|Home | Contact us | Links | Archives|
Somalia / Somaliland: Territory, State And Nation1
Steve Kibble, Progressio, lecture at Kings College
13 th February 2007
Clan/ Religion/ patriarchy + Democracy/ equality/ State
I should perhaps begin by stating that my take on the relationship between territoriality, state and nation is not that of a political geographer, but (some time back at least) a political scientist, but of late what might be termed a practitioner in development and human rights. My organization works on the ground in Somaliland and is also involved in international advocacy on behalf of its people.
In this sense I am not coming with any particular pre-ordained theory, but rather trying to use an example of a region I have some knowledge of (the Horn of Africa) to see how it sheds light on the relationship between the key terms above. It is a complex region with different and contradictory dynamics as illustrated in the cross-axes in my outline (above), and now with the War On Terror as an ominous backdrop. I have presented this in terms of polarities although that is intended as an aid to thought rather than an answer.
I want to start with two contrasting thoughts, although perhaps first a note on terminology. As Ulster/ Northern Ireland/ North of Ireland refer to entirely different identities within more or less the same territory, so Somalia, south Somalia, Somaliland, North West Somalia mean contrasting and conflictual things. I shall refer to Somalia probably in two ways – as the nation state formed in 1960 by the merger of former British and Italian Somali territories, and now without Somaliland. But also as the wider area of the Horn within a number of different territories inhabited by ethnic Somalis. Somaliland refers to the former British colony which reclaimed its independence in one version and unilaterally seceded in another from the collapsed Somali Republic in 1991.
First quotation: ‘At independence the Somalis, one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa, were thought to have a better chance of creating a modern nation-state than many others, with a single ethnic group defined by a common language, a pastoral economy, a commitment to Sunni Islam and a clan-based political system. Thirty years later (and now 40 in fact) the collapse of this seemingly homogenous society seemed, outwardly at least, puzzling’.
Second: ‘for some Somaliland is the first indigenous modern African form of government with a fusion of traditional forms of organization (with a reaffirmation of lineage identity and territoriality) within a democratizing framework containing an emphasis on self-reliance as a legitimate post-colonial option for Africa’.
I’ll leave those with you while I want to make some general comments on development and its failures in Africa related to the state and the nation-building project. This has been the subject of re-evaluation in internal and external dynamics by both African scholars and ‘outsiders’. Thirty years of failure in ‘development’ in Africa have led to major reassessments. Dissatisfaction among donors is matched by frustration and resentment in recipient countries over increasing dependency on aid, the failure of aid to develop local and relevant technical skills, the erosion of local initiative, and the tendency of aid to reinforce undemocratic power structures. For some the answer lies in examining Africa’s internal dynamic — its democratic culture; commitment to human rights including gender equality; identity and the manipulation of ethnicity; decentralization, human security, and conflict management. For others the correct area of analysis is the external dynamic - Africa in the light of the international economy, addressing economic reform, trade policy, globalization, development cooperation (including new ‘political conditionality’ agendas), debt issues and poverty-reducing measures, including the failure of structural adjustment programmes to stem economic crisis – indeed rather to exacerbate it. The new ‘self-help’ agendas like NEPAD might be seen as some kind of bridge between the two, but perhaps question time would be better for that.
This economic crisis was mirrored by the seeming failure of the much hoped-for ‘second wave of democratization/ liberation’ that occurred from the early 1990s. After the Cold War, in an upsurge of popular movements for democracy in much of Africa, single-party or military regimes conceded multiparty elections and greater space for civil society and autonomous associations. But there has been fitful progress and notable reverses in countries such as Zimbabwe. Although African civil society was important in the unsteady movement towards democratization, it is a complex phenomenon incorporating both democratic and anti-democratic forces. In countries like South Africa democratic transition can mean reverting to a more normal African pattern of increasingly statist politics and declining grassroots involvement.
It is a truism that African states due to arbitrary colonial boundaries suffer from lack of territorial and governmental legitimacy. A more sophisticated variant factors in a pre-colonial reliance on kinship groups, which was used rather than instituted by the colonial state, but whose legacy persists. Subsequently, problems arose when the initial mobilization for the nationalist project faltered. Legitimacy had to be purchased from key constituencies, kinship networks had to be assuaged and the acquiescence of other groups assured by force. The resources of the state became a means to maintain a hold on power through patrimonialism and clientelism. Given the lack of internal legitimacy, external sources of patronage such as aid and cheap loans became vital. Most US funding in Africa went to authoritarian governments with little popular support, such as Somalia, Sudan and Zaire (now the DRC).
There is the assumption that post-colonially the twin processes of structural adjustment and globalization disabled the African state, but both states and peoples appear to adapt to globalization in a variety of survivalist ways, although these are unlikely to be developmental - in the sense of bringing significant benefits to most of the population. Rather this ‘flight from the state’ moves into clientelism or clannism. The alternative or ‘rhizome’ state with its smuggling, tax evasion, drug trafficking, personal control of state resources undermines the legitimacy and authority of the state and produces a precarious balance between repression and disintegration, seen at its most extreme in Mobutuism, although perhaps Mugabeism is catching up fast.
Even where the state has collapsed, such as in Sierra Leone or Somalia, markets and trade can continue, and indeed flourish and be profitable without state controls or taxation. For example, Charles Taylor in Liberia provided much of France’s tropical hardwood and the Angolan rebel movement UNITA exported diamonds throughout the 1990s. This has its attractions for African elites and Northern companies and states. Although Northern/ metropolitan governments are reluctant to see their citizens killed in Southern peacekeeping operations, mercenaries or indeed warlords can act as their economic and strategic proxies at minimal risk, although the dangers of the tail wagging the ‘dogs of war’ have to be borne in mind.
With which neat segue we come to Somalia….
Somalia and the persistence of pre-colonial and colonial structures
The recent history of Somalia is the collision between an non-centralized egalitarian political system (for men) based on pastoralist people with the outside strategic interest in the Horn/ Red Sea area, of British, French and Italian formal colonization in agreement with the Ethiopians. State formation (and indeed de-formation) fell into four distinct periods. 1827-1960 saw the Horn of Africa colonized and Somalis divided between five different political entities that had no respect for clan boundaries including the British Somaliland Protectorate and Italian Somalia. We can note here that the territory of the former British Protectorate which borders Djibouti to the west, the Gulf of Aden to the north, Ethiopia to the west and Somalia to the east were established by international treaties between 1888 and 1897.
1960-69 saw independence and the coming together of the former British and Italian colonies under civilian government in the Somali Republic. Before the collapse of this unitary state in 1991 there was Siyad Barre’s military dictatorship. Finally there was state collapse in the south and the (re)creation of an independent Somaliland and its eastern neighbor within Somalia – Puntland. None of these eras was marked by peace with implications of instability and structural violence for later periods.
As colonization occurred the Somalis had no unitary political structures or state. Political affiliation was based on kin identity, with clan kinship sub units being the structures through which economy and culture, rights and economic security are politically mediated. Kinship-based social structures determined entitlement to resources, divisions of labor and authority, but also contracts (xeer) between and among clans. Decision-making was through consensus amongst males and order was thereby maintained with even warfare (largely over grazing resources) having historically been subject to certain norms and marked by negotiation as much as conflict. It should also be noted that Somali pastoral democracy did rely on controlled/socially sanctioned violence as a way of maintaining social stability. The colonial and post-colonial periods (incl Siyad Barre and civil war of course) might be seen as partially removing the constraints on the exercise of this violence with the state having no monopoly on violence.
The colonial imposition of artificial boundaries, Western judicial systems, and centralized government disrupted traditional grazing patterns as well as the authority structures, and thereby the equilibrium of clans and management of resources. Transformation also occurred within both the rural and urban economy linked to the commercialization of the pastoral economy through the growth of the livestock export market, initially to the British garrison at Aden, but increasingly from the 1950s to the expanding oil-based economy of Saudi Arabia. Colonial development of commerce, education and bureaucracy was also urban-based which further marginalized the rural population and meant that the nationalist leadership was largely drawn from the urban areas.
This led to the attempt to create a post-colonial nation-state. The Somaliland Protectorate was keen at independence from the British in 1960 to unite with the previously Italian-controlled south. As I just quoted - at independence the Somalis were thought to have a better chance of creating a modern nation-state with a single ethnic group defined by a common language, a pastoral economy, a commitment to Sunni Islam and a clan-based political system. This failure, argues Mark Bradbury, lies in ‘the interaction of the specific nature of Somali society with the impact of the political and economic intrusions of colonialism and state policies’.
The post colonial nation-building project and its degeneration into repression and ethnicity
All of this had implications for the immediate postcolonial period. Aside from the rapidly emerging hostility between the north and south of Somalia (related to clan advantage), the rapid expansion of state bureaucracies, centralized development, the growth in foreign aid (but with little real development) meant that the state and its resources (including aid) became the battleground for increased attempts by clans to control the state for themselves. The third period of state formation with the emergence of ‘socialism’ was supposedly aimed at overcoming the problems of clannism, backwardness - through the integration of clan structures into the party, the centralization of political power and the nationalization of land. The upshot was the increasing ‘securitization’ of the state as opposition grew rather than any development of the economy.
Somalia was a strategic pawn in Cold War politics with alternate Soviet and US sponsored periods of dictatorship. The Cold War further removed individuals from the focus as both western and eastern sponsors, in the pursuit of strategic military and economic interests, turned a blind eye to human rights violations committed by their client states
The insurgent opposition movements that emerged in the wake of defeat by Ethiopia in 1977 and began the civil war, including the Somali National Movement based on the Issaq clan from Somaliland, were the response to the regime’s record of lack of power- sharing, corruption, abuses of human rights and autocracy. In Somaliland the experience of southern domination, human rights abuses (with Siyad Barre laying waste to the North), inequitable distribution of development and resources, soured the nationalist dream of Greater Somalia. In the fifteen years since the Somali state collapsed in civil war in 1991 as the dictatorial Siyad Barre regime crumbled, the south of the country has been divided between different armed clan factions under rival warlords. This has meant human rights abuses, inter and intra-clan fighting, banditry, clashes between clan militias and Islamic groupings, and piracy on the seas. The civil war destroyed much of the capital Mogadishu and other cities, including Hargeisa, capital of Somaliland, and led to food shortages and widespread famine which claimed the lives of over 250,000 Somalis and led to an estimated one to two million Somalis becoming either internally displaced or refugees.
The crisis precipitated a UN peace enforcement operation (UNOSOM) in 1993-95 which became entangled in armed conflict, dubious relations with warlords (leading to Black Hawk Down), and failed to bring either reconciliation or reconstruction. Since 1995 conflict has been more within the clans. Somalia remains one of the poorest countries in the world with the lowest Human Development Index anywhere.
Somaliland in the northern tip of the Horn of Africa is bounded by Djibouti to the north, Ethiopia to the west, ‘ Puntland State’ of north-east Somalia to the east and faces Yemen across the Red Sea. It covers 137,600 square kilometers with an estimated 1.5 million to 2 million people. The people of Somaliland are ethnic Somali, Sunni Muslims and traditionally led a largely nomadic pastoralist way of life. Camels were the traditional and prestigious form of wealth, with sheep, goats and cattle being produced in considerable numbers for daily subsistence and export to the Arabian peninsula. This was the main economic resource (apart from remittances from the Somali/ land diaspora).
The ‘Republic of Somaliland’ was created on 18 May 1991, when leaders of the Somali National Movement (SNM) and elders of northern clans meeting at the Grand Conference of the Northern Peoples in Burco revoked the 1960 Act of Union that had joined the former colonial territories of Italian Somalia and the British Somaliland Protectorate in the Somali Republic. Secession was never a publicly stated objective of the SNM. From its foundation in 1981, its primary objective was to remove a tyrannical regime and to establish a democratic political system, albeit with a more devolved form of government. The declaration of independence was more a product of popular sentiment.
The new Somaliland encompasses the territory of the former British Protectorate which borders Djibouti to the west, the Gulf of Aden to the north, Ethiopia to the west and Somalia to the east were established by international treaties between 1888 and 1897 (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2002). The territory covers 137,600 Km 2 and incorporates the fiver former regions of northwest Somalia – Awdal, Woqooyi Galbeed, Togdheer, Sanaag and Sool – and a sixth region – Saxil – created in 1996. Hargeisa is the designated capital and the seat of government.
Since 1998, Somaliland’s authority over eastern Sanaag and Sool regions has been contested by Puntland State of Somalia – illustrating a territorial clash between different identities. On the one hand one based on legal agreements pertaining to national boundaries and on the other the economy of affection based on clan allegiance. The Warsengeli and Dulbahante form part of the Harti/Darod federation of clans together with the Majeerteen in Puntland. The unity of the Harti/Darod provides the basis for Puntland’s clan-based approach to federalism in Somalia and Puntland therefore wants to incorporates Sool and eastern Sanaag within its borders.
In January 1991, when the former military regime of Siyad Barre was overthrown, the Somali National Movement (SNM), which had been fighting the regime in northwest Somalia since 1982, inherited a devastated region. Half of the population had fled to refugee camps in neighboring countries and further abroad. In the main cities of Hargeisa and Burco between 70-90% of buildings had been damaged or destroyed by two years of military bombardment and looting (Coultan et al., 1991). Many villages had suffered similar fates and both the urban areas and countryside were littered with landmines and unexploded ordinance. Many urban and rural water supplies had been contaminated or destroyed, along with urban sanitation and electricity systems. Only basic emergency health services were available and there were no functioning schools. There was no formal public sector employment, and only limited commerce. Agricultural crop production was almost non-existent. Road traffic was minimal and there was no commercial air traffic. There was no public administration, media or civil society organizations, and the main form of long distance communication was via private VHF radios. There were reportedly some 3,000 fighters under SNM command, but a much larger number of armed civilians and banditry posed a constraint to trade and international aid deliveries. Apart from the ICRC there were only two international aid organizations operational in the northwest.
The Somaliland authorities have subsequently developed their legal arguments in support of their independence claim. This has two aspects: the existence of Somaliland as a geopolitical entity from 1897 when the British Protectorate was established; and the recognition of its independent sovereignty between 26 th June 1960 when Somaliland gained independence from Britain and 1 st July 1960 when it united with Italian Somalia to form the Somali Republic. The Burco proclamation, it argues, was not an act of secession, but a ‘voluntary dissolution between sovereign states’ based on the perceived failure of that union. As such it is compared to various failed unions like some of those proposed (somewhat eccentrically) by Gaddafi or the failed Senegambia union between (strangely enough) Senegal and the Gambia. The option of reunification in some form at some future date has not totally ruled out. However, successive Somaliland governments have made recognition of Somaliland’s independence status a precondition for their participation in Somalia-wide peace conferences. The Somaliland nation-building process has been bottom-up and has led to a functioning state, being the one place in Somalia where peace with security has been established, The Somalilanders’ view is that they have escaped from a failed union, rather than a failed state. After twelve years Somaliland’s sovereignty remains unrecognized by Somalis in Somalia or by any foreign government. Internally its territorial integrity is disputed by some of the Warsengeli and Dulbahante people in eastern Sanaag and Sool regions who are divided in their affiliation to Somaliland and Puntland to the east. Some of the Gadabursi and 'Iise in Awdal region in the west are also ambivalent about Somaliland. At the same time, clans from those regions have been represented in successive Somaliland administrations and at different times have played a key role in the formation of Somaliland – seemingly an example of Somali pragmatism, instrumentalism and maybe ability to live with differing identities.
The nation-building process institutionalized the role of clans and their leaders in the system of governance - beel (clan or community) system of government. Described as a ‘dynamic hybrid of western form and traditional substance’ this consisted of an Executive with a President, Vice President and Council of Ministers, a Legislature, comprising a bicameral parliament with an Upper House of elders (Golaha Guurtida) and a House of Representatives (Golaha Wakiillada) and an independent Judiciary (although there are currently doubts on that score). The Guurti or House of Elders comprises proportionately-chosen representatives of the major clans ensuring a balance of power and stability in a clan-based system. Minority clans were also allotted a certain number of places in parliament. The system, a mix of patriarchy and clan, excluded women who make up the majority of the population and are an important economic force from representative politics; for males it was unclear whether a woman would represent the clan of her husband or that of her father. Before the 2006 elections only two women held ministerial posts and none until then have held parliamentary seats – we now have two out of 182.
Somaliland’s model of development has had some success and as in the quote at the beginning for some is the first indigenous modern African form of government with a fusion of traditional forms of organization (with a reaffirmation of lineage identity and territoriality) within a democratizing framework containing an emphasis on self-reliance as a legitimate post-colonial option for Africa.
Somaliland has subsequently experienced a period of uninterrupted peace, which has seen the extension of the administration to the east, economic growth and an increase in foreign assistance as aid agencies have decided to invest in peaceful areas of Somalia. A mix of clan system and autocracy, until now government authority has been weak, extending only as far as tribal and clan leaders have allowed it and dependent on the Somaliland’s big businessmen. The government has not effectively enforced a taxation system and is unable to deliver adequate services to its people, relying heavily on the private sector, the diaspora and to a lesser extent, international aid. Somaliland has though, developed many of the common features of a state, such as a constitution, government institutions, a judiciary, a flag, an army, police force, its own currency, an international airport, vehicle licence plates.
A public referendum in Somaliland on 31 st May 2001 overwhelmingly endorsed a new constitution and provided a clear statement of people’s aspiration to maintain Somaliland’s independent status. Since then there have been local, presidential and parliamentary elections (in 2002, 2003 and 2005) all of which were largely free and fair, although Somalis vaunt transparency above secrecy which can create problems for international elections observers such as myself (see Progressio election report).
Although lack of international recognition means that Somaliland does not qualify for bilateral donor development assistance or the support of international financial institutions, over the past decade much of the urban infrastructure, municipal services and systems of education and health that were destroyed during the war have been re-established. Most of the people who had sought refuge in neighboring countries have returned to Somaliland. Commercial activity has revived and there has been an impressive growth of civil society organizations. The meager and often piecemeal international assistance has meant that reconstruction has largely been achieved from the resources and resourcefulness of Somalilanders themselves. The main source of finance has been remittances from Somalis living abroad, which has replaced income from livestock exports as the mainstay of the economy.
Post-war reconstruction has brought many challenges. The war has exacerbated a process of urbanization, with many former refugees opting to resettle in urban centers such as Hargeisa, Burco or Borama, rather than returning to a nomadic mode of living. The increasing urban population is placing a strain on the infrastructure and the environment, and is creating tensions over the ownership and management of resources. The government has signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, overseen peace restored, the demobilization of former combatants, social and economic rehabilitation, and the drafting of a constitution based on universal suffrage, decentralization and multi - partyism. There is a war crimes commission looking into the human rights abuses of the Siyad Barre years. There is a reasonably high level of personal security for citizens although this is less a reflection of a strong police and judiciary and more a reflection of strong civil and traditional practices and the spending of much of the tax revenues on security forces in order to demobilize and control the potentially problematic young armed ex-militiamen.
In Somaliland (and Somalia) the gap between male and female wielding of and access to power is still huge. In the Somali context the situation has been made worse by the years of war. With the collapse of the state came the collapse of a legislative system which had over the years begun to structurally address the subordinate position of women in traditional Somali society. Added to this is the confrontation between emerging gender issues and the rising importance of political Islam, formerly contained under Siyad Barre. There is a tension between progressive gender - orientated policy - makers and conservative political Islamists. Lack of gender equality in terms of political opportunities partially mirrors the educational opportunities available to girls and women.
Equal participation in politics, though, remains a distant possibility for women as long as the dominant patriarchal social frameworks under which they live continue to work to maintain the status quo. Whatever constitutional or other legal rights women may be accorded, (and they have been in all the countries of the region to a greater or lesser extent), in practice the majority of women in the country, as in the region are poor and uneducated and continue to live lives where gender - based human rights violations are a part of their daily lives in the home, in the workplace, in the community. Huge gaps exist in literacy. Particularly in Somali societies female genital mutilation continues to be practiced as a girl’s first rite of passage. Government and civil society efforts to eradicate the most severe form of the practice have begun to show some success in urban areas of Somaliland.
Girls’ and women’s low social status, limited bargaining power and economic disadvantage makes them vulnerable to HIV/AIDS in a way that most men are not. Gender - based violence as a weapon of war was a feature of the civil war in Somalia in the early 1990s (particularly against women of the coastal region and minorities) and gender - based domestic and sexual violence is a growing problem in Somaliland.
Civil society in Somaliland outside of clan structures is, though, beginning to assert itself, not least through women’s groups which began with attempts to use their outsider status precisely as mediators in conflict. There has been substantial growth in both women’s groups and their understanding of the situation facing them.
How do the people of Somaliland ensure that their voice is organized, represented and responded to? Civil society is busy organizing itself in terms of gender representation, provision of social services, tracking budgets, human rights practice – the whole capacity building shebang. How will political parties and government respond to this? Do we yet see signs of differentiations between themselves, their internal dynamics as well as programmes and policies? How do they see coalition-building, internal discipline, holding the executive to account. What steps need to be taken to ensure an independent and trained judiciary? How will the government deal with the economically powerful diaspora and its links to uncontrolled urbanization?
But perhaps clan is the biggest camel in the room? What is the future here given that it along with religion is a force for stability when there are few safety nets? Economic development is often held to be the key. Currently the clan is the support system and the government is not capable yet of really supporting society. Is the clan system capable of adaptive change and letting women into the closed world? Or should women, as has been suggested, consider themselves a clan and negotiate on that basis? Somaliland is attempting to marry its traditional structures with a new democratic system. This has meant stability but does have a downside. The idea of set quotas / reserved seats for women in parliament is being increasingly vociferously raised. This is felt that to be one of the best ways to increase women’s representation and increase their participation and profile overall. (It also raised the question therefore of also having quotas for minority groups – those outside of the clan system). Given that this was the first parliamentary election in 36 years (and the first time women were democratically elected to a Somali Parliament), Somaliland has some claim to be making progress on representation of women.
The next questions revolve around the ‘r’ word – recognition. Somaliland has gone some way down the track of recognition.
An African Union fact-finding mission declared that Somaliland's status was "unique and self-justified in African political history," and that "the case should not be linked to the notion of 'opening a Pandora's box.'? The International Crisis Group recommended in a recent report " Somaliland, Time for African Union leadership" that the African Union address the issue soon "to prevent a deeply rooted dispute from evolving into an open conflict." The report called on the African Union to name a senior envoy to consult with key players and report back to the African Union's Peace and Security Council. In addition, the report called on the AU's Peace and Security Council to familiarize its members with the case of Somaliland. Finally it calls on the AU, meanwhile, to grant Somaliland interim observer status. The report asks ‘Is it fair to keep Somaliland hostage to events in Mogadishu and the surrounding areas or should Somaliland be rewarded for creating stability and democratic governance out of a part of the chaos that is the failed state of Somalia?’ but attention is on Somalia (within the War on Terror context) and how to solve the post-Islamist and to a lesser and slightly fictitious sense the post-Ethiopian hiatus.
Is it vital that Somaliland gains international recognition? We know Somaliland is poor but proud and recognition would leverage international multilateral and bilateral aid and mark Somaliland’s achievements. What is the cost? One of our observers an Australian ex-military man told the team that but for lack of international recognition the UN would have parachuted in its conflict resolution team – but instead they worked just in southern Somalia with hardly spectacular results. Somaliland got its own form of conflict resolution that worked. Might the newly-legitimized government and parliament be better advised to concentrate on gaining de facto acceptance as a government, i.e. showing pragmatically that it runs a functioning administration. Additionally it could moderate its own inflexibility by saying that it would be willing to negotiate without pre-conditions, but cannot accept a fait accompli? Is a civil society process the right way – here there is the possibility of Somaliland civil society offering some assistance to the new Somali administration on how the Somaliland peace process worked – and indeed the government as well?
Is the democratization process an inherent part of the recognition process or can we delink them? The former so obviously has merit on its own, but if the commitment, certainly by the elite is merely to use it for recognition purposes does this not mean a flawed process? Are there more immediate questions facing parliament, government and people that we should be concentrating on?
There is a regional link here in that the Ethiopian hegemon makes it blindingly obvious that Addis prefers a weak and possibly divided Somalia that she can dominate even whilst maintaining greater friendship with Somaliland than other countries she formally recognizes.
This government although not (yet) democratic is participatory in that structures for consultation and consensus exist. There are however, although there are worrying signs on occasion of little tolerance of perceived ‘enemies’, and an incomplete and seeming reversible compliance with human rights standards, shown by the arrests of journalists, and in its perceived leaning on the judiciary.
How much does Somaliland have to change to come to terms with its own democratization process? Can a patriarchal clan system with the strengths and weaknesses that that provides listen and respond to the voice of women and recognize not only the rightness of the case but also the economic power that they wield? In a sense this is a wider story about how the mix of traditional and understood structures changes and at what speed and who controls and wants to control the process. Given the mix of clan system and autocracy the government’s authority is weak and dependent on its management of clan relations and the patronage of Somaliland’s big businessmen.
We can perhaps sum this up in the following way. Security, peace and democracy, yes, but little direction from the state on their vision and way forward. Everything is subsumed under the rubric of recognition seen very much as all or nothing and legalistically rather than within the political ebb and flow of the African Union as though it were the panacea for all problems. Equally there is the strong and allied determination not to go back into Somalia. At the same time the inheritance of the post colonial state structure (and indeed personnel) means that the temptation is often to solve problems through authoritarian solutions such as the recent gaoling of journalists from the independent media for exposing corruption at Presidential level.
From internal SL problems to external agendas for (South) Somalia
After years of costly peace negotiations in Kenya, paid for by the international community, a weak and externally-dependent Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in southern Somali was formed in 2004. But it was divided internally and had little power outside what warlords chose to grant it - ministers were not able to settle their administration in Mogadishu. Rival militias controlled their respective strongholds such as the port and the airport and made money from taxing the movement of people and goods. Shootings occurred frequently, including of human rights activists and journalists.
Prof Ioan Lewis thinks it would have been a miracle if such an ill-designed and ill-executed peace conference, following on from thirteen previous failures, could have had a successful outcome in terms of a real government and shows the complete inability of foreign experts to understand the kind of polity they were dealing with. Firstly, the war-lords who were the chief protagonists gave no signs of abandoning their mutual distrust, or wanting to find a way of sharing the resources which they had largely stolen. There was no indication at all that they saw any need to form a common administration for southern Somalia, let alone Mogadishu, to actually implement the laws and regulations advised by the foreign ‘experts’ in the course of their prolonged debates. Instead, because no one involved in the process seriously raised the question of what a viable southern Somali government might look like or how it might be built up, the situation solved itself in other ways – largely through the growth of the Islamic courts to overcome the venality and chaos. And perhaps now we are back in the same situation?
From February to June 2006, Somalia saw the revival of the TFG, the explosion of warfare in Mogadishu between a US-backed counter-terrorism alliance and the Union of Islamic Courts (UI and the southern parts of the country. Mogadishu citizens broadly welcomed the Islamic Courts rough and ready rule over Mogadishu, especially as they had routed the brutal and kleptocratic warlords. But both sides took steps sabotaging dialogue and propelling the country toward renewed war. The Islamists seemingly under the impression that religious fervor would be successful against air strikes and heavy armory sustained heavy defeat by the Ethiopians and were on the run were bombed by US warplanes with the Kenya border closed against them. T he sudden collapse provides an opportunity and a threat for Somalis simultaneously. There is, however, continuity in that the Ethiopian intervention marks just another phase in a long line of outside interference in Somalia, internationally and regionally. The dangers of Islamist guerrillas, Somalis and non-Somalis – seeking revenge for what they see as a Western/ Christian plot to keep a weak and divided Somalia permanently under their control, and of a relapse into the previous warlord-controlled anarchy remain high. T here is still a long way to go to establish long-term stability in the country. H ow nation, state and territory, including Somaliland, combine now is extremely open.
The similarities to Afghanistan or Iraq, in which a lengthy guerrilla war drains rapid military success through an expensive and dubious project are stark. Many see Ethiopia as the instrument of the USA eager to destroy a regime it saw as linked to Al-Qaida and protecting those responsible for the 1998 attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and other atrocities. T he Islamists deny any al Qaida links, alleging it is intended to justify intervention.
The US has until recently, when it disastrously armed the warlords against the Islamic courts, been wary of direct intervention, and any repeat of the ‘Black Hawk Down’ of the 1990s when it was forced to withdraw from the country after sustaining losses of US marines. However, its support for overturning the arms embargo in the recent UN resolution, its provision of intelligence and surveillance to the Ethiopians, and its unilateralist attitude concentrating only on the war against terror have dismayed European diplomats, and certainly Somalis.
There is, however, a centrally- established government in control of the Somali capital for the first time since 1978, symbolised by President Abdillahi Yusuf’s first visit to Mogadishu. The President insisted that the Ethiopians were not occupiers and would leave soon. They "did not come to occupy Somalia and they will leave Somali territories as soon as regional and international forces start to deploy", he told the pan-Arab Asharq al-Awsat newspaper.
Whether that government will stay in control and extend its authority throughout the country will depend on four elements. That is, whether it can control the warlords who previously looted and preyed upon the population, and many see the TFG as being composed of warlords itself. Secondly, whether it can rein in young lawless men with weapons but no hopes of employment except by using them, and to do so the government has equally to rein in the warlords first. Prime Minister Ali Gedi initially tried to weaken the warlords by telling all Somalia militias to disarm within three days and had over all their weapons at collection points. However this is hardly realistic in a clan-based society which has been ruled by the gun since the fall of the Siyad Barre government in 1991. Somalis think in terms of clan security and for the Hawiye clan, who are the major inhabitants of Mogadishu, to give away their arms to the TFG while the TFG forces mostly comprise Darood clan fighters, especially of the Majerteen (President Abdillahi’s sub-clan), was out of question. Therefore the disarming issue has been delayed after demonstrations against it in Mogadishu.
The third issue that the present government has to grapple with is: how to deal with the defeated Islamists, if not the leaders at least the rank and file. Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, chair of the seven- nation regional grouping of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, is urging President Yusuf to resume the Khartoum talks with the Islamic Courts that were broken off, as indeed have the European members of the Contact Group on Somalia who have been largely ignored by the unilateralism of the US. The Somali government under external pressure has promised an amnesty to Islamic Courts rank and file fighters, but says their leaders will face prosecution, those that are still alive, that is.
Lastly, stability will depend on the short- and medium-term actions of the transition government and the response of the international community, especially Somalia’s neighbors. There were worrying indications that the authoritarianism of the Islamic courts will be continued with a number of radio and television stations being shut down for 24 hours under state of emergency laws. The editors of HornAfrik radio and television, Shabelle Media Network, Radio Voice of Holy Koran and Al Jazeera Television were told to report to the National Security agency. Although they were able to resume broadcasting, threats to media freedom remain high.
In terms of the region, s o far aid promises are minimal, far less than the cost of the bombs falling on Southern Somalia. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi says his forces will leave Somalia within weeks rather than months since the cost has been ‘huge’ and beyond their means. He has already asked for international assistance for his ‘operation to curb extremism in the Horn’. In Mogadishu attacks on joint Ethiopian-Somali armed forces have already started with soldiers in armed vehicles being killed and injured. It is expected that these hit and run tactics will continue as long as Ethiopian forces are in Mogadishu. But AU reluctance to intervene.
The intervention has had heavy political costs at home (given that the country is almost equally divided along Christian and Muslim lines) as well as abroad. Zenawi’s increasingly-repressive government faces multiple internal challenges from the civil society, and within the Ogaden (the Somali region inside Ethiopia) etc. The ONLF (Ogaden National Liberation Front) attacked an Ethiopian convoy of armed forces in Region Five of Ethiopia and the Ethiopians responded by killing and burning villages in that region.
The Arab League and the African Union (the latter reversing its support for intervention after only a day) have both called for the withdrawal of Ethiopian forces from Somalia, as has the European Union and the new UN Secretary General. Despite the bombing of one of its border posts at Har Har, the Kenyan government has so far been sympathetic to the new rulers in Mogadishu, despite its rivalry with Addis Ababa. It sealed its 700km border to fleeing Islamic Courts fighters and arrested 11 of their leaders fleeing across the border. It also called for a summit of regional leaders to discuss new developments.
Ali Gedi, maintains, however, that Ethiopian forces will be needed for some months to shore up his weak, small and inadequately trained army. On previous experience, it will take several months to finance, assemble, equip and deploy the 8,000-strong regional peacekeeping force called for by the AU. At the moment it appears that the deployment of African forces from the region to maintain peace in Somalia would be more generally accepted by the people as a more attractive alternative to Ethiopian troops. It is very difficult to imagine the TFG controlling Somalia without the support of the Ethiopians because the former has no effective armed forces or capacity to rule a war-torn country. Nor does it appear that any peace-keeping forces from the region would be in a position to defend the TFG from local militias or the remaining supporters of the Islamists. The warlords are also returning to Mogadishu and cities like Kismayo and Jowhar, although not officially as heads of militias but rather as members of the TFG Parliament. One of the strongest Mogadishu warlords, Suudi Yelahow, traveled through Hargeisa on his way to Mogadishu, being welcomed by the UCID party chairperson, Speaker of the Parliament and the Mayor of Hargeisa since the warlord was always sympathetic to Somaliland independence.
For Somaliland the message might be more mixed. There were signs inside the country in areas like Burco that there was some sympathy for the Islamist message (although historically there has always been such support) given the failure of Hargeisa to bring much development or prosperity (although one needs to be cautious about seeing radical Islamism as appealing just to the poor).
Suspicions remain in relation to the TFG whose leader was the previous leader of Puntland and responsible in their eyes for much of the border instability between the two Somali entities. On the other hand the leader of the Islamic courts Sheikh Aweys had been found guilty in absentia of planning Islamist attacks in Somaliland, and the Islamic courts movement in general was very keen to harness Somali nationalism to Islamism and very opposed to federalism in general and Somaliland’s independence in particular. In previous years foreigners were killed in Somaliland by a group linked to the radical jihadist elements in the Courts, but the courts authority never extended to Somaliland which with a functioning secular legal system never established shari’a courts unlike in the south. There has been no response from the Islamists supporters in the media or the general Somaliland public. It appears that the Somaliland authorities managed the situation in some parts of Somaliland very well before the war in the South, such as releasing the Burco Sultan who was imprisoned briefly for forming a committee to press for the application of Sharia law among the Habar Yonis sub-clan of which he was one of the sultans.
The situation is calm in Hargeisa and other regions, with the Somaliland government proclaiming neutrality in relation to the situation in the South. Certainly the Islamists fleeing Mogadishu and other cities which the Union of Islamic Courts controlled did not attempt to take refuge in Somaliland believing it unsafe or unable to gain access by land. There will be demonstrations called for by the government to proclaim Somaliland’s independence and sovereignty.
The only significant incident was when Ali Gedi, following the Islamists defeat, declared all the Somali borders (including Somaliland) closed for flights, ships or vehicles by land. There was an immediate response from the Somaliland Minister of Foreign Affairs, Abdillahi M. Dualle, saying that Gedi’s announcement was not relevant to Somaliland since the latter is a separate state. He further declared that airports and seaports within Somaliland territory were open as normal to all commercial flights and ships. Passenger flights and ships carrying livestock for the Hajj season continued to arrive in Somaliland without interruption. In an interview immediately after Somaliland’s response to closing the Somali borders, Gedi said that the TFG had no intention of attacking or sending forces to Somaliland – a wise move given the relative strength of forces and the fact that Ethiopia remains close to the government in Hargeisa. According to local newspaper Haatuf President Rayale will travel to Ethiopia shortly, although the aim was not stated. Somaliland – Ethiopian relations remain strong. There is constant consultation on issues of border and trade security, and the Ethiopians living in the country were not affected by the war in the South.
The other positive move for Somaliland is that the cold war between it and the autonomous region of Puntland has died down as the focus shifted to the conflict in South and Central Somalia. Puntland and its forces were defending the TFG in the South as well as defending their own territory from the Union of Islamic Courts. Therefore the Puntland militias stationed in Sool region (historically part of Somaliland) facing Somaliland armed forces have been reduced in numbers.
Whilst the threat from Islamists have receded for Somalilanders, there remain both external and internal problems. Having brought the TFG to power, how will Ethiopia deal with Somaliland? Will they persuade the TFG to leave Somaliland alone, or persuade Somaliland to dialogue with the TFG in order to mitigate one danger facing them of the tie-up of Somali nationalism to political Islam?
The recent airstrikes and the ongoing conflict has compounded the suffering of the population in Southern Somalia already experiencing drought and poverty. The existing high degree of uncertainty and instability which for a time the rule of the Islamic Courts did something to abate is now back and whilst it would be unlikely for the Courts to be able to regroup for some time, the possibilities of renewed violent warfare remain high.
There will be major problems of funding, militias will have to be disbanded or demobilized in order to create a national police force. There has not been a viable economy from which to generate tax revenues and one will have to be created from minimal financial resources to replace the current system of buying off the militias. Somalis have only ever effectively taxed themselves through customs duties at major ports, and occasionally at road tolls. Taxes on imports and exports need to be kept low, given the number of natural ports in the south (where smuggling would not be difficult) and the competition that the ports of Berbera ( Somaliland) and Bosaso (Puntland) pose to the north.
Given the depressed economy and little likelihood of outside external assistance, the revenue base for the administration is extremely low. The recent ban on livestock exacerbates the economic crisis depriving the TNG of its chief source of hard currency as it takes over. Throughout the entire country, purchasing power will drop, followed by declining demand for consumer imports. Without a commercial outlet for surplus livestock, herders may well build up their herds anticipating reopening of the Gulf markets, leading to increased overgrazing and hence environmental risk.
It seems as though the administration will only be able to handle essential government tasks. This will conflict with high public expectations of a windfall of jobs, contracts, and social services emanating from the public sector. The administration’s current popular support could lead quickly to public disillusionment if jobs and services are not forthcoming.
Ken Menkhaus has asked in the past whether a minimalist central authority could survive, ‘sustained only by modest customs revenues and modest levels of foreign assistance’. The government would only perform a few essential tasks – ‘diplomatic relations, passports, basic security, and convening of parliament – leaving all other functions either to local (municipal or regional) governments, or outsourcing tasks to the private sector or international agencies.’ Similar to the Somaliland ‘organic’ system, this loose confederal system would reflect the fact that the only polities that have really worked effectively in Somalia in the 1990s are municipalities. This scenario would be roughly akin to a league of commercial city-states (not in fact dissimilar to Somaliland and close to Ioan Lewis’s putting forward ‘consociationalism’). As Menkhaus points out, given Somalia’s poor tax revenue, this is the only economically viable scenario, but highly contrary ‘to the political instincts and habits of the current political class in Somalia, whose formative years were spent in large civil services supported by foreign aid and expansive government mandates.’
War on Terror
Post cold war context:
Africa was left with the inheritance of strong centralized states with little democratic input and being used to large armies but without the backing or ‘restraint’ of their backers. Internal conflict increased dramatically throughout the 1990s in the continent and took on both a more localized and more regional nature with increased numbers of civilians caught up in conflict and fleeing from it and neighboring countries ready to invade collapsing states under the justification of self-protection (but often as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in order to grab natural resources such as minerals). The nature of warfare has changed with ethnicity, small arms, proxy armies and factional fighting being major characteristics. The effects are death, displacement, destruction of infrastructure, underdevelopment through disruption of production, extreme violence, often against civilian populations, intended as intimidation, massive increases in criminality, environmental degradation, added vulnerability to ‘natural’ disasters, and insecurity for investment.
We know that Somalilanders have been involved in recent acts of terror. Talk of brainwashing, criminal warlord gangs etc is indeed to touch on part of the problem, but it must also be faced as an internal problem linked to wider international concerns – Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Israel/Palestine etc. Dealing with the reasons for and manifestations of terrorism has to be undertaken. Somaliland is not alone in this and needs to reflect on how it combines its internal and international positions on the war against terror and what gives international terrorism succor How does the War Against Terror fit into the equation? How linked is it to notions of ‘policing the badlands’?
For some, particularly analysts of the real as opposed to the rhetorical process of globalization, the new post Cold War dynamic has been that of the ‘metropolitan states’ (i.e. the North/ West, particularly the United States) characterizing post-colonial/ Third World states as either ‘failed’ or ‘tiger’ states. This conveniently locates the fault or praise as lying purely within ‘peculiar internal characteristics’ such as ‘east Asian work ethic, African atavism, Islamic fundamentalism’ rather than with international factors, with the corollary being that Northern/ Western engagement/ intervention is necessary in the interests of international stability and security – even more so in the W O T.
Development and its privatization in order to contain the dangers from the borderlands are now inextricably linked since ‘changing the behavior of borderland populations, although vital for international security.. is beyond the capacity, remit or legitimacy of metropolitan states‘.
How do we assess the paradoxical situation that Somaliland is largely in control of its claimed territory, has charted its own path, has popular support and has some form and content of a democratizing state but is unrecognized, whereas Somali is more or less the reverse? In the first clan has been a stabilizing influence although the contradictions between state, clan, territory and nation could well undermine it. In the latter, clan became a zero sum game overcome for a while by a form of political religion that has largely speaking been alien to Somalis. International agendas have made this an alternative form of development and statehood.
Another paradox is that Somalia, although marginalized in the global economy has seen that the collapse of the Somali state has resulted in a more rapid globalization process than probably any other African country. The absence of central government resulted in deregulation by default. Somaliland by comparison has a more stratified business community (fewer and wealthier businesspeople), which has relations with government and is able to be more monopolistic than in Somalia / the south. In both places transit trade is very important - from and to the Gulf states, India, Yemen, Ethiopia, Kenya. Examples of the impact of deregulation are the highly efficient remittance /money transfer system which can transfer money from any place in the world to any part of Somalia / Somaliland within 24 - 48 hours; the flourishing commercial economy based around imports; the ubiquity of Northern soft drinks; the extent of telecommunications technology; the ease of air travel through private airlines.
More obviously negative impacts include the inability to resist the dumping of toxic waste on Somali shores; the depletion of the forests through unregulated charcoal production for export to the Gulf; illegal fishing of Somali waters and the ease with which global criminal activities can be carried out in Somalia by international traders dealing in illicit commercial activities such as arms and drugs.
Somalilanders point out that their model of development has had its successes. The ‘nation-building’ process was more bottom-up and when we look at the relationships we are interested in perhaps we should look at how it established peace with security as a template for state-building, unlike the foreign-inspired agendas that brought little success to Somalia. Ioan Lewis states that international organizations such as the UN and some NGOs, suppose that all conflicts are the same, and consequently require the same type of ‘peace process’. According to this simplistic approach, for success all that is ultimately required is direct pressure on the protagonists in the form of threats by internationally famous political figures.
This type of intervention assumes ethnocentrically that all disputing parties have a similar hierarchical structure which respects international figures because of their position elsewhere. Somalis, however, are so individualistically democratic that they are not in awe of such political personalities whom they regard as no more important than themselves. Outsiders do not sufficiently understand the decentralized character of Somali political institutions. Successful peace-making, as was clear in Somaliland, depends on those concerned sincerely desiring an end to conflict as with the local lineage headmen in Somaliland, who came together to discuss terms of settlement, because they saw no profit in endlessly continuing the state of war between clans. The Somaliland negotiations built up from local meetings across the whole country, which often took weeks and sometimes months to reach agreement, before the peace debate was taken by their delegates to wider assemblies. This method of widening political consensus is especially appropriate where traditional society is, as in the Somali case, highly fragmented and de-centralized, and does not conform to ethnocentric assumptions about the universatility of so-called ‘civil society’. These were typically not high profile affairs such as those which have proved so ineffectual in Somalia. The fact that all these negotiations took place inside Somaliland, moving from local to ever widening levels, was crucial to the success of the whole enterprise. This enabled the claimed representative role of elders to be constantly tested and demonstrated. Whatever its relevance elsewhere, as a model of African governance, combining modern and traditional authority, Somaliland’s most obvious application is to southern Somalia.
Ioan Lewis’s conclusion it that it is not simply that Somali traditional society is atomized and only waiting to be brought together by the benign civil society engineer. Nothing could be further from the case. Traditional Somali society is compartmentalized into a myriad of small extended family units which tend by nature to be mutually hostile. True, these units routinely combine and dissolve in wider temporary groupings which eventually reach the level of the ‘clan’, itself an intrinsically unstable unit. But to perform the miracle of bringing these naturally opposed polities together in a wider and more stable framework requires a constantly expanding recognition of wider common interests.
Again Lewis writes that Islam provides an ‘ingredient of unity here and so, in a way does the absence of traditionally powerful local rulers who could exert a profoundly divisive effect. The traditional ground roots leadership of local headmen, who are essentially representative, and which is part of the decentralized segmentary tradition, does not create fixed obstacles to the mobilization of wider loyalties. Hence, although traditional decentralized society creates a tremendous challenge to centralized statehood, once this is recognized as an essential political reality, ways can be found of adapting centralized political organization to meet these demanding conditions.
This has obviously not yet been achieved in southern Somalia. But that is not surprising since no one has seriously tried to design political structures appropriate to the existing conditions. It is simply thoughtlessly assumed that the old battered state structure, with the sole addition of a federal dimension (so far entirely theoretical), can be reimposed. To seriously meet this challenge requires a much more imaginative and radical approach in state building. Again, the bottom-up perspective is essential here. This is what has been applied over more than a decade, and not without setbacks, in Somaliland. The eventual construction of a pattern of governance based on popular representation through a bicameral system of traditional and modern leaders has permitted an impressive degree of democracy’.
Finally in response to the question of whether Somalia has come to terms with its history from colonization. One can see the declaration of Somaliland independence within the second wave of democratization in the early 1990s; arguably it had more success in legitimating the state in the eyes of its citizens at least because it was based on well understood and historically strong foundations that neither colonialism nor scientific socialism were able to wipe out – in essence a social contract which regulates political and economic relationships between pastoral kinship groups rather than delegating responsibility to a central government
Somaliland might be said to be poised between ‘traditional’ structures arising from clan society and the ideas emanating from civil society (often influenced by time spent in the diaspora) on more Western forms of democratization. Who negotiates this exchange? It seems as though some of the key actors are beginning to move the hybrid form along to reflect more clearly the developing Somaliland – women’s groups, civil society, urban youth, some of the business sector. How the more traditional elements exemplified perhaps by the ruling party UDUB and a number of clan leaders react to such movement will in reality reflect the Somaliland post-election path. However we should also be aware that this is unlikely to be a linear path or indeed take the form of binary opposition between ‘so-called progress’ and ‘tradition’. How far this will serve as an example for the wider Somali polity remains as yet extremely unclear – but yet already worrying. Perhaps one thing that can be said is that it is unlikely that Somalia will get the opportunity that Somaliland had to develop its own institutions and chose its own path. Somaliland saw that as a disadvantage in terms of nation-building – pursuing as it did the recognition path – but maybe it was its strength?
14 th February