Promoting national identities (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 978)

This report is on Somali



Identify approaches that attempt to understand and promote the generation of national identities. What constitutes them? How are they made? What incentives (or other tools) could be used to promote an overarching Somali political entity covering the various clans and regions.

Key findings

  • Most Somalis share the same ethnic group, genealogy, language, customary law, culture and religion. Despite possessing many characteristics of national identity, clanship and contract are fundamental for Somali political units.
  • Somalia has many of the traits of what is defined as a nation, and also of national identity. However, the failure of the central state to provide and protect the interests of the citizens, coupled with competing clan identities, among other factors, has meant that Somalis frequently do not act in the collective interest of the country, but of their clans and sub-clans.
  • Fragmented and competing identities, and low levels of societal cohesion are key factors that can perpetuate state fragility. The idea of constructing national identities vis-à-vis other identities is a key part of nation-building literature.
  • It is increasingly recognised that regional, ethnic or clan identities are not just obstacles, but are also key assets to building sustainable societies.
  • Much of literature emphasises the limited ability of internal and external actors to directly promote (and change) national identities.
  • Despite these challenges, five prominent areas of methods and tools to promote national identities are identified: civil engagement, culture, dialogue, decentralisation and building inclusive institutions.


Herbert, S. Promoting national identities (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 978). Governance and Social Development Resource Centre, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK (2013) 13 pp.

Promoting national identities (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 978)

Published 1 January 2013