Modern Political Movements in Somaliland Part II. This second article studies the present position of nationalist feeling and the degree to which recent constitutional changes in government and administration have recognized the growth of nationalist aspirations and promoted their extension in French and British Somaliland, Harar Province of Ethiopia, Somalia, and the Northern Province of Kenya; The importance of Islam in furthering nationalism and in helping to overcome the cleavages of clan and Dia-paying group affiliation which oppose the formation of a unified Somali nation. References.

Modern Political Movements in Somaliland Part II


By I. M. Lewis

IN a preceding article, I discussed the organization and aims of modern Somali political movements in the light of the traditional political structure. Three types of political organization were distinguished: clan, regional (or tribal), and nationalist. These three types reflect traditional variations in the social structure and culture of different regions of Somaliland and also varying degrees of political evolution. I drew attention to the extent to which all parties—especially those with nationalist aims—have adopted a religious ideology and pointed out that Islam, through the traditional organization and aims of the Sufi Dervish Orders (tariiqas), has provided a precedent for pan-Somali solidarity. I now attempt to assess the extent of nationalist feeling in the different Somali territories and examine the degree to which recent constitutional changes in government and administration have recognized the growth of nationalist aspirations and promoted their extension. I discuss first the present position in the five Somali territories: French and British Somaliland; Harar Province of Ethiopia; Somalia; and the Northern Province of Kenya. Finally, I consider the importance of Islam in furthering nationalism and in helping to overcome the cleavages of clan and Dia-paying group affiliation which oppose the formation of a unified Somali nation.



1. French Somaliland

The Cote des Somalis have a currently estimated population of 63,000 of whom 3,000 are Europeans, 26,000 Danakil (‘Afar), 17,000 ‘Iise Somali, and the remaining 17,000, which includes Arab (6,000) and other immigrants, mainly Somali (Habar Awal, Gadabuursi, &c.). It thus seems that the total Somali population is slightly in excess of the Danakil. Since the Danakil and `rise are traditional enemies their administration and the promotion of Somali nationalism aiming ultimately at the formation of a Greater Somalia, set special problems.

Prior to June 1957, there was a local Representative Council consisting of two sections. One contained representatives of the expatriate French community and the other Somali, Danakil, and Arab members. This assembly appointed a representative to the Council of the French Republic and to the Assembly of the French Union. The total electorate of the territory appointed one Deputy to the metropolitan National Assembly.

The constitutional position was radically altered by the establishment, in accordance with the loi-cadre, of a Territorial Assembly for which elections were held in June 1957. As in Somalia, the right to vote was limited to the adult male population. Two parties contested thirty seats in the Assembly divided among three constituencies, Jibuti, Tajura, and Obock, of which the capital Jibuti was allocated the largest num­ber of seats. The elections were won by the Union Republicaine led by Mahamuud Harbi (`lise Deputy in the metropolitan Chamber) who defeated his opponents in all three constituencies. The Union is a Somali-Danakil coalition with the financial back­ing of immigrant Arab merchants. These interests are reflected in the composition of the council of ministers of whom four are Somali, two Danakil, one Arab, and one European. External and military affairs remain in the control of the metropolitan government and the Council is presided over by the Governor of the Cote as President. The Vice-President is Mahamuud Harbi, and the Arab member, Ali Kubeesh, a prominent merchant, is the Minister of Finance. The European member is the Minister of Education. The allocation of portfolios, where the Arab minister holds the responsi­bility for finance, represents the balance struck between Somali nationalistic aims in the person of Mahamuud Harbi and economic considerations since the Arab com­munity has a greater interest in commerce than the Somali or Danakil. The economy of the Cote depends almost entirely upon the trade flowing through the port of Djibouti from Ethiopia. Since, in Eritrea, Ethiopia now has the alternative ports of Massawa and Assab, the Ethiopian Government is in a position to use economic sanctions to restrain Somali nationalism. There is also the question of resolving Somali and Danakil rivalry as well as providing for the security of Arab traders, to say nothing of French colonial policy.

In spite of the apparent resolution of these points of issue in the victory of the Union Republicaine, and its at least partial support of the pan-Somali movement, the bulk of the Somali population has so far shown little interest in Somali nationalism. The `Iise are the only Somali clan who customarily graze in strength in French territory. They are less affected by external influences than most of the northern Somali and most strongly devoted to their traditional mode of life. Generally, they think of themselves as ‘‘Iise’ rather than ‘Somali’ and show little evidence of that wider consciousness of nationhood which is manifest, at least to some extent, in Somalia. But in French Somaliland, there is a greater difference between town and interior than elsewhere in Northern Somaliland. The town of Jibuti, with a mixed urban population of about 30,000 (nearly half the total population) includes over 15,000 Somali of whom a significant proportion are Ishaaq and Gadabuursi from the British Protectorate. With its Arab and other immigrants, it has something of a cosmopolitan character and is much more industrialized than the capital of the British Protectorate. Trade unions are more developed and better organized than in British Somaliland. Here the influence of the Somali Youth League and Somaliland National League continues and through a party such as the Union Republicaine may eventually find fertile soil for a strong Somali nationalist movement. The victory of the Union is already an indication of such a movement. The facility with which parties were organized to contest the elections compared with the failure of the parties in the Protectorate to put forward party rather than clan candidates for nomination to the Legislative Council, shows a wider political consciousness in French Somaliland.

The traditional division between the Somali and Danakil is clearly crucial. In recent years prior to the formation of the legislative assembly, the French Government appears to have been attempting to minimize the demands of the Somali section of the population, arguing that its interests are no more important than those of the Danakil. An impressive degree of solidarity between the two rival communities was shown in the elections. A further indication of unity is given by an S.Y.L. slogan which asserts that not only are all the Somali one but that they are at one with the Danakil (`Afar) and Galla of Ethiopia and Kenya. Probably the more control Somali and Danakil gain in their government the more clearly their traditional differences will reappear. This at least is what is happening in Somalia, where, since the inauguration of the legislative assembly, there has been an upsurge of clanship. Because of their close economic relationship with Ethiopia, Ethiopian imperialism may, more than in any other Somali territory, serve as a focus of unity sufficient even to overcome the traditional difference between the Somali and Danakil.

The new government may be expected to further education and the appointment of Danakil and Somali to officer grades in the administration in the direction already taken in British Somaliland and Somalia. But even without this, the new constitutional changes in French Somaliland have given an impetus to demands for fuller Somali representation in the Protectorate legislative council.

2. British Somaliland

There is in the Protectorate no resident European community other than that of government servants who enjoy no local representation. Up to 1957 the only central organization for the expression of Somali opinion has been the Protectorate Advisory Council which has, in principle, met annually. The Council’s last meeting was held in October 1957, and delegates were sent to the Council from each District in the Protectorate. These were appointed largely in the first instance at clan and lineage-group meetings (shirs) in the Districts, with the aid of District Commissioners who tried to ensure that a reasonably representative party of delegates was sent from each District. A Legislative Council was inaugurated on 21 May 1957.

At its inception, the Legislative Council included fifteen members: the Governor; and three ex-officio members; the Chief Secretary, the Attorney-General, and the Financial Secretary; five official members; and six unofficial members nominated by the Governor. The Advisory Council continues to meet and it is envisaged that the functions of the two councils should be complementary, providing for the representation of public opinion at different levels. The Advisory Council has, of course, no legislative powers. The six unofficial members were appointed by the Governor from a list of twenty-four candidates submitted on the last meeting of the 1956 Advisory Council. The government had, in fact, asked for sixteen nominations but great difficulty was experienced in selecting candidates and the smallest number which could be agreed upon was twenty-four. Starting in the Advisory Council, the process of selection overflowed into a series of hotly debated public meetings in Hargeisa. The N.U.F. leaders particularly tried to maintain the principle that candidates should represent the three political parties (N.U.F., S.Y.L., and S.N.L.) and be selected irrespective of their clan and lineage-group affiliation. They maintained that the criteria for election should be capability and education irrespective of whether the final selection ensured an even representation of the major clan and lineage groups in the Protectorate. What actually happened, however, was that candidates were proposed to represent the major clans and lineage groups in each of the six Admini­strative Districts very much on the same lines as the composition of the Advisory Council. That lineage group and not party political representatives were proposed is an index of the rudimentary character of party allegiance in British Somaliland.

In 1953 Local Government Councils were established in two municipalities, Hargeisa and Berbera, and were also set up at Burao and Gabiley towards the end of 1957.

With the developments in local and central government, there is increasing scope for party political activity. Of the three main parties (the S.Y.L., S.N.L., and the National United Front) at present working in the Protectorate, the S.N.L. with its more extreme opposition to a continuation of British influence tends to command a wider appeal and a popular but fluctuating following. With its policy of independence within the Commonwealth, its failure so far to retrieve the Haud and Reserved Areas, and its (in many people’s eyes) excessive moderation, the National United Front has little permanent support. But because its organization is not exclusive and is open to members of all other parties and interest-groups it has potentially the widest following.

As has been indicated important stimuli to anti-Ethiopian feeling and patriotism were provided by Britain’s transfer of the Reserved Areas in 1954, the unsatisfactory working of the Agreement by which the transfer was effected, and the Ethiopian Emperor’s imperialist speech on Somali-Ethiopian relations at Qabradare in the Haud in August 1956. But although the enmity generated by these actions was considerable it has not yet led to any effective political unity. As in all the Somali territories attempts to promote effective national unity—in any cause, no matter how wide and compelling its appeal—are vitiated by clan and lineage rivalries. Such jealousies founded in daily nomadic life are more important than national unity. The slight degree of modern political consciousness which exists in the Protectorate at the moment explains why no purely clan political parties (such as the Hawiye Party of Somalia) have yet been formed.

Those of the new elite, particularly, are acutely conscious of the crippling hold of clanship and blood-compensation agreements. For several years now, at District Council meetings, political meetings, and informal discussions, there has been talk of abolishing Somali heer (contract, agreement: in the widest sense, custom) which with clanship is regarded as the supreme impediment to the growth of political party and ‘national solidarity’. Demands for the abolition of these inhibiting forces have come from most sections of the community, especially, of course, from religious leaders (particularly those with modernist tendencies) and nationalist politicians. At a session of the Protectorate Legislative Council held in November 1957, a motion was tabled calling for consideration of how best to overcome ‘Somali tribal Heer’. The government agreed that a public enquiry should be held. But in spite of vocifer­ous pleas for their abolition on the part of a small section of the community the ties of clanship (tol) and treaty (heer) remain firmly rooted in Somali pastoral nomadism. Not­withstanding the work of the S.Y.L., S.N.L., and N.U.F. patriotic nationalism is little more than an empty slogan and has little reality as a permanently effective political sentiment. Agnation is far more important than party solidarity. Thus although local government councils have been established there is no question yet of municipal elections being contested on a party basis. They are conducted on lineage-group principles, members of one lineage-group supporting their candidate in opposition to a candidate from a rival lineage-group. The business of the councils is ruled by agnation. Proposals made by a member of a certain clan or lineage-group are supported by those of the council who are his agnates and opposed by those who are not. I give one further indication of the primacy of agnatic support in the field of recent political developments. In 1957 a certain well-known sheikh of the Habar Yuunis clan who had been studying for several years in Egypt returned to the Pro­tectorate and attempted to establish a strongly anti-government (i.e. anti-Christian imperialism) religious party. Among other things, he attacked the disrupting forces of clan and lineage-group rivalry and the illegal (according to the Shariah) Somali system of paying blood-compensation. He encountered apathy and also hostility from the religious leaders of other clans. Even amongst the Habar Yuunis he was opposed by many and supported (in opposition to this hostility) by a party of his own close agnates. The nature of his support was in strict contradiction to the nationalist ideals which he sought to promote.

Outside the towns, as might be expected, there is little permanent interest in the political parties, whose functions have little appeal. Clan and lineage-group support is most effectively solicited through agnatic connexions. But at the moment the parties and the modern political ideals which they propagate have not made much impression in the interior. Occasionally I have met clansmen who in reply to my greeting and question ‘of what clan are you’ answered ostentatiously ‘Somali’ and refused to divulge their lineage. But this attempt to impress the stranger with a show of national unity—in opposition to the nationality of the questioner—is no indication of effective political unity. Members of the parties are often found in the interior with their party membership cards carefully guarded among their valuables. But as far as their actions are concerned—as has been illustrated—party membership is not an effective principle of political grouping for the majority of the adherents of any party. But the local party meetings, if they do nothing else, at least maintain the existence of the party and occasionally increase its membership.

In 1957 there were about thirty Somali in the officer cadre out of a total of just over 200 officers in the Protectorate Administration. This degree of replacement of expatriate staff is in contrast to the rudimentary character of national feeling discussed above.

3. Ethiopia

The Somali inhabitants of Ethiopia are a minority of less than three-quarters of a million, who probably do not comprise more than one-sixteenth of the total populations of Ethiopia and Eritrea, and they are concentrated almost entirely in Harar Province. In considering the electoral rights of Somalis and their participation in government, therefore, it must be remembered that in contrast to their position in neighboring territories (other than in Kenya) in Ethiopia they constitute only one fraction of a large and heterogeneous population.

The Ethiopian Parliament consists of an Upper House of Senators, and a Lower House of Deputies in which, in the spring of 1957, there was one Somali nominee from the Ogaden. Under Article 77 of the New Constitution of Ethiopia, promulgated by the Emperor on 4 November 1955, provision was made for the holding within two years of the first general election to the Lower House, the Chamber of Deputies. Elections by direct suffrage and secret ballot were to be held throughout the Empire, including Eritrea, all men and women over twenty-one years of age having the right to vote. No property or literacy qualifications are required of the voters, but candidates for election must possess 1,000 dollars (Ethiopian) worth of immovable of $2,000 of movable property and deposit $250 with the regional Electoral Boards set up under the Electoral Law. Voters must have lived for at least one year in their electoral district. Those serving criminal sentences, or who have lost their civil rights (the punishment for political offenses) are excluded from voting. Voters are required to register their names and certain particulars in electoral registers in every electoral district and are provided with a voting card. The management of the elections as a whole is entrusted to a National Board of Registration and Elections established for the purpose in the Ministry of the Interior and consisting of three officials appointed by the Emperor. It has considerable powers and could, conceivably, influence the appointment of candidates.

The elections originally scheduled to commence on the 9th of January 1957 (and every four years thereafter) were not actually held until September, owing to various delays in the preparation of the election organization. To what extent the new representation will enable Ethiopian Somali subjects to participate in their government remains to be seen. The banning of all opposition political parties in Ethiopia contrasts sharply with the apparently highly democratic character of the electoral charter as defined in the Electoral Law. Although the Somali Youth League continues to operate underground the atmosphere of intense rivalry and competition among a large number of political parties, which formed the background to the 1956 elections in Somalia, is completely absent.

Some concessions have been made to Somali by appointments to the junior ranks of the officer cadre of administrative officials in Harar Province. If their standard falls short of that of Somali in similar administrative positions in surrounding territories, in the present undeveloped state of the Ogaden this may be of little consequence to those whom they administer. Current events show the mainly nomadic Somali of Harar Province to be content for the present to accept gifts from the Ethiopian Government, the appointment of `aaqils (balabats), and payment of stipends to traditional titular authorities (Sultans, Garaads, &c.) as adequate recognition of their rights. If they were thus left undisturbed from further interference, taxation, and the injustices of an allegedly oppressive and corrupt administration, they would probably continue content with their lot for some time to come. Indeed, while as we have seen, some Ethiopian Somali subjects have sought political asylum in the British Protectorate and lent their active support to the representations made by the National United Front to the British Government to seek the return of the administration of the former Haud and Reserved Areas to Great Britain, on the other hand, some British subjects from the Protectorate have freely sought appointment as Ethiopian `aaqils. This applies only to members of clans such as the ‘Iise, Gadabuursi, Habar Awal, Arab, `Iidagale, Habar Yuunis, in the west, and the Dulbahante in the east, who straddle the artificial and purely arbitrary boundary which separates British from Ethiopian territory. The current of defections is in both directions. It is thus difficult to infer the direction in which Somali loyalties really lie. While at the moment Somali under Ethiopian rule may complain that they are oppressed, the new constitu­tion of the Chamber of Deputies and increased participation in government may satisfy their demands. The extensions in education and health services and the development of the Haud promised in the Emperor’s speech at Qabradare in the Eastern Haud in August 1956 may, if not fulfilled, create dissatisfaction even among the nomadic inhabitants of the region.

It remains to be seen whether the concessions made and promised to Somali interests in the Ethiopian territories will be sufficiently strong to counteract the internal tendencies towards disaffection and the external forces of attraction of the progress towards self-determination of Somali in adjacent territories. At the moment, the greatest attractive force is vested in the pan-Somali nationalist government of Somalia. Here men of the same clans and lineage-groups as those living in Ethiopia are participating fully in the government of a country which aims at the formation of a greater and united Somaliland. The continued ‘Somalization’ of the administration of the British Protectorate, and the development of increasing Somali representation provided for in the Legislative Council, together with the statement of policy made by Lord Lloyd on behalf of the British Government in May 1956, which expressed modified approval of the eventual unification of the Protectorate with Somalia, constitute in British Somaliland an attraction comparable to, if weaker than, that exercised by Somalia. As the time approaches for Somalia’s independence in 1960, there is bound to be increasing Somali nationalist activity in Ethiopia even if it is still an underground movement. Whether or not it will be strong enough in Harar, the center to which Somali in Ethiopia traditionally look and where political activity would probably have the strongest foothold, to combat Ethiopian suppression and to arouse strong nationalist opposition to Ethiopian rule in the Province as a whole is impossible to predict. Quite apart from these movements in Ethiopia the future of Somalia itself, economically insecure and requiring considerable external aid, remains precarious in spite of the progress made towards self-government.

4. Somalia

The nascent state of Somalia is politically as well as economically (though still a poor country) the most developed of the Somali territories. In the elections held in February 1956 for the newly constituted Legislative Assembly the S.Y.L., as we have seen, were returned with forty-three seats and a clear majority.’ Thirteen seats went to the Hizbia Digil-Mirifleh, three to the Somali Democratic Party, and one to the Marrehaan Union: the remaining ten seats in the legislature were filled by members

Modern Political Movements In Somaliland Part Iichosen to represent the minorities; four Italians, four Arabians, one Indian, and one Pakistani. The President of the Assembly is Aaden Abdallah of the Hawiye clan-family. The S.Y.L. government is led by a council of five ministers, two of whom are Daarood, two Hawiye, and one Dir. The Prime Minister, Abdallahi Iise is also Hawiye, so that in the Council of Ministers Hawiye members are in a majority. The extent to which, on the face of it, Daarood interests are subordinated to Hawiye is especially interesting since, as we have seen, membership of the League is at least half Daarood. And the S.Y.L. party as a whole is generally identified by members of other parties with the interests of the Daarood clan-family.

The program of the newly elected S.Y.L. government as outlined by the Premier in 1956 had the following principal objectives.

  1. Clarification and settlement of the Somalia-Ethiopian frontier.
  2. Stabilization of Somalia’s precarious economy: to balance the budget by attract­ing foreign capital and external aid, and by increasing taxation.
  3. The question of votes for women and the official language.
  4. Press and radio to be controlled by the Somalia government. The Citizenship Law defining Somali citizenship and deciding the status of immigrants. State pro­perties. The fuller Somali control of legal matters.

With this policy, the Hizbia Digil-Mirifleh opposition expressed their complete disapproval and stated that it contained nothing new.

With a central legislature in which the majority of members are Somali, and with a considerable number of municipal councils (47 in 1956), there is greater scope in Somalia for political party activity than in any other Somali territory. The standard of education of the Somali members of the legislative council is higher than in British Somaliland, and several members and some government ministers have had an experience of political missions to foreign countries including America. In their attitudes towards clanship and heer, politicians in Somali show a striking difference to those in the British Protectorate. Whereas in the latter territory the stranglehold of these traditional political principles is a burning question widely discussed, in Somalia their continued influence is discounted and even denied. In Somalia, a deliberate effort is made to give the impression that the force of agnation is a thing of the past. The end desired is westernization and the fiction is maintained that the goal has already been reached and that clanship is now so unimportant that it has no relevance in the new political field. Those of the educated elite particularly, and also many townspeople, resent being asked what clan they belong to. The reply ‘Somali’ to the question ‘What is your agnatic group?’ is obtained in other Somali territories only from a few S.Y.L. adherents, but in Somalia, it is commonly given in urban districts. When I tried to discover the clan and lineage identity of informants they told me their ‘ex-clan’ only with reluctance. Traditionally the polite form of address for a stranger is ‘agnate’ (inaadeer) but, especially in the southern towns, it has now changed to ‘brother’ (walaal). This change in greeting has clearly some signifi­cance, for it represents the ideal of a new unity in opposition to peoples of other nations.

But in spite of these manifestations of pan-Somali unity, it is not to be supposed that clanship is dead in the traditional organization of the country as a whole, or even in the new central legislature and municipal councils. On the contrary, the basic economy of the greater part of Somalia remains pastoral nomadism and carries with it traditional kinship and customary values. And it is not surprising, since there has been no major economic change, that this tradition should be carried over into the field of modern politics. In my previous article, I showed how clan parties such as the Hawiye Party have been formed to promote traditional lineage values. Even those parties which on a basis of their ideals I classified as nationalist (e.g. the S.Y.L.) still utilize lineage values in the new political field. In the total membership of the Somali Youth League, the Daarood are dominant, and when the majority of the remainder, who are Hawiye, are included the party clearly represents ‘Samaale’ (or northern nomadic) interests as opposed to ‘Sab’ (or southern cultivating). This is the basis of the intense rivalry between the S.Y.L. and the Hizbia Digil-Mirifleh. In canvassing for votes in the 1956 elections to the Assembly full use was made of agnatic support and the S.Y.L. were not behindhand in calling upon their agnates. The continued importance of agnatic solidarity is equally evident in debates in the Assembly and it would be strange if this were not so. What is significant, however, is that political leaders in Somalia should lay such stress on appearing westernized and on claiming to have overcome their traditional lineage values.

In southern Somalia, however, as I have indicated, a different pattern prevails. Nomadism has largely given place to cultivation and urban settlement and the traditional clan structure is decaying. In the wedge of arable land between the Juba and Shebelle Rivers, the Sab (Rahanweyn and Digil) cultivators have evolved a political structure which depends on residential and tribal solidarity rather than on agnation. Here and in the ancient cosmopolitan coastal centers (Mogadishu, Merca, Brava, &c.) residential, and in the towns professional, ties formed the principle of association in tribal hunting societies, village self-help associations, and craft guilds, which existed before the formation of the new political parties. With this tradition, it is not surprising that the ethnic and cultural unity, and common economic interests, of the Digil and Rahanweyn tribes, should find expression in a strong tribal party—the Hizbia Digil-Mirifleh. In addition to tribal solidarity pan-Somali sentiments among the Sab are such that in 1957 Digil and Rahanweyn support was thought to constitute some 10 percent, of the strength of the Somali Youth League. But the majority of the Rahanweyn and Digil support their own party, and the traditional rivalry between the noble northern nomads (the ‘Samaale’) and the southern cultivators (the ‘Sab’) continues in the hostility of the Hizbia Digil-Mirifleh to the S.Y.L. Examples of this feud have already been given but a few more may not be out of place. The H.D.M. has alleged discrimination on the part of S.Y.L. adherents against Rahanweyn and Digil members of the Government service. More recently, in opposition to the strongly anti-Ethiopian policy of the S.Y.L., the Hizbia Digil­Mirifleh has displayed willingness to reach a friendly agreement with the Ethiopians. Petitions have even been sent to the British Administration of the Northern Province of Kenya seeking for the transfer of the Digil and Rahanweyn area to British administration. This gives some idea of the depth of animosity between the two parties consonant with the traditional cleavage between the Sab and the Samaale. In the relations between Samaale and Sab members of the Assembly, some strain is also evident. The Samaale politician still feels something of his people’s traditional scorn for the sedentary and partly Negroid cultivator. Another internal political factor of some importance, and not related to the dichotomy between the northern nomads and southern Digil and Rahanweyn cultivators, is a territorial schism between the north and the south. In north-eastern Somalia, there is some opposition to the government from as distant a center as Mogadishu in the south. Similar feelings are sometimes expressed in the Protectorate. As well as reflecting the differences created by different systems of colonial rule, this seems also to refer to the medieval pattern of govern­ment, when the two main centers were Zeila in the north and Mogadishu in the south.

In external affairs recent Ethiopian moves have had much the same effect in Somalia as they have had in the Protectorate, although of course, the return of the Reserved Areas excited less interest in Somalia. The Emperor’s imperialist speech at Qabradare in the Haud, in which he advocated the federation of Somalia with Ethiopia on the Eritrean pattern, attracted little enthusiasm in Somalia. Expressing the general sentiments of the Assembly, the Prime Minister stated that his country had no wish to be subject to Ethiopian rule. Other expressions of hostility have appeared elsewhere. The government of Somalia continues to aim at the eventual fusion of the five Somali territories in an autonomous Somaliland. But the economic difficulties are recognized. As well as seeking to obtain foreign aid and to attract foreign investments, the government attaches considerable hope to the search for oil. In the development plans for the country, the approach is realistic, and it is accepted that, for the majority of the people, nomadism must remain the basic economy. No attempt is being made to develop an indirect system of administration in the interior (beyond the existing system of ‘aaqils and stipended ‘chiefs’). As a whole, the government is becoming increasingly bureaucratic. The local government already established in the towns and urban centers may develop, but the administration of the nomads seems destined to remain that of the District Commissioner following traditional methods of direct colonial rule.

Although for the reasons given above, national unity is not as widespread as politicians in Somalia claim, it is more developed than in any other Somali territory. The replacement of expatriate Italian staff by Somali officials is well advanced and is more in keeping with this development than in other parts of Somaliland. In 1955 out of six provinces there was one Somali Provincial Commissioner, and out of thirty districts seventeen Somali District Commissioners. By July 1956 all the Provincial and District Commissioners were Somali.

5. British East Africa: Kenya

Although there are small immigrant Somali communities in other British East African Territories, Kenya contains the largest Somali population, currently estimated, probably somewhat generously, at 100,000. The majority live as nomadic pastoralists in the Northern Province, and the remainder as mainly commercial immigrant communities in other parts of Kenya. This latter group belongs principally to the Ishaaq clan-family. The total Somali population is thus only a small fraction of the population of Kenya (currently estimated at over 6 million) and cannot hope to play any very significant part in the government of the country. Even in the Northern Province, with its estimated total population of 230,000, the Somali element constitutes only about a third of the population of the Province. The Somali are here militant invaders who entered the Province less than sixty years ago and would, if given the chance, overrun the territory and impose their dominion upon the less resilient and less warlike Booraan, Rendille, and other pre-Somali conquest peoples who are in the majority.

As we have seen, in the Kenya legislations Somalis with Arabs and Abyssinians are classified as ‘non-Africans’ and ‘non-Natives’, and I have referred above to the role of the Somali Ishaaqiya Society in stressing the peculiarly Arab or Asian, and non-African character of the Somali, in particular the Ishaaq immigrant communities. In the Northern Province, a special Poll Tax is levied. An amount not in excess of 20s. (East African) is payable annually by every clansman over eighteen years of age and may be paid on a clan or lineage-group basis although it has never, in fact, been collected otherwise than individually. This tax provides an exemption from taxation under the provisions of the African Poll Tax Ordinance (Cap. 252 of the Laws). In 1957 the Northern Province Poll Tax had not entitled any of the inhabitants of the Province to voting rights. The position is complicated by the fact that the Province is held to be too small to act as a separate constituency for the election of a representative to the Kenya legislature and in the 1956/7 elections would have to have been included with another African constituency. When this was put to the inhabitants of the province at the time, they unanimously decided to adhere to their present system of administration in which they have no elected representation. Opposition to voting for an African representative with an African constituency was particularly strong on the part of the Somali inhabitants of the Province. The constitutional changes introduced in 1958, provide for the nomination to the legislative council of a Somali representative for the Northern Province.

In 1957 there were no local government bodies in the Province. Attempts had been made to establish District Councils among the Rendille and Galla Booraan but these proved abortive and had not been extended to Somali. The Somali are a militant and troublesome minority and the government of Kenya has for long assumed the role of protecting the other inhabitants of the Province, and indeed of Kenya, by arresting Somali expansion from the north and west at the expense of the Booraan and other pre-Somali populations. This policy dominates all administrative action in respect of Somali in Kenya.

There are no Somali administrative officers in the Northern Province, although there are a number of Somali Police Inspectors in Kenya. There is no ‘Somalization’ in the Northern Province—a lack which is thrown into relief in Somali eyes by progress towards autonomy in Somalia—because the Somali are in the minority and any policy encouraging their advancement at the expense of the non-Somali majority would, the government maintains, be subject to opposition from the latter.

Immigrants Somali communities elsewhere in Kenya had, in 1957, no electoral rights, but may gain the right to vote in the constitutional changes planned for 1960. In. the 1957/60 Kenya Development Plans provision is made for a special school for the children of Somali immigrants.

Although they are a minority of little over fifty years standing in Kenya, Somali regard the Northern Province as their territory and feel the need for the enhancement of their rights in it. While the majority of the nomadic Somali population of the Province are probably no more politically conscious in the modern sense than in the Ethiopian Ogaden, or in the British Protectorate, for that matter, the contrast between Somali conditions in the Province and across the border in Somalia is so great that developments in Somalia can hardly fail to produce some dissatisfaction in Kenya. ‘Somalization’ even in the Ethiopian Ogaden is, at least nominally, more advanced. All Somali political activity is prohibited but the Somali Youth League continues its nationalist campaign underground and everything points to its probable intensifica­tion as the date of Somalia’s independence approaches. As mentioned earlier, the British Government has assured the inhabitants of the Protectorate (although they may feel doubts as to the assurances given) that they will be free to seek self-determination and, if they choose, federation with Somalia. While these assurances have been given for the Protectorate, Somali nationalists cannot help regarding the destiny of the Northern Province as lying equally closely with Somalia. The progress towards independence of their fellow clansmen across the border is bound to stimulate demands which may not be satisfied sufficiently under British administration in Kenya. And it is certain that pan-Somali aspirations will be encouraged by the eventual establishment of a Somalia consulate in Kenya.


I now discuss in a wider perspective the unifying influence of Islam. Through religion, opposed both to the disruptive force of clanship and of European colonialism, some precedent for national patriotism exists. Despite the high degree of cultural homogeneity of the Somali as a whole effective national unity is so slight that the appeal to unity is framed in terms of Muslim solidarity. The hostility between clans and clan-families is normally such that despite the community of culture and language the only permanent bridge along which unity may be established is religion. The call to pan-Somali nationalism is to a large extent founded on the Islamic ideal of the brotherhood of Muslims within the Somali community. As we have seen, all the national parties stress the brotherhood of Somali as Muslims, which is only to be expected, since the Somali are deeply attached to Islam which permeates all aspects of their life. We have noted that in the organization of the national parties and in that of the Somali Dervish Orders there are common features. Both possess uniforms or distinguishing features of dress, religious slogans, and a hierarchal administrative structure. As the national parties now advocate, the leaders of the religious orders have always preached the ideal of the equality of Somali irrespective of lineage affiliation. And the forces of agnation and custom which have opposed the realization of this ideal have weakened the strength of the Sufi tariiqas just as much as they now also undermine the strength of national party solidarity. Lineage-groups among the Samaale nomads are still stronger than Dervish Order or political party. A man may belong to a political party and to a tariiqa, but his primary allegiance is to his lineage of birth. Nor in the present economic conditions is this surprising. Nevertheless, the doctrine of Muslim unity propagated by the Sufi Orders has to some extent prepared the ground for the emergence of nationalism, and this is true even when the Somali religious orders have themselves habitually been at loggerheads and constituted a dividing force in the country. Already, particularly in Somalia, the religious rebellion (jihaad) led against Christian Colonialism by Sayyid Mahammad `Abdille Hassan (the so-called ‘ Mad Mullah’ of the Saalihiya Order) from 1899 to 1920, is beginning to be viewed as a turn of the century expression of Somali nationalism. Somali who recall the struggles of their forefathers in the medieval wars between the Sultanates of Awdal and Christian Abyssinia regard these also as nationalistic in scope. At the present time, none of the nationalistic parties has adopted the banner of the jihaad in summoning popular support, but a strong religious element persists in all their activities and could assume this character, particularly in Christian Ethiopia. The degree to which Islam may play a significant part in reinforcing internal Somali nationalist aspirations seems to depend largely upon the role adopted by Ethiopia, and, to a lesser extent, on future French policy in the Cote des Somalis and on British policy in Kenya.

Religious leaders, especially those who have modernist leanings or who have been trained at El-Azhar in Egypt, now play a prominent part in politics. In spite of a certain and understandable hostility from the more humble wadaads of the interior, who are not generally politically conscious, such sheikhs can inspire a considerable following. The ordinary wadaad in the interior has usually no direct contact with the external Muslim World, but the prestige of El-Azhar and other foreign Islamic centers attracts support among the religious authorities. The influence of men of religion in the interior has already been discussed in the first part of this essay.5 Broadly, as long as the religious interests which they champion do not run counter to dominant clan or lineage interests they usually acquire support, particularly when the question at issue can be converted into an attack upon the non-Muslim administering authority. Thus, through religion, political leaders who are at the same time prominent sheikhs may be instrumental in swaying public opinion in the interior.

On the other hand, while religion can act as a channel for the transmission of nationalist political aims, it can also constitute a formidable barrier to rapid development. With their authority in religion, sheikhs and wadaads tend to view as primarily religious, questions which politicians regard as primarily secular. The nominally pan-Muslim rather than Somali outlook of sheikhs sometimes exerts a retarding in­fluence on progress towards nationalism. This conflict appears most clearly in Somalia where, although Italian influence continues, it is at a minimum. The S.Y.L. government has already experienced considerable embarrassment in the proposed introduction of legislation concerning among other things, the status of women, women’s education, modern legal developments, and the adoption of a national written language.

Politicians and officials are not, as a whole, in sympathy with the tariiqa movements which they view with clanship as a dividing force in Somali society. They point to the frequent rivalry and strife between the Orders and to the abuses of which the descendants of saints have been guilty in collecting money and livestock in the name of the blessing (baraka) of their saintly founders. Few of them are active members of the Sufi Orders. Their general outlook tends in some respects towards Wahhabism, inasmuch as they are opposed to the cult of saints and its alleged abuses. But while many sides with the reformist movement in Islam, they are generally modernist in outlook and do not wish to achieve a Muslim state founded on the rigid application of the Shariah. There seems little doubt that the influence of the established orders has waned over the past fifty years although it is still strong, particularly in the interior. Secular politicians look to the spread of education, to which they attach great importance, to weaken further the hold of the tariiqas.

I have already alluded to the fact that in their external relations the political parties nominally support the Arab World and have in many cases close ties with Egypt. This was evidenced in the 1956/7 Suez crisis. But there is little doubt that the parties as a whole are influenced by materialistic considerations rather than by strong sentiments of purely religious unity. In Somalia, there is always the hope that Egypt may supply the economic aid so urgently required, or that in supporting the Arab block against the West help may come from some other quarter. There are, however, definite limits to Somali support of foreign co-religionists. There is no indication of any desire to be administered internally by a foreign Muslim power such as Egypt. In expressions of pro-Egyptian feeling and hostility to the non-Muslim administering powers, whether French, British, Italian, or Ethiopian, there is no suggestion of longing for the days of the Egyptian rule of the Somali Coast (1870-85).

Through the press and radio, and in Somalia by the action of propagandists, all the Somali countries are open to Egyptian propaganda. Some Somali students have taken advantage of the Egyptian Government’s offer of scholarships for study in Egypt. Egyptian influence cannot, therefore, be ignored. Mention has been made above’ of protest in Somalia at Egyptian interference in the internal affairs of the country, but such evidence of anti-Egyptian feeling should not be allowed to obscure the nominal identification of external Somali policies with those of the Arab World. It is significant that the new President of the S.Y.L. (the leader of the government party in Somalia) has recently been studying in Egypt. A wave of pro-Egyptian sympathy followed the assassination, in April 1957, of the Egyptian Member of the United Nations Advisory Council in Mogadishu. The murderer, a Somali who had returned from a visit to Egypt, was apparently not actuated by political motives. The crime has become something of a cause celebre, and the government of Somalia has taken great pains to placate the Egyptian Government. A posthumous award of the Order of the Somali Star (First Class) was made to the dead Minister, and his widow has been provided with a pension. Beneath the surface of popular expressions of this kind, however, the truth probably remains, as we should expect, that Somalis are Somali first and anything else second.

Another tendency among some Somali politicians, and recently publicly voiced by the Premier of Somalia, is to regard Somali as Africans and the destiny of a Somali independent state, whether Somalia alone or a greater Somalia, as bound up with the future of African self-determination. This trend, running counter to external Muslim solidarity, recalls the impatience of some Somali politicians and officials at the disruptive and inhibiting influence of religion, particularly through the activities of the Sufi Dervish Orders. Such conflicting tendencies have, of course, the fullest scope in Somalia, shortly to attain self-government. Future political trends depend, as well as on the internal factors discussed, on the roles adopted by Ethiopia and France and on events in the Arab World, and at least to some extent also on political developments in other parts of Africa.


In the first part of this study, a brief account of traditional Somali political organizations was given. Against this background, the organization aims, and activities of the modern political movements have been examined. Clan parties such as the Hawiye Party and tribal parties such as the Hizbia Digil Mirifleh represent a straightforward translation into modern political terms of traditional agnatic and territorial values. In the secular (as opposed to the religious) organization of society, the nationalist parties are a new type of organization. The patriotic sentiments and pan-Somali values which they seek to establish find no general precedent in the traditional secular order. With their outspoken and constantly reiterated opposition to the clan and tribal ties they do not base their nationalist aims upon the traditional lineage system or upon the total genealogy. The total genealogy which unites all Samaale (with the exception of the Daarood) as the children of Samaale but leaves the division between his descendants and those of Sab (the Digil and Rabanweyn) is gradually being forgotten. Pan-Somali clan ties are, in any case, too weak at this level to unite the Somali people as a nation in the face of the disruptive forces of agnation and contractual agreement at lower levels of the lineage system. A person more frequently acts as a member of a small corporate group at the base of the lineage system than as a member of a larger unit at the top. At the highest level, the organization is extremely unstable and soon disintegrates. The sustained opposition which could, in theory, knit together the whole Somali community at this level has not yet been experienced. This illustrates the difficulty of establishing a stable national policy in a lineage society without per­manently stable political units and where the boundaries of political cleavage are constantly shifting. Where the elite is largely the product of superficial westerniza­tion, achieved through education and not the result of fundamental economic changes in the country as a whole, the traditional pattern of political cleavages is not changed but simply translated into a new idiom. This process operates at several levels. On the one hand, there are new political organizations such as the Hawiye Party which express traditional clan political values. At a higher level, the traditional lineage and cultural cleavage between the noble Samaale nomads and the Southern Sab cultivators recur in modern politics in the schism between the Somali Youth League and the Hizbia Digil Mirifleh. The western procedure has been adopted but the traditional pattern persists.


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Type: Research Article

Information: AfricaVolume 28Issue 4 , October 1958, pp. 344 – 363

DOI:[Opens in a new window]

Copyright: Copyright © International African Institute 1958

Published By: Cambridge University Press


Read Also: Modern Political Movements In Somaliland Part I

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