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Moral Traditional Leaders and the Future Political Stability

May 11, 2012


Courtesy of my dear friend Amin Amir (

One seems to follow the proverb that goes fiqi tolkiis kama janno tago, but unfortunately the reality is more intertwined than one could imagine. That is to say that, whilst there is a strong individual sense of the Somali individual, it also true that there is a strong attachment to the social structure based on the genealogical institution we call qabiilka, the clan.

As human beings we all need a strong sense of belonging starting from our biological attachment to our motherly womb up to growing up and become part of the community and society. In Somalia, unlike in the West, the sense of attachment to the communities is still prevalent as individualism, as one knows it in the West, has yet to flourish and allow people to exercise their political right, for instance.

Why all this discussion then? Well, I wanted to introduce an issue that I have been thinking about for the last few months which is exploring the role Clan Elders, oday dhaqameedyada, have had in Somali society and whether resurrecting their roles will bring about institutional appeasement and take us out of this anarchical dissolution we have been hit by since Allah knows when..

When colonial empires set foot in Somalia in the late 1800’s, they started to engage in the typical divide and conquer mentality which is buying up traditional leaders to facilitate internal penetration leading to a more thorough scheme of exploitation. Clan elders were offered protection and favours as the population’s welfare became secondary. There has been a great resistance by the Sayid, for example, who used this clan system to move  a huge war in all of Northern Somalia. This war and its long aftermath has indelibly changed the peaceful nature of Somali social structure as masses of people have moved internally , predominantly towards the South and coastal regions.

In the post-colonial state, initially, Clan Elders were seen as an integral part of the decisional process of society where possible, unless they posed a threat.  If we look at East Africa, both Kenyatta and Nyerere saw the role of traditional leadership as a threat to society and hence eliminated their functional responsibility (Akiba, 2004). Nyerere was influential in replacing the traditional scheme of elder leadership with a more socialist approach, perhaps because he was the son of a very influential chief.

At any rate, in socialist Somalia the role of Clan leadership was banned and the whole notion of clanism was seen as a threat. During the eighties, a new breed of traditional leaders was brought back as the government grip on power started to loosen up as a result of the war with Ethiopia. Some argue that newly formed economic elite functioned as a bridge between the government and the clan elders, which eventually broke down the revolutionary establishment.  While Southern Somalia descended in a never ending political instability, regions in the North were able to use the traditional Elders for their social appeasement and conflict resolution. The Guurtida example in Somaliland is a clear example of  the indispensable role of clan chiefs. Even Puntland was succesful in bringing together different clan families under one banner and move towards a stable framework.

In the South however, charismatic leaders were under the authority of warlords and never allowed to exercise their dominant role in society, which is practicing appeasement based on  xeer and dhaqan. We have lost this idea in the might South which is the cradle of Somalia as well as the richest agricultural territory of the motherland.

Today, we all are thinking about the Road Map process and how the Clan Elders have been summoned to take part in the Constitution-Making Process which will start a new paradigm shift in turbulent Somali historical existence.  I believe in the paramount role of the Elders to find a tangible solution to political quagmires afflicting Somalia as they are looked upon to resolve our anarchical status quo for the long run.

If the elders use their moral authority and exercise their traditional role without   interferences then we will reach a tangible solution to our problem.  But, in order to do that, they must have arbitrary judgment and become independent without being politicized by politicians who are climbing short and tall trees, geed dheer iyo mid gaaban, as the popular expression goes, to influence their opinions and forever taint the process towards institutional stability.

This is the last possible card we are playing if we want to gain our “sovranity” back and re-build our beloved country in an effective and representative federal structure that would allow more decisional power to large chunks of society who were basically shunned and whose lives have never been included in decisional making processes.  That is why we have to reverse the saying Fiqi Tolkii Kama Janno Tago and show flexibily and open mind frame to resolve our current situation.

Okon Akiba ” Constitutionalism and Society in Africa”, 2004.

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