An analysis of the clan system in Somalia

Primordialism vs. instrumentalism in Somali society: is an alternative needed?

Many of the explanations of Somali society, its state and the conflict in the country centre on the clan system and contain elements of primordialism or instrumentalism. Yet the assumptions underpinning these models have not been critically analysed. In these models, the Somali clan system is seen as either being primordial or flexible but ultimately manipulated by elites. This article, based on qualitative interviews and observations, analyses the utility of these two approaches and finds that the narratives founded thereon fail to comprehend fully the clan system in Somalia and, therefore, the society and conflict in the country. While rejecting these approaches as a theoretical framework, this paper offers an alternative understanding of Somali society and its clan system based on the notion of clan dynamism and its bidirectional manipulation, where it serves as a highly adaptive framework of governance, and a network of solidarity.

Keywords: Somalia, state, conflict, clan system, primordialism, instrumentalism 

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Published 8. January 2019 - 10:19 - Updated 8. January 2019 - 16:16