Published On: Thu, Jan 12th, 2012

Somali Nationalism: Not Dead, Just Different

I write with reference to Peter Lockwood’s piece entitled “Somali Nationalism: A Dead Concept?” published on 9th January. I don’t usually respond to articles, however this one demanded a response for several reasons:

• Firstly, Mr. Lockwood is a Junior Consultant at UNESCO in Nairobi and has written other pieces on Somali politics that have been published. Thus, he is part of the international bureaucracy that is responsible for administering Somalia and, notwithstanding his current, if somewhat bizarre, designation of “Junior Consultant”, is likely to become a member of the international nomenclature recognised as ‘Somalia experts’. Thus, his views and perspectives on Somali politics are likely to have an impact upon international policy on Somalia and need to be addressed as such.
• Secondly, while the title of the piece raises the question of Somali Nationalism, the piece is actually concerned with the disintegration of the Somali Republic and argues that Puntland (the autonomous and relatively peaceful part of the erstwhile Republic) and Somaliland should help in ensuring that south and central Somalia do not become “…pawn(s) of other regional and international powers.”. This argument echoes those put forward at the roundtable meeting held by Chatham House in July last year, and the policies of the current Silanyo administration in Hargeisa, that Somaliland should get involved in the search for the establishment of a viable state in Somalia.
• Thirdly, the piece seems to argue for the re-establishment of the erstwhile Republic of Somalia, while not explicitly coming out for this position. In the concluding paragraph, Mr. Lockwood seems to posit the idea that Islam can provide the basis of a new Somali Nationalism that supersedes the divisive clan identity that he believes continues to bedevil the search for peace and viable governance in Somalia.

From the outset, let me extend my appreciation to Mr. Lockwood for championing Somali self determination and independent statehood. This critique of his piece is not meant to impugn his motives, nor question the morality of his intentions. However, his perspectives, and therefore his prescriptions, suffer from a limited knowledge of Somali history and nationalism. Firstly, he does not seem to understand fully that the clan identity of the Somali people has both a fusion as well as a fission tendency. Indeed it is the sense of Somali-ness (evidencing their common language, religion and culture) which distinguishes the Somali people of the Horn of Africa from their neighbours, be these neighbours Oromos, Amharas, Danakil (Afars), Masai or Kikuyu. It is this fusion tendency which gave rise to modern Somali nationalism during the 20th century and underpinned the dream of Greater Somalia and the creation of the erstwhile Republic. Thus, automatically equating clan identity with divisiveness, i.e. the fission tendency, is a major flaw in Mr. Lockwood’s understanding of Somali nationalism and, therefore, of the analysis presented.

Another glaring weakness in the analysis is equating Puntland and Somaliland in the context of their respective positions regarding the efforts to establish a functioning government and state structure in Somalia during the last two decades. Puntland has not declared independence from Somalia and has been intimately involved from the beginning in the establishment of successive so-called governments in Mogadishu. Indeed, the late Abdillahi Yusuf, the first President of Puntland, mounted a successful campaign to accede to the Presidency of Somalia in 2004. Further, Puntland has been very vociferous in demanding and securing its share of, and from, every government that has been established for Somalia since the collapse of the Siyad Barre dictatorship, whether such ‘share’ be cabinet positions or allocations of aid. The latest conference (which concluded earlier this month) to determine the government of Somalia after the term of the current TFG ends in August 2012, was held in Garowe, the capital of Puntland. Thus, it is only Somaliland which has remained aloof from the search for a government for Somalia and this is because the successive ‘governments’ established for Somalia have myopically insisted upon their dominion over what is in effect a separate country.

Yet another weakness in the analysis is the misreading of the brief period of relative peace and unity under the rule of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) during 2006/7. Mr. Lockwood suffers under the impression that it was the Islamist doctrine of the ICU that won over the support of the people, when it was their perceived personal honesty, civic morality, patriotism and judicial impartiality compared with the venality, brutality and foreign loyalties of the warlords they sought to transplant that generated widespread public support and loyalty. The irony is that it was precisely the alien and medieval nature of the ICU’s brand of Islamism, with its banning of innocent pursuits such as watching sports on TV (indeed watching TV at all), wearing of bras by women and the shaving of beards by men, that brought them into conflict with the general public. Indeed, one could argue that the ICU was able to secure widespread public support by espousing and practising many of the virtues of Somali nationalism, i.e. clean, accountable government, the rule of law and equality before it that characterised the independence era.

The statement by Hassan Aweys that Mr. Lockwood quotes approvingly in his penultimate paragraph laying claim to Ethiopia’s Fifth (Somali) Province and the Northern Frontier District (NFD) of Kenya actually represents the very worst of the ICU, and marks the takeover of the group by the extremist wing that would lead to its downfall. This extremist wing, of course, came out of the closet as Al-Shabaab after the success of its plan to takeover the ICU and engineer a confrontation with Ethiopia and its Western backers. The simple fact is that the political calculus underlying the collapse of the state in Somalia cannot be reduced to the seductive simplicity of clan identity = divisive anarchy; Islamic identity = inclusive peace. Indeed, the reality of Somali political culture demands that this much sought, and seemingly elusive, inclusive peace must be charted through the very clan identity that facile analysis posits as the problem. The primacy of clan identity within Somali culture and politics is a given that can be neither wished away nor ignored, nor relegated to the periphery of political discussion and organisation, and any prescription or proposed solution that does not recognise this primacy is but a pipedream.

Somaliland’s recovery of its independence in 1991 and its establishment of a functioning state with a representative, indigenous system of government across clan lines is a clear demonstration that the fusion tendency of Somali nationalism is alive and well. The fact that this unrecognised country of limited means is host to hundreds of thousands of refugees from the anarchy south of the border is testament to the potency of the fraternity that underpins this pan-Somali identity or nationalism. The pan-Somali nature of much Somali business, much of which has its base in Somaliland where it can thrive in peace and under the protection of law, also attests to this fraternal and unifying trend in Somali social organisation.

In conclusion, Mr. Lockwood, Somali nationalism is far from dead. Indeed, I would posit the opposite, that it getting its second wind (much like a long distance runner) and we are witnessing its re-emergence in a different and stronger, if less emotive, form. However, recognising its new formulation and articulation by a generation of Somalis that have different imperatives and that are characterised as much by their experiences of war and exile as by the new era of technology and the primacy of information acquisition and exchange in which they have grown up, will require a more in-depth and nuanced analysis. As for Somaliland getting involved in the search for peace and governance in Somalia, this is not a new idea. Indeed, since 1995 Somaliland has repeatedly offered its services in this endeavour with the clear understanding that this will not impact the legitimacy of its independence.

It has been the myopic and misplaced intransigence of southern politicians and the unquestioning, passive support of this inflexibility by the donor powers that have conspired to ensure Somaliland’s distance. Far from ignoring the plight of their brothers to the south, Somaliland has sought to broker peace among them in the only credible way open to it, i.e. by protecting the hard-won peace and stability its own people have achieved. These efforts have been consistently sabotaged by the very same self-seeking politicians that squabble over apportionment of cabinet positions and aid monies, even as foreign terrorists and their local franchisees fight over their people and territory with invading armies and US drone attacks. The irony is that among the ordinary people of Somalia, the independence of Somaliland is widely supported and admired.

Ahmed M.I. Egal

Friday, Jan 13, 2012

Displaying 13 Comments
Have Your Say
  1. mohamed cheers says:

    If anything, the conclusion of the Author makes credible common sense.

  2. Weerar says:

    Ahmed Egal, you are truelly a great brother. That is the least i can say for now. "Just different". indeed.

    Long Live Somaliland

  3. HMObsiye says:

    As I have written on many occasions and this being my personal opinions, the only way peace can be achieved in Somalia is for the World Community to recognize, the self-determination of Somaliland people. Instead of forcing or undermining Somaliland peace, recognize the wishes of its people and then, Somaliland as an independent government will become the voices of all Somali speaking people. The way things are now, I do not think Somali neighbours I.e. Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and their supporters the American government and the European union, want peace in Somalia,otherwise they could have recognize Somaliland as a sovereign state long time ago.

    • Xarago says:

      So you saying recognize first Somaliland if you want South Somalia to get peace? what kinda idea is that are you dreaming or you are immature. Peace in south Somalia will come soon inshaallah everything is ALLAH hand. Somaliland is region with in Somalia and no one can recognize Somalia unity is untouchable.

  4. Jim says:

    Terrific article. Congrats to the author. May the international actors read and understand its thrust. Nabad iyo aano.

  5. Jabuuti_Hanolaato says:

    A good writer always knows his or her audience. To that end, this article is just a historical recitation of Somalia's politics and culture. To most Somalis that is a given. It is best suited for a novice, non-Somali audience to bring them up to current in Somalia's affairs. There are many causal strands in the present conflagration in Somalia, and I would have liked to have read how the writer proposes to move forward with the intractable impasse between the north's secessionism and tendency to go alone and the south's fixation on the union. A union put forth by none other than the north-sound familiar?

    The 4th paragraph from the bottom, the author mentions the "primacy of clan identity" which has left an indelible mark on the psychic of Somalis. Indeed that is the case. However, how would he reconcile that statement with the aspirations of other Northern clans' self-determination and refusal of Hargeisa based government? You can not be for one and dismiss the other. Causal and coincidental connections are two quite different things; you conflate the two, getting unproven causation out of known coincidence.

  6. Hargeisawi-In-London says:


    "North this, North that ….."

    Have you heard of something called the Colonial Africa Borders ? If you have, but don't like it, then bring along your tiny oven state; otherwise, shut your stinking beak and leave this website.

  7. Jabuuti_Hanolaato says:

    Good Heavens!

    Whatever happened to freedom of expression? Now calm down. All I am saying is the reality on the ground is antithetical to this (your) article and your aspirations.

    Have a cup of tea and couple of biscuits on me. Cheer up mate, bad-teeth and all, like your Brits. Now go watch the queen at a meaningless state function, just like "President" A.M.M.S!!lanyo has fooled you.

    "Leave this website", now that is funny.

    • Hargeisawi-In-London says:

      As I mentioned before, we don't need your opinion on the Somaliland internal affairs – they have nothing to do with you. However, if you are interested in discussing Somaliwayn, then you need to get real and bring along your tiny oven (Djibouti) along. It is that SIMPLE.

  8. Peter Lockwood says:

    Hi Ahmed,

    Many thanks for your response to my article. Just to clear up one thing first of all: I was a UNESCO consultant, and no longer am. The article reflects my own views and thoughts, and not those of any international organisation.



  9. Kayse says:

    Excellent article and I would like to just add that Somaliland is here to stay and Somali nationalism is no threat to Somaliland its just that few people with other agendas have hijacked the agenda.

    Peter good job dude and we look forward to your new piece.

  10. Omer Hussein Dualehi says:

    Thank you Ahmed for the excellent article.
    If I may say, we Somalilanders must change know, the way we deal with Somalia and politicians who kept undermining our country. For them to feel the heat, the government of Somaliland must clean its country from the Somalis who run away from the problem created by the same politicians who are creating unrest in our country. Let the Somaliland Government send back all Somalis back to the quagmire, specially those business people who are enjoying better live than most of our people. I am not against the Somali raise, but this does not mean I welcome my enemy from the day we took our statehood to this ungrateful people. The Minister of Interior in Somaliland must take immediate action to send all those came from Somalia to their country, otherwise our claim of separate Somaliland State is something that will be achieved in the near future. Looks what they are doing to us.

  11. Ahmed Dhegaweyne says:


    You have your right to voice your opinion on this peice but don't confuse the Somaliland issue with Clan issue. While there could be relation between the two, the history as you know and the inception of Somaliland have nothing to do with Clans vs Clans. It is matter Somaliland revoking the union it intered with Somalia and Djibouti opted not to after their independence respectively. The issue of who, in Somaliland, that wants the Union and its resolve is another and different. Remeber there were large number of Djiboutians who wanted to unite with Somalia but the majority has decided through referendum which is also termed as self determination.

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