ANALYSIS René Brosius 25 June 2021
In the inner-Somali discussion, the term “4.5 system” comes up again and again, and for outsiders it is not easily recognisable what concept lies behind this terminology Therefore, I want to offer a brief explanation to keep up with the ongoing developments.
The 4.5-system is a mechanism for sharing political power, a quota system, so to speak. The logic of proportional representation goes back to the question of where Somalis actually come from. A powerful question with no easy answer to it. History is not help either, the nomadic culture has left us neither writings nor many buildings on the basis of which we could draw conclusions about the life and early society of the Somalis. Nevertheless, the Somalis were long considered one of the most homogeneous peoples in Africa. A common tribal system, which gives every Somali an identification code of his or her patriarchal descent at birth, society dominated by the common Islamic belief and the common language, rounded off this impression. To some extent, however, this picture has to be corrected.
The Question on the Origin of Somalis
Despite numerous scientific studies, the question of the Somalis’ origin has not yet been conclusively clarified. Two narratives dominate the debate. The first emphasises the Arab influence in the development, while the second one stress the African roots of the “proto-Somali”, as the cradle of Somali identity.
Somalia has a socially dominant tribal system, which can first be divided into the categories of “nomadic” and “sedentary”. The sedentary groups include the Digil-Mirifle and the Rahanweyn. Both lifestyles are traditionally based on agro-nomadism onthe fertile banks of the Shabelle and Jubba rivers. The Rahanweyn are composed of a variety of different influences, including descendants of other Somali tribes, but also Oromos and East African Bantu. The Digil-Mirifle are more homogeneously composed and are derived from migrated and newly emerged clan groups. Collectively, they are referred to as Sab, after their common progenitor. The Hawiye, Dir and Darood have more of a nomadic character and have settled in the northern region. The Isaaq are often counted separately among them. Strictly speaking, however, they are derived from the Dir. These clan groups are called Samaale after their progenitor. Sab and Samaale are considered “noble” tribes. At least the Samaale also link their lineage to Arab tribal fathers. Not infrequently, this is accompanied by references to a family proximity to the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH).
African Origin, African Perspectives
Representatives of the African perspective, on the other hand, emphasise less the Arab and more the African roots. According to them, the actual settlement of the Somali peninsula did not take place only from north to south, after the link with Arab immigrants, but much earlier. Bantu and Oromo groups are said to have migrated from mountainous areas of present-day Ethiopia and from the south and settled on the banks of the Jubba and Shabelle rivers, thus forming the “proto-Somalis”. Only later did migration towards the north take place and then, from the 11th century onwards, a renewed (return) migration of northern, meanwhile Islamised and Arabised Somalis took place in various waves. The return migration was accompanied by the subjugation and displacement of the Somali population. The strict descent system meant that there was no longer any real mixing, but a widely ramified, Arab-Somali clan system was established. The non-displaced Bantu/Oromo groups, who in contrast to the Arab-Somali immigrants have black African physical characteristics, were integrated into the clan system at a low social level and socially “Somalised”. To this day, however, there are distinctions based on these physical characteristics. Thus, the black African minorities are also called “Jareer” (“wirehaired”).
In addition to these clan structures, there are other social groups. For centuries, the Somali peninsula was a centre of the slave trade. From the coasts, slaves were taken mainly to the Arab world, Persia or India, and sometimes also to Egypt and Europe. It was not until the early 19th century that slaves were also increasingly used in the agricultural areas of southern Somalia. At times, the proportion of slaves in the population there is said to have been between 10 and 20 percent. In the course of colonisation, many slaves were released into freedom. A large number of them emigrated, but some remained, especially in the southwest and south of present-day Somalia.
If you superimpose these roughly outlined developments, the picture changes from a homogeneous to a diverse and multi-ethnic society. In addition, there are a number of smaller migrant groups who are descendants of former Persian, Yemeni or, to some extent, Italian and Portuguese immigrants. Mogadishu, for example, was founded by Persian traders between the 8th and 9th centuries. Among the best-known minorities are still the Reer Xamar, who refer to these founding fathers. They still live in Mogadishu, are culturally largely “Somalised” and live relatively concentrated in the “Xamarweyne” district.
What does all this have to do with 4.5?
One of the key questions after the civil war was how to distribute power in the country in the future. After several peace and reconciliation conferences, a power-sharing formula was first agreed at the Arta Conference in Djibouti (2000), and later in Mbagathi, Kenya (2002-04). A mechanism was agreed to share parliamentary seats in the transitional parliament according to clan proportion. The “4.5 formula” was born. Of the total 245 seats, 49 seats each were to go to the four largest tribes, the Darood, Dir/Isaaq, Hawiye and Rahanweyn/Digil-Mirifle. 29 seats were to go to the “minorities” together, which was about half of the seats of any of the major clans. Hence the designation “.5” 25 more seats (about 10 per cent of the total parliament) were to be reserved for women. 5 each from the major clans and another 5 from the “minorities” group. This formula, also due to the lack of other political size units such as parties or election results, increasingly became key for the distribution of power at different political levels. The election of the future parliament is also to be essentially composed according to this key, with the proportion of women rising to 30 per cent.
Criticism is also linked to this. For the accusation is that the 4.5 system not only pursues the goals of political stability, but is also used for professional, social and political exclusion. The formula pushes minorities in Somalia into a “0.5” “caste” and thus also marginalises them socially and politically. But it is not that simple. The 4.5 formula is ultimately a reflection of historical social conditions. It only reflects what is socially present anyway. For example, marriages between “nobles” and representatives of the “.5” groups are not welcome and physically demanding professions are mainly practised by members of the “.5” families. But this also does not support the fight against inequality, but rather perpetuates existing structures of exclusion. Therefore, overcoming this provisional regulation is one of the most important goals for the near future.