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Modern Political Movements In Somaliland – Part I

Journal of the International African Institute Vol. 28, No. 3 (July 1958), pp. 244-261 (18 pages) Published By Cambridge University Press

Modern Political Movements In Somaliland Part one

In this article I. M. Lewis examines the organization of modern Somali political move­ments as they existed in 1957 in relation to the traditional political organization, He has argued that there are three principal types of party; clan, national, and regional or tribal.

I. M. Lewis

IN this article I give a brief outline of Somali social organization and describe the constitution and aims of the main political parties as they existed in 1957. It is hoped in a second article to examine the activities of the parties in individual Somali territories in the light of particular events in these territories and in relation to recent constitutional changes already effected or proposed.


As is well known, the Somali (Soomaali) are a proud, even haughty, Muslim people with a highly democratic political organization. In their semi-arid environment, they are predominantly camel-nomads. Latest estimates suggest that the total Somali population numbers some 3 million souls. A little sorghum is cultivated in the north­west—in Harar Province of Ethiopia and in the British Protectorate—where some $ percent of the Protectorate population are thought to practice plough cultivation, Agriculture, mainly hoe-cultivation, is most extensively practiced in southern Somalia by an estimated 40 to 50 percent of the population.

Physically, and to a certain extent culturally, the Somali are ‘Hamitic’. But look­ing to their agnatic Arabian eponyms, whom they venerate as Sufi saints, they claim Arabian descent. Their ultimate ancestors, according to Somali tradition, are of Quraysh, the lineage of the Prophet Muhammad (PUH) and of the progeny of His Com­panions. Historically these traditions reflect the contact, over centuries, with Arabia, and the settlement at various periods in Somali history of small groups of Arabian immigrants. Sociologically they represent further the application of Somali lineage principles to Islam, in which the founders of Somali patrilineal descent groups are canonized and venerated as Sufi saints. Sufism is highly developed. But for a small minority in the towns and government service who have been influenced mainly by western values, all Somali belong nominally to the local Somali Dervish Orders. But the number of adherents of the Orders who are formal initiates is comparatively small.

The entire Somali population can be comprised within one vast genealogy record­ing all the relationships of the numerous patrilineal descent groups into which Somali society is divided. At every level descent is reckoned agnatically through named ancestors to the descent group eponym. At the highest level, there are seven great descent groups which I propose to call ‘clan-families’. The relationships of these in the total genealogy are shown in the chart.

Modern Political Movements In Somaliland – Part IIt will be seen that the primary and genealogical bifurcation of the Somali people is between those who descend from Samaale and those who descend from Sab. The Daarood, who claim and trace affinal relationship only, are classed with those clan-families descended from Samaale who, in their order of generation, are the ‘Pre­Hawiye’, Hawiye, Dir, Daarood, and Ishaaq. The Ishaaq are classified by other Somali as Dir, but they themselves deny this grouping, claiming that they are a clan-family of Arabian descent in their own right and without the intermediacy of other Somali ancestors. Those descended from Samaale whom I refer to as the Samaale in opposition to those descended from Sab, are almost entirely nomadic stock-herders, although, as noted, a little cultivation is practiced by the Ishaaq and Dir in the north-west of Somaliland and by some of the Hawiye of Somalia. The Digil and Rahanweyn clan-families descended from Sab are, in contrast, mainly cultivators. Possessed of the relatively fertile region (to the nomad almost a paradise) between the Shebelle and Juba Rivers of southern Somalia, cultivation of millets, durra, and Indian corn, with other subsidiary crops and fruits, has largely replaced camel-nomadism. The Sab own also extensive herds of cattle and, as a whole, are culturally distinguished from the five Samaale clan-families. The northern Samaale dialects differ from the speech of the southern Sab by about as much as French does from Italian. Other differences cannot be gone into here. As far as habitat is concerned the Samaale—to make a broad generalization—inhabit northern and central Somali­land while the Sab occupy the southern regions approximately up to the Juba River where they come into contact with a wedge of nomadic Daarood and Hawiye Samaale extending into the Northern Province of Kenya. The former are primarily nomads and the latter principally cultivators. When, therefore, we speak of ‘northern nomads’ we refer to the typical Samaale, and when we speak of ‘southern cultivators’ to the typical Sab.

Below the clan-family, subsidiary descent groups are indicated according to their order of segmentation and special properties, as clans, sub-clans, lineages, and seg­ments of lineages. Genealogically, however, all these descent groups, from clan-family to smallest lineage-group, have the same properties. All are lineages, to the eponymous ancestor of which a person traces exactly his agnatic relationship through named ancestors. The number of generations counted, and the number of ancestors named, vary with the size and strength of the group concerned.

Somali society is thus an agnatic lineage society in which the primary bifurcation is between those who descend from Samaale and those who descend from Sab, and each division comprises a vast system of balanced segments. Segmentation and lineage-group affiliation is at every level relative; the various orders of segmentation do not constitute permanent cleavages. Those who at a given time and in a certain situation act as one unit are on another occasion and in a different situation divided by hostility into opposed units. This relativism is characteristic of the whole structure and all political groups are relative units although some, it is true, have greater permanence than others.

The Samaale nomads are a warlike people and their society is highly militaristic. Ranging over wide distances in the search for pasture and water, the nomadic social units are hamlets of a few closely related nuclear families, with their sheep and goats, and burden camels for their transport. The grazing camels, mostly female, constitute a separate unit. They are herded in camel-camps containing the camels of a few siblings, or other close relatives (mainly agnatic), in the charge of youths and un­married men. The camel-camps are usually out in the far grazing, often hundreds of miles from the nomadic hamlets to which the herds belong. This primary division reflects the greater mobility and less demanding water requirements of camels which, when the grass is dry, are watered every two weeks or so and marched over long distances, frequently above a hundred miles between the pastures and the wells. The weaker sheep and goats need to be watered almost every four or five days when the grass is dry, and cattle more frequently. Thus the nuclear families grouped in threes and fours in nomadic hamlets cannot move far from water in the dry seasons. Women and children, with from time to time the male head of the nuclear family, move with the flocks which, because of their slight powers of endurance as compared with camels, limit their range of movement.

When in an area with pasture and water, hamlets and camel-camps congregate in temporary settlements. In these people who are close agnates tend to pitch camp side by side. But the grazing settlement has no residential solidarity of any importance. As the grazing and water are exhausted after a few weeks or days, according to their abundance, the settlement disintegrates and individual hamlets, nuclear families, or small parties of kinsmen set off in search of new pasture. New settlements are formed with a new configuration of individual nuclear families and hamlets, but again, one in which people of the same small lineage-group tend to camp close to each other. The same is true of the settlements of camel-camps. Just as the settlements of nomadic hamlets with the flocks of sheep and goats, these form and dissociate in time of peace at random and without engendering any sentiments of residential solidarity.

Lack of any clearly defined territorial units is indeed characteristic of Samaale society and is in keeping with pastoral nomadism in a semi-arid country. The distribution of rain is very scattered and it is—in peace-time—mainly in relation to the availability of grazing and water that movements correspond. People, often of different clans and even clan-families, congregate and interpenetrate in an area of reasonable pasture and in their movements follow the distribution of good grazing. It is thus inappropriate to speak of a ‘tribal’ structure among the nomads, for the social units are not tribes but lineage-groups. While lack of territorial solidarity is characteristic, lineage-groups sometimes do assume transient territorial formations for the purposes of self-defense. This is a matter of tactical convenience and policy, and reflects the political unity of agnates and not the association of territorial divi­sions with political interests. At the level of the clan, however, and sometimes at the level of the sub-clan, a certain degree of localization and of attachment to territory occurs. But even so, prescriptive rights to grazing, even between potentially hostile clans of different clan-families, are not usually asserted in the absence of hostilities. Another property of the clan which distinguishes it from other orders of lineage-group is that it is with clans that the only clearly defined political office—that of Sultan—is associated. Most clans, although not all, have titular leaders dignified beyond their actual power and authority by the Arabian title Sultan. The office, which is sometimes hereditary, is, on the whole, an empty one and is little more than of a representative and symbolic kind. There are no formal courts attached to Sultans. Although they usually own considerable herds of camels, flocks of sheep, and other property, their riches are often surpassed by the wealth of merchants and other private persons. A Sultan is always spoken of with great respect but he is often in practice shown little consideration. Only leaders of exceptional personality and character succeed in investing their titles with authority beyond that of primes inter pares in their clans.

At every level of segmentation, it is the elders of the nomadic hamlets who control political relations. All adult free-born males’ may speak at the councils (shir) which are summoned as need arises to debate the policy of a lineage-group. There are no permanent councils. In settlement of disputes, resort may be had to a panel of arbi­trators (guddi) also appointed on an ad hoc basis. Unbiased assessors are chosen who are also expert authorities on Somali custom. They have, however, no direct sanc­tions with which to implement their findings. Ultimately a settlement depends upon the willingness of the parties to settle, and upon political expediency in terms of the relations between the lineage-groups to which they belong. In negotiation and arbitration, religious men (sheikhs and wadaads) play an important, though not exclusive, role. But they cannot enforce a ritual settlement of a dispute. Only the Administrations have established courts with effective juridical powers. Outside these self-help remains the basic mechanism for redressing wrongs. This is explicitly recognized by the nomad, whose code is that might is right and that the weak must yield to the strong. The notion of the paramount importance of force is expressed in the proverb: ‘Either be a mountain or attach yourself to one.’

The Somali expression beer, usually translated custom ‘, means basically treaty or contract and the reciprocal code of duties and privileges founded upon it. Two or more lineage-groups at any level may enter into a beer agreement binding themselves together by a specific treaty and for specific purposes, usually for defense or agres­sion. Policy is determined by treaty mainly in relation to hostility, to forward or combat which as occasion demands, different lineage-groups ally together. A parti­cular treaty, when no longer appropriate to a new set of conditions, is rescinded. By treaty, explicit obligations and rights are laid down and superimposed upon the implicit bonds of agnation. In a narrower sense, the word beer describes the agree­ment to pay blood-wealth (at a statutory rate of 100 camels for a man) in common, by a few small, mainly directly related, lineage-groups. This is further an alliance for mutual defense in opposition to other stronger groups which the parties to the agree­ment could not combat individually. These small political units are generally known in the British Protectorate by the expression ‘Dia-paying group’ from the Arabic d-y-t, blood-wealth (Somali, mag). Although this name suggests a greater rigidity and stability than in fact exists we retain it here for convenience. The strength of a single Dia-paying group varies between a few hundred and a few thousand men. It rarely exceeds a thousand. In the British Protectorate in 1957, there were over 300 Dia-paying groups of relative stability. In a system of shifting agnatic attachment and loyalty Dia-paying groups are the most stable and effective political units. While outside them, disputes are settled basically in terms of self-help and administrative interven­tion, within them there may be said to be a rule of law, for their members have some powers of punishment with which to impose the terms of the treaty which unites them. They have no constitutionally defined leaders and their affairs are regulated by the component elders in ad hoc councils.

The practice, introduced during the Egyptian administration of the Somali coast, of appointing salaried representatives (‘aaqils) for Dia-paying groups has been re­tained in all the Somali territories. In many cases, too, co-operative Sultans have been recognized by the Governments of the Somalilands and receive salaries as clan representatives. Both the ‘aaqils and Sultans are in this context often called ‘Chiefs’ and it is implied that they have authority over the lineage-groups which they are chosen to represent. This may be true of a handful of exceptional Sultans, but generally, and particularly in the case of ‘aaqils (now in the British Protectorate styled ‘Local Authorities’), these are representative offices only. The holders of the offices are usually little more than mediators or go-betweens between Government and lineage-group. Although usually, they have little or no power over their kinsmen they are useful in maintaining liaison with the Administrations.

In contrast to those who hold political authority (elders and Sultans), men of religion—wadaads and sheikhs’—are not normally invested with secular authority. Their sphere, as is indicated in the division between warrior (waranleh, lit. spear-bearer) and wadaad, man of religion, is usually restricted to religious matters. This does not of course mean that sheikhs are not expected to be partisan, for in lineage-group disputes, sheikhs always, except in very exceptional cases, support their own agnates and are expected to intercede with God on their behalf. But at the same time, they are to a certain extent, by definition, and more in theory than practice, divorced from worldly affairs and dedicated to the promotion of Muslim solidarity. Through the Sufi Dervish Orders (tariiqas) in which they hold office, and through which they are bound by the doctrine of the brotherhood of the faithful, they achieve some independence from clan and lineage squabbles. They are the champions of the Religious Law as opposed to clan custom (beer), and where the two conflicts, as, for example, in the payment of blood-wealth by lineage affiliation, they should stand on the side of the Shariah. Their greatest freedom from clan obligations is achieved in the tariiqa cultivating communities, of which there are but few in northern Somali­land, though considerable numbers in southern Somalia. Some of the latter have developed into small theocratic polities engaged in strife with surrounding Somali clans. But at least in theory, whether or not the members of a tariiqa are established as an independent cultivating settlement, membership of the Dervish Orders provides a new principle of aggregation and one that is nominally opposed to clanship.

So far we have considered the Samaale nomads, now we turn to examine the social organization of the mainly sedentary Rahanweyn and Digil. While the political struc­ture of the northern nomads is acephalous, highly anarchic, and extremely fluid, and at all times relative, the political structure of the Sab appears to be more formalized and hierarchical. There are, broadly, two types of agricultural settlement. In one, the land-holding political units are lineages composed of a usually small nucleus of those descended agnatically from the original settlers. They include a majority of later arrivals, of various clan and lineage-group origin, who, through adoption as clients with fictional agnation, have become identified with the genealogy of their hosts. In the second type, purely residential units have emerged in which rights to land are not tied to agnation, and in which lineages serve little or no political function. Here it seems legitimate to speak of a tribal organization with a hierarchy of territorial sub­divisions. Any fully satisfactory study of Sab political structure is lacking, but on the basis of information which I have reviewed elsewhere,’ it seems possible to describe their administrative organization as hierarchical. There is a much wider range of ranked offices, of specialized functionaries, and tribal Sultans, at any rate before the arrival of the Colonial Powers, seem to have wielded greater power than among the northern nomads. Similarly, the investiture of a new Sultan is a much more elaborate affair than in northern Somaliland. Such a hierarchical state-like organization is, on the one hand, founded in the adoption of agriculture and sedentary life. On the other, it is historically the consequence of the conquest of southern Somalia by Somali of nomadic origin and northern provenance, who wrested control of the arable land from pre-Somali Negroid and Galla populations. Remnants of the latter still survive in the riverine regions of Somalia and have left behind them indelible traces in the present physical and cultural characteristics of the Sab. Compared to the northern Samaale nomads, the Sab are less warlike, less individualistic, more co­operative, and more biddable. The nomad recognizes these qualities and despises them. For him, they are well named ‘Sab’, since this word has for him the derogatory connotation of Midgaan, Tumaal, or Yibir bondsmen. To the nomad, the Sab are masaakiin, poor not so much in material wealth as in spirit.


The preceding brief account will, it is hoped, suffice for an understanding of the modern political movements which we now consider. Among the nomads, with their segmentary lineage political organization, the main barriers to the formation of national unity are the disuniting forces of clanship (tol) and blood-compensation rules (heer). Among the Sab, where clanship has to some extent lost its traditional political force in favor of ‘local contiguity’, the impediment to national patriotism is a diminished clanship supplemented by tribalism. In the following pages, I suggest that the organization of the new political parties reflects these different forces. On the whole, however, in describing pan-Somali nationalism, it is with the retarding influence of clanship and blood-compensation agreements that we are mainly con­cerned. In Somaliland, the clash of interests is not so much between traditional chiefs and a new elite—although there is something of this especially among the Sab of Somalia. The real struggle is between the ideal of national unity as opposed to the reality of the values of clanship and sectional kinship interests in the lineage system.

As a whole, the Somalilands, because of their poverty in natural resources, have been little affected economically by European colonization. Pastoral nomadism remains the basic economy, carrying with it for the majority of the population the traditional political structure and kinship values described above. There has been no general local industrial revolution’ and correspondingly little large-scale urbanization. The main towns in the Somali territories are tabulated here for comparison with estimates of their population.

French Somaliland               Jibuti, new town, population c. 30,000 (15,000 Somali).

British Protectorate              Hargeisa, new town, population c. 30,000 Somali.

Harar Province of Ethiopia    Harar, ancient city, population c. 60,000 (2,000? Somali).

Somalia                              Mogadishu, ancient city, population c. 110,000.

The presence of a class of traders is no new phenomenon, although the Somali element in it, as opposed to the Asian immigrant, has probably considerably in­creased over the last twenty years. Through foreign colonization markets have widened and trade extended. In the absence of any large European settler community in Somaliland the middle class of ‘new men’, which has arisen elsewhere in Africa in response to colonial rule, has been largely absorbed in posts in the administrative services. The influence of a European alien community is most marked in Somalia, the former Italian colony and the foothold for the Italian conquest of Ethiopia. But, compared with other African colonies, the numbers are small—at present including expatriate administrative staff amounting to little over 4,000—and economic develop­ments and the attraction of foreign investments have been correspondingly slight. Certainly, in Somalia, the work of the agricultural associations (the largest being the Society Agricola Italo Somala, S.A.I.S.) constitutes an economic development of some importance. But the number of laborers employed here and in light industries is small. The population of Somalia is estimated to consist of 40 percent nomads, 30 percent pastoralists who practice some agriculture, 20 percent riverine culti­vators, and 10 percent town dwellers. In the British Protectorate, 5 percent of the population are thought to practice cultivation (the north-western cultivators), 5 percent to live in towns, and the remainder (90 percent.) to be fully nomadic.

In the small territory of French Somaliland, on the other hand, almost half of the mixed Somali, Danakil, and Arab population is concentrated in the relatively heavily industrialized port of Jibuti, on which the country’s economy mainly depends.

As a whole, the Somalis have not been harshly administered or savagely oppressed under the colonial regimes. This common spur to nationalism—in the form of opposition to colonial rule—was probably, however, of some significance in Somalia during the period of Fascist administration and may yet be so in the Ethiopian Province of Harar. But what seems in all the Somali territories to be of greater importance in forwarding demands for self-determination is the objection of a Muslim people to infidel rule. Nationalist ideals—as I shall show—always tend to be associated in Somaliland with Islamic unity opposed to Christian Government.

Another factor of general significance in Somaliland is the disruption which accompanied the East African Campaign (1940-1) and the placing of British, Ethiopian, and ex-Italian territories under a common administration. Under British Military Administration (1941-9) the artificial and arbitrary international boundaries which divide Somaliland were opened and new ideas and aspirations were widely disseminated.

As in other territories, the extension of Western education helps to foster national­ist aspirations and to promote the desire for independence, for which, indeed, in countries such as Somalia and British Somaliland committed to self-determination, it is intended. Contact through travel for work or education (many Somalis have worked abroad as seamen) and through the media of the radio and press, with events in the world at large and nationalist movements elsewhere, certainly plays a significant part. Recently an independent Somali newspaper was founded.

It is evident that the forces conducive to nationalist inspiration should be most developed in Somalia under United Nations Trusteeship and Italian Administration with a ten years’ apprenticeship to independence (1950-60). The present policies of encouragement and preparation for self-government in Somalia and British Somali­land seem to constitute a more important factor in the stimulation of nationalist aspirations than the more common indirect effects of colonial government. New developments in French colonial policy (through the loi cadre) are beginning to have a similar effect in French Somaliland.

Before proceeding to examine the modern political movements one further general remark must be made. In all the parties only a small minority of leaders occupied in the central party administration are full-time professional politicians. The initiative comes from these men and much support, especially in the nationalist organizations, derives from traders in the towns and from those of the young educated elite who have not been precluded from political campaigning by appointment to government service. In Somalia government servants are allowed a wider latitude in political affairs than they are in the Protectorate, and since also the spread of education is wider it is not surprising that the most effective political organizations are found in Somalia.


Political parties in Somaliland fall roughly into three categories (see chart). First, there are those parties which are simply the modern political organ of a particular clan or group of clans and which, whatever lip-service they may pay to the ideal of Somali nationalism, are fundamentally committed to promote and safeguard the interests of the particular clan or group of clans which they represent. Secondly, there are those parties which are entirely opposed to the traditional values of agnation and to the distinction between Samaale and Sab. Their principal aim is to further a truly pan-Somali nationalism. The extent to which these ideals are promoted in practice is another matter. The third type of party, in a sense intermediate in composi­tion between the clan party and the pan-Somali party, is that founded on common residence in a particular region. This type founded on regional or territorial (tribal) values occurs only in Somalia. Only in part of Somalia, as we have seen, have resi­dential ties to some extent replaced agnation as a political principle in the traditional social organization.


1. Clan Parties

Mahlia Party                         Formerly in the British Protectorate.

Ishaaqiya                            Kenya, British East Africa.

Marrehaan Union                 Somalia.
Hawiye Party                       Somalia.

2. National Parties

The Somaliland National League     British Protectorate mainly.

The National United Front              British Protectorate.

The Somali Youth League              French Somaliland, Ethiopia, British Protectorate,                                                              Somalia, Kenya, East Africa, &c.

The Somali Democratic Party         Somalia.

United Somali Association            Kenya, British East Africa.

Union Republicaine                      French Somaliland

3. Regional (and tribal) Parties

The Afgoi-Audegle Party         Somalia.

The Banadir Youth                 Somalia.

The Hizbia Digil-Mirifleh         Somalia.

Shidleh Party                        Somalia.

Bajuni Fiqarini                      Somalia.

1. Clan Parties

We take first those organizations which are founded on ties of clanship and whose aim is to promote the interests of a particular agnatic group. Parties of this type are less developed in the British Protectorate than they are in Somalia. This is to be ascribed to a feebler degree of political consciousness in the modern sense in the Protectorate, and not to a weakening of the ties of clanship, for it is, as we have seen, in Somalia that the tendency to overcome the bonds of kinship is most developed and associated in the south with an agricultural economy. The Habar Awal, ‘Iise Muuse of the British Protectorate, had, however, from 1952 to 1954 a short-lived political party, the Mahlia, whose aims were principally the promotion of ‘Ilse Muuse interests. And at the moment there is a strong movement towards the forma­tion of similar purely clan parties, although in 1957 no well-organized or clearly defined political party of this kind had made its appearance in the Protectorate. In British East Africa the interests of Somali immigrants (mainly Ishaaq) are served by the Ishaaqiya society, whose aims, despite some connexion with the Somaliland National League of the Protectorate, seem to be less political than simply those of an association or club. The Ishaaqiya is, moreover, basically concerned with emphasiz­ing Somali claims to Arabian descent in order that the Ishaaq settlers may be classed with the Asian section of the East African populations and in return for paying a higher tax enjoy the advantages of Arabian education and other privileges. Africans regard this as typical Somali snobbery, and there is no doubt that whatever tangible benefits may result from their classification as ‘non-Natives’, Ishaaq honor is at stake.

The Marrehaan Union is the organ of the Marrehaan (Daarood) of the trans-Juban region of Somali. It is a splinter group of Daarood (Daarood in the main being S.Y.L.) and has some slight influence with one seat in the Somalia Legislative Assembly. The Hawiye Party represents some of the Hawiye of Somalia (other Hawiye support the S.Y.L.) but is of little importance and has no representative in the Legislative Assembly. Hawiye supporters were in 1956 estimated to comprise some 30 per cent of the S.Y.L. following which indicates that, although there is a Hawiye Party frankly seeking support on clan lines, it has not yet achieved much success in its appeal to traditional kinship ties. To promote and encourage Hawiye support, however, the party was instrumental in organizing a memorial service (siyaaro) for the eponymous ancestor of the Hawiye clan-family at Mogadishu on 12 October 1956. This was an attempt to marry the traditional expression of Hawiye clan solidarity with modern political aims.

2. National Parties

Of the second class of political parties—those whose declared goal is the establish­ment of Somali nationalism and the destruction of the crippling ties of kinship and clan allegiance—the oldest is the Somaliland National League (S.N.L.) which has existed intermittently under various titles in the British Protectorate since 1935. This organization, with some connexion with the Ishaaqiya of Kenya, is principally con­fined to the Protectorate where it assumed its present form and title in 1951. It draws most of its support from the Ishaaq clans although it includes also some Dir and Daarood amongst its members. The League has a central committee, local (or district) committees, and a general assembly. The composition of the central and local com­mittees includes a president, secretary, treasurer, and other members. The League’s headquarters are at Burao and there are other branches at Hargeisa, Berbera, Borama, Erigavo, Sheikh, and Odweina. Admission to the League is by entrance fee (3s. E.A.) and a monthly subscription of is. 6d. is payable. Members wear a badge bearing the legend in Arabic, ‘Be united in the name of God’ ‘and S.N.L.’ members are re­quired to swear to sacrifice their lives for their country if necessary. The League is predominantly Muslim in outlook and aims, is in contact with Egypt, and has ties with the local Islamic Somali Association in Aden. The original program was:

(a) to work for the unification of the Somali race and Somali territories;

(b) to work for the advancement of the Somali race by abolishing clan fanaticism and encouraging brotherly relations among Somalis;

(c) to encourage the spread of education’ and the economic and political develop­ment of the country;

(d) to co-operate with the British Government or any other local body whose aims are the welfare of the inhabitants of the country.

With the return to Ethiopia, by an Anglo-Ethiopian Agreement of 29 November 1954, of the Haud and former Reserved Areas, in fulfillment of the Anglo-Ethiopian Treaty of 1897, a treaty which Somalis have never recognized, and the independence which Somalia is destined to attain in 1960 (or 1959), the S.N.L. is now pressing for a grant of similar status to the Somaliland Protectorate. Recent (1956-7) events in the Middle East, the Egyptian seizure of the Suez Canal and Anglo-French intervention in Suez, have stimulated the pro-Egyptian and pro-Arab World tendencies of the League.

Another nationalist movement of importance in the British Protectorate is the National United Front (N.U.F.). This organization, which is entirely confined to the Protectorate, is a convention or congress rather than a party. It was founded in 1955 at a public conference with the aims of obtaining the return of the former Reserved Areas to the Protectorate, and of working for the independence of the Protectorate within the British Commonwealth. A further aim now being given in­creasing prominence is that of the federation to Somalia. Originally an alliance of the S.N.L. and S.Y.L. in the Protectorate and of other associations and private indivi­duals and district representatives, it received wide support at the time of its inception. Because of its character as a convention rather than a party and its failure hitherto in the first of its objectives—the return of the Haud and Reserved Areas—much S.Y.L. and S.N.L. support has been lost, and it now tends, although impressive in the caliber of its leaders, to lack any constant following in the country. Its force lies in its flexibility of organization, which is open to all and not bound by a party system, and in its extremely able administrative core. Unlike the S.N.L. and S.Y.L., the N.U.F. does not have local branches throughout the country, but that does not mean that it cannot on occasion receive support from all quarters. The amounts of donations and financial aid received from all sections of the Protectorate community, and not only in British Somaliland, are impressive. And in keeping with its mediatory char­acter as an all-party convention, the N.U.F. have on occasion successfully intervened in clan and lineage-group disputes.

The Somali Youth League (S.Y.L.) was founded in Somalia in 1943. From its inception, it has championed the cause of a greater Somalia—of a linking together under one Somali government of all the Somali territories from French Somaliland to the Northern Province of Kenya. When the British Military Administration of Somalia (then ex-Italian Somaliland) was disbanded in 1949, the party campaigned strongly for the unification of all the Somali territories and this proposal was sup­ported by Britain’s Foreign Minister at the time (Ernest Bevin). This solution was not acceptable to the Great Powers who returned Italy to Somalia as administering authority of a United Nations Trusteeship Territory which was to attain indepen­dence in 1960. The S.Y.L. played a prominent part in the Mogadishu riots of 1949 which were held to demonstrate dissatisfaction at the return of Italian administration. Elections were held in Somalia during February 1956 for sixty seats in the newly created Legislative Assembly and voting took place both in the municipalities and the interior. The S.Y.L. won a decisive majority of 43 seats. The organization of the Assembly and the scope and policy of Somalia’s S.Y.L. government will be discussed in the following article.

The headquarters organization of the party at Mogadishu includes a president, a deputy, a secretary, treasurer, comptrollers, and some twelve other members of council. District branches in Somalia and other Somali territories have a similar organization. Membership requires payment of an entrance fee and a small monthly subscription. A membership card is issued and a badge bearing the inscription ‘S.Y.L.’ As with the S.N.L. of the Protectorate, wherever there is a party branch weekly meetings are held in a building used as a meeting place and club by the local party members. The proceedings at these meetings are generally formal. When the local party leaders enter the premises all present stand up as a sign of respect. Young members are appointed as ushers responsible for the discipline of the meeting. When the young members act as stewards at local meetings, and especially at public demon­strations, they wear a uniform consisting of white slacks and a white shirt crossed diagonally from shoulder to hip by a red and blue bandolier with the slogan S.Y.L.’ The introduction of a measure of formal discipline and of colored uniforms and banners is a modern innovation foreign to traditional Somali clan life. Some pre­cedent, however, exists in the organization (although less formal) of the Sufi Dervish Orders. The local weekly meetings are generally of much the same form. They are largely taken up with discussions and addresses on the aims of the party and with debates on matters of topical interest. A prominent feature common to all is the recitation and singing of patriotic verse (usually in the form of gabay) and songs epitomizing the aims of the party. It is particularly interesting that the gabay, which in the traditional social context is often an effective vehicle for clan and lineage-group enmity, should here be used to promote the extension of nationalist sentiments and unity. In the partly Bantu culture of southern Somalia the meetings, in which women also participate, include entertainments and dancing.

The pan-Somali and non-kinship character of the S.Y.L. is illustrated in its mem­bership in Somalia which was in 1956 estimated to comprise: Daarood, 50 percent., Hawiye 30 percent., Digil-Mirifleh 10 percent., and others 10 percent. Its strength in Somalia is indicated by the overwhelming majority which the party gained in the elections for the Legislative Assembly. There are branches throughout Somalia. In the British Protectorate, there are branches at Burao, Hargeisa, Borama, Las Anod, Erigavo, and along the Makhir coast in the east of the Protectorate. The central council for the Protectorate is established at Berbera. Although in close contact with the Somalia headquarters organization, the S.Y.L. in the Protectorate lacks the vitality of the movement in Somalia. Its leaders are not of the same caliber as those in the south. With a following in the Protectorate smaller than that of its rival the S.N.L., the party derives much of its support from the eastern Dulbahante and Warsangeli (Daarood). The S.Y.L. exists also, necessarily undercover, in French Somaliland, Ethiopia, and the Northern Province of Kenya. In all these territories it is banned. In every region of Somaliland, its policy is nationalistic and pan-Somali, but the extent to which these ideals are promoted in practice should not be judged too harshly, for it should be compared with other mainly clan organizations such as the Hawiye Party and Marrehaan Union, discussed above.

Finally, among the present parties striving to overcome the bonds of clanship must be mentioned the Somali Democratic Party of Somalia, which although a small party, nevertheless managed to gain three seats in the legislature. It exists only in Somalia and has an estimated following of Daarood 50 percent., Hawiye 40 percent., others 10 percent.

3. Regional (and tribal) Parties

The final group of parties are those which represent territorial rather than clan interests. These existed in 1957 only in Somalia, where, as we have seen in the south, the traditional lineage structure has been superseded to a considerable extent. There are four small parties, none of which returned a candidate to the Assembly in the 1956 elections. The Young Banadir, representing the interests of some of the peoples of the Banadir coast and based on Mogadishu, is currently estimated to be composed of Reer Hamar 80 percent., Digil-Mirifleh 10 percent., and others 10 percent. The Afgoi-Audegle Party represents the cultivators (mainly Rahanweyn) based in the region between the villages of Afgoi and Audegle on the Shebelle River to the south­west of Mogadishu. This party is much smaller than the Young Banadir which in the 1956 elections ranked fourth amongst the parties in the poll. It was primarily a com­bination of interests for the purpose of gaining seats in the elections and had almost completely collapsed in 1957. The remaining two small parties of this class and with little influence are the Bajuni-Ficiarini which caters for the interests of the coastal Bajuni of southern Somalia, and the Shidle Party which represents the Negroid Shidle cultivators of the Shebelle River.

The most important party of this type is the Digil-Mirifleh Party (Digil and Miri­fleh, including Rahanweyn 90 percent.; Reer Baraawa 5 per cent.; others 5 percent.), which represents the interests of the Digil and Rahanweyn cultivators (or most of them) and associated tribes, and includes the support of the people of the town of Brava (Reer Baraawa). They gained 13 seats in the Assembly of Somalia in the 1956 elections, the largest number of seats held by any single party on the opposition benches, and with their good organization and vitality are the nucleus of an effective opposition. The existence of the Hizbia Digil-Mirifleh was in 1957 the nearest approach in Somalia to a modern political cleavage between Samaale and Sab and following traditional lineage principles. In classing the Hizbia Digil-Mirifleh with the regional parties, I have been guided by the fact that, although their name refers to the eponymous ancestors of the Digil and Rahanweyn clan-families, their organiza­tion as a political party is not based on lineage affiliation. As was shown above, it is in this region that tribalism founded on territorial ties is taking the place of clanship, and it is the common cultural, economic, and territorial interests of the Digil and Rahanweyn inhabiting the most fertile region of Somalia that their party represents. At times, indeed, the Digil-Mirifleh Party has gone so far in expressing the sense of independence and identity of the Digil and Rahanweyn tribes as to advocate the creation in southern Somalia of a separate and autonomous Digil-Mirifleh state. This aim had not been achieved in 1957, nor can it command much support, for the riverine area occupied by the Sab is the richest and most capable of economic develop­ment in Somalia.

In this article I have examined the organization of modern Somali political move­ments in relation to traditional political organization, I have argued that there are three principal types of party; clan, national, and regional or tribal. To some extent, these three types reflect regional variations in the traditional social organiza­tion and traditional cleavages. Only in southern Somalia, where regional tribalism partly replaces agnation as a political principle, are regional and tribal political parties found. In the concluding part of this study, which it is hoped to publish in a later number of Africa, I shall discuss the present constitutional position and the activities of the parties in the different Somali territories.

Type: Research Article

Information: Africa , Volume 28 , Issue 3 , July 1958 , pp. 244 – 261
Copyright © International African Institute 1958
Published By Cambridge University Press


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