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In Somalia, modern educational qualifications are not considered when selecting who will lead the community. Somalis are led by elders because they are the most respected and trusted people among the community.
An elder has to have various qualifications before he is elected to lead his clan. Although all elders are collectively influential in their clans, the most knowledgeable among them are the most influential.
An elder is usually at least sixty years of age, has full knowledge of his clan’s code of conduct and rules of engagement with other clans, is eloquent and persuasive in defending his clan, and knows the history of his clan and other allied and enemy clans. To be considered a respected elder, he has to be fair and honest when arbitrating between others.
“The elected elder has various conditions and qualifications not based on modern education, but based on traditional education, experience, and past events. The chosen elder must fulfill the age required of sixty years and above. He must be an expert in the history of his clan and have full knowledge of the current issues being faced by his clan. He should understand the relations between his clan and other clans and how to solve disputes if they occur. He should not be involved in a criminal case," Gurey Adan, an elder in Beledweyne in Hiiraan region, told Somalia Report..
"In some cases, the position is hereditary: if the father used to lead the community and dies, one of his sons takes the position without meeting the required conditions,” said the elder.
“Elected clan leaders have different titles in different Somali communities : Ugaas, Sultan, Nabadon (peace maker) and Boqor (king),” he added.
Elders and the Constitution
Somalis are at odds over the role of the elders’ role in approving the new draft constitution of Somalia, which is limited to selecting the delegates who will join the National Constituent Assembly who will in turn ratify the constitution. Many people mistakenly think that it is the elders themselves who will approve the draft constitution (though some may be elected to join the NCA and thus ratify the constitution).
Some argue that while the elders understand their clan dynamics, they are ill-prepared to debate a national constitution.
“I believe that elders cannot currently represent the Somali people due to some very crucial reasons such as the fact that elders have no adequate knowledge of the constitution, and they cannot interpret and analyze each and every chapter of the constitution. Elders never participated in any government administration and their roles used to be only clan conflict resolution, and most of them never even went to school. The experience they have is not enough for approving the constitution. How can someone who never went to school solve big issues like this," said Tahlil Ridwan, an educated businessman from Beledhawo in Gedo region.
“Elders have divergent interests regarding the constitution, and they first and foremost consider the interest of their clans. If they see any article that is against the interest of the clans they are representing, they oppose it,” he added.
Yaasin Jama, an elder from the Gedo region, spoke to Somalia Report about the constitution and said, “the elders who are meeting in Mogadishu don’t represent all the elders or the Somali community as whole. These elders are just told that they will be given some money for doing what they are told. These elders have no knowledge of what the constitution is about. Most of them can’t read and write and so are not aware of whether what is in the constitution is for the benefit of the people or not."
On the other hand, many believe elders cannot be ignored and should be respected and allowed to make the ultimate decision concerning the draft constitution, and that their decisions should be accepted and welcomed.
“I personally believe that elders were the decision makers when there was no constitution in Somalia during the pre-colonial period. They have the right to approve the draft constitution without considering whether they went to school or not because they are wise men who know what is good for the country. Elders can amend the constitution, and if they remove anything written in the constitution, it should be obeyed," said Da'ud Omar, a businessman in Baidoa of Bay region.
In addition to mediating clan conflicts, elders also impart their wisdom on the younger generations.
“As elders our roles are many: we solve the problems among our clansmen and between our clan and the other clans as well as act as counselors for the community members. We also pass beneficial and meaningful wisdom to them which will help them in life and we oversee the situation of the people of our specific clans and assist those in need like orphans, the disabled and the elderly. We negotiate for peaceful agreements with other clans. Elders are also leaders in all sectors of the day to day life of the Somali communities such as by guiding the youth in the right path by teaching them the history of the their clans, and the slogan of their clans by using gabay (poems)," Daud Cowsle, a 68 year old elder and poet from Elbarde of Bakool region, told Somalia Report.
Somali elders knowledgeable are in terms of conflict resolution. They make rules and regulations that govern the community such as how to solve issues such as murder, theft and rape, and what penalties the criminals should face.
“I am a 64-year old elder from Bakool region. I am representing my community in the elders' conference in Mogadishu. I have enough knowledge for many matters as I received the knowledge from my father and the other elders of the community who passed it on to me. I also went to a Quran school where I learned the religion. Now I hope I am in a position to contribute my wisdom in the choosing of the members of the society who are going to approve the constitution. I will maximize my thinking and energy into matters which matter not for my clan only, but for the whole of Somalia. I will not let down the expectations of my fellow Somali people,” Hajji Noor, an elder from Bakool region, told Somalia Report.
The new draft constitution which has not yet been approved has met resistance from many parties of the Somali people, including religious leaders, the business people and youths.
“This constitution is of no interest to the Somali nation. It is a new and modern way of colonizing Somalia. It is a way of putting the resources of Somalia into the hands of foreigners who are looking for their interest only. It is a way some foreigners want to host and build churches and turn many (Somalis) into Christians. The Quran is the only true constitution that exists in this world. How can we approve a man-made constitution? I urge elders to strongly reject the constitution," Hidig Abdille, a religious elder from Luuq district in Gedo, told Somalia Report.