Don’t force statehood on Somalia by Richard Dowden

President of Somalia Addresses General Assembly

The model for Somalia is Switzerland. Don’t laugh! Political power in Switzerland lies in the cantons – the 26 proud self-governing communities. The state, such as it is, deals with international matters and national law. Who cares – or even knows – who the president of Switzerland is. The way people live and are governed is decided locally. The Swiss confederation means that cantons have joined the state willingly and can leave if they want to. If they were a simple federation, they could not.

Somalis – unlike the Swiss but like most Africans – are stuck with a constitution that leaves total power in the hands of a president. Strong centralised states are the legacy of colonial rulers and unsurprisingly the inheritor governments have kept it that way. Terrible wars – such as those in Nigeria, Ethiopia and Sudan – were fought to keep the countries together, but in the latter two they failed. In Somalia civil war began in the late 1980s and since then fragmentation has continued. Good. Leave it that way. It suits Somali society.

The odd factor is that Somalia is one of only two sub-Saharan African states made up of a single ethnic group. The other being Botswana, the most peaceful country on the continent.  But the Somalis are different. I realised that when I was having dinner with a minister at a restaurant in Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland. One of the waiters recognised my host and having delivered the food, decided to give the minister an earful. In most African countries the man would have been dragged off to jail – or worse. But not only did the minister have to listen, he got to his feet and argued back. This was an argument between equals.

“Every man his own Sultan” is how one Ugandan visitor described the Somalis in the mid 19th century.  Its nomadic tradition makes it a very self-sufficient, individualistic society bound by complicated codes of loyalty and rivalry. Within families and clans it is a very hierarchical society. But between families and clans it is very level, competitive. Somalis regard everyone as an equal. And they are used to defending themselves.

Traditionally disputes between Somalis were sorted out by the clan elders who would arrange compensation payments after clan or family battles or theft. In the north of Somalia, Somaliland, British indirect rule left the traditional leadership of clan elders – collectively known as the Gurti – in place. During colonial times Somaliland virtually managed itself and the Gurti retained respect and authority. That has carried through to present times and Somaliland is stable with political parties and democratic elections. Twice electoral disputes have reached crisis point in recent years. Each time the politicians have turned to the Gurti for a ruling which has been accepted by all. In the Italian-ruled south the Gurti was dismissed in colonial times but it still exists beneath the surface.

Somalia’s civil war began in the 1980s between clans in a winner takes all battle for total national power. The former British-ruled north west territory, Somaliland, declared independence. The north east, Puntland, also declared itself self governing until a proper government was restored. The centre, Galmudug, is also self governing. The war continues as a battle for Mogadishu, the capital and for the ports and fertile river valleys of the south. It has cost hundreds of thousands of lives.

Although alliances have shifted, no formula has been devised that can bring peace at a national level. The only period of peace in the south was in 2005 when the clan warlords were defeated and Islamic courts took over the administration of justice and kept the peace. Some courts were harsh but southern Somalia was safe, trade and investment increased and people walked freely in the streets, A united peaceful Somalia however, especially under the rule of Islamic courts, was a threat to Ethiopia. The Ethiopians persuaded the Americans this was Islamic fundamentalism taking over. The Ethiopian invasion at the end of 2006, backed by the US and – shamefully – Britain which should have known better, in fact strengthened the fundamentalists. Three years later the Ethiopians were forced to withdraw and were replaced by an African peacekeeping force of Ugandan and Burundian troops. Since then they have managed to hold a small part of Mogadishu on behalf of a weak ineffective government most of whose members reside in Nairobi.

The rest of the city and much of the south was at the mercy Al-Shabaab, an Islamic fundamentalist movement. But Shabaab made the crucial mistake of not letting foreign aid enter the country during the worst drought since the 1980s. That turned the drought into a famine and turned the people against Shabaab, forcing them out of Mogadishu and other areas to allow food aid to arrive.

This presents the government – known as the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) – with an opportunity to prove itself and deliver food and security to the people. But this is unlikely to happen according to Professor Ken Menkhaus, a Horn of Africa specialist. “This is the TFG’s best and probably last chance to do something right and capitalise on Al-Shabaab’s weakness by showing that it can and will govern well” he says. “I wish I could say I am hopeful it will, but the TFG’s track record so far points to the opposite conclusion – it has never missed the opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

The UN now talks glibly about restoring the Somali state and holding elections. This is the way to continue the war, not end it. Political parties in Somalia are little more than a cover for clans so an election simply elevates one clan over the others. Allow the government in Mogadishu to run the city and port, perhaps the Benadir region, but no further.

Negotiations should then take place region by region about the relationship between them and the capital, leaving power in local – not national – hands. The zones should be soft bordered encouraging trade and dialogue between them. Taxes should be raised and spent locally. To act as the national security blanket a forum of clan leaders could be formed, joined by traders, businessmen, religious leaders, poets and musicians (both very important people in Somalia) – in fact a sort of Somali House of Lords to counterbalance the inept and greedy political class.

This forum might turn into a body that negotiates between groups and chooses who should represent Somalia internationally and take the Somalia seat at the UN and represent Somalia in its diplomatic missions. But neither the forum nor the government should be given nationwide powers at street level. That should remain entirely local. Any attempt to create a powerful Somali state will ensure the civil wars will continue.

That is especially true of Somaliland where the feeling against the south is still very bitter. Reunification with the south is unanimously opposed. Not a single Somalilander I know wants reunification. Not a single Somali from the rest of the country wants Somaliland to stay independent. Unless we are very careful, peace in the south of Somalia will mean war in the north.

Richard Dowden is Director of the Royal African Society and author of Africa; altered states, ordinary miracles


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30 thoughts on “Don’t force statehood on Somalia by Richard Dowden

  1. Roland Marchal is Research Fellow at SciencesPO Centre for International Studies and Research. He has written extensively on Somalia

    With all due respect to Richard, this is a collection of all the clichés on Somalia (and Switzerland). That Switzerland reaches its current status is not the outcome of a bottom up approach: there were moments like that, but many others clearly shaped by a quite different logic. One should expect the reference to be more grounded in history.

    John Lonsdale wrote an essay (published in African Studies) on the creation of pre-colonial State, and one would hardly find any process similar to the one designed by the author. But yes, history is creative. Anthony Giddens, in his book The Nation-State and Violence, also reminds us that States exist only in a system of States. This is also very true when analysing the conditions by which Switzerland was able to survive despite the wars at its borders. It is surprising how the issue of State Building in Somalia is seen as internal, though so many foreign actors are involved and imperative on its shape and orientation.

    I have no idea whether Somalia is a fit for a strongly centralised State, for a loose federation or for the coexistence of many States: I hope one day its population can have a say on that issue after a proper democratic debate. One should however bear in mind a few points. First, the centralized State was not always a colonial legacy . The Sudan Political Service was not made up of disciples of Napoleon, neither was their practical philosophy inclined to that thinking. Ethiopia was a very centralised State and did not need the Italians to be that. Ioan Lewis reminds us – I think in “Pastoral Democracy”- that Somalis could be fierce Repuplicans but also very obedient. The focus on the current crisis should not pre-empt us to remember other periods of Somali history when centralizing dynamics were very much at play (the Ajuuran empire, or the post 1945 nationalistic period). On should stop identifying State-building process with a UNDP/NGO project and see it as it is: messy, contradictory, often coercive and bloody, and much longer that a diplomatic assignment or a UN contract.

    That Somali politics could eventually be reduced to clan politics is an opinion that still has some popularity. I would not say this is untrue, but as a sociologist I am amazed that no other identities play a role, neither those created by urbanisation, migrations, social classes, contacts with the State, political Islam and so on. Really, if the author is right, then Somalia is extra-ordinary: the “museum of one people that has not changed” (taking note that the author forgets the strong presence of Bantus and other refugees – such as Oromos – of all kinds). Moreover, I would like to hear what clan politics actually encompasses at a moment when all clans (at least in the South and in large parts of the North) are deeply divided, with the divisions often crossing nuclear families.

    The proposal Richard makes just ignores history and confuses the social setting of Somaliland and Puntland with most of the South where all clans are represented. What then are the regions he mentions? How to define them? Should we take those of the1960s? or 1990? Or repeat what Puntland and Somaliland did (very different approaches but still a creeping conflict between the two)? Puntland with a very small population and a relative clan homogeneity created more than 30 new districts to appease some of its elites. With little success, as we can witness today. The current problems faced by both entities have different origins but tend to prove that their survival is today increasingly connected or dependent of international support.

    His idea is also debatable on another important point: why should Mogadishu port benefit only to Benaadir people? Should Berbera port benefit only to Sahel and not to the whole Somaliland? Ethiopia did promote this idea in the 1990s and got the support of other international players at that time (the EU among them). The achievement is to say the least, unimpressive. To a large extent, the growth of Islamism in the late 1990s and early 2000s was fed by a nationalistic reaction to what many Somalis interpreted as a balkanisation of Somalia.

    Let us conclude on Somaliland: as someone who grew up in a democratic country, I always question unanimity (seemingly unlike the author) and my fieldwork experience shows that ‘yes ministers’ support their government in Somaliland, but opinions vary in the population at large. Some may die for Somaliland, others feel it is the best they can get for the time being, and few publicly or silently admit (since inside Somaliland they will be arrested or socially coerced) that they are against it.

  2. Berouk Mesfin is Senior Researcher at the African Conflict Prevention Programme (ACPP), Addis Ababa

    The Sad Truth about Somalia

    The single most significant security threat to the Horn of Africa is the prolonged absence of any functioning central government in Somalia since 1991. Indeed, Somalia continues to experience a persistent struggle for power and spoils between enduringly rival groups which resulted in a great deal of damage and destruction. The different Somali groups have always been regrettably determined to be kings – even if it meant destroying the kingdom. In this relentless quest, they have consistently solicited external assistance against their rivals.

    To influence the course of the ongoing conflict in a manner consistent with their narrow interests, these Somali groups have cynically sought an escalation of their benefactors’ involvement, manipulating and playing them off. They ended up undermining every concrete attempt to achieve a lasting political solution and were hell-bent on defeating the good intentions of plenty of would-be mediators, in turn, embroiling local politics in regional rivalries and providing interested regional states entry points through which the armed conflict acquired a geopolitical dimension.

    These Somali groups have repeatedly and unilaterally raised the level of conflict and made it far more intractable and contributed to the worst deterioration of security in recent memory in the already volatile Horn of Africa. They have irreparably set the stage for what Chege portrayed exactly four years before the excruciating collapse of Somalia as ‘a murderous seesaw of military escalation: local conflict invokes external intervention which in turn expands the scope of local confrontation making it necessary to import sophisticated armaments for the next round of military engagements’.[1]

    What is sad is that many Western analysts, totally disregarding the historical record, have missed this dimension of the Somali conflict. It has always been part of the larger regional insecurity, and cannot be viewed as a totally separate case despite its own unique features. It is also disappointing to see that Somalia only forces its way back to the international community’s radar screen because of piracy attacks which periodically and marginally threatened international trade, and through the resurgence of Islamist groups – some of which are conveniently alleged to have links with Al Qaeda.

    The two brighter spots are obviously Somaliland and Puntland, which continue to run their own affairs independently from Mogadishu. Puntland has its own military force composed of militias which are not structurally defined and regularly paid, a police force, and an intelligence service. But, it continues to serve as a spring board for the rather lucrative piracy. The conflict between Somaliland and Puntland has continued unresolved. It is a product of the contested region of Sool and Eastern Sannag. The areas in question are inhabited by people who tend to identify themselves with Puntland. However, territorially, they fall within the borders of Somaliland.
    [1] Chege, Michael, ‘Conflict in the Horn of Africa.’ In Africa: Perspectives on Peace and Development, edited by Emmanuel Hansen. London: Zed Books, 1987, p.88.

  3. Ken Menkhaus is Associate Professor of Political Science at Davidson College and an expert on Somalia

    Richard Dowden touches on a lot of issues in his piece. Let me focus my comments on his central thesis – the need for Somali state-building and peace-building to be accomplished with sub-national entities – regional governments – serving as the main source of power and as the main actors negotiating the terms of a national government. This is an approach that is gaining traction in international and some Somali circles, manifested in the current arrangements for regional entities to pay a direct role in the transitional roadmap in Somalia. It is an idea borne of frustration with repeated failures of top down state building in Somalia, and has the distinct advantage of building on what works – local and regional administrations in Somalia have achieved modest but real achievements, and enjoy a greater degree of local ownership, accountability, and legitimacy than has the TFG and its predecessors.

    But like all proposed solutions, this one solves some problems and creates new ones, and we need to be frank about some of the shortcomings of the ‘confederal model’ in the Somali setting. First, it is disliked by many Somalis, and not just the corrupt elites presiding over the loot-fest we call the TFG. Somali nationalists see it as a path to disintegration and an Ethiopian plot to keep Somalia divided and weak. Some Somali clans see it as a recipe for marginalization, if their home area is devoid of natural resources or ports where revenues can be raised. But the biggest problem of all – and one that has persistently plagued both Somalia and neighboring Ethiopia (which embraced an ethno-federalism model twenty years ago, though only partially implementing it) – is the question of identity and rights in a federal or confederal system. Because the federal model is, in the minds of almost all Somalis, code for clan-based regions, the organization of Somalia into federal states begs the critical question of who has the right to live, own land, and make full political clams in these entities? Are these to be strictly ethno-states? Or may any Somali enjoy full claims to live in any confederal state, in which case they are purely administrative units, more akin to the American federal model than the Swiss one? Unfortunately, for all of Somaliland’s and Puntland’s successes, they have defined citizenship in their territory in exclusivist clan terms, treating other clans as at best “guests” (galti) and at worst as illegal immigrants. Puntland’s expulsion of south-central Somalis last year made this amply clear.

    There is a long running debate among Somalis over the nature and basis for rights – rights by blood, rights by birth, or rights by citizenship. Until that is resolved, federal and confederal models are an invitation to fight rather than a promising solution to the vexing problem of state revival in Somalia. I personally think some form of decentralized governance in Somalia has great potential, but not until fundamental issues of citizenship and rights are clarified. That, among other things, is a matter that the TFG is supposed to be addressing in its constitutional committee.

  4. Mary Harper – BBC Africa Editor and author of forthcoming African Arguments book, Getting Somalia Wrong? Faith, War and Hope in a Shattered State

    Richard Dowden’s proposition is an interesting one, but a Swiss model for Somalia could lead to more, not less, conflict. It is unlikely that a loose confederation of Somali regions would live together in happy harmony.

    One only needs to look at the situation in the north of the territory, which has already gone down a route similar to that proposed by Dowden. Although it is more stable that southern and central Somalia, there are serious tensions between the regions, which could at anytime spark into open conflict.

    As Berouk Mesfin points out, the self-declared republic of Somaliland and the semi-autonomous region of Puntland are engaged in a long-running and bitter border dispute over a large stretch of territory. The city of Galkacyo, one of the biggest in Somalia, is divided, the north administered by Puntland, the south by another semi-autonomous region, Galmudug. This is not sustainable.

    Southern and central Somalia has, in a sense, also gone the way of Switzerland. Regional administrations are strong, and central government is weak. But most of the regions are controlled by the Islamist group, Al Shabaab, which has imposed a way of life anathema to many inside and outside Somalia.

    If the Swiss model was formally adopted for Somalia, what mechanism would be in place to stop groups like Al Shabaab from taking control of particular regions?

    Dowden says strong centralised government does not work in Somalia. But from independence in 1960 till the military coup of Siad Barre in 1969, Somalia had a centralised form of government. It also had a lively parliamentary democracy and was described by the political scientist, Ali Mazrui, as coming “close to being the most open society in post-colonial Africa” .

    It is possible that the best solution for Somalia is effective central government, but not government built as Roland Marchal describes as a “UNDP/ NGO project”. It could be a government built according to the Somaliland model, a Somali project starting from the bottom up, mixing the best of the traditional with the modern.

  5. Nuradin Dirie is a Somali analyst and a former presidential candidate in Puntland.

    My response to Richard’s piece is one in support – I agree with him that Somalis need to organically grow their own state in their own image or risk not having one at all. We in Somalia have taken a self-governing path and it seems that to this end nothing will stop us. There is a reason why for centuries we did not have a centralised state in Somalia but rather we had ‘human histories’ and ‘human relations’ which has sometimes been called ‘pastoral democracy’. Our experience of gaining and losing a central state is relatively new and only 50 years old. The journey was not a resounding success either, but rather one of confusion. Firstly from the Italians we inherited and adopted a western democratic model with Italian organising style. We quickly moved to Soviet inspired ‘scientific socialism’ which was brute, bizarre and macho nonsense. We then tried to find our way back to the West only to be surprised by a new world order that had no place for us.

    In a sense, to go back to our organic roots and imitate our nature was a forced choice. The terrible civil war that caused the destruction of the Somali state returned us back to our bare essential components. Somalis voted with their feet and reorganised the country into a pattern more recognisable to them. Formerly empty towns and cities like Buroa, Bossasso, Beletweyn and Badoa have experienced population explosions of up to 10 times. People have moved to different geographies and established different polities within Somalia where they believe they can find life, voice, dignity and representation. Some have organised more successfully than others, but most are committed to self-governance in one shape or another.

    Admittedly, creating a central representation in some form or shape is still desired in Somalia but it is taking long time, causing a lot of misery, and attracting new and even more dangerous confusion. From Somali elites who are trying to shape the country for their own personal interests, to regional influences that are pulling the country in different directions. Also from projectised state building approaches to pseudo Somali experts who are professional confusion artists. In the 1950s, just such a western expert boasted about writing the Somali constitution over a glass of wine in a hotel in Rome. This tradition now continues and includes hotels in Washington, London, Paris, Nairobi and Addis. The new world order also found a new place for us, but not for the sake of state building, rather for conducting jihads and wars on terror.

    Somalis are pushing their country into the one that is close to what Richard has described. Other external interests are pulling them into many other directions. Perhaps Richard should have changed his title to “let us not confuse these simple nomads anymore!”

  6. So are we still in the thinking that because we broke up traditional systems of governance, we must fix Africa with our systems of governance?

    Now I am not arguing for Somalia to be left or hung out to dry but Western interference and development naivety has done very little for Africa in general and Somalia in particular. Maybe its time to work with the realities and form de facto legal authorities with what is there. Sure its ugly but that hasn’t stopped us in the past and that recognition continues until the present day.

  7. While not an expert in any sense on how Somalia is best to be governed, I have to agree with Mr. Marchal, that Mr. Dowden, in his effort to suggest that Somalia is made up of “one people,” omits the fact that there are people groups who live there who have no clan affiliation and no clan protection. In localized governments or in a centralized government, how will they be represented?

    As I work among Somali and Somali Bantu refugees here in the states, I hear countless stories of extreme prejudice and horrible violence against the Bantu by some of the majority ethnic Somalis. The governance solution if it is to be “fair,” must be inclusive. Yet much of what has been written on this subject in this forum suggests that exclusivity is the preferred, if not normative, way of life in Somalia. I am typically a hopeful person, but I would suggest that until the ethnic Somali clans realize that a “house divided will not stand,” nothing will change, and the minority groups such as the Bantu and Oromo peoples will have the most to lose.

  8. Richard Dowden is quite impressive in certain extent in understading the trejactories of somali conflict by showing why bottom up nation-building is unavoidable for somalia .There is no doubt that helping to create a functioning state where there is none is difficult, The problem is that outside forces whether in the form of AU, UN or Ethopia do it so poorly in understanding somali way of conflict resolution which is intiated from grassroots by elders, ulemas, busniness groups, women as the Yoruba had a way of conflict magagment process called kirikiri. and the Gikuyu of Kenya process known as itwika, Though i could say once men with guns seize the initiative, it becomes more complex to accommodate the interests of their peculiar hierarchies in addition to those of the broader society and political system, and it becomes more costly for external peacemakers to apply their will as its happening in mogadishu and southern somalia were successive mandates have failed. Somalia having experienced several types of intervention today like a barometer, it has reflected shifting U.S. and international opinion which changed local somali conflict into global war on terror which makes the common somali hard to adapt. its wise that we return the conflict to its orgin and steep out the interventionist agenda

  9. I find it incredible that the old idea that Somalia is homogeneous both in population makeup and clan structure continues to hold credence, even among academics. As has already been noted, completely omitting the presence of those such as the Somali Bantus, and Somalia’s minority clans completely obscures the idea that an essentially clan based framework will further marginalize a great percentage of the population.

    Attempts at developing a centralized state from the top down have failed, but it also must be noted that this process has largely been one dictated to the Somalis. Perhaps true greater autonomy and inclusion in their own affairs and can provide better success for state building in the future. This inclusion must be one that represents a true representation of Somali society, that has already been greatly marginalized by the formalization of the “4.5” system”.

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  11. The Somali State was destroyed along clan lines. Such destruction was predicted correctly by the Somali bard “Timadde” whose famous words are recited by Somalis everywhere but yet ignored. Timadde said “Clannism provides NO shelter; it ONLY causes destruction”.

    Due to the complete collapse of the State and the need to overcome the current level of mistrust and sparse middle class, A Turkish model of an Islamic State may resolve the Somali problem. The Islamic Courts’ experience gives a clear indication that such a model would succeed in Somalia where other models failed. Somalia does not need Western inspired models. It needs to be left alone. Having said that, the International Community can help by supporting moderate Islamic figures instead of corrupt TFG officials. The Prophet of Islam cured the ills of Quraish, warring sub-clans in the Arabian Peninsula that very much resembled the Somali clan-structure, by uniting them under the banner of Islam. The Prophet himself likened Clannism to a stinking corpse and the Quran asked its followers to use Clan as an identity and not a tool for sharing power.

  12. In 1995 The EC commissioned a study on decentralized political structures for Somalia. The study, written by Prof. I.M. Lewis, came up with four structures or forms of government which Somalis could look at and then choose the one that suited them best. The forms were: confederal, federal, unitary, and consociational. The study recognized that opinion was shifting towards the confederal or federal systems. In fact, at that time,
    the faction leaders were thoroughly convinced that the federal form of government was the best system that would guarantee democracy, decentralization and development. That choice represented a definite and deliberate departure from an etatism that was associated with a failed unitary system. Moreover, the capital city, Mogadishu, became a clan enclave which encouraged strong centrifugal tendencies and led in the far northwest of the country to a declaration of secession. The federal form was adopted in Sodere (Ethiopia) in 1996, and reaffirmed in Cairo (1997), in Djibouti (2000) and in Mbegathi (Kenya) 2004. Somalis have agreed and made a choice and now Richard Dowden, ignoring all this, is prescribing the confederal system for them. There are some Somali antifederalists who have lately appeared on the scene and are trying hard to reverse the march of history and start the debate all over again. Yes, there is no unanimous support for federalism. But, Richard Dowden should know that there is no unanimity on anything anywhere in the word – and least of all what he calls “Somaliland”. He should also know that Somalis are averse to foreign prescriptions. They are already complaining that there is too much foreign involvement as to the choices they should make. Furthermore, structural solutions are not the answer to substantive problems and Somalis will have to devise ways and means of making federalism work for them. Alexander Pope was substantially right when he said in a couplet more than two hundred years ago, “For forms of government let fools contest: Whatever is best administered is best”. Richard Dowden is also improperly informed about what he calls “Somaliland”. I do not, for lack of space, wish to go into details, but he will be well advised to speak to the TFG ministers and parliamentarians who hail from that part of the country and find other anti-secessionst northerners such as NSPU, NSUM, and the Awdalites. He may also wish to read an anti-secession pamphlet written by the Northern Somalis for Peace and Unity (NSPU) in 2006 under the title, ” Illusory ‘Somaliland’: Setting the Record Straight”.

  13. Abdul Ahmed III; Abdul Ahmed III is policy modeling specialist and contributor to research institutions in Arizona, Washington DC and Virginia. says:

    Richard Dowden has eloquently presented a synopsis of Somalia’s problem by discussing some of the most important elements of the Somali Problem. In the following paragraphs I attempt to dissect and discuss the central propositions in Downden’s article:

    (1) The role of international community in Somalia; Forcing Statehood?
    Richard Dowden raises some serious questions on the value of upholding the international recognition of the statehood of Somali. However the premise of the article is erroneous – based on the invalid hypothesis that somehow the world community forces statehood on Somalia. This is logically incomplete and legally incorrect argument. The international community does not and cannot force statehood. The international community is simply preserving a completely accurate legal fact of Somali statehood in situ.

    (2) Model of Government
    There is much to like about Switzerland’s cantons, particularly when we know full the failures of internationally driven efforts to build a central Somali government. Dowden is right on the mark!

    I share many but not all Dowdens ideas, In the recent past in an article titled Saving Somalia: Theseus Paradox I argued that Somalia of today is not the Somalia of 20-years back. I reasoned that “Arguments on how to find a political solution for Somalia have become “argumentum ad infinitum”. These arguments are always centered on creation of a national government for a unified Somalia. Perhaps the best way to save the Somali people is to save them from the current policies of the international community.

    I also argued that the world community should accept however the Somali people should choose configure themselves, for Instance the world community should accept successful alternative approaches such as regionalism and the formation of regional groupings of self-administering states that could eventually unite in a confederation of Somali states”

    The above is of course an opinion that does not preclude any other alternative solutions conceived, designed and implemented by Somali people for the Somali people. It is simply an argument that acknowledges the limits of the international community to reconstitute a legitimate Somali government.

    On the surface the above argument may seem to be identical to the case made by Dowden when he argues that “In Somalia civil war began in the late 1980s and since then fragmentation has continued. Good. Leave it that way. It suits Somali society”.

    But what exactly suits the Somali society? Swiss Cantons? I argue that what suits the Somali society is indisputably linked to the structure of the Somali society – linked that is to the egalitarian clan system and the individualism that led Richard Burton to describe the Somali society as a nation of republicans!

    Dowden’s ideas are on the other hand are ambitious elaborate plans complete with ideas on how to collect taxes and what relationship the local entities should have with a central entity. I fear that this may be another fine idea but one that is theoretical one, and one that is poised to fail just as many efforts to externally reconstitute “Some form of Somali Government” have failed miserably – multiple times!! ……………… !

    (3) The Union; should the former British Somaliland secede?
    To a large extent I do understand the source and sentiments for secession; I also do have a great the compassion for any group in Somalia that presents a case of sufferings under the previous Somali governments. Regardless of our compassion however, it is a moral imperative to also not force other clans who do not want to secede to be part of secession and rule that they so vehemently opposed since the colonial era.

    (4) Clan Structure
    The Issims in Puntland and the Gurti in Somaliland are just few of the traditional consultative forms that the Somali people could create on their own. In fact in the colonial era Puntland had far more advanced governing structures that included not only consultative body, but also legislators and executive in the form of Sultan. (many of whom were arrested by the Italians between1910-1929 and brought to Mogadishu).

    It is also factually incorrect that Gurti in the former British Somaliland retained respect and authority or managed anything for that matter. In fact the British Somaliland was divided to friendly areas and hostile areas primarily based on what clans supported the British rule and which opposed it.

    There is an ample literature on this division as well as the political stance of the clans of the eastern part of the former British Somaliland. This important because pro-secession elements tend to be from what the British Colonial Officers called the friendly areas and are primarily of one clan! … Let us realize that no one can force any clan to accept secession against their will.

    This realization should also force us to refrain from overstretching the utility of any proposal – however well-meaning it may be!. Dowden’s proposal to raise and collect taxes locally could perhaps adverse impact on matters of peace and stability. Mainly because the definition of local is not well clear. Traditionally however loyalties to local entity are based on clan association and not on entities like Somaliland. A resident in the eastern parts of the former British Somaliland does not necessarily feel to be member of an authority based in Hargeisa or Buro’.

    The above shows us the intricacy of clan associations in all parts of Somalia. It also should forces us to acknowledge two important elements (i) the fact that complexity of the Somali problem demands a Somali solution by Somali people and (ii) the capacity for Somalis to choose their own solution when and if they so desire, In other words the international community and Somalia scholars should NOT micro-manage this process of finding peace and shaping the future of Somali statehood.

    In fairness to Dowden, however, regionalism is a viable option if and only if we accept the Somali version of regionalism. By doing so the issue of citizenship of what some call ethno-states is in fact a no issue because (i) Somali people are of the same ethnic group, there is no ethno-state in Somalia and there could be no comparison the Ethiopia’s multi-ethnic society. (ii) In spite of the Somali clan segmentation there are many instances where Somali nationalism has emerged as have been stated and documented by I. M Lewis.

  14. Mr.Richard because you visited one clan enclave you met the only choice possible. Hopping no other intention misled you,I guarantee you that only one tribe out of seven tribes of North Somalia is making all this ballyhoo for a secession that will never see a light.

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  16. Richard Dowden who has spent years writing about Africa and Somalia in particular is bringing a very good discussion to the fore. Let’s be frank about Somalia’s problem though, Somalia has had no effective government for the past 20+ years, after a dozen or more reconciliation processes that were brought about inorganically by the West or the neighboring countries who all have vested interest to install weak administration of their own making from a top down approach, have failed or didn’t bring about the solution desired by the people.

    Somalia’s problem is centered on Mogadishu; the international communities are so naïve on imposing a weak and corrupt administration that does not have the people’s interest . It was Ethiopia’s invasion that produced the notorious Al Ashabab of today and later AMISOM which empowered, fed them and made them stronger. At the present time, we are witnessing history repeating itself with Kenyan Army illegally entering Somali borders. Yes, Somalis are to be blamed for their mess but foreign intervention has a significant hand in the Somali problem. How Mogadishu would bring peace to any other region in Somalia when it is not at peace with itself?

    Somalia’s worsening political violence, including the Al Qaida inspired suicidal killings which are culturally taboo are confined to Mogadishu and its environs. On the contrary, regional governments in Puntland and Somaliland have steadfastly moved into a sustained civic culture, made possible by the wise investment in the bottom up approaches to peace-building and comprehensive reconciliation, where traditional infrastructures such as elders, local intellectuals and moderate religious leaders are effectively employed. Like Puntland and Somaliland, Mogadishu and the rest of Southern Somalia need to commence grass roots based peace-building through their traditional elders and moderate religious leaders, including moderate elements within Al Shabaab. Only when Mogadishu is pacified, then we can discuss about alternatives.

  17. The trouble with these policy wonks is that they get sniff of a strategy that worked in particular place and immediately assume that, if similar template is applied in other trouble spots, it will produce same happy results. Remember IMF’s export driven policy in the 80s! Like the IMF if such suggestion fails, it will be the fault of those locals who didn’t follow it properly.

    Is Somalia’s trouble down to structure? I presume not, if that were the case, solution would have been found years ago. I thought Somalia problem were mainly overpopulation, environmental degradation and deforestation.

    Is it possible that Somalia reached a stage were without the technological advancement and modification to way of life that the land cannot support Somalia’s population anymore? In which case all this argument is really pointless because it’s really not addressing the real issues.

  18. The solution for Somalia is strong Central Government run by strong nationalist leader, the building block system of government is only interested by people who wants Somalia to be weak. So far the federal system is not working in Somalia and the proof is what is happening in the puntland state.

  19. Mr Dowden said that all people in somaliland agree with the secessionist tendencies of their authority. That is incorrect. He probably did not go to the eastern part of Somaliland where people are staunchly against secession. The Somaliland indepenence is mainly supported by one clan. Even many in the Isaaq clan are against it. But they cannot said so openly in Hargiesa or Burco. If they did, they would be arrested. So the democracy Mr Dowden mentioned in nowhere to be seen when it comes to expressing one’s views. You hoist the somalia flag in your garden in Hargeisa and you go to prison and probably face a torture. Further, Mr Dowden’s views on the effectiveness of Gurti is overtly influenced by Somalilanders. Gurtis had their place before the independences. Their views are also respected in rural areas, but people in urban areas do not follow what elders say anymore. Who is going to pick Mr Dowden’s House of Lords? The whole idea is unworkable.

    Mr Ken Menhous explained why confederate states are not a good idea when he said “we need to be frank about some of the shortcomings of the ‘confederal model’ in the Somali setting. First, it is disliked by many Somalis….. Somali nationalists see it as a path to disintegration and an Ethiopian plot to keep Somalia divided and weak“

    Recent agreement between Somaliland and Ethopia allowing the construction of oil pipes from soon-to-oil producing eastern regions of Ethopia to the port of Berbera, in Somaliland is a case in point. Ethopia, in clear violation of Somalia Sovreignty signed an agreemenent what is still a somalia in Internation law. Also Ethopia opened a consolute in Garowe, Puntland, without bothering to talk to the central somalia goverment. Therefore, Ethopia will have a field day dealing directly with newly created confederate states rather than the somalia government.

    A bone of contention is the issue of financing arrangements between federate states and the central authority. Presently every region is trying to build a port or an airport to get tax revenues. The end result will be dozens of ports dotted along the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea all trying to attract the same exporters/importers with ever-decreasing cheaper tariffs. Those regions in the hinterland will be marginalised as Mr Menhous stated. If the federal states are allowed to keep the taxes they locally collected, how do you finance the operations of the central government? Mr Dowden indicated that the central government should be funded by the taxes collected from Mogadisho. He is probably working on the assumption that Mogadisho will be a federal territory akin to Washington DC The people of Mogadisho are likely to be against that idea. They will almost certainly opt for either Mogadisho being a federal state in its own right or a city located in federal state comprising the surrounding regions. Mogadisho residents may argue that taxes collected in Mogadisho should be solely to the benefit of the Mogadisho people. And the funding burden of the central government should shared equally by all the federal states. So the issue of funding the central government need to be solved. One alternative solution could be that all customs duties are given to the central government with federal states are free levy other taxes to fund their operations.

    My solution is to have a weak central government with cabinet comprising less than 10 ministers and a powerful federal states. If the central government is weak and minimal with meagre income, there is less room for corruption and embezzlement. I am mindful of the fact that federalism may encourage disunity but given the mess we are in, it is the best option available. The biggest challenge will be how many regions will be there? And how many federal states? How do you draw the borders between regions and federal states? Will a federal state be allowed to create as many regions as it wishes as Puntland and Somaliland have done? If that is allowed, you will have a situation where every sub sub clan wants to have their own region. A non-somali may find it hard to see the significance of a region to a clan. May be clan rivalry accounts for this. One possible solution could be that what constitutes a region is defined by the number of people living in it. If the people in a certain geographical area reach a certain number, then they are designated to be a region. The same goes for a districts. In that way, you have regions and districts of equal size all over the country.

  20. In Defence of Richard Dowden

    My initial impulse in perusing Richard Dowden’s piece ‘Don’t Force Statehood on Somalia’ was to cry “BLOODY MURDER!”–he must, as I have persuaded myself, have had access to an article I penned a couple of years back entitled “America, Pray Leave Somalia to its Own Devices”(published first in Journal of Contemporary African Studies, v. 28, no. 3 July 2009. 313-323.) But I then realized that certain temperaments tend to come up with identical visions/solutions without knowing of each other! Don’t just laugh here, gawk! His suggestions for nudging wayward Somalia towards a workable political solution happen to match my own – step for step, strategy for strategy, concept for concept. Only I didn’t bring in the Swiss as a model.

    Mr. Dowden does not need my help, as he is surely capable of defending his small niche of an argument – or to pastoralize it – to protect his herd of camels against tribal interlopers. Still, in pointing to Switzerland as a potential political model for Somalia Mr. Dowden, if I understood him, was uninterested in tracing the torturous route by which Switzerland became Switzerland, nor in trying to draw a comparative parallel in the histories of the Swiss and hapless Somalis. He was only, again if I understood him, referring to the tiny mountainous, heterogeneous country’s success in creating for itself autonomous communities of prosperous self-governing units, thereby becoming the ‘Wunderkind’ of Europe. Since all attempts at centralizing Somalia have so far failed, he seems to be saying, why not try something new, something similar to the “Swiss model?”

    Two further points. One is a trifling kvetch: the word Gurti – elder for Somali and spelt ‘Guurti’ – was NOT used by the British during their tenure of northern Somalia. It is of more recent coinage. Instead, the British preferred the Arabic ‘Aaqil (sg) ‘Uqaal (pl).

    The other is more serious and would have rendered Mr. Dowden’s points unchallengeable had he recollected it. He refers to the “fertile” inter-riverine region of southern Somalia. And it is a fact that the only piece of rich real estate that Somalia boasts happens to be this part. In the early 1970s a Somali-government commissioned Chinese team concluded that 50m farmers could comfortably live off this strip of territory. Allowing for the Chinese team’s assumption in the equality of farming skills between Chinese and Somalis (gawk again!), my own personal experience in the area tends to support the Chinese assessment. Again in the early 70s I used to run an adult night school in the port town of Kisimayu right in the heart of this region. My colleagues and I used to take pleasure excursions into the surrounding countryside. What we witnessed was a land unlike any in the rest of Somalia – a land covered with brilliantly swaying-in -the-wind woodlands teeming with domestic and wild life – myriad numbers of camel and cattle herds, flocks of sheep and goats, huge elephant herds, vast herds of ostriches, multiple prides of lions, leopards, cheetahs – the whole works. A very Serengeti-like environment, if you will. Much of this world has of course now vanished, wiped out almost to extinction by violent uncontrolled Somalis wielding AK-47s. (Whoever gave AK-47s to Somalis has committed an unpardonable sin against Somalia!) The land is now denuded of the woodlands, the big trees mowed down to be sold as commercial charcoal to the Emirate markets and beyond. Still, it remains the prime real estate in Somalia.

    Why then, Mr. Dowden, should have asked, is this most fertile region inhabited by a perennially starving, famine-haunted population? The answer is as straight as it is terrifying. What nobody seems to know is that southern Somalia is an occupied territory -occupied in precolonial times by the predatory pastoral clans of Dir, Daarood and Hawiye who rapaciously preyed on the pacific peasant population of Bantu, Oromo, and Raxanwayn, etc. Then the Italians followed on their footsteps to conquer and occupy the Bantu and Raxanwayn, pastoralists, too, for good measure, and then conscripted the lot as slave laborers to work on their vast banana plantations. Then the successor national state that was born in 1960 from the merger of former British and Italian Somalilands, dominated by pastoralists, and therefore unsympathetic to this region, continued apace the oppression of the local population. Then Gen. M. Siyaad Barre’s totalitarian military regime took oppression of the region to new heights, then in the wake of Barre regime’s collapse in January, 1991, and the disintegration of Somalia into civil anarchy, the hordes of the late and unlamented Gen. M. F. Aydiid moved in, ravishing and raping the region. And now al-Shabaab Islamist thugs equally addicted to slicing off limbs of supposed refractors and gang-raping, first, 13-year-old lasses, then accusing them of adultery and publicly stoning to death these defenseless children in the market place.

    If Mr. Dowden drew attention to the dramatic contrast between the arid unyielding but thriving autonomous, self-governing north and northeastern regions on the one hand and the fertile but starving occupied south, his argument calling for a Somalia of loosely connected self-governing entities would have been untouchable!

    Finally, I gained a number of valuable insights from the two critical responses. What I miss in them is the kind of concrete proposals that Mr. Dowden puts forward. It is one thing to attack another’s ideas, another to put something tangible on the table! Perhaps it should be made a law that nobody without concrete submissions should enter this site!

    Further, for the record there was, to my knowledge, no centralized state system in precolonial Somalia. The nearest thing to an organized state system in precolonial Somalia were the little eastern coastal sultanate of the Majeerteen Boqor, or Sultan ’Ismaan Mahamuud and his enterprising usurpist nephew Yusuf Ali Keenadiid, who occupied the Hawiye lands around the southeastern coastal town of Hobyo(Obbia) and oppressed the natives there. (Incidentally, both of these statelets’ economies prospered mightily on plundering traffic on the shipping lanes of the Indian Ocean. Some things , apparently, never change. And in the west the tiny kinglet of the Ujuuraan led by the noble clan of the Gareen in the upper reaches of the Shabelle, or the River of Leopards, which was certainly no empire. (If anyone is in a mood to look into the Ujujuuraan further, they might start consulting a book coathored by David Laitin and myself, entitled Somalia: a Nation in Search of a State, Pp. 15-17.

    Coda: I loathe to take sides in debates but this time around my love of justice gets the better of me: The use of the word “cliché” in description of Dowden’s entry strikes me oddly. Cliché, as I understand it, is a word, phrase or concept that has lost its original power of validity through overuse or indiscriminate repetition. If so, it doesn’t apply to Dowden’s piece. If anything, his commends itself for its iconoclastic freshness.

  21. Comments are just words on papers, the reality is that Somalia is still not shared properly pie by all those in need of natural resources generally, and particularly the Black Gold ( Gas ) and other energy boosting resources not to forget to mention the longest coast of Africa.

    Having said that, Somalia needs experienced leaders that can lead Somalia to the path of tolerance, forgiveness, just, transparent, committed, and above all nationalists that respect all International Laws, UN Charter of Human Rights, accept Global cooperation with all International Stakeholders to secure Peace and Stability in our World.

    It has to be understood that all attempts done so far by The International Community has failed because of multiple reasons, which maybe related to ignorance or intentional actions to keep Somalia at its current status to delay the solution until a resource sharing agreement is reached by the World Corporations.

    It is very important to underline that Somalis are in need of social security because all their imminent needs are based on daily survival like what to eat, drink, where to get grass for their animals, and after they got the opportunity of getting the guns they started profiting from killing, looting, raping and all other criminal activities that might be committed with guns. It is also very important that the International Community misunderstood Somalis when they said Somalis are religiously fanatics, or extremists, which totally wrong.

    The truth is Somalis worship Clan, Camel, Caw, and goat . If there is a dispute between religion and Clan interest surely the Somalis will support their Clan before their religion, and that is the reality on the ground in Somalia where there is only needs but no morals and neither religion.

    My Advise to the International Community is ” Do not evaluate Somalia as you do with your situation”, help them settle properly, give them water, medication, basic education, and let them take their time , recover from all kind of sickness, only after that Somalis may be responsible of their actions.

  22. The Somali Outlook of the concept of ‘Statehood’

    Reading Richard Dowden’s analysis gives me a reflection of unique insight which was drawn largely from my years of observation for Somalis. In the global context, states are created by societies for a purpose. States are built on serving for the interest and wellbeing of a certain society – for example, to represent its needs, to preserve its existence and to act as its face in the international stage. In other words, states are partners of the society it serves. If a state fails to fulfil its duties, it means that the whole society which created it will suffer and plunge into disaster after disaster. Somali Republic as a state was the product of European colonialism. Without the colonial experience, no-one would have surmised that there was a hope that Somalis could come to establish a nation-state. It is because the concept of nation-state was not only novel, but an alien to Somalis. While each sub-clan had its own chief, there was no central authority that united Somalis, as contrasted with the case of Ethiopia, Congo, Ghana and several other parts of Africa.

    In essence, the Somali society has been in search for two closely linked and inextricably interlinked elements – something yet to be achieved – nationhood and statehood. Attempts to succeed both have fallen together with the ruthless autocratic and repressive military rule of Major General Mohamed Siad Barre from 1969-91. As astutely pointed out by Alice Bettis Hashi in her book The Fallen State: Dissonance, Dictatorship and Death in Somalia, ‘State and society have been debilitated by the former’s lack of legitimacy and by cumulative onslaughts on the economy and societal integrity’. The traumatic legacy of the Siad Barre regime not merely created anarchy and mayhem to Somalia, but it devastated the trust of many Somalis toward themselves and towards the state itself, as evidenced by the prolonged condition of failed state debacle. The current perception of the concept of ‘state’ by many Somalis could be characterised as a schizophrenic disorder, partly due to that long despotic rule. In his study entitled ‘Governance without Government in Somalia: Spoils, State Building, and the Politics of Coping’, Ken Menkhaus has noted that ‘the predator character of the Somali state under Siad Barre has left a legacy of deep distrust among Somalis about the state as an institution’.

    Shortly before January 1991 when Siad Barre and his cronies fled from the capital Mogadishu following a fortnight fierce battle over the fortified presidential palace, or to put it bluntly – presidency per se, violent armed competition for government power and resources, trigged by sub-sub-clannish selfishness, had surfaced. Since Somalis identify themselves with clans and sub-clans, it has become a norm and fashion for the most greedy perpetrators to organise themselves through sub-clan lines, first by forming factions and second by establishing a quasi-clan-based autonomous sub-state authorities in the southern portion of the country – for instance, Puntland, Galmudug, Ximan and Xeeb, Jubba Jasiira, Mareeg, Azania, the list goes on and on.

    The Siadist legacy has come to be seen through Somali lenses as Ayax-tag, eelna reeb (the locusts have disappeared, but they left their larvae behind). ‘For Somalis’ Menkhaus argues aptly in Somalia: State Collapse and the Threat of Terrorism, the ‘state is an instrument of accumulation and domination, enriching and empowering those who can control it and exploiting and harassing the rest’. The catastrophe facing Somalia today was rendered not by a legacy left behind by colonialism, but it can safely be accounted for an extreme Darwinian culture based on pastoralism exacerbated by the repressive military dictatorship of Siad Barre.

    Nearly every Somali would be contented to see the Somali government reinstated, if one prerequisite had been considered. Somalis can only owe their allegiance to a central government if led by a fellow clansman who prefers his clan over others, and manages to make sure his sub-clan dominates the machinery of the government politically, socially, economically, diplomatically, academically as well as in the global arena. The fellow clansman ‘president’ must allocate prominent government seats to the sub-sub-clan. This lesson inherited from Siad Barre’s clannish rule is still evident in the sub-clan sub-state entities in the former Italian Somaliland (Somalia Italiana), but astonishingly not in the former British Somaliland which transcended the sub-clan competition and moved to viable democratic institutions (for a detailed account on this, see Mark Bradbury’s Becoming Somaliland. In this regard, southern Somalia remains a distinctive category as a consequence. In short, to understand the Somali state, one should first understand the thought of Somalis themselves.

  23. My model for a peaceful (though inevitably fractious) Somalia of the future is not Switzerland, but Italy. Think of Hargeisa, the Piedmont of Somalia, and its armies marching not on Rome but rather Mogadishu, to displace not Papal but Salafite rule. Is there a Garibaldi somewhere in Somaliland to play this historical role? David Laitin

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  25. Today’s Somaliland is just a small part of the former British Somaliland. Somaliland must allow referendum in Eastern and Western parts of the former British Somaliland.

    Moreover, a confederation of present day Somalia must only be based on the representative administrative regions of 1870s. (The pre-colonial adminstartions)

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  27. Pingback: A Proposed Model for Somalia: The Case of Ken Menkhaus

  28. Pingback: Destructive Governance Model for Somalia: the case of Prof Ken Menkhaus | RBC Radio

  29. Pingback: Setting Boundaries: Who is Inside the Nation? | Do No Harm

  30. Today’s Somaliland is just a small part of the former British Somaliland. Somaliland must allow referendum in Eastern and Western parts of the former British Somaliland.

    Moreover, a confederation of present day Somalia must only be based on the representative administrative regions of 1870s. (The pre-colonial adminstartions)

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