Garissa Market in Eastleigh, Nairobi. It's a rough neighbourhood, but a thriving business centre.

Somalia Doesn’t Have To Fight To Conquer: Somalis Are Already Africa’s Small Kings And Queens

WE are told that the 20-year madness and bloodletting in Somalia has been fuelled by clan turf wars, criminality, Islamic jihad, piracy, and even national resistance against foreign powers (the USA, Ethiopia, African Union Peace Mission, and lately Kenya).

A less talked-about driver for the conflict, is the desire to create a Greater Somalia; the rebirth of pre-colonial Somalia that includes the Ogaden region of Ethiopia, Djibouti, and northeastern Kenya. The five-pointed “star of unity” in the Somalia flag represents this idea – the Somali ethnic groups in Djibouti, Ogaden, Ethiopia, northeastern Kenya, and Somalia itself.

For this reason, like the Jewish nation that is bigger than the Israeli state, the Somali nation too is much bigger than the Somali state (Somalia).

That is why, for Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya, the rise of a Greater Somalia is an existential threat.


The irony about this is that Somalis are already one of Africa’s most successful people. They certainly are its most enterprising.

Even before the flare up of xenophobic attacks against other Africans in South Africa in 2009, locals who were angry that they had “taken away” their businesses had been robbing and killing Somali shopkeepers.

While other African immigrants have largely been spared since then, the attacks on Somali business people have continued.

The common thing about immigrants everywhere in the world is that they tend to work harder than the “natives”. They also often succeed spectacularly, which brings on deadly jealousies. From Germany where Jews were slaughtered in their millions, to Kenya where the prosperous “immigrant” Kikuyu populations in the Rift Valley were killed and chased off their lands in the 2008 post-leection violence, to the Bunyoro region of Uganda where the workaholic Bakiga were even banned from standing for local office, the story is the same.

The thing about the Somali is that they tend to confine themselves to business. In Kenya today, the Somali have taken over the real estate market. They are also snapping up restaurants. In Uganda, they are doing the same. They also own some of the best malls.

The evening or “parallel degree” programmes have become the new rage with African universities. To see just how Somalis are remaking several East African societies, one needs to go to the University of Nairobi.

Of every 10 students in the evening degree programme, it is estimated that four are Kenyan Somalis. That is 40%. There are so many Somalis in the evening programme, that during Ramadhan when they have to pray in the evenings, classes are delayed! That is mind-boggling, considering that Somalis are, actually, still marginalised, the wealth of its business elite notwithstanding.

According to the 2009 Kenya Population Census, the country had a population of 38,610,097.

The Somali have shot to the 6th largest national group, from close  to bottom of the pile at the last census. The census found that the largest  13 ethnic communities by numbers are Kikuyu at 6.62 million, Luhya 5.33 million, Kalenjin at 4.96 million, Luo 4.04 million, Kamba (3.89 million), Kenyan Somali (2.38 million), Kisii (2.21 million), Mijikenda (1.96 million), Meru (1.65 million), Turkana (0.99 million), Maasai (0.84 million), Teso (0.33 million) and Embu (0.32 million) .


The population of Somalis was so controversial, a recount – that has not yet been done – was ordered in the northeast. So while Kenyan Somali account for 6% of the population, they are 40% of the evening degree programme at Kenya’s leading university. This means that in the next generation, Kenyan Somali will be by far the single most educated group in the country.

Why have Somalis been so successful in Eastern and South Africa (not to mention in the USA and Europe)?

First, unlike the other African Muslims in East, Central, West, and Southern Africa, they are extremely frugal. I have a Somali friend, who is one of the richest people in Uganda, but he drives a ramshackle car whose door often flies open when he hits a pothole.

Secondly, while East and West African Muslims are notoriously polygamous, Somalis are not. A serious Sheikh in Nigeria, Uganda, or Kenya, will have six wives. Most Somalis are largely monogamous – or will allow themselves two wives. That way, they don’t squander their wealth splitting it among many households and bribing quarrelsome wives.

Also, the Somalis are the African group who seem to have learnt the most from the first East Asians who came to Africa at the end of the 19th and start of the  20th centurires. The East African Asians managed their costs partly through the large family living under the same roof, even when children got married, thus reducing their rent, electricity, and other costs. The Somalis also remain quite close knit as families, and support each other.


That support system thrives because, unlike other African communities, it has a ruthless enforcement mechanism. A Somali clansman will lend another money to start a business or give him credit, and if he doesn’t pay back, some musclemen will visit him and either break his legs, or chop off his head.

You don’t find many broken-hearted Somalis who have been cheated out of their wealth by relatives the way you would a Muganda, Kikuyu, Hausa, or Luo. Business risk among the Somali is thus fairly low.

The Somali in the Diaspora, those back in Africa, and the rich and poor ones keep a level of contact alien to most other Africans. This enables knowledge sharing, and a global exchange of business ideas and opportunities.

A Somali friend was transferred to work for the UN in Nairobi two years ago. When I had dinner with him, he told me was going to shop for a TV and other electronics the next day. I asked if he was going to the Duty Free Shop.

He looked at me, a little puzzled, then said; “No, I am going to shop in Eastleigh”. Eastleigh, a bustling business district in Nairobi, is the heartland of Somali business in East Africa, and is reputed to be the unofficial central bank of Somalia.

Prices there are incredible. Kenyans are probably the only Africans who, when they visit their relatives in Europe and North America, often carry western made products like sneakers as presents. That is because, a genuine Air Jordan sneaker from Eastleigh, will be far cheaper than at the cheapest store in London or New York.

Even the accomplished Somali smuggling network, is not enough for explain that difference in price. If power and wealth are some of the factors driving the long-conflict in Somalia, then it is no longer productive. Somalis have already won Eastern Africa.

    Comments 53

    1. J Mbwana

      Hehehheeh….yet their country is the bottom of the pile in the Failed States Index [NakedChief note – Not all Somalis are citizens of Somalia. There are Kenyan, Djiboutian, Ethiopian Somali etc]. Why would you go developing your neighbour’s land while leaving yours to be a wretched, murderous ruin? You weave a positive, rather patronising narrative on the Somali which is riddled with generalisms and offers no positive solution other than a a momentary ‘feel-happy’ glow.

      1. Daha

        You look jealous and unrealistic person. Somalis are being targeted because of their ambition about a Greater Somalia.. Policies can go wrong but you can’t deny that Somalis have natural skills and are business minded people. I’m sure it will be very hard for somali’s neighbours to survive if they face the same problem as Somalis, let alone doing successful business like Somalis .

      2. hassan warsame

        Amazing article and thanks for sharing. Some historians but existence long before empires. So called Kenya today was land of Somali and Oroma people, please read Kenya history and tell others date your bantu fathers arrived in so called Kenya today looking for water. These bantu’s refugees think they are smaller, but time will tell. We will reclaim our ancestors land.
        Watch link below. A Lebanese historian yazid Mahfouz saying somalians once ruled Byblos, historic town in Lebanon long before creeks and other empires. Just watch & listen. Can this true or it’s just my ears.
        watch it.

    2. john

      believe me they be strong nation with all the oil ,minerals found lately.This mayhem is not gona last long.They productive people given peace.They have learned their lesson.
      Watch out africa…from american.

      1. Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed

        BIGGEST mistake is ‘Kenya–all of North-Eastern Kenya is SOMALIS 100% and you know it…” we are NOT developing a foreign country. It’s ours. In your DREAMS, like Indians in Uganda, you will ‘rob’ our wealth. Think again, we are NOT Indians and are not MILLION miles away, we are a walking distance to Nairobi. Yes, we are part of the ‘Global War’ on terror. And it will end soon. When it ends, we have ‘more OIL’ then all of AFRICA combined, we have the LONGEST cost line in AFRICA and a system of business networks ‘unlike’ AFRICANS ever known all throughout EAST and SOUTHERN Africa. We will be the DUBAI of AFRICA in few years when this current gov’t stands firm, we are at the bottom of the peril of the failed index: YET we have 3 of the top 100 AFRICAN Universities. Kenya with its ‘TAX and AID’ money has 2 of the TOP 100 Africans. Income GDP we passed Kenya looked at the index. LAST but not least 3 MILLION Somalis in the west like the JEWS of 1800’s. I have a question my friend, do you know how many Kenyans are sent to go to western Universities in UK, US, Europe; according to UNDP…Less the 300 Kenyans are sent to study in western Universities. How many SOMALIS attend western Universities…in my city Toronto, Canada we have SSA (Somali Student Associations of University of Toronto, Ryerson University, and York University….last year end party of the SSA, there were “only” 2,131 showed up “registered” students GRADUATING 2012. How many Somali Students at our closest Universities like Ohio State (..+650 students), and University of Minnesota alone OVER 1,100 students. How can you compete if Somali Canadians and Americans alone ‘produce’ over 10,000 University graduates a year and rising? How? My friend every negative thing (ie 22yrs of Civil War every country went through US, EUROPE and Kenya will go through with 40 different languages and ethnics and religions) has some positives: ex, when the JEWS who rule the world we know today were kicked out of their homeland in the middle east few hundred years ago, they went back 1949 and re-started from scratch a STATE called ISRAEL..50 yrs later they are FAR SUPERIOR to all ARAB states combined without OIL? My friend we are the JEWS of AFRICA and ALLAH gave us two talents when he was creating the humanity: 1) Somalis are DAMN good fighters, B) GREAT Entrepreneurs….and what else GOD gave us as a BONUS: Largest OIL and GAS reserve in AFRICA…! Add 1+1 (Great Somali Human resource and Great Natural and Strategic Resources)

        Move away or prepare to be RUN over.

        I am a Somali born but RAISED/EDUCATED Canadian and as I write this, I have two degrees in Law and Politics and heading to SOMALIA to Re=Build. Give us just 10yrs (1 decade) let’s talk then..

        Peace out from CANADA

        1. AD

          “Re-started from scratch a STATE called ISRAEL”
          They didn’t start from scratch, they just stole and another group’s land.
          aside from that error, I’m 100% with you on everything else.

        2. Billow Hersi

          Thumbs up bro! tell them coz they don’t know.
          The innovations of the Somalis is absolutely unmatched.
          I have never been to North America but was told, Somalis are only immigrants who have in less than a decade as refugee in Minnesota who developed ad set up three different multiple million shopping malls employing thousands of other Immigrants and American natives. Besides, Somalis went into the history books where the UN have noted that, for the first time in the history f UNHCR, a refugee(Somali) in a IFO camp employed three other refugees on a full time basis as a chef, house girl and a watchman! Man, this s not be accident but a gift of the Almighty.

        3. Allan Ace Zamaronavich

          Preach Brother…..And one more thing Africans need to realise is that that can never, I mean never out talk and outspeak a Somali…..We are the only ethnic Africans who despise and hate whites, arabs, americans, indians, unlike the rest of African which bowes down to the white men and always have been…The only reason why Somalia is in the state of anarchy is simply because you average Somali citizen does not like taking orders from anyone. not from an african neither from a bloody white colonialist legacy,not even from their own.

        4. Anisa Ali

          EXCELLENT REPLY ! This whole reading (the article and your comment) validated my thoughts and dreams of Somalia! Here we come world with degrees & to leave a mark on history!

        5. Mohamed

          I 100% Support your comments Mr Mohamed Abdulahi,
          is true that we are a thousand miles away from where we are developing , let people said what they said , the reality is always there,

    3. Mohamed

      For an arrow to be launched it has to be pulled back hard. So all these mayhem God willing it will make Somalis succeed in the future.

    4. Ahmed

      J Mbwana Its sad thaty you consider Kenya as a developed country when almost all live under poverty and have been given jobs by those friendly neighbours called Somalis

    5. James

      Somalis are very creative people, they are smart and know how to do business. They have a long history of trade. even though, somalia was a failed state and is still struggling to bring back peace, they are way far ahead than many African nations e.g: they are the leading nation in the telecommunication sector next to South Africa. In fact, the public are good, they do not only help each other but they help any other african brother. They helped south africa to fight against apartheid. They would never watch you starving for sure. In kenya 1/3 of the economy is contributed by the somalis from eistleigh. In the UK if you walk down the streets of London and Birmingham you will be surprised the huge stores they own. In the US Minniapolis is like the eistleigh of kenya for the somalis.

    6. yusuf

      J Mbwana, The guy gave a picture of the somalis regardless of where they are, where is the genéralism from?
      Great article !

    7. Mohammed Artan

      Truly mind staggering narrative and statistics offered here despite the comments and assumptions of some people that you might have over generalised the issues. As Africans we hate to see out brothers succeed and hence this xenophobic attacks on South Africa and Kenya. Only time will tell the story of the Somalis and I am for one very happy and delighted to read such a well constructed narrative. Well done.

    8. Justice Jasmmen Ahmed Aden

      to be honest no country is like somalia and that is why they dont want somalia to be peace but no matter what somalia will be peace and all somali edicated boys and girls.we will go back and build our somali born edicated in kenya and live in sweden,and i will be ready for my duty as lawyer and journalist

    9. Nas Dalmar

      first of all there is no more clan war and now the only thing we dealing with is the counterproductive Saudi and Arab influence-meddling in Somalia and the promotion of extremism in the country.
      and when all the Somalis from east to west return and rebuild the country there will be a new Dawn for Somalia.
      my brother mohamed abudlahi mohamed u just mentioned the graduates in USA & CANADA, but countries in Asia like INDIA, CHINA, MALAYSIA, SINGAPORE, HONG KONG, we have thousands of Somali graduates and young generation still studying.
      its a matter of time.. and there will be a stable and strong new Somalia.
      the country with the Most Beautiful People in Africa.

    10. Ahmed Mohamed

      unbelievable article, as I am a native Somali born in the city of Erigavo located north east Somalia, educated one of the best universities in the USA Hemline University of Minnesota, working for one of the largest fortune 500 companies, doing business globally building that relationship among with all international investors. Guess what I will bring to Somalia when it stands its own foot… By the way Kenyan people are our people and we will teach them how to compete other African haters those who are killing innocent people in South Africa. I would suggest that you all condemn the hate that is happing in South Africa against immigrant somalis. Somalia will be the next Dubai one day despite the fact of our internal conflict. Well done article…

    11. Adoon Alle

      Long lyf to my country somali and my people somalian evry corner of the world there it This world is belong to us bcoz we are muslim nd to this world is belong to muslim Thank Allah made us muslim

    12. Abdullahi Karshe

      I personally thank the author for portraying the true image of the Somalis all around the world because most people think we are ruthless and uncivilized people which is quite opposite in reality and let us, as Somali nation all over the world, it does not matter where you come from or your qabil (tribe) lets put our struggles and spirits high to a 1 united Somalia I know for sure will reach there soon by the grace of Allah InshaAllah.

    13. Mooner Omar

      I wonder when will that peace come that everyone is hoping for while staying i other foreign countries. We are all dreamers and we wont achieve a country called SOMALIA if we are still hoping while rebuilding other countries and raising their economics. If you want to see peaceful somalia then get up and do something,,, Somali’s stop blah blah,, and leaving ur country become to Europe, USA, ASIA, and other parts of AFRICA. You want to know the funny thing,, those who are in somalia right now fighting a battle back home and try each day to pick up the pieces are way more better than us cowards in other foreign countries. Ohh you are proud holding a EUROPEAN OR USA citizenship? Its better for those who our lovely BLUE SOMALIA passport and proud of it..

      Wake up guyz and stop pointing fingers to others and actually do something no matter how small it is. Thanks again for the nice article.

    14. El Haji

      I will believe all the “Somali is great,greater than all of Africa….” ,and “Somalis are the most resilient people in the world” once i see it.

      In Kenya,2 Somali clans are fighitng each other for the position of governorship in 2 counties in the N.E region and the deaths are increasing everyday.

      If Somalis cannot manage themselves in 2 small counties,what makes you think they can manage themselves in the whole of Somali??….

      The reason Somali-land,Punt-land and to a lesser extent Jubal-land are in relative peace and calm right now,is because these pseudo-states are based on individual clans that cannot survive living together as a unified Somali republic.

      2 years ago,representatives of the Federal Somali came to Kenya to meet,in a parliamentarian kinda way,and the only thing that took place is a war of words,fists and flying chairs…

      GENERALLY.Somali clans don’t get along.In the same clan,Somali Somalis and Offshore Somalis (Nairobi,Minneapolis,London…w/e) don’t get along either…


      Somali will call itself great,powerful and the Somali people’s self image of “greatness” will be fulfilled only if they get along in their homeland,not London,Nairobi or Minneapolis…..Until then,the somalis will be busy building their neighbors houses while their homeland is burning and smoking like a bad forest fire.

    15. Daud Hujale

      I certainly agree partly with the article regarding the Somalis. But the breaking of the limbs part is obviously not correct.
      to those somalis in the diaspora, please stop boasting about the mare one or two degrees that you have just had in a foreign country. The reality is you are educated in so many different curriculums and cultures that if you are all returned to somalia you may cause culture wars among you the elite for another twenty years, or rather make new clans and sub clans like French, Canadian, American or English clans. It is one thing to get educated and another thing to build a nation.
      The Somalis are a great people, but they have their own weakness just like any other society. In fact I call them the only community on the face of the earth that swears it allegiance to their genealogy than to the almighty. In their comments some have likened us to the Jews, I say yes but Jews without love for each other.

    16. Dhoore

      Thanks for this chance to unmask the facts
      Neighbor countries think that Somalia is planning to conquer or fight neighbor countries again. We assure you that Somalia does not want fighting and never fight again but progress. We are kings and queens in Africa and we do not want to misuse this endowment. We are quick learners and hard workers. We are families who have learnt last two decades and have expressed great regrets for mistakes had happened. We love neighbor countries and we want to live in peace and prosperity together. Bear in mind, we believe any problem existence in any country would spread to neighbors. We love Great Somalia, but this does not mean to fight but it is mean to share peace, prosperity and development as Somalia would be. Please let us rebuild and restore our beloved Somalia, and stop interrupting. Keep in mind, whatever one does, and Somalia will never back to darkness of ignorance, wars and social strife. Somalia is conscious and aware its interests and what good for its citizens.
      We are grateful to neighbor countries for welcoming our people while they were in time of difficult. We will never forget that favor. Please stop spoiling Somalia and let do its interests.
      Thanks for understanding

    17. careys

      This confilect of 20yr which originated from foreign powers who have been probing up politicans on a weapon. only for their own intrest. today ordinary Somalian blevie that we came time to get up and move away the contractors, who catigorised Somalia into many.

    18. Mohamed Musa

      It is true that our country name makes to the bottom in many lists (GDP, literacy), and the top in some (corruption, etc). Nevertheless, as individuals we show many of the characteristics you captured in your article. It is remarkable that you focused on our positive side. Your good will not be lost to those of us who (by accident or otherwise) come across it and in some small way we will learn from you. Many thanks to you.

    19. jitolee migingo

      Your Right on the tight kinship ties, but on the many wives and frugality part u missed it by a mile, the more money the more wives they have and also just check on the Lexus and range rover sports owners in Kenya, Somali’s will come on top, I admire that in them, they unlike the other African entrepreneurs they don’t just accumulate wealth, they also spend it on themselves and their kinsmen, back when I was living in Eastleigh I knew quite a number of Somalis who had all their bills being paid by their well to do relations.

    20. saaaas ali

      Greater Somaliland was one nation histrionically before 1948 , acknowledged and dismantled by those who made your unknown nation came to being now maybe we will befriend with our former enemies that are our today’s friend .cool your self and support somali family unity .lolololo

    21. jovit

      Good news from our Somali brothers at last. Instead of developing jealousy and xenophoebia towards Africans who manage to be business minded and successful, we should emulate them. Congratulations to the Somali People. From a Rwandan.

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    23. Abdi Duale

      Thanks for this article. We are tired of hearing only negative news about Somalia or Somalis. I agree with him on most points!

    24. Pingback: Somalia Doesn’t Have To Fight To Conquer: Somalis Are Already Africa’s Small Kings And Queens | policyconcepts

    25. Muna

      It is very true that Somalis are gifted people. Others where forced to form a government even though they were and are heterogeneous but the only fully homogeneous people in Africa were divided in to five parts by the colonial visitor and indeed that was not accidental. we pass the test against all odds. Thanks to Allah.
      It is a global learn factor.
      By the way what happen to the Somalis might be a faith waiting for the rest of glob. History will tell.

    26. Muna

      It is very true that Somalis are gifted people. Others where forced to form a government even though they were and are heterogeneous but the only fully homogeneous people in Africa were divided in to five parts by the colonial visitor and indeed that was not accidental. we pass the test against all odds. Thanks to Allah.
      It is a global learn factor.
      By the way what happen to the Somalis might be a faith waiting for the rest of glob. History will tell.

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