The traditional tribal system is an approach of organizing a society that combines different tribes and clans. These tribes could vary in ethnicity, language, religion and so forth. It is through this system that individuals of different tribes identify themselves and negotiate with one another in both situations of peace and war. The same way different tribes or clans engage in marriage, business and trade agreements.Although, this system is an extinct in most parts of the world, it still pertains in some parts of the world like Africa.
This system prevailed before societies adopted the modern way of governance i.e.when there was no form of government.Conversely,in a governmental system people are organized differently based on their place of residence, political and socio-economic statusin lieu of their tribal affiliation. Tribocracy, elsewise, is somewhat a new political philosophy that has now got its way in to the political jargon.
It sounds like a made-up term as it stands for the terms “tribe” and “democracy” combined and shortened to give a new meaning “the tribal democracy”. However, the terminology carries several dimensions in it. On the one hand, itis a representation of resource and powersharing between different tribes/clans of a certain country, state or a city.
In this context, almost all the public interests are assigned in a predetermined and consensual agreement between the tribes/clans themselves.Given today’s most predominant system of governance “democracy”, many societies have opted out their traditional customary law for a democratic system leaving behind centuries of their history. Some other societies are struggling through the process of conversion.
Somaliland, the peaceful but unrecognized country in Horn of Africa, is one of those struggling through the transformation from a traditional clan system to a democratic system. For a good reason, Somaliland favored and adopted a democratic system through the establishment of government institutions, setting up a constitutional framework, and maintaining a peaceful transmission of power. These collective achievements are a product of collective efforts by the traditional leaders to bring about a sustainable peace amongst Somaliland clans. Peace? Yes, it has been achieved.
However, it seems that Somaliland traditional leaders and politicians have done little or nothing to couple the peace with a sustainable economic development. The constitution provided a legal framework for a reliable economic system, but Somaliland’s economy had not performed in its potential. To have a reason for this, different people bring forth a myriad of facts. Some may say it is due to lack of international recognition while others may argue a lack of capital, poor leadership, and so on.
While all these can be factored in to the equation, there still persist the infusions of the clan system that hinder any possible economic and political development. In Somaliland, the traditional clan-system dictates the social, economic and political organization of the different segments of the society, belonging to a clan provides protection, access to economic resources, and political power. In some sense, Somalilanders set themselves as excellent practitioners of a participatory democracy through free and fair elections.
Nevertheless, it’s a type of democracy in which clanshipplays the major role and here comes the concept of “tribocracy”. Studied the then northern Somalis, I.M. Lewis – the master ethnographer of the Somali – denoted this as the “pastoral democracy”. In a tribocratic system, most voters vote for their clansmen with no regard of the candidates’ qualifications. Their loyalty is for the clan before anything else, yes, even before the country they belong to.
Such a democracy results in dislocation of qualities and misuse of capital, including human capital. Hence, as this happens, the society as a whole ends up at lost.the question that poses itself here is: how does the clan-based system impact on economic development? The clan-based system has its unique economic implications on individual clans themselves and the economy as a whole.
On the one hand, young generations lose the incentives to work and succeed in life; businesses do not flourish and intellectuals flee the country (incentives matter). In such a system,in the long run, there is literally no room for survival, let alone a sustainable economic development.
On the other hand, this system does not allow the development of economies of scale, where a clan that is dominated in a specific geographic area controls over the ownership of business enterprises in that region. That is, investors who are not members in – or aligned with – the dominant clan in that area are not able to invest in that region; thus denying the residents of the region access to products and services that they need.
At the same time, investors incur higher costs due to the inability of expanding their businesses to other areas of the country.As a result, the economy as whole will suffer and may not work in its potential capacity.Another derogatory feature of tribocracy is inefficiency in economic decision making; It is long been said that what is good for the individual may not be good for all. In an attempt to satisfy a specific group’s interest, decision makers lose sight of the rational – best for all- economic policies.
That is how Somaliland, despite the legal framework, ended up in monopolies of market resources and political power. It is just in Somaliland where the Berbera port manager- the biggest financier of the government budget- has to come from a certain family. Even political parties had become a private property for individual politicians.
It is just in Somaliland where presidential candidates have to be of a certain clan in a certain order, where you can become a minister with no academic credentials. It is not a democracy, let’s call it a tribocracy.
By Abdinasir Hersi
Posted by H.Osman