Special Guest Writer for the Somaliland
Times, Prof. William Reno, Northwestern University
[Continued from the previous
Puntland Self-Determination in Comparison
Somaliland’s neighbour on the northeast corner of Somalia styles itself as The Puntland State of Somalia to stress that its leaders explicitly reject calls for recognition as a separate state. Puntland, however, also illustrates the centrality of the political economy of conflict to the establishment of new political communities. This is the region that earlier produced the anti-Barre SSDF militia, which provided an organizational basis and personnel for the Puntland administration. Puntland’s administration also got a later start, organizing in 1997-98 partly as a result of discussions between SSDF leaders and regional elders under the auspices of the Uppsala (Sweden) Life and Peace Institute and the UNRISD War-torn Societies Project to identify ways of creating security forces, and instituting reliable means to control and pay them. The former SSDF leader Abdulahi Yusuf emerged as the head of the Puntland administration in this externally assisted process. Puntland’s formation also shows that external mediation is not always an incitement to violence and disruptive of local order. The UNRISD project operated with an explicit conceptual recognition that the quelling of violence required binding authorities to the interests of elders through denying authorities an autonomous source of income or capacity to exercise violence.
Puntland’s relative order has helped promote the same kinds of business operations seen in Somaliland. Firms such as one providing water to the town of Bossasso use offshore offices to conduct relations with suppliers. Their lease contract with the municipality relies upon paper contracts and ‘common understanding’ with local authorities that clan elders help mediate contract disputes, protect assets and collect fees. These intermediaries also help the firm manage political pressure from local authorities not to increase prices and to provide services to government installations for free. Entrepreneur perceptions that Puntland remains at risk of violence limits investment in water utilities. Unlike electricity generation that can involve a removable generator, underground pipes are not easily evacuated if the region returns to war. Thus this entrepreneur reports a great willingness to conclude long-term agreements with local authorities to manage risk, a discussion that includes reference to clan elders as credible mediators and guarantors in lieu of reliable government courts or enforceable contract law. This also means that sensible entrepreneurs include representation from a wide range of local clans in management positions and form business alliances according to the same strategic calculus, reflecting the relative weakness and late formation of credible clan elder oversight of Puntland authorities compared to Somaliland.
Puntland has more uncertain claims to sovereign status compared to Somaliland, a factor that contributes to complicating the development of sustainable clan elder-business-government arrangements. Ironically this is due less to the absence of global recognition of sovereignty, a condition shared with Somaliland, as to the internal ambiguity as to appropriate physical boundaries of the community. Puntland never enjoyed a distinct legal identity in international law, unlike Somaliland’s colonial experience as a separate administration from the south. Nonetheless, Puntland’s first president was able to build a militia of about 1,500 fighters that succeeded in fending off interlopers from the southern region of which Puntland is still formally a constituent part. Local entrepreneurs, officials and foreign NGOs have learned how to live with this effective division. The main complaint of commercial agents remains, however, that local authorities face a more difficult task of deciding where the polity’s boundaries should lie, a dilemma that deters foreign partners, including among the Somali diaspora. Especially where alliances require cross cutting clan participation, one can always argue that the next settlement, the next hill or the next kilometer of coast ought to be included. This uncertainty leaves as ambiguous where the ultimate center of regional power lies or who has the right (or power) to stake a claim to leadership. Thus local strongmen have played a dual game of seeking power in Puntland and, when the opportunity presents itself, as players in contention or negotiations centered on Mogadishu. Fighting broke out in August 2002 in this context between Col. Abdullah Yusuf’s militia (which allegedly received outside support from Ethiopia) and those opposed to his administration. A claimant to the presidency, Jama Ali Jama subsequently fled to Libya.
The existence of regional peace negotiations under the auspices of IGAD and separate negotiations organized by Ethiopia offer opportunities for political entrepreneurs in Puntland to make a bid for influence in Somalia as a whole. Puntland’s council of elders removed Abdulahi Yusuf as the administration’s leader in 2001 amidst allegations that he was trying to use his position as a platform to negotiate in Mogadishu. Abdulahi Yusuf raised a militia in his hometown, and at the end of 2001 a council-sponsored mediation effort only was able to postpone this conflict. Abdulahi Yusuf was able to appropriate customs revenues from his home base of Boosaaso, Puntland’s source of about 80 percent of administrative revenues. He was able to use these resources outside the framework of the local council that tried to mediate the conflict, much as Ethiopian aid gave him the flexibility to chart his own military strategy.
So far self-determination has relied upon finding diplomatic cover that can compensate for some of the shortcomings in Puntland authorities’ control over coercion. A key strategy involves fashioning local authority as a ‘civil society’ development organization rather than as a state. This strategy has the virtue of attracting outside resources in the form of foreign aid. Foreign donors do not have to worry that their assistance will imply recognition of Puntland as a separate state. The authority addressed this problem by contracting in March 1999 with a newly formed local private firm, the Puntland International Development Corporation (PIDC), to run a police force and coast guard. Police and coast guard recruits (trained by private British military service experts) were drawn from among the young men who served in militias. To address sensitivities of local sub-clans, young men were stationed in their own communities. The private corporate nature of the police force was designed to address community concerns about the misappropriation of revenues to run these security forces. If styled as a ‘private’ operation that puts no revenues in the hands of administrators, there are no resources available to enterprising individuals outside the clan community framework, nor is the administration a target of predation. Money and recruits remain under close scrutiny of community elders, both to ensure fiscal probity and proper behaviour by young men with guns.
Furthermore, the creation of PDIC establishes an interlocutor that can attract aid from foreign charitable organizations and state-run programs geared toward security sector reform, since aid to PIDC does not establish diplomatic precedent regarding relations with Puntland authorities. This vehicle also helps give local leaders more control over the distribution of resources from outsiders, limiting the multiplication of predatory factions such as during the 1980s when Barre’s regime used foreign aid to refugees as patronage, and local commanders commandeered refugee aid to support their own private armed groups. PDIC also provides a portal for foreign resources for security sector issues that are harder for individual politicians to appropriate. Foe example, de-mining efforts attract support from UNDP to assist the local Puntland Mine Action Centre. This non-state global relationship allows UNDP authorities to overlook Somalia’s requirement to ratify the Ottawa Treaty regulating anti-personnel mines. Since Puntland does not claim to be a state, UNDP requires only that ‘relevant authorities embrace the spirit of the Ottawa Treaty’ and function as a local NGO.
Overall, Puntland resembles other ‘non-state’ authorities that have had no prior international status as separate sovereignties. This category includes ‘non-states’ such as the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh (in Azerbaijan), the Dnestr Moldovan Republic (in Moldova), the Republic of South Ossetia (in Georgia), the Republic of Abkhazia (also in Georgia) and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Like Puntland, these separatist regions construct central governments, collect revenues and organize some services. But in the Somalia context, Puntland does this less effectively, as do these other ‘non-states’ in their regional political economic contexts. This is because central authorities find considerable incentives to exploit clandestine business opportunities for themselves rather than regulate and tax non-governmental enterprises since their precarious status requires that they rely upon a regional state ‘patron’-in this case, Ethiopia-that can intervene to keep a particular local faction in power.
At best, if local councils of elders can become more solidly institutionalized, their closest relative in international society might be the UAE, which also functions much like a political arena in which several councils of elders of elders of different lineages settle disputes and agree to cooperate in common ventures, much as independent polities negotiate with one another. Only in UAE’s case, local lineage elders managed to convince the rest of the world that their unusual arrangement be considered as a state, a major qualification for comparison with Puntland. The inability of non-state actors to control political entrepreneurs’ access to resources continues to undermine the ability of any single authority to concentrate and control the exercise of coercion. This is reflected in continued incidences of piracy off the Puntland coast. Late in July 2002, for example, an oil tanker registered in North Korea was hijacked with its crew off Puntland, and it remained in militia hands as of late 2002.
To be continued