Somalia’s Federal Agenda May Get Boost With New Regional President

first published by the United States Institute of Peace, 17 Jan 2014

The third presidential election in Somalia’s semi-autonomous state of Puntland has brought about a change in leadership that might help enhance stability in the Horn of Africa. While it is too early to predict how the shift will ultimately play out in the region, the election of Abdiweli Mohamed Ali Gaas may prove a crucial catalyst for Somalia’s stalled process toward federalism.

On Jan. 8, Puntland’s newly sworn-in parliament of 66 members rallied in the northeastern region’s capital of Garowe for presidential elections. The semi-autonomous polity had reverted to having its president elected by clan-appointed legislators after local elections were canceled last July due to risks of violence and the democratic process stalled. With eight of the 11 candidates eliminated in the first round of voting, Acting President Abdurahman Mohamed Farole won the second round comfortably. Yet, the third and final round saw Gaas emerge as the winner, defeating the incumbent narrowly with 33 to 32 votes.

Farole’s defeat may not have been anticipated, but the changing of the guard follows the unwritten principle of rotating leadership among an informal triumvirate of Puntland’s three major Majerteen sub-clans. The polity’s first president (Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, 1998-2004) was a representative of the Omar Mohamoud sub-clan; its second president (Mohamoud Muse Hersi, 2005-2009) belonged to the Osman Mohamoud; and the third president (Abdurahman Mohamed Farole, 2009-2014) originated from the Isse Mohamoud. Hence, it was again the turn of the Omar Mohamoud sub-clan of Majerteen to rise to the helm of the state.

Yet Gaas did not succeed merely on the basis of clan arithmetic. A trained economist, Gaas looks back on a formidable political career. Most recently, he served as Prime Minister of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) under Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. During his term (2011-2012), Gaas helped devise the formal “roadmap” that led to the official conclusion of Somalia’s “transition,” and culminated in the establishment of today’s Federal Government of Somalia. This experience is particularly valuable, as one of the key tasks for new leadership in Puntland is advancing the region’s transition towards multiparty democracy.

Against the backdrop of his narrow victory and given significant social tensions, one of Gaas’ first concerns, however, will be the unification of the Majerteen clan. Moreover, he will be expected to forge a more inclusive political settlement that incorporates other tribal factions, such as the Dhulbahante.

Sidelined under President Farole, the Dhulbahante currently hold 17 of the 66 seats in Parliament, and are likely to demand a satisfactory solution to the complex issues surrounding the Sool and Sanaag regions. Having been contested by Somaliland and Puntland for years, disgruntled Dhulbahante founded the Khatumo state in 2012, receiving some support from the central government. While Gaas vowed, in his first press conference, to prioritize the improvement of the region’s security situation, strengthening public institutions and initiating economic recovery are among the other urgent tasks the president-elect needs to tackle at home.

Simultaneously, the new leader will have to address federal politics. Indications are that Gaas will try to repair Puntland’s relations with the central government, after Farole had cut all ties with Mogadishu in August 2013. Already Gaas’s presidential campaign, in contrast to that of his predecessor, was based on a platform of enhanced cooperation with the nation’s capital.

Even though many Puntlanders are unhappy with the federal administration, Gaas’s course of reconciliation is likely to gain traction locally. This is not least because, by and large, the Majerteen would like to retrieve their historically rooted political influence in Somalia. Besides, in recent years Gaas has proven that he has greater political ambitions, not least evidenced by his candidacy during the 2012 presidential elections in Somalia. Hence, it seems probable that he will be committed to constructively advance Somalia’s federal agenda.

The international community will probably respond favorably to such a political course. Combined with the fact that Gaas is likely to benefit from international optimism over Puntland’s peaceful election, he will enter into future negotiations with Somalia from a position of considerable strength.

The combination of renewed political stamina and moves toward federalism comes as a double-edged sword for the semi-autonomous Puntland; a careful balance needs to be struck between the priorities of Garowe and Mogadishu. That said, Puntland is unlikely to suffer its resources being siphoned off to the extent that had been the case under the region’s first president, Ahmed.

Puntland’s revival at the federal level is likely to result in an alliance with a burgeoning and assertive administration in Jubaland to the south – at least in voice, if not in substance. The two regions not only share close kinship because their populations largely trace their descendants back to the Darood, but they are also united in their demand for federalism. The potential alliance could backfire if the federal government and other interest groups feel they’re being backed into a corner. The result could be a resumed stalemate.

Yet, strengthened federal units appear more likely to be a boon for Mogadishu, in that the central administration will have more responsive and cooperative counterparts in the regions than has been the case recently. Furthermore, while an increasing influence of the Darood in federal politics comes with its own set of challenges, it might lead to much-needed enhanced cooperation within the Hawiye clan family, which dominates central Somalia in demographic and political terms.

While a scenario of constructive cooperation between Garowe and Mogadishu seems more likely at this point, questions over resource management will pose a test. After all, Puntland is home to the Dharoor and Nugaal faults, which are believed to contain approximately 20 billion barrels of oil.

In the end, the trajectory of Puntland and its impact on other Somali entities will largely hinge on the team Gaas puts together in the coming weeks. The constitution grants him 21 days from his election to form a government.

Dominik Balthasar is a Trans-Atlantic Post-Doctoral Fellow for International Relations and Security (TAPIR) at USIP. He wrote his PhD thesis at the London School of Economics on conflict and state trajectories in Somalia.


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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Sufi, M. A. (2003). The Future Political Order for the Federal States of Somalia. Northeast African Studies, 10(3), 281-288. Terlinden, U., & Ibrahim, M. H. (2008). Somaliland – A Success Story of Peace-Making, State-Building and Democratization? Manuscript.
Tilly, C. (1992). Coercion, Capital, and European States, A.D.990-1990. Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell.
Walls, M. (2009). The Emergence of a Somali State: Building Peace from Civil War in Somaliland. African Affairs, 1-19.
World Bank. (2003). Breaking the Conflict Trap. Washington, DC: World Bank.


[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.

Al-Shabab’s Kenya Attack – Avoiding the Pitfalls of a Military Response

first published by the United States Institute of Peace, 29 Oct 2013

An ill-conceived response by the Somali government and its international backers to the Somali militant group al-Shabab’s attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi last month carries immense risk of backfiring on Somalia’s fledgling state-making progress as well as regional peace and stability.

National and international leaders, including the Secretary General of the United Nations and his Special Representative in Somalia, have called for a surge of African troops to stem the threat of terrorism posed from within Somalia. But hastily increasing military and counterterrorism efforts risks generating a political backlash, not least by feeding into al-Shabab’s propaganda. History has shown time and again that military approaches do not solve, but rather exacerbate, the challenges Somalia has faced.

Instead, supporters of the fledgling Somali government should prioritize Somalia’s state-making endeavor.

Although many details of the Sept. 21 assault, in which a group of heavily armed gunmen killed at least 67 people at Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall, remain to be clarified, speculation abounds on a number of questions. Which faction within al-Shabab was behind this act of violence? What were the underlying motives?

Interpretations of the attack diverge, not least concerning the question of whether the assault indicates al-Shabab’s waning power and desperation. Even though it is too early to answer that question with certainty, that does not seem to be the case. Al-Shabab’s mosaic of violence already included the Kampala bombings of 2010 that resulted in a near-identical number of casualties; a spate of smaller attacks in Kenya and Ethiopia during the years since; and the June 19 assault against the UN humanitarian aid compound in Mogadishu. What the Nairobi attack made forcefully clear is that this extremist movement is neither dormant nor defeated.

To avoid potential pitfalls in any response, the international community needs to come to grips with the assault’s underlying logic and intent, and consider the possibility that the assault was intended, by its timing and framing, primarily to expose and exacerbate the vulnerability of the Somali population.

Rather than being timed to any increase in Kenya’s military engagement in the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), or to growing international support during summits in London, Yokohama, and Brussels, the terror attack coincided with a renewed risk to Somalia’s financial lifeline. On Sept. 30, Barclays Bank was to close, amongst others, the accounts of Dahabshiil, the biggest of all Somali remittance companies, which would have had a devastating effect on Somalia’s economy and society. Given allegations that some of these remittances are used to finance al-Shabab, the Nairobi attack increased the risk that accounts used to channel remittances to Somalia would be shut down, as the assault stressed the negative aspect of remittance flows. Cutting this financial lifeline would have played into the hand of al-Shabab, whose propaganda centers on the threat posed by foreign actors to the Somali population.

Similarly, the framing of the attack exacerbated the vulnerability of Somalis in the region. More explicitly than any of their previous assaults, this one was portrayed in clear religious terms that pitched Christians, who make up the majority in Kenya, against Muslims. Victims cited in news reports said, for example, that the perpetrators ‘escorted Muslims out of the mall’ at the onset of the attack.

Portraying the assault as part of a larger ‘clash of civilizations,’ a term Samuel Huntington coined in 1992, serves al-Shabab a number of purposes. It sets al-Shabab’s struggle in Somalia into a framework of global jihad (‘holy war’), probably in an attempt to bridge existing gaps between itself and other extremist Islamic movements abroad. And al-Shabab likely also hopes to provoke retaliatory military measures that could feed its propaganda in order to regain the upper hand in its ideological turf war against the Somali government.

In order to thwart al-Shabab’s likely objective of heightening the sense of vulnerability among Somalis, Kenya in particular and the international community generally should seek to bolster the Somali population with steps such as ensuring the continuation of remittance flows, refraining from undue military retaliation within Somalia, and preventing assaults on Somali communities in Kenya.

Unfortunately, key policymakers quickly bought into a renewed military narrative of fighting al-Shabab. However, this is problematic in two ways. First, such an approach follows from and bolsters the assumption that al-Shabab can be defeated militarily, rather than recognizing to the deep political dimensions of this struggle. Second, as important as the fight against this extremist movement is, al-Shabab is a symptom rather than the cause of Somalia’s fragile statehood.

Consequently, the international community should firmly focus on the Somali government and its state-making endeavor. Apart from supporting processes of reconciliation and aiding in the reconstruction of a productive economy, international partners have to get their heads around the puzzle of how to best support their Somali counterparts in reviving a common political identity.

Fractured and constantly shifting identities have not only provided fertile soil for movements such as al-Shabab, who have recurrently been able to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of many fellow citizens. The Somali government’s inability to invigorate nationalism has also starved past efforts at reconstructing of a viable Somali state. Yet, state-building without nation-building is unlikely to succeed.

A renewed focus on reconstructing a viable Somali state would not only deprive the extremists of breeding grounds – namely state fragility, conflict, and insecurity – but also constitutes the best opportunity to create lasting peace and stability in the Horn of Africa.

Dominik Balthasar is a Trans-Atlantic Post-doctoral Fellow for International Relations and Security (TAPIR) at USIP. He wrote his PhD thesis at the London School of Economics on conflict and state trajectories in Somalia.

Somalia 2013: ‘New’ Deal, Old Principles

first published by africanarguments, 29 May 2013

While the Communiqué that came out of the 2013 London Conference on Somalia reiterated the formal agreement on the “New Deal” initiative on aid effectiveness, it appears to have ultimately restricted the Somali government’s political room for manoeuvre. This largely results from the summit’s emphasis on outcomes over processes, which not only jeopardizes the ‘New Deal’, but risks complicating rather than facilitating Somalia’s state-making project in the near future.

In light of recent progress and an attendant rise in optimism regarding Somalia, expectations of the recent London Conference ran high. While the UK should be applauded for its continued dedication to keeping Somalia and its challenges on the international community’s agenda, the conference did not fully live up to its potential. For one, the “New Deal” and its proper benefits were not completely embraced. Instead, its underlying core principles, such as granting “country-led and country-owned transitions out of fragility”, were attenuated by the summit’s emphasis on preconceived outcomes.

For another, critical matters pertaining to economic reconstruction and political settlements were apparently neglected. Although it is true that the summit was followed by a one-day conference on trade and investment in Somalia, the complete absence of economic recovery from the main conference’s agenda remains remarkable. Thus, rather than taking a chance on a fresh start, the conference seemingly rehashed old principles instead.

Focussed on outcomes rather than processes

The summit was too firmly concentrated on agreeing particular outcomes, rather than taking a more process-oriented approach. The Communiqué urges the international community to continue its “results-oriented support”, and locks the Somali government and its state-making trajectory in a commitment to form a “fully federal government” and deliver “democratic elections in 2016”. While it is understandable that Somalia’s partners want to see the Federal Government commit to tangible results, the international community’s eagerness to maintain significant political leverage over Somalia’s trajectory reveals the complexities and caution around reducing foreign political influence.

While the Somali government co-hosted the summit, it is not hard to see why it must have felt constrained to demand additional policy space – after all, the Somali government depends on the good will and financial resources of donors.

However, by not handing substantial control over to Somali stakeholders, international actors not only undermine the basic idea of the “New Deal”, but risk jeopardising Somalia’s state-making prospects. For the state-making endeavour to succeed, the Somali government needs substantial policy space to accommodate the evolving and conflict-prone nature of such projects. Yet, this policy space can only emerge by focusing on processes rather than by committing to a rigid set of fixed outcomes largely shaped by external forces. That latter has hindered rather than helped rebuild the Somali state is attested by past decades marked by international interference.

Absent topics, lack of alternatives

The conference overly concentrated on issues of security, justice, and public financial management – aspects that are conspicuously of concern to an international community that feels threatened by Somali extremism, worries about government corruption of donor funding, and prioritises a human rights agenda. This particular focus meant that the summit neglected other pressing topics.

Just as in 2012, the 2013 London Conference avoided the question of whether and how to engage with al Shabaab politically. Given that the Islamic insurgency movement appears to be dormant rather than defeated, and that the causes that led to its emergence and survival cannot be addressed by military means alone, a political solution to the political contestation remains crucial.

Economic reconstruction was also noticeably absent from the conference agenda. However, if recent military and political gains are not bolstered by establishing a productive economy that addresses mass unemployment, and creates livelihoods for the population, these gains might well be short-lived. In light of this and the fact that economic recovery features as the Somali President’s second goal of his six-pillar policy, one is left wondering why this topic did not feature at all during the joint-hosted summit.

As the conference focused so narrowly on specific outcomes, the Somali government’s policy space was significantly restricted. This is shown in the communiqué’s insistence on the establishment of a “fully federal government” – a process that has largely been objected to by the Somali government thus far, due to fears that federalism could weaken its own standing and prospects of state-making. However, the Somali government is now pressed to comply with a greater devolution of power to regional states, which is likely to complicate matters, not least as this leaves Somalia’s neighbours with continued influence to meddle in Somali politics.

Moreover, the question arises whether there are viable alternatives to the charted trajectory, in case the latter should not unfold as anticipated. What is the “Plan B” to which the Somali government and its international backers can revert, if the communiqué’s underlying assumptions – including the success of a federal model and the sustainability of the current security trajectory – do not hold?

While the international community pledged additional financial resources to Somalia and committed to helping the Somali government bolster its security apparatus, the jointly-hosted conference does not appear to have charted a new chapter for this conflict-ridden country. Rather, the summit outcomes seem to largely be a reworking of the international community’s concerns. The ultimate impact of the 2013 London Conference remains to be seen, but for now it appears that the international community is not prepared to fully buy into the “New Deal” and cede too much of its influence to its Somali partners. It remains to be seen how far this bodes ill or well for Somalia and its endeavour to re-engage in state-making.

A ‘New Deal’ for Somalia

first published by Chatham House, 7 May 2013

Having officially concluded its ‘transitional period’, Somalia is set to embark on yet another.  Both Somalia and the international community face a critical test as the country seeks to exert greater control over policy development and implementation in the framework of the ‘New Deal’ initiative. The requisite shift in the nature of international engagements will bring unavoidable risks for all stakeholders – risks that need to be taken, however, if the Somali state-making process is to be advanced.

Optimism over Somalia’s prospects has peaked after an accumulation of changes in the country over recent years and months. Initial hopes arose in 2011, when the African Union Mission in Somalia made military progress against the radical Islamist insurgency of al Shabaab. This was followed by a sharp decline of piracy attacks off the Somali coast during the course of 2012. These security gains were bolstered politically, when Somalia’s eight-year ‘transitional period’ finally ended with the establishment of a leaner Federal Parliament in August 2012, the election of a new President in September, and the formation of a fresh government from October  onwards.

These changes within Somalia were accompanied by important shifts in international engagement. The Somali Federal Government scored significant diplomatic points in early 2013 by gaining the formal recognition of the United States of America and the International Monetary Fund. It also saw a partial lifting of the arms embargo by the United Nations Security Council in March. Furthermore, during the first London Somalia Conference in February 2012, the international community pledged to forge a more coordinated and effective approach in support of Somalia’s reconstruction efforts – a pledge that was demonstrated with the establishment of a multi-donor Somalia Stability Fund.

While the need for better aid coordination had already been emphasized in the 2005 Paris Declaration, the 2011 Busan Conference on Aid Effectiveness stipulates that more policy space should be given to ‘fragile states’. The g7+ group of 19 conflict-affected countries lobbied the international community to allow for increased national ownership over setting and implementing political and development agendas. As Somalia is part of this ‘New Deal’ initiative and given its recent progress, implications of opening the policy space in the country are likely to feature strongly in the upcoming UK-Somalia Conference in London on 7 May 2013.

If taken seriously, the implementation of the ‘New Deal’ would reflect lessons from past, tried, trusted and failed international engagements with Somalia. Approaches shaped by international security concerns related to warlordism, piracy, terrorism, and migration over the needs of the Somali population and their state-making project have thus far achieved little beyond catalysing new political forces and stimulating radical Islam. More generally, it put regional and international actors in the driving seat and restricted Somali governments’ policy space.

This restriction of national ownership has come at a great cost to Somalia, partly because it constrained national attempts to re-establish security and stability, and partly because it led to a neglect of other pressing challenges, such as the revival of a productive economy. Yet, the benefits of allowing for enhanced policy space in support of national development processes can be seen in the internationally much celebrated case of Somaliland, which unilaterally declared independence in May 1991. Although the self-styled republic’s trajectory has not been wholly detached from international influences, constraints and pressures, and even though it continues to face its own state-making challenges, Somaliland had significant policy space to set and pursue its own agenda. Largely due to the lack of international recognition, it had its own, unintended version of the ‘New Deal’ decades ago.

Although giving Somalia more policy space is crucial to resolving long-lasting crises, there are numerous obstacles to realizing this ‘New Deal’. Security concerns remain both for Somalia’s neighbours and the international community at large, calling the latter’s readiness to reduce direct influence into question. Moreover, scepticism remains over Somali stakeholders’ ability to stay on track, not least because expectations placed on past Somali partners have repeatedly been disappointed. Lastly, full adherence to the ‘New Deal’ would require the acceptance at the part of the international community that state-making processes are inherently conflict-prone and that not all good things do and can necessarily go together in the context of state-making – a realization the international community has not yet fully embraced.

Yet, as the Secretary-General of the United Nations recently pointed out, “we must be prepared to take risks for Somalia”. The risks associated with a Somali ‘New Deal’ are likely to test the international community’s resolve as well as the Somali government’s capacity to tackle pressing social, economic and political issues. However, under the condition that international actors are prepared to take risks, and allow sufficient room for some necessary mistakes along the way, then the long-term benefits of increasing national policy space are likely to outweigh the perils.

‘Failed States’ and ‘Failed Policies’: Two Global Public Policy Challenges at Eye Height

first published by global policy, 25 Jan 2013

‘State fragility’, with its repercussions on national development and international security, re­mains one of today’s most pressing global public policy challenges, partly because this phe­no­menon is considered “the source of many of the world’s most serious pro­blems” (Fukuyama 2004:1). The topic’s centrality is reflected by the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee agenda, was pivot to the 2011 World Development Report, and has been evi­denced by long-drawn international engagements in Bosnia and Kosovo, Iraq and Afgha­nis­tan. Yet, while foreign military contingents have incrementally left these war zones, ‘state fragility’ is cer­tain to stay, both, in these polities and the world at large. One central reason is that, “[f]rom a his­to­rical perspective, much of the developing world today is characterised by states in the pro­cess of formation” (CSRC 2005:2), a process that is inherently prone to cri­ses, conflict and fragility.

Whereas ‘fragile states’ pose a central challenge to the ‘international community’, the latter’s failing policies constitute a vital defiance to the respective states and their popula­tions. This is not only because current approaches to state-building are heavily militarized, but also because they utterly fail to bring about the envisioned stability and prosperity. International military engagement in Iraq has left its society with a significantly diminished GDP per capita (UNDP 2012), and Afghanistan is not only far from having reached acceptable levels of security and resilience despite an ‘investment’ of approximately USD 2.5 trillion by the US federal govern­­ment alone (Costs of War 2012), but also continues to have the highest infant mortality rate in the world (Global Health Facts). Similarly bleak is the international community’s state-building record in polities such as DR Congo, Sudan and Somalia, as these countries not only remain a far cry from achie­ving the MDGs, but continue to feature amongst the top ten ‘failed states’.

Getting ‘Failed States’ Wrong

Consequently, the state-building policies pursued by the ‘international community’ can con­fi­dently be judged as being ineffective at best. While a myriad of factors can be cited to ac­count for why Western policies towards ‘failed states’ have themselves largely failed, I argue here that the central underlying problem is not a practical but conceptual one. ‘Fragile states’ have usually been conceived of as pathologic deviations from the contemporary moulding of Western states with their free market economies and liberal democracies. Hence, it have invariably been neo-liberal interpretations of the state that have guided the inter­national community’s handbooks on how to supposedly ‘fix’ fragile states (Ghani/Lock­hart 2008; Kaplan 2008), even though “[t]he inadequacies of neo-liberalism have spawned a wide­spread questioning of this dominant worldview” (Sandbrook 2010). While the Washing­ton Consen­sus, which had seen the state as an obstacle to development, has offi­cially been abandoned, the underlying paradigm has largely remained intact (Stiglitz 2004).

Although the Post-Washington Consensus witnessed an apparent volte-face to main­stream thinking of the 1980s and 1990s in that policymakers ultimately realized the need for ‘Bring­ing the State Back In’ (Evans et al. 1985), the state is still not taken seriously as a vital partner in development and state-building processes. This is evidenced by the latest con­cep­tual varia­tion of the neo-liberal ideology that emerged in the scholarly literature as the post-2001 decade drew to a close. Concepts of ‘twilight institutions’ (Lund 2006), the ‘negotiated state’ (Menk­haus 2007) and ‘hybrid political orders’ (Böge et al. 2008) have come to praise earlier negative interpre­ta­tions of non-state orders (e.g. Jackson 1990; Zartman 1995; Rotberg 2003) as au­toch­thonous ways of state-building. Whereas it is true that ‘fragile states’ are marked by a competing plu­ra­lity of different actors, the concepts’ underlying proposition that a hybridity of ‘political orders’ is desirable for the advancement of developing states is highly problematic.

Inadequacies of Current Conceptualizations

First, the promotion of pluralism as constituting both the means and ends of state-building can only be sustained by a form of historical amnesia. While the advertisement of pluralism sits well with the deeply engrained ‘diversity myth’ that the West entertains regarding its own history, Schwartz (1995) shows that ‘Americanization’ had been “a process of coercive conformity” and that the United States “was characterized by ethnic dominance, not ethnic pluralism.” Hence, while Americans preach an adherence to liberal pluralism throughout the world, their own state and national unity was not founded on pluralism, diversity and tole­rance, but homogeneity, conformity and dominance. That it is processes of unification and standardization that have constituted the lynchpins of state-building throughout history has similarly been argued by intellectuals ranging from social contract theorists of the 17th centu­ry to contemporary scholars such as Anderson (1983), Connor (1994), and Levene (2000).

Second, also when viewed from a theoretical perspective, the unapologetic advancement of pluralism in contexts of fragility appears to be much more of a ‘tragic’ than ‘magic bullet’. Regarded through the analytical prism of institutionalism, neo-pluralist concepts, which em­pha­size problems of allocation rather than ones of rule and control (Nordlinger 1981; Lind­blom 1977), can be debunked as asserting a situation of ‘institutional multiplicity’. Al­though a diversity of ‘rules of the game’ (North 1990) can be desirable or even necessary to keep states functional in the long-term – partly because it offers “the possibility of switching stra­te­gically from one institutional universe to another” (CSRC 2005:8; North 2005:42) – the parallel existence of institutions is problematic in early stages of state development, as it defies the larger purpose of institutions themselves, namely to “reduce uncertainty by provi­ding a [clear] structure to everyday life” (North 1990:3).

Third, the neo-pluralist concepts remain wholly inconclusive regarding the question under what conditions or what kinds of ‘hybrid political orders’ are constitutive of rather than inimical to state-building – where runs the line between ‘good’ and ‘bad’, ‘too little’ and ‘too much’ hybridity? Unable to answer these questions, the concepts are little helpful to under­stand, for example, the divergent trajectories of Somalia and Somaliland, both of which are marked by a hybridity of ‘political orders’. Moreover, just like previous approaches, this allegedly new thinking similarly reduces state-building endeavours to questions of institu­tional capacity. Yet, as “[g]overnance is about the relationship between the state and socie­ty” (Brinkerhoff 2007:18), and as “it is in the realm of ideas and sentiments that the fate of states is primarily determined” (Holsti 1996:84), I argue in a manner analogous to the dictum of Evans et al. (1985) on the state, for the need of ‘bringing the nation back in’ (Helling 2009).

What Next?

Despite the failure of the international community’s past policies towards ‘failed states’ there are no indications that global policy towards state fragility is about to change. Even after the failed state-building interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, a para­digmatic shift in conceptual thinking about ‘fragile states’ and possible international responses does not appear to take shape. NATO’s military operation in Libya and France’s most recent single-handedly intervention in Mali are proof of the West’s apparent immunity to learn from past mistakes. Just as has been the case in Afghanistan and Iraq, the military engagement in Mali is more likely to contribute to a further political fragmentation and institu­tional ‘fragilization’ than to bring about peace, prosperity and stability – parti­cularly as France’s current policies are not suggestive of going beyond a few military objectives.

Yet, in the absence of a more comprehensive and politically defined long-term strategy of how to assist polities such as Mali in achieving a transition from fragility to resilience, the international community is more likely than not to continue defaulting to its plan A, marked by a largely military and technical approach in the framework of the neo-liberal paradigm – a plan that already failed (in) Afghanistan and Iraq. If the international community is, however, truly concerned with facilitating stability and development in ‘fragile states’, it needs to thoroughly rethink its conceptualization of states-in-the-making and seriously scrutinize its approach of liberal pluralism. Only if the dominant (Western) actors appreciate that what is required to sustain states should not be confused with what is required to initiate them, can the international community adequately deal with the challenges arising in and from fragile states, and help prevent a country like Mali from becoming another Somalia.

Dominik Balthasar is a fellow of the GG2022 program and a post-doctoral fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) in the framework of the Transatlantic Post-Doc Fellowship for International Relations and Security (TAPIR). This column is part of a series from the GG2022 fellows. For more information on the GG2022 please see here.


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