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Points to ponder before entering Somalia
By Joshua Muvumb
Kampala, 31st January, 2007 - UGANDA is one of the countries poised to send troops to Somalia. It is, however, important to consider the following factors. All Somalis claim to have a common ancestor – the Arab Abu Taalib.
The Somali are basically divided into two main clan families: The Somaal, which is the largest group (75%) and the Saabare 25%. The Somaal are nomadic and are sub-divided into four sub-clans: the Darod, Isaaq, Hawiye and Dit. The Saab are sedentary farmers and are sub-divided into two sub-clans: The Rahanweyn and the Digil.
The above six sub-clans are further divided into what may be called “sub-sub’ clans, which are in turn demarcated into ‘sub-sub-sub’ clans which are demarcated into a plethora of lineages. These are also divided into primary, secondary and tertiary lineages!
The depth of a primary lineage is 12 to 14 generations. Usually, lineages of the same clans form some perpetual alliances. The cardinal fact is that all these numerous special organisations, at all levels, are active mobile political entities and since 1989, they are armed with modern weapons.
Traditionally, the Somalis never evolved nation-statehood. They have, however, been united by language, religion, history and poetry. Their language, which is classified as ‘lowland Eastern cushitic’, is spoken and understood by all. Only the initiated can detect the slight dialects. It is only recently that they decided to write in the Roman alphabet.
All Somalis are Sunni Muslims of the Shafi sect, claiming ancestry from the Qurayshitic lineage of the prophet himself. Their claim, which is disputed by some scholars, asserts that both the Somaal and Saab were grandsons of Abu Taalib, an Arab of the Quaraysh tribe and uncle to Muhammed and brother of Ali, the husband of the prophet’s daughter Fatima. Below these are several sub-sub-sub clans composed of numerous primary and secondary lineages, all of which are armed political actors. Naturally, some clans are stronger than others.
The key factor is therefore, the clan. ‘Political party’ and other high-sounding group titles like ‘Islamic Courts’, etc, are all clan disguises to hoodwink the gullible international community.
All Somalis in their desire for a “Greater Somalia” are united, whether they are on British or Italian Somaliland; the Ogaden, northern Kenya or Djibouti. Thus, colonial legacy continues to be a factor today.
The current president of transitional government, Abdillahi Yusuf Ahamed, is a Darod and his clan has produced two Somali presidents, Shirmarke and Barre, not to mention its preponderance in the Ogaden and Puntaland.
On the otherhand, the Hawiye are very important because they dominate the capital areas of Mogadishu. They have been dominant in the so-called Islamic courts. Having produced Somalia’s first president, Abdullar Osman, the Hawiye are so strong that they can afford the luxury of inter-sub-clan strife – Aideed’s Hubar Gidir against Ali Madhis Abgal. As for the Isaaq; apart from producing the short-lived legal regime, they are powerful, especially in the former British Somaliland, which seeks autonomy.
Remember, Islam and poetry remain Somali’s comprehensive permeates. After all, Somalis descend from the Prophet’s uncle, Abu Taalib. Besides, Muhammad Adilleh Hassan (the “Mad Mullah”), who led the 20-year resistance against the British, was Somali’s greatest poet of the century.
Do not forget that because of its geographical location, Somalia remains strategically important to the world’s great powers while September 11 attack on US has replaced the ‘Cold War’ as the driving issue of world politics.
It is absolutely imperative and quite an honour that the Pearl of Africa should help restore peace in Somalia. Uganda’s young men will do their God-given duty as always. But as we go, let us remember the Ugandan saying; “If you come across brothers fighting, watch out for your own skin.”
The writer is a former lecturer at Harvard University and now a private consultant in Kampala.
Source: New Vision