Somalia and Somaliness

There seems to be a lot of confusion amongst the Somalis as to what Somalia is. Somali people are talking rubbish about the country left and right, and about other Somali political entities that they oppose. I’ve read on many online platforms, especially comments sections on Somali websites, people from Somalia telling people from Somaliland to stop calling themselves Somalis since they claim they are not part of Somalia. Conversely, I’ve also seen Somalilanders referring to kinsmen from Somalia using all kinds of impolite names and plays on the word “Somalia”.

Now, I know internet commentators are not much to guy by. Conversations in comments section aren’t exactly known for their stellar logic. I’m afraid though that such name-calling is more than some people’s idea of a witty comeback to online bullying, but rather, show a lack of understanding about the very nature and origin of the country they claim to be fighting for.

The Republic of Somalia was created as a nation-state of the Somali ethnic group in 1960 upon independence from the colonial powers Italy and Great Britain. The Somalis, having been split into 5 separate territories in the Scramble for Africa (ruled by Abyssinia, Britain x2, France, and Italy), were not content with uniting only two of those territories for their state. The struggle during the colonial period was to liberate all Somali territories under foreign powers. To symbolise that, the Star of Unity adopted by the Somali Republic contained representation for all five territories, even if three of them were still held by foreign powers.

There had never before in history existed a unitary Somali state, with any form of government. There existed various sultanates and kingdoms throughout history but never one that united all Somalis. Clan structures still retain a form of this traditional hierarchy, for better or for worse. This was the first political experiment initiated by the Somalis of the Horn. In the 1980s, tensions began to surface between the population of the north (former State of Somaliland) and the dictatorship in the capital in the south. In 1991, after the overthrow of the military government, the northern population, represented by the Somali National Movement (SNM), declared the union a failure and established their own territorial state along the former colonial lines, like most of Africa today.

One argument says that if Somaliland does not want to be a part of the Somali Republic then it should change its name. This argument is of course utter non-sense. Somaliland is a political entity, much like Somalia, named for the ethnic group inhabiting the territory that the state encompasses. Whether people from northern or southern Somalia want a union or not, it is a Somali inhabited and administered territory, and the name reflects only and precisely that. Being Somali does not automatically mean one is a citizen of Somalia (as the current debate around Abdikarim Qalbidhagax illustrates).

Then there is also the problem of flag-waving. Somalilanders, as far as I know, reject the blue flag in its entirety, and the government of Somaliland has made it illegal to use it in its territory. The flag was adopted by the Somali liberators and was meant to represent all Somalis, everywhere in the Horn. It is okay to use that flag as an ethnic banner, and does not necessarily have to mean the erosion of sovereignty if an individual in Hargeisa happens to hang it outside their apartment. Even Djibouti’s flag is said to include the light blue to represent the Somalis of the country — which was the colour adopted by the anti-colonial movements in the majority-Somali territory.

The point of this piece is to help Somalis distinguish between Somaliness — belonging to the Somali ethnic group — and being a citizen of the (Federal) Republic of Somalia. One of these things implies a (somewhat) voluntary submission to political authority whereas the other is a matter of nature. Some say that the demonym Somalian can be used as the distinguisher, applying to those who are citizens of the Federal Somali Republic and using “Somali” to refer to those belonging to the Somali ethnic family, regardless of political status (citizenship).

Somalis are united by their language, religion, culture, and “mores and habits”. All of the Somali inhabitants of the Horn of Africa are Muslims, speak variations of Somali, have the same cultural practices and are mixed within themselves. The Somalis of Djibouti, Ogadenia, NFD, Somaliland and Somalia are all equally Somali, whatever hyphenated addition there may exist, and whatever political affiliations they may profess.

Nomad who calls Stockholm home. I like writing about politics, philosophy, and entrepreneurship. I love discussing “far-fetched” ideas.

Nomad who calls Stockholm home. I like writing about politics, philosophy, and entrepreneurship. I love discussing “far-fetched” ideas.