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Respect Tribes: They Do What Weak States Cannot
Goth is a veteran journalist, freelance writer, the first Somali blogger and editor of a leading news website . He is also a regular contributor to major Middle Eastern and African newspapers and online journals.
United Arab Emirates/Somaliland/Somalia - Tribes are the glue that hold the social fabric of developing countries together. Their role, particularly in Africa and Arabia, is most important where government has collapsed.
In the absence of state employment, the largest job market in many developing countries, the clan or tribe, provides individuals with necessary economic and social security. Individual resort to clan for insurance, social welfare, protection, and justice.
In the West the individual takes precedence over the community. People worry about their personal incomes, personal welfare and personal security. In Africa it is the clan that is central while the individual takes the backseat. Members of a whole extended family can share a US$100 check sent by an overseas clan member. Every Somali person I know extends some financial assistance to clan members scattered across borders and continents.
So it is the whole clan that owns each individual's salary. One is obliged to extend financial assistance for living, education, and medical and social welfare programs to any clan member who needs help. Development projects initiated by clan elders are financed by clan members inside and outside the country. These include schools, clinics, water wells and roads.
Because of such concerted clan efforts, the people of Somalia and Somaliland now have more universities, hospitals and community-based development projects than ever existed during the heyday of the debt-washed central government. For example, as a result of these clan efforts, my hometown in Somaliland today has a university, more schools, a better managed public hospital, several private clinics and reliable water and power distribution agencies.
Clan structures favor free trade and teach people to rely on their own resources to develop their own services rather than waiting for a government to provide them.
Dictatorial regimes in countries like Somalia and Iraq had destroyed the time-tested, traditional clan networks, losing their economic and social value. Instead, they provided a semblance of statehood with massive government employment, wasting the country's meager resources and foreign loans on buying tribal loyalties. Radicalism and militancy which have hitherto been kept at bay by the closely knit clan system filled the void created by the destruction of the clan structure. This has hastened the collapse of states and ushered in chaos and internecine wars.
Aain tribes were instrumental in quickly fixing failed state structures and restoring peace and stability. In Somaliland, for example, the clans there had resorted to their traditional pastoral democracy to reconcile among themselves and establish state structures. Ironically, it is the British colonial divide and rule system based on the preservation of every clan's geographical locality and on administrative sovereignty that has become a blessing in disguise. In the South, where the centralized system placed by the Italian colonizers and later consolidated by the military dictatorship, chaos remains.
It is therefore imperative to derive a lesson from the British divide and rule policy: it empowered tribal chiefs, delegated most of the administrative power to the clan system and created checks and balances among clans to keep their homegrown conflict resolution systems.
By Bashir Goth | September 2, 2006; 3:00 PM ET
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Tracked on September 3, 2006 11:28 AM
In the absence of the state, individuals may seek sanctuary from thier tribes. It is this period when confederation and collectivization of interest are at the peak. Yet protection and benifit seeking individual is a winner only in so far as that individual belongs to a dominant tribe. Hence protection and benifit tested tribal indentity is the product of weaker state organs. Rational individual knows that there is no state to contract with. Thus, the individual in the dominant tribe knows that he/she is better off in a period of statelesness.
Less dominant tribes are always worse off in a weak state or no state period. Mr Goth's presumption is that when state fails, tribes will pick up the pieces and will pursue in self progressive harmony. This may be true if tribes stick with ultruistic inter/intra clan relations. But remember,conflicts and conquests are utmost interest among competing clans when state organs fails. This is the negative part that Mr Goth overlooks and it is important to mention in order to be fair for the minority tribes and the defenceless members of the Somali society.
On a different note; I am not sure wether different colonial rulers approached somali soceity differently. Tribal chiefs existed long before Richard Burton came to Northern Somalia. Infact, I would argue the opposite, in the sense that British
Posted by: Bashi Jibril | September 2, 2006 10:07 PM
Well said brother and Well written too!
Nothing can substitute our beloved lost state. You may have been more diplomatic for responsding to Mr Goth, but I would be blunt in his deceptive way of promoting Somaliland.
The elitest junta in Somaliland has been corrupt and cruel for safeguarding individual freedom and social/economic progress. The distribution of income has not been fair because corruption and mismanagment is rampant in Somaliland. The egalitarian concept of Somali tribes can only be substituted with a just society and strong federal government. Any thing less would be unfair to some tribes considering with our segmented society that competes with resources. As Bashi said, in the absence of state, who can defend the defenceless?
Posted by: Ismail | September 2, 2006 11:13 PM
At least in the case of Somalia, Ex-Yogoslavia, and Irag I could say yes.
Posted by: Abdi Goud Musa, Connecticut, USA | September 2, 2006 11:21 PM
Tribe is a two-edged knife. You can use positively as in the case Goth has mentioned. The tribe provides individuals with necessary economic and social security. But, this can only be maintained when people are coherent to the traditional oral rules for the tribes. This is also true when there is no hostility among the tribe's sub-clans.
Posted by: Adnan Dahir, Hargeisa-Somaliland | September 3, 2006 02:42 AM
In a insecure military enviorment, where dominated nations and ruling elite try to subdue the local and indegenious populace through the barrel of gun, people are compeled to look towards Tribes and Clans for identity and political protection.In Pakistan and particularly Balochistan case which is divided in to Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan have been neglected and looted since long by Pakistan and Irans Punjabi-Persian military and religious elites. The Pakistani and Iranian are runing their anti-west campaigns from these remote part of Balochistan and co-operating with Talibans which have annoyed the secular Baloch tribes. Baloch tribes under nationalsit political umberala united to protect their soil, and cultural soul. Rouge States are causing more disharmony and frustration, and they are behind moderanizing Jihadi movements, While Tribal, and National identities are vital to eliminate fundamentalism thinking and rligious aspiration. We belive that blood borders between tribes and divded nations are causing more conflicts and crisis and uniting and redrawning of borders in Iraq, Iran and Pakistan is the solution of Identity Crisis and.
Posted by: Faiz Baloch | September 3, 2006 09:12 AM
In my ealier response, I just talked about the value and good use of tribalism as I knew it before hell got loose in Somalia. Those of us who left Somalia before the state of Somalia collapsed could not comprehend how life turned for the worst for those Somalis left behind.
Posted by: Abdi Goud Musa, Connecticut, USA | September 3, 2006 09:44 AM
The Answer to many questin are in
Posted by: abdi | September 3, 2006 10:24 AM
A lesson in community service that no university can teach. Hats off Bashir
Posted by: Muzamil Bashir | September 3, 2006 11:20 AM
Good article. Thanks for enlightening the world that Somalis are not so simple and erratic, that they take care of their own very well in time proven manners, that culture is worth studying. Peace
Posted by: Jamal Sheikh Nur | September 3, 2006 01:17 PM
I agree with Mr. Bashir in the sense, that the clan-tribal structure remained intact at least in Somaliland. There is a strong functioning clan mechanism for comflict resolution,peace making,community service and civic engagement. This is the magic that have worked so well, that you have seen Somaliland. This is nothing but a different permutation of clans, that are primarily in harmony with each other, and working for the general good for the nation-Somaliland. The success story you see in Somaliland-the best kept secret has come from the mixture of clan elders, intellectuals, the religiuos community and ordinary people. All of the above were working together for one think-the well-being of the nation. The UN, IGAD, the so-called AU and the other do nothing societies failed to bring peace and stability to Somalia, despite wasting billions so much time. Why? They were using wrong top down formulas. All these efforts have failed, because the grassroots touch of the clan elders and their magical methods for addressing clan disputes and conflict resolution is missing.
Darfur genocide is continuing as I speak. The Eriterian conflict has ended with the decisive military victory of the Eriterian people. Rwandan genocide happened at their watch. They failed to resolve the problems in Somalia, and they are still embroiled in using impractical formula after the other.
Posted by: soleimon | September 3, 2006 02:58 PM
Bashir has again elucidated benefits of tribalism in the modern age with his eloquence. As many of you mentioned, tribal systems have both good and bad within. I believe deficiencies with in tribal systems are not worst than other social systems which could be thought as the opposite e.g. individualism. These defeciencies could be diminished by the modern state policies e.g. justice, welfare and other societal services which target the bonds of tribalism.
Good to share with you for now.
Posted by: Jama Gabush | September 7, 2006 01:46 PM