Somali Clan Politics: Anti-autocracy despite anomalies

Somalia clan politics existed throughout its history. After independence, the governance system was structured based on clan lines where domination and usurpation of rights by certain clans were recorded in that period.

After 1967 elections, the country descended into clan rivalries between three main clans namely; Hawiye, Darood and Isaq. As written by general Mohamed Ghalib in his book “the cost of dictatorship”, 1969 parliamentary elections were mired with rigging and corruption perpetrated by SYL party whose aim had been to dominate every seat in every constituency.

After the elections, conflicts erupted in most southern regions where the rigging had been widespread. Clan system in Somalia is complex and it is not easy to explain it in one article. General Mohmed Siyad barre replaced General Daud as the commander of the armed force after his death. The military saw the widespread violence and chaos and capitalized by overthrowing the democratically elected government.

Despite its anomalies, clan politics has paved the way for consensus in terms of power sharing among Somali clans. After the coup, the country went into the hands of individuals who begun to dismantle clan norms. Although used the clan card to divide potential opposition. Prior to the coup, people enjoyed freedoms provided by the constitution. The military turned the country into an open-air prison. Freedoms were barred, information flow was curbed. Disinformation disseminated.

The military used every means in its disposal to degrade and destroy everyone suspected of opposing their grip of power. Somalis who are connected by clan lineages started to establish opposition movements based on clans. The SNM, USC, SSDF and many others began to mobilize and confronted the military with arms and finally succeeded to remove the regime in January 1991.

The grudge sawed by the regime between Somali clans began to emerge through clan and sub clan wars which devastated the whole country. Somali clans fought bitterly where hundreds of thousands died in these battles. From 1991to 2000, several attempts aimed to bring warring sides to agree on building government failed.

In 2000, a reconciliation conference held in Djibouti made possible for Somalis to agree on governance system based on clan system where 4 major clans (HAWIYE, DAROOD, DIR and DIGIL IYO MIRIFLE) received equal share in government positions and the remaining clans were provided with half of the share of the major clans.

As many Somali intellectuals believe that 4.5 system is not the right thing to do but it is a temporary solution that will lead to agreed permanent solution that ends the roots of political conflicts resulted by inequality and power abuse tendencies.

In 2004, federal system was endorsed and agreed in reconciliation conference held in Kenya. A federal government was established led by late president Abdullahi Yusuf. Fast forward, in 2012, the government officially exited transition and became permanent. The new government led by Hasan Sheikh began to establish federal member states considering clan arrangements and five federal member states were formed. Relationship between FGS and FMS was not perfect, was rather cordial and sometimes confrontational but each side was not trying to destroy the other.

In 2017, Farmajo was elected president. The new government started to degrade the federal system by installing their allies in SWS, Galmudug and Hirshabelle states. These actions of exporting allies to the states  aroused anger among certain clans that could have caused clashes. The government extended its mandate unilaterally which has been interpreted as an illegitimate power grab. Armed clashes occurred in Mogadishu in 25th April 2021, the fear of civil war surfaced but fortunately, the tension was eased and the government was forced to relinquish the extension. 

The agreed federal system which is clan-based power sharing, despite its flaws, made the grudge ridden, battled Somali clans to live in fragile harmony. Somalis have negative sensitivity towards autocracy. Many Somali intellectuals including prominent politicians believe that clan politics in Somalia is a weak defense against authoritarianism. The existing federal system despite its shortcomings is much better than dictatorship. The risk of Somalia sliding into civil war would have been greater had the governance system been centralized with huge power rests on the government in Mogadishu. 

The task of the new government is to deepen the federal system by strengthening FMS to do their responsibilities, establish and enhance the federal institutions such as judiciary, including constitutional court which is necessary in having strong democratic federal system.

The newly elected president is expected to address the existing and the potential challenges facing the country, in which, the wrangles that emerge among federal authorities or among federal and state authorities is a among the top bottlenecks.

Completing the constitution, setting up federal institutions that will make possible for holding one person one vote, tackling the security issues and easing the poverty and hunger that are ravaging a large portion of Somali communities are top priorities that wait for the new administration to resolve in the meager time it has which ends after four years.

Amin Jamal

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