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|Somalia and Survival in the Shadow of the Global Economy (Part 12)|
Special Guest Writer for the Somaliland Times, Prof. William Reno, Northwestern University
[Continued from the previous issue]
Somalia’s Lessons for Self-Determination Amidst Marginality
Many other ‘marginal’ conflicts related to state collapse elsewhere in the world reinforce the lessons learned from the Somalia space. Most dramatically, illicit trades, clandestine economies and armed strongmen can either be disruptive promoters of fragmentation or they can be elements of the constitution of a new order and possibilities for self-determination. Olivier Roy explains, for example, how leaders of several Central Asian states integrate socialist communal farms and other enterprises into a single political community on the basis of their identities as ‘neo-clans’ arising out of socialist era ties to an informal economy of favours and illicit exchanges. In Tajikistan, on the other hand, this old elite and their clandestine ‘fixers’ faced competition from an outsider group, which give local level political entrepreneurs the chance to pick and chose among would-be protectors and allies inside Tajikistan and from among outside mediators as completing factions jockeyed for position in peace negotiations.
Likewise, the separatist ‘Dnester Moldovan Republic’, base of the Soviet 14th Army, was a prime candidate for multiplying ethnic security dilemmas and predatory conflict. Yet after fighting between 1991 and 1994, fighting ceased. Closer examination reveals a ‘traditional’ Soviet army value system that survived within the 14th Army that dominates the region. Ordinary Soviet soldiers long contended with an informal system of hazing and other physical abuse as they encountered the local pecking ordered of military units. Families had to seek out individuals to bribe for special treatment for their sons, soldiers had to seek out protectors, while officers tolerated and even promoted the system as good for building unit solidarity and identifying ‘good guys’ and ‘team players’. Mediation during the fighting in 1991 to 1994 came from Aleksander Lebed, a ‘good guy’ who commanded respect in this informal institution as much as in the formal. As an operator or politician or whatever one prefers to call him, he used social control over actual fighters to help local commanders maintain local solidarities through appeals to a shared ideal that prized the notion of Soviet internationalism. Strengthening this solidarity undermined political entrepreneurs who tried to frame local conflicts in ethnic terms. Had such entrepreneurs been more successful it is likely that the conflict would have become more violent. Suddenly members of the same unit (who from a ‘traditional’ Soviet internationalist perspective were equally ‘at home’ anywhere in the Soviet space, whatever their parentage) would find themselves bearers of an ethnic label far from their respective homelands, and forced to seek alliances with other ethnic kinsmen.
The Russian Ingush Republic’s (now former) President Ruslan Aushev, neighbour of war-torn Chechnya also demonstrates the variable uses of informal institutions and clandestine commerce. He presided over the multiple mafias of his land-locked ‘offshore economic zone’. Aushev legalized vendetta with police help to regulate this trade, thus locking armed young men into an arrangement where they faced social constraints if they used violence against their own communities. Aushev removed Arab ‘guests’ from the region, complaining that outsiders were issuing fatwas to encourage local youth to kidnap people and rob business for income to pay for the Holy struggle. For Ingush people who encountered these young men as predatory bandits, and Aushev’s measures were popularly regarded as restoring social control over armed young men and instrumental in removing opportunities for violent entrepreneurs in the guise of Arab guests and Chechen provacateurs.
Each of these places also face the overall framework for ‘self-determination’ that reflects how the international community wants to resolve conflicts. What most of these people want is to ‘self-determine’ as a separate political community, not as a minority in someone else’s state. The international community does not encourage these desires as people fear that ‘self-determination’ for the likes of Somaliland (unless Hargeisa authorities can convince outsiders that their project is a final act of decolonization as independence for British Somaliland) but especially Puntland and the rest will start a domino reaction as rebellious minorities resort to violence to press their claims for self-determination.