OP-ED: Tribal Allegiances and Sports: The Impact on Inter-State Football Games in Somalia


OP-ED- The ongoing inter-state football games in Somalia have ignited a debate over the nature of the federal states and the role of tribal allegiances. This discourse sheds light on the complexities Somali youth face, often supporting federal states aligned with their tribal connections rather than their birthplace or residence. Such tribalism in football underscores the need to balance tribal loyalty with national unity.

A friend, born and raised in Mogadishu’s Waberi District, shared that he supports the Galmudug state team over Banaadir’s, despite never having visited Galmudug. He prioritizes tribal ties over other affiliations. This sentiment resonates with many Somali youths in Banaadir, who find themselves supporting non-native federal states due to similar ties.

Professor Ozal Varol notes that tribes, offering a sense of community, aren’t inherently negative. However, tribalism can transform rivals into enemies, suppress diverse thinking, and prompt actions against self-interest. The inter-state games attract spectators with minimal interest in football, drawn solely by tribal affiliations. This was evident when a group stage game between Hirshabelle and Banaadir turned violent over a controversial offside ruling, leading to injuries.

These games also raise questions about the nature of Somalia’s federal states. Are they truly unified, or merely tribal entities? The practice of players switching states for representation further complicates this issue.

Football can be a peace-building tool in post-conflict societies. The enthusiastic attendance at Mogadishu Stadium signals peace and stability. However, turning these games into tribal conflicts undermines these gains, as exemplified by the recent attack on the South-West state team bus.

Given the tribal conflicts affecting households since 1990, it’s unsurprising to find over-30s with tribal mindsets. However, influencing post-2000 born youths, who form the majority of stadium attendees, requires a different approach. The failure to shift this mindset points to a deficiency in the roles of parents, teachers, and the community.

Way Forward:

Rotate Hosting Rights: The Somali Football Federation should rotate hosting rights for the games across all federal states to promote fairness and inclusivity. This would also aid in developing local sports infrastructure.

2. Promote Education and Awareness: Addressing tribal allegiance through education is crucial. Initiatives targeting youth should emphasize unity, diversity, and the pitfalls of excessive tribalism.

3. Media and Communication Strategies: Effective strategies can promote inclusive narratives and counter divisive tribal rhetoric. Responsible journalism is key in fostering unity and a national identity.

4. Establish a Non-Political Organizing Committee: A committee with representatives from each federal state will ensure event ownership by all member states.

Abdi Hafow Mohamed
Social researcher and humanitarian practitioner based in Mogadishu

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