The role of clan identity and personal interest in Somali politics

By Mahbub Mohamed Abdillahi

Editor’s note: Puntland Post has not been able to verify quotes in this essay particularly the reference to collective leadership, which Dr Baadiyow has never expressed in his writings or speeches. 

 After the collapse of the Somali central government in 1991, Somalia entered a civil war erupted in Somalia, with warlords being at the forefront of the internecine war. They depended on their clans for recruiting militias. The strategy has become the main tool used by Somali politicians to further their own interests by taking advantage of low public awareness.

Although Somali people share same culture, religion and language they have been historically divided into various “qabiillo” ( clans)  based on paternal ancestry with different socio-economic contexts. This type of identity  has become a way of pursuing personal  interests through the political realm at the expense of patriotism and statehood.

Is Dr Baadiyow in favour of collective leadership?

What is the impact of tribal politics and personal interests on Somalia’s political stability? I had the opportunity to ask Dr. Abdurrahman Abdullahi Baadiyow, a  Somali scholar and historian who has worked extensively on reconciliation issues, this question. He replied: “Personal interests are fundamental. Tribal politics is used for personal gain. Looking back at the country’s presidents, prime ministers, ministers, few or no one has contributed to the environment in which his clan lives. If every politician loved his clan he would work for water, education, education and job creation, employment and economic development. Improperly contracted contracts and recruitment of troops are the means by which clan emotions are used, to further the interests of politicians. Therefore, it can be said with confidence if every politician worked for the betterment of his clan and the region he came from, Somalia would have made great progress’. It is also noteworthy that all the crises in the country have  resulted from wars led by people pursuing personal interests by exploiting low political awareness of some members of  clans they belong to.

What is the oppression claimed by these politicians against past  governments or an incumbent government?  Do you believe the arguments advanced politicians they share with clan identity?

So to try to get an answer we have to look at what politicians have done for their people when they become leaders. The answer is: They did nothing by way of human development projects. Once they attain their political goals politicians leave the constituency to its own devices.

However  clan-based politics and personal interests have led to a civil war in Somalia and the collapse of the state.

The impact can range from famine, massive internal displacement, thousands of Somalis, particularly youths, who sought refuge abroad, to widespread destruction, to a  breakdown of social cohesion. 

So how can Somalis solve this political  problem? I posed this question, again, to  Dr. Abdurrahman.  “We need to change the political culture, and this requires a lot of time, we also need to change the system of government and the electoral system. For example the election model of proportional representation minimizes the use of politics to attain personal economic goals of the political class. Moreover, voter registration and improved election management will also play a crucial role in changing the culture of rigging elections. Finally, the system of governance must be changed from a weak and unstable parliamentary to presidential and collective leadership model”.

Finally, the community should be encouraged, especially the youth, to prevent the use of clan names for political purposes and personal interest.

By Mahbub Mohamed Abdillahi