by Dr Abdurahman Abdullahi Baadiyow

Discussion of national reconciliation in Somalia has taken place since the total collapse of the state in 1991 without initial agreement on the definition and the nature of the conflict. The most popular conception did not differentiate between apolitical and political conflicts; thus, the Somali conflict has been lumped together as a primordial conflict. In reality, these two conflicts are different in their objectives, scope, means and type of leadership. For instance, apolitical conflict initially begins as a series of accidental clashes between individuals belonging to different clans. Such clashes are typically about resources, such as pasture, grazing land, firms, watering rights and so on. This type of conflict is prevalent in the rural communities and is normally managed by the traditional elders who apply traditional conflict resolution methods, well known in the Somali culture.

Conversely, political conflict takes the form of an elite tussle for power, prestige and resources, and clans are mobilised as instruments for purely political objectives. Political conflicts often remain unresolved, since they require different remedies, approaches and mechanisms. The rhetorical peace and reconciliation conferences, which have taken place since 1991, have focused on elite power-sharing based on clan division and cakecutting exercises (1). “Clannization” of the conflict is a way of avoiding individual responsibility for the crimes, depicting human rights violations as the collective responsibility of the clans.

The concept of “clannization” of political conflicts is a falsity derived from an anthropological interpretation of Somali politics and society, which posits that Somali conflicts are essentially primordial, in accordance with the model of the “state versus clan” [qaran iyo qabiil] equation. This relational model accounts for the vertical relations (ancestral or blood relations) and largely excludes all other relations in the societal equation, such as women, minorities and Islamic scholars (2).

This model emphasises the role of the clan elder and negates the role of horizontal social relations through mothers, marriages and organisational affiliations (3).

Figure 1: Four components of the Somali
elite and their relations.

The “state versus clan” model is a distorted representation, an invented falsity that places an emphasis on “Somali exceptionalism” (4). For instance, Professor Said Samatar considers the clan factor as a single overriding factor and remarks: “Somali polity is shaped by a single, central principle that overrides all others, namely the phenomenon that social anthropologists call ‘the segmentary lineage system’” (5). This model was criticised as a reductionist approach by many scholars (6), and this article presents an alternative model to the “state versus clan” equation, namely a “state versus society” [qaran iyo bulsho] conception. This model is based on veracity that considers the Somali conflict much like conflicts in other countries and thus refutes Somali exceptionalism. It incorporates all of the components of society and all relational connections and affiliations. Differentiating clan [qabiil] and society [bulsho] is the cornerstone of redefining the Somali conflict.

Clan is based on vertical relations only connected through ancestry (blood relations). It is founded on the diya-paying unit, which may swell to high levels during conflicts (7). On the other hand, Somali society [bulsho] combines vertical and horizontal relations such as collective settlements, matrilineal relatives, intermarriage relations, and organisational affiliations. Thus, the state-society model recognises that Somali society consists of all Somali citizens irrelevant of their clans, gender, class and religion. This model presupposes that the Somali equation comprises the dialectical interaction of the postcolonial state and Somali society. This interaction was restructured during the colonial era in such a way that it became conflictual (8).

The state structure, its legal framework, policies and political processes were completely alien to traditional Somali society. Therefore, the Somali society has confronted this strange system of governance and its oppressive penetration of society, using its available ideological arsenal: clannism and Islamism. In particular, during the military regime which denied political freedom, resentful elites mobilised their clans and established armed factions which brought down the state in 1991. On the other hand, furious Islamists, in reaction to the forced secularisation of the military regime, have intensified their ideological opposition and established various Islamic movements (9). Some of these Islamic movements reverted into militancy and extremism (10).

Somali elites could be classified into two main categories: traditional and modern elites. Traditional elites basically consist of clan elders and traditional Islamic scholars. Modern elites do not easily fit into existing structures and comprise non- Islamist and Islamist elites. Non- Islamist elites are not necessarily secular, though they are also not Islamic activists (11). They are not ideologically driven and simply perpetuate the status quo and the nature of the postcolonial state. Islamists are activists who advocate for the introduction of an Islamic legal system and values to the space of the state (12). The cosmology of the traditional elites is derived from the synthesis of clan customary law [xeer] and Islamic Sharia. The division of labour among the traditional elites is well-delineated, and usually, they work in harmony in administering societal affairs.

On the contrary, the modern elites (non-Islamists and Islamists) are conflictual in terms of power struggles or the nature of the state (13). Figure 1 (inset) outlines the four components of the Somali elite and their relations. There are four types of conflicts in Somalia, each one generating the subsequent one. The first conflict refers to the statesociety conflict between the modern state and traditional society. This conflict generates the second conflict, which is a power struggle between non-Islamist elites; while the third is an ideological conflict between non- Islamists and Islamists. The fourth conflict is the result of the non-Islamist power struggle, which escalates into civil war. In the civil war, elites use clans as instruments of their struggle and incite clan animosity. The nature of this clan conflict is different from the nature of traditional apolitical conflicts. Thus, these conflicts should be addressed, with each requiring detailed and appropriate mechanisms. In fact, the root of all these conflicts is bad governance. During the civil war, besides clan-conflict, violent conflict of the Islamists and non- Islamists have been evident. The current active conflict between Al-Shabab and the state is the major security challenge.

Approaches to Reconciliation

The first step in reconciling state and society requires us to abandon a singular conception of modernity in place of one that incorporates multiple modernities and departs from extreme models of westernisation or indigenisation of the state. The westernisation model was based on moving society towards the state, although this model failed, having been tested in the postcolonial state. The indigenisation model was based on moving the state towards society by adopting the 4.5 clan power-sharing formula. The indigenisation is completely antithetical to the modern system, which is based on citizenship, individual responsibility and supremacy of law. Therefore, reconciling state and society requires moving state and society towards each other to a middle space that is acceptable to both sides. It requires an innovative process which synthesises modernity and tradition.

The reconciliation of state and society can be realised only when the roles of Islam and the clan system are well-demarcated vis-à-vis the borders of the state, and when both state and society respect these boundaries. Another component of state-society reconciliation is to address previous grievances through material compensation, recognition and apologising officially to the victims of the state violations of the human rights. The second stage of reconciliation could be realised through forging an elite consensus, such as adopting a permanent constitution, constructing an acceptable power-sharing model, and promoting a culture of good governance. This stage also extends to promoting national political parties, adopting appropriate electoral laws, and ensuring consultative and inclusive participation in politics. This reconciliation should result in creating a new culture where elites in power and elites outside of power routinely meet and consult each other, respect each other and listen to each other.

In this reconciliation, Islamist and non-Islamist elites should be reconciled by agreeing on the role of Islam in the state and in society. The current Provisional Constitution provides the basis for such reconciliation, which simply requires prudent applications. The third stage of reconciliation is clan reconciliation, which is undertaken by reconciled elites. This reconciliation should be approached using a bottom-up approach employing traditional mechanisms for conflict resolution. It may apply shared elements of modern and local transitional justice mechanisms (such as identification of the perpetrators of crimes, payment of reparations, as well as forgiveness and repentance). This step should begin by collecting data and documenting the mass human rights violations, which thereby signals that impunity is not tolerated and that violations will be addressed.

In conclusion, this article refutes the falsity of representing Somalia as exceptional which dehumanizes them. It posits the fact that Somalis should be approaches in studying their conflict and reconciliation similar to other countries. Thus, their comprehensive reconciliation requires creation of three separate spaces in Somali society: traditional space (for clans, clan elders and traditional Islamic scholars), civil society space (for professional organisations, Islamic movements, and other non-state institutions and actors) and political space (for political parties and the apparatus of the state). These three spaces must be demarcated through legal framework so that each of the them cannot infringe the space of the other while recognizing shared spaces.

Dr Abdurahman Baadiyow holds a PhD in Modern Islamic History. He is a socio-political activist and writes on Islamic movements, traditional authorities and state-building of Somalia. He has published a number of books, book chapters and papers. He can be reached by email at


(1) Menkhaus, Mediation Efforts for Somalia. Africa Mediators Retreat, 41;

(2) Abdurahman Abdullahi Baadiyow, Making Sense of Somali History (Adonis & Abbey Co. 2017), 20;

(3) Accordingly, clan elders have monopolized representation of the clans after the collapse of the state;

(4) The “state versus clan” model promotes hegemony of the “majority clans” and excludes minorities and naturalized Somalis who do not belong to any clan;

(5) Said S. Samatar, ‘Unhappy Masses and the Challenges of Political Islam in the Horn of Africa’, available from (accessed on February 2, 2017);

(6) Abdi I. Samatar, ‘Destruction of State and Society in Somalia: Beyond the Tribal Convention’, The Journal of the Modern African Studies 30 (1992): 625-641;

(7) The diya-paying group is the smallest clan unit who take collective responsibility in making or receiving reparation for killed or injured individual members;

(8) The state-society relations can be described in six possible scenarios ranging from extreme cooperation to extreme conflict. These are mutual collaboration, mutual engagement, conflictual engagement, mutual disagreements, enforced disengagement, and resistance-revolutionary disengagement. See: Abdurahman Abdullahi Baadiyow and Ibrahim Farah reconciling the state and society in ‘Reordering Islamic Work and Clan System’. Available here (accessed on May 2, 2017);

(9) Abdurahman A. Baadiyow, The Islamic Movement in Somalia: A Case Study of Islah Movement (1950-2000) (Adonis & Abbey Publishers, 2015) 231;

(10) Al-Itihad al-Islami in the 1990s and al-Shabab of today are examples of the militancy of some Islamic organizations;

(11) For the rationale of adopting the terminology of “non-Islamist” which means non-Islamic activist as an alternative to the term “secularist”, refer to Abdurahman Abdullahi Baadiyow, Reconverting the Somali State: Islam, Islamism and Transitional Justice (Adonis &Abbey, 2017), 28;

(12) ibid;

(13) Abdurahman Abdullahi Baadiyow, ‘Tribalism, Nationalism and Islam: The Crisis of the Political Loyalty in Somalia’, MA Thesis submitted to the Islamic Institute, McGill University, 1992, 92- 100.