Who really rules Somalia? – The tale of three big clans and three countries

Somalia has been divided into three regions each with a separate president - and each from a different clan.

COMPARED to the great majority of African countries, Somalia is one characterised largely by distinctive homogeneity. 

Regardless of regional distribution all Somalis speak the same language, practice the same religion – virtually all belong to the “Shafi i Rite” of the Sunni faction of Islam - and eat the same food – with only minor deviations. Though there is a small Somali Bantu population, descendants from various East African populations, most of them converted to Islam. 

In this sense the country does not compare to Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa or Ethiopia where the plethora of ethnic groups and tribes make bringing everyone onto the same page, a mammoth task. 

Yet, Somalia is a country so divided it has failed to form a unified government since the beginning of the war in 1991.

During the Siad Barre dictatorship (1969-91) one of the strongest governmental emphasis was to eliminate clan-associations. Anyone openly declaring themselves from a particular clan risked being reported by the numerous Barre-spies and placed in custody. Often for an undefined period of time.

So divided is Somalia one of it’s breakaway territories, Somaliland, woke up this morning with a light head having just celebrated its 24th “independence” anniversary on May 18th - a secessionist move that followed some time after the overthrow of Barre. 

Therefore as it stands, Somalia is now been divided into three regions each with a separate president and each from a different clan.

Hawiye – the Arab connection

The clan of Hawiye, predominant in the south of Somalia and the capital Mogadishu, as well as the main towns of Merka and Kismayo, is believed to be the largest clan in the country, by population.

According to historic evidence they are the descendants of the Arab migrants and a brother-clan to the Dir ethnic group ruling Djibouti.

Hawiye divides into a number of sub-clans, most notably Ajuran, Degodia, Habir Gedir, Hawadle, Murosade and Abgal - the ethnic group of the only internationally recognised Somali president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.

The political influence of the Hawiyes in Mogadishu, however, hasn’t been dominant. Ever since 1960, when Aden Abdullah Osman Daar became the first president of Somalia – himself a Hawiye - the country saw three Darod presidents, three Hawiyes and two Rahanweins.

But a faithlessness in the fair power sharing, lack of control of the distant northern territories and non-representation of the large clan of Isaaqs, lead to a national divide.

Isaaq – the first to want out

As soon as Somalia descended into civil war, the Isaaqs of Somaliland (area initially colonised by the English not Italians, making it more conducive for a separatist movement) declared themselves an independent country.

Despite being unrecognised by all sovereign countries on the international stage Somaliland managed  to strengthened its economic and political individuality, creating a separate monetary system and a relatively stable, markedly more secure living environment.

Today, the president Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud, himself a Habar Jeclo from the Isaaq clan, prides in the Somaliland’s progresses and achievements vis-à-vis its two brother “countries”.

Isaaqs, unlike most other Somali clans, are fairly concentrated in one area, allowing the formation of Somaliland to be a one-opinioned affair.

In addition, unlike other clans, Isaaqs seem to be more liberal by nature and less fanatical by faith. A characteristic which allows them to attract more foreign investment and build a more inclusive society.

Darod – Together, but in separate ways

Nevertheless, despite their softer attitude they still maintain hostility to borderline disputes with neighbouring Darod-stronghold, Puntland.

Puntland seems to be the most confusing from the three presidential zones. It considers itself an autonomous (or sometimes semi-autonomous) region, part of the greater Mogadishu-Somalia, but in reality working as a totally independent country.

It hosts a full-blown government and all the necessary ministries and does not listen to the president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, whose southern rule is entirely ineffective in the north.

Puntand is composed primarily of Darods, in particular Majerteens, from which roots president Abdiweli Mohamed Gaas descends.

In spite of autonomy from Mogadishu Puntlanders always underline their close ties with the south, most visibly manifested by mounting a local flag side by side with a Somali flag and by writing their territorial name as “Puntland, Somalia”, instead of just Puntland, like in the case of ‘Somaliland.’

Three clans one future

This said, it is difficult to imagine Somalia building a successful future as three separate nations. If you ask a Somalilander he or she will promptly reply that it has already happened. But Puntland, at least in theory, would express an interest in joining Mogadishu once it regains adequate stability.

Of course, this willingness is subject to many factors, most importantly the question: will the Puntland government be willing to surrender its power to the south?

This relationship reflects a Somali clan-rule history. Darods and Hawiyes shared power since the independence of Somalia in 1960. Isaaqs did not. Somaliland knows that its people, if reunited with the government in Mogadishu, will not be represented – if not for the historical and current social relation, at least for pure reasons of democracy: Somaliland population constituting only 35% of the total Somalia population (and not 100% of them are Isaaq!).

Nonetheless, it is doubtful if Somaliland gets international recognition. It is Mogadishu that is currently gaining more international support and Mogadishu means unification.

The future of Somalia should be one, but if we learnt something from the country’s past, it is its unpredictability. 

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