Rethinking political identity for the ‘new Somalia’


By Yusuf M. Hassan

Many Somalis quickly express their frustration and angst about current conditions and state of affairs in our beloved Somalia. The public discussion – via radio appearances, TV debates, online media and at the notorious “fadhi-ku-dirir” (armchair warriors) public arguments – is inundated with (mis)perceptions of self, community and nation. The focus is too often on what is misidentified to be the “Somali problem”: religious extremism perpetrated by Al Shabaab insurgents; foreign meddling under the banner of the United Nations (UNSOM), African Union (AMISOM), or through foreign embassies in Nairobi; and Somali politicians utilizing the federal system as a Trojan’s Horse for cutthroat clan politics.

Surely, each one of these problems brings dilemmas in it’s own right. Each problem needs to be studied closely, to educate and inform the public, and to propose viable solutions applicable to the Somali nation.

Still, all these “problems” are mere symptoms of larger, more complex and challenging root causes, including: power abuses and corruption; widespread mistrust; social injustices; and economic despair.

State collapse and its implications is an underlying element throughout these “problems”. Under the civilian governments (1960-1969), and the subsequent military regime (1969-1991), successive central governments pursued a clear agenda of fashioning and redefining “Somali political identity” to boost the ruling elite’s political agenda. There was the “Somali-ness” (“Soomaalinimo”) that was propagated through state communications machinery and educational curriculums, to influence (for better or worse) the future generations’ view of self, community and nation.

After the state collapse of 1991, however, this deliberate process of social engineering faltered completed and disappeared from the national political landscape. The beloved “Somali-ness” was quickly replaced by the “clan-ness” – that is, loyalty to the nation plunged downwards on the social strata, replaced by loyalty to the clan. In many cases, loyalty to the clan became a matter of survival after state collapse led to a cycle of clan wars, abuses, community uprooting and persecution, and the violent misappropriation of public and private properties.

Somalia formally adopted the federal system in 2012 and established its first recognized “permanent government” in 22 years. Backed by African Union troops (AMISOM), the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) exercises de jure authority in “Somalia” – but its de facto authority is limited. Regional entities – such as Somaliland and Puntland – have challenged Mogadishu’s constitutional authority over the years, in the areas of national security, oil and minerals and disputes over federal-state jurisdictions.

Shifting political identities became a norm in the absence of a national platform that reinforces a common political identity.

Divergent interpretations of “Somali-ness” took root in post-1991 Somalia. We have witnessed this in its many forms: regional identities superseding national identity; “Somalia belongs to Somalis” bang-wagon (who questioned whether Somali belongs to Somalis to begin with?); and of course, the Arabization group intent on eradicating Somali culture and replacing it with a foreign one (under the false pretense of Islam). Look anywhere in Somalia and the evidence of these assertions is overwhelming.

Somalia, a nation recovering from war and state collapse, faces numerous challenges in reconciliation, state-building and economic reconstruction. Somali political leaders – at national, state and local levels – need to forge a common political identity for the “new Somalia” to recover from conflict, or the “Somali problem” in its myriad forms and implications for regional stability will continue to haunt its people, wider region and the world.

The “new Somalia” needs a common understanding of Somali history, a pragmatic reconciliation initiative and a vibrant program of economic reconstruction, all facets of helping to foster unity and lead towards national identity and political cohesion.

Yusuf M. Hassan is the editor of

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