The Cost of Tribalism

For those who have seen the Earth from space,

and for the hundreds and perhaps thousands more who will,

the experience most certainly changes your perspective.

The things that we share in our world

are far more valuable than those which divide us.

-Donald Williams

Tribalism is the root and fabric of the African society.It is a phenomenon that has been haunting the continent of Africa long before the colonial rulers had arrived. Kwame Nkrumah– Ghana’s first president and one of Africa’s greatest statesman at one time said of the tribal system in Africa as “the main impediment to Africa’s independence, industrialization and growth”. Nkrumah’s words are still echoing in most countries in Africa. From Senegal to Nigeria in the west, to Kenya and Somalia in the east.

It is this tribal system that dominates every sphere of life in most countries in Africa. From economics to politics one cannot rise to level of high authority without the consent and support of his/her tribe. Allegiances are  first given to the tribe one belongs to then to the state. Tribalism also leads the state to commit atrocities against those tribes that oppose them. It also causes divisions, revenge killings and skirmishes between competing tribes for resources. In rare occasions even genocides were motivated and inspired by one ethnic group who saw themselves as victims  and caused the 1994 slaughter of 800000 people in Rwanda.

When the British came to colonize the continent they perfectly understood the social fabric of Africa and the strong importance tribes had in Africa. It is under this context and the lack of unity tribalism created that facilitated and enabled the colonialists  to implement their strategy which was to first divide the people and then conquer them. We all have seen the negative impacts tribalism has in the society. It creates rifts and hatred between the community. It divides and disintegrates the society and makes them susceptible to foreign invasions. Finally if taken to an extreme it leads to wars and horrific genocides.

However, I want to reiterate that there is absolutely nothing wrong with claiming your tribe and being proud of your roots. It is perfectly natural- we are who we are and there is no denying that. The problem starts when one or few tribes think  that they are superior to other tribes and have more right than others. When loyalty to ones tribe leads to favoritism, cronyism and the subjugation of minorities. When politicians play the tribe-card and incite hatred and bigotry. And last but not the least when the benefits that comes with allegiances to tribes outweigh those of the nation.

I strongly believe that we should all appreciate and respect our differences. We all should cherish our diversity and always remember what Almighty Allah has told us in the holy book of Quran:

O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).Al-Hujurat 49:13

Riding the Storm: Somalia’s Free market.

‘Necessity is the mother of invention’


In the year 1331, It was  the great Islamic scholar/explorer Ibn Battuta  who described  Mogadishu, the capital city of Somalia  as one of the best cities of the world in which to do business. As it is evident from the date, that was a long time ago and Mogadishu has lost that recognition because of the 1991 civil war that caused many deaths, displacements, destruction and  lawlessness .

Despite all the unrest, Somalia has maintained a fairly informal economy without government intervention with a near 0% taxation. This form of free market is mostly driven by investments and finances of the local people and the Somali Diaspora. In 2009, Somalia’s GDP was estimated by the CIA to be $5.731 billion, with a projected real growth rate of 2.6%. Although the agriculture sector is the main engine of the economy and accounts for nearly 65% of the GDP, the other two sectors that can’t be ignored and have surprised many skeptics are the telecommunications and finance sector. The former, in private control has been totally revolutionized and transformed.

For instance,Golis Telecom Group now offers one of the most technologically advanced and fairly priced telecommunications and internet services to many businesses and households across many regions in Somalia. Hormuud telecom accounts for nearly $40 million a year. People are now using mobiles to transfer money and make purchases. It takes just three days to get a landline connection up and running while it takes many months just across the border in Kenya. The tele-density in Somalia is much higher than many countries in Africa and three times greater than our neighboring country, Ethiopia.

Despite the non-existence of a Central Bank for nearly 15 years, the payment system of the country is fairly advanced. This is due to the emergence of private money transfer operators(MTOs). These remittance firms known in the country as Hawalas make sure that trade, transfer of money and transactions are done cheaply and quickly. This sector only accounts for more than one billion US dollar a year.

 On the other hand, the livestock sector which accounts for 40% of the GDP and nearly half of the export earning is now giving a fierce competition to countries like Australia who have a long history of exporting livestock to the middle east. The combination of high quality and competitively priced live stocks and the near proximity to the middle east is helping  grow the Somali live stock industry. Now countries like UAE and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are building facilities inside the country making this sector more competitive and lucrative.

All of this is the upside of the nearly free market conditions that exist in Somalia but at the same it is worth to mention and bring attention to negative aspects this form of free market economics created in the country. Due to the lack and absence of government and regulatory agencies, many businesses and self-serving individuals have taken advantage of the anarchy in Somalia.

In the market you can easily buy and sell illegal weapons. Counterfeit products and fake currencies are in abundant circulation in the big markets of Somalia. Many Pharmacies do not have legal licenses to import and sell life-saving drugs and because of that sell expired drugs to people. This has caused many illnesses and deaths. Deforestation  is at its highest peak because of people illegally chopping  and burning down trees and exporting them as charcoals . This has had a huge impact on the environment. Many businesses and firms are also colluding and forming monopolies which makes the free entry/ exit of the market by start-ups and smaller firms nearly impossible.

This is the dark side of the free market economy we have in our country and I hope our next government will fill the vacuum it has left behind and become a government by the people, of the people and for the people.

Due to the lack of effective government for along time and the exception of these unfortunate negatives,the spirit, entrepreneurship, and business ingenuity of the Somali people have never been lost. In fact it made the Somali people more resilient, hardworking and made them realize the need to be self-sufficient and determine their own future instead of depending on the government.