The three enemies of Somalia: Clan, Kat and Fanaticism


By Ali H Abdulla

Somalilandsun – “Saddex Cadow ayaa Jirey, dadka soo caddibi jirey, oo cidhiidhi gelin jirey …”-(There were three enemies that tortured people and put them in a bind)

The above words are part of a famous Somali song by Maxamuud Tukaale Cismaan. It was delivered by two famous Somali singers (Maryan Mursal Ciise and Saado Cali Warsame) in the heydays of Somalia. Both of these singers were later forced out of their country by three dangerous enemies that are different from the ones mentioned in the song.

Clan Militia in Hiiraan

In the song above, Tukaale had hunger, ignorance and falling in love in mind. This article is about three different kinds of enemies that have somehow colluded to drag Somalia into becoming a failed state where anarchy, despair and hopelessness reign supreme.

Enemy number one: Clan Identities

Somalia is a nation that had sown the seeds of its own destruction when clan identities replaced the concept of unity and nationhood. Over the last two decades, those who could not escape into foreign lands saw their tolerant culture replaced by an alien culture that is characterized by mayhem, destruction, rampant rape and suicide bombers.

The residents of a once proud nation learnt to beg, cheat and lie to reach unprecedented levels of lows. Somali ladies started begging on the streets of Yemen or work as maids in Yemeni households where some ended as concubines for ruthless employers. Huge waves and sharks devoured women and children before reaching their intended destinations. Barefooted refugees trekking hundreds of miles in dangerous territories streamed into countries like Saudi Arabia where women and people of African origin do not fare well. The sand dunes of the Sahara desert swallowed hundreds on their way to Europe through Libya. Countries once considered as enemies became hosts to thousands in refugee camps. The concept of one Somalia evaporated like a distant mirage. In fact, the country risks the redrawing of its borders again by countries that already control Somali territories such as the the Somali Region in Ethiopia (Ogaden) and the Northern Frontier District (NFD). The presence of thousands of soldiers from these countries in Somalia does not bode well for the territorial integrity of Somalia despite the repeated calls of the UN to respect and preserve that integrity.

All of this was predicted decades ago by a Somali bard. He warned Somalis against resorting to their archaic and outdated clan identities if they were serious about building a modern nation. No one listened and the result was indeed catastrophic.

After Somalia collapsed, the concept that destroyed it as a nation is still practiced with vigor and renewed energy. Even in enclaves that claim to be modern democracies, the ugly clan monster rears its head from time to time to devour the unwary and the unprepared. The death of innocent civilians in Hargeisa, capital of the Northwestern regions of Somalia, demonstrating against unfair and rigged local elections quickly transformed into an ugly clan confrontation that triggered a criminal case against the aging and former Somali National Movement rebel who rules the Northwestern regions. Events in Saylac, another city in Northwestern Somalia also got out of hand when the clan card was unleashed unabashedly. Sporadic skirmishes in North Central Somalia between the unionists and the secessionists threatens to poison the peaceful co-existence among the various clans in the area.

In the south of Somalia, the Kismayo affair threatens the very fabric of the Somali state after some sections of the Somali people tried to drag the new and unwary president into the clan quagmire. It seems that the Somali proverb “Hadal Waa Mergi”, The spoken word can have many interpretations, has almost tripped the soft-spoken president who many expect to become Somalia’s Peter the Great and drag Somalis out of their clannish cocoons. Although he has many detractors, he seems to be doing his job slowly but steadily and in a manner that may have earned him unprecedented audiences with the powerful leaders of the United States, the EU and the United Kingdom.

It is unfortunate for a nation that is on the brink of a complete meltdown, and that barely stepped back from the abyss a few months ago with the birth of a new parliament and the election of a new president, to be still precariously perched on a sharp edged cliff, with any wrong step having the potential to destroy months of hard work and the evaporation of the current international good will towards Somalia. The maverick leader of the Northeastern regions in Somalia recently voiced his displeasure with the Federal government and threatened to join the Northwestern regions in their effort to secede.

Somalis will not get anywhere unless they break free from the shackles of their clan identities. This will take decades of hard work and a focused education system that instills in future generations the importance of putting God, Nation and Flag before their clan identities. The largest budget in the new government should be earmarked for educating these young minds about the destructive nature of this ugly monster that the prophet of Islam compared to a stinking corpse. Even with education, most Somalis above 30 may have a hard time growing out of their tribal cocoons.

Our neighbors suffer from the same ills but have devoted a lot of energy to overcome them. For example, Ethiopia, with a population 10 times that of Somalia, adopted a Federal system that caters to the needs of each ethnic group . Although the system is not perfect and is marred by inequalities, it has so far worked. With the spread of education and economic opportunities across regions, the nine ethnic enclaves may eventually coalesce into a strong country like the United States of America. Meles Zenawi, although considered by many as a ruthless dictator, was a man of vision who played an important role in transforming feudal Ethiopia into semi-autonomous regions that are responsible for their own development and local governance. Such a model may work in Somalia and is probably the only practical and pragmatic solution to overcome the decades long clan fragmentation that destroyed the nation in the first place. The concept of Somali Federalism may eventually transform into a decentralized unitary state because Somalis are opportunistic by nature and will naturally relocate to areas that offer them better opportunities and will not stick with depressed clan enclaves. Economic prosperity is stronger than the clan identity which mainly benefits divisive politicians.

Enemy number 2: Kat

Another destructive enemy of the Somali nation is an addictive plant known as Kat and chewed by millions of Somalis even in foreign countries like the United Kingdom. The plant is grown in Ethiopia and Kenya, two counties that are odds with the Somali people because of the border dispute created by the United Kingdom in colonial times. Many coffee plantations in both countries have been converted into Kat plantations because of the higher returns on investment. There are rumors that both countries spray the plant before being harvested with a harmful substance that affects the health of its consumers. This may be attributed to the dangerous pesticides used to protect the plant from pests. These chemicals may and end up in the belly of the poor Somalis who do not wash the plant before chewing it for long hours. A large number of Somalis seeking treatment in the United Arab Emirates suffer from cancer.

Although Kat provides a form of escape for those who cannot earn a decent living through hard work., Minsters, Director Generals, Educators and even presidents are known to chew Kat for hours. Some call it “Quut al Awliyaa”, the food of saints. Chewing sessions provide opportunities for exchanging the latest news and gossip. Some kat sessions start in the afternoon and can extend into the wee-hours.

Kat drains the coffers of the nation, affects male fertility and health, and reduces productivity. Long-time chewers end up with different types of liver and stomach ailments. Even Somali ladies have joined their male counterparts in chewing the plant in social gatherings accompanied by hookah smoking. Kat also threatens the traditional family unit. Many male chewers rely on their spouses to provide the money for buying the drug. The meager resources earned by the female partner are hardly enough to feed the family and sustain the habit of the head of the household. This leads to constant bickering and fights that may eventually result in divorces.

Enemy Number 3: Fanaticism

A new enemy that has been bred by the 20 years of anarchy is fanaticism and the indoctrination of young minds into becoming suicide bombers who kill hundreds of innocent civilians in crowded venues like restaurants and shopping centers. Thousands of young minds are being trained and slowly transformed into lethal bombs that can maim and kill without notice. The indoctrination starts at an early age when it is easy for susceptible kids to absorb such concepts. Even children who grow up in the West are not immune to these concepts. it is a new phenomenon in the Somali society and can probably be classified as the most dangerous of the three enemies. Its eradication requires the help of the international community.

Concluding Remarks

The only way Somalia can fight these enemies is for the Federal government, with the help of the international community, to start creating credible programs that can spread education and create jobs for the thousands of unemployed youth.

Failure to combat these enemies will surely put Somalis along the path of indigenous populations in the Americas whose countries had been overtaken by others . Let us not forget that there are 80 million landlocked Ethiopians who have their sights on the longest coastline in Africa which lays untapped by its people who have nothing else to do but chew Kat and reminisce about long-gone ancestors who may not even be real.


Ali H. Abdulla