De Facto States: The Quest for Sovereignty

By Tozun Bahcheli; Barry Bartmann et al. | Go to book overview

10

Can clans form nations?

Somaliland in the making

Henry Srebrnik


The Somali: a nation or an aggregation of clans?

In 1987, David Laitin and Said Samatar published Somalia: Nation in Search of a State. Their thesis was that the Somali Democratic Republic, as it was then known, was a rarity among African polities, in that its entire population comprised a people with the same language (Somali), religion (virtually all adhered to Sunni Islam), economy (pastoral and agricultural) and social structure (clan-families). Their view, that Somalia constituted a genuine nation state, was shared by almost every scholar writing about the country. Indeed, before 1991, the Somali people, some 9.5 million in number, was deemed to include, in addition to the 7 million that had formed Somalia, another 2 million in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia, 250,000 in the Northern Province of Kenya and 200,000 people in Djibouti, the old French Somaliland.

'In its pristine meaning, a nation is a group of people whose members believe they are ancestrally related. It is the largest group to share such a myth of common descent; it is, in a sentient sense, the fully extended family, ' writes Walker Connor. This sense of kinship, of separate origin and evolution, whether historically accurate or fictive, is, he writes, 'the glue of the national bond'. While objective criteria such as common language, religion, territory and the like, help define an ethnonational community, its essence is a psychological bond that joins it and 'differentiates it, in the subconscious conviction of its members, from all nonmembers in a most vital way'. 1 Ethnicity and kinship are alike in that one is born into both, adds Donald Horowitz. 'The language of ethnicity', he stresses, 'is the language of kinship. Group members often call each other brothers and call distantly related groups cousins.' 2

All of this, it would seem, applied to the Somalis, an Eastern Cushite or Hamitic people, like the North African Berbers, who were converted to Sunni Islam between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries by Arabs from across the Gulf of Aden in the Arabian peninsula. They have occupied some 400,000 square miles of arid semidesert in the Horn of Africa for millennia, and possess, apart from a common way of life and culture, 'a profound Islamic heritage; and a deeply held belief that nearly all Somalis descend from the same source and are therefore drawn together by emotive bonds of kinship and genealogical ties'. They have a 'consciousness of their corporate unity' and a sense of common

-210-

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De Facto States: The Quest for Sovereignty
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgements xii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Political Realities and Legal Anomalies 12
  • 2 - Republika Srpska 32
  • 3 - Montenegro and Serbia 52
  • 4 - Albanian and Serb Rivalry in Kosovo 74
  • 5 - From Frozen Conflict to Frozen Agreement 102
  • 6 - Chechnya 118
  • 7 - The Abkhazians 143
  • 8 - Under Turkey's Wings 164
  • 9 - Palestine 2003 187
  • 10 - Can Clans Form Nations? 210
  • 11 - Bougainville 232
  • Conclusion 245
  • Index 257
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