Wheel Within a Wheel; Never Ending or Beginning.

15 Jan

By Samiya Lerew

Somalias political situation is perhaps best described in the words of Alan & Marilyn Bergman in the 1968 song The Windmills of Your Mind: “wheel within a wheel; never ending or beginning”. Within the past twelve months, the Federal Republic of Somalia has seen three different prime ministers, several attacks on parliament, assassinations of high profiled members of Government and the endless demolition of businesses and activism in Mogadishu.

Despite the execution of a microcosm of national criminals, well-co-ordinated attacks have still been carried out by terrorists. The most recent audacious attack (on the Halane compound near Mogadishu airport) was carried out on the residence of HE Nicholas Kay, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia. The base is also home to the African Union peacekeeping soldiers in Mogadishu and is the one and only green-zone in the city; it routinely offers security to its residents and the many NGO staff that live there. The intolerance of these terrorists for other creeds and cultures is emphasised most recently in the attacks that took place on Christmas day, 2014. This offense was designed to inflict trauma primarily upon Christian residents. Fortunately enough, the Halane base was heavily defended and the attackers’ efforts were thwarted with minimum casualties.
This assault on the Halane base exposed the flawed efforts of the UN and EU in rebuilding Somalia. Somalia was readmitted to its full status within the UN in 2012. This was achieved by an elaborate and well-staged operation called ‘Somali peace reconciliation’ among the main warring clans and a constitution was subsequently put in place to facilitate a federal government. The constitution itself, however, is rife with conflicting articles. All elements outlined in the document are designed to please particular clans who have been fighting for supremacy; the desire is to subjugate other clans and very little else.


To make sense of it all, let us look at the Somali situation through the lenses of Realism. Thomas Hobbes, in his book ‘Leviathan’ (1651), described humans as natural born savages. He stated that “life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. The Leviathan is described as maintaining order by keeping man at bay through restriction. Hobbes went on at great length to describe how in the absence of a greater authority, war, all against all, is inevitable. Between 1960 and 1969, Somalia had a clan-orientated government. In its first decade of independence, corruption, clan tyranny, sectarian murders and the mockery of justice lead to the formation of a highly popular military coup. The resulting military rule lead by Mohamed Siyad Barre became the aforementioned Leviathan in this case. All observations from Somali political commentators (who are Somali-born) concede that in the first 5 years of military rule, the country prospered, resulting in genuine progress and justice for all. Unfortunately, the country took a regrettable turn towards dysfunctional nationalism, and the USSR was orientating the nation towards war. The 1977 Ogaden War did not come out of the blue; the USSR trained large military officers and provided all the military weaponry needed for warfare. In his eagerness to unite all Somalis against clan-driven division, President Barre marched his troops into Ethiopia to liberate Ogaden. Ironically, the 1977 war achieved quite the opposite: clan division, clan animosity, clan factions and clan guerrilla warfare became rife. This became the dominant Somali political dynamic. In 1991, war broke out, against the ideals that Hobbes described. This civil war, with all its proxy fighters, went on for 21 years.

A clan may sometimes operate as a state does, albeit an unevolved one. The difference is that it does so without higher purpose. A clan tries to maximize power so that it can fend off would-be attackers. The individual alone is nothing, but when part of a collective they may suddenly become significant. A clan, in this case, behaves like an octopus; each of its tentacles desperately reaching out for something to feed into its own mouth with no coherent or enlightened prospects in mind. For example, one type of ‘tentacle’ (clansman) holds public office with only one thing in mind: the enrichment of himself (and those who immediately surround him) and not necessarily the remainder of his clan members. Another clansman who is able to obtain great wealth, perhaps as a remittance agent or as a businessman, would do whatever necessary to advance his own clan members, sparing no cost and disregarding the consequences of their action. A third clansman would spend his own money in order to build online websites so he can broadcast clan propaganda, etc. Hence every clan member (at least those who managed to build a diaspora population), even though they obtained refugee status as minorities, have their own online media. Above all, the worst ‘tentacles’ are those who were educated in western countries (especially in the USA and UK) who have studied world politics, speak fluent IR language with a North American accent and call themselves a ‘Think-tank’. Their main objectives are to promote special interests and sanitise the ills that his clansmen do. Clan pride can be traded as though it were currency – it is apparently a pride worth killing and even dying for, and it becomes a form of insurance to cover these groups from liabilities. If the intelligent and educated use their valuable skills to advance their clan status and have no further vision for their state, then I beg the question; do such short-sighted people even deserve to have a state?

Thucydides was largely mentioned during the end of the transitional period. The new government of Somalia was ready to be recognized as a state by the UN, only this time with new constitution with its reinvented system of segregation called 4.5. This indefensible apartheid-reminiscent order was justified using Thucydides’ ‘Melian dialogue’. 4.5 outlined that the bulk of the land (and all that it contained) was to be divided amongst four clans, along with the domination and control of the parliament. These clans have been fighting for supremacy and those who conscientiously object are regarded as worthless; as half-a-being. Along with 4.5 and the silence of Somalia’s western friends (the providers of military and financial support), a widespread gross violation of human rights has descended upon the minorities.
Let us look at Melian Dialogue and how it came about; Thucydides (a general, war historian and a philosopher) left behind an important account of the Peloponnesian war in 400BC. These accounts of war between Athens and Melos island indicated that Athens threatened to attack the islanders unless they surrendered to the will of their aggressors. Melians pleaded to the better nature of Athenians, also arguing that God was on their side. However, the Athenians asserted that ‘might is right’, and it duly attacked Melos, killing all men of fighting age and enslaving women and children. Thucydides stressed the importance of power and the dangers of being weak: “The strong do what they want to do and the weak will have to suffer what they must”. This is an increasingly relevant and applicable quote in the Somali political landscape today.

Never in the history of conflict has there been such a misuse of Thucydides’ Melian dialogue like there has been in Somalia. In Somalia it is increasingly the case that the strong do what they want and the weak should endure what they must. Unlike Athens, Somalia’s dominant clans who dragged themselves through a relentless power conflict (even against the backdrop of the civil war), failed to produce a winner on either end. The UN, along with all of its agents and NGOs, combined with African union soldiers, effectively brought the civil war to an end. In other words, and rather ironically, it was the International Community that was the ultimate victor of the Somali civil war. The International Community has both the responsibility and duty to take into account The International Bill of Human Rights (UN General Assembly resolution 217 A (III)). As such the UN cannot ignore its own Human Right Charter. For various reasons, this same international community had, to a certain degree, permitted (or at least neglected to prevent) the establishment of the 4.5 system. The losers of the civil war were granted what they could not have achieved from this seemingly infinite battle. Instead of making them face consequences, they were rewarded with the spoils of the war. Tremendous efforts were made by the international community to put Somalia together again, spending a colossal amount of money in the process. Unfortunately, a catalogue of errors damaged their efforts to carry out this unenviable task.

Anarchic world

Hans Morgenthau in Politics Among Nations (1948) states that the “political man is an innately selfish creature with an insatiable urge to dominate others”. In an anarchic world with no overarching authority, states are liable to behave in whatever way they please with indeterminate (or non-existent) consequences. In the case of Somalia, there is limited regional authority to govern the destiny of smaller constituencies, and as a result of this there is an order-less and chaotic clan system. Beyond even this lies the example of the helter-skelter capital city of Mogadishu. Here we have several layers of anarchic systems, and each layer can do what it pleases. According to Kenneth Waltz’s The Theory of International Politics (1979), theories about international politics could be developed on three levels of analysis: the human individual, the state and the international system. In the case of Somalia, we have a superpower known as the USA, attempting to assist in getting Somalia back together again. It does so by using other states who would put their own interest first. We also have the UN and all its agencies with NGOs, who at best try their hardest to help Somalia to better itself. With the absence of a disciplining authority or rules to follow, they all operate on self-regulating rule.
In short, we have several layers of state-deprived systems trying to cooperate with each other; yet there is no viable accountability. In this case it is unavoidable for biological man to take advantage of the incoherent layers of a lawless world. For instance, a large sum of money delivered from the USA, EU, Middle East or other benevolent donor countries for the purposes of ‘helping Somalia’, can travel through such a myriad of borderline-miscellaneous agents and sub-agents that the recipient (in this case intended to be the people of Somalia) would have very little or nothing to show for. The suspicious disappearance of large sums of money, a vanishing trick that would put the great Houdini to shame. However, reports are available (on paper only) of how these finances have been managed.

Lame Parliament

The Somali parliament is dominated by warring clans. There are four armed-clans with full representations and the rest of the peaceful and unarmed-clans are condensed to half a clan, hence 4.5. It means that they are only worth half of the others. It also dictates what one Somali-born American professor named Ahmed Ismail Samatar calls “duopoly”. The high post of the parliament i.e. the presidential seat and that of the prime minister can only be held by Hawiye or Darod clans. Sub-clans have won important battles. Abgal (a sub clan of Hawiye) won the battle of dominating Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. A second sub-clan named Majerteen (of Darod) have won the good ear of British foreign policy makers, towards Somalia. Between 2010 and 2012, young inexperienced and impressionable members of the British foreign office (Somalia desk) were befriended and beguiled by men belonging to the Majerteen clan, now in charge of Puntland. A battle worth winning. Hence, only Darod or Hawiye can hold the two top jobs. I am quite sure real democracy will solve this problem.
Unfortunately, those who are regarded as lesser-humans, which are the silent majority of Somalia people, cannot hold top jobs because they are considered to be the descendants of ‘inferiors’ or the descendants of the Bantu clans. Such is the belief of the dominant clans, a form of ideology. To belong to a certain clan is seen as a form of qualification. A pastoral person could come from a primitive life, whom does not have any qualification or knowledge of what governance is, becomes a member of the government or a minister by simply having a clan name next to that of his own.
This camouflaged apartheid system has led to various problems for the supporters of the current Somali government; the INT/COM. The parliament itself became the battle ground for petty point-scoring, bribery by presenting ‘moshin’, bickering, petty clan-boasting rights so on and so forth. The parliament itself became the battle ground for clan-supremacy. The representative of the so called ‘half a clan’ do vote for whoever they are told to do so because they have no debating powers or they are told to keep quiet if they try to raise their voices. At times the minority MP’s are simply used for keeping their people in line when they protest, like a sheep dog.
The four dominant clan members of the parliament should be balanced by another four pacific clans so that a coherent balance can be achieved. For instance, if the ‘Jareer weyne’ clan (i.e. the Bantu clans) are represented in parliament as one clan. The Banadiri (the coastal dwellers) are considered as one clan. The oppressed clans the ‘cadaver-eaters’ are counted as one whole clan and the Beizanis are also counted as a single clan. As such the Somali Parliament would not be a lame parliament because there would be something to counter balance the badly-behaving clan-MPs. Solution wise.


Missing from the Somali political picture are the Beizanis. Most Beizanis are the descendants of the first wave of globalisation from colonial settlers. Beizanis were the ruling party during 1930s, 40s, 50s and even into the 1960s. After the country’s independence, most civil servants, court clerks, lawyers, teachers and merchants were Beizanis. These particular cosmopolitan people had the experience to run a state and don’t have the burden of being loyal to clanism. Sadly the Beizanis are totally marginalised from the current Somali politics and yet it is they have the key to unlock the quagmire.
Assimilated Beizanis

During and after the colonial era, a great many Somalis were assimilated to become paesani. They were brought in to the towns as children and were educated through the colonial system. This faction of Beizanis may be considered as clan members; however, they have no loyalty towards the clan politics and recognise themselves as Beizani. When the civil war broke out in 1991, almost all assimilated Beizanis were forced to leave their home town of Mogadishu. 80% of the current inhabitants of Mogadishu came to the city as militia warriors, pastoral community that came to live in the city and Internally Displaced Personnel (IDP). Pastoral life is very different from urban life. They follow a primitive rhythm which is entirely incompatible with what we regard as a civilised. Law and order is seen as tyranny and oppression. Hence the city suffered a massive brain drain. Since the war broke out in 1991, the subsequent generation grew up knowing nothing but war and instability. They have no morality beyond what the warlords have taught them. This is called the ‘lost generation’.
The assimilated Beizanis wish to return to their homeland. However, the mechanism to integrate them back into society is absent. Lawlessness has taken over Beizani houses and properties. What is left of the properties are destroyed, broken down to just their shells and ownership has been claimed by others. The country needs the Beizanis to return to demonstrate what peaceful, intelligent and moral people look like. The Beizanis that are descendant from colonial settlers have their identities as Somali people denied by the new Somali government. The government looks at them as descendants as foreigners with no claim to their homeland.

Beacon of Hope

From here onwards the country has chosen federalism. It will still remain the federal state of Somalia but every region will have control itself following devolution. This new regional government-building is a blessing in disguise. The regional government will put in place authority of their own states with diplomatically chosen MPs to be their representatives in the federal government. Prior centralising power has been an unqualified disaster. Each state will raise its own policing system, educational programmes and skill-training. As such, power will not be centralised to one part; hence jobs will be distributed evenly amongst its own people.

A beacon of hope comes from the South West region. Consisting of Bay, Bakol and Lower Shabelle. The inhabitants of this region do not boast perceived clan superiority or obsession of homogeneity. It is not the core of their everyday life. They consist of many different groups of people; farmers, peasants, craftsmen, artisans and in general hard-working people who are all village-dwellers. Unlike people of the north east of Somalia, idolism is not something to be proud of. Instead creative and productive attitudes are applauded and the people believe in living harmoniously with others. There is hope that this one particular region can economically advance itself. However, the top leaders are not people who have received western education. Their only knowledge of how to run state and government is that of how the warlords did. State chaos is all they know and therefore the UN Mogadishu office has the duty and ability to give training on how a state should operate. These people must forget the dark times of the war. Unless they are guided in how to run a state there is a real danger that these people may slip back into war as the leaders know no better. It is the UN Mogadishu offices duty to teach these people how to leave behind the interwar politics and to realise that the time when these war tactics may have helped is in the past and that a better future lies ahead.

The geographical region of the south west region lie in the bread basket of the country; agricultural land, stone quarries, gas and oil reserve, a long coast and an abundance of minerals. If the top leaders remain ignorant of everything other than warlordship, then the rich land they reside on will go to waste. By all reason, their land should be the envy of other states. However, this particular region has undergone destruction of unimaginable magnitudes by famine and war. Most affected are its people.

The solution to this Somali quagmire lies in true power sharing, Beizanis must be part of the state-building and not be denied of their citizenship. The international community should assist this particular region in a positive way; different from the misplaced help that has been offered to Mogadishu.

By Samiya Lerew
Author of the article.

1 Comment

Posted by on January 15, 2015 in Somalia


One response to “Wheel Within a Wheel; Never Ending or Beginning.

  1. Mohamed Abanur

    January 16, 2015 at 5:51 am

    The parliament itself became the battle ground for clan-supremacy. The representative of the so called ‘half a clan’ do vote for whoever they are told to do so because they have no debating powers or they are told to keep quiet if they try to raise their voices. At times the minority MP’s are simply used for keeping their people in line when they protest, like a sheep dog.


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