Professor Abdi Ali Jama
Lecturer at Hargeisa University
Somali speaking people are always complaining about tribalism and everybody would seemingly like to end it. But still tribalism thrives and gets stronger and more pervasive than it should be. What is wrong? Is tribalism a monster that cannot be overcome or is it actually our fault that we just submitted to it with no challenge because it is a value we are proud of? Is perpetuation of tribalism basically for the benefit of the community or politicians in the first place? Is it necessary for politics and other areas of life?
Many people do honestly want to put full stop to tribalism. However, they find themselves involved in it? Why? Are they hypocrites? NO, No, they are not!!!!! In my view, It is just because tribalism is out there, and no alternative. Both good and malicious people are likely to get trapped in tribalism web—advertently or inadvertently– as long as status quo remains unchanged.
Change must be made to end tribalism. It is recommended well by almost every mature civilized person who is willing to free the upcoming generations from the burden of tribalism we have gone through for no feasible reason. But the million dollar question is: How can we tackle it? The answer is ironically simple!!!! If it is so, did we ever try? The answer is paradoxically no!!!!!! Again, why didn’t we try? The answer is easy, at least for those who know it: traditionalists never try to do differently!!!
To minimize and eventually end tribalism, I would, in advance, prescribe two pieces of medicine for the chronically ill- patient. First one is to localize politics by re-organizing citizens not along tribal lines but along district and regional grid. In this regard, loyalty would be transferred from tribes to regions or districts. This is more consistent with the citizenship of modern state as people from same area despite their disparate tribes would share common interests such as schools, water and roads. Similarly, it happens that one tribe may reside in three or four regions of Somaliland and hence do share nothing except claims to be descendants from a common ancestor. In order to deepen this approach of localism and regionalism, national political parties would base their activities on districts and sub-districts and boroughs. For example, when conducting local government elections, political parties would select candidates not from tribes but from residents in boroughs and neighborhoods irrespective of their clans or tribes. This is more practical and more progressive and later would help assure accountability as the councilor or MP would return to the district for re-election, so that he must work in favor of his or her constituencies if he wants to get re- elected. Moreover, the localism and regionalism would probably turn tribalism into obsolete and unnecessary.
In contrast, the way we do politics now is not feasible and justified. I am– the writer of this article– a living example. For those of you who don’t know, I am one of Hargeisa councilors whose term is about to finish at the end of this year. I live in Kodbur district, but still not elected by the residents of this district. Residents in Kodbur comprise many clans—some of them are originally from Burao, Erigavo or Borama and Las-anod but have lived in the borough for a long time. Traditionalist believe that these people are not Hargaysawi, but, I believe, as non traditionalist, that these citizens have already become Hargaysawiyiin irrespective of their original region or tribe, because some of them have lived here for over 15 years; which is more than enough to earn citizenships from three different European countries. Despite this, traditionalists believe that Hargaysawis are only special groups of people. So do Burao and Borama people. in my view, this is against nature of demography and dynamism of life. Nothing static in this world or universe. As Quranic verse says: “Tilka sunnatullahi, walan tajida lisunatillahi tabdillila”.
Back to my story as councilor, My clan claims to have elected me. However, they live in many non -adjacent districts of Hargeisa. Therefore, I am answerable to no one. It would have been better if I had been elected from my district where I could represent their interests in Hargeisa council, be it schools, water or sanitation. But how could I practically represent the interest of my clan knowing the fact that they are scattered across Hargeisa districts where they share no school, water facility or MCH. This would render the whole election of councils useless and absurd.
The second medicine is to set tribalism-proof policies and systems. However, what is challenging in this perspective is implementation of such policies and systems in such a manner that would entail fairness and justice. This requires check and balance or close scrutiny by establishing parallel offices where people can refer or appeal to if anyone tries to corrupt the policy or sabotage the system. People in appealing offices would be staff known or selected for their integrity and probity. Suppose, local government council has set a policy of getting land from municipality. The policy would stipulate the steps or conditions someone must meet to get a plot of land from local government. The policy would not be secret that it would be confined to government officials as often happens, in the sense that they would be in a position to give information to whom they favor and deny to others. The policy, instead, would rather be published over and over again in newspapers and released repeatedly over TVs and Radio so much so poorer, marginalized citizens would be equally fully informed. This is how policies and systems are made corruption-free or tribalism-proof —if you see what I mean. Let me put it in summary like this: close scrutiny with check and balance and dissemination of information would render policies and systems nepotism-free or tribalism-proof and much fairer. This again would further make tribalism unnecessary and obsolete knowing the fact that people resort to tribalism when there is no fairness and justice.
In order to develop and implement the aforementioned approach, devoted and honest leadership is first and foremost very much necessary and must be in place. Furthermore, the leadership should be modern and progressive, in the sense that it aims at creating modern state that we deserve in 21st century. lastly but not least, it is unfair for our people to live as tribesmen in this modern global world where nationalism is ashamed of, let alone clanship and tribalism.
Prof. Abdi Ali Jama