THE MYTH OF SOMALI EXCEPTIONALITY

Dr. Abdurahman Abdullahi (Baadiyow)

Clannism is the main source of all kinds of tribulations in Somalia and as such various policies has to be developed to fight and eliminate its polarizing effect. This conception was proclaimed by the Somali Youth Club in 1943 and very much articulated in academia and mass media becoming indisputable belief in the Somali public opinion. Certainly, there are two types of clannism: cultural and political which at times are mutually exclusive or crosscutting.

Cultural clannism is essential to the survival of rural communities and plays at the micro-level similar role of nationalism at macro-level. On the other hand, political clannism is precarious trend concomitant with the establishment of the first Somali administration under Italian trusteeship. Thus, it is the product of political institutions and electoral model applied during years of the Italian Trusteeship period (1950-60). Since pre-independence period, nationalist elites were campaigning against clannism rhetorically. Moreover, the military regime of 1969 embarked on more revolutionary programs and policies of suppressing clans and clannism symbolically.

Despite all these campaigns, clannism strengthened and radicalized steadily, the apex of which was evident since 1980s with the founding of the clannish armed factions that finally collapsed the state in 1991. Indeed, the breakdown of the national state and setting off pitiless civil war created impetus for ascendency of radical clannism symbolized by the dominance of the clannish militia and warlords. As a result, idealistic view of denying and ridiculing clannism changed in 2000 during the National Peace and Reconciliation Conference in Djibouti. In this conference, clan power sharing of 4.5 was institutionalized and political clannism soared even more afterwards.

Adopting clan power sharing was in contradiction to the philosophy of the founding fathers of Somali nationalism who accepted the hypothesis of the modernization theory and have adopted and popularized the model of “state versus clan” (Qaran iyo Qabiil) conflictual equation. This conception was based on the premise that modern nation-state is the emblem of pride, modernity and development while clan is the symbol of undesired backwardness that is despised. Obsession with clannization of Somali history, politics and conflict is problematic and requires revisiting in order to challenge its primacy and rationale.

Noting this fixations, Professor Cassanelli rightly expressed “that Somali Studies, as a collective enterprise, has been too insular, too unwilling to view Somalia as a variant of other societies” (Cassanelli 2001, 8). He further observed that Somali exceptionality prevents seeing Somalia as resembling other African and Muslim societies. This means that Somalia should not be seen as exotic and exceptional, rather through its similarities with African and Middle Eastern countries.

This model emphasizes the role of the clan elders and negates the role of horizontal social relations through mothers, marriages and rational choice of belonging to social, professional and political organisations. Certainly, this model is the distorted and crude representation of Somali society that places an emphasis on Somali uniqueness ‘exceptionality’.  Moreover, this model could be signified as discriminatory model which leads to cache Somali society in the state of permanent stagnation that resists any transformation. Its historical analysis emphasizes clan as the unit of analysis and reference, disregarding comparative analysis with similar societies in its social structure and Islamic faith. This is the model adopted by the Somali nationalist movements represented by the founding fathers of the Somali Youth Leagues (SYL). They followed the conception of modernization and emphasized the denial of clan attachments by its members. The Somali nationalists’ good intension was to unify their society internally (among clans) and externally (all five Somali territories) after liberating them from colonial rule. However, their approach in dealing with divisive clannism did not produce expected outcome and remained emotional and rhetoric.

However, the impact of clannization of Somali history and politics through excessive rhetoric of denial or its practical application has negatively shaped the cosmology of the people of Somalia. Paradoxically, the denial and disparaging clans and clannism was adopted as the national ideology while at the same time it was used excessively in the political processes. Fighting clannism became empty rhetoric and hypocritical slogan while in reality it was exercised vehemently.

In conclusion, it is irrational and proven false that Somalis are different from other societies. Indeed, Somalis are part of human societies who are sub-divided into ethnic groups, tribes and clans. According to the Qur’anic verse, these humans were created by Allah in different tribes and societies in order to know each other. Thus, approaching Somali history and politics through the eyes of clans alone is a sham, discriminatory and should be utterly rejected.

Dr. Abdurahman Abdullahi (Baadiyow)
Email:abdurahmanba@yahoo.com


Source: wardheernews. com

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