Somalia: Frankenstein State or Viable State?


For those of us who have been eagerly waiting for a free and fair election in 2016, became disillusioned and bitterly disappointed. The ‘one man one vote’ system which was promised in Somalia will not be happening. We should be forgiven if we appear to be suffering from a bit of ‘deja vu’; 2012 played host to the installation of a highly controversial, never before seen and unique in its nature voting system. This was based on the 4.5 power system: four dominant clans would elect their own members to government while the rest of the nation is doomed to be inferiors. This system was, supposedly, “the only way to move out of a Hobbesian world”. This selection was based on an equally unique system called 4.5. Four clans dominate power share whilst the rest of the nation were catagorised as lesser clan for they are deemed to be less-Somali.

Somali clanism explained

To non-Somalis, the whole thing seems complex and confusing. Most African countries have many tribes living among one another’s village or town in harmony there is not confusion of identity. For example, members of Zulu tribe are Zulus and nothing else. The same for the Kikuyu tribe; they do not divide themselves into numerous other clans and sub clans. Everything is so clear cut, one could almost colour code them.

However, Somali clanism is different. For instance clan ‘A’ could suddenly split themselves into number of sub clans, e.g. clan A1 or A2. These sub-clans could be in disagreement with clan ‘B’, despite the fact there had been a prior agreement between the original clan ‘A’ and clan ‘B’. The whole clan thing is the culture of Pastoral-Somalis, they are nomadic people who are wonders and in constant search of grassing land; they live in permanent state of nature. Moreover, things changed when the Central Government collapsed in 1991. The pastorals came in their droves as a mob and took over the capital Mogadishu. Armed up to their teeth and unwilling to adapt western style Weberian state with its institutions, (unless it worked in their benefit) were calling the shots. The sub-clans see institutions as a point of exploitation. Hence, when the UN tried to establish institutions, clans line up for ownership of the ministries, as though they were prize possessions. Clan-institutions, clan-federalism and clan lead security armies are shifting loyalty from one sub-clan into another sub-clan all of whom are competing resources, turning vital institutions in to a non-runners. For instance, ministry of education is the property of one clan, minister of Foreign Affairs belongs to another clan, the office of Mayoral of Mogadishu belongs to another clan, so on and so forth. For the clan leaders, state institutions are price wining or source of enrichment for their clan and family.

As clans subdivide themselves into numerous other sub-clans, they demand to take part in the parliament; that they too are a strong enough clan and therefore they must be granted their share in the houses of the new Somali parliament. We can use the metaphor of Starling birds to explain this. When observing a flock of Starling birds flying together in one direction, it can be seen that they may suddenly change direction as a unit. They may rapidly divide their unit and subdivide themselves and subsequently re-unite again, all of a sudden. Watching these birds in fascination, one can tell how futile it is to draw a particular pattern in which the birds fly. Similarly, Somali clannism follows in a similar changeable and unpredictable fashion. This constant shape-shifting and ever more difficult clan fiefdoms deprive the numerous but marginalised groups such as Somali Bantu, ethnic groups, societies and communities from Somali-sedentary groups ever becoming part of the political structure in a meaningful way.

The myth of Somalis being homogeneous exposed, they are divided into (nomadic Somalis) and (sedentary Somalis)

‘Somalis are homogeneous’ is a lie repeated quite often.  In reality, Somalis are divided into two groups. Firstly, nomadic Somalis who are divided into clans with clanism (lineage) being the core value of their culture. Being a Somali became synonymous with belonging to nomadic clans.  Nomadic culture is harsh, life is constant struggle of following the rain for fresh grazing land for their herds, with constant livestock theft or robbery being normal, the clan have to be regularly fighting for either defence or reclaiming livestock. For them, state of war is ever present. They are very difficult in nature and fighting is one way of settling arguments, proving worthy of status, scoring points, to gain respect, and win price. At times fighting is a way of showing off that you are to be feared and it is means to gain respect including when claiming someone else’s property.  Furthermore, as there is very little else to be proud of, clans take comfort for being superior to somebody else. Their habitat expands from central Somalia to north and north east of Somalia, their land is arid to semi-arid. In contemporary Somali politics and socio-economics, it is this particular nomadic based clan-culture which is the dominant; hence three out of four ‘perceived major’ clans (4.5) are nomadic Somalis.

Secondly, people from the south are sedentary, they are divided into coastal duellers, farmers, merchants and artisans. The gene-pool of these people (some of them) are somewhat mixed.  Colonial settlers integrated with these groups of people. Their livelihood comes from trading, farming and fishing. They are peaceful and hospitable. Identity is defined on place of habitat.

The table below illustrates the differences between sedentary ethnic groups and pastoral clan members in Somalia today.

Somali Sedentary Ethnic Groups Somali Pastoral Clans
These groups are by and large heterogeneous and speak ‘May-May’ language, Banadiri dialect and four minor languages (Jiido, Bravani, Mshunguli and few other dialects). These groups are homogeneous and speak one language (Somali)—their culture is based on nomadic life, with attack and defence being their constant priority. Raiding others in order to rob their camels or defending one’s own is their core value.
Identity revolves around the place of birth (or place of ancestral birth or place of habitat). There is room for immigrants to integrate, hence they have an absorption capacity which their culture permits. Identity revolves on lineage and hinges on the pride of one’s descent; these groups are divided into clans. Though clan members may intermarry, they have patrilineage which is defined biologically. To become one of them, one has to be born into them—they have no absorption capacity.
Work is blessed, therefore hard work is a virtue. Pastoral based clans see work as for ‘the inferiors’. Being idle and orator is permitted amongst nobility.
These groups are farmers, fishers, traders, hide-curers and artisans. These groups are pastorals. However, over the last fifty years, they have had plenty of opportunities to migrate and settle in various parts of Somalia, as well as settle in western countries.  Their moto is ‘where one of us owns the rest of us defends’ (“one for all, all for one”)
Law; these groups have a rich culture and live among each other in harmony. Their laws are just and fair. Their assembly is called ‘GOGOL’, where the people gather to negotiate law and every ethnic group is represented. They have laws of farming, livestock, marriage, dowry, divorce, and also discuss border disputes and settlements. Law; these groups have something called ‘xeer’Which favours the strong.
These groups are governed by reason. These clans are governed by emotion.
These groups practise restraint and respect the sanctity of life.  Most of them are humble and respect order. These groups have the tendencies to be arrogantly proud, to compromise is to admit defeat and no mercy is showed to the defeated.  Being vindictive and fanatical is virtue.
Geographically, Somali-sedentary groups live south parts of Somalia along the rivers starting from lower Hiiran to all the way down to Jubbaland. Geographically, Somali-pastorals live from Galgaduud (middle Somalia) all the way to the borders of Djibouti.


The Italian colonial powers brought 25,000 twenty five thousand workers from Port Mitsawa, Eritrea.  Population in Somalia collapsed by late 19th century. The Italians needed workers for the colony. Eritreans were chosen for two reasons; first, the two nations look alike, physically.  Secondly, the Eritreans were more assimilated to the ways of Eurocentric modernity. Eritreans were skilled, hard workers and obedient. They talked like the Italians and the host natives took them to their hearts; hence the Eritrean decedents are now part of Somali ethnic groups. They have no political voice.

Eritrea, the misunderstood baby brother of Somalia.   

Eritrea and Somalia have long bond of brotherhood. Both nations experienced the same suppression from their neighbouring foe, Abyssinia. Each country helped the other in times of great need. The depth of what one country did for the other requires separate and in-depth study.  It has been said that if one wished to destroy Somalia, one hires Ethiopia to do the job.  However, if one wishes to rectify Somalia one hires Eritreans to do the job. This was the case in 1919 to 1959, the Italians utilised this bond between the two nations.  It would be foolish to leave the Eritreans out of Somali reconstruction process.

Independence from colonial powers in 1960 brought great injustice. The two groups of Somalis were lumbered together and labelled as ‘Somalia’. The last 57 years had seen a process of elimination that slowly but surely, eradicated ‘Sedentary Somalis’ and in its place took ‘Nomadic Somalis’. The whole marginalisation process is slow genocide.  This nomadic mythology struck a chord with orientalist minded colonial Imperialists.  Professor Ken Menkhaus said “Somalia has become a theatre for various people to play out their fantasies”. (Ken Menkhaus 2015).  This is particularly true in the clanish people who wish to marginalise the sedentary groups and those with colonial ambitions working together, have managed to enforce this pejorative 4.5 system.

State Building

State building is not fool’s errand.  However, state building using the Somali clan system of 4.5 most definitely is.  2016 should have been pivotal for triumphant state building efforts. One man one vote. All institutions built. Banks in operating, local currency circulating, jobs created etc. But it was not to be.

UN Ambassador Michael Keating, The World Today saying “In 2012, using the so -called ‘4.5 formula’ – equal representation for the four big clans plus space for minorities – just 135 clan elders selected 275 MPs.  This time, the Electoral College will be expanded a hundred fold – to 14,000.  There will be an Upper House chosen by federal states – a modest but significant shift away from ‘4.5’.  One person, one vote elections are scheduled for 2016 – a hugely ambitious goal given that there is no civil or voter registry and that the institutional and legal infrastructure to run elections is not in place.  Somaliland has managed six elections over the last 25 years, so it can be done.”  The World Today, (June & July 2016).

Obviously, the ambassador was talking to an audience who know nothing about the intricate details or the ins and outs of the ‘4.5’ system.  From 2012 to June 2016 a golden opportunity was lost. In 2012 clans did not have a strong power base so-called ‘Regional States’, President Hassa Sheikh Mohamoud was new to the office.  The new president was allowed to change PM twice so he could use the state building efforts as means to return to office again. Hassan Shiekh was not a member of the diaspora groups, he had ties with NGOs based in Nairobi and proxy power broker in Addis Ababa, his success was largely due to Nairobi and Addis lobbying for him. The chance to have him steered in the right direction was a missed opportunity.

Diplomat Abukar Arman eloquently described how the whole game was played in his article ‘Chasing Mirages Across Somalia’, (03/10/2016) published on Huffington Post. Abukar Arman stated in his article, “Against this backdrop, President Mohamud has been expanding his authority by issuing unconstitutional decrees that are intended to become part of the policies shaping the electoral process. His effective tactics worked like this: He would issue a decree that clearly overreaches the legislative authority of the Parliament, and then swiftly, before any public outcry or any candidate could react, IGAD and UNSOM would issue their respective congratulatory statements. Implementation ensues.  Meanwhile, in order to present a façade of legitimacy, the coopted Speaker of the Parliament is granted a symbolic seat at the so-called National Leadership Forum. The NLF is an IGAD concocted and international community supported political sham that grants a handful of regional actors and government officials with clear conflict of interest the exclusive political authority to decide Somalia’s existential fate. Make no mistake; this can only lead into a never-ending process of transitioning out of transition, bloodshed and perpetual dependency“.

A civil voter registry and institutional legal infrastructure to run elections could have been established for the last three years. Instead the UNSOM office in Mogadishu was busy building a clan power-base and stratification hierarchal clannism, a colonial tool borrowed from 19th century tool box.  This 19th century tool was borrowed straight from the literary work The Prince by (Niccolo Machiavelli. 1513).  “When taking a new state a prince must undermine the strong and be kind to the weak, this way the weak will be entirely indebted to you and be loyal to you“.  Machiavelli, N., 1993. The Prince (1513). Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions.  Ignoring Machiavelli’s advice, the individual actors representing International Community undermined the unarmed peaceful ethnic groups (the weak) and empowered clans that were supported by regional rivalries. This made the so-called ‘big clans’ arrogant, hubris and unwilling to compromise.  A challenge to the authority of the UN office. In short, they are thorn in the side of Western interest.

There is an idea that the new 4.5 is different from the old 4.5. That somehow it is more inclusive, that it allows more representation for example it allowed 30% women; this is false reading.  On closer inspection, at first, the ‘ perceived big clans’ come in as the ‘majority clans’. Predominantly consisting of male representatives, their wives and sisters come in as female representatives.  Even the 30% had to be divided on the basis of 4.5.  Furthermore, youth organisations, civil societies and local NGOs are all drawn from the dominant 4 clans. Thus strengthening, underpinning and solidifying the clan superior and inferior colonial system.  This will put Somalia on a path of perpetual clan conflict.  The entire clan federalism using 4.5 is engineering a violent extremism and leaves room for insurgency.  The clan apartheid system engineers the ‘jihadification’ of clan injustice; it bares the whole mark of new wars, one group would engineer ‘jihadist insurgents, (out of clan injustice) while the other group endeavours to fight terrorism’. (Mary Kaldor, 2012).  As part of peace-building, clan polarisation and marginalisation has to come to an end immediately.

4.5 is blatant clan apartheid. It is in direct violation to UN charter, article 55 which says:

“With a view to the creation of conditions of stability and well-being which are necessary for peaceful and friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of people, the United Nations shall promote:


  1. higher standards of living, full employment, and conditions of economic and social progress and development;
  2. solutions of international economic, social, health, and related problems; and international cultural and educational cooperation; and
  3. universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.”

Presently, in the 21st century, the UN seems to be sponsoring a system which condemns people into being ‘lesser humans’ 0.5- the half clan and ‘superiors’ the 4 clan – the four main clans. These clans are perceived to be big; however, reality is somewhat different. They are in fact the minorities (numerically), Somali Bantu or Jareer Weyne as they are known, are more numerous that Hawiye and Darod put together; the only way the dominant clans could be the majority is to rig the system in their favour. Clan apartheid, bigotrism, auctionism, kleptocracy, organised crime and assassinations are not democracy. Clan democracy means, ‘grab what you can grab, while you can grab and get away with it with impunity. No oversight. In Somalis one of the long list of casualties is Democracy itself.

The Somali Civil War opened up Pandora’s Box. After all the evil had gone, hope is sadly, the only thing that was left behind, firmly locked in the bottom of the box.  Even hope has been denied for the minorities and the marginalised groups.  The level of painful injustice bestowed on the so called ‘minorities’ is unimaginable.  The youths from these groups (clans, tribes or ethnic) have nowhere to turn to. Many take perilous journey across the Mediterranean, some turn to extremist groups and are easily radicalised. Stablishing viable justice, job creations and education would alleviate their despair.

Mogadishu, is it fit for purpose?

Mogadishu that I was born in had four provinces. After independence, most Somalis who could spare and invest a bit of money came to Mogadishu to invest, work, trade and send their children to school etc. The city grew to its current size of seventeen provinces.  Despite the prolonged civil war, it remains robust and in line with other Sub Sharan countries in terms of its capacity and the facilities it can offer as a city. However, as the country decentralises its authority, some clans have lined up to claim ownership as part of spoils of the war or their power-base.

Regardless from its humble beginning, the city is hosting, federal government parliament, numerous foreign embassies, AMISOM office, UNSOM office, the latter two have base in Mogadishu green-zone which is situated along side with Aden Adde airport. All of these important offices are based within small space, the size of New York central park. Mogadishu cannot be both the capital of the nation as well as power base for a clan.  Something has to give. This fragile state needs its capital to be nudged away from its current position. As long as one group has the will and the capacity to assassinate whoever they wish to pump off, Mogadishu is not fit for purpose.


It is high time for the International Community (The West) to recognise that Somalia has suffered a case of misdiagnoses. Somalia has two cultures, two major languages and two identities; to continue this path of measuring, the tip end of the Horne of African nation, the one and only yard stick of nomadic-Somalis is wilful blindness.  Pleasing the nepotistic pastoral clans has gone on for far too long, repeating the same failed policy and keep on repackaging it is political insanity.

For the sake of state building, it is a matter of expediency that the Sedentary Somalis should be brought on board in the efforts of state building. Their habitat expands from the beginning of river Shabelle all the way down to the borders of Kenya.  Their culture is compatible with liberal democratic states.  The Italian colonial authority were successful in building viable institutions, they utilised the force of Beizanis, Banadiri, Somali Bantu, Bimaal, Bravanese and artisans to run Italian-Somaliland state.  Back then, when an individual Somali nomadic person came in from their pastor land in order to live in towns, they were soon assimilated into the manners acceptable to (Nuova Somala), the new Somalia. Mogadishu was compatible with any Italian town in Italy.

As part of post conflict reconstruction of the state or peace-building efforts are concerned, the sedentary ethnic groups in Somalia (now marginalised) have cultural capacity to be assimilated into 21st century liberal democratic state; their leaders such as Lower Shabelle consultative Forum would have to be brought on board as part of local actors in charge of their own region.  Their customary systems, traditional leadership and their capacity to absorb new comers into their society makes them the right leaders of their domain; state institution building was incorporated with local customary leaders In1940s and 195s the Italians were  quite successfully in achieving this errand.

Recommendation: All federal states would have to be built from bottom up, each state is made of several regions, each region should have its own assembly, should govern its own internal affairs, representatives should be elected democratically, must be inclusive and justice should be for all.  Lower Shabelle Consultative Forum is good example.

Article by Samiya Lerew


Kaldor, Mary. (2012), New and Old Wars: Organized Violence in a Global Era (Cambridge: Polity)

Menkhaus, Ken.(6th November, 2016)

Abukar Arman. (10/03/2016) ‘Chasing Mirages across Somalia’ Huff Post.

United Nations.



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