By Osman H. Yusuf
Societies usually hold on to their traditions and values despite encroachments through unforeseen events such as civilization and more importantly colonization and its disastrous consequences for the culture of the oppressed people including Somalia. In the following paragraphs I will briefly discuss some of the consequences and legacy of the colonial system of government before giving a short account of clan politics in the aftermath of 1960’s independence and State collapse in 1991.
The imposition of western culture on Somalia people and the patron-client relationship style of colonial government has had a very serious impact on the policies and politics of the newly formed indigenous State. The country took over unworthy administrative practices from the colonial rule which tried to infuse political or ideological indoctrination but the people remained determined to cling to their traditional values and spiritual way of life while adopting some aspects of the alien culture disguised as modernity and necessary under the prevailing circumstances. On the other hand, reforms could not be attempted at with respect to the inherited colonial political and administrative machinery due to insufficient preparedness and lack of the required expertise. Thus, the new State had to do its business retaining scantly experienced local nucleus of civil servants, a trap by the departing colonial power to have the nascent indigenous State continue with its cultural ties in an attempt to preserve patronage linkage to the former parent State.
Moreover, the colonialists deliberately used unethical tactics and discriminatory practices among the clans, favoring some and punishing others or even pitting one clan against the other thereby employing the well-known slogan of ‘divide and rule’ used invariably by the colonial powers. Employing that hateful and divisive policy in modern times is a recipe for disaster.
The emerging Somali national State in the 1960s, though empowered with strong national political perspective, was quickly compromised by political crisis brought about by clan politics which has become part of the political and social life, an anomaly carried on in contemporary Somali politics leading to the collapse of the revolutionary regime and to the enormous failure of successive governments to focus on recovering from decades of anarchy and chaos. It follows that efforts to form functioning governance institutions have been derailed by unconstrained and incapable clan actors, in a blatant disregard of the common good, thus disrupting the orderly and efficient conduct of public affairs.
The relationship between State and Clan Politics has since then altered Somali politics and assumed a new dimension particularly for the last two decades as it has become an effective tool where clan actors exert their influence on the weak formal impoverished State to grab a bigger share of available public assets, financial or aid resources and employment where State oversight is either ineffective or rarely activated and because also there is no working mechanism or built-in safeguards to take stock of government performance and so reliable information on its activities is hardly available.
As has always been the case in Somali politics, with or without parties or organized groups, there is an informal inter-clan political consensus where major clans’ elected representatives play politics to secure important positions reserving top government leadership for themselves, on a rotating basis, while others stay on the sidelines satisfied with whatever small share of the pie allocated to them under a power sharing framework. Nonetheless, this is not regarded as corrupt behavior in our clan culture and minorities have to embrace it as this in effect reflects what majority rule stands for in democracy.
Under the present circumstances, political opportunists and clan actors exploit weaknesses of the government and as we have experienced in the past years, prominent political figures were instrumental in taking advantage of the long delay in preparing the ground for universal suffrage which should have been launched this year. Since the original target for the election was missed, the State together with the stakeholders couldn’t work out a better alternative other than to continue for the second time with infamous indirect election based on 4.5, so called power-sharing, where parliamentary seats will be voted in for the highest bidder in money terms within the clan share. What’s worrisome is the foreign interference in the election process with money, resetting a dangerous precedent in previous elections, not to mention its dire consequences for the country’s political stability. However, in view of the particularly deep clan environment we are living in, even if elections were conducted in a multi-party platform that most likely would have produced a satisfactory outcome for each clan, major clans’ share of the seats, already distributed along ethnic lines, will ensure them also a de facto authority which is nationally embraced in line with the universally accepted rule of the majority in a democratic society with a caveat that minorities’ rights will be protected.
Moreover, it is commonplace that clan politics, however disruptive and devoid of imagination, has become a political expedient and elected representatives are less serious fulfilling their mandate when, in fact, they are pursuing private or clan interests and only occasionally may be concerned with the national interests. Thus, people with all political persuasions, mindful of the political clout of the clan network are determined to obtain the best deals for their clan members.
There will be no end of clans messing up in national politics until such time as the multi-party system becomes fully operational and active in all parts of the country and willingly or not we will still have to swallow the bitter dose of living with that unfair situation where also there are among us rouge elements relentlessly acting in an unlawful manner at the cost of the society. Strangely enough, clan culture legitimizes such selfish behavior as reflected in the famous Somali saying: ‘Dheriga qofka ugu dhow ayaa lafta hilban kala baxa’ (He who sits close to the pot will get the meaty bone), a blank cheque for gross injustice.
Given the nature of our society, it is hard to imagine when and how clan politics and kinship-based groups will fade away from our political life even with the advent of a multi-party system. The State has the moral duty to curb and make it less influential politically instead of tolerating or condoning clan politics or giving it practical meaning.
Hopefully, with the achievement of robust economic growth and development, we will have opportunity to rebuild our society in a democratic country where people have equal rights and duties and participate in decision-making on issues involving their life and so do away with clan hegemony or minimize its role in national politics.
Osman H. Yusuf
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