Somalia’s neo-patrimonial Handicap, Tribalism vs Federalism

A central tenant in our understanding of the current political climate of Africa pertains to the severe impact of colonialism on the existing institutions within the continent. In regards to Somalia’s current political culture it has been primarily affected by the colonial influence of foreign nations and its subsequent impact on the pre-colonial clan system. The pre-colonial culture of Somalia and their relation to governance maintained a dual nature. Due to the arid qualities of the land, the Somali people developed into a nomadic society. This necessity for independence created a culture in which Somalis became fierce republicans, regarding personal autonomy above all else. However, in order to maintain access to these limited resources the necessity for larger communities or clans also arose. Clan hierarchy dictated, “that land and resources are divided along clan lines, and these resources are accordingly collective endowments” (Roble). The blatant contradiction of these two poli-cultural systems can be identified as the source of much of Somalia’s political discord in the present era. Other sources of discord extend to the often times disconnect and exploitation of clans that exist in the periphery versus those that inhabit the center. This is almost an extension of clan politics because those that inhabit the state maintain dominance over a region’s resources (wealth, water, food, etc…). While those that maintain a pastoral community within the periphery are then left without any means of capital and supply.

Unification was a persistent challenge to the Somali political landscape, due to the constant boundary disputes with its neighbors to the north and south. For example, the encroachment of Ethiopia upon fertile lands caused military action in both 64’ and 78’. These engagements are the few times in which clans performed a joint action and displayed any semblance of a national conscience. Only later in an attempt to create a sovereign nature, did the nation almost unify in the 60’s under a unitary state. Somalia’s unitary state system was where power was consolidated in the capital city of Mogadishu and through trickle-down development was supposed to spread throughout the territory. What actually transpired was quite different, because instead the consolidations of resources only lead to more abuses from pre-established colonial elites within the capital. Periphery insurgency groups developed in the 80’s in order to combat the oppressive state and led to the eventual dissolution of the government in 1991. The resurgence of Somali governance has only occurred recently when in 2013, the republic had elected through their legislative body President Hassan Mohamud as head of the new federalist system.

Neo-patrimonialism is a term used to describe the system of social order that involves the existence off patron-client relations and consistent political instability amongst defined political institutions that have legal-rational authority. Applying this concept to Somali government is a relatively simple task due to its necessity amongst the existing Somali political climate. Competing identity groups amongst the various clans like the Geri, Issa, Hawiye vied for power within existing bureaucratic structures. Doing so ensured that resources from the government could be allocated to those of the same clan. This behavior in Somali was not only ignored but also expected within all societal domains. In addition in order for any periphery clans to gain the necessary resources, they needed to use the neo-patrimonial system because it had an established informal network within the nation. Only within the last several years has any progress been made to eliminate this destructive political system. The election of President Mohamud has become a symbol for a reformed Somali. His election was largely supported due to his aversion of any clan related politics and focus instead on unification. Mohamud’s attempts at creating a republic and engaging with foreign powers has led to the decline in Somali maritime crime and stalled the developing presence of Islamic terrorists (al-Shabab) within the nation. All of which has led to support from foreign powers and organizations such as the US in 2013 and ongoing efforts by AMISOM. The eradication of tribalism and clientelism within Somali has long appeared impossible but there has been hope in recent years in forming a true stable sovereign nation.


Neopatrimonialism in Contemporary African Politics




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