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Somalia - SOCIETY

Somalia - The Society and Its Environment


THE SOMALIS ARE A CULTURALLY, linguistically, and religiously homogeneous people, who are divided along clan lines and sparsely scattered over a harsh, dry land. There are significant distinctions among sectors of the population, related in part to variations in means of livelihood. In the early 1990s, roughly 60 percent of an estimated population of more than 8.4 million were still nomadic pastoralists or seminomadic herders, subject to the vicissitudes of an arid climate. Twenty to 25 percent of the people were cultivators, most living in the southern half of the country, on or between Somalia's two major rivers, the Jubba and the Shabeelle. The remainder were town dwellers, the vast majority of whom resided in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu.

With the fall of General Mahammad Siad Barre's regime on January 27, 1991, and the ensuing internal warfare that resulted in the disintegration of the Somali state, patterns of residency changed dramatically. For instance, the population of Mogadishu, estimated at 500,000 in the mid-1980s, witnessed the influx of thousands of refugees. As a result, Mogadishu reportedly had about 2 million inhabitants in early 1992. Throughout the country the civil war, along with the lawlessness as Siad Barre's regime collapsed and the absence of functioning governmental and social institutions, produced a chaotic situation.

Although 95 percent of the population are ethnic Somalis, sharing a common culture, in traditional society they segmented themselves into a hierarchical system of patrilineal descent groups, each said to originate with a single male ancestor. The most comprehensive of these groups were the six clan-families. Their constituent units were the clans, which in turn were made up of lineages, which themselves were further segmented. Among the sedentary interriverine Somalis, however, descent gave way in part to territoriality as a framework for social, political, and economic organization.

Membership in clans and lineages shaped the allocation of individual rights and obligations. The principle of descent, however, was modified (although rarely overridden) by Somali heer, or traditional jurisprudence. Contracts or treaties bound specified descent groups and their individual members together for the making of war and peace and, above all, for the provision of compensation in cases of homicide and injury.

The Somali social order has been marked by competition and often by armed conflict between clans and lineages, even between units of the same clan-family or clan. Within each unit, Somali males considered better warriors, wiser arbiters, or abler speakers commanded greater respect in council. However, pastoral Somalis looked down on sedentary ones, and both looked down on non-Somali clients of the sedentary Somalis and members of despised occupational groups such as hunters and smiths, who made up, however, only a very small proportion of the population.

The segmented social order, with relatively minor modifications, was carried into the independence period. In a very poor country, many Somalis were disaffected by the competition for power and wealth that often took the form of shifting alliances and conflicts between greater and lesser clans and lineage segments. Simultaneously, new cleavages emerged between educated urban dwellers who had mastered a foreign language and the less-sophisticated rural Somalis.

Soon after the October 1969 military coup, Siad Barre's socialist government aimed an attack at the traditional system. In principle at least, his regime reduced the significance of clans and lineages, encouraged women to participate in government and attend school, and sanctioned the social equality of lowstatus groups. The gap that had opened between educated Englishor Italian-speaking Somalis and the rest of the population was reduced somewhat by the institution of a Somali script and the designation of Somali as the official language.

Siad Barre's government insisted that socialism was compatible with Islam, the religion of the overwhelming majority of Somalis. Although Somalis had not always conformed to the rigors of orthodox Islam, their identity was bound up with being Muslim. With few, if any, exceptions leaders of the socialist regime were Muslims and did not attack religion. However, they also did not hesitate to institute reforms that displeased conservative Muslim leaders.

Despite government encouragement of change, clan and lineage remained important throughout Siad Barre's rule, and Siad Barre remained in power by manipulating clans and clan leaders. In fact, soon after the revolution, kinship considerations and nepotism were evident at the highest levels of the regime.

The workings of the lineage system were predicated on the solidarity of the segments of the same order with one another and the relative equality of the members of each segment. The growth of the state and the development of different degrees of wealth and access to other private-sector resources caused an incipient stratification that had the potential to override lineage solidarity as it diminished equality.


Somalia - Population


Somalia's first national census was taken in February 1975, and as of mid-1992 no further census had been conducted. In the absence of independent verification, the reliability of the 1975 count has been questioned because those conducting it may have overstated the size of their own clans and lineage groups to augment their allocations of political and economic resources. The census nonetheless included a complete enumeration in all urban and settled rural areas and a sample enumeration of the nomadic population. In the latter case, the sampling units were chiefly watering points. Preliminary results of that census were made public as part of the Three-Year Plan, 1979-81, issued by the Ministry of National Planning in existence at the time. (Because the Somali state had disintegrated and the government's physical infrastructure had been destroyed, no ministry of planning, or indeed any other government ministry, existed in mid-1992.) Somali officials suggested that the 1975 census undercounted the nomadic population substantially, in part because the count took place during one of the worst droughts in Somalia's recorded history, a time when many people were moving in search of food and water.

The total population according to the 1975 census was 3.3 million. The United Nations (UN) estimated Somalia's population in mid-1991 at nearly 7.7 million. Not included were numerous refugees who had fled from the Ogaden (Ogaadeen) in Ethiopia to Somalia beginning in the mid-1970s.

The Ministry of National Planning's preliminary census data distinguished three main categories of residents: nomads, settled farmers, and persons in nonagricultural occupations. Settled farmers lived in permanent settlements outside the national, regional, and district capitals, although some of these were in fact pastoralists, and others might have been craftsmen and small traders. Those living in urban centers were defined as nonagricultural regardless of their occupations. In 1975 nomads constituted nearly 59 percent of the population, settled persons nearly 22 percent, and nonagricultural persons more than 19 percent. Of the population categorized as nomads, about 30 percent were considered seminomadic because of their relatively permanent settlements and shorter range of seasonal migration.

Various segments of the population apparently increased at different rates. The nomadic population grew at less than 2 percent a year, and the seminomadic, fully settled rural and urban populations (in that order) at higher rates--well over 2.5 percent in the case of the urban population. These varied rates of growth coupled with increasing urbanization and the efforts, even if of limited success, to settle nomads as cultivators or fishermen were likely to diminish the proportion of nomads in the population.

The 1975 census did not indicate the composition of the population by age and sex. Estimates suggested, however, that more than 45 percent of the total was under fifteen years of age, only about 2 percent was over sixty-five years, and that there were more males than females among the nomadic population and proportionately fewer males in urban areas.

Population densities varied widely. The areas of greatest rural density were the settled zones adjacent to the Jubba and Shabeelle rivers, a few places between them, and several small areas in the northern highlands. The most lightly populated zones (fewer than six persons per square kilometer) were in northeastern and central Somalia, but there were some sparsely populated areas in the far southwest along the Kenyan border.

The nomadic and seminomadic segments of the population traditionally engage in cyclical migrations related to the seasons, particularly in northern and northeastern Somalia. During the dry season, the nomads of the Ogo highlands and plateau areas in the north and the Nugaal Valley in the northeast generally congregate in villages or large encampments at permanent wells or other reliable sources of water. When the rains come, the nomads scatter with their herds throughout the vast expanse of the Haud, where they live in dispersed small encampments during the wet season, or as long as animal forage and water last. When these resources are depleted, the area empties as the nomads return to their home areas. In most cases, adult men and women and their children remain with the sheep, goats, burden camels, and, occasionally, cattle. Grazing camels are herded at some distance by boys and young unmarried men.

A nomadic population also inhabits the southwest between the Jubba River and the Kenyan border. Little is known about the migratory patterns or dispersal of these peoples.

Somalia's best arable lands lie along the Jubba and Shabeelle rivers and in the interriverine area. Most of the sedentary rural population resides in the area in permanent agricultural villages and settlements. Nomads are also found in this area, but many pastoralists engage part-time in farming, and the range of seasonal migrations is more restricted. After the spring rains begin, herders move from the river edge into the interior. They return to the rivers in the dry season (hagaa), but move again to the interior in October and November if the second rainy season (day) permits. They then retreat to the rivers until the next spring rains. The sedentary population was augmented in the mid-1970s by the arrival of more than 100,000 nomads who came from the drought-stricken north and northeast to take up agricultural occupations in the southwest. However, the 1980s saw some Somalis return to nomadism; data on the extent of this reverse movement remain unavailable.

The locations of many towns appear to have been determined by trade factors. The present-day major ports, which range from Chisimayu and Mogadishu in the southwest to Berbera and Saylac in the far northwest, were founded from the eighth to the tenth centuries A.D. by Arab and Persian immigrants. They became centers of commerce with the interior, a function they continued to perform in the 1990s, although some towns, such as Saylac, had declined because of the diminution of the dhow trade and repeated Ethiopian raids. Unlike in other areas of coastal Africa, important fishing ports failed to develop despite the substantial piscine resources of the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden. This failure appears to reflect the centuries-old Somali aversion to eating fish and the absence of any sizable inland market. Some of the towns south of Mogadishu have long been sites of non-Somali fishing communities, however. The fisheries' potential and the need to expand food production, coupled with the problem of finding occupations for nomads ruined by the 1974-75 drought, resulted in government incentives to nomad families to settle permanently in fishing cooperatives; about 15,000 nomads were reported established in such cooperatives in late 1975.

Present-day inland trading centers in otherwise sparsely populated areas began their existence as caravan crossing points or as regular stopping places along caravan routes. In some cases, the ready availability of water throughout the year led to the growth of substantial settlements providing market and service facilities to nomadic populations. One such settlement is Galcaio, an oasis in the Mudug Plain that has permanent wells.

The distribution of town and villages in the agricultural areas of the Jubba and Shabeelle rivers is related in part to the development of market centers by the sedentary population. But the origin of a considerable number of such settlements derives from the founding of agricultural religious communities (jamaat) by various Islamic brotherhoods during the nineteenth century. An example is the large town of Baardheere, on the Jubba River in the Gedo Region, which evolved from a jamaa founded in 1819. Hargeysa, the largest town in northern Somalia, also started as a religious community in the second half of the nineteenth century. However, growth into the country's second biggest city was stimulated mainly by its selection in 1942 as the administrative center for British Somaliland. In 1988 Hargeysa was virtually destroyed by troops loyal to Siad Barre in the course of putting down the Isaaq insurrection.

After the establishment of a number of new regions (for a total of sixteen as of early 1992, including Mogadishu) and districts (second order administrative areas--sixty-nine as of 1989 plus fifteen in the capital region), the government defined towns to include all regional and district headquarters regardless of size. (When the civil war broke out in 1991, the regional administrative system was nullified and replaced by one based on regional clan groups.) Also defined as towns were all other communities having populations of 2,000 or more. Some administrative headquarters were much smaller than that. Data on the number of communities specified as urban in the 1975 census were not available except for the region of Mogadishu. At that time, the capital had 380,000 residents, slightly more than 52 percent of all persons in the category of "nonagricultural" (taken to be largely urban). Only three other regions--Woqooyi Galbeed, Shabeellaha Hoose, and the Bay--had urban populations constituting 7 to 9 percent of the total urban population in 1975. The sole town of importance in Woqooyi Galbeed Region at that time was Hargeysa. Berbera was much smaller, but as a port on the Gulf of Aden it had the potential to grow considerably. The chief town in Shabeellaha Hoose Region was Merca, which was of some importance as a port. There were several other port towns, such as Baraawe, and some inland communities that served as sites for light manufacturing or food processing. In the Bay Region the major towns, Baidoa and Buurhakaba, were located in relatively densely settled agricultural areas. There were a few important towns in other regions: the port of Chisimayu in Jubbada Hoose and Dujuuma in the agricultural area of Jubbada Dhexe.

Updated population figures for Somalia.




The overwhelming majority of Somalis trace their genealogical origin to the mythical founding father, Samaale or Samaal. Even those clan-families, such as the Digil and Rahanwayn in southern Somalia, whose members in many cases do not trace their lineage directly to Samaal, readily identify themselves as Somalis, thereby accepting the primacy of Samaal as the forebear of the Somali people. By language, traditions, and way of life, the Somalis share kinship with other members of the Eastern Cushitic groups of the Horn of Africa, including the Oromo, who constitute roughly 50 percent of the population of Ethiopia; the Afar (Danakil), who straddle the Great Rift Valley between Ethiopia and Djibouti; the Beja tribes of eastern Sudan; and the Reendille (Rendilli) and Boni (Aweera) peoples of northeastern Kenya.

Genealogy constitutes the heart of the Somali social system. It is the basis of the collective Somali inclination toward internal fission and internecine conflict, as well as of the Somalis' sense of being distinct--a consciousness of otherness that borders on xenophobia.

The major branches of the Somali lineage system are four overwhelmingly pastoral nomadic clan-families (the Dir, Daarood, Isaaq, and Hawiye, who are collectively denoted by the appellation of Samaal), and two agricultural ones (the Digil and Rahanwayn). As Israeli political scientist Saadia Touval noted in his brief study of Somali nationalism, these six clan-families correspond to the "Old Testament version of the tribal segmentation of the children of Israel." Like the children of Israel, the children of Samaale, with minor exceptions, are politically acephalous and prone to internal schism and factionalism. Although the modern Somali state, which is largely a creation of European colonialism, tried vainly to exercise a measure of centralized authority through the armed forces and the civilian bureaucracy, most Somalis continued to give greater political and emotional allegiance to their lineages. In 1992 the centralized state constructed on the Somali Peninsula had all but disintegrated into its constituent lineages and clans, whose internecine wars were drenching the country in bloodshed.

The Dir, Daarood, Isaaq, and Hawiye, which together make up the Samaal clans, constitute roughly 75 percent of the population. Most Samaal clans are widely distributed pastoralists, although a growing minority of them are settled cultivators. The Digil and Rahanwayn constitute about 20 percent of the population. They are settled in the riverine regions of southern Somalia and rely on a mixed economy of cattle and camel husbandry and cultivation.

Clan-families, too large and scattered for practical cooperation, in the past had no real political or economic functions. However, with the renewal and intensification of clan feuding in the wake of Siad Barre's fall from power in early 1991, the clan-families assumed crucial significance as nascent political parties pitted against one another along tribal lines in a disastrous civil war. Membership in clan-families, primary lineages, and clans was traced through males from a common male ancestor.

Descent as the basis of group formation and loyalty was modified, but not overridden, by the principle of heer. Membership in the same clan or lineage did not automatically entail certain rights and obligations. These were explicitly the subject of treaties or contracts. Thus, some clans in a clanfamily might unite for political and military purposes, and some lineages within a clan might associate to pay and receive blood compensation in cases of homicide, injury, and other offenses. These alignments had a kinship base in that members often descended from a particular wife of a common ancestor, but units formed by contract or treaty could be dissolved and new ones formed.

The traditional social structure was characterized by competition and conflict between descent groups. Among the Samaal, the search for pasture and water drove clans and lineages physically apart or pitted them against each other. The Digil and Rahanwayn (cultivators of the south) had a history of warfare over trade and religious matters and of fighting the encroachments of camel-herding nomads.

Whatever their common origin, the Samaal and the Digil and Rahanwayn evolved differently as they adapted to different physical environments. With some exceptions, the Samaal lived in areas that supported a pastoralism based mainly on camels, sheep, and goats. The Digil and Rahanwayn lived in the area between the rivers where they raised cattle and came to enslave the nonSomali cultivators who were there when they arrived. After the demise of slavery in the 1920s, the Digil and Rahanwayn themselves undertook cultivation.

The Samaal considered themselves superior to settled Somalis. Lineage remained the focal point of loyalty for pastoral nomads. The Digil and Rahanwayn developed a heterogeneous society that accorded status to different groups on the basis of origin and occupation. Group cohesion developed a territorial dimension among the settled agriculturists.

Relations between and within groups underwent changes during the colonial era and after independence. Armed conflict between descent groups (or in the south, territorial units) became rare during the two decades (the 1960s and 1970s) following independence. However, in the 1980s and early 1990s, as President Siad Barre incited and inflamed clan rivalries to divert public attention from the problems of his increasingly unpopular regime, Somali society began to witness an unprecedented outbreak of inter- and intra-clan conflicts. The basic modes of social organization and relations persisted, however, particularly among the pastoral nomads. Moreover, national politics were often operated in terms of relationships between segments of various kinds.

Several thousand persons, including some ethnic Somalis, were integrated into traditional society but were not included in the six clan-families. Among them were Somali clans descended from ancestors predating or otherwise missing from the genealogies of the six clan-families. Others were lineages of relatively unmixed Arab or Persian descent, often much inbred; most members of these groups lived in the coastal towns. Such lineages or communities had varying relationships with local Somalis. Some were clients subordinate to Somali groups; others were independent entities in the larger towns. A second category consisted of the so-called habash, or adoon, cultivators or hunters of preSomali origin who lived among the Rahanwayn and Digil in the interriverine area. A third category consisted of occupationally specialized caste-like groups, members of which were attached to Somali lineages or clans. Finally, until the last were freed in the 1920s, there was a small number of slaves attached to both pastoral and sedentary Somali groups, but of greater economic importance among the latter.


Somalia - Samaal


Among the Samaal clans were the largest political units, most of which had heads known as soldaan (sultan) or bokor (concept derived from a belt binding people together). With few exceptions, a nomadic clan head's functions were honorary and ceremonial. The number and size of clans within a clan-family varied; the average clan in the twentieth century numbered about 100,000 people. Clans controlled a given territory, essentially defined by the circuit of nomadic migration but having unspecified boundaries, so that the territories of neighboring clans tended to overlap.

A Samaal clan kept count of the generations between living members of the group and the ancestor for whom it was named; the greater the number of generations (which often implied substantial internal segmentation into subclans or lineages) the greater the clan's prestige. Some ancient clans dwindled and found it necessary to attach themselves to other clans of the same or another clan-family. Similarly, lineages detached from the main body of their clan would ally with the clan in whose territory they were then living.

Clans living in contiguous territories sometimes joined in confederacies often marked by internal subgroupings. The Majeerteen clan, for example, was part of the Kombe-Harti confederacy, which was in turn part of the Kablalla. A confederacy consisted of related clans, but the decision to enter into a confederacy would be the consequence of history rather than genealogy. The purposes of the confederacy would be enumerated in a treaty or contract, often set down by a religious figure in an early Arabic script version of Somali.

Clans were segmented into primary lineages whose genealogical depth ranged from twelve to fourteen generations. These lineages were in turn segmented into secondary and sometimes tertiary lineages. The process of internal segmentation was continuous. The political (and sometimes the economic) relevance of a clan or lineage of a given genealogical depth varied with the context. Somali lacked specific terms for different levels of segmentation. According to anthropologist I.M. Lewis, an authority on pastoral Somalis, there are three "points of unity and division at which political solidarity most frequently emerges . . . those of clan, primary lineage group, and diya-paying group."

The diya-paying group was an alliance formed by related lineages within a clan by means of a contract, traditionally oral but filed in written form with district officials during the colonial era, at least in British Somaliland. The contract explicitly stated the rights and duties of members of the group with respect to the burdens of payment and the distribution of receipts of blood compensation, that is, distribution of the camels or money received, when the parties were members of the same or different diya-paying groups. In the case of a homicide, the lineages of the group shared in giving or receiving a specified portion of the compensation. A smaller but still substantial portion (the jiffo) was given or received by the relatively close kin of the killer or the deceased, that is, by an agnatic group descended from a common ancestor three or four generations back. In the case of offenses requiring the payment of a smaller compensation, sharing still occurred within the diya-paying group, but in minor cases the jiffo-paying group alone might be involved.

The lineages constituting a diya-paying group were often secondary; that is, the ancestors of each were fewer than the twelve to fourteen characteristic of a primary lineage. If a group with a remote ancestor lacked the numbers to constitute its own diya-paying group, it might join with another such group to form one, thus minimizing the financial burden. Moreover, the ultimate traditional sanction was armed conflict, and here again lack of manpower was clearly a liability.

Both diya-paying and jiffo-paying groups were important units of social and economic organization aside from their stated purpose. They functioned as mutual aid groups in times of economic hardship or other emergencies. They established and enforced regulations. In 1964 it was estimated that more than 1,000 such groups existed in the republic. Among the nomads, membership ranged from 300 to more than 5,000 men and among the sedentary Somalis from 5,000 to 100,000 men.

The political and economic business of any functioning segment in Samaal society was managed by a council call a shir, which included all adult males in the group. Each member might speak and take part in deliberation. Age and seniority of lineage took precedence in that an older man or one from an older lineage would customarily be asked to speak before others did, but the opinions of a persuasive speaker, whatever his seniority, would be given added weight. A wealthy herder might also have a greater say. The term oday (elder) could be applied to any adult male, but those with more prestige and experience might be asked to arbitrate disputes over a wide area and act as ad hoc leaders in political matters.

In traditional society, most Samaal men lived as warriors and herders; a warrior (waranle) considered his vocation nobler than any other except the religious life. A religious person ( wadad; pl., wadaddo) was considered the equal of a warrior, but few Samaal committed themselves to a religious life. Many who did so retained their ties to clan and lineage, although in principle they were supposed to avoid partisanship and armed conflict. This rule did not pertain to jihad or religious warfare. A few wadaddo settled in religious communities.

Cultivating groups of Samaal origin resided in various places. These groups, which also kept livestock, were accepted as fellow Samaal by the pastoralists but were considered to have lost prestige, even if they had gained economically. Some Samaal attached themselves as cultivating clients to stockraising Digil or Rahanwayn in the riverine region; the Samaal usually ended such relationships when they could resume their pastoral activities or when the economic advantages of cultivation diminished. The lineage pattern remained intact among Samaal cultivators.


Somalia - Digil and Rahanwayn


Some texts refer to these two mainly agriculturist clans of Digil and Rahanwayn as Sab. However, members of the Digil and Rahanwayn and most Somalis consider the appellation Sab derogatory. Used as a common noun meaning "ignoble," the term sab was applied by the Samaal to groups that pursued certain disdained occupations. The Samaal felt that the Sab had lowered themselves by their reliance on agriculture and their readiness to assimilate foreign elements into their clans. Traditionally, the Rahanwayn are considered a Digil offshoot that became larger than the parent group.

The social structure of the Sab resembled that of the Samaal in that it was based on descent groups. However, there were significant differences. Sab clans were confederations of lineages and included persons originating in all-Somali clanfamilies as well as assimilated peoples. They came into being through a pact between the original founding segments, one of which, of Sab origin, was dominant; the name of the Sab segment became the name of the clan. By the twentieth century, the descendants of that dominant lineage often constituted only a relatively small core of the clan. The constituent lineages of the clan tended to have much shallower genealogies than the Samaal. Another important difference between the nomadic Samaal societies and the sedentary Sab was in the significance accorded to territoriality. Sab clans lived within distinct borders. The entire clan (or large subclan) often constituted the diya- paying group in relation to other clans. The term reer, which the Samaal used in connection with descent, was used by the Sab with a place name, e.g., reer barawa ("children of Baraawe").

Many clans were segmented into three subclans, called gember, although some, such as the Jiddu clans of the Digil clan-family, had only two subclans. Clans and subclans usually had single heads. In some cases, however, as among the Helai clans of the Rahanwayn, there were no clan heads. Clan affairs were handled by leading elders called gobweyn, who had assistants called gobyar.

Clans and subclans were subdivided into lineages that reckoned three to five generations from ancestor to youngest member. The lineage traditionally owned land and water rights, which the head men distributed to individual lineage members.

The manner in which Sab clans were formed led to recognized social inequalities, sometimes marked by differences in physical appearance owing to intermarriage within a stratum. Each stratum in a community consisted of one or more lineages. The basic distinction was between nobles (free clansmen) and habash, a group made up of pre-Somali cultivators and freed slaves.

In some Rahanwayn and Digil communities, there was a further distinction between two sets of nobles. Within the Geledi clan (located in Afgooye, just north of Mogadishu, and its environs) studied by anthropologist Virginia Luling, the nobles were divided into Darkskin and Lightskin categories, designations corresponding to the physical appearance of their members. The Darkskins were descendants of the core or founding group of the Geledi; the Lightskins had a separate line of descent, claimed partly Arab origin, and resembled the Arab populations of the old coastal towns. They had been completely Somalized, however. The wealth and position of the Lightskins were similar to that of the Darkskins, but the latter had precedence in certain traditional rites.

Each lineage (which consisted of perhaps 300 to 400 persons), or Darkskins, Lightskins, and habash, had its own set of elders and constituted a diya-paying group vis--vis the others, but was bound in a common contract concerning rates of compensation for injuries. In principle, habash lineages had equal rights under this system. Each lineage controlled specific segments of the land and allocated to an individual male as much as his family could cultivate. However, only the habash were subsistence cultivators in the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries. The nobles, whether Darkskins or Lightskins, cultivated much larger areas by means of slave labor and exported surpluses via the coastal ports to Arab lands. In the case of the Geledi, wealth accrued to the nobles and to the sultan not only from market cultivation but also from involvement in the slave trade and other enterprises, such as commerce in ivory, cotton, and iron. The Geledi also raised cattle.

The sultan of the Geledi (a member of the Darkskin stratum) had a political and religious role. He also wielded somewhat greater authority than the sultans of the Samaal clans, but this authority was by no means absolute.

The sociopolitical organization and processes of the Geledi resembled those of many Digil and Rahanwayn communities. Not all such communities had a Lightskin component, and many were not located as auspiciously as the Geledi, for whom trade developed as a major economic factor. Most, however, had slaves who worked the land of the nobles.

The sedentary Somali communities in the coastal and interriverine areas, some of which were of Samaal origin, were more strongly affected by the advent of European colonization than the nomadic pastoralists were. Clans, and occasionally large lineages, came to have government chiefs appointed by colonial authorities, sometimes where there had been no chiefs of any kind. For the Geledi, the most important such chief was the sultan. Whatever his origin, the government-appointed chief was expected to be the intermediary between the colonial government and the people.

The abolition of the slave trade and the outlawing of slavery by 1920 changed not only the lives of the slaves but also the position of the nobles whose economic and political power depended on the slave economy. In Geledi areas and elsewhere, many slaves left to take up other land as subsistence cultivators. A few remained, and their descendants maintained a quasi-dependent relationship as clients of their former masters. By the second decade of the twentieth century, nobles were faced for the first time with having to cultivate their own land. None of the groups--nobles, habash, or ex-slaves--worked voluntarily for wages on the Italian plantations established at that time; colonial authorities usually made such labor mandatory.

Despite the radical social, political, and economic changes brought about by colonization, the nobles retained their superior position in Geledi (and probably in other Rahanwayn and Digil) communities. The nobles' status positioned them to profit from new income opportunities such as paid employment with the Italians or trade in the growing Afgooye market. They benefited from such business opportunities throughout the colonial period, as well as from educational and political opportunities, particularly during the trusteeship period (1950-60). Independence introduced still other changes to which the nobles responded.


Somalia - Riverine and Coastal People of Non-Somali Origin


Along the southern coast, in the valleys of the Jubba and Shabeelle rivers and in a few places between the rivers, live small groups--probably totaling less than 2 percent of the population--who differ culturally and physically from the Somalis. Some are descendants of pre-Somali inhabitants of the area who were able to resist absorption or enslavement by the Somalis. The ancestors of others were slaves who escaped to found their own communities or were freed in the course of European antislavery activity in the nineteenth century. The Somali term for these people, particularly the riverine and interriverine cultivators, is habash.

The relations of the habash communities with neighboring Somali groups varied, but most have traditional attachments of some sort to a Somali lineage, and members of all but a few communities along the coast speak Somali as a first language. In earlier times, whereas some habash communities had considerable independence, in others habash were much like serfs cultivating land under the patronage of a Somali lineage. In such cases, however, it was understood that habash could not be deprived of their land, and there was little reason for the pastoral Somalis to do so. Somalis and habash did not intermarry; nor would a Somali eat a meal prepared by habash. As these restrictions suggest, Somalis--whether Samaal or Sab--considered the habash their inferiors. Nevertheless, the political relationship of some habash groups to neighboring Somali groups was that of near-equals.

The attachment of habash groups to sections of Somali society usually entailed the participation of the habash community in the diya-paying group of Somali lineages or clans. Like the Somali, all but a few habash had been converted to Islam, and some of them had become leaders of religious communities in the interriverine area.

Most non-Somali peoples were primarily cultivators, but some, like the Eyle, also hunted, something the Somalis would not do. A few groups, including the Boni, remained primarily hunters into the twentieth century and were accordingly looked down on by the Somalis. By midcentury most of these peoples had turned to cultivation, and some had moved into the towns and become laborers.

Along the coast live the Bajuni and the Amarani. They are fishermen, sailors, and merchants, derived from a mixture of coastal populations. Their ancestors included Arab or Persian settlers and seafaring peoples of India and the East Indies. Both the Bajuni and the Amarani speak dialects of Swahili. The Amarani, who were estimated to number fewer than 1,000 in the early 1990s, inhabit small fishing communities in and near Baraawe, Mogadishu, Merca, and the inland town of Afgooye on the Shabeelle River. The Bajuni inhabit the East African coast and Bajun Islands near Chisimayu in a continuous strip from Chisimayu southward into Kenya as far as Lamu, and maintain scattered communities as far away as Mozambique. Both the Amarani and the Bajuni have little contact with outsiders except in towns. Partial geographical isolation and an active ethnic consciousness distinguished by differences in languages separate them from the Somalis.


Somalia - Specialized Occupational Groups


Certain occupational groups such as hunters, leatherdressers , and smiths are known as sab (ignoble) among the Samaal and as bon (low caste) among the Sab. They resemble Somalis, but their ethnic origin is uncertain. Some authorities suggest--and group members believe--that they may be derived from the land's original population. They speak Somali, but also use local dialects.

In the late 1950s, when the Somali population was estimated at 2 million, the number of sab was estimated at more than 12,000, or less than 1 percent of the population. Of these, about three-quarters were of the midgaan (an appellation considered pejorative and ultimately legally forbidden) group whose men worked as barbers, circumcisers, and hunters. Less than a quarter of the total consisted of the Tumaal, who engaged chiefly in metalwork. The smallest group was the Yibir (Yahhar in the south), magicians called upon to make amulets for the newborn, bless Somali weddings, and act as soothsayers. In return for these services they would be given gifts.

Occupational groups had lineages, but these were not usually the foundation of diya-paying groups before Somalia's independence. Except perhaps for the Yibir, who moved from one group of Somalis to another, families of occupational specialists were attached to Somali lineages, which acted as their patrons and claimed compensation on their behalf. By the end of the colonial period, change had begun to take place in the political, legal, and social status of these groups.


Somalia - Social Change


Colonial domination had various effects, such as the formal abolition of slavery in the years preceding World War II, particularly in the interriverine area. The effects of Western rule had a greater impact on the social and economic orders in urban than in rural areas. After World War II, the institution of the trusteeship in the Italian-administered south and greater attention to education in the British-run north gradually led to further change.

The late colonial period and the first decade of independence saw the decline, in part legally enforced, of caste-like restrictions and impediments to the equality of habash and traditional occupational groups. In the south, although nobles were more likely to take advantage of educational opportunities, habash increasingly did so.

The growing importance of manual skills in the modern economy gave some occupational groups an economic, if not an immediate social, advantage. For example, many Tumaal blacksmiths became mechanics and settled in towns. In southern port towns, carpenters, weavers, and other artisans formed guilds to protect their common interests. As skilled manual work became more available and socially acceptable, tolerance of members of the traditional groups increased to the point where some intermarriage occurred in the towns. In the rural areas, members of these groups formed their own diya-paying units and in a few cases began to take part in the councils of the Somali lineages to which they remained attached.

Somali leaders tried to eliminate the traditional disabilities of low-status groups. In early 1960, just before independence, the legislative assembly of the Italian trust territory abolished the status of client, that is, of habash dependent on Somalis for land and water rights. The law stated that Somali citizens could live and farm where they chose, independent of hereditary affiliation. Patron lineages in the riverine area resisted the change and retaliated against habash assertions of independence. They withheld customary farming and watering rights, excluded habash from diya-paying arrangements, and, in some cases, sought to oust them from the land they had farmed for generations as clients. Some habash brought cases in court, seeking to affirm their new rights, but initially many continued to live under the old arrangements. Clientship appeared by the early 1990s to have diminished in fact as it had been abrogated in law.

Whereas some features of traditional stratification were eroded, new strata based on education and command of a foreign language--English or Italian--were forming in the late colonial period. With independence, a new elite arose as Somalis assumed the highest political and bureaucratic positions in national government. A subelite also emerged, consisting of persons with more modest educational qualifications who filled posts in local and regional government. In many cases, however, these government workers were the sons of men who had acquired a degree of wealth in nonprofessional activities such as landholding, trading, and herding, in part because the costs of secondary education in the colonial period could be met only by relatively affluent families.

Two somewhat contradictory forces affected educated urban Somalis in the 1950s and 1960s. On the one hand their income, education, and, above all, their literacy in a foreign language distanced them from most other Somalis. On the other hand, lineage and clan remained important to most of this new elite. Thus descent groups acquired a new importance in national politics.

Locally, particularly in the larger towns, a combination of outsiders and area residents provided middle-level administration. One administrative component would consist of members of the national subelite brought in by the Somali government. Typically, this group would include the district commissioner, the judge, the secretary to the municipality, the staff of some of these officials, teachers, and the national police. Locally elected councillors would constitute the other administrative component. Some councillors were lineage heads; others were businessmen or had some other basis for their local status. Some of the local notables had sons serving as district officials but, by regulation, not in their home communities. In Afgooye, a town in which the Geledi, the Wadaan (a group of the Hawiye clan-family), and others were represented, the local people and the subelite meshed well in the mid- and late 1960s, but Afgooye was not necessarily representative of local communities in the riverine areas or elsewhere.

Beginning in the nineteenth century, there was a growing distinction between the bulk of nomadic Somalis and their kinsmen in the towns acting as middlemen in the livestock trade with Aden. Some of these townsmen became relatively wealthy and appeared to have more influence in council than their pastoralist relatives.

By the 1960s, the demand for livestock in the Middle East had led to a great expansion of the livestock trade through the port of Berbera. Hargeysa and Burao became the points from which 150 to 200 major livestock dealers and their agents--all but a few of them Somalis--operated. The nomadic producers directed their activity toward the commercial market, but the traders controlled the terms of trade, the feedlots, and some of the better grazing land. The government did not interfere because the livestock trade was too important as a source of foreign exchange, and because the traders marketed the animals efficiently.

A new class of merchants thus emerged. They retained their connections with their lineages, but their interests differed from those of nomadic herders. If they were not educated, they tried to ensure that their children attended school.

After World War II and during the first decade of independence, the government stressed loyalty to the nation in place of loyalty to clan and lineage. The segmental system was seen as a divisive force, a source of nepotism and corruption; Somali politicians denounced it as "tribalism." A few Somalis rejected reference to clan and lineage. Nevertheless, persons meeting for the first time asked each other about their "ex- clans." Clan-families, once functionally unimportant, became increasingly significant as political rallying points, particularly as Somalia approached independence, and they continued to be so in the 1990s. Clans and lineages remained the basic unit of society, serving many social, political, and economic functions regionally and locally. Although the Somali government opposed clans and lineages, it continued to appoint and pay lineage heads; lineages and clans were in fact voting blocs. Supreme Court decisions in 1962 and 1964 effected a major change in the role of the diya-paying group. The court's judgments forbade collective payment for premeditated homicide. Payments for unpremeditated homicide and injury, however, were defined as compensation for a tort and were permitted. In this era, too, the diya-paying group's responsibilities were extended to cover traffic fatalities.

The military leadership that took power in October 1969 introduced elements that constituted a radical break with the past. The new regime soon declared socialism as its frame of reference, in part as a means of obtaining Soviet aid. The regime's basic ideas constituted a pragmatic version of Marxism adapted to local social and economic conditions. In this version, class struggle did not apply; the bourgeoisie was very small, composed of the new elite and subelite (chiefly employed in government), a few traders, and a few professionals. There was no significant proletariat, rural or urban, and no great Somali entrepreneurs or landholders.

In its initial zest for change, the new regime focused on the divisions in Somali society: the cleavages between clans and lineages, the settled and the nomadic, strong and weak pastoral lineages competing for grazing and water, patrons and clients in the cultivating regions, and urban and rural dwellers. Attention was also given to the continuing disdain shown to those of low status. Under the new regime, clan and lineage affiliations were irrelevant to social relations, and the use of pejorative labels to describe specific groups thought inferior to Somalis were forbidden. All Somalis were asked to call each other jaalle (comrade), regardless of hereditary affiliation.

Within limits the language of public discourse can be changed by fiat; much pejorative language was expurgated. Nevertheless, Somalis continued to learn each other's clan or lineage affiliation when it was useful to do so, and in private it was not uncommon for Somalis to refer to habash by the phrase "kinky hair." The term jaalle was widely used in the media and in a range of public situations, but its use cannot be said to have reflected a change of perspective.

The government also sought to change the function of the clans and lineages by abolishing the title of elder and replacing it with peacekeeper. Peacekeepers were the appointed spokesmen of what were officially regarded as local groups composed of either cultivators or pastoralists. In the early 1970s, collective responsibility (diya payment) in any guise was abolished.

Like most governments required to deal with a large nomadic population, the pre- and post-revolutionary regimes sought to find ways to settle the pastoralists, both to improve the pastoral economy and to facilitate control and services. Efforts to convert the nomads into ranchers made little progress, and in the early 1990s most herders were still nomadic or seminomadic. The 1974 drought, however, drove many nomads to seek government help; by 1975 about 105,000 had been resettled, 90,000 as cultivators and 15,000 as fishermen. Clans were deliberately mixed within the settlements, and the settlers were expected to deal as individuals with local councils, committees, and courts, whose membership was also heterogeneous. Three years later, nearly 45 percent of the adult males had left the cultivating settlements, perhaps to resume herding. Most of those living in fishing communities remained. Neither the farmers nor the fishermen had been economically successful.

The dismantling of the diya system; the institution of several political and administrative offices intended to eliminate power vested in lineages and clans; and the establishment of committees, councils, and cooperatives were all part of a policy to replace the descent group system as the primary means of organizing political, economic, and social life. Another manifestation of this policy was the banning in 1972 of weddings, burials, and religious rites organized on a lineage or clan basis. Wedding ceremonies were henceforth to be held at orientation centers or other public places. Money could not be collected from lineage members for the burial of a dead member, and the law forbade religious rites tied to local traditions.

Most published observations refer to the continuing role of clan affiliation in national politics. The clan-family, which rose to considerable importance in Somali politics in the 1950s and 1960s, seemed in later years to lose its force as a rallying point. With the exception of northern Somalia's Isaaq people, the groups that exerted influence either for or against the regime were mostly of a single clan-family, the Daarood; President Mohammed Siad Barre's clan, Mareehaan; his mother's clan, Ogaden; his son-in-law's clan, Dulbahante; and the opposition clan, Majeerteen.

Among the revolutionary regime's concerns was the status of women. After World War II, all political parties had established women's committees. In the Italian-administered south, women voted for the first time in the 1958 municipal elections; in the formerly British north, women voted in the 1961 national referendum on the constitution. Women's role in public affairs remained minimal, however, and little was done to change their legal situation in the first decade of independence.

Under Somali customary law, a woman was under the legal protection of a male--her father or husband, or one of their kinsmen in the event of their deaths. In blood compensation, her life was usually valued at half that of a man. Islamic law permitted daughters to inherit half of what was inherited by sons, but in Somali practice daughters ordinarily did not share in the inheritance of valued property (camels or land). Few girls attended school and even fewer continued beyond the elementary level.

The revolutionary government quickly changed women's legal and political status. In principle, the question of diya payment for injuries to women became moot following the formal termination of the traditional system. Soon after the revolution, the government established committees to deal with women's affairs. Women also began participating in government, committees, sports, and other social and cultural activities. In early 1975, Siad Barre announced a decision by the Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC) and the Council of Ministers to give equal rights to women in several respects, including equal inheritance rights, a move that led to protests by some Islamic leaders. Perhaps more important was the government's insistence that girls attend school, particularly beyond the elementary level.

There were women in visible public posts in Somalia in 1990. Until the 1991 collapse of the state, 6 of the 171 elected members of the People's Assembly were women. Increasing numbers of females were attending secondary school and university. Further progress for women was interrupted by the civil war and would have to await reconstruction of the country.

The Siad Barre government also acted in the economic sphere, fostering various government agencies at the national, regional, and local levels. The regime initiated some enterprises and placed others under state control. Much productive and distributive enterprise remained in private hands, however.

In the rural areas, the government (beginning with colonial administrations) and large-scale private farmers had acquired much of the irrigated land. In the late 1970s, small-scale farmers had worked some of the irrigated land and much of the flood land, but by the mid-1980s much of the latter had been converted to controlled irrigation and had come under state control. For the most part, rain-fed land cultivation remained in the hands of traditional smallholders engaged in subsistence farming, some of whom earned the cash they needed by working on state farms. Most extensions of the irrigation system facilitated development of large state farms, rather than small farms. Some rural Somalis held no land and relied on wage labor on state farms and large private holdings (chiefly banana plantations) for their livelihood.

Under Siad Barre's regime, animal husbandry remained primarily in the hands of individual pastoral Somalis. The chief change lay in the readiness of these pastoralists to sell their livestock in response to overseas demand. Marketing was in the hands of private traders who had accumulated enough capital to construct water storage units and invest in a transport fleet. In addition, a number of traders had enclosed rangeland to produce hay, thereby excluding herders who formerly had used the land. These traders benefited not only from the government construction of roads and other facilities but also from arrangements whereby their overseas earnings might be used in part to buy imports for domestic sale.

Although income distinctions existed among Somalis in the private sphere, until 1991 those who combined comparatively large incomes with reasonable security were government employees such as administrators, technical personnel, and managers of state- owned enterprises. As under the first independence regime, administrators did not serve in their home territories and were therefore not linked by kinship to the more affluent Somalis in the local private sector.

Despite the otherwise fluid character of the system, the apex of the local hierarchy in a rural settled area consisted of the high-level (and to some extent the middle-level) representatives of the state. These included regional and local administrators, managers of state farms and agro-industries such as the sugar refinery at Giohar, technicians, and highly skilled workers. Members of this group had relatively high incomes and could be reasonably sure of seeing that their children finished school, an important prerequisite to finding a good position. Because they often determined the flow of resources to the private sector, this elite group exercised economic power greater than that of wealthy merchants or large landholders whose income might be the same as, or larger than, theirs.

At the bottom of the economic hierarchy were most rural Somalis, whether sedentary or nomadic. Living primarily by subsistence cropping or herding, they sold what they could. They had little contact with government and had been relatively untouched by development projects because of their isolation or insufficient government efforts to reach them. The farmers among them cultivated the poorest land and barely earned survival incomes with wage work. The pastoralists were most affected by the demands of a difficult environment. Beginning in the late 1970s, limits on migration resulting from hostile relations between Somalia and Ethiopia caused them additional hardship.

As of the early 1990s, two other significant categories of rural residents were workers whose wages derived from state-owned or state-sponsored activities, and landholders or herders who operated on a smaller scale than the plantation owners. Neither of these categories was homogeneous. Wage workers ranged from landless and relatively unskilled agricultural workers whose income might be intermittent, to low-level workers in government agencies whose income was likely to be steadier and who might be heads of or members of families with subsistence farms or herds. Plots or herds owned by farmers or herders varied considerably in size and quality, as did the income derived from them. Nevertheless farmers and herders fared better than subsistence farmers. They joined cooperatives, took advantage of adult education, and participated in government programs that promised to enhance their incomes and the status of the next generation. Members of this category sent their children to school and arranged for some of them to seek more lucrative or prestigious employment in Mogadishu or other large towns.

Rural petty traders did not clearly belong to any one economic category. Their incomes were not large, but equaled those of many lower-level wage workers and small-scale market- oriented farmers.

Particularly in Mogadishu, the national capital and the largest town, another social pattern developed prior to the fall of the Siad Barre regime. Because of their incomes and the power they wielded, the highest party and government officials became the new apex of Somali society. In the early 1990s, the salaries and allowances of cabinet ministers were twice that of the next highest officials, the directors general of ministries, and nearly twenty-five times that of the lowest levels of the civil service. Below the ministers and directors general but well above the clerks of the bureaucracy were other high-level administrators, executives, and skilled personnel. For instance, the manager of a large state-owned factory earned somewhat less than a minister but more than a director general. An unskilled laborer in a state farm earned less than the poorest-paid civil servant, but an unskilled worker in a factory earned a little more. Unskilled farm and factory workers and bottom-level government employees earned only 5 to 10 percent of a manager's salary.

As in the rural areas, in the towns there were many people involved in the private sector. In some respects, merchants and traders had the deepest urban roots. Most of them were petty traders and shopkeepers whose income and status were closer to those of craftsmen than to those of the wealthier merchants.

In the mid-1970s, a manufacturing census indicated that about 6,000 enterprises in Somalia employed five or fewer persons, most of them probably family members. Unlike the larger, often foreign-owned industrial concerns, these had not been nationalized.

Most urban dwellers were wage workers, but they had various skills, sources of employment, and incomes. For example, low- and middle-level clerks in the government bureaucracy and in state enterprises earned no more (and sometimes less) than skilled artisans in state firms, and both earned perhaps twice as much as unskilled factory laborers.

The situation of the urban population had changed radically by early 1992. Following the fall of Siad Barre, urban areas consisted largely of refugees or war victims who had migrated from the countryside after the civil war began.


Somalia - Lineage Segmentation and Civil War


From the early 1980s to the early 1990s, Somali society underwent a profound crisis--of identity, purpose, and direction- -that threatened its very existence. As a result of its humiliating 1977-78 defeat in the Ogaden War with Ethiopia, the revolutionary regime began to founder. Confronted by armed opposition at home and diplomatic isolation abroad, the regime turned inward. President Siad Barre, an expert in the art of dividing and ruling since his early days as an intelligence officer under the Italian fascists, skillfully harnessed the limited resources of the state. His aim was to pit clan against clan and to inflame clan passions in order to divert public attention from his increasingly vulnerable regime.

A civil war began in the early 1980s with an armed uprising against the regime by Majeerteen clans (Daarood) in southern Somalia under the banner of the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF). Armed resistance spread to the Isaaq clans in the north. The regime's efforts to suppress Isaaq resistance resulted in May 1988 in the virtual destruction of the urban centers of the north, most notably Hargeysa, until then the second largest city in the country, and Burao, a provincial capital. This action was followed in mid-1989 by a massive uprising by the Hawiye clans in Mogadishu and adjacent regions under the leadership of the clanbased United Somali Congress (USC). In the escalating waves of government repression and resulting popular resistance that followed, Somali society exploded into violence and anarchy, and Siad Barre and his remaining supporters were forced to flee in early 1991.

Instead of peace, Somalia experienced a power struggle among various clan- and region-based organizations: the Somali National Movement (SNM, Isaaq-affiliated); the SSDF (Majeerteen); the Somali Patriotic Movement (SPM, Ogaden); Somali Democratic Alliance (SDA, Gadabursi); and the Somali Democratic Movement (SDM, Rahanwayn). Lineages and sublineages, fighting over the spoils of state, turned on one another in an orgy of internecine killings. The state collapsed and Somali society splintered into its component clans.

The collapse resulted from certain features of Somali lineage segmentation. Somali clan organization is an unstable, fragile system, characterized at all levels by shifting allegiances. This segmentation goes down to the household level with the children of a man's two wives sometimes turning on one another on the basis of maternal lines. Power is exercised through temporary coalitions and ephemeral alliances between lineages. A given alliance fragments into competitive units as soon as the situation that necessitated it ceases to exist. In urban settings, for example, where relatively large economic and political stakes are contested, the whole population may be polarized into two opposing camps of clan alliances. To varying degrees, the poles of power in the politics of independent Somalia generally have tended to form around the Daarood clanfamily and a confederacy of the Hawiye and the Isaaq clanfamilies .

Two features of lineage segmentation require further comment. First, the system lacks a concept of individual culpability. When a man commits a homicide, for example, the guilt does not remain with him solely as an individual murderer as in most Western societies; the crime is attributed to all of the murderer's kin, who become guilty in the eyes of the aggrieved party by reason of their blood connection with the perpetrator. Members of the aggrieved group then seek revenge, not just on the perpetrator, but on any member of his lineage they might chance upon. In the Somali lineage system, one literally may get away with murder because the actual killer may escape while an innocent kinsman of his may be killed. Second, the system is vulnerable to external manipulation by, for example, a head of state such as Siad Barre, who used the resources of the state to reward and punish entire clans collectively. This was the fate of the Isaaq and Majeerteen clans, which suffered grievous persecutions under Siad Barre's regime.

The meaning of segmentation is captured in an Arab beduin saying: My full brother and I against my half-brother, my brother and I against my father, my father's household against my uncle's household, our two households (my uncle's and mine) against the rest of the immediate kin, the immediate kin against nonimmediate members of my clan, my clan against other clans, and, finally, my nation and I against the world. In a system of lineage segmentation, one does not have a permanent enemy or a permanent friend--only a permanent context. Depending on the context, a man, a group of men, or even a state may be one's friends or foes. This fact partially explains why opposition Somalis did not hesitate to cross over to Ethiopia, the supposed quintessential foe of Somalis. Ethiopia was being treated by the Somali opposition as another clan for purposes of temporary alliance in the interminable shifting coalitions of Somali pastoral clan politics.

Lineage segmentation of the Somali variety thus inherently militates against the evolution and endurance of a stable, centralized state. Although exacerbated by Siad Barre's exploitation of interclan rivalries, institutional instability is actually woven into the fabric of Somali society. The collapse of the Siad Barre regime in early 1991 led to interclan civil war that was continuing in 1992.


Somalia - RELIGION


Most Somalis are Sunni Muslims. (Less than 1 percent of ethnic Somalis are Christians.) Loyalty to Islam reinforces distinctions that set Somalis apart from their immediate African neighbors, most of whom are either Christians (particularly the Amhara and others of Ethiopia) or adherents of indigenous African faiths.

The Islamic ideal is a society organized to implement Muslim precepts in which no distinction exists between the secular and the religious spheres. Among Somalis this ideal had been approximated less fully in the north than among some groups in the settled regions of the south where religious leaders were at one time an integral part of the social and political structure. Among nomads, the exigencies of pastoral life gave greater weight to the warrior's role, and religious leaders were expected to remain aloof from political matters.

The role of religious functionaries began to shrink in the 1950s and 1960s as some of their legal and educational powers and responsibilities were transferred to secular authorities. The position of religious leaders changed substantially after the 1969 revolution and the introduction of scientific socialism. Siad Barre insisted that his version of socialism was compatible with Quranic principles, and he condemned atheism. Religious leaders, however, were warned not to meddle in politics.

The new government instituted legal changes that some religious figures saw as contrary to Islamic precepts. The regime reacted sharply to criticism, executing some of the protesters. Subsequently, religious leaders seemed to accommodate themselves to the government.

<>The Tenets of Islam
<>Religious Roles in Somali Islam
<>Religious Orders and the Cult of the Saints
<>Folk Islam and Indigenous Ritual
<>Islam in the Colonial Era and After
<>Rising Islamism


Somalia - The Tenets of Islam


Founded in A.D. 622 when the Prophet Muhammad migrated with his followers from Mecca to Medina, Islam was probably brought to Somalia by early followers of the Prophet who sought refuge from persecution in Mecca. It is also possible that Islam came to Somalia through contacts with Persian and Arab merchants and seamen who founded settlements along the Somali coast 1,000 or more years ago. Before Islam reached the Somalis, quarrels over the succession to leadership had led to a split of the Islamic community into the Sunni (orthodox) and the Shia (from Shiat Ali, or partisans of Ali as the legitimate successor to Muhammad). The overwhelming majority of Somalis are Sunni Muslims.

The word islam means "submission to God," and a Muslim is one who has submitted. The religion's basic tenet is stated in its creed: "There is no god but God (Allah) and Muhammad is His prophet." Recitation of the creed, daily prayers performed according to prescribed rules, fasting during the lunar month of Ramadan (when Muhammad received his initial revelations), almsgiving, and the pilgrimage to Mecca constitute the five pillars of the faith. Four of these duties may be modified by the situation in which believers find themselves. If they are ill, they may pray without prostrations and reduce the number of times they pray from the obligatory five to three. Muslims may be excused from fasting (going without food, drink, tobacco, and sexual relations from dawn until sunset) during a journey, but should compensate at a later time. Participation in almsgiving and the pilgrimage depend upon one's ability to afford them.

The basic teaching of Islam is embodied in the Quran, believed to have been given to Muhammad by God through the angel Gabriel. After Muhammad's death, his followers sought to regulate their lives by his divinely inspired works; if the Quran did not cover a specific situation, they turned to the hadith (tradition, remembered actions, and sayings of the Prophet). Together, the Quran and the hadith form the sunna (custom or usage), a comprehensive guide to the spiritual, ethical, and social life of Muslims.

Islamic sharia or religious law derives from the Quran, the hadith, and from a large body of interpretive commentary that developed in the early Islamic period. Several schools of legal thought arose, among them the Shafii school (named for Muhammad ibn Idris ash Shafii, 767-820), which is represented in Somalia. The sharia covers several categories of behavior: obligatory actions, desirable or recommended actions, indifferent actions, objectionable but not forbidden actions, and prohibited actions. The five pillars of the faith fall in the first category; nightlong prayer in the second, and many ordinary secular activities in the third. Divorce is in the objectionable but permitted category, whereas adultery and other sinful acts are prohibited.

Settled and nomadic Somalis conformed to Muslim requirements for ritual purity, such as washing after contact with unclean things. Some settled Somalis, particularly in communities founded by religious orders, are more likely to observe Islamic requirements than are nomads. By the 1960s, ordinary settled Somalis were likely to pay less attention to religious observance. Devout Somalis, and others who valued the title of hajj (pilgrim) for its prestige, might make the pilgrimage to Mecca, but many more would visit the tombs of the local saints.


Somalia - Religious Roles in Somali Islam


In Islam, no priests mediate between the believer and God, but there are religious teachers, preachers, and mosque officials. Until the civil war in Somalia, religious training was most readily available in urban centers or wherever mosques existed. There boys learned to memorize parts of the Quran. Some teachers traveled on foot from place to place with their novices, depending on the generosity of others for their living. The teachers served the community by preaching, leading prayers, blessing the people and their livestock, counseling, arbitrating disputes, and performing marriages. Few teachers were deeply versed in Islam, and they rarely stayed with one lineage long enough to teach more than rudimentary religious principles.

In the absence of a wandering teacher, nomads depended on a person associated with religious devotion, study, or leadership, called a wadad (pl., wadaddo). The wadaddo constituted the oldest stratum of literate people in Somalia. They functioned as basic teachers and local notaries as well as judges and authorities in religious law. They were rarely theologians; some belonged to a religious brotherhood, or to a lineage with a strong religious tradition. In the latter case, they were not necessarily trained, but were entitled to lead prayers and to perform ritual sacrifices at weddings, on special holidays, and during festivals held at the tombs of saints.


Somalia - Religious Orders and the Cult of the Saints


Religious orders have played a significant role in Somali Islam. The rise of these orders (turuq; sing., tariqa, "way" or "path") was connected with the development of Sufism, a mystical current in Islam that began during the ninth and tenth centuries and reached its height during the twelfth and thirteenth. In Somalia Sufi orders appeared in towns during the fifteenth century and rapidly became a revitalizing force. Followers of Sufism seek a closer personal relationship to God through special spiritual disciplines. Escape from self is facilitated by poverty, seclusion, and other forms of self-denial. Members of Sufi orders are commonly called dervishes (from the Persian plural, daraawish; sing., darwish, one who gave up worldly concerns to dedicate himself to the service of God and community). Leaders of branches or congregations of these orders are given the Arabic title shaykh, a term usually reserved for these learned in Islam and rarely applied to ordinary wadaddo.

Dervishes wandered from place to place, teaching and begging. They are best known for their ceremonies, called dhikr, in which states of visionary ecstasy are induced by group- chanting of religious texts and by rhythmic gestures, dancing, and deep breathing. The object is to free oneself from the body and to be lifted into the presence of God. Dervishes have been important as founders of agricultural religious communities called jamaat (sing., jamaa). A few of these were home to celibate men only, but usually the jamaat were inhabited by families. Most Somalis were nominal members of Sufi orders but few underwent the rigors of devotion to the religious life, even for a short time.

Three Sufi orders were prominent in Somalia. In order of their introduction into the country, they were the Qadiriyah, the Ahmadiyah-Idrisiyah, and the Salihiyah. The Rifaiyah, an offshoot of the Qadiriyah, was represented mainly among Arabs resident in Mogadishu.

The Qadiriyah, the oldest order in Islam, was founded in Baghdad by Abd al Qadir al Jilani in 1166 and introduced into Harer (Ethiopia) in the fifteenth century. During the eighteenth century, it was spread among the Oromo and Somalis of Ethiopia, often under the leadership of Somali shaykhs. Its earliest known advocate in northern Somalia was Shaykh Abd ar Rahman az Zeilawi, who died in 1883. At that time, Qadiriyah adherents were merchants in the ports and elsewhere. In a separate development, the Qadiriyah order also spread into the southern Somali port cities of Baraawe and Mogadishu at an uncertain date. In 1819 Shaykh Ibrahim Hassan Jebro acquired land on the Jubba River and established a religious center in the form of a farming community, the first Somali jamaa.

Outstanding figures of the Qadiriyah in Somalia included Shaykh Awes Mahammad Baraawi (d. 1909), who spread the teaching of the order in the southern interior. He wrote much devotional poetry in Arabic and attempted to translate traditional hymns from Arabic into Somali, working out his own phonetic system. Another was Shaykh Abdirrahman Abdullah of Mogadishu, who stressed deep mysticism. Because of his reputation for sanctity, his tomb at Mogadishu became a pilgrimage center for the Shabeelle area and his writings continued to be circulated by his followers in the early 1990s.

The Ahmadiyah-Idrisiyah order was founded by Ahmad ibn Idris al Fasi (1760-1837) of Mecca. It was brought to Somalia by Shaykh Ali Maye Durogba of Merca, a distinguished poet who joined the order during a pilgrimage to Mecca. His visions and the miracles attributed to him gained him a reputation for sanctity, and his tomb became a popular objective among pilgrims. The AhmadiyahIdrisiyah , the smallest of the three orders, has few ritual requirements beyond some simple prayers and hymns. During its ceremonies, however, participants often go into trances.

A conflict over the leadership of the Ahmadiyah-Idrisiyah among its Arab founders led to the establishment of the Salihiyah in 1887 by Muhammad ibn Salih. The order spread first among the Somalis of the Ogaden area of Ethiopia, who entered Somalia about 1880. The Salihiyah's most active proselytizer was Shaykh Mahammad Guled ar Rashidi, who became a regional leader. He settled among the Shidle people (Bantu-speakers occupying the middle reaches of the Shabeelle River), where he obtained land and established a jamaa. Later he founded another jamaa among the Ajuran (a section of the Hawiye clanfamily ) and then returned to establish still another community among the Shidle before his death in 1918. Perhaps the best known Somali Salihiyah figure was Mahammad Abdille Hasan, leader of a lengthy resistance to the British until 1920.

Generally, the Salihiyah and the Ahmadiyah-Idrisiyah leaders were more interested in the establishment of jamaat along the Shabeelle and Jubba rivers and the fertile land between them than in teaching because few were learned in Islam. Their early efforts to establish farming communities resulted in cooperative cultivation and harvesting and some effective agricultural methods. In Somalia's riverine region, for example, only jamaat members thought of stripping the brush from areas around their fields to reduce the breeding places of tsetse flies.

Local leaders of brotherhoods customarily asked lineage heads in the areas where they wished to settle for permission to build their mosques and communities. A piece of land was usually freely given; often it was an area between two clans or one in which nomads had access to a river. The presence of a jamaa not only provided a buffer zone between two hostile groups, but also caused the giver to acquire a blessing since the land was considered given to God. Tenure was a matter of charity only, however, and sometimes became precarious in case of disagreements. No statistics were available in 1990 on the number of such settlements, but in the 1950s there were more than ninety in the south, with a total of about 35,000 members. Most were in the Bakool, Gedo, and Bay regions or along the middle and lower Shabeelle River. There were few jamaat in other regions because the climate and soil did not encourage agricultural settlements.

Membership in a brotherhood is theoretically a voluntary matter unrelated to kinship. However, lineages are often affiliated with a specific brotherhood and a man usually joins his father's order. Initiation is followed by a ceremony during which the order's dhikr is celebrated. Novices swear to accept the branch head as their spiritual guide.

Each order has its own hierarchy that is supposedly a substitute for the kin group from which the members have separated themselves. Veneration is given to previous heads of the order, known as the Chain of Blessing, rather than to ancestors. This practice is especially followed in the south, where place of residence tends to have more significance than lineage.

Leaders of orders and their branches and of specific congregations are said to have baraka, a state of blessedness implying an inner spiritual power that is inherent in the religious office and may cling to the tomb of a revered leader, who, upon death, is considered a saint. However, some saints are venerated because of their religious reputations whether or not they were associated with an order or one of its communities. Sainthood also has been ascribed to others because of their status as founders of clans or large lineages. Northern pastoral nomads are likely to honor lineage founders as saints; sedentary Somalis revere saints for their piety and baraka.

Because of the saint's spiritual presence at his tomb, pilgrims journey there to seek aid (such as a cure for illness or infertility). Members of the saint's order also visit the tomb, particularly on the anniversaries of his birth and death.


Somalia - Folk Islam and Indigenous Ritual


Somalis have modified Islam, for example with reference to the social significance of baraka. Baraka is considered a gift from God to the founders and heads of Sufi orders. It is likewise associated with secular leaders and their clan genealogies.

A leader has power to bless, but his baraka may have potentially dangerous side effects. His curse is greatly feared, and his power may harm others. When a clan leader visits the leader of another clan, the host's relative receives him first to draw off some of the visitor's power so that his own chief may not be injured.

The traditional learning of a wadad includes a form of folk astronomy based on stellar movements and related to seasonal changes. Its primary objective is to signal the times for migration, but it may also be used to set the dates of rituals that are specifically Somali. This folk knowledge is also used in ritual methods of healing and averting misfortune, as well as for divination.

Wadaddo help avert misfortune by making protective amulets and charms that transmit some of their baraka to others, or by adding the Quran's baraka to the amulet through a written passage. The baraka of a saint may be obtained in the form of an object that has touched or been placed near his tomb.

Although wadaddo may use their power to curse as a sanction, misfortune generally is not attributed to curses or witchcraft. Somalis have accepted the orthodox Muslim view that a man's conduct will be judged in an afterlife. However, a person who commits an antisocial act, such as patricide, is thought possessed of supernatural evil powers.

Despite formal Islam's uncompromising monotheism, Muslims everywhere believe in the existence of mortal spirits (jinn), said to be descended from Iblis, a spirit fallen from heaven. Most Somalis consider all spirits to be evil but some believe there are benevolent spirits.

Certain kinds of illness, including tuberculosis and pneumonia, or symptoms such as sneezing, coughing, vomiting, and loss of consciousness, are believed to result from spirit possession, namely, the wadaddo of the spirit world. The condition is treated by a human wadad, preferably one who has himself recovered from the sickness. He reads portions of the Quran over the patient and bathes him with perfume, which in Somalia is associated with religious celebrations.

In the case of possession by the zar, a spirit, the ceremony of exorcism used to treat it is sometimes referred to as the "zar cult." The victims are women with grievances against their husbands. The symptoms are extreme forms of hysteria and fainting fits. The zar exorcism ritual is conducted by a woman who has had the affliction and thus supposedly has some authority over the spirit. The ritual consists of a special dance in which the victim tends to reproduce the symptoms and fall into a trance. The "illness" enables a disgruntled wife to express her hostility without actually quarreling with her husband.

A third kind of spirit possession is known as gelid (entering), in which the spirit of an injured person troubles the offender. A jilted girl, for example, cannot openly complain if a promise of marriage arranged by the respective families has been broken. Her spirit, however, entering the young man who was supposed to marry her and stating the grievance, causes him to fall ill. The exorcism consists of readings from the Quran and commands from a wadad that the spirit leave the afflicted person.

Gelid is also thought to be caused by the curse or evil power of a helpless person who has been injured. The underlying notion is that those who are weak in worldly matters are mystically endowed. Such persons are supposed to be under the special protection of God, and kind acts toward them bring religious merit, whereas unkind acts bring punishment. The evil eye, too, is associated with unfortunates, especially women. Thus, members of the Yibir, the numerically smallest and weakest of the special occupation groups and traditionally the lowliest socially, are the most feared for their supernatural powers.

Somalis also engage in rituals that derive from pre-Islamic practices and in some cases resemble those of other Eastern Cushitic-speaking peoples. Perhaps the most important of these rituals are the annual celebrations of the clan ancestor among northern Somalis--an expression of their solidarity--and the collective rainmaking ritual (roobdoon) performed by sedentary groups in the south.


Somalia - Islam in the Colonial Era and After


Because Muslims believe that their faith was revealed in its complete form to the Prophet Muhammad, it has been difficult to adapt Islam to the social, economic, and political changes that began with the expansion of colonial rule in the late nineteenth century. Some modifications have occurred, however. One response was to stress a return to orthodox Muslim traditions and to oppose Westernization totally. The Sufi brotherhoods were at the forefront of this movement, personified in Somalia by Mahammad Abdille Hasan in the early 1900s. Generally, the leaders of Islamic orders opposed the spread of Western education.

Another response was to reform Islam by reinterpreting it. From this perspective, early Islam was seen as a protest against abuse, corruption, and inequality; reformers therefore attempted to prove that Muslim scriptures contained all elements needed to deal with modernization. To this school of thought belongs Islamic socialism, identified particularly with Egyptian nationalist Gamal Abdul Nasser (1918-70). His ideas appealed to a number of Somalis, especially those who had studied in Cairo in the 1950s and 1960s.

The 1961 constitution guaranteed freedom of religion but also declared the newly independent republic an Islamic state. The first two postindependence governments paid lip service to the principles of Islamic socialism but made relatively few changes. The coup of October 21, 1969, installed a radical regime committed to profound change. Shortly afterward, Stella d'Ottobre, the official newspaper of the SRC, published an editorial about relations between Islam and socialism and the differences between scientific and Islamic socialism. Islamic socialism was said to have become a servant of capitalism and neocolonialism and a tool manipulated by a privileged, rich, and powerful class. In contrast, scientific socialism was based on the altruistic values that inspired genuine Islam. Religious leaders should therefore leave secular affairs to the new leaders who were striving for goals that conformed with Islamic principles. Soon after, the government arrested several protesting religious leaders and accused them of counterrevolutionary propaganda and of conniving with reactionary elements in the Arabian Peninsula. The authorities also dismissed several members of religious tribunals for corruption and incompetence.

When the Three-Year Plan, 1971-73, was launched in January 1971, SRC leaders felt compelled to win the support of religious leaders so as to transform the existing social structure. On September 4, 1971, Siad Barre exhorted more than 100 religious teachers to participate in building a new socialist society. He criticized their method of teaching in Quranic schools and charged some with using religion for personal profit.

The campaign for scientific socialism intensified in 1972. On the occasion of Id al Adha, the major Muslim festival associated with the pilgrimage, the president defined scientific socialism as half practical work and half ideological belief. He declared that work and belief were compatible with Islam because the Quran condemned exploitation and moneylending and urged compassion, unity, and cooperation among Muslims. But he stressed the distinction between religion as an ideological instrument for the manipulation of power and as a moral force. He condemned the antireligious attitude of Marxists. Religion, Siad Barre said, was an integral part of the Somali worldview, but it belonged in the private sphere, whereas scientific socialism dealt with material concerns such as poverty. Religious leaders should exercise their moral influence but refrain from interfering in political or economic matters.

In early January 1975, evoking the message of equality, justice, and social progress contained in the Quran, Siad Barre announced a new family law that gave women the right to inheritance on an equal basis with men. Some Somalis believe the law was proof that the SRC wanted to undermine the basic structure of Islamic society. In Mogadishu twenty-three religious leaders protested inside their mosques. They were arrested and charged with acting at the instigation of a foreign power and with violating state security; ten were executed. Most religious leaders, however, kept silent. The government continued to organize training courses for shaykhs in scientific socialism.


Somalia - Rising Islamism


Somali Islam rendered the world intelligible to Somalis and made their lives more bearable in a harsh land. Amidst the interclan violence that characterized life in the early 1990s, Somalis naturally sought comfort in their faith to make sense of their national disaster. The traditional response of practicing Muslims to social trauma is to explain it in terms of a perceived sin that has caused society to stray from the "straight path of truth" and consequently to receive God's punishment. The way to regain God's favor is to repent collectively and rededicate society in accordance with Allah's divine precepts.

On the basis of these beliefs, a Somali brand of messianic Islamism (sometimes seen as fundamentalism) sprang up to fill the vacuum created by the collapse of the state. In the disintegrated Somali world of early 1992, Islamism appeared to be largely confined to Bender Cassim, a coastal town in Majeerteen country. For instance, a Yugoslav doctor who was a member of a United Nations team sent to aid the wounded was gunned down by masked assailants there in November 1991. Reportedly, the assassins belonged to an underground Islamist movement whose adherents wished to purify the country of "infidel" influence.


Somalia - LANGUAGE


Except for a few communities along the southern Somali coast where Swahili (a Bantu language) and Arabic dialects are spoken, Somali nationals (including persons of non-Somali origin) speak one of several Somali dialects. Somali belongs to a set of languages called lowland Eastern Cushitic spoken by peoples living in Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, and Kenya. Eastern Cushitic is one section of the Cushitic language family, which in turn is part of the great Afro-Asiatic stock.

Of the Somali dialects, the most widely used is Common Somali, a term applied to several subdialects, the speakers of which can understand each other easily. Common Somali is spoken in most of Somalia and in adjacent territories (Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti), and is used by broadcasting stations in Somalia and in Somali-language broadcasts originating outside the country. Coastal Somali is spoken on the Banaadir Coast (from Cadale to south of Baraawe) and its immediate hinterland. Central Somali is spoken in the interriverine area, chiefly by members of the Rahanwayn clan-family. Speakers of Common and Coastal Somali can understand each other after a few weeks of close contact, speakers of Common and Central Somali only after a few months.

Facility with language is highly valued in Somali society; the capability of a suitor, a warrior, or a political or religious leader is judged in part by his verbal adroitness. In such a society, oral poetry becomes an art, and one's ability to compose verse in one or more of its several forms enhances one's status.

Speakers in political or religious assemblies and litigants in courts traditionally were expected to use poetry or poetic proverbs. Even everyday talk tended to have a terse, vivid, poetic style, characterized by carefully chosen words, condensed meaning, and alliteration.

Until the establishment of the Somali script in January 1973, there were two languages of government--English and Italian. In the prerevolutionary era, English became dominant in the school system and in government, which caused some conflict between elites from northern and southern Somalia. However, the overarching issue was the development of a socioeconomic stratum based on mastery of a foreign language. The relatively small proportion of Somalis (less than 10 percent) with a grasp of such a language--preferably English--had access to government positions and the few managerial or technical jobs in modern private enterprises. Such persons became increasingly isolated from their nonliterate Somali-speaking brethren, but because the secondary schools and most government posts were in urban areas the socioeconomic and linguistic distinction was in large part a rural-urban one. To some extent, it was also a north-south distinction because those educated in the Italian system and even in Italian universities found it increasingly difficult to reach senior government levels.

Even before the 1969 revolution, Somalis had become aware of social stratification and the growing distance, based on language and literacy differences, between ordinary Somalis and those in government. The 1972 decision to designate an official Somali script and require its use in government demolished the language barrier and an important obstacle to rapid literacy growth.

In the years following the institution of the Somali script, Somali officials were required to learn the script and attempts were made to inculcate mass literacy--in 1973 among urban and rural sedentary Somalis, and in 1974-75 among nomads. Although a few texts existed in the new script before 1973, in most cases new books were prepared presenting the government's perspective on Somali history and development. Somali scholars also succeeded in developing a vocabulary to deal with a range of subjects from mathematics and physics to administration and ideology.

By the late 1970s, sufficient Somali materials were available to permit the language to be the medium of instruction at all school levels below the university. Arabic was taught to all students, beginning at the elementary level and continuing into the secondary phase. Because Italians dominated the senior faculty at the national university in the late 1970s, Italian remained in wide use. By the late 1980s, Somali was the language of instruction at the university as well.




In the colonial period, Italian Somaliland and British Somaliland pursued different educational policies. The Italians sought to train pupils to become farmers or unskilled workers so as to minimize the number of Italians needed for these purposes. The British established an elementary education system during the military administration to train Somali males for administrative posts and for positions not previously open to them. They set up a training school for the police and one for medical orderlies.

During the trusteeship period, education was supposedly governed by the Trusteeship Agreement, which declared that independence could only be based on "education in the broadest sense." Despite Italian opposition, the UN had passed the Trusteeship Agreement calling for a system of public education: elementary, secondary, and vocational, in which at least elementary education was free. The authorities were also to establish teacher training institutions and to facilitate higher and professional education by sending an adequate number of students for university study abroad.

The result of these provisions was that to obtain an education, a Somali had the choice of attending a traditional Quranic school or the Roman Catholic mission-run government schools. The language of instruction in all these schools was Arabic, not Somali. The fifteen pre-World War I schools (ten government schools and five orphanage schools) in Italian Somaliland had an enrollment of less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the population. Education for Somalis ended with the elementary level; only Italians attended intermediate schools. Of all Italian colonies, Somalia received the least financial aid for education.

In British Somaliland, the military administration appointed a British officer as superintendent of education in 1944. Britain later seconded six Zanzibari instructors from the East Africa Army Education Corps for duty with the Somali Education Department. In 1947 there were seventeen government elementary schools for the Somali and Arab population, two private schools, and a teachers' training school with fifty Somali and Arab students.

Until well after World War II, there was little demand for Western-style education. Moreover, the existence of two official languages (English and Italian) and a third (Arabic, widely revered as the language of the Quran if not widely used and understood) posed problems for a uniform educational system and for literacy training at the elementary school level.

The relative lack of direction in education policy in the prerevolutionary period under the SRC gave way to the enunciation in the early 1970s of several goals reflecting the philosophy of the revolutionary regime. Among these goals were expansion of the school system to accommodate the largest possible student population; introduction of courses geared to the country's social and economic requirements; expansion of technical education; and provision of higher education within Somalia so that most students who pursued advanced studies would acquire their knowledge in a Somali context. The government also announced its intention to eliminate illiteracy. Considerable progress toward these goals had been achieved by the early 1980s.

In the societal chaos following the fall of Siad Barre in early 1991, schools ceased to exist for all practical purposes. In 1990, however, the system had four basic levels--preprimary, primary, secondary, and higher. The government controlled all schools, private schools having been nationalized in 1972 and Quranic education having been made an integral part of schooling in the late 1970s.

The preprimary training given by Quranic schools lasted until the late 1970s. Quranic teachers traveled with nomadic groups, and many children received only the education offered by such teachers. There were a number of stationary religious schools in urban areas as well. The decision in the late 1970s to bring Islamic education into the national system reflected a concern that most Quranic learning was rudimentary at best, as well as a desire for tighter government control over an autonomous area.

Until the mid-1970s, primary education consisted of four years of elementary schooling followed by four grades designated as intermediate. In 1972 promotion to the intermediate grades was made automatic (a competitive examination had been required until that year). The two cycles subsequently were treated as a single continuous program. In 1975 the government established universal primary education, and primary education was reduced to six years. By the end of the 1978-79 school year, however, the government reintroduced the eight-year primary school system because the six-year program had proved unsatisfactory.

The number of students enrolled in the primary level increased each year, beginning in 1969-70, but particularly after 1975-76. Primary schooling theoretically began at age six, but many children started later. Many, especially girls, did not attend school, and some dropped out, usually after completing four years.

In 1981 Somalia informed the UN Conference on the Least Developed Countries that the nomadic population was "omitted from the formal education program for the purposes of forecasting primary education enrollment." In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the government provided a three-year education program for nomadic children. For six months of each year, when the seasons permitted numbers of nomads to aggregate, the children attended school; the rest of the year the children accompanied their families. Nomadic families who wanted their children to attend school throughout the year had to board them in a permanent settlement.

In addition to training in reading, writing, and arithmetic, the primary curriculum provided social studies courses using new textbooks that focused on Somali issues. Arabic was to be taught as a second language beginning in primary school, but it was doubtful that there were enough qualified Somalis able to teach it beyond the rudimentary level. Another goal, announced in the mid-1970s, was to give students some modern knowledge of agriculture and animal husbandry. Primary school graduates, however, lacked sufficient knowledge to earn a living at a skilled trade.

In the late 1980s, the number of students enrolled in secondary school was less than 10 percent of the total in primary schools, a result of the dearth of teachers, schools, and materials. Most secondary schools were still in urban areas; given the rural and largely nomadic nature of the population, these were necessarily boarding schools. Further, the use of Somali at the secondary level required Somali teachers, which entailed a training period. Beginning in the 1980-81 school year, the government created a formula for allocating postprimary students. It assumed that 80 percent of primary school graduates would go on to further education. Of these, 30 percent would attend four-year general secondary education, 17.5 percent either three- or four-year courses in technical education, and 52.5 percent vocational courses of one to two years' duration.

The principal institution of higher education was Somali National University in Mogadishu, founded in 1970. The nine early faculties were agriculture, economics, education, engineering, geology, law, medicine, sciences, and veterinary science. Added in the late 1970s were the faculty of languages and a combination of journalism and Islamic studies. The College of Education, which prepared secondary-school teachers in a two-year program, was part of the university. About 700 students were admitted to the university each year in the late 1970s; roughly 15 percent of those completed the general secondary course and the four-year technical course. Despite a high dropout rate, the authorities projected an eventual intake of roughly 25 percent of general and technical secondary school graduates.

In 1990 several other institutes also admitted secondaryschool graduates. Among these were schools of nursing, telecommunications, and veterinary science, and a polytechnic institute. The numbers enrolled and the duration of the courses were not known.

In addition, several programs were directed at adults. The government had claimed 60 percent literacy after the mass literacy campaign of the mid-1970s, but by early 1977 there were signs of relapse, particularly among nomads. The government then established the National Adult Education Center to coordinate the work of several ministries and many voluntary and part-time paid workers in an extensive literacy program, largely in rural areas for persons sixteen to forty-five years of age. Despite these efforts, the UN estimate of Somali literacy in 1990 was only 24 percent.


Somalia - HEALTH


The collapse of the government in January 1991 with the fall of Siad Barre led to further deterioration of Somalia's health situation. The high incidence of disease that persisted into the early 1990s reflected a difficult environment, inadequate nutrition, and insufficient medical care. In the years since the revolutionary regime had come to power, drought, flood, warfare (and the refugee problem resulting from the latter) had, if anything, left diets more inadequate than before. Massive changes that would make the environment less hostile, such as the elimination of disease-transmitting organisms, had yet to take place. The numbers of medical personnel and health facilities had increased, but they did not meet Somali needs in the early 1990s and seemed unlikely to do so for some time.

The major maladies prevalent in Somalia included pulmonary tuberculosis, malaria, and infectious and parasitic diseases. In addition, schistosomiasis (bilharzia), tetanus, venereal disease (especially in the port towns), leprosy, and a variety of skin and eye ailments severely impaired health and productivity. As elsewhere, smallpox had been virtually wiped out, but occasional epidemics of measles could have devastating effects. In early 1992, Somalia had a human immunovirus (HIV) incidence of less than 1 percent of its population.

Environmental, economic, and social conditions were conducive to a high incidence of tuberculosis among young males who grazed camels under severe conditions and transmitted the disease in their nomadic wanderings. Efforts to deal with tuberculosis had some success in urban centers, but control measures were difficult to apply to the nomadic and seminomadic population.

Malaria was prevalent in the southern regions, particularly those traversed by the country's two major rivers. By the mid1970s , a malaria eradication program had been extended from Mogadishu to other regions; good results were then reported, but there were no useful statistics for the early 1990s.

Approximately 75 percent of the population was affected by one or more kinds of intestinal parasites; this problem would persist as long as contaminated water sources were used and the way of life of most rural Somalis remained unchanged. Schistosomiasis was particularly prevalent in the marshy and irrigated areas along the rivers in the south. Parasites contributed to general debilitation and made the population susceptible to other diseases.

Underlying Somali susceptibility to disease was widespread malnutrition, exacerbated from time to time by drought and since the late 1970s by the refugee burden. Although reliable statistics were not available, the high child mortality rate was attributed to inadequate nutrition.

Until the collapse of the national government in 1991, the organization and administration of health services were the responsibility of the Ministry of Health, although regional medical officers had some authority. The Siad Barre regime had ended private medical practice in 1972, but in the late 1980s private practice returned as Somalis became dissatisfied with the quality of government health care.

From 1973 to 1978, there was a substantial increase in the number of physicians, and a far greater proportion of them were Somalis. Of 198 physicians in 1978, a total of 118 were Somalis, whereas only 37 of 96 had been Somalis in 1973.

In the 1970s, an effort was made to increase the number of other health personnel and to foster the construction of health facilities. To that end, two nursing schools opened and several other health-related educational programs were instituted. Of equal importance was the countrywide distribution of medical personnel and facilities. In the early 1970s, most personnel and facilities were concentrated in Mogadishu and a few other towns. The situation had improved somewhat by the late 1970s, but the distribution of health care remained unsatisfactory.


Somalia - REFUGEES


The 1977-78 Ogaden War caused a massive influx of Somalis who had been living in eastern Ethiopia (and to a lesser extent from other areas) into Somalia. Most refugees were ethnic Somalis, but there were also many Oromo, an ethnic group that resided primarily in Ethiopia. The Somali government appealed for help to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in September 1979, but UNHCR did not initiate requests for international aid until March 1980.

In its first public appeal to the UN, the Somali government estimated 310,000 in the camps in September 1979. By mid-1980 estimates had risen to 750,000 persons in camps and at least half that number outside them. In early 1981, Mogadishu estimated that there were more than 1.3 million refugees in the camps and an additional 700,000 to 800,000 refugees at large, either attempting to carry on their nomadic way of life or quartered in towns and cities.

In 1980 representatives of international agencies and other aid donors expressed skepticism at the numbers Somalia claimed, and in 1981 these agencies asked UN demographers to conduct a survey. The survey estimated 450,000 to 620,000 refugees in the camps; no estimate was made of the number of refugees outside the camps. The Somali government rejected the survey's results; international agencies subsequently based their budgeting on a figure of 650,000.

Conflicting figures concerning the composition of the refugee population by age and sex led a team of epidemiologists from the Centers for Disease Control of the United States Public Health Service to determine the demographic characteristics of a sample of refugee camps in mid-1980. They found the very young (under five years of age) to range from 15 to 18 percent of the camp population; those from five to fifteen years of age ranged from 45 to 47 percent; from 29 to 33 percent were between fifteen years of age and forty-four; 6 to 8 percent were forty-five years or older. The epidemiologists did not find the male-female ratio unusually distorted.

In 1990 there were refugee camps in four of Somalia's sixteen regions, or administrative districts. The number of persons in these camps ranged from under 3,000 to more than 70,000, but most held 35,000 to 45,000 refugees. According to a government document, the camps in Gedo held a total of more than 450,000 persons, in Hiiraan more than 375,000, in Woqooyi Galbeed well over 400,000, and in Shabeellaha Hoose nearly 70,000.

The burden of the refugee influx on Somalia was heavy. Somalia was one of the world's poorest countries, an importer of food in ordinary circumstances and lacking crucial elements of physical and social infrastructure such as transportation and health facilities. The general poverty of the indigenous population and the ad hoc character of the National Refugee Commission established under the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development and other government agencies dealing with the refugee problem contributed to the misuse and even the outright theft of food and medical supplies intended for refugees.

In a country with limited arable land and fuels and visited fairly often by drought or flash floods, refugees were hard put to contribute to their own support. Some refugee camps were so located that transportation of food and medical supplies was fairly easy, but that was not true for many other camps. Some were in or near areas where, in a year of good rain, crops could be grown, but others were not. In almost all cases, easily accessible firewood had been rapidly depleted by early 1981, and the refugees had to go long distances for what little could be found.

Despite the responses of a number of countries--including the United States--to the nutritional and medical requirements of the refugees, their situation in mid-1981 remained difficult. Epidemiologists from the Centers for Disease Control reported in early 1980 that the "major problem affecting the refugee children was protein energy malnutrition." Child mortality was high, particularly among newly arrived refugees. A 1980 epidemic of measles was responsible for many deaths in camps in Gedo and Woqooyi Galbeed. Another leading cause of children's deaths was diarrhea, a consequence in part of the severe lack of adequate sanitation, particularly with respect to water sources.

To sustain the refugee population even at a low level required regular contributions from other countries, an adequate and competently managed distribution system and, if possible, some contribution by the refugees themselves to their own subsistence. In April 1981, Somalia's Ministry of National Planning and Jubba Valley Development issued its Short- and Long-Term Programme for Refugees detailing projected needs and proposals, all of which required international support in various forms--money, food, medical supplies, and foreign staff, among others. When the program was published, overall responsibility for refugees lay with the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development and its National Refugee Commission. Other ministries, including those of health and education, had responsibility for specific projects. By 1990 many ministries had special divisions or sections devoted to refugee matters. However, as noted earlier, by mid-1991 government ministries had ceased functioning.

Age and sex composition, camp conditions, and refugee needs remained roughly constant until 1988, when the civil war, particularly in the north, produced a new and massive wave of refugees. This time the refugees went from Somalia to Ethiopia, where a large number of displaced northerners, mainly members of the Isaaq clan-family fleeing the violence and persecution from the Somali Army's "pacification" campaigns, sought sanctuary in Ethiopia's eastern province, Harerge Kifle Hager. The new wave of asylum- seekers almost doubled the number of displaced persons in the region. According to the UNHCR, Ethiopia and Somalia between them hosted in 1989 a refugee population of about 1.3 million. Nearly 960,000 of the total were ethnic Somalis. Somalia hosted 600,000 refugees, of whom nearly 80 percent were ethnic Somalis from Harerge, Ogaden, Bale, and Borena regions. The remaining 20 percent were Oromo, the largest ethnic group in the Horn of Africa, from Harerge, Bale, and Borena regions.

In southern Somalia, refugees lived in camps in the Gedo and Shabeellaha Hoose regions. In the northwest, camps were distributed in the corridor between Hargeysa and Boorama, northwest of Hargeysa. Because of the nomadic tendency of the Somali and Oromo refugees, major population shifts occurred frequently.

According to UNHCR statistical data for 1990, the camps in southern and central Somalia housed about 460,000 displaced persons. No reliable statistical data existed on the gender and age composition of the refugee population in Somalia. Informed conjecture put the sex ratio at 60 percent female and 40 percent male--the differential resulting from the migration of some of the men to the oil-rich Middle East countries, where they sought employment.

A significant number of Somali refugees emigrated to European countries, in particular Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland (where Somalis constituted the largest number of refugees), and Canada. Britain had a particularly generous asylum policy toward Isaaq refugees.

In providing assistance and relief programs, the UNHCR had collaborated in the past with an assortment of nongovernmental organizations and voluntary agencies. Their assistance fell into two general categories: care and maintenance programs, and what was described as a "durable solution." The former were assistance programs alleviating immediate needs for food, water, sanitation, health, shelter, community services, legal assistance, and related requirements. Durable solutions were voluntary repatriation based on prior clearance given by the Ethiopian government, local integration in Somalia with limited assistance, and facilitation of integration of refugees who demonstrated a well-founded fear for their safety should they repatriate. For most refugee assistance programs, local difficulties caused problems that led to charges of mismanagement, insensitivity, and corruption.

In 1990 there were approximately 360,000 Somali refugees in eastern Ethiopia, almost all of whom belonged to the Isaaq clan from northern Somalia. These refugees had sought asylum as a result of the May 1988 attack in which Somali National Movement guerrillas seized the city of Burao for three days and almost occupied Hargeysa. In the counteroffensive, government troops indiscriminately shelled cities, causing practically the entire Isaaq urban population to flee in panic into Ethiopia. Six refugee camps contained the displaced Isaaq: 140,000 in the Aware camps of Camabokar, Rabasso, and Daror; 10,000 in Aysha; and 210,000 in two camps at Hartishek.

According to the UNHCR, in the camps for Somali refugees the refugees generally lived in family units. Although the 1988 influx contained mainly urban dwellers from Hargeysa and Burao, by the end of 1989 the camp population included many pastoralists and nomads. Their tendency to remain in one location for only short periods presented major problems for public health monitoring.

With the flight of Siad Barre and consequent fall of his government in late January 1991, significant population shifts occurred. According to sketchy UNHCR reports, there were more than 50,000 Somali refugees in various camps in Mombasa, Kenya. These were mainly Daarood who had fled as a result of Hawiye clan-family assaults on them when the state disintegrated and the Daarood residents of Mogadishu became the objects of revenge killings. Another 150,000 were scattered in the North Eastern Province of Kenya, especially in and around the border town of Liboi and slightly farther inland. Other thousands had fled to eastern Ethiopia, where the UNHCR stated it was feeding more than 400,000 ethnic Somalis. Many others were dispersed throughout the border areas.




The Somali environment--both human and ecological--has deteriorated since the collapse of the state in early 1991. The consequent outbreak of intra- and interclan conflicts engulfed the peninsula in a catastrophic civil war that had claimed, by a conservative estimate, more than 200,000 Somali lives by early 1992. The cities of Mogadishu and Hargeysa had been reduced to rubble, with government buildings and homes looted or razed by gangs armed with assault rifles. Even telephone wires had been dug up, stolen, and exported for sale to the United Arab Emirates.

In the fields of education and health, a sharp decline occurred and only minimal services continued to exist. Because of the destruction of schools and supporting services, a whole generation of Somalis faced the prospect of a return to illiteracy. Many people who had fled to the cities initially because of the civil war sought refuge in camps elsewhere, often refugee camps outside Somalia. More than one year of civil war had wiped out most of the intellectual and material progress of the preceding thirty years. In short, Somali society had retrogressed to a collection of warring clans reminiscent of preindustrial times.


CITATION: Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress. The Country Studies Series. Published 1988-1999.

Please note: This text comes from the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The Country Studies Series presents a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world.

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