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  • Writer's pictureAhmed Ahmed

CLAN BIAS IN THE SOMALI COMMUNITY




Although there is no one agreed definition, researchers generally refer to clannism as an “informal social network characterized by an "extensive network of kin and fictive kin ties or perceived and imagined kinship relations" (Collins 2006).

Somalis are considered one of the most homogenous and egalitarian ethnic communities in Africa. However, one thing outsiders (Non Somalis) may have no clue about, is how majority of Somalis including those between the ages of 18-35 are still inclined to clan bias even in the 21st century. Clannism is a central part of the social, political and economic system of the Somali people regardless of their location, demographic and even education level. Words such Nasab (Nobles) and nasab dhiman (ignoble) are common words used against the Tumaal, Jareer weyne, Gabooye (Madhibaan & Muuse Dheri), and Midgaan communities. One study which focused on the racial and caste prejudice of the above minority clans highlights specific terms used against them: sixiroolayaasha, ((the magicians) nasab dhiman (Ignoble), laangaab (Not having an established lineage), tumaal (Ironsmith) and the likes. By interpreting these terms, one finds the magnitude of ethnic hatred present in Somali society. For example, bakhti-cune literally means “eater-of the dead animal” and is an extremely harsh and blood-boiling connotation of bigotry. The bias and hate directed against the Jareer Somalis is generally derived from their Bantu origin and alleged African-like physical look in comparison with the features of other ethnic Somalis.

In recorded history, whether oral or written, the basic social-political structure of the Somali community was and is fundamentally built on clan system. The four major clans; Dir, Daarood, Hawiye and Digil&Mirif were the dominant clans who were privileged to be the political leaders and have remained so up to date thus leaving a lasting disparity on the political, social and economic systems of the Somali community. Political representation, social structure and economic distribution which is based on clannism has been the accepted norm of the Somalis in recorded history. Odayaal dhaqameed (Traditional Elders) from dominant clans hold consultative meetings for days/weeks/months to reach a consensus on how select political leaders, distribute resources such as land and herds and determine other social factors. Although this form of governance was informally traditionally practiced among Somalis for millennia, it was formally introduced in the 1st formation of TNG in 2000 at Arta, Djibouti where Abdiqasim Salad Hassan was elected by clan faction/representatives. The TNG was opposed by a rival pan-Somali governmental movement, known as the Somalia Reconciliation and Restoration Council (SRRC). Following the mediation of international communities including IGAD, UN, EU among others, the factions of the TNG and the SRRC were reconciled, and a new united movement subsequently developed, dubbed the transitional federal government (TFG). When Abdullahi Yufuf Ahmed was elected as the TFG President in October 2004 – he was confronted by some minority clan members with the question, do you believe this is a just representation? His response was, “Xaq ma aha e, waa xal” (It is not fair/just but a solution).



The irony though is, how the same debased connotations are commonly used among the four major clans to this day. In one oral survey done among 1534 women and men aged between 22-48 years of age in Mogadishu in 2019, respondents were asked: Who are the key major clans perpetuating the continuation of the 4.5 political representation in Somalia? More than 490 respondents responded with, the Majeerteen Sub-Clan of the Darod clan, while another 510 respondents said, it is the Habargidir Sub-Clan of the Hawiye clan. 340 respondents pointed the Issack Clan while the remaining 194 accused the Digil & Mirif. While majority of those who belong to any of the major/dominant clans regard themselves as “Laandheere”(one with an established lineage), clan discrimination is still widely practiced among all Somalis. For instance, a Hawiye man may call a Darod guy names such as Midgaan, Bakhti, Gun etc and vice versa. This is mostly applied when there is political tension among clans, hence the anger leading to verbal attacks against perceived enemy clan. Similarly, it is commonly used when there is fadhi-ku-dirir (sit to incite/fight) among participants from the major clans and one is overpowered in the debate by an opposing clan representative. Consequently, many young and old men engage in political fadhi-ku-dirir regardless of their political status in society. In these sittings, almost every participant’s political alignment emanates from their clan bias. Even within clans, there is still political and social bias that exists among sub-clans. Clan bias runs so deep to the point of shaping every individual’s political decision. The bias is part and parcel of the fabric of societal and political systems.

Today, Somalia’s political system is based on what is known as 4.5. The four is represented by the four major clans while the 0.5 is allocated to the minority clans.


Technically, we can conclude conscious and unconscious clan bias remains the single greatest obstacle to achieving equitable sharing of political, social and economic resources among the Somali community.

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