Clan supremacy, corruption, and external actors are just a few of the things preventing Somalia’s emergence as a stable and functioning state.
There are seven major challenges standing in the way of building a strong, prosperous and united Somalia. They are like seven snakes wrapped around the nation — and Somalia won’t move forward unless we, Somalis, untangle them all.
The supremacy of the clan is a cancer to Somali society. It’s eating away at the nation. It’s structured like an onion — there are sub-clans, sub-sub-clans and so on till your cousin becomes someone else.
There are several major clans and a few dozen minority clans. The big ones fight among themselves; vying for power. They also discriminate and abuse minority clans.
To most Somalis, allegiance to your clan is the primary focus of loyalty. Other factors, such as Islam and nationhood, are abstract secondary ideas — a matter of convenience.
Every large clan claims to be the most beautiful, the most intelligent, and the most powerful. We are clan supremacists. Therefore, powerful clans feel they have the God-given right to control and dominate others.
This is Somalia’s greatest weakness as a nation. It creates conflict, injustice, and mistrust. Our enemies exploit this to divide and rule us. We, Somalis, have to realise that in the modern world, clan cannot be a substitute for a nation.
Corruption is rife in every sector and at every level. It’s a societal problem. Nothing will get done without paying bribes; whether you want to get a document from the local authority or run for the highest offices in the country. Officials ‘invest’ in their future and they have to make a profit — a big profit.
Stealing money from an individual is seen as being against ‘Somali culture’ and even ‘un-Islamic.’ Stealing public funds, however, and taking or giving bribes, is often seen as a clever move. We see people praising corrupt individuals. “So and so is very clever. He was holding his government post for a few months. Look, he’s built a big house for himself, bought cars and established a big businesses.”
It’s a rare occurrence when someone asks how the money was attained. We are unwittingly condoning corruption instead of condemning it.
The business community: Somalia hasn’t had a functioning central government for nearly three decades. A lack of regulation has created ‘dodgy’ millionaires in every sector.
For instance, there are some who import expired goods cheaply; turning Somalia into a dumping ground for all sorts of hazardous products. In particular, expired food and medicines are causing death and suffering amongst the population.
These irresponsible businessmen do not value human lives. They sell products at inflated prices to inflate their bottom line.
Paying tax and contributing to the common good is not in their mission statement. For them, any form of authority or regulation is unwelcome. They work with groups, Somalis or otherwise, that knowingly prevent the materialisation of a functioning Somali state.
They know how to silence their critics. Government officials, including ministers, fear for their lives and cannot even mount a challenge. Most of them want Somalia to remain a lawless place. They don’t know any other way. To them, profit comes before the interest of the Somali nation.
Al Shabab is the most visible problem in the international arena. The al Qaeda-linked group controls large parts of southern and central Somalia. They want to establish their so-called ideal Islamic nation. Al Shabab militants regularly carry out bombings and targeted killings. Somalis, as a result, are losing their lives and their livelihoods.
The bigger issue, however, is that Al Shabab is being used as a means to achieve other goals. Forces from Ethiopia, Kenya, several other African nations, America, Britain and many unknown actors all operate within Somalia — and all have separate agendas. Certainly, Somalis don’t believe they are there to help.
The rebuilding of the Somali nation is seemingly becoming an anti-Al Shabab project. We are at the frontline of the so-called ‘War on Terror.’ War can be a profitable business and to some, Somalia is ‘a good project’ and ‘long it may continue.’
Our leaders must be brave enough to seek dialogue with Al Shabab and to bring this conflict to an end.
Neighbouring countries, in particular Ethiopia and Kenya, are currently part of the African Union forces fighting Al Shabab. Nevertheless, their hostility towards Somalia predates the militants.
They dedicate energy and resources to prevent Somalia from becoming a strong and prosperous nation. Why? Ethiopia and Kenya both occupy territories inhabited by Somalis; the Ogaden and the NFD (National Frontier District) respectively.
These are artificial boundaries that separate families. Widespread abuses against the Somali populations under Ethiopian and Kenyan authorities are well documented. Naturally, Somalis want their basic human right to unite and live under one flag as a nation. Somalia fought disastrous wars against these countries to regain the control of the Ogaden and the NFD.
Ethiopia and Kenya fear a powerful Somalia and feel it is in their interest that Somalia remain weak and divided. But if we are to ever achieve a lasting peace in the region, then Ethiopia and Kenya must accept the redrawing of the artificial boundaries set by European occupiers. Let Somalis live in peace as a family.
Western governments led by the US and the UK, have been doing more harm than good in Somalia. Historically, European colonisers divided the Somali nation, and later gave the land and people to their Ethiopian and Kenyan allies. This created a state of permanent hostility between Somalia and its neighbours.
Then came the arming of Somali warlords, who raped and murdered innocent Somalis. Today, it’s about fighting Al Shabab. Western governments repeatedly claim that they give millions of dollars to ‘help’ Somalis. But they cannot show a single school, hospital, road or anything concrete that they have done. It’s usually ‘we work in the security sector.’ If pouring more weapons into Somalia or assisting those sabotaging the nation is ‘help’, then Somalis can’t afford it.
Finally, there’s ‘The Nairobi Mafia,’ a term used by Somalis to describe a coalition of diplomats, journalists, so-called experts, consultants, international NGOs, former Somali warlords, and businessmen. These people work in cahoots and are the go-to guys for Somali affairs.
In fact, they have been running Somalia from their Nairobi offices for many years; advising and influencing key international players. With thousands of workers, the industry is the biggest employer in Somalia (many of them are not Somalis and don’t live in the country). Most of them earn a handsome salary, live in big villas and lead a comfortable life. Hence, they regard the establishment of a Somali authority as a threat to their livelihood. They discredit and dehumanise any Somali who attempts to challenge their power.
Untangling all these snakes will be a huge challenge. But Somalis have had to overcome unimaginable obstacles in the past and I am confident the new generation will prevail.
By Jamal Osman