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|Somalia and Survival in the Shadow of the Global Economy (Part 13)|
Special Guest Writer for the Somaliland Times, Prof. William Reno, Northwestern University
[Continued from the previous issue]
The Meaning of Contemporary State Collapse for Self-Determination
The relatively durable and stable political arrangements in Somaliland and Puntland shed light on the nature and possibilities of political organization in the context of state collapse. Of particular interest to students of social movements is the decisions and capacities of some Somali leaders to resist incentives for short-term predation and interference from violent entrepreneurs. This addresses the basic question of explaining why people cooperate to form political communities at all, especially when such behavior is irrational from a short-term materialist perspective. Do either self-interested or altruistic protectors, perhaps responding to hidden incentives, provide political order and define communities? Or do communities prevail upon rulers to hold them accountable for their behavior, or even choose their rulers, binding them with a contract to respect certain rights and giving them incentives not to abuse citizens?
The 21st century and its global market is supposed to impose great constraints on states, at least on the world’s poorest states. ‘Everywhere, boundaries are being drawn between protected and prosperous global enclaves and the anarchic poverty-stricken areas beyond’. People at the margins of world diplomacy and commerce discover that state institutions and autarchic economic policies can no longer protect them. They choose (or are forced into) a ‘Somali road to development’; faction based politics centered on violent competition for resources that is incompatible with the existence of a centralized state or expression of a single political community beyond unstable ethnic mini-states and fragmented political affiliations of inhabitants.
Manuel Castells conceptualized violent competition for resources among political actors and the disruption of broad-based political communities as ‘network war’, a violent globalization as predatory entrepreneurs exploited their own communities and undermined local order, using instead privileged connections to global networks to protect them from the negative consequences of socially destructive behavior that states once regulated and suppressed. This competition reflects the end of the viability of cold war era state-building projects based upon government support and protection for local industry and foreign investors. Thus intense global economic competition hits weak states very hard. After the cold war’s end, states like Somalia were even less able to compete in the global economy on the same basis as wealthy states. Now they were left without diplomatic protection and foreign aid that earlier they used to compensate for their internal weaknesses and marginal position in the world economy. More fortunate and wealthier individuals can integrate themselves into global networks, especially clandestine economic ones, without services of a protective state. An economist summed up this potential for destruction with regard to Somalia as early as 1960: ‘If a country such as England, which is heavily dependent on foreign trade for its standard of living, were suddenly cut off from channels of international economic intercourse, it would doubtless be worse off as a result, but so would the rest of the world; whereas if Somalia were cut off from international trade, it would be worse off, but the rest of the world would not’.
The structural irrelevance of poor countries to the world’s economy does not produce a void in place of cold war era economic relations, nor need it result in the total exclusion of people in the periphery of the global economic and political order. People in poor countries reintegrate themselves into the world economy on new terms. Castells expects them to exploit niches in the world economy, usually clandestine businesses such as drug trafficking, toxic waste dumping and frauds. This is not supposed to generate viable alternatives to states, at least in terms of promoting widespread security and economic opportunity, since these networks rely upon violent exploitation of communities, armed attacks on competitors, and have few incentives to provide public goods. These strategies increase inequality and conflict. Equally important, they are supposed to be incompatible with maintaining territorial and bureaucratic states since authority and coercion are based on control over commercial networks which are used to manipulate social solidarities-clans, ethnic associations and the like-rather than to support expensive formal state bureaucracies, laws, and regulations that require broad popular legitimacy to finance and to sustain compliance. This appears to be true in many instances, especially where competitors for power and those who challenge them pursue neither broad programmatic or ideological projects, nor do they mobilize followers in institutions like nationalist state-builders of the cold war era used.
But marginality is not the same as withdrawal from global commerce. Expectations of the political economy of conflict often assumers that even those opposing predators become predators since access to guns requires deals with violent outsiders who can tolerate huge risks of violent state collapse and who benefit from the extreme deregulation that crumbling formal state structures leave in their wake. The growth of unregulated trades help political entrepreneurs provision followers through trades in small arms, petrol, stolen 4X4 vehicles and food. Illicit trade in weapons, for example, feeds on the global availability of small arms, which drove the price of assault rifles as low as $15 in Mogadishu in the early 1990s. Extreme deregulation, coupled with technological innovation that increases the reach of local politicians-turned-businessmen reinforces the power of these global networks. Banks do business in Mogadishu without benefit of a government, for example, even if they spend a third of their operating expenses on armed security. Private businessmen have foreign firms print money. Mogadishu cell and satellite phone companies compete for customers and offer some for Africa’s lowest rates for international telephone service. As shown above, telecom services also emerge as part of a larger process of commercial adaptation to the legal and practical consequences of the absence of globally recognized sovereignty, especially as this affects standard commercial banking practices.
Still, it appears that Somalia’s situation, or at least the southern territory of the pre-1991 state, shows the inevitability of increased disorder, impoverishment, and exclusion from productive economic transactions of the world at large that accompanies state collapse. Even lacking valuable, easily exploited resources such as Congolese or Sierra Leonean diamonds, or Liberian timber, the region’s regulatory void attracts predatory operators. Local entrepreneurs are cited as central actors in the regional trade in the mild stimulant qat and have been suspected of making deals with toxic waste dumpers, including an $80 million contract in 1992 with Italian and Swiss companies to dump waste in Somalia. The International Chamber of Commerce warns mariners that Somalia’s coast is a major world center of piracy.
Violent competition to control resources through co-opting informal and illicit trans-border networks appears inimical to the formation of new states and even threatens to destabilize surviving neighbouring states. But cases above show that this is true only where competitors control links to external markets in ways that give them less interest in protecting local people. If rulers can use trading networks to replace cold war diplomatic alliances and state revenue institutions to get resources, they have little incentive to engage in expensive and politically risky tasks of protecting people or promoting productivity if they have to worry about short-term threats from those who prey upon the same people. They also may worry that members of their own entourage will conclude that becoming a freelance predator is more rewarding than sticking by the side of a doomed central authority. Faced with this dilemma, some incumbent rulers also turn to predation to survive. In any event, creating a cohesive community on the scale of Somaliland amidst rival violent groups should be an unlikely prospect, given the formidable obstacles to collective action.
Achille Mbembe observes that state collapse also feeds off global economic ideologies that prescribe shrinking corrupt bureaucracies and lessening state economic regulation. Market liberalization increases the ease with which incumbent politicians and new competitors appropriate resources that states once controlled. It also undermines old strategies of holding together states with patronage networks based upon overstaffed state bureaucracies and informal access to state regulated economic opportunities in return for political loyalty and popular acceptance. This failure promotes the further disintegration of central authority and its replacement with ‘private indirect government’ much like a private business syndicate or mafia. This historical shift in Africa ‘is the direct link that now exists between, on the one hand, deregulation and the primacy of the market and, on the other, the rise of violence and the creation of private military, paramilitary, or juridical organizations’.
Attacks on bureaucracies often spell the end of central authority capable of regulating economic transactions and providing protection for the benefit of a citizenry. Indeed, many state officials simply intensify exploitative operations that they already controlled by virtue of their positions in corrupt regimes, a development familiar from Somalia’s turmoil. Ellis describes this tendency in his study of fragmenting patronage networks leading to Liberia’s 1989-96 civil war: ‘The longer the war lasted, the more factions appeared… The object of factional activity was to wrest control of territory and economic resources, and individual war bands often threatened to split from their patrons or fought each other for turf even within factions’, a pattern appearing in Somalia in the late 1980s. Internal conflict intensifies as members of ethnic and clan groups turn to one another to provide security. Once one group arms itself outsiders have a hard time distinguishing between predatory, versus strictly defensive moves of neighbors. Schierup describes this process in the breakup of Yugoslavia as a ‘retraditionalization’ of politics similar to the rising prominence of clans in Somalia’s conflict. Facing threats from other groups, ‘the local party elites and the increasingly "national" working classes were to be bound together by innumerable ties of an increasingly traditionalistic character. They were displayed in idioms such as kinship, friendship, locality, and ethnicity, taking the form of a complex network of reciprocal favours’.
Those facing predation from the violent competition of rulers and rival strongmen to control commercial networks often seek protection in clans and ethnic associations. Resurgent ‘traditional’ identity is a response to local political economies shaped by marginality to new global conditions and shifts toward more violent forms of accumulation. Communities mobilize kinship and ethnic networks to protect themselves from predations of those who fight to control resources and social networks, and to make their own connections to global networks to get resources they need for their survival. This ‘rationality of fear’ undermines any effort to rebuild centralized authority, since all other groups will gang up on one that appears able to dominate the rest. This increases incentives to find one’s own protectors, usually political opportunists who field paramilitaries to support local clandestine business operations. This arrangement offers limited relief to local communities, while also boosting the wealth and power of these enterprising individuals who use violence to exploit economic opportunities.
Yet current conditions in at least the northern parts of the Somali space are very different from these general analyses of state collapse. The prospects for self-determination in Somaliland and Puntland show that the future is more uncertain, which also means that their futures look somewhat less bleak than in similar cases of state collapse and protracted conflict. Above all, these cases point to the dangers of comparing political choices in the midst of state collapse to market choices. While it seems that one can expect that actors will chose actions that result in further aggression and fragmentation, this is not always the case. The end of wars in Somaliland, the Ingush Republic and many other would-be conflict zones that do not get much media coverage-because they are relatively peaceful-show that actions operate in a social context of markets, whether clandestine or otherwise. Thus political actors in Somaliland prove somewhat able to make up their own ‘rules of the game’ after state collapse. They cannot make those rules as they please. The prior distribution of shares of resources, the locations of these actors, and the interests of outsiders all shape what is possible and what can reasonably be accomplished with regard to building new political orders. Yet within these broad structural parameters purposeful action can create ‘post state collapse’ instances of self-determination.
From a broader historical perspective this constrained capacity to make solve political problems of state collapse is not surprising. After all, the post 1960 Somali state was itself a ‘solution’ to the colonial division of Somali people, much as pre-colonial sultanates arose out of disorder of their times. Quite simply, state collapse is not a permanent condition; otherwise, where would states have come from in the first place?