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Country of Fragility: Psychosocial analysis of Somali clan conflict

By Adan Omar Hashi

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Somalia is a country where clan rivalries feed off each other and where politics are intensely clan-driven, with many self-appointed politicians swapping sides in alliances of convenience. The continuance of the clan culture in Somalia, the foundations for the conflict between clans, and the events involved in allowing it to continue have been discussed and evaluated by political analysts, various kinds of commentators, researchers of an academic nature, and a wider general population. Despite the level of evaluation, there is no singular consensus on the events and continuance of the clan rivalries and conflict in Somalia. An inability to view the conflict from an objective point of view, with consideration for the position of each clan and their viewpoints and beliefs, is perhaps the reason why the general conclusion that holds on is that there are solid self-association and feeling of resists. In this sense, clan affiliation precedes over patriotism.

Recently, the narrative of a collective state with reconciliation and peace in the nation has become a popular trend. These accounts speak of a new Somalia hoping to end the conflict, proclaiming an end to the disorder caused by clans, and the discomfort felt by citizens for decades. The post-(clan)-conflict is the antitoxin for what ailed us, a way to re-establish our country's respect and regain its legitimate status. Our people could finally exchange the sackcloth of disgrace for the mantle of pride. There are a few issues, obviously, with this idealist driven variant of analysis and how "clan" is constituted within this context. Though at least from rhetorical perspective attempts were made to position the country beyond clan rivalries in pursuit of a pan-Somali, recent events such as the intra-clan conflict between Puntland and Somaliland in Tukaraq demonstrates the prevailing challenges. 

This article studies the degree to which clan constantly plays out in the Somali people’s memory as a psychodrama of division, throwing supposed "clan" in the part of casualty and delivering certain arrangements and relationship in the citizenry. This depiction and subsequent evocative power of clans in Somalia have been used by political leaders and the media to elicit reactions from specifically targeted audiences, using formulated characters and topics of a compensatory nature. 

Clan and inter-clan conflict in Somalia

The history of state instability in Somalia has led to the magnification of clan rivalries, with the identity of clans, and the structures of clans and their sub-clans, now being central to the Somalia identity. Clan culture is introduced at a young age in Somalia, with the traditional teaching of children to learn the patrilineal genealogy of clans, as far back as up to thirty generations. Clan rivalries were seen to increase upon the collapse of the government in 1991, with the lack of political presence pathing the way from the presence of violence and rivalries, to ultimately, civil war. Civil war is widely considered to be the worst form of war, different from that of fighting a power of foreign origin that is attacking the borders of a country. In contrast, civil war is associated with an absence of control, considered vile and disgraceful. The intimate nature of the enemies sparks a whole new side of the destruction of war and associated ideas, this is where the enemy is familiar, perhaps even by blood. It is the civil war, that today, has caused the conflicting views of the Somali clans. Though many Somalis often self-identify based on clan, they nevertheless blame “clannish” behaviour for the fractionalization, violence, and the destruction of Somali stability.  

Intrastate conflict is qualitatively different from wars fought between states in that it's violence – called ‘civil’ violence – is committed not by professional armies, but rather by non-state actors and between broader civilian populations divided along cleavages of clans. The collectivised nature of intrastate violence means that individuals frequently become targets for violence not because of any personal action or characteristic, but because of their perceived inclusion in an identifiable and maligned clan category. Such cleavages, therefore, turned the country into contested terrain marked by ‘Us vs. Them’ or ‘Self vs. Other’ mind-sets. These divisions tend to be superimposed upon existing historical tensions or ‘faultiness’ and have been driven internally by a past history of hostility, domination, injustice, and resources by one community for their own benefit at the expense of the Other. 

Psychosocial analysis of clan conflict 

The representation of clan structure in Somali, the systems, and political settings, from a psychoanalytic viewpoint, see the fear of subordination of submission as a driving force, as clans protect their own integrity against those of their opponents, which leads to conflict, as a key source of understanding for the obsessive destruction. In that capacity clan disorder, has turned into a fundamental piece of our political establishment, forming our people's attitudes and reaction. The term tries to a sort of quasi-psychological legitimacy, yet really mirrors a semantic sleight of hand. 

Recent evidence of clan disorder and the widespread politicisation of the psychology behind clan disorder signify that clan divisions within the country are often actively crafted by political elites, clan leaders, who seek to band a clan together to compete for scarce resources, access to state power, or other instrumental gains. While this can have the positive effect of increasing mutual regard, trust, empathy, and cooperative relations between members of the ‘Self,’ these appeals are also based on defining clear differences of ‘Other’ (other clans), which tend to be cast in a more negative or ‘ethnocentric’ light. The perception of ‘other’ negatively, becomes intensified, and the division is used to keep the clans separate, with actions to strengthen this point, and propaganda and discrimination used to continue the labelling. 

The metaphor of clan division and metaphors, in general, are integral to fabrication on a social level, in both the sense of language and thought. Metaphors, conceptual and structural, when viewed from a cognitive linguistic perspective, can form the direction of communication and alter the way in which a person behaves and thinks, adjusting understanding and the concept of reality, both on a psychological and social level. The use of metaphors can take a solid concept and use it to allow others to understand an abstract structure. Self-appointed leaders have mastered the art of employing such metaphors for all types of internal division, inter-clan-division metaphors becoming an indispensable part of our daily lives.
Our relationship with the clan as humiliated protagonist breaks down the boundaries we envision exist amongst private and open spaces. This perspective conjures the subject’s need to act, in the attempt to recover lost integrity, even when the action is misplaced. As a premise of clan-based feeling, humiliation or its discernment intensifies collective sentiments of weakness or feebleness in the citizenry.  Violence then becomes a cycle that can last weeks or years. When one side is assured of humiliation in the eyes of the other, this conviction is fed by humiliation entrepreneurs’ who admonish their supporters to exact revenge with stupendous narratives of humiliation and striking back.

As such, there has been spur of vicious retaliation subsequently of "humiliating" defeat becoming entangled in cycles of viciousness that followed afterwards. Those clans who choose not to fight, are branded as weak and are viewed as too soft to seek influence. Clans seeking to be viewed as strong and dominant, exert their power to rank amongst those clans on the national stage. Their shared self-image is profoundly embroiled in these power differentials, in the ways we envision ourselves vis-à-vis, other clans. 
The metamorphosis of Somali conflict, evolved over the years, from skirmish to an uprising, a civil war, and finally to the reframing of civil war as terrorism. The terror group, Al-Shabab is adroit at exploiting our country’s cross-clan cleavages and fragility and lack of coherence/unity - tapping into clan-derived power bases – often leading them to strike a balance between more pragmatic clan interests and terror groups’ ideological hard-liners. The terror group, Al-Shabaab has taken advantage of this fragility and expanding its reign of terror – threating our existence as a nation by flaming our country with fire and indiscriminately massacring our fellow brothers and sisters. 

The ideology of patriotism is pushed to the wayside in favour of clan legacy and the mindset that accompanies it. The reality of this puts the future of the country at risk, shapes the mindset of clan association, worsens divisions, and impacts the ability of leaders to assess and act on threats in security. Social and political needs have to be adjusted too, in order to deal with; as clan experiences provide a filter for the perception of individuals. The division that erupts from inside the individual can prompt to division amongst individuals, and divisions between collective groups and these divisions can then threaten our union as a nation. Effective and united Somalia rests upon a shared sense of feeling of national identity, however, clan-based suppositions are impeded in our national history, changing gradually after some time as political leaders reinterpret them and external and internal developments reshape them.

Concluding remarks

In conclusion, it appears that the psychological reasoning behind the conflicts between clans in Somalia is still very much present in the political culture. Clan divisions are the soil in which seeds of conflict flourish. Psychotherapy is under siege and there is an increasingly hostile war being waged within our mental health field. 

Emotions have a key part in this process, they represent role enactments that are integral that are necessary for our political and social expression. The main motives behind the conflict are legitimised by social logic, which is led by emotional acts, making them impossible to remove from the situation. The destructive and violent clan culture halts the ability of citizens to envision a collective and united Somalia and think towards a brighter and more peaceful future. This sets up an environment that makes conflict reasonable, moral, and even inescapable.  The power of clans is determined by metaphors of hardness, dominance over others - shaping the interpretive judgments of clans and affecting the political landscape of Somalia, evident in the unbalanced 4.5 power sharing that is practised pre-taxation. The continuance of this leaves Somalia in a constant position of instability on a political level, practised under the lopsided 4.5 power-sharing. As such we are failing to create political stability, a unitary government and still find ourselves cast in a Sartrean tale of "no exit," bound to an endless cycle of division and political instability. There are two options for Somalia in the future: a regression back to clan conflict, or an advancement in the understanding of our psychological understanding and treatment of clan-based mental disorders. Somalia has the chance to move past the notion of self vs other and reconcile as a nation; overcoming insecurity as a cohesive country and fighting back against the presence of terror groups that are existential threats to our existent as a nation. Finally, it is necessary to emphasise that the topic of the present article and the issues discussed require, of course, a more thorough examination. However, because of the space constraints, I had to simplify my explanations and acuminate the arguments.

Adan Omar Hashi is a researcher and holds a Bachelor Degree in German and English languages from the University Of Salford and an M.S.C in Development Management from the University of East London.
Twitter: @ahashi19


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