Rethinking Somali national identity. By Mohamed Salah Ahmed

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Rethinking Somali national identity. By Mohamed Salah Ahmed

September 19, 2018| Arlaadi Online

The process of building a national identity in Somalia requires the country’s political elites and federal government to generate an effective road map to help build a strong society and state.

Somali soldiers march during military training.

Somali soldiers march during military training.

In the pre-colonial era, Somalia existed as segmented city states in coastal regions and as various independent principalities in the interior territories without a central authority or state. But, that did not stop them from creating a national identity. A common identity that could unite the segmented city states and which was driven by two elements – religion and clans. Religion was used as a source of unity for all Somalis and adhering to one religion allowed them to unite, not internally but to stand up against any external threats and allowed them to defend their land. Clans are formed as a way to connect close families and lineages to share difficulties and goodness; they have, in other words, been used as a political organ to unite people with the same roots.

After colonial powers invaded the fragmented Somali lands, they immediately began exploiting the clan factor as a tool to expand their power and seek legitimacy. Somalis recognized early on the necessity of ending colonial oppression and straightaway started refusing to comply with colonial domination, which was characterized by exploitation, supremacy and broadening clan division by using indirect rule.

Therefore, while clans became a weakness to Somalis, religion had another effect; it became an important motive to stand up against colonial powers. Colonial powers sent missionaries to Somalia and built churches. Somalis perceived that as a threat to their religion, culture and national identity.

The first anti-colonial movement was formed and led by Sayyid Mohamed Abdulle, known as “Sayid,” and was motivated by religious incentives. In 1895, he returned to Berbera from the Arabian Peninsula and started spreading his religious view of “Saalihiya.” This did not go well for him due to challenges from the colonial administration and local people and his criticism of their religious beliefs and practices. Consequently, he left Berbera seeking a place where his political and religious views could be accommodated. On his search for this, he met some Somali boys who were being looked after by a Catholic mission and asked them about their parents, clan and names. They replied that they belong to the clan of Catholic fathers. That response from the children shook him, and he felt that the colonials were on a mission to change his people’s identity. As a response, he established the Dervish warriors and began fighting the colonial administration. In many of his poems, his message was that he would no longer allow colonial powers to change his people’s culture and identity; meanwhile, he blamed the Somali people for not opposing this identity change. Read more Rethinking Somali national identity

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