Article from ROAPE Volume 23 Number 70
Plight of the Agro-pastoral Society of Somalia

The Plight of the Agro-pastoral Society of Somalia
Vol.23 No.70 (December 1996), pp543-553
Despite advances in modern communication and the proliferation of information, there remain areas of the world about which little is known. One such place is Somalia. The informed public is aware of a political ‘meltdown’ and consequent chaos there, but few comprehend the causes of this tragic crisis. Unless and until there is greater understanding of the basic issues involved, Somalia will continue to suffer mayhem and chronic disorder. This article assesses some of the factors involved in the current civil war in Somalia, especially as they pertain to the interriverine region of the south. Particular emphasis is placed on the Dighil/Mirifle clan in that region. In contrast to the single cause analysis that attributes all to Siad Barré's dictatorship, which is adopted by nearly every Somali scholar and politician, the article investigates the social causes of the worst civil war in the modern history of this country. The single cause analysis is inadequate because it is not so much scientific as ideological, and represents the desire of nomadic groups to impose cultural and political hegemony on the settled agro-pastoralist groups in and around the inter-riverine region in the south. The basic tenet of this hegemonic ambition is an invented homogeneity, which presents Somalia as one of the few culturally homogeneous countries in Africa, if not the world. The Somali people are said to have a single language and to share a mono-culture. In fact, Somalia has always been divided into southern agro-pastoral clans and northern nomadic clans which have distinctively different cultural, linguistic, and social structures. The mono-culture about which most students of Somalia speak is extrapolated mainly from the study of the northern part of the country, where most of the research into Somali culture was undertaken. The assumptions and extrapolations of these northern-based studies were later applied to other parts of the country without any scientific basis. The myth of Somali homogeneity played a major role in the rise of nomadic clans to political predominance, and the appropriation of resources from the less warlike and intensely religious agro-pastoral groups in and around the inter-riverine region. A major factor in the Somali conflict is the struggle among clans for control of limited and increasingly scarce resources, especially land and water. More specifically, it is a violent competition between the Darood and Hawiye clan families for political and economic dominance of the inter-riverine region.