n African Renaissance - Women and traditional democracy in Somalia : winning strategies for political ascendancy

Volume 4 Number 3-4
  • ISSN : 1744-2532
  • E-ISSN: 2516-5305


Democracy is originally a Greek word used as political vocabulary worldwide; nonetheless, its essence as a process is not much different from the Islamic concept of consultation () and the Somali word of . That concept of consultation and consensus building is well rooted in the original Somali culture as epitomized by I. M. Lewis's "Pastoral Democracy'. However, to simplify its meaning, democracy, in its ideal version, is like water that takes the shape and the color of its storage place. Likewise, democracy as a process of governance takes the color and the shape of the society within which it is applied. Hence, Somali democracy has to have the clannish and Islamic colors, both of which are the basics of Somaliness . The failure of the Somali elite to develop sustainable trans-clan political parties had given an opportunity for the emergence of politics on primordial cleavages.

Therefore, during Somali Reconciliation Conference in Djibouti in 2000, traditional approach of political participation based on "clan blocks" triumphed over modernist approach based on "individual citizens". Thus, Somali politicians espoused political realism and recognized the necessity of the "traditional democracy" as an interim measures in rebuilding state institutions. This new approach is based on that "clan blocks" will be considered as political parties and traditional ways of " paying and sharing" within sub-clans will be extended to the politics too. Fortunately, it was accepted to divide Somali people into four equal dominant clans consisting of , and the cluster of all non-dominant clans. This formula is well known as 4.5 power sharing formula on which members of the parliament were selected from their sub-clans by their sub-clan elders. This approach presupposes that sub-clan elders are the legitimate representatives of their sub-clans and thus can represent their aggregate votes.
The remarkable outcome of the traditional democracy is the question of who shall represent Somali women in the political process. For surety, in the traditional culture, elders of the sub-clans will not select women to represent their sub-clans in the parliament. As a result, new political discourse took the center stage that enabled women to be offered a quota of 11% in the Transitional Parliament of 2000. Therefore, women were politically empowered in the midst of the patriarchal clan power sharing. This exceptional event had attracted considerable academic attention being anomalous is a Muslim society characterized by a patriarchal social system that is manifested in its Islamic and clannish structures. Ironically, this empowerment occurred concurrently with the ascendance of political Islam and political clanism, both of which are portrayed as the major obstacles to any lifting of women's public profiles.
This paper is not about traditional democracy as such used in Somalia, which has its merits and flaws. It is an examination of how Somali women achieved political power during the period from 2000 to 2003 within traditional approaches for political participation. The discussions and analyses include historical background, discourses of women's political participation and Islam, and the examination of women's winning strategies that have been successfully achieved. Finally, some conclusions will be drawn.

Loading full text...

Full text loading...


Article metrics loading...


This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was a Success
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error