n Africa Insight - Somalia's clans and the need to go beyond the nation-state

Volume 44, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 0256-2804


This article explores the central importance of clans in Somali society. Indeed clan membership is a prerequisite before one can be considered as part of broader Somali society. The clan has been the most enduring feature of Somalia over several centuries. The nation-state, by contrast, a relatively recent Western construction, has proven to be an ill fit to Somali social realities. Indeed, the Somali 'state' has lurched from crisis to crisis since independence. Since the ouster of the dictator Siad Barre in 1991, there have been no fewer than 17 attempts to recreate a state in Mogadishu. The current Somali Federal Government (SFG), too, is headed towards failure. The absence of a nation-state does not, however, mean that Somalis are 'stateless'. Rather, various successful clan administrations have emerged in post-Barre Somalia. As an alternative to recreating an unworkable Western-style state, this essay argues that the international community should respect the various clan administrations and work with these rather than attempting to create a central polity based in Mogadishu.

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