> Kenya: Watch Out Lest Clan Interests Replace
Al-Shabaab Hegemony in Jubaland
20 November 2011
As Kenya proceeds to "liberate" Jubaland, also known as Azania, from the
clutches of Al-Shabaab, it may wish to consider the long-term implications
of this move and what it will mean to the nation called Somalia.
The creation of Azania will no doubt lead to further balkanisation of the
Somali state, which is already fragmented along regional and clan lines.
Azania is being framed along the lines of Somaliland and Puntland, regional
entities that are not recognised internationally and which are significantly
weakened by a politically unviable and economically unsustainable base.
Somaliland may be the most peaceful region in Somalia but it is hardly an
As for Puntland, it is known more for its pirates than for its ability to
govern itself. Similarly, Azania is in a part of the country that has few
assets - apart from the port city of Kismayu.
Let's say Azania does achieve some kind of governance structure acceptable
to the majority of Somalis, the question still arises: what legitimacy will
this structure have in the eyes of the international community?
Will Azania be accepted as a member of the United Nations or the East
Will it be a regional entity beholden to neighbouring Kenya, and by
extension, to external powers, such as the US, that have geo-political
interests in the Horn of Africa?
Will the scramble for Azania result in its destruction by outside forces,
whose economic and political interests may supersede those of the Somali
Many observers are of the opinion that a Somalia with independent regional
entities is preferable to a rogue state without a strong central government.
There is some merit to this argument, which is fuelled by the fact that for
20 years, Somalia has been unable to form a government that has the clout
and resources to bring about stability.
Mogadishu remains a capital city without basic infrastructure - civil war
destroyed almost everything in what was once one of the most modern and
cosmopolitan cities in Africa.
Meanwhile, the rest of Somalia is torn apart by clan interests, and now more
Why is it that Somalis - who share a common language and religion - are
unable to unite under one flag?
I have been asking myself this question in recent months, particularly since
I began examining the detrimental effects of food aid and other forms of
assistance to the country.
I have since learnt that Somalia was once a formidable nation with ancient
cities and a thriving economy.
It was once a hub for trade and commerce between East Africa, the Arabian
Peninsula and Asia.
As a Kenyan who has experienced the pitfalls of tribalism and racism,
Somalia may appear like one of those rare countries in Africa that do not
carry the baggage of multiple ethnicities vying for supremacy.
However, those seeking to understand Somalia and the Somali people must come
to terms with the fact that it is the clan that dominates the fabric of
Hence, even the regional administrations that currently exist are divided
along clan lines, with the Harti clan, for example, dominating Puntland.
Similarly, all present and future regional administrations will most likely
Why is clan so important in the Somali context? Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the
renegade Somali woman who is the author of the bestselling memoir, Infidel,
provides some answers.
In her recent book, Nomad, she explains that clan is particularly important
in nomadic cultures, where uncertainty and impermanence are the norm rather
than the exception.
Pastoral/nomadic cultures living in harsh environments need groups (i.e.
clans) that they can rely on.
The clan provides security, solidarity and permanence. As Ali's grandmother
told her: "The world outside the clan is rough, and you are alone in it."
Clans form an integral part of nomadic cultures because they are an
essential survival strategy.
Hence, every member of one's clan becomes a member of one's family, and can
be called upon in times of need.
This, I believe, is one of the reasons for the Somali diaspora's phenomenal
economic success in Kenya.
Will clan interests replace Al-Shabaab interests in the new Azania? I
certainly hope not. But Somalia's recent history has proved otherwise.
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Received on Sun Nov 20 2011 - 18:28:00 EST