Somalia: Tribe

By IAfrica
In Article
Apr 8th, 2014

Qabil: To Ask or Not to Ask

As I write this piece, Kenyan government is interning Somali-Kenyans and Somali refugees from Somalia and confiscating their properties without due-process in Nairobi, Kenya. As I write, there are thousands of Somalis preparing themselves to do the treacherous migration to Europe and North America. There are millions of others living in Somalia in constant fear and lack basic human needs that other societies have for granted. And these are the consequences of our collective failure of privileging Tribe over a nation, which starts from the moment you ask a Somali person his or her Qabil (tribe).

I have on Facebook (FB) over 1000 names on my list, and more than half of those are genuine Somalis who read my posts on there. I asked this group of Somalis–including intellectuals, government officials, scholars, Sheikhs, activists, journalists, and other members of the society–to take an oath with me pledging that they will never ask any Somali his or her tribe directly, ever. I let the post to circle around for a week, so that many people can see it before I sat down to write this piece. Unfortunately, only 16 people have taken the oath with me. Worse, none of the influential people on my list in the government took the oath.

So I tried another way. To hear the opinions of my friends on FB on tribe, I designed a survey to ask them if it was OK to ask one’s tribe. Seventy percent (70%) of those who responded said yes—it’s OK to ask one’s tribe.  Hearing seventy percent of the survey takers to say that it’s OK to ask one’s tribe is really alarming, and here is why.

Over a generation and a half, we have used tribe as a tool to divide the society into classes: the dominants, the middle, and the rest. The proponents of this argument (asking one’s tribe) say that they ask one’s tribe because they want to get to know the person. As many of my FB responders put it, “there’s nothing wrong” to ask one’s tribe, however, the problem is using it for prejudice. The reality is when you ask one’s tribe, what you’re really trying is to place that person in one of those mentioned classes — you want to know where the person fits in Somalia’s tribal shelf. And when you know what shelf that individual belongs to, you have opened Pandora’s Box.

Another argument is that we should be open about it. We have been open about our tribes over the last thirty years, and here we are. But here is another fact: when you open that Pandora box, you might know that his tribe is unarmed, you might know that his tribe is the president’s tribe, you might know that his tribe is the tribe your mother told you not to marry in, you might know is the tribe that killed your uncle, and you might know he doesn’t belong the shelf that you belong to. All those emotions, sentiments, and memories flash back to your mind and create an immediate feedback-loop, and instantly you form an opinion of that someone because you know now what shelf he belongs to, and this has the potential to obscure your sense of fairness and Somali-ness and make you biased one way or another toward or against that person’s tribe.

The only benefit that comes out of this Pandora box is finding out if the individual is a relative of yours, and this is the strongest argument that our society employs to justify asking one’s tribe. Fortunately, there many channels one could use to find this information without asking tribe.

Certainly, if we are thinking of for the good of our society and we do the cost-benefit analysis of asking one’s tribe, what’s obvious is that the benefits of not asking one’s tribe far outweigh the asking. In other words, we as a society are better off if we don’t ask each other’s tribes, and we treat all Somalis as fellow individuals from Somalia—favoring nationhood over tribe.

As one of my friends put it, “it is [a] noble request not to ask someone to whom [he or she] belongs to, but that will not stop someone” to stop being loyal to his or her tribe. Of course, we are all loyal to our families and we do what we can to protect them from harm, but this does not mean we should support our families when they are the oppressors or when the original purpose of tribe is corrupted. As the well-known verse of the Quran states, Allah has made us into nations and tribes so that we might know one another. Tribe inherently is not a bad thing, nonetheless, as many have voiced, what’s wrong is the way our society has corrupted the original purpose of tribe, which has lead to the death of more than 1.5 million Somalis and has destroyed Somalia as a nation. Today, whenever we ask one’s tribe, we are continuing and encouraging that cycle of madness.

So next time you want to ask someone’s tribe, ask yourself if there’s other ways you could find out if you’re related to that person. But if your goal is to discover what shelf that person belongs to, for Allah’s sake and the sake of our society, don’t ask one’s tribe since you know now that the cost (negatives) outweighs the benefits, and you will be perpetuating the suffering of fellow Somalis without realizing. Here is your task, if you want to render a good service to our society and make Somalis love each other, promise yourself that from this day you will not ask any Somali his or her tribe unless it’s absolutely necessary, for example, your wedding day when both families are getting to know one another.

This is one thing that you and I and everyone else could do to support our society, so join me, and give up the curiosity to ask another Somali his or her tribe. And please spread the word.

Hassan Mire is a political strategist and writes about Somalia politics, economics, governance and security. He has BA in Economics and Global Studies (politics).  To read more information go to: or email:

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