The concept of state is relatively new to the Somali society. Before the arrival of the colonialism to Africa, there were two groups of people in the continent: states and stateless societies. Somalis belonged to the latter group.
Before the conquest of Europeans, Somalis have had little experience with statehood. The colonists brought with them a system of administration which was new to the nomadic and orderless lifestyle of the Somalis. Understandably, the people didn’t welcome the introduction of the new rule for three reasons. First, it imposed restrictions on their free lifestyle. Second, it was an imported rule not indigenous creation. As a result, they resisted adopting it. Finally, it was a colonization tool.
For Somalia, the resistance continued until independence. The post-independence state was a colonial and exotic legacy about which Somalis had little understanding. Yet they adopted it. The colonialists knew their legacy might not survive.
In 1960 and just months before Somalia gained independence, British intelligence services in Somalia prepared a secret report predicting the unviability of the Somali statehood. The report, released in 2013 after 50 years of secrecy, described the Somalis as “volatile and opportunist” people whose “deepest loyalty was towards family and tribe.” Somalis are “quick-witted and quick-tempered” said the report.
The report warned that after independence and the formation of a Somali state, one of the big tribes “might resort to violence, and that Somalia might lapse into anarchy and tribal warfare…”
After about 30 years the worst happened and the Somali state disintegrated by the same factors predicted by the report. It is yet to be rebuilt.
For the Somali Regional State, the same factors that destroyed the Somali statehood pose grave threats, especially if things go wrong in Ethiopia as many fear.
A Somali popular culture saying goes “a hyena is untamable.” However, the truth is that a hyena is tamable but Somalis are the untamable. We want statehood but don’t want to be ruled by it. We want our government to be tough and effective yet we don’t cooperate with it. We want justice but we take the law with our hands.
As the aforementioned report pointed out, Somalis give their allegiance to clan before the state. Everything else is sacrificed for it and everything else is subordinate to it. The sheikhs, the educated, the politicians, the businessmen, and the youth are instruments for clan agendas. The last thing we think of is the state.
In this backdrop, how can you govern ungovernable people? It is not impossible. It just needs a real and workable strategy to address it. Though I am not an expert on this issue, let me suggest a number of steps that can be taken to address this it.
First, politics must be divorced from tribalism by outlawing and banning any sort of political power sharing based on clan considerations. Yes, I mean it. It must be banned for good. Instead of clan power sharing, sophisticated and effective criteria must be developed for filling political positions. Every position must be open for competition and the most qualified person according to knowledge, experience, and achievement record must fill it. Especially, these criteria must be applied to the top positions of presidency, executives, and parliament because they are the ones who can make or break the system.
Second, the government should introduce, encourage, and facilitate the creation of civil society organizations so as to replace clan loyalty with civil associations based on interests, occupations, ideologies and so on. Instead of clan allegiance, people should have alternative affiliations which do not exclude anybody according to clan. We can, for example, establish civil organizations advocating democracy, education, health, farming, women, children, and business and so on.
Third, law enforcement agencies such as police, courts, and prisons should be held to high standards of performance, justice, law enforcement, and impartiality. Any sort of compromise in these agencies should never be accepted. This would create confidence of the citizens in the justice system.
Finally, the government must inform and educate the people by regularly updating the public on the current issues. If, for example, the presidency or the cabinet briefs the public weekly or biweekly and tampers these briefings with educative elements, the government would be able to establish a close connection with the people. We are in information age and whoever has information has power. The spoilers, utilizing the power of social media, are in full force to sway the public opinion. The government must mind that and counter it.
In conclusion, taming this society isn’t impossible but it needs to be a top priority in the development agenda of any government of the Somali Region. The huge geopolitical upheavals underway in East Africa will have major repercussions on the Region. Unless we organize the house from the inside, we will be losers in the ongoing seismic changes in Ethiopia and East Africa. What happened in Somalia is a big lesson to miss.
Mohamed Maqadin, a lecturer of political science and public administration