Somalia: Heading from Fragility to Fragmentation?

first published by AfricanArguments, 26 Jun 2014

Somalia has achieved important progress since the onset of the year of 2014. Most prominent among the positive developments is the push-back of al-Shabaab, realised by a joint military offensive of the Somali Armed Forces (SAF) and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). While security remains precarious, the territorial gains have provided the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) with an oppor­tunity to extend its administrative reach – a crucial precondition for its long-term state­-building project and endeavour to hold country-wide elections by 2016.

However, it remains questionable whether the govern­ment of Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed will succeed in reaping sufficient benefits in order to be able to propel the country’s state-building process. Although advances against the terrorist organisation are crucial, the fight against al-Shabaab constitutes only part of the equation. Another basic element lies in the process of erecting functional structures of governance in the context of Somalia’s federal agenda. Yet, recent quarrels at the sub-national level raise the fear that Somalia may be heading from fragility to fragmentation.

The EU-ISS policy brief ‘Somalia’s federal agenda: From fragility to fragmentation?’ takes a closer look at this proposition. The paper critically assesses the recent trajectory the country has embarked upon, putting a particular focus on Somalia’s federalism process and its implications for the state’s endeavour to establish lasting peace and stability. The paper shows that the political ‘transition’ that Somalia officially terminated with the formation of the FGS in September 2012 is in full swing, and that this process carries centrifugal tendencies that risk renewed conflict.

A key challenge Somalia faces lies in the ad-hoc nature of the process that underpins the formation of federal member states. While the evolution of regional tensions had to be expected, the resulting tug-of-war among Somali actors has hampered political progress. It also led to increased factionalism, propelling local tensions and clan-related cleavages. Somalia’s history provides ample evidence of the dangers this trajectory entails. Apart from compromising the state-building progress achieved to date, increased fragmentation could also lead to a reinvigoration of al-Shabaab, which has always been effective in exploiting local grievances and national disunity.

In order to prevent Somalia from sliding from fragility to fragmentation, the policy brief proposes that Somalia’s international partners may contemplate strengthening the central administration vis-à-vis the federal member states and supporting a just process by which federal polities are established. In part, this could be done by helping the FGS to institutionalise the process that underpins the formation of federal member states, and bolstering the Boundaries and Federation Commission that the Provisional Constitution tasked the FGS to create. This could be achieved by making it clear that international development funding to regional administrations will hinge on their prior approval by the FGS.

Moreover, the international community needs to ensure that its support towards Somalia’s national process of federalisation does not fuel internal conflict. One possibility lies in adopting a flexible process that provides the FGS with sufficient room for political manoeuvre, and hands ownership over the state-making process to the Somali people. Consequently, all donors should strongly adhere to the Somali Compact, as it continues to be the most suitable framework to assist the FGS in rebuilding basic and durable state functions. Even though the Somali Compact is not the silver bullet that will turn the long-time ‘failed state’ of Somalia into a stellar democracy, its principle tenets constitute an important step in reconstructing Somalia – not least by coordinating its international supporters.

More challenging, but of even greater importance, is the unification of the Somali people. For its part, the EU, in addition to its already significant contribution to the country’s security sector, might also consider the possibility of providing support for the establishment and the promotion of national political parties. Genuine political parties with convincing party programmes and an active followership that extends beyond a handful of Mogadishu-based politicians could prove to be valuable vehicles in attempts to transcend the sub-national purview of political entities, overcome age-old clan-based disputes, and provide viable platforms for national dialogue. Ultimately, a democratic trajectory for Somalia will be hard to achieve in the absence of both a unified national constituency and genuine political parties.

Not entirely unexpectedly, the advancement of Somalia’s federal agenda has proved to be a contentious process. The resulting fragmentation it has experienced, particularly in recent months, risks perpetuating and even exacerbating its fragility. In order to move forward constructively and overcome political instability, the country needs to start building institutions and identities that span regional and clan divides. Only then will Somalia stand a chance of achieving the ‘Vision 2016’ that the FGS devised last September.


Somalia’s hydrocarbon potential: Oiling or spoiling its future?

first published by AfricanArguments, 09 Jun 2014

Constituting the petroleum sector’s latest ‘frontier region’, Somalia constitutes not only one of the most promising, but also most challenging potential oil exporting countries. Whereas international enterprises face risks with regards to political fragility, legal ambiguity, and physical insecurity, Somalia looks down the barrel of the negative political, economic, and social effects of the ‘resource curse’. Moreover, the country also has to confront a variety of additional challenges that are certain to arise from oil exploration and production in the context of its nascent state-making endeavour. One key risk is that the development of its petroleum resources is likely to catalyse an already tense situation, enhancing the danger for violent conflict in the war-ravaged country. In order to oil rather than spoil ongoing processes of state-making and development in Somalia, all stakeholders involved need to exercise utmost caution in further developing Somalia’s hydrocarbon potential.

The recent resource bonanza in East Africa has not stopped at the borders of one of the most fragile states in the world. Instead, Somalia finds itself canvassed by a range of international oil and gas companies, which are attracted by the large profit margins that accrue from developing the fragile country’s hydrocarbon potential. Ever since the first well in Somali soil was drilled by Sinclair in 1945, a total of about seventy wells have been sunk in Somalia. After major oil companies had declared force majeure and abandoned the country in the years surrounding the end of the Cold War, newcomers have embarked on exploring the country’s hydrocarbon potential in recent years. Although information about Somalia’s fossil fuel endowments remain scant, they are estimated to be as high as 110 billion barrels, putting the state at the Horn of Africa at eye-level with Kuwait.

Consequently, stakes are high and the development of its natural resources holds significant potential for Somalia. To be sure, the geological formations that show striking parallels to those of oil-rich Yemen across the Red Sea, provide an opportunity to lift the destitute Somali nation above a per capita GDP of about USD 112 (current US Dollars; see UN Data). Yet, such a positive trajectory is by no means assured, as the development of Somalia’s hydrocarbon resources faces a host of serious challenges that could not only jeopardize the country’s oil production, but its very state-making. One challenge lies in the ‘resource curse’, others in the political competition among Somali stakeholders as well as legal ambiguities. Hence, the central question is whether and how the country’s natural endowments can be developed in a way that bolsters rather than thwarts its progress towards peace and development.

A recent policy brief entitled “Oil in Somalia – Adding Fuel to the Fire?” published by the Heritage Institute for Policy Studies in Mogadishu aims to address this question. Although the conundrum whether Somalia’s hydrocarbon endowments will ultimately be a boon or bane for its trajectory hinges on a multitude of variables and evades simple projection, the paper cautions against a ‘business as usual’ approach. Shedding some light on Somalia’s political, legal, economic, as well as social conditions, and assessing their preparedness to cope with the shocks and challenges that will accompany the development of hydrocarbon endowments, the policy brief points towards some of the central obstacles Somalia faces with regards to the development of its natural resource wealth. At its heart, the report argues that Somalia is ill-prepared to embrace the challenges posed by the extraction of oil, and that major progress in the political, technical, and administrative spheres needs to be made, if hydrocarbon production is to oil rather than spoil the country’s future.

Somalia: Challenged by Oil Production

One key challenge the production of oil and gas holds for Somalia lies in the economic realm. As is the case for many other developing countries, Somalia faces the risk of the ‘resource curse’. Yet, in the Somali context the challenges accruing from this phenomenon are exacerbated due to the extraordinary infancy of the country’s formal institutions and legal framework. Moreover, Somalia’s administration remains feeble and lacks a well-trained cadre of technocrats to appropriately deal with oil production and revenue management. And in the absence of a sizeable non-hydrocarbon economy, the country is unlikely to beneficially counter the adverse effects of the ‘Dutch disease’, which results in wage increases across the economy that hits tradable sectors such as agriculture and manufacturing particularly hard. Thus, from the perspective of economic development, the production of oil and gas seems to constitute a real danger for Somalia.

Another central defiance – and one that is more particular to the case of Somalia – lies in the socio-political sphere. Prospects for hydrocarbon discoveries have spurred a ‘resource race’ in which different political actors have started to carve up oil blocks in order to enhance their politico-economic bargaining power vis-à-vis political competitors. Consequently, this race for oil is likely to catalyse both existing and burgeoning rifts and political tensions at the sub-national level – particularly in an environment in which demands for federal state structures have gained momentum, and one which remains marred by significant legal ambiguities. The border clashes between security forces from Puntland and Somaliland in eastern Sanaag Region in April 2014 could prove to be but a first taster of the significant tensions and violent contestation that come in tandem with the exploration and production of Somalia’s hydrocarbon wealth.

But there are further obstacles to the beneficent development of Somalia’s natural resources that the report identifies. For one, hydrocarbon prospects are likely to attract the attention of other states, whose interest might not be well aligned with Somalia’s state-making endeavour. Kenya’s interest in Somalia’s oil resources appears to have been a key driver behind Nairobi’s 2011 decision to militarily intervene in Somalia, and the US government demanded its Somali counterpart to recognize the rights of US oil companies that had declared force majeure when the regime of dictator Mohammed Siyad Barre crumbled in 1991, prior to extending recognition in 2013. For another, the development of Somalia’s hydrocarbon endowments may also spark local tensions and undermine the Somali government’s endeavour to facilitate reconciliation at the local level. Finally, the study highlights the significant legal challenges and lack of clear constitutional framework, which might result in entrenched conflict among leaders of different political entities within Somalia.

Addressing the Defiance

In light of such challenges, the report concludes that it appears that oil exploration and production is likely to exacerbate an already difficult process of forging a functioning elite bargain and setting up transparent and reliable institutions in order to advance the country’s state-making endeavour. Consequently, the paper urges all actors involved in the process of hydrocarbon development to exercise a great deal of caution, in order to avoid adding fuel to the fire. More concretely, some of the recommendations voiced are:

First, the Federal Government of Somalia needs to address existing legal ambiguities and political points of contention. For one, Somali legislators should revise the country’s legislation that regulates the exploitation of natural resources. For another, the FGS must find a politically viable and binding solution to the question of who has the right to enter into – and the responsibility to honour – contracts with oil companies. Moreover, Somalia must investigate how to best acquire and sustain technical expertise and administrative capacity in order to effectively negotiate and manage oil agreements with international companies.

Second, Somali authorities, assisted by its international partners and oil production companies, should devise a strategy to actively manage public expectations emerging in relation to natural resource exploitation. Possibly, an interstate commission on natural resources could take on this task. By acting as a knowledge platform and drawing on experiences from other oil-producing countries with federal state structures, such a commission could also mediate among different levels of government and advise them on how to best move forward.

Third, international oil production companies need to take great caution not to upset the little progress towards state-making and development that Somalia has achieved throughout the recent past. Apart from strictly abiding to Somalia’s national laws, international companies should await the conclusion of political and legislative proceedings at the part of Somali authorities, before production initiatives forward. Concurrently, the international donor should consider investing much more strongly into the establishment of a productive economy in Somalia, and explore possibilities of using aid funds in such ways as to smoothen out volatile government budgets that are certain to fluctuate if Somalia becomes increasingly dependent on oil revenues.

For Somalia, the road towards the development of its hydrocarbon potential is winding and full of challenges. The country’s fragile political situation, weak institutions, legal immaturity, and host of further obstacles raise doubts as to whether it is well-prepared to embrace the obstacles that come with hydrocarbon development. In order not to add fuel to the fire, but to make greatest use of the country’s hydrocarbon potential, a great deal of caution is required from all parties involved. Only if oil exploitation is seen as a means to the end of establishing a viable state, rather than an end in itself, can Somalia’s hydrocarbon endowments possibly oil rather than spoil its future trajectory.


State-Making in Somaliland: Exhibiting the Other Side of the Coin

first published on Seth Kaplan’s blog, 09 Jun 2014

The de facto state of Somaliland has featured prominently as constituting an exceptional case of state-making in both academic and policy communities. Consequently, the case has not only come to be considered a ‘success story’, but has been elevated to constituting ‘Africa’s Best Kept Secret’. Three key reasons appear to account for this widespread conception. First, Somaliland has indeed fared significantly better in terms of governance and development as compared to its closest counterpart, south-central Somalia. Second, international observers have frequently emphasized the peaceful, bottom-up, and democratic elements of its trajectory at the expense of other traits. And third, these alleged hallmarks of Somaliland’s state-making project have fallen on fruitful grounds as they are well in line with the pluralist and liberal conceptions of state-making that largely dominate international development approaches.

Somaliland’s Trajectory: Not all Roses, Though

Yet, in an article entitled ‘Somaliland’s Best Kept Secret: Shrewd Politics and War Projects as Means of State-Making’, published in the Journal of Eastern African Studies, I provide evidence that suggests that Somaliland’s state-making project has not exclusively been signed by benevolent traditional authorities and grassroots democratic governance. While neither dismissing the polity’s achievements, nor neglecting the important role played by elders and civil society, the paper scrutinizes the rather one-sided picture of Somaliland’s trajectory that has emerged over the years. At its core, the article argues that the Somaliland case entails important insights with regards to state-making. Although respective ‘lessons’ might not be fully in tune with popular international development approaches, they need to be taken serious, if we do not want to fall prey to the blinders inflicted by reigning development paradigms.

By scrutinizing the overly rosy picture that has commonly be painted of Somaliland’s state-making trajectory of the 1990s, the article argues at its most basic that not even in the remarkable case of Somaliland have all good things gone together. To be sure, the self-styled republic’s development has not only showed considerable traits of authoritarian leadership, but was significantly perpetuated by the civil wars encouraged by late President Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal during his first term in office. Hence, if focusing on the second idiosyncrasy of Somaliland’s Janus-faced trajectory, one comes to realize that shrewd politics and ‘war projects’ have constituted at least as much an integral part of the polity’s state-making endeavour, as have processes of reconciliation and consensus-based governance.

In order to make these and related arguments, the article embarks on an analysis of Somaliland’s state-making trajectory of the early to mid-1990s. By and large, the paper juxtaposes the state-making endeavour of President Abdirahman Ahmed Ali ‘Tuur’ (1991-93) with the first term of President Egal (1993-1996), which is widely acknowledged as constituting a key era of the polity’s state-making project. Against the backdrop that both leaders faced similar challenges to their respective state-making endeavours, the difference in performance is astonishing. While both presidents and their relevant administrations had to come to grips with poor resource bases, abundant military fragmentation, and staunch political opposition, amongst others, the state trajectories could hardly have been more divergent, ranging from state-breaking (1991-93) to state-making (1993-1996).

Somaliland’s Secret: Neglected Traits of State-Making

Thus, a central conundrum is why President Egal was able to succeed in erecting a rudimentary state apparatus, while his predecessor had been unable to do so. Asked differently, a key question emerging from Somaliland’s state-making process is what the hallmarks of President Egal’s state-making endeavour have been. In what follows, I highlight a number of traits that have frequently been glossed over in the prevailing literature, but which appear to have been constitutive of the polity’s state-making process. At least two things should be noted, however. First, the key argument is not that the subsequent traits constituted irreplaceable, and not even necessarily the most informative factors of Somaliland’s state-making. Second, I do consequently not claim that these traits should guide international approaches to state reconstruction. Rather, they simply constitute empirical observations that scrutinize the prevailing narrative of Somaliland’s trajectory, and question the hard and fast proposition that states can be founded on peace and democracy alone.

1)    Shrewd Elite Politics at par with Benign Grassroots Governance

‘Grassroots democracy’ and ‘bottom-up governance’ have frequently been identified as the hallmarks of Somaliland’s process of state-making. While these elements surely played a role, Egal’s rule also carried significant traits of authoritarianism and top-down governance. Amongst others, this is evidenced by the fact that Egal postponed and forestalled processes geared towards constitution-writing and democratization for years, while repeatedly extending his mandate. Ultimately, it took Somaliland a decade, before a constitution was adopted and first elections were held. Moreover, it needs to be acknowledged that Egal only embarked on a process of democratization once this path constituted his best bet to secure his political survival at the helm of the state. The fact that Somaliland’s state-making trajectory has at least as much been shaped by ‘top-down’ policies and elitist power politics, rather than grassroots democratic governance, furthermore shows in the fact that Egal successfully co-opted the traditional authorities, who became increasingly partisan to the state, forfeiting much of their popular legitimacy.

2)    Centralization rather than Devolution of Power and Control

Although decentralization is a common proscription articulated by international development handbooks for countries that find themselves in contexts of fragile statehood and post-war reconstruction, empirical evidence indicate that state-making in Somaliland was rather marked by the contrary. Once Egal took power in 1993, when Somaliland had come to be fragmented into little more than the sum of its parts, his rule was marked by a slow but steady resurrection of central state domination. Although the 1993 Somaliland Peace Charter had laid out provisions for decentralization, Egal gradually centralized the means for security provision, resource mobilization, and administration. For one, the President dissolved illegal roadblocks and established government control over both the lucrative khat trade and sea port of Berbera. For another, he created a national army, despite legal provisions to the contrary. And also the administration did not escape his tendencies for centralization, resulting in the fact that between 1993 and 2001, each and every district or regional administration had been nominated by the President, rather than local constituencies.

3)    Violent Conflict  as Precursor of a Fragile Peace

Having enjoyed relative peace since its unilateral declaration of independence in 1991, a predominant narrative of Somaliland’s alleged ‘success’ lies in the proposition that it was peace that underpinned its trajectory. Yet, not only has this peace been very fragile up to this date, but also has Somaliland witnessed serious traits of violent conflict throughout the 1990s. To be sure, Egal did not shy away from instigating civil war. By, thus, eliminating internal and external challengers to his power he sustained his power, and even emerged from conflict in a position of strength. While neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for state-making (see e.g. the case of Puntland), the diverse episodes of mass violence appear having been instrumental for state-making in Somaliland for a number of reasons. Thus, several analysts concluded that the civil wars of the mid-1990s not only consolidated public support for the territory’s independence and strengthened central government, but also played a key role in nurturing a burgeoning national identity.

4)    A ‘New Deal’ Already in the 1990s

Either way, whether emphasizing ‘established’ or ‘neglected’ traits of Somaliland’s state-making trajectory, it remains undisputed that the polity enjoyed significant policy space when charting its way towards reconstruction. In light of the fact that international attention chiefly focused on developments in Mogadishu, Somaliland largely escaped a situation in which the international community meddled with its political agenda. While this partly seemed a doubtful benefit in light of significant funding restrictions, it meant that Somaliland’s decision-makers were left with much needed room for manoeuvre. For better or for worse, this allowed for much experimentation and liberty to make and learn from mistakes. Consequently, Somaliland could ensure an autochthonous state-making process that added much legitimacy and ‘institutional grain’ to the process. Principally, Somaliland had its own version of the ‘New Deal’ already in the 1990s. Thus, the Somaliland case constitutes a forceful argument for taking the ‘New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States’, and its principle tenet of ownership, serious, when aiming to rebuild a state – both in Somalia and beyond.

Concluding Thoughts

While peaceful reconciliation, grassroots democracy, and bottom-up governance played an important role in Somaliland’s state-making trajectory, it is undeniable that elitist and authoritarian governance, processes of centralization, and violent conflict have – for better or for worse – been equally inherent to its accomplishment. This insight bears important implications not only on how we read Somaliland’s history, but also with regards to the ‘lessons’ it entails for other state-making endeavours. Obviously, the lessons to be learnt are not to foster authoritarianism, centralization, and violence. Yet, what a more comprehensive reading of Somaliland’s trajectory seems to suggest, is that the international community might need to revisit some of its fundamental state-building assumptions and policies.

In this regard, the necessity for speedy democratic elections, as well as the prioritization of constitution-writing over other urgent state-making components that Somalia’s international partners have demanded can somewhat be called into question. The international donor community may well need to adopt even more flexible approaches, and ones that convey even more ownership to the Somali people, as has been the case to date. While the Somaliland case remains instructive, distilling the right lessons from it and possibly translating them to the context of south-central Somalia remains a hard nut to crack, not least due to the inherent peculiarities of both cases. Yet, against the backdrop of the fact that Somalia has embarked on the ‘New Deal’ and that Somaliland has just concluded the celebrations of its 23rd anniversary, an attempt to crack this nut could probably not be any timelier.

The Wars in the North and the Creation of Somaliland

first published by the World Peace Foundation, 28 Oct 2013

Having enjoyed relative peace and stability since it unilaterally declared independence in 1991, Somaliland’s state-making project has been accorded the status of ‘Africa’s best kept secret’ (Jhazbhay, 2003). Past attempts to disclose its mystery referenced processes of ‘traditional reconciliation’ (Bryden, 1995; Jhazbhay, 2007; Walls, 2009), ‘grassroots democracy’ (Adam, 1995; Othieno, 2008; Forti, 2011), the combination of ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ forms of governance into ‘hybrid political orders’ (Böge et al., 2008; Renders & Terlinden, 2010), and its overall peaceful nature (Othieno, 2008). These narratives of Somaliland’s state-making have not only led to the assertion that the polity’s state development was unique (Hoyle, 2000; Kaplan, 2008; Jhazbhay, 2009), but culminated in the erroneous contention that throughout its process of state-making “[n]o civil war occurred” (Sufi, 2003:285).

Yet, Somaliland’s trajectory was not as benign as has frequently been claimed. Not only did its state-making project witness serious traits of authoritarian governance, but it was also marked by episodes of large-scale violence – both prior and subsequent to its unilateral declaration of independence in 1991. While it has been recognized that the struggle of the Somali National Movement (SNM) against dictator Mohamed Siyad Barre during the 1980s was foundational for Somaliland (Huliaras, 2002; Spears, 2003; Bakonyi, 2009), there is reason to argue that also the ‘war projects’ undertaken by Somaliland President Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal in the early to mid-1990s were constitutive of the polity’s state-making endeavor.

Besides challenging the prevailing reading of Somaliland’s state-making history and accounting for some of its bellicose elements, the argument presented in the subsequent paragraphs also speaks to the wider theoretical debate on war and state-making (see e.g. Mann, 1988; Tilly, 1992; Kaldor, 1999; Leander, 2004). While Tilly’s dictum that “war makes states and states make war” (Tilly, 1992:67) needs to be further disaggregated, I propose that the violence in Somalia’s north and the creation of Somaliland allow to argue that war may remain an important component for state-making in contemporary Africa (Herbst, 1990, 2000; Deflem, 1999; Niemann, 2007).

The Somali Civil War and Its State-Making Repercussions: Mass Violence in the 1980s

Scholars such as Prunier (1990/91), Compagnon (1990, 1998), Marchal (1992, 1997), Bakonyi (2009), and Spears (2010) have significantly contributed to our understanding of the early organization of violence and the dynamics of war in Somalia and Somaliland. However, the connection between the decade-long civil war of the 1980s and Somaliland’s state-making endeavor remains under researched to date, not least because most accounts of the polity’s state-making project commence their analysis with the polity’s de facto secession in 1991 at the very earliest.[2] Yet, glossing over the bellicose decade preceding Somaliland’s formal creation is not only proble­matic empirically, but also conceptually, as it silently subjects to the neo-liberal proposition that war constituted nothing but ‘development in reverse’ (World Bank, 2003; Collier, 2004).

After Somalia had lost to Ethiopia in the Ogadeen War of 1977/78, armed resistance against Barre’s rule took root. Officially pronounced in London on April 6th, 1981, the SNM was one of the first rebel groups to form, finding its base amongst the Isaaq clan family. Seeking alliances with other clan militias, the movement waged a guerrilla struggle in the country’s north-west, aiming to overthrow and replace the military government. In the wake of the dictator’s defeat and particular developments unfolding in 1991, the SNM decided to abrogate the union of 1960 and declared the Republic of Somaliland an independent state.

The decade-long armed struggle contributed in several ways to the argument that Somaliland is “very much a product of war” (Spears, 2004:185). For one, the war constituted the birth certificate of Somaliland, as without the military defeat of Barre, it would have been highly unlikely that the polity of Somaliland would have been established in the first place. Thus, Bradbury (2008:5) argues that this self-styled state has “its origins in the war that led to the collapse of the Somali state.” Although true, the role of war in supporting the formation of Somaliland goes beyond this passive and destructive component, as, for another, the war actively aided Somaliland’s state-making project.

First, while the SNM was far from exercising a monopoly over the means of violence, it achieved “outstanding military success” (Adam, 1994:36; Compagnon, 1998) and emerged from war as the “most powerful military force in the north-west” (Bradbury, 2008:79), enabling the movement to make a “legitimate claim to exercise power” (Compagnon, 1998:82). In contrast to south-central Somalia, the SNM’s military supremacy in north-west Somalia prevented alternative armed movements from pursuing “any viable alternative” (Terlinden & Ibrahim, 2008:2f.) to engaging in peace talks. It is in this context of military supremacy at the part of the SNM that processes of ‘traditional reconciliation’, generally judged as having been successful, need to be understood.

Second, the war also left important political and institutional legacies. The guurti, or ‘council of elders’, which has frequently been identified to lie at the heart of Somaliland’s alleged state-making success (Renders, 2006; Höhne 2006; Glavitza, 2008; Moe, 2009; Richards, 2009), is, after all, a creation of the SNM and a direct outcome of the war (Interviews 4, 34, 36, 75, 103). It was created by the young officers who had deserted the Somali National Army for the SNM and who had little knowledge about how the clan system worked (Interviews 103, 113, 135) in order to instrumentalize the ‘traditional authorities’ to help mobilize resources and adjudicate disputes (Adam, 1995; Interviews 4, 36; Compagnon, 1993; Brons, 2001). Although having been a much more unintended and problematic product of the civil war (Interview 113) than attested by some (see Bradbury, 2008:69), it had a major impact on Somaliland’s state-making project (Interview 4).

Third, the war aided the formation of the Somaliland polity by contributing to the development of a nascent national identity, which is indispensable for state-making to succeed (Lemay-Hébert, 2009; Balthasar, 2012; see also North, 2005). Committing itself to sharia law and deciding to rename its fighters mujahedeen (‘holy warriors’; Bradbury, 2008:64), the SNM set itself apart from other armed movements and nurtured a particular identity. By furthermore suffering mass atrocities and reviving the narratives of colonial and cultural differences between north and south Somalia, the struggle “played a crucial role in the formation of a strong sense of identity – at least for the majority of its population” (Huliaras, 2002:174). Thus, the “[w]ar shaped the ‘imagined community’ that later proved essential in providing a government apparatus with the moral basis needed to ensure the willing participation […] of its citizens” (ibid.:159; Omaar, 1994:234).

‘War Projects’ as Tools of State-Making: Somaliland’s Large-Scale Violence in the 1990s

Mass violence continued to shape Somaliland’s state-making endeavor once it had officially broken away from Somalia on May 18, 1991. In fact, the early to mid-1990s were marked by such levels of violence and insecurity that interim President Abdirahman Ahmed Ali Tuur and United Nations special envoy to Somalia, Mohammed Sahnoun, agreed to have 350 peacekeepers deployed to Somalia’s north-west (Renders, 2006). While the troops were, ultimately, not dispatched as Sahnoun resigned from his post and Somaliland managed to broker a peace by itself, it shows that the young republic had hit rock bottom in 1992 and came close to all-out civil war in subsequent years.

Once the interim government under the leadership of President Abdirahman Ahmed Ali Tuur was installed, contestation about the allocation of political, military and economic resources started taking root. The ensuing civil strife largely pitted the SNM’s ‘civilian’ and ‘military’ wings, which had emerged during the decade-long liberation struggle, against one another. Whereas the former was mainly comprised of intellectuals who had pro­claimed the formation of the SNM in London and Jeddah in 1981, the latter largely encompassed militaries who had started the armed resistance on the ground (Interview 113). While enjoying the backing of the ‘civilian wing’, Tuur was eyed with suspicion by the more hardline military elements, referred to as Calan Cas, who were in charge of the most potent SNM militias.

In the absence of a binding, centralized command over the different SNM militias, security regulation was a hard nut to crack and the government’s authority was largely confined to Hargeysa, (Gilkes, 1993; Spears, 2010) resting on those armed units under command of some of the individuals belonging to the new government (Reno, 2003). Tuur’s attempts to establish state-owned security forces provoked tensions within and outside of his administration, and resulted in violent clashes in Burco in January 1992, which left 300 dead. In March 1992, this was followed by large-scale violence in Berbera, when the government attempted to secure the port and its revenues, which had come under the control of the Isaaq sub-clan of Iisa Muse that opposed the Garhajis-dominated Tuur govern­ment, militarily. The subsequent eight months of “extensive death and destruction” (Renders, 2006:207) resulted in presumably 1,000 individuals losing their life (Bradbury, 2008).

Throughout 1992, security continued to deteriorate (Flint, 1994), as every clan established its own militia, turning Hargeysa allegedly more insecure than Mogadishu (Interview 63, 76, 108). With the government far from dominating the means of violence, competing (sub-)clan militias started clashing over control of resources throughout the country (Renders & Terlinden, 2010). During this interim period between 1991 and 1993, governance issues were largely left in the hands of other actors, such as the Calan Cas and ‘traditional authorities’, and, in terms of state-building, came to be considered “two wasted years” (Gilkes, 1993).

At the Boroma Conference in 1993, «Tuur» was replaced by Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal as President. While received wisdom has it that the guurti selected Egal in a smooth process on May 5, 1993 (Bradbury, 2008), it was, in fact, the Calan Cas who propagated him in a prolonged tug-of-war. To the military hardliners Egal appeared to be the ideal candidate, not least because the Calan Cas believed that they could easily manipulate and rule through him (Interviews 14, 143). Yet, during subsequent years, Egal applied shrewd, authoritarian politics and wittingly instrumentalized different factions against one another, not least to free himself from the tight grip of the Calan Cas and contain the powers of the ‘traditional authorities’. Thereby, he did not shy away from instigating two significant civil wars in order to consolidate his power and drive the state-making project forward.

The decentralized character Somaliland had taken during the 1991-93 period constituted a key structural challenge for the young polity and its potential to establish stable state institutions, largely because it favored a situation, in which multiple political actors contested economic and political power. Thus, it was little surprising that, shortly after Egal took the reins of power, the supporters of the previous government went into an opposition as strong as the one that the Calan Cas had posed to «Tuur». Aggrieved by Egal’s choice of ministers and his increasing centralization of control over financial and military means, some of the most prominent Garhajis – made up of the Habar Yonis and Eidagalle – leaders gathered in the vicinity of Burco in July 1993. During their ‘Liiban Congress I’, the burgeoning opposition announced that they were not bound by the laws of Somaliland (Bradbury, 2008) – and even declared Somaliland’sgovernment illegitimate one year thereafter (Spears, 2010; Garowe Online, 2007).

Hence, Egal sought to dispense of this opposition that challenged the government’s authority and constituted a political thorn in the President’s flesh. Equally, however, Egal also wanted to liberate himself of the grip of the Calan Cas, whom he felt being hostage to. As one observer put it, “[i]n 1993, Egal was not a leader, he was a guest” (Interview 142). Being well aware of the historical tensions between the Calan Cas and the Garhajis, who had been side-lined by the former during the 1993 Boroma conference, Egal had politically accommodated the SNM hardliners at the expense of the Garhajis, thus fuelling the friction, leading some to argue that “Egal intentionally ignited the conflict – it was really obvious” (Interview 142). Ultimately, two Eidagalle militias, into whose territory the Hargeysa airport falls, took control of it in the summer of 1994.

Although political issues lay at the heart of the dispute, it also carried economic connotations (Interviews 19, 36), as by taxing and harassing commercial and aid flights, the Garhajis militia interfered in the business of the Habar Awal entrepreneurs living in Hargeysa, who were crucial to Egal’s ability to establish and maintain government capacity (Bradbury, 2008). Thus, in many ways, the challenges Egal faced resembled the conflict «Tuur» had fought in Berbera two years earlier. Rejecting calls for another national conference to resolve outstanding issues, Egal unleashed his eager military officers onto the opposition in November 1994, with the stated aim of securing the airport. Having tasted blood, the government forces led by Minister of Interior, Muse Behi Abdi, and Vice-President and Minister of Defense, Abdirahman Aw Ali – both of whom were staunch members of the Calan Cas – proceeded to attack the Eidagalle village of Toon.

Conflict spread to Burco, when government troops tried to take control of Habar Yonis checkpoints in the city’s vicinity in March 1995. Giving the military leaders plenty of rope and portraying the war effort as an ‘Calan Cas project’, the President managed to wash his hands of responsibility (Interview 14).The resulting war sparked the heaviest fighting since the anti-Barre struggle in which as many as 4,000 people lost their lives, and up to 180,000 fled to Ethiopia (Bradbury, 2008). Although this act of aggression rallied the Garhajis even more against the government, it was functional for Egal. For one the ‘war project’ allowed him to annihilate the organized Garhajis opposition and further debilitating it by bribing certain of its leaders. For another, having been able to portray the war as an act of the Calan Cas, Egal succeeded in politically delegitimizing them (Interview 14, 107, 108, 116).

While Somaliland was in shatters, Egal emerged from these wars not only as winner, but in a strengthened position. Assuring himself of the support of the guurti, whom Egal convinced that the Calan Cas constituted a threat to peace in Somaliland (Interview 112), he incrementally sackedCalan Cas individuals from their ministerial positions, replacing them either with individuals from smaller clans, ‘traditional leaders’, and/or members of the Garhajis (Interview 7, 108). In order to deprive both the Garhajis leaders as well as the Calan Cas commanders of the ability to contest his political maneuvering militarily, Egal accommodated their rank and file by turning them into presiden­tial guards. This not only served the purpose of removing the support base of his competitors, but also signaled other militias that it paid to belong to the state. The conflict was followed by the shrewdly engineered 1996 Hargeysa Summit, which served Egal to consolidate rudimentary state institutions.

Concluding Remarks

While neither a necessary nor sufficient condition,[4] the diverse episodes of mass violence appear having been instrumental for state-making in Somaliland. Although the SNM-led struggle did not exactly produce the outcomes Tilly describes for historical Europe – i.e. a tight administration, coherent army, etc. – it has been considered “formative in creating a ‘political community’ of shared interests” (Bradbury, 2008:50) and perceived as having served as a “cruel university in the arts of political mobilisation and popular leadership” (Bryden, 1999:137). Similarly, also the post-1991 civil wars are thought having “served to consolidate public support for the territory’s independence and to strengthen central govern­ment” (Bradbury, 2008:123), leading Huliaras (2002:159) to conclude that “[i]n sum, as happened in the case of medieval Europe […], warfare had played a central and indeed essential role in the process of nation-formation in Somaliland.”

Hence, war can be constitutive of state-making processes, even in sub-Saharan Africa and in the present day. While war is surely neither a panacea nor an ‘angel of order’, in historical and macro-societal terms it appears to be more than a mere ‘daemon of decay’, or, as Enzensberger has it, a “political retrovirus […] about nothing at all” (ibid., 1994, as in Cramer, 2006:77). Thus, the central question appears to be less whether, but rather what kind or components of mass violence can be constitutive of state-making, or under what condition war may enhance rather than inhibit state-making. Thereby, a key aspect seems to be in how far a particular war contributes to or precludes the standardization of commonly accepted institutions and identities amongst a territorially defined population. In contrast to south-central Somalia, the violence in Somaliland seems to have established at least a modicum of such common institutions and identities.


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[1] For a more elaborate account of the effects of the civil war on Somaliland’s state-making project, see Helling (2009).
[2] In fact, it is generally argued that the 1991-1993 period was characterized by peace-building and that state-building did not set in until 1993 (Bradbury, 2008; Ali &Walls, 2008). While Battera (2004:7) suggests that “[t]he [1991] Burco Congress represents the beginning of the state-building process in Somaliland,” Pham (2012:19) proposes that state-building in Somaliland did not start before 2001. A notable exception is I.M. Samatar (1997).
[3] For a more detailed account on the wars of the 1990s and their effect on Somaliland’s trajectory, see Balthasar (2013).
[4] See e.g. the case of Puntland, which “was unaffected by the civil strife that accompanied the collapse of the Somali state” (Battera, 2003:230), but nevertheless formed a similar polity.