Rethinking Somali’s Political System and Cleavages

Political cleavages are permanent political divisions among citizens. Since the 1960s, the concept of cleavage has become current in the social science research concerned with the formation of European party systems and begun to understand the importance of cleavages in diverse societies.

Contrary to the American experience, in which parties and party systems reflected mobile sectional divisions, in Europe, they were the frozen expression of either socioeconomic or ethnic-religious cleavages, which are the same sources of affiliation in most African countries. The postindustrial transformation and the process of supranational integration of the last decades of the twentieth century challenged the cleavage structures of European societies, opening new divisions based on territorial interests and coalitions as traditionally in the United States.

Still, the same cannot be said for developing countries, yet very little importance is placed on research and policy consideration of the same in the continent. From the 1970s onwards, partly due to more sophisticated social research techniques, the debate moved in a more micro-empirical and less macro-historical direction. The decade saw numerous studies of electoral behavior, although their results were equivocal. While early studies like Rose (1974) showed the relative decline of politics based on social cleavages (or ‘cleavage politics,’ as it came to be called), the magnitude and implications of this decline. Yet, such critical studies and considerations have not been taken seriously in Africa. 


 On the other side, traditional Somali politics was based on two major controversially linked principles: first place, kinship (family relationship, and the social contract (Tol iyo Xeer). The second one, Clan affiliation or blood relationship, was based on the decent sectional system through which people outlined their lineage to general male ancestors. Relatives operated as enterprise political associations because they were blood relatives. However, the blood connection was not enough to form a political system. Agnates worked as corporate political associations as they negotiated a social contract that identified the terms of their collective unity. Since 1991, Somalia has been considered a failed state. Since then, the country has been facing a much more informal political structure with different groups and actors putting their authority in various parts of the country. However, in the past years, the federal system was introduced but has also not lived to the expectations of many as it continues to face numerous challenges such as clannism and political corruption. 


There is also a growing concern over how much territory is under the control of the government. Like other African nations, clannism is deeply enshrined in politics and the allocation of resources, which has in many cases led to political disputes. Much of the history of Somalia underlines the primordial identity based on membership in the Somali clan system. In addition, it is widely accepted that the failure and collapse of the Somali state resulted from two main factors: bad leadership and clannism, which characterized the Somalia political culture. The Somali clan structure has been established because of respect for the Somali state’s political complexities.

Conflict and civil war were formed by several clan militias contending for political power. It was simple to think of clannism as the root cause of war and the ensuing chaos in Somalia. Mainly achieved that through the approach of scholarship that restrains Somali’ state failure’ to the clan entities. The derived prospective remains discourses on the Somali state and have been systematized by the international actors to reestablish an already failed federal government system in Somalia. 


    Unlikely, after 22 years of transitional governments Supported by international communities since Barre was overthrown from power have failed to achieve a political consensus in the country.  Indeed, these models of international interventions have “developed or extended in trouble of conflict or authoritarian power. The issue for some Confederal Somali State foreign efforts in state-building have commonly diminished the principle of subsidiarity. In what place the locals keep, the political shares are often separated. Although many people perceive Somalia as a homogeneous society, recent political cleavage show colossal diversity among the people.

Somali clans imply that the different groups have diverse interests, and for that reason, their social issues can only be dispensed through significant reforms at the domestic level. That is why the country needs to rethink diversity and find a middle ground to accommodate each person’s ideas, thoughts, and philosophy. If decentralization leads to more peace, leaders should give it a chance. Which impact would enable the solidarity created by clannism to promote the prosperity of Somalis? As demonstrated in the country, the forms of agendas financed by donors and the institutional framework supported have appeared further coexist with the external actors, as contrasted to the Somalis, who were not compliant. 


 Similarly, clan dominance has seen many clans want to impose their thoughts and ideology on the rest of the country, which does not end well. Of the many Somali experts who consider the country and its people homogeneous, it is high time to acknowledge that for 32 years, the narrative has not worked as divergent ideologies and thoughts can be seen. There is also a generational change; young people who look at the country differently should not be dismissed, given that although they are young, most of the young people are highly educated and can have an intellectual understanding and contribution to the country’s future. It is only fair that those working on the new constitution consider the diversity in the country and give Somalis a constitution that will last for over ten years.


Dr. Mohamed BINCOF is a Ph.D. in Political Science and Public Administration, a university lecturer, and a Specialist in governance, strategy, and politics. you can reach him at email:

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