal lines, e.g. Zulus or Serbs,19 or
common history, e.g. Italians.
Primordialism is the idea that ethnicity is fixed, fundamental and
rooted in the unchangeable circumstances of birth. The primordialist
approach asserts that ‘the urge to define and reject the other goes back to
our remotest human ancestors, and indeed beyond them to our animal
18 See footnote 9 above.
19 Most of the Somalis feel obligated to participate in the tribal opinions and activities,
and to contribute money to the fighting. This identification resulted from years of
training and preparation by their families and community at large. One is raised to
safeguard the tribal norm from infancy.
Cultural Diversity and the Somali Conflict: Myth or Reality?
predecessors’ (Lewis 1992:48). Edward Shills (1957) was one of the first
scholars to assert that in the family attachments there are significant relationships
that can only be described as primordial. This approach was
further elaborated by Clifford Geertz (1973) who describes primordial
tendencies as ineffable, with coercive ties, which is the result of a long
process of crystallisation. Geertz advanced three major ideas that primordialism
is based on:
Š. Primordial identities are natural or given.
Š. Primordial identities are ineffable and cannot be explained by
other social interaction, but are rather coercive.
Š. Primordial identities essentially stem from sentiments and affections,
rather than from realities of survival.
Geertz’s description is based on biologically determined factors which
are fixed and unchanging. This school suggests that whenever the need
arises (with regard to survival, enhanced economic and security, etc.)
people go back to their ethnic identifications in order to achieve their
goals. Therefore, implicit in this line of thought is that the fixed and
uncompromising politics of identity, characterised by communal exclusivity
and tendencies toward xenophobia and intolerance, are natural to
human societies.
Other approaches that examine ethnicity view it from an instrumentalist
perspective, which looks at ethnicity as an instrument used by individuals,
groups or the elite in order to gain more power, mainly material
power (Brass 1985; Steinberg 1981). In this approach ethnicity is a
multi-purpose tool employed by a variety of elite organisers in order to
reach their target. Thus, in the majority of cases in Sub-Saharan Africa,
ethnicity happens to be what is available in that setting. For example,
in Somalia the warlords have been mobilising their tribesmen for the
past 10 years, because ethnicity was the only tool available for mobilisation.
Ironically, these combatants, who are organised along clan lines,
Abdulahi A. Osman
most of the time do not even know what they are fighting for.20 So, in
this approach, ethnic violence should not be differentiated from other
Still another approach views ethnicity as a constructed mythology. This
approach bridges between primordialists and instrumentalists. In this
approach, ethnicity is neither given as primordialists argue, nor used
as an instrument by the few elite, but rather stems from social interactions.
21 Constructivism argues that individuals belong to a multitude of
groups, such as merchants or intellectuals, and eventually to the nation.
For example between 1960 and 1990, although Somalis belonged to their
particular clans, these groups were still intermingling and working side
by side. In fact, it was politically incorrect during this period for one
to even ask the clan of another person, especially in the urban areas.
This inquiry would earn the asking individual the label of reer baadiye,
which means country folk. However, after the collapse of the central
government in early 1991 every person, including urban dwellers, was
forced to seek security and protection from his/her particular clan (Lake
& Rothschild 1998). Therefore, conflict in this approach results from a
‘… pathological social system, which individuals do not control… it is
the social system that breeds violent social conflict, not individuals, and
it is the socially constructed nature of ethnicity that can cause conflict,
once begun, to spin rapidly out of control’ (Lake & Rothschild 1998:6).
The deterministic approach, specifically provided by primordialist theorists,
suffers from two major flaws. First, they fail to make the distinction
between cultural identity and politically relevant cultural identity. They
assume that cultural differences, including language, religion and traditions,
automatically lead to conflict because culturally defined groups
tend to be exclusionary and are dominated by old values that outweigh
universalistic norms. According to primordial accounts, parochial norms
attributed to cultural groups are believed to isolate them and reinforce
20 This is based on observation in the country’s war pattern during my visit 1993-1994.
21 For details on this approach, see Brubaker 1995 and Kuran 1998.
Cultural Diversity and the Somali Conflict: Myth or Reality?
their extremism. Second, primordialists ignore the role of state institutions
in both easing and perpetuating culturally based conflicts.
Over the years, however, a number of scholars have questioned the
validity of such a causal link (Eyoh 1995; Adedeji 1999; Mamdani 1996;
Braathen et al 2000). This paper argues that ethnicity is indeed an important
factor in explaining these wars, as compared to non-war situations,
but that ethnicity has not yet been adequately addressed in the literature.
It is insufficient to establish that often the members of the warring
factions belong to different ethnic, clan or tribal groups. What must be
explained rather is why the warring factions are fighting.
Braathen et al (2000:4) suggests that the warring factions must be
‘… understood in the light of the socio-economic context in which they
operate, and within this context ethnicity is just one among many variables’.
While ethnicity is an important factor, the key to understanding
what causes internal wars in Sub-Saharan Africa is the attributes of the
post-colonial state. They argue that these wars occur not because of the
primitive social settings, but rather in the context of the ‘power game
and the arena of modernity’. This arena of modernity is ‘… the state
and the fight to gain control of state resources, power and possibilities’
(Braathen et al 2000:10). Specifically, the rewards (real or perceived) of
capturing and maintaining state power have been a key source of conflict
across the continent.
Since independence political conflict in this region was frequently waged
in the Zero-sum mode, where the winner takes all. In short, the causes
of internal wars involved ethnic identity as it was related to politics
and power, rather than mere difference in identity alone. For example,
Tanzania has over 100 ethno-linguistic groups, whereas Somalia has
about thirteen. Despite its larger diversity, Tanzania over the years
managed to maintain relative economic growth and social stability. On
the contrary, Somalia with less ethnic diversity experienced internal war
and the collapse of its state in 1991. Finally, comparing the countries
Abdulahi A. Osman
that experienced civil war since 1990 to those that did not the picture
becomes even clearer.
Many studies support the view that ethnicity in fact produces stability in
many countries. Elbadawi and Sambanis (2000) examined the cause of
internal war in African countries and argue that the relatively high prevalence
of war in Africa is not due to the ethno-linguistic fragmentation
of its countries. They argue that Africa’s ethnic diversity acts as a deterrent,
rather than a cause of internal war. They empirically examined the
relationship between multi-ethnicity and the occurrence of internal war
in 32 countries in Sub Saharan Africa that achieved their independence
prior to 1975.22 Seven of these countries, which experienced internal war
in the post-1990s era, had an average diversity of 0.45 whereas twentyfive
countries that did not experience internal war had a diversity index
of 0.83 (see figure 2).
Figure 2: The relationship between ethnicity and war
Adapted from Ethnologue 2006 http://www.ethnologue.com
22 Diversity is measured as the probability that a randomly selected two individuals in a
society will belong to different groups. The index varies from 0 to 1. The value is zero
for a completely homogeneous country where the probability of belonging to different
groups is nil. The value 1 occurs in the hypothetical society where each individual
belongs to a different group. http://www.ethnologue.com
No War War
0.83 0.45
Cultural Diversity and the Somali Conflict: Myth or Reality?
In order to understand the connection between ethnicity and internal
wars in Africa, one must examine Africa’s ethnicity from the historical
context, the institutional structures and the policies that the institutions
adopted. The most important historical context in Sub-Saharan Africa is
its colonial legacy, which shaped its ethnic structure. Colonialism created
and strengthened particularism (divisions based on ethnicity, language,
religion, etc.) by creating new ‘countries’ with artificial boundaries often
populated by politicised, suspicious and envious groups (Mamdani
1996; Médard 1996; Braathen et al 2000). The colonial state shaped
Africa’s present-day ethnic divisions through the demarcation of African
linguistic and cultural differences.
In an effort to establish an effective administrative system, colonial states
instituted three policies that made cultural diversity relevant to survival
of the individuals and groups. First, they made the loose tribal/clan affiliation
in Africa into a rigidly demarcated identity schema and in some
cases created a system of identity for millions who had previously had no
tribal/clan identity (Ottaway 1999; Clapham 1988; Mamdani 2001).
Second, they politicised the identity groups by utilising ethnic structures,
at different levels, in both the indirect rule of the British and the assimilationist
direct rule of the French (Mamdani 1996; Young 1994). Third,
colonial states encouraged local groups to advance their interests through
tribal organisations. They sought the patronage of tribal leaders, thereby
strengthening ethnic, clan or tribal loyalties. Today, these ethnic divisions
are the source of much of Africa’s violent politics. Even in places where
internal war did not occur, ethnic, clan or tribal divisions typically weakened
political institutions and undermined economic growth (Berman
1988). It is this legacy that shaped the structure and policies of the postcolonial
African states and provided the basis for the conflicts in many
parts of the continent. State power became concentrated in the hands of a
few elites and clansmen benefit (often through nepotism and corruption)
disproportionately from that power.23 As a result, the post-colonial state in
23 For a similar argument, see Chazan et al 1999.
Abdulahi A. Osman
Sub-Saharan Africa became a highly visible and contested resource, mainly
because the members of the ruling clan often received disproportionate
wealth and power (Adedeji 1999; Braathen et al 2000). Frederick Forsyth
(1977:25) said the following about Africa’s post-colonial politician:
In Africa as elsewhere political power means success and prosperity,
not only for the man who holds it but for his family, his birthplace
and even his whole region of origin. As a result there are many who
will go any length to get and having got it will surpass themselves in
order to keep it.
Cultural diversity and Somalia’s conflict
We have established that the foundation of the Somali diversity is the
clan. The clan, in Somalia, is above every thing else, above political
parties, religion and any ideology. Clanism in Somalia represents the
primordial cleavages and cultural fragmentation within the Somali
society. Clanism is the basis for numerous political and social problems
including the current endless conflict. In light of the above narration, I
would argue that cultural diversity has played a minor role in the Somali
conflict compared to clan membership. Every Somali belongs to a particular
clan, sub-clan and family. In this sense the clan is a uniting force
and at the same time a great dividing force.
The two main groups among the Somali clans are the nomadic and the
sedentary. The most fundamental difference between these two groups
is how much value each attaches to the land. The settled communities
attach a great value on the land, because they see the land as their source
of income and survival. Thus, they do everything to save this land. The
nomadic clans mainly look to the land as transient and temporary. Both
the nomadic and settled communities have local customary laws (Heer).
The nomadic Heer mainly concentrate on conflict settlements (Diya
Paying).24 The Heer among the settled communities do not only deal with
24 This is a blood compensation for the wrongful killing of a person from another clan.
For more details on the Diya Paying system, see Lewis 1955, Lewis 1961, Touval 1963,
Laitin & Samatar 1987, Casanelli 1982.
Cultural Diversity and the Somali Conflict: Myth or Reality?
conflict settlement, but also with individual and group duties towards
the common interest of the village community. For example, the Digil
and Mirifle as settled communities established a well organised social
and political structure based on hierarchical authority. Homogeneists
such as Laitin and Samatar (1987:27-28) have described the hierarchy of
the inter-riverine communities as follows: ‘Unlike decentralized nomads
these communities have a highly centralized and hierarchical social
order, whereby for example social pre-eminence is held not by numeric
basis, but by virtue of seniority or urad (first born) status.’
The second most important cultural heritage that unites most Somalis
is religion. Islam had arrived in Somalia within the 10th Century. The
most important method for the expansion of Islam was the Tariqa (way
or path) or religious orders. The rise of the Tariqa in Somalia was heavily
influenced by the development of Sufism, which appeared in Somalia
during the 15th century and rapidly became a stimulating and mobilising
force. The main reason for the expansion of Sufism in Somalia was its
appeal in providing a closer personal relationship to God through special
spiritual disciplines. Many historical figures, including Sayyid Mohamed
Abdulle Hassan and the Mad Mullah who fought against the British in
the 19th and early 20th centuries, used the Sufi sect of Salihiyya as a mobilising
method. Certainly, today’s United Islamic Courts (UIC) are using
religion as their mobilising method. However, despite the strong ability
of religion to mobilise, the clan identity always supersedes all other
identity schemas. For example, the recently deposed UIC leaders are
overwhelmingly from the Hawiye clan, and specifically the Habargidir
sub-clan. Therefore, in evaluating their leaders, the Somalis first ask the
clan affiliation of the individual and only then other inquiries, including
the qualities of the leader, follow.
Following religion as a uniting factor is the mode of production, which
is mainly herding or farming. As we mentioned, prior to the period of
colonialism the Somali clan families had for a long time occupied and
been restricted to their particular geographical locations. However, due
to the highly variable rainfall in some regions, especially the central and
Abdulahi A. Osman
northern regions, the nomads are often forced to move from one place to
another in search of pasture for their livestock (Lewis 1955). The harsh
conditions also make it hard for any one family to contain itself in one
geographical location. In fact, most of the time all necessary resources
to maintain both the clan and its herds cannot be found within any one
locale. Over the years, the nomadic clans have therefore devised several
inter-clan alliances, treaties and clientships to deal with these difficulties
without compromising territorial and geographical boundaries. During
the dry seasons, a whole clan can move from its homeland to the land of a
neighbouring clan that have available water and grazing and with whom
they have a formal treaty. In this situation, the guest clan will acquire the
right to remain in the land in exchange for contributing to the collective
defence of the host clan.
This type of patron-client relationship also existed between nomads and
cultivators. The nomads would often move to areas with more water and
grazing where they could enter into client status with the cultivators. In
some situations the nomads accept a temporary clientship. In other cases,
some of the nomadic clans that have lost their herds find themselves
in a permanent subordinate client status. In this situation, the guest is
allowed to farm the land without any direct ownership and is required to
abide by the rules and regulations of the host clan.25 Both the British and
the Italian colonial powers would not interfere with the lifestyles of the
Somali nomads, especially those in the north. In the south, however, the
Italian colonial state settled along the agriculturally rich Shabelle River
and used more direct colonial practices including the removal of traditional
leaders and forced labour.
The most important figure in the diversity-related conflict of Somalia
was the former dictator General Mohamed Siad Barre whose reign was
known for its clannish ‘divide and conquer’ tactics. The government
of Siad Barre (1969-1991) created a highly centralised and dictatorial
state. Two major reasons helped his regime to achieve this seemingly
25 For a good description of clan treaties and clientship, see Casanelli 1982:75-78.
Cultural Diversity and the Somali Conflict: Myth or Reality?
cohesive appearance. First, the use of the Somali language since 1972
enabled the government to reach the people through its publications.
Second, there were the nominal restriction and even the ban of tribalism,
at least at the beginning of his regime. These two policies allowed
the Barre regime to spread an ideology of unity and cohesiveness. By
1975, however, the regime was unable to distance itself from the clanism
and tribalism, which together had created and maintained the Somali
political organisations for centuries. By the end of the Ogaden war in
1978, several different clans started to voice their disappointment about
their status under the Barre regime. One such example was the April 9,
1978 coup attempt (Samatar 1988:138). Immediately, Siad Barre started
to ally himself with people from his clan and the Marehaan-Ogadeen-
Dulbahante clan-based coalition known as MOD.26
Siad Barre’s regime was an authoritarian, one-man, rigid and centralised
rule, full of rampant corruption, injustice and economic mismanagement.
During his 21-year rule, Barre manipulated clan loyalties and
rivalries, favoured members of his own clan, and undermined independent
sources of authority. In what was to be a recurring pattern,
following an April 1978 coup attempt led mainly by army officers
from the Majerten clan, Siad’s forces singled out Majerten civilians for
reprisals. After the creation in 1981 of the Somali National Movement
(SNM), a guerrilla force that drew its support from the Isaaq clan, the
government unleashed a reign of terror against Isaaq civilians, killing
50,000 to 60,000 between May 1988 and January 1990.27
From the outset, Barre’s government favoured members of his own clan,
the Marehan, who were recruited in large numbers into the army and
who were also favoured within the civil service. Despite this favouritism,
Barre purported to outlaw ‘tribalism’ by banning clan gatherings,
such as engagement and wedding ceremonies. He manipulated the clan
26 For a good description of how the Barre regime changed its policy from nationalism
to tribalism, see Samatar & Laitin 1984.
27 Human Rights Watch 2006
Abdulahi A. Osman
structure by corrupting and sometimes creating and legitimising clan
elders and making them paid nabad doon or ‘peace seekers’. All independent
institutions capable of challenging the government’s power
were destroyed, leading civilian politicians were arrested, independent
civic organisations and political parties were outlawed, and any form of
political dissent was prohibited. Thus, in seeking to maintain himself in
power, Siad Barre fanned the flames of clan animosity while systematically
destroying any institution that could cut across clan lines or act as
an authentic mediator in disputes between clans.
Siad Barre was also responsible for introducing the strategy of banditry
into the civil war, particularly during the 1988 war against the SNM.
During this brutal campaign, Barre’s troops, many of whom later joined
clan factions after the collapse of the central government, were openly
allowed to loot and sell the spoils of the war in the markets of Mogadishu
with no fear of punishment. This practice broke with traditional Somali
customs governing competition between clans and changed the character
of the civil war. After Barre’s ouster, other clan factions continued
these tactics. Dictatorial regime had oppressed people for more than a
When Siad Barre’s regime was overthrown, society was overwhelmed
by its sudden freedom after more than a decade of dictatorial regime.
Unfortunately, however, this freedom was marred by the increased
poverty and availability of weapons in the markets which transformed
the initial jubilation into an instant and endless nightmare. As Somalis
were engulfed by this conflict, tribalism took an uglier turn and every
clan created its own political party. In most cases, these parties included
the word ‘Somalia’ in their names and pretended to represent all Somalis
instead of one specific clan.
Cultural Diversity and the Somali Conflict: Myth or Reality?
The positive role of culture in peace making,
conflict resolution and post-conflict reconstruction
Understanding culture and diversity is an important key to unlocking
and understanding complex human nature. Acknowledging those that
are culturally different can lead to a conscious awareness of how our
thinking and actions affect others operating from different perspectives.
Despite the fact the Somalis have been described as homogeneous, they
do enjoy a rich and diverse cultural heritage. Many earlier and recent
expeditions and studies point to the existence of a rich oral culture, and
to resilience and creativity among the people. The most relevant aspect
of the cultural diversity of Somalis is the use of the local customary laws
known as Heer. Both the sedentary and nomadic clans used to mediate
among themselves and maintain the rule of law inside the clan as well
as in inter-clan relationships. However, as colonialism took root in the
country and most of the continent, one of the earliest casualties was this
noble institution.
More specifically, the Italians used a direct colonial system that practically
destroyed the conflict resolution mechanisms practiced by the Somali
clans. They created a pro-Italian cadre, as the French created the evolue
and the Portuguese the assimilados. For its own colonial interest Italy
recruited its cadre from the nomadic clans of the Mudug and Majertinia
regions. Since independence, this pattern continues where the Western
educated technocrats dominate the social, political and economic scene
of the Somali society. Nevertheless, as Ekeh (1975) argued, these technocrats
simultaneously exist in two diametrically opposed camps: one civic
and one primordial. In the civic camp they are supposed to function as
impartial workers dedicated to the national interest. In the primordial
camp, however, they are supposed to be mindful of the interest of the
particular clan. This quagmire needs to be understood in order to come
up with a proper diagnoses of the causes, and perhaps, with a viable
solution for the Somali conflict.
Abdulahi A. Osman
Once the conflict began, this cadre, who suffered from the dual identity
crisis, could not put back together the country they had dragged into the
ground. In British Somaliland, however, where the clan culture is relatively
intact, mainly due to Britain’s indirect colonialism, the local clan
elders and leaders saved the day. Their counterparts in the south, on the
other hand, continue to be disillusioned and to remain in a second-class
position after the confused Western educated cadre.
As argued, the Somali cultural diversity is rich with conflict resolution
mechanisms that can be used to end the conflict. However, for the past
15 years the international community has ignored the legitimacy of clan
elders and leaders who possess the ability to penetrate the tribal politics
and who may get results. On the contrary, the resolution efforts so
far have mainly been concentrated in the hands of the warlords. They
were given a blank page on which to draw Somalia’s future. They met
in Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, Egypt, Sudan and currently in Mogadishu,
and each time they enjoyed lavish lifestyles. Each time they decided on
something the decision was only worth the paper it was written on and
the ink that it was signed with. Ultimately, the Somali conflict can only
be resolved through its clan structure, by empowering and reviving the
legitimate leaders and elders.
As established, for a long time Somalis have dominated each other using
the clan as the basis for enforcing their worldviews and advancing their
interest in their political system. More specifically, the nomadic clans
dominated and continue to dominate the political system of the country.
Their perspectives have often been degrading to the sedentary communities
in the southern part of the country. In fact, among the nomads,
land cultivation, as well as most physical work such leather making and
ironwork, is seen as an inferior profession in which only those who have
no livestock, especially camel, engage. This rift between nomads and
cultivators has been the basis for many conflicts including the current
genocide in Darfur, Sudan. Since 1991, over 15 peace conferences were
Cultural Diversity and the Somali Conflict: Myth or Reality?
convened by the international community, at which tacit acknowledgement
was given to the diversity of Somalia.
At the past three peace conferences that were held in Sodere (Ethiopia),
Arta (Djibouti) and Mbagathi (Kenya) this reality had to be faced. After
two years were spent on the conference in Kenya, which mainly gathered
some of the biggest warlords that destroyed the country, a transitional
government was eventually produced. In the parliament of 275 members
that was to be elected, 61 members were allocated to each of the four
large clans28 and 31 to a cluster of minority clans. The parliament elected
Sharif Hassan Shekh Adan from the Asharaf clan, a sub-clan of Dighil
and Mirilfle, as the speaker and a former warlord, Colonel Abdulahi
Yusuf Ahmed from the Mejrteen sub-clan of Darood, as president. The
President in turn appointed a 51 year old from the Abgaal clan, a sub-clan
of Hawiye, Ali Mohamed Gedi, as prime Minister. Mr. Gedi appointed
a 41 member cabinet, the majority of which happen to be the strongest
warlords in the country. Additionally, the new constitution accepts the
existence of two languages, Maay and Mahaa, as official languages in the
Despite the fact that diversity has been acknowledged, the domination
of the political power by the nomadic clans is however still apparent.
For example, the current transitional government is headed by Colonel
Abdulahi Yusuf Ahmed and the defence minister, police commander;
and foreign affairs minister are all from his clan of Darood.
This article examined the role of cultural diversity in initiating, maintaining
and potentially resolving the prolonged conflict in Somalia. The
Somali conflict primarily resulted from inequality, economic decline and
availability of weapons. The conflict was initiated by clans who cited the
existence of an inequality that preferred certain clans to others. Despite
28 Darood, Dighil and Mirilfe, Hawiye, Isaaq and Dir
Abdulahi A. Osman
the existence of such inequality since the country’s independence in 1960,
the internal war started in 1991. The beginning of the war, however, followed
the economic decline of the 1980s, which in turn facilitated the
transference of weapons to the grieving clan members. The remaining
question now is what, if any, resolution can be offered in order to bring
Somalia’s prolonged conflict to an end.
Somalia has two positive aspects that can enhance its rebuilding once
the conflict ends. First, contrary to what has been published, Somalia is
endowed with natural resources to sustain itself. These include the longest
coast in Africa, two permanent rivers (Jubba and Shabelle), millions of
acres of cultivable land and millions of livestock. There are also rumours
of abundant oil and natural gas. In fact, prior to 1972, Somalia used to
feed its own people and had surplus grain that was exported. However,
because of the bad economic policies of the government of Siad Barre,
the country became a net importer of grain by 1975. Second, there is
the diversity among the Somalis in the diaspora, who have married foreigners
and given birth to children in other countries. Some changed their
religion and others their sexual orientation. Today about 750,000 (7%)
of the Somali population live abroad and many of them have created
large and thriving communities in prosperous countries including South
Africa, Canada, United States and the United Kingdom.
Since the mid 1970s, the diaspora community has been the backbone
of the collapsed Somali economy through remittance and in some cases
investments. For example, the World Bank estimates about US $750,000
annually are remitted by the diaspora communities using an informal
system called Hawala.29 The most important benefit of the diaspora,
however, is not the remittance, but rather the hard work, education,
saving and in some cases the humiliation they experience in their host
countries, all of which can help to provide the basis for a future stable
and prosperous Somalia. Many Somalis in the diaspora, including the
29 For more details on Hawala, see the UNDP report (UNDP 2006)
Cultural Diversity and the Somali Conflict: Myth or Reality?
author, are ready to repatriate for they understand the meaning of being
a citizen. Currently, there are movements in the diaspora, especially in
North America, that are very influential. For example, in the latest round
between the Islamic Courts and transitional government the community
has written petitions to both sides and for the first time they are willing
to use economic sanctions. Unlike the earlier times when the diaspora
was entirely influenced by the rigid and unchanging clanism; this new
breed of the diaspora have understood that after all they are strangers
in foreign lands without the claim to nobility that has blinded many
Somalis before leaving their country.
In closing, the Somali cultural diversity can be a uniting force or a dividing
and deadly force, and we need to come up with ways to utilise it for the
good. One effective way is first to address and solve past wrongs that
were committed against mainly the sedentary communities in Southern
Somalia; secondly to conduct a fair and impartial census that will in the
future determine a fair, representative and balanced political system, and
finally to bring the wealth and knowledge of the diaspora by creating
a conducive environment that accommodates diversity including religion,
language and opinion and establishing the rule of law. After all, the
recovery of Lebanese society from their years of civil war has been greatly
facilitated and expedited by its diaspora community.
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Ajuuran wuxuu Dhalay

Walemugge Wuxuu Dhalay

Kunle Idiq Garesole Gareen wuxuu dhalay
Eldaafem -Samesla-Garasla-Meda-Tukul

Beidaan wuxuu dhalay:

Waqle wuxuu dhalay

Sakuye Told (Identities on the move: clanship and pastoralism in northern Kenya By Günther Schlee P107 both Sakuye and Rendille are of Bimaal orgin

Encyclopaedia Aethiopica: D-Ha
edited by Siegbert Uhlig

Dira Dhabe "Dirir Dhabe" the road of War Diri dhabe

Ajuuran subclan Walamugge subsections Gareen, Gelbaris and Gashe. Sanle clan scattered amoung Garre. Waqle (Sanle) their is Riiba. Sanle amoung Garre Darawa and Laisan.

Reer Diid Rendille
Les grandes familles claniques des Somali Hawiye lre migration Gilale Somaal Hautes castes dominante pastorale Hill ... Saahibl - Wardiq (Rumawaaq, Waklishil] - Horoone (Gel Walaal, Habr Wjlaal] - Urweine (Fiqi, Adolob] Bimal - Daud ...

1. The Weekly review: Issues 945-970
books.google.ca1993 - Snippet view
Haber Gerhajis Dir. Clan Gurguri Girgir Biyamal Rev Agon Fiqi Qubeys Mohamed ... The Somalis have to grope their way out of that pit; nobody, however, well meaning, whether governments or the United Nations, will get them out of it; ...
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