Somali networks - structures of clan and society (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 949)



Identify and synthesise studies on networks in Somalia, focusing on the structures of Somali clan and society, and including transnational as well as national networks.

Key findings

This annotated bibliography focuses on issues of power, participation and governance in relation to Somali networks. The Somali majority belong to four patrilineal clan families: the Darod, Hawiye, Dir, and Rahanweyn. These are divided into sub-clans, which can be divided further, illustrating the complexity of the clan system. Minorities are comprised of three distinct social groups: the Bantu, Benadiri, and ‘occupational groups’. The latter can be classified into a further three groups: Midgan or Gaboye, who are traditionally hunters and leatherworkers; Tumal, traditionally blacksmiths; and Tibro>, traditionally ‘ritual specialists’.

Specific details on power, participation and governance identified in the literature include the following:

  • Majority clans have exerted dominance over minority groups. Particular aspects of minority exclusion and abuse include: limited access to justice; denial of rights to education and livelihoods; hate speech; and the prevention and punishment of intermarriage with members of majority clans.
  • Clan chiefdom can be hereditary, or chiefs can be elected by a council comprised of heads of tribal sections. Chiefs can have religious or political roles.
  • All adult men are classed as elders and given the right to speak at council. Respect is attached to age and seniority in lineage.
  • The minority Reewin and Bantu were disproportionally affected during the 2011 Somali famine. Their vulnerability to fluctuations in agricultural production was increased due to violence and targeted looting by majority clans, and their inability to tap into internationalised clan networks.
  • Men of religion, or Wadaad, have a role in resolving conflict between different clan groups. Their task is to encourage parties to resolve issues, rather than settle disputes themselves or judge between disputants.
  • Somali transnational networks have been effective in supporting relief and development activities. Examples include clan-based associations, women’s groups, mosques, and professional associations.


Hinds, R. Somali networks - structures of clan and society (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 949). Governance and Social Development Resource Centre, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK (2013) 9 pp.

Somali networks - structures of clan and society (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 949)

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