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|Somalia and Survival in the Shadow of the Global Economy (Part 11)|
Special Guest Writer
for the Somaliland Times, Prof. William Reno, Northwestern
[Continued from the previous issue]
Self-Determination in the Shadow of Globalization?
The analysis above makes clear that Somalia is not an ahistorical clan society. It shows how self-determination involves building polities that can impose order in a defined space through controlling the exercise of coercion and regulating transactions with outsiders. It underscores that self-determination is not an endogenous process. Polities develop as results, some more intentional than others, of internal and external interactions. This is not surprising. Major scholars and historians of state formation in the West long have noted that states developed there through internal processes of bargaining between authorities and those who wield means of coercion on the one hand, and societal responses to pressures and opportunities in the wider world on the other hand. This variability appears in Somalia’s past too. Somalia’s north appeared as ‘stateless’ to I.M. Lewis quoted at the start of this work, as it did to Richard Burton in the 19th century. Yet it was also in the north that from the 10th to the 15th century was the site of small kingdoms under the Sultanate of Ifat. A 16th century sultanate included parts of the Upper Shabeelle River, Jubba River and Indian Ocean coasts that now are centres of disorder and conflict.
At the start of this work I highlighted four propositions that contribute to an explanation of this variation, and by extension the formation of new polities as vehicles for self-determination in the contemporary Somali space. These propositions also provide a basis for drawing out broader implications for movements of self-determination in the contemporary world, especially in the context of state failure, violence and economic marginality. First, throughout Somalia unofficial and non-state institutions have played key roles in building new authorities. Inter and intra clan negotiating norms, clandestine markets, and informal political networks tied to Barre’s patrimonial strategy of rule all featured more centrally than did formal institutions of the Somali state, especially after collapse of the irredentist state-building project in the late 1970s. Barre and his cronies manipulated laws such as the franco valuta foreign exchange mechanism in the service of the informal institutions of patronage and clandestine deals that kept their political networks together. Likewise, international aid provided more resources for this social construction of violence and accumulation in the 1980s.
The second proposition, however, provides a lens for distinguishing the variable impact of these informal networks for the destruction and reconstitution of authority and the control of coercion. The variety of experiences in the Somali space shows that when formal and informal institutional frameworks favour old networks of elites with greater ties to local communities, the scope for intervention of disruptive political entrepreneurs is reduced. The experience of Somaliland, and to a lesser extent Puntland shows how local clan elders and military strongmen had to rely upon their ties to local communities and a large diaspora population to weather the consequences of Barre’s suspicion and distrust of their intentions. Even if these people wanted to be part of Barre’s privileged inner circle, they found that they faced greater hardship and fewer opportunities than did more favoured groups elsewhere in Somalia. By extension, this shows how marginality in the earlier period of patrimonial politics gave incentives to local authorities to build defensive arrangements. These later turned out to be social resources that gave clan elders the means to mediate conflict, control coercion and most importantly, regulate the social use of wealth to prevent enterprising strongmen from recruiting young men to loot local communities and rush to bargaining tables in distant cities to assert a claim to rule Somalia.
A major implication of this observation is that activities that governments, international agencies, and activists define as fuel for conflict and appropriate targets for suppression-‘conflict diamonds’, smuggling rackets and the like-may play important roles in mitigating conflict and underwriting self-determination. It is not the illegal or forbidden nature of the transactions that is most important in this analysis. Instead, the social context of these transactions is what determines the local legitimacy of this activity. Authorities in Somaliland succeed in substantial measure in the most basic task of governance, to ‘compel men equally to the performance of their covenants, by the terror of some punishment’ whether in the guarantee of commercial contracts in lieu of Somaliland’s access to conventional international commercial institutions, or to force local militias and armed young men to heed the broader interests of their communities. The major policy implication for this observation is that wanton international suppression of ‘illicit’ or ‘wartime’ commerce, as when the US president directed in late 2001 that sanctions be applied against informal money transfer institutions that serve overseas Somalis who send money home, can increase the risk of violence and undermine successful efforts at promoting order.
Third, where elites who adopt old informal institutions-such as clandestine commerce in the case of Somaliland-face competition from new institutions and channels that offer resources, the risk of fragmentation is higher. The cases above show how this proposition undermined order throughout Somalia during Barre’s regime. The president attracted followers through offering resources that were autonomous of the social control of the communities from which these men hailed. Violence became generalized throughout Somalia by the late 1980s, even worse in the north than the south, but not all violence was the same. Everywhere it was worse when predators with outside sources of income attacked. The difference in the north was that legitimate local authorities, especially clan elders, could regulate sources of income for local strongmen and recruit them for fighting off interlopers. Later events demonstrated the same principle. Puntland’s Abdullahi Yusuf, for example, proved more willing to loot his own community and defy arbitration by Puntland’s elders when he could rely upon Ethiopian support. Indeed, it appears that Ethiopian authorities recognize that sponsoring endless ‘peace conferences’ is a good way to keep Somalia fragmented to ensure it never poses an irredentist threat or that Somali groups develop effective ties to Ethiopia’s own Oromo separatists. The broad policy implications for this finding are round-tables, conferences, NGO aid and other ‘conflict prevention’ measures can intensify conflict and promote fragmentation if they are sought without consideration of the nature of local social control over resources and coercion. UN-sponsored peace talks in Mogadishu, for example, attract militia leaders to the city, resulting in an increase in fighting that overwhelms the local mechanisms that elders have devised to control conflict.
Finally, if local actors can meet the above conditions-regulate the flow of resources through all channels, including clandestine, control how those resources are used in order to mitigate freelance exercise of coercion, and do so free from the disruptive influence of outsiders bearing gifts and enticements that give enterprising freelancers other alternatives-they prove able to equip their societies to exploit opportunities in the international economy. The world economy is not favourable to places like Somaliland or Puntland. There is little that these places can sell to the rest of the world. On the one hand they remain highly dependent upon diaspora remittances, and they are not attractive places for investment by people who do not share the cultural ties and understandings that are integral to the regulation (and success) of business there. On the other hand, this condition may exempt local people from some of the more disruptive aspects of the world economy such as the sudden appearance of extremely efficient foreign enterprises that have more leverage to defy local interests and priorities. Somalilanders may lament the poor state of their economy at present. But strong ties between their diaspora and the informal regulatory power of local authorities seems to offer at least the possibility of following the paths of UAE, Singapore, Hong Kong, and to some degree Lebanon, which are among the few examples of prosperity and successful integration into the world economy on the basis of transnational family and clan cultural networks rather than the centralizing administrative projects that scholars of early modern European state-building describe (and which World Bank and other officials increasingly prescribe).
Taken together, these propositions recognize that marginal status in the global economy can be integrated into movements for self-determination, in this case, Somaliland’s autonomy. Seemingly ‘archaic’ and even (from an outsider’s view) illicit social forms and activities can play important roles in this political change. Thus Lewis’ ‘call of kinship’ is important for understanding the Somali space and the future of its constituent parts, but it is hardly immutable, nor is it opposed to self-determination and state-building of a sort that is able to integrate into wider economic and political circuits.
To be continued