Opinion; Nationalism, State Formation and Peacebuilding in Somalia.

Wednesday March 30, 2016 - 18:42:38 in Latest News by Super Admin
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    Opinion; Nationalism, State Formation and Peacebuilding in Somalia.

    By: Garad Yusuf Mohamud Nationalism and state formation in Somalia from the perspectives of history and identity politics this article argue that while nationalist movements have at times, when faced with a common enemy, generated temporary cooper

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By: Garad Yusuf Mohamud Nationalism and state formation in Somalia from the perspectives of history and identity politics this article argue that while nationalist movements have at times, when faced with a common enemy, generated temporary cooperation among Somalis, they have been unable to integrate traditional forms of identity such as clan affiliation and Islam they have been at their weakest in the face of clan feuds and regional power struggles. b

Furthermore, disagreements over national narratives, territory and governance hinder the formation of a Somali national identity that might mobilize people around a single system of government and a shared vision of the future. Most detrimental to the development of national unity in Somalia is the absence of a viable government. Although nationalism remains a potentially useful peacebuilding tool, it is currently not strong enough to serve as an immediate solution to conflict in Somalia.

Local stakeholders and peacebuilding organizations may approach the issue of nationalism using this framework as it relates to future peace in Somalia. Rather than promoting a nationalist identity that subverts traditional social structures and religious identities, peacebuilders must support the construction of a viable state that incorporates various identitiesinto a complimentary and stable system of relationships and governance. Only within the framework of such a functional state can nationalism act as a cohesive and positive force in Somalia.

Nationalism and the historical debate

Scholars disagree on whether the Somali people constitute a nation. My aim here is neither to provide a comprehensive summary of that debate, nor to engage in a lengthy discussion of what does or does not constitute nationalism. Instead, I will briefly present the main points of contention in the historical debate surrounding Somali nationalism and point out several general conclusions relevant to future peace efforts.

Those who argue that the Somali people constitute a nation emphasize the shared ethnic origins of Somalis as migrants from the Arabian Peninsula, belief in a common ancestry, shared Somali language and collections of oral poetry, general adherence to Islam, and a collective history of struggle against regional and colonial powers in the Horn of Africa.

Scholars of this position claim that these traits represent homogeneity rarely found in many regions of Africa and that such uniformity fosters a nationalist sentiment that drives the struggle to achieve cultural unity and transcend identity based solely on territorial boundaries arbitrarily drawn by foreignpowers. This process ultimately transforms defunct colonial possessions, plagued by cultural heterogeneity and ethnic conflict, into viable modern-day states.

I.M. Lewis states that although colonialism historically represented a powerful fulcrum around which nationalist sentiment has coalesced, Somali nationalism is a "centuries old phenomenon” originating from shared cultural traits and traditions that precede colonial divisions of Somali land and presage dissatisfaction with the territorial boundaries imposed by Europeans While Lewis recognizes clan rivalries and societal inequalities, often used to argue against the existence of a cohesive Somali nation, he maintains that narratives of origin and migration represent a "national genealogy in which ultimately every Somali group finds a place assertions of pre-colonial Somali nationalism are crucial for understanding nationalist sentiments regarding territory.

Thus Abdi M. Kusow claims that Somali nationalism has developed out of competing


Narratives, which ultimately construct social boundaries of "Somaliness Certain segments and clans are incorporated into these boundaries while others are excluded. Common lineage narratives, which trace Somalis’ origins to nonindigenous Muslim ancestors, exclude those with African ancestry (Bantu-Jarer) and non-Islamic traditions. Clans are ranked according to means of livelihood, lineage and location, and the legitimacy of territorial claims. Because "social, economic and territorial priorities and values” are shaped largely by ideas about land ownership, competing interpretations of national narratives and territory contribute heavily to Somalia’s social cleavages Kusow makes similar arguments concerning Somali dialects, which he claims are judged in relation to the states sponsored Somali language and literature. These hierarchical notions of Somaliness affect all segments of society, "from the nation to the clan and sub-clan”.

Nationalism and the prospects for peace

This section argues that sustainable nation building in Somalia cannot be built in the absence of inclusive state institutions. It discusses the importance of including traditional social structures such as clans and Islam in processes of state formation. It proposes John Paul Lederach’s theory of vertical and horizontal integration as a possible model for incorporating traditional Somali identities towards constructive state building and the strengthening of a Somali national identity.

The absence of inclusive state institutions represents the largest impediment to nationalism in Somalia. As Kusow points out, "The key criterion that determines whether or not a society can flourish as a nation depends on the degree to which individuals and groups are included in the social, political, and economic boundaries of the nation Successful nation building and cohesive national sentiment must be built within the framework of stable state institutions. Without a viable state to provide basic public services such as security, a judicial system, infrastructure, and healthcare, "people will look to whatever grouping, militia, or identity offers them the best chance of survival the result is a fracturing of the polity, with local, substate, and ethnic identities providing the immediate basis for political organization.

It is imperative that a Somali state be built around the inclusion and integration of traditional Somali identities. Repeatedly, movements emerge that attempt to elevate one identity over another or subsume traditional functions within society under the dominance of a single identity. Their failure to incorporate diverse participation has led to violent conflict and furthered inequality. Any sustainable solution for Somalia’s future, nationalist or otherwise, will need to address competing identities and establish common goals.

In the Somali context, the processes generated must revolve around the formation of a viable state and institutions that increase participation and constructively redefine relationships between competing identities. Nationalism is the enduring social mechanism that will emerge from those structures. While immediate steps are required towards building a viable state, long-term goals include the emergence of a Somali national identity that will redefine existing identities and relationships. Local stakeholders and peacebuilders can then work to strengthen a shared national identity while weakening exclusive identities, such as those built around clanism.




Placing academic debates about nationalism in dialogue with the realities and challenges facing peacebuilders illustrates that no single identity can offer a sustainable solution to conflict and state formation in Somalia. Sustainable peacebuilding efforts must rely on approaches that foster inclusion and participation among multiple Somali identities Peacebuilders must identify the strengths of traditional Somali social structures while promoting government institutions that compensate for their weaknesses.

Clan affiliation and Islam represent entrenched sources of identity among Somali society rather than attempting to dilute or subsume these identities under a nationalist framework, local stakeholders in Somalia’s peace process must work towards an integrative system of stable governance. Crucial to this will be finding ways to incorporate traditional systems and beliefs such as clan kinship and Islam in a way that also functions within the political boundaries of a state.

Garad Yusuf Mohamud is Researcher and Author of Politics & Socio-economics and member of Parliament of Galmudug State of Somalia and can be reached at: Tell: +252615540485 Email: Garaadsomali@gmail.comSkype: Garaadsomali Twitter: @ Garaadsomali Facebook: Garad Yusuf Mohamud

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Horn Observer’s editorial policy.

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