For centuries the land of Somalia has been a land rules with the tribal system. The tribal system has dictated Somali politics from its days of independence to the civil war to now. After the recent civil war in Somalia, where tribalism played a key role, Somalis across the globe are beginning to have conversations about a new Somalia where tribalism doesn’t exercise as much influence over the country as it has in the past.
Much like 7th century Arabia, tribalism plays a key role in the politics of Somalia just like the way tribalism played a key role in the politics of the early Muslim society. To this day there are “shareefs, sultans, sheikhs” (aka leaders) of the each clan. Typically, the elders of every clan have the biggest say and are the front runners when it comes to dissecting the latest issues that their tribe is facing. Each tribe looks after their own and the Islamic Scholars (who are viewed as representatives of the religion) are universal characters who’s opinions are well heard and respected.
This of course means that poor people who are not from any tribes won’t really have anyone to take care of them. Issues like racism between tribes are well known and documented. For example, the ‘Midgaan’ and ‘Baantu’ amongst other tribes have been looked down upon in the past and to this day. To make matters worse, competition between tribes is well known. The ‘Majeerteen’ and the ‘Mareehaan’, two sub tribes of the same clan, have been well known to compete against each other in political matters to the point where there have been battles and killings done by both groups. Now, the amount of tension in the air between both tribes can get cut with a knife.
Another key issue that the Somalis faced as a result of tribalism was the loss of brotherhood whenever a war would take place. For example, at the thick of the civil war civilians went into survival mode and stopped viewing each other as country men but rather would look at someone and depending on what tribe they were in would they decide to judge that individual as an enemy or not. As a result, each person would only look to their own tribe for refuge (unlike other countries where they would look to the government for refuge) and each person would vehemently defend their own tribe members and would be blinded by any criticisms that their own tribe would face.
This meant that all lines of dialogue between tribes broke down and the country separated into different sections each held by its own tribe. For example, Somaliland is predominantly made up of ‘Isaaq’ tribe members, Puntland is predominantly made up of the ‘Majeerteen’ and Mogadishu, the ‘Hawiye’. I would argue that one of the biggest issue faced by Somalis today is the fact that there is a lack of honest dialogue between different tribes. Tribalism has become a taboo topic all across Somali communities in the west. Political activists, on their various social media platforms, are pretending like the issue of tribalism doesn’t seem to exist.
This is dangerous ways of behaving because this issue does exist! Tribalism has proven that its more than just a political system. It affects the way Somalis think, act, view each other, view themselves, it makes them bias towards their own tribal leaders, it makes some individuals put their tribe before the good of the country etc. The sooner Somali political activists begin opening up a dialogue so this issue could be discussed the sooner the country will begin to take steps towards its improvement.
No doubt these conversations will be really difficult since Somalis will have to put their own love for their tribe to a side and it would also mean that Somalis will have to speak with total honesty about how they view other tribes and why they view them in this way. The Prophet Muhammad (saw) has opposed oppression, arrogance and blind loyalty in the name of your tribe. Since Somalia has a majority Muslim population, perhaps its time for these teachings by the prophet (saw) to start being followed.
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