Tag Archives: Somalia
The below are excerpts from an article originally appearing in World Politics Review.
Later this month, Somalia’s eight-year political transition is scheduled to end with the declaration of a “post-transition” government. Casual observers will be forgiven for assuming such a step signals that, after 21 years of complete state collapse, a functional central government in Somalia is now in place.
The reality is that the post-transition government will be unable to project its authority beyond much of the capital, Mogadishu. Most of the country and parts of the capital itself remain under the de facto control of autonomous strongmen, self-proclaimed regional states, clan militias and the jihadi group al-Shabab. Of these, only al-Shabab has demonstrated any will and capacity to impose basic law and order in its areas of control, but the group is losing ground to multiple armed offensives and is focusing its waning energies on war-fighting, not administration. (more…)
In the aftermath of the conference in London on Somalia, I offer a wrap-up of the best articles and books to read on the country.
In the past week, there has been a number of excellent pieces on what the international community has done wrong in the past, and how it might do better going forward.
In general, they all suggest that the focus should be on what is working—in places such as Somaliland, Puntland, and Galmudug—rather than on any foreign blueprint for success.
Past initiatives have repeatedly attempted to impose a centralized bureaucratic governing structure on the country, a structure ill-suited to Somali society. Such efforts have never been effective and have only aggravated domestic tensions. (more…)
The Nordic Africa Institute has published an excellent paper on one of the world’s most conflict prone regions: the Horn of Africa (which, broadly defined, encompasses Somalia/Somaliland, Eritrea, Djibouti, Ethiopia, and parts of Kenya, Sudan, and Southern Sudan).
Kidane Mengisteab, the author, does an especially good job analyzing “the core and contextual factors” that underlay the large number of “inter-state, intra-state and communal” conflicts that have long plagued the region. By examining history, social relationships, the fragmentation of institutions, and regional politics, the paper is able to get at the driving forces that have created vicious cycles of social exclusion, weak government, and zero sum competition for resources. It correctly articulates that any solution will have to include simultaneous efforts on “diversity management, nation-building, democratization, and institutional reform at all levels.” (more…)
Readers could make a real contribution to the people of Somalia by taking their yachts over to the Horn of Africa:
Piracy off the coast of Somalia may be a global scourge costing $12bn a year, but a new report argues ransoms deliver much-needed development to the failed state.
The average hijacking ransom brings in the equivalent of the export of 1,650 heads of cattle, while keeping hostages – 1,016 were captured in 2010 – provides jobs for local cooks, producers and traders, according to the report by Chatham House. It calculates up to 100 people are needed to secure every hijacked ship.
“Piracy appears to lead to widespread economic development,” says the report’s author Anja Shortland, who argues the flow of ransom payments has helped to boost the local exchange rate, to raise real wages and to reduce inflation.In the absence of a functioning state that has failed to eliminate al-Qaeda-linked rebels further south, the report says pirates provide “local governance and stability”.
Seed money from ransoms, which garnered a record $135m last year, has helped set up dozens of trucking companies that have reduced transport costs of staples such as rice, even as global inflation bit hard and a regional food crisis helped plunge Somalia further south of pirate strongholds into famine. . . .
While the report acknowledges some piracy money goes into drugs and flashy cars, Ms Shortland, a development economist at Brunel University, argues instead that the benefits stretch far wider than a pirate financier elite. She says any abrupt military solution that stopped piracy would deprive thousands of people of jobs and “quite noticeable trickle-down”.
Understanding the failure of Somalia as a state requires understanding the country’s complex clan dynamics.
Somalia embodies one of postcolonial Africa’s worst mismatches between conventional state structures and indigenous customs and institutions. The fact that Somalis share a common ethnicity, culture, language, and religion might seem to be an excellent basis for a cohesive polity, but in reality the Somali people are divided by clan affiliations, the most important component of their identity. Repeated attempts to impose a centralized bureaucratic governing structure have managed only to sever the state from the society that should have been its foundation, yielding the world’s most famous failed state.
The Somali population—some 13 to 14 million people, including Somalis living in neighboring states—is divided into four major clans and a number of minority groups (see map below). Each of these major clans consists of subclans and extended family networks that join or split in a fluid process of “constant decomposition and recomposition.” Like tribal societies elsewhere in the Greater Middle East, the clans use deeply ingrained customary law to govern their communities completely independently of modern state structures. Although somewhat weakened in the south from decades of urbanization, violence, and attempts to create a centralized state, these traditional groupings still hold immense influence over society.
Since the failure of the state some twenty years ago, the parts of the country that have achieved the most stability are those that are based on these clans. The Haarti grouping (a subset of the Daarood) created a semiautonomous region in the east called Puntland, while in the northeast the Isaaq clan led the effort to build Somaliland. Many other parts of Somalia have been similarly governed by local groupings, which have used the traditional governing system to resolve disputes and encourage some investment even in the absence of a formal state.
Among these regional entities, Somaliland has been the most successful, declaring itself independent and holding a series of free elections. Despite—or, perhaps, because of—a dearth of assistance from the international community, it has been able to construct a set of robust governing bodies rooted in traditional Somali concepts of governance by consultation and consent. By integrating traditional ways of governance—including customary norms, values, and relationships—within a modern state apparatus, Somaliland has achieved greater cohesion and legitimacy while—not coincidentally—creating greater room for competitive elections and public criticism than exists in most similarly endowed territories.
These dynamics suggest that any eventual solution to the problem of state building in Somalia will have to take fully into account the country’s indigenous social fabric and institutions, and will have to build from the bottom up, integrating communal ways of working together into state structures. The international community will have to abandon its attempts to impose a top-down, centralized, and profoundly artificial state model and begin to work with, rather than against, the grain of Somali society. A central government could be retained, but its functions should be strictly limited in scope and its institutions in number.