Somalia is comprised of five major ethnic clans and one minor ethnic clan. The five Major clans include the Darod, Dir, Hawiye, Isaaq, Reheweyn and a minor clan called the Ashraaf.
Within the Darod clan is the Ogaden, Dhulbahante, Jidwag, Leelkase, Majeerteen, Marehan, Warsangali, Awrtable, Dishiishe, and Mora’ase. This is the largest clan because they operate in almost all parts of the north. Within the Dir clan is the Issa, Gadabuursi, Surre, and Biimaal. These clans make up the area known as “Greater Somalia” (Kenya, Ethiopia, Dijibouti, Somalia). Within the Hawiye clan is the Abgal, Gugunghabe, Duduble, Habar Gidir, Gorgate, Murusade, and Silicis.
This clan mostly stays clustered and is known as the dominant clan in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. Within the Isaaq clan is the Arap, Ayoup, Garhajis, Habr Awal, Habar Jeleco and Tol Jecle. These clans primarily live in Somaliland, the Somalia part of Ethopia. They control some major cities in Somaliland such as Hargesia, Burao, Berbera, and Erigova. Within the Reheweyn clan is the Digil, Mirifle, Gardheire, and Mayle.
These clans reside in the Horn of Africa (a peninsula in northeast Africa). Within the minor clan Ashraaf is the Reerow, Xassan, Bravanese, Benadiri, Carab Salaax, and Gaboye. These clans reside in southern Somalia. One main obstacle lies in the way of turning Somalia into a modern nation-state. The militant Islamist group Shabab is on its heels after many recent setbacks. The group announced its “formal” affiliation with al-Qaida last month.
Since fall of last year, the capital has been (more or less) firmly in the hands of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG). Two weeks ago the world was bracing for a multitude of attacks to mark the London conference, but the attacks never came.The simple fact that the London Conference was held at all was encouraging. It represents a commitment from the international community to not turn its back on the war-torn country. But listening to some of the delegates at the conference, one might have come away thinking that Shabaab was the main cause of Somalia’s 20-plus years of dysfunction. Before Shabaab, however, there were the warlords and through it all there has been the clan system.
The rise of this terrorist group has sparked conflict with the somali people and government. Al Shabaab terrorizes the country and has thousands of citizens living in fear. They’re simply radicalists that want to cause issues within the country of Somalia. Conferences are held to mend the conflict and attempt to resolve it entirely, as well as activists groups trying to end the fight. Presently the TFG is structured according to the “4.5” scheme.
There are 550 seats in the parliament. 120 seats are allocated to each of the the four major (so called “noble”) Somali clans (the Darod, Dir, Hawiye, and Rahanweyn). The remaining 70 seats are divided up among the minority clans (which includes both ethnic minorities like the Bantu and “livelihood” minorities like the Galgala and Tumal). The Prime Minister is Darod, the President is Hawiye, and the Speaker is Rahanweyn. Senior ministerial posts are often filled by members of the Dir clan.
The TFG’s authority does not extend much beyond the capital; today it is best described as the “Mogadishu City Council.” But even if the TFG’s reach ever extends over the whole country, its ability to govern a unified Somalia under the 4.5 scheme is far from certain. Tribal and ethnic tension has caused bloodshed all over the continent, not just in the Horn of Africa. The linguistic differences, ethnic variances, and cultural distinctions between tribes (even those in close proximity) can be stark. This doesn’t excuse tribal and ethnic tension, but it does help explain it. But not in Somalia.
Even with its small, disadvantaged minority groups Somalia is one of the most homogenous places in Africa. To outsiders the differences between the five major clans are seemingly inconsequential; they share a common Samaal heritage and all speak various dialects of the same Cushitic language. It is not ethnic or tribal tension that is the crux in Somalia—it is the clan. This means blood, honor, and justice—encompassed in the Somali word heer. In addition to precise rules of blood compensation (in the event of a man’s murder his clan is owed one hundred camels, while a woman’s life is only worth fifty camels), the clan system also accounts for a lot of old-fashioned nepotism—business, military, and government positions are all doled out via the clan.
Many Somalis are thankful for the clan system. In the absence of a functioning government, heer is at least some kind of authority. While clan offers the society some sort of authority, it also stops Somalia from developing the sense of community needed to achieve true nationhood. Today, Somalia is the most dysfunctional “state” on the planet and, while al-Shabaab is grabbing all of the headlines, we shouldn’t forget that it was under the unreigned clan system that Somalia crumbled into chaos.
Somaliland’s success is often extoled; free and fair elections and peaceful transfers of power in the Horn of Africa are impressive. Less cited is the fact that Somaliland is almost entirely made up of the Dir clan. It is telling that the one area of Somaliland with a large non-Dir presence (the so called “Northland State”) has declared itself autonomous.
The TFG in Mogadishu is structured similarly, but instead of sharing power within one clan it attempts to share it among them. Once its sovereignty is extended beyond the capital we’ll find out just how effective the TFG’s scheme really is. Shabab will be gone one day, but that won’t magically transform Somalia into a functioning state. The pervasive influence of rival clans in all aspects of Somali life stands in the way. Once the TFG’s authority is expanded outside the capital the real test of whether it can balance and share power among the clans will begin. If it fails, Somalia will remain doomed to civil strife.