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The Divergent Paths of Somalia and Somaliland:

The Effects of Centralization on Indigenous

Institutionsof Self-Governance and Post-Collapse
Reconciliation and State-Building
Steven R. Hofmann

Y673 Spring 2002

Institutional Analysis and Development Framework
Professor Michael D. McGinnis

Presented at the Institutional Analysis and Development

Mini-Conference on April 27th and 29th, 2002

How can one understand the divergent paths followed by Somalia (still marked by inter-
clan violence and an ineffective Transitional National Government) and Somaliland
(which has seen practically no inter-clan violence over the past five years, and recently
ratified a constitution via popular referendum) in the eleven years since the collapse of
the Somali state? Somaliland’s success has been due, at least in part, to the decision of
its leaders to utilize indigenous forms of self-governance after the collapse of the Somali
state in early 1991. Somalia’s difficulties, from this standpoint, can be at least partially
attributed to the lack of meaningful attempts to do the same. The inability of Somalia’s
leaders to make use of indigenous institutions of self-governance is, in turn, a
manifestation of the variance in the political and societal effects caused by the
centralization of political authority experienced by Somalia and Somaliland during the
colonial period, the civilian administrations of early post-colonialism (1960-69), and the
military government of Siyad Barre (1969-1991). Actions taken by the international
community, especially the United Nations, after the collapse of Somalia further
aggravated the ability of southern Somalis to effectively utilize traditional institutions of
self-governance in an effort to consolidate peace and reestablish effective and just
institutions of governance at the level of the state.
In the wake of the January 1991 collapse of the Somali state, the leaders of the

Somali National Movement (SNM), a politico-military organization headed by members

of the Isaaq clan-family, declared that the 1960 Act of Union that had joined the British

Somaliland Protectorate and the Italian-administered UN Trusteeship of Somalia had

been revoked by the peoples of Somalia’s northwest regions, thereby announcing the

secession of ‘the Republic of Somaliland’ from the Somali state. This new de facto state,

the borders of which are coterminous with those of the former British Somaliland

Protectorate1, is inhabited by 3 to 3.5 million people, the majority of whom are pastoral

nomads2, and is characterized by two wet seasons (gu and dayr) and two dry seasons

(hagaa and jiilaal). During these cycles of rain drought, the various nomadic clans move

across the barren landscape to those areas where the conditions are most favorable for

finding water and grazing land. Each nomadic clan remains within specific ‘zones of

movement’, and the movements of these clans are set to the rhythm of the seasons.

In the eleven years since Somaliland’s declaration of independence, the area has

been characterized by relative peace and stability3, especially when compared to southern

Somalia, in which inter-clan battles for territory are still waged on a daily basis.

Somaliland has yet to be recognized as an independent state by the international

community, but has been able to restore peace, establish a relatively effective central

government, and ratify via popular referendum a new constitution based on democratic

principles. How can these achievements be explained? Why has Somalia been unable to

This included the regions of Awdal, Woqooyi Galbeed, Togdheer, Sanaag, and Sool.
An estimated 70% of Somalilanders depend, either directly or indirectly, on the production and export of
livestock (Frushone 2001, 29).
There has been practically no inter-clan violence in Somaliland since 1997.
meet these goals, even after the appointment of the Transitional National Government in

October 2000?

In order to explain how the people of Somaliland have been able to solve the

problems of governance which it faced shortly after its secession from Somalia, one must

first understand the traditional social and political institutions of the pastoral nomads of

the region, and how patterns of person-to-person relationships are shaped by these

institutions. It will be argued below that Somaliland’s success has been due to the

decision of its leaders to utilize indigenous forms of self-governance after the collapse of

the Somali state in early 1991. Somalia’s difficulties, from this standpoint, can be at least

partially attributed to the lack of meaningful attempts to do the same. The inability of

Somalia’s leaders to make use of indigenous institutions of self-governance is, in turn, a

manifestation of the variance in the political and societal effects caused by the

centralization of political authority experienced by Somalia and Somaliland during the

colonial period, the civilian administrations of early post-colonialism (1960-69), and the

military government of Siyad Barre (1969-1991). Actions taken by the international

community, especially the United Nations, after the collapse of Somalia further

aggravated the ability of southern Somalis to effectively utilize traditional institutions of

self-governance in an effort to consolidate peace and reestablish effective and just

institutions of governance at the level of the state.

The paper will proceed as follows: Part I will describe the Somali kinship system

and the concept of xeer (social contract), which has traditionally patterned person-to-

person relationships among the pastoral nomads of Somaliland and Somalia; Part II will

examine the effects of political centralization in these two regions, from the era of
colonialism through the Barre regime; Part III will focus on the widely divergent paths to

conflict-resolution followed by Somalia and Somaliland during the 1990s; and the

conclusion will summarize the effects of centralization and international intervention in

Somalia and Somaliland, and propose suggestions for future research.

I. Traditional Institutions of Self-Governance

In 1961, I.M. Lewis, the foremost Western anthropologist of the Somali people,

described the traditional political and social structure of the pastoral nomads living in the

British Somaliland Protectorate as a “pastoral democracy”. Much like the Nuer of

southern Sudan, whose covenantal way of life and acephalous social structure are

examined by Duany (1992), the social structure of the northern pastoral Somalis is

characterized by little social stratification and no centralized government. Lewis states


Few societies can so conspicuously lack those judicial, administrative,

and political procedures which lie at the heart of the western conception
of government….Yet, although they…lack to a remarkable degree all
the machinery of centralized government, they are not without govern-
ment or political institutions (Lewis 1961, 1).

This egalitarian societal structure is based on kinship; one’s patriarchal descent

determines his political affiliation. Each individual’s place in society and their precise

connections with others in society are determined by his lineage. These patterns of

interaction are contextual; one level of lineage may be more salient than others in varying

situations. Agnation is viewed as a binding and absolute tie that cannot be severed;

however, female links can be ‘cut’ if necessary (ibid., 137).

Lineage is traced, at the highest level, to the clan-family. The Somali people are

divided into six clan families, viz. Dir, Isaaq, Hawiye, Daarood, Digil, Rahanwiin. The

latter two of these six lineage groups are primarily agriculturalists living between the

Shebelle and Juba Rivers in southern Somalia, while the first four listed above are

generally pastoral nomads. Somaliland is comprised primarily of members of the Isaaq,

Dir, and Daarood clan-families, with the Isaaq being the numerically predominant lineage

group. The Daarood, Hawiye, Digil, and Rahanwiin clan families inhabit southern


Because clan-families are generally quite large and often geographically

dispersed, the level of lineage one step below the clan-family, viz. the clan, marks highest

lineage level able to act as a corporate political unit; the clan may or may not be lead by a

clan-head. However, even if a clan-head (often called a ‘Sultan’) exists, there is no

centralized administration or government structure within the clan itself (ibid., 5). Below

this level of lineage is the sub-clan, the main importance of which is in those cases where

the clan also too large to act a political unit, when this is the case, the sub-clan takes on

the functions generally ascribed to the clan.

The next level of agnatic lineage system is the primary lineage group. When

telling others to what lineage he belongs, this is generally the level to which one refers

(ibid., 6). At the base of the lineage system is the dia-paying group, which is the group

within which one most often acts as a member, and the most stable of the lineage-based

corporate political units. Ties created through marriage are utilized as a method to ‘bridge

gaps’ between alliances of dia-paying groups in which no patriarchal connection exists

(ibid., 141).
It is also at this level of agnatic kinship where the concept of xeer most often

defines the interaction of person-to-person relationships. Xeer is described by Lewis as a

form of egalitarian social contract that explicitly formulates the obligations, rights, and

duties of those parties that have entered into the contract, thereby regulating the relations

between lineage groups (ibid., 161). Xeer regulates various forms of interaction between

different clans as well as relations within the same clan; the regulation of access to water

sources and grazing land is generally governed by xeer due to the fundamental

importance of these common-pool resources to the lives of nomadic pastoralists,

especially during the dry seasons. These contracts can be renegotiated or dissolved when

the various exigencies of nomadic pastoral life call for such a change.

A dia-paying group bound by xeer is collectively responsible for those actions

committed by its members that go against the obligations set forth in the contract. The

term dia itself refers to blood compensation; if a member of one lineage group kills a

member of another group with which xeer has been entered into, the group of the

transgressor is collectively responsible for paying the aggrieved dia-paying group 100

camels (fifty camels if the victim is female) (ibid., 163).4

The specific stipulations of xeer are deliberated by the shir, an informal council of

all adult men of the affected lineage groups at which each can discuss his opinions and

concerns. The eight basic principles of institutional resource management articulated by

Elinor Ostrom (1990) are found within the pastoral nomadic traditions of the Somalis,

and are taken into account when xeer concerning access to common pool resources are

being deliberated (Shivakumar 1998, 8). After the conditions of xeer are agreed upon by

This obviously reveals the unequal status of men and women in Somali society.
the shir, a council of elders consensually selected by the shir, called the guurti (which

also participates in the deliberations), assumes the duties of monitoring and enforcement.

Xeer, then, although technically a social contract (which stipulates explicit terms

and agreements between parties), can also be viewed as a covenantal relationship much

like that described by Tocqueville (1990 [1835]) in his analysis of the origins and

workings of American democracy. Explicit terms and agreements are obviously

contained within specific xeer, but the concept of xeer essentially acts as agreement

concerning the norms that will govern future conduct. Under such a covenantal

relationship, “sovereignty conceived as the right to make laws reside[s] with the people in

diverse communities of relationships” (Ostrom 1999b, 397).

However, this traditional, indigenous polycentric system of conflict-resolution

and governance was increasingly undermined by the centralization policies of

colonialists, the civilian administration established after independence (1960-69), and the

military regime lead by Siyad Barre (1969-91). The next section will examine these

policies and their effects on the kinship system and xeer.

II. Centralization and its Effects

Vincent Ostrom notes that

If one assumes…[that] continuities [of social life and human organization] are
desirable and ought to be maintained, then the integrity of the basic institutions
within a society which structure and transmit them need to be recognized and
maintained. If those institutions are seriously disrupted, the continuity of the
society itself may be disrupted (V. Ostrom 1990, 234).

Somalia serves as an example of a society disrupted by policies of centralization, which

served to weaken Somali society’s indigenous institutions of self-governance that had

regulated patterns of person-to-person interaction for centuries. However, while

centralization had an impact on both Somaliland and southern Somalia, its effects were

far greater in southern Somalia than in Somaliland, which has contributed to the various

problems that currently plague southern Somalia.

The era of colonialism

During the colonial period, the country known today as Somalia was two separate

entities: the British Somaliland Protectorate in the north and Italian Somaliland in the

south.5 In both the British Somaliland Protectorate and Italian Somaliland, the stability

of dia-paying groups was weakened by the appointment of chiefs for each clan by the

British and Italian colonial authorities in an effort to ease the running of their

administrations (Issa-Salwe 1996, 5). This practice, known as the Akils system in British

Somaliland, vested, in a single person, the powers of assisting the administration in

maintaining law and order within the clan, enforcing government orders and regulations,

and bringing persons guilty of crimes within the clan to justice, which diminished the

bonds of contractual solidarity within the dia-paying group (Lewis 1961, 201).

Furthermore, because these appointed chiefs were provided with a government stipend

(and in Italian Somaliland, a group of armed men to police his clan), competition was

created among clan elders to be appointed to this position. The system was used by both

colonial powers as a means to damage the integrity of the clan and the office of the clan

elders; in essence, it was an attempt to undermine the traditional source of leadership

within the traditional system of self-governance (Issa-Salwe 1996, 5).

However, the Italians went much further in their efforts to weaken the kinship

system and xeer. During the era of Italian fascism, land was appropriated from Somali

The British Somaliland Protectorate was controlled briefly by the Italians during World War II, and the
‘possession’ of Italian Somalia was briefly handed over to the British after the war.
owners, who were then forced to work the land essentially as sharecroppers, reducing

Somalis to a source of cheap labor. Trade and commerce within Italian Somaliland were

controlled by governmental monopolies; participation was denied to Somalis in any

sector of the economy that was deemed essential to Italian interests. Many

discriminatory laws antithetical to xeer were passed that further degraded the status of

Somalis, who also were subject to “severe and arbitrary punishments for trivial offenses”

by the Italian legal system. However, Lewis notes that the Italians, whatever their

motives and tactics, were able to inculcate a “more modern attitude towards centralized

government” in the southern Somali people, and did more to modernize the economic

system of the south than did the British in Somaliland (Lewis 1980, 112-113). Because

of the modernization efforts of the Italians, many Somalis began moving from the

countryside into the cities during this time.

By the time the British Somaliland Protectorate and the Italian Somaliland6

gained their independence in 1960, the two entities were marked by widely divergent

levels of centralization. The Italians had decided that the best way to prepare Somalia for

independence was to create governing institutions based on the centralized Western

political model. In 1950, a Territorial Council was created by Italian trusteeship

administration, which was a central consultative body responsible for all government

activities other than foreign policy and defense. Twenty-eight of the thirty-five seats on

the Council were reserved for Somalis, and were chosen by a mixed election system; a

direct vote was allowed to Somalis living in municipal districts, whereas pastoral nomads

and those living in smaller villages chose their representative through the shir. This lead

Italy was granted the responsibility of administering the trusteeship of Somalia in 1950 by the UN; Italian
Somaliland had been controlled by the British during the previous decade (1941-1950).
to a number of clan leaders joining more than one shir within the same clan, which was

an attempt to misrepresent the overall size of their clans in order obtain more seats on the

Council (Tripodi 1999, 80). Conversely, in the British Somaliland Protectorate, the only

centralized body was the Protectorate Advisory Council, which meant only twice a year

and did not have actual decision or policy-making capabilities. Due to the lack of any

real political power vested in the Council, there was no incentive for clans to

misrepresent their size in order to gain increased representation within the body.

The Civilian Government of Post-Colonial Somalia (1960-69)

The British Somaliland Protectorate became independent on 26 June 1960, and

Italian Somaliland followed suit five days later, gaining its independence on 1 July 1960.

This latter date also marked the merger of the two territories and the creation of a unified

Somali Republic. In the north, nomadic pastoralists still made up almost ninety percent

of the population, whereas less than half of the inhabitants of the south were involved in

pastoralism at the time of independence. (ibid., 83).

It must be noted that the unification of the two territories was established, as

Paolo Tripodi succinctly puts it, on a “misunderstanding” (1999, 107). Although the

legislative bodies of both territories7 unanimously approved unification, no treaty was

ever signed, and no agreement was ever reached as to the relative political powers of the

two territories after unification and independence. The southern regions dominated the

new government, controlling the posts of Commander of the Police Force and

Commander of the National Army in the state military apparatus, and the posts of

President, Prime Minister, Minister of Defense, Minister of the Interior, and Minister of

The Protectorate Advisory Council was replaced by a Legislative Council in the spring of 1960, only a
few months prior to the merger of the two territories.
Foreign Affairs in the central government. As the southern city of Mogadishu had

already been selected as Somalia’s capital, northern politicians believed they would be

better represented in the government as a compromise, but this was obviously not to be

the case.

A number of political parties had proliferated during the previous decade as the

two territories were preparing for independence; these parties were dominated by urban

Somalis, many of whom had served the British and Italian administrations, and whose

interests did not match those of the nomadic pastoralists whose social and political

structure was still characterized by the importance of kinship and xeer. “Clanism” was

viewed as divisive by these urban elites, most of whom referred to their “ex-clan” rather

than their clan when asked about their patriarchal lineage by others, preferring to be

considered simply Somali rather than a member of a specific lineage (Lewis 1980, 168).8

After independence and unification, these urban elite politicians gained control of

a highly centralized government as a result of the masses’ belief that elite interests

matched their own (A. Samatar 1988, 48). Somalia’s new constitution, based on the

Italian political system, created a unicameral legislative body (the National Assembly)

consisting of 123 directly-elected members; the National Assembly would elect a

President (who would serve as head of state) every six years; the President was vested

with the power to nominate the Prime Minister from the leading parliamentary party, to

elect deputies every four years, and to appoint five justices to the new Supreme Court. At

the regional level, eight administrative regions and thirty-six districts were created;

regional governors and district administrators were appointed by the central

Although these urban elites often preferred to be thought of as Somalis, the various parties still garnered
their support from particular clan-families and lineage-groups (A. Samatar 1988, p. 48).
government’s Ministry of Interior. The only office to be decided by election at the local

level was that of municipal mayors.

During its nine years of civilian government, Somalia increasingly began to take

on the features of a predatory state. Predatory states are characterized by the presence of

“state functionaries [that] prey upon their own subjects, whose autonomous cultural

infrastructures are threatened with destruction without their opportunities for self-

governance being increased” (Ostrom 1999a, 176). The few achievements of the three

civilian administrations in the area of social development primarily benefited urban areas;

for example, a small number of schools were constructed primarily in southern cities, a

hospital was built in Mogadishu, and a paved road was constructed linking Mogadishu

with Afgoi (Ahmed I. Samatar 1988, 65). However, the rural population was essentially

ignored by the central government; rather than attempting to create a dialogue with the

nomadic pastoralists, the first civilian regime, led by Prime Minister Abdul-Rasheed C.

Sharmaarke, only managed to anger them by increasing the taxing of the nomads.

Defense and civil administration were the largest items of government expenditure, while

spending in the agricultural and especially the pastoral sector remained miniscule (ibid.,


Eventually, the bureaucratic elite came to realize that personal wealth could be

accumulated quickly and easily in the upper levels of the state apparatus, which lead to an

explosion of the number of candidates vying for a seat in the National Assembly during

the March 1969 election campaign. More than 1,000 candidates from over sixty parties

attempted to gain access to this lucrative body, some spending up to $30,000 (US) in a

country with an annual budget of approximately $35 million (US). The Somali Youth
League won 73 of the 123 seats (thanks in large part to modifications of electoral laws

that favored the ruling SYL, and its raiding of the state treasury for its members’

campaign funding); when the new National Assembly met for the first time, all of the

non-SYL members (with the exception of former Prime Minister C. H. Hussein) “crossed

the floor” and joined the SYL in order to recoup their campaign expenses by gaining

access to government portfolios. By increasing the number cabinet positions from twelve

to twenty-one and creating ten vice-ministerial positions, Prime Minister Muhammed

Ibrahim Egal showed his appreciation to these new SYL members. Somalia had become,

in essence, a one-party state.

These actions made it blatantly obvious to most observers that the government’s

“emphasis was on party politics and personal power rather than on mobilization for

national development” (ibid., 71). However, because of the under-representation of

northern politicians in the central government9, they made up a very small proportion of

the new predatory ‘state class’. Furthermore, the nomads in the countryside remained

relatively calm during this period; according to Ahmed I. Samatar, this was due primarily

to the ideology of kinship and xeer that still prevailed in the ‘hinterlands’, despite the

creation of the centralized Somali state (1988, 70). Even though Somalia took on many

of the characteristics of a predatory state during the reign of the civilian government, it

had made no real attempt to destroy the system of traditional governance practiced by the

nomads. This would change after Siyad Barre came to power in 1969 via a military coup


Prime Minister Egal was one of the few northern politicians to hold a high-level position
The Barre Regime (1969-91)

On 15 October 1969, President Sharmaarke was killed by a member of his own

police force; six days later, in the face of indecision by the Egal administration as to how

to appropriately handle this situation, a military coup d’etat enabled General Siyad Barre

to take over control of the state. Although many Somalis initially hailed the coup,

viewing it as an attempt to eradicate the rampant corruption that had plagued the civilian

government, it soon became clear that the previous predatory regime had simply been

replaced with another, more virulent, one.

James S. Wunsch (1990) notes that centralist policies are found to varying

degrees in every post-colonial African state. These policies include creation of one-party

or no-party regimes, economic development strategies based on national planning and the

creation of a bloated bureaucracy in order to carry them out, the concentration of

legitimate authority in the hands of a single executive, attempts to abolish indigenous

local-level governance structures (which are viewed as potential competitors to the

centralized regime), and financial centralization (Wunsch 1990, 47-68). After coming to

power, the Barre regime immediately began to implement every one of these centralist


Within forty-eight hours of the coup, Barre’s Socialist Revolutionary Council

(SRC) banned all political activity, including membership in political parties, thereby

creating a no-party regime. All of the institutions of the civilian government were also

abolished by the SRC, which took on the previous functions of the President, Council of

Ministers, National Assembly, and Supreme Court. At the local and regional levels,

military or SRC functionaries directly accountable to the central government were

appointed as district and provincial officials. In May 1970, the SRC began to nationalize

oil distributing companies, all foreign banks, the Italo-Somali Electric Society, and SNAI

(the jointly owned Italian-Somali sugar industry) (Ahmed I. Samatar 1988, 87-88).

Shortly after Barre announced on 21 October 1970 that “scientific socialism” was the

ideology guiding the SRC, it was announced that more nationalization would take

place.10 Barre believed that scientific socialism would be able “to turn this ‘nation of

nomads’ into a modern socialist state, to which people could look for leadership, security

and welfare instead of the clan” (Bradbury 1997, 6). This meant, in essence, that the state

was attempting to replace the system of kinship and xeer that had regulated person-to-

person relationships in Somalia for centuries.

To this end, the Barre regime took extensive efforts to eradicate all vestiges of

“tribalism”. In 1970-71, a national campaign against tribalism was undertaken, which

included demonstrations and the burning or burying of effigies that symbolized tribalism,

corruption, misrule, and corruption. The death penalty was introduced in an effort to

replace the traditional dia system. This was a fundamental challenge to the concept of

xeer; the ‘death penalty’ did not exist under the xeer system, instead, the harshest penalty

that could be imposed upon a clan member bound by xeer was banishment from the clan.

Individuals could no longer refer to their ‘ex-clan’ as they had at the end of colonial rule

and during the civilian regime. Furthermore, the term ‘cousin’, the traditional way to

address a member of the same clan, was outlawed and replaced with the term ‘comrade’.

Marriages, which were the traditional way to create a connection between loosely-bound

lineage groups, were ordered to be held at newly-built orientation centers, and were

Indeed, a stated goal of the SRC was to “nationalize the commanding heights of the economy” (ibid.,
p. 89).
stripped of any clan significance. The Akils system was manipulated once again as the

title of Akil was changed to ‘peace-keeper’, and the position became part of the state

apparatus. Finally, regions were renamed to exclude any reference to clan lineage.

In addition to these direct efforts to strip the country of kinship ties, economic

policies were introduced to further disrupt the life of pastoralists. The Land Registration

Act of 1975 brought grazing lands under state control, and the National Range Agency

was created in 1976 in order to settle pastoralists, as “a sedentary population is easier to

control and tax” (ibid., 8). The Livestock Development Agency was also formed in the

mid-1970s, with the goal of controlling livestock exports and ‘protecting’ nomadic

producers. Despite the creation of these programs and agencies, the relative share of state

development funds spent on the pastoralist sector of the economy actually dropped from

8.6% during the 1971-73 development plan to 5.3% in the 1974-78 plan (Ahmed I.

Samatar 1988, 95). In fact, the policies and programs that attempted to bring pastoralists

under state control were never fully realized. This was at least partly due to the rising

livestock prices during the mid to late-1970s, and the regime’s realization that the state

could still reap the benefits of these higher prices without bringing the pastoralist sector

under full state control.

These economic policies, crafted in an effort to bring nomads more securely into

the fold of the regime, were not the only failure. The more direct efforts of the regime to

eradicate kinship ties and the tradition of xeer in the countryside were also met with

resistance. Although pastoralists went through the motions of holding weddings at

orientation centers, and referring to each other as comrade (when a regime functionary or

sympathizer was present), these forced practices had little influence on the bonds of
kinship and xeer that were so important to the nomadic pastoral way of life. As Lewis

notes, “It would be unrealistic to expect these measures to have mad much immediate

impact amongst nomads” (Lewis 1980, 214).

Barre’s tactics, however, did serve to speed the decline of xeer in the southern

regions, while at the same time strengthening clan distinctions. Barre built his base of

power around three clan groups (his own Mareehaan clan, the Ogaden clan of his mother,

and his son-in-law’s Dhulbahante clan) and rewarded these clans (referred to as the MOD

Alliance), as well as other clans and sub-clans that showed their loyalty to his regime,

with lucrative positions in the state apparatus. Clan groups who were viewed as disloyal

to the regime, on the other hand, were brutally repressed. Starting in 1978, these

persecuted clans began organizing armed opposition movements.11 The first of these

politico-military groups was the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF), formed in

1980 by members of the Majeerteen clan; this was followed by the creation in 1980 of the

Somali National Movement (SNM), comprised of members of the Isaaq clan-family; the

Ogaadeen-based Somali Patriotic Movement (SPM) formed in 198912; the United Somali

Congress (USC), made up of members of the Hawiye clan-family, created in 1989; and

the Rahanweyne-based Somali Democratic Movement (SDM) also formed in 1989.

By the beginning of the 1980s, Somalia had become almost entirely dependent on

foreign aid in order to keep the state functioning due to the failure of the government’s

centrally planned economic policies. After Somalia’s defeat in the Ogaden War, a

The influx of easily obtainable weaponry in Somalia is largely due to military aid provided by the Soviets
during the Ogaden War (1977-78), and additional military aid provided by the United States to Somalia
after the Soviets switched their support to Ethiopia.
The Ogaden had been part of Barre’s MOD alliance, but members of this nomadic pastoral clan based in
the Ogaden region of Ethiopia became incensed with Barre after his rapprochement with Ethiopia after the
Somalia’s defeat in the Ogaden War, due to their desire for the Ogaden territory to become part of Somalia.
massive influx of Ogaden refugees from Ethiopia allowed Somalia to receive an

estimated $120 million (US) per year in humanitarian assistance; by 1982, it was the third

largest recipient among African countries of foreign aid from the United States; by 1985,

it ranked as one of the highest recipients of official developmental assistance per capita

according to a World Bank report (Bradbury 1997, 9). The formation of armed politico-

military organizations and their violent clashes with the Barre regime between 1988-91

were viewed as a struggle among competing groups no longer bound by xeer to capture

the state in order to gain complete control of the distribution of this aid. As Abdi Ismail

Samatar notes, “The shortsighted opportunism of leading members of the opposition led

them to become engulfed in struggle over whatever was left of the carcass of the state”

(1992, 637).

However, it must be noted that the Isaaq-led SNM was one of the few groups to

actually publish its political agenda, which was based primarily on the reestablishment of

xeer at the national level. Shortly after its founding in 1980, the SNM published a

document that stated:

We propose a new political system built on Somali cultural values of

co-operation rather than coercion; a system which elevates the Somali
concept of xeer or inter-family social contract in which no man exercised
political power over another except according to established law and
custom, to the national level (Ahmed I. Samatar 1988, 142).

The SNM also expressed its desire to “reduce hierarchy and bureaucracy to a minimum”,

to “integrate effectively traditional Somali egalitarianism and the requirements of good

central government”, and to enable “both the regional and national governments [to]

work according to the twin priorities of maximizing democracy and economic

development”.13 Although the SNM was formed in London by Isaaq intellectuals,

businessmen, and mullahs living abroad, the Isaaq that remained in Somalia were still

involved mainly in nomadic pastoralism. The SNM received the full support of the Isaaq

after the Somali government killed approximately 50,000 Isaaqs between May 1988 and

March 1989 in retaliation for the SNM’s brief capture of the northern cities of Burco and


On 6 August 1990 the SNM, USC, and SPM agreed to form an alliance in an

effort to topple the Barre regime. The three groups attacked Mogadishu on 3 December

1990; after almost two months of fighting, Barre was driven out of Mogadishu on 26

January 1991. Once this goal had been attained, the alliance of the three groups fell

apart. The USC hastily appointed a President and Prime Minister, then began to ‘cleanse’

any Daarood clansmen (viewed as synonymous with the regime by the Hawiye) that they

could find. The USC appointed ‘government’ was not recognized by any other clan

faction; almost continuous inter-clan warfare took place from December 1991 to March

1992, when a ceasefire was brokered by the United Nations.

III. After the Collapse of the State

Shortly after the collapse of the Somali state, Abdi Ismail Samatar expressed the

view held by many scholars when he wrote, “In the absence of an organized indigenous

agency which can establish peace and carry out such an agenda in the immediate future,

the Somali people must rely on the international community to save them” (Abdi Ismail

Samatar 1992, 638). Samatar and others believed that xeer had become separated from

The stated goals of the SNM contrast sharply with those of the SSDF, which called for the creation of a
productive and planned national economy, and the end of ‘regionalism’, among other things (ibid., pp. 142-
traditional blood-ties due to the manipulation of political elites vying for the control of

state resources (ibid., 640), but this view seems to have been wrong on both counts. The

international community (i.e., the United Nations) was unable to ‘save’ the Somali people

from further destruction, and xeer was not completely dead; it was, in fact, the basis for

the relative peace that currently enjoyed by Somaliland.

UN Involvement in Southern Somalia

The UN had never carried out a peace-keeping mission in a country with no

existing state apparatus, which lead to problems it had never encountered. Even after the

state had essentially collapsed, the UN insisted that the deployment of a peace-keeping

force without the consent of the warring parties would constitute a breach of Somalia’s

sovereignty. When the UN finally became involved in early 1992, it allowed clan-based

warlords to play a central role in the numerous reconciliation conferences it organized.14

However, just as international aid can legitimize warlords and their actions (Anderson

1999, 50), so too can their inclusion in UN-sponsored conferences. To the extent that

each of the competing warlords dreamed of replacing Siyad Barre as the sole possessor of

political power in a new centralized state, it was highly unlikely that these conferences,

which generally focused on the creation of a centralized state apparatus, would be

successful. To worsen matters, the length of these reconciliation conferences was

constrained by cost considerations; none lasted more than two weeks (Ahmed and Green

1999, 124).

The worst error in judgment made by the UN, however, may have been the

decision not to include clan elders as part of the reconciliation process. Although most of

southern Somalia was controlled by clan-based warlords attempting to gain complete

This obviously reflects an external “top down” approach to peace-building.
dominance of the state, the UN failed to recognize that the warlords’ goals did not match

those of the clan elders. By excluding clan elders from the reconciliation process, the UN

essentially denied any role for the very actors who may have been able to appeal to xeer

as a means to bring peace to southern Somalia.

The Arta Conference and Transitional National Government

In October 2000, after a three month conference held in Arta, Djibouti, involving

close to 2,000 Somali delegates, a Transitional National Government (TNG) was formed,

consisting of a 245 member Transitional National Assembly elected by the delegates, and

a transitional president nominated by the Assembly. The TNG was given the mandate to

create a new constitution and a permanent national Somali government within three

years. This provisional government has been accepted as legitimate by the international

community, including the UN (which played no direct role in its creation), as it is seen to

represent the true interests of Somalis; clan elders and other segments of Somali society

took part in the Arta Conference, while the warlords were excluded from the proceedings.

However, the TNG is not viewed as legitimate by all Somalis. The majority of

warlords do not recognize the TNG, and the leaders of Puntland and Somaliland view the

TNG to be simply another faction seeking control of the state, pointing to the fact that a

number of its members held upper-level positions in the Barre regime. These members

of Barre’s ‘predatory state class’ have been accused of resuming their old practices, such

as the misappropriation of loans from Saudi Arabia (Doornbos 2002, 93). Prominent clan

elders who took part in the Arta Conference have recently called for the resignation of

transitional president Abdiqassim Salad Hassan to resign, accusing him of corruption and

claiming that he has been not carried out the duties of the office, and stating that the
elders would consider him to be another warlord if he remains in office (Agence France-

Presse 2002). In the absence of broad-based support from Somali society, the TNG

controls only parts of Mogadishu and other small pockets of territory in the country.

The troubles currently facing the TNG can be viewed as indications of the pervasiveness

and resilience of the predatory state mindset among southern Somali politicians.

Conflict Resolution and Peace-Building in Somaliland

Efforts to consolidate peace in Somaliland followed a path widely divergent from

that of southern Somalia. After Barre’s ouster, the Isaaq-led SNM retreated to

Somaliland, and was not involved in the inter-clan violence in the south. In an effort to

alleviate fears of SNM retaliation among clans residing in Somaliland associated with the

Barre regime, as well as the belief that the Isaaq would attempt to seize complete control

of the northwest regions, non-Isaaq clans were allowed to participate in the April-May

1991 conference held at Burao, at which Somaliland declared its independence from

Somalia (Farah 1996).

Somaliland was not immune to violence, however. Beginning in January 1992,

two traditionally rival Isaaq clans, the Habar Yonis and Habar Jeclo, battled for control of

Burao; shortly thereafter, the Habar Yonis and ‘Iisa Muusa became involved in a violent

struggle for Berbera. However, without assistance from the United Nations (which had

very little presence in Somaliland), this conflict was resolved via a “bottom up”

approach, viz. by a Council of Elders (guurti) meeting at a peace conference held in

Sheekh by the traditional means of xeer. Later conflicts over access to land, grazing, and

water rights within the Isaaq clan-family and between the Dulbahante and Warsangeli

clans were resolved in the same manner. Because these peace conferences were initiated
by the clans themselves, and not the UN, they were able to continue as long as necessary

in order to resolve the disputes, sometimes lasting as long as four months.

At the January-May 1993 Borama Conference, a 150 member National Guurti

appointed a new Somaliland government in 1993, headed by new President Muhammed

Ibrahim Egal (the last Prime Minister of Somalia’s civilian government), to replace the

transitional SNM government that had been installed at the time of secession. The

Borama Conference also produced a National Charter, which was to act as Somaliland’s

constitution for two years. The Charter called for the establishment of an independent

central bank and judiciary, and created a bicameral legislature consisting of an elected

lower house (the Assembly of Representatives) and a non-elected upper house (the

Assembly of Elders). The elders’ peace-making role was formally institutionalized in

this document, stating that the Assembly of Elders was “to encourage and safeguard

peace [and] creating or enforcing existing codes of conduct (xeer) among the clans”

(Bradbury 1997, 22). This was an attempt to integrate traditional and modern forms of

government, one of the stated goals of the SNM since its founding in 1980. After the

achievement of this goal, the SNM essentially became defunct.

At a conference held at Hargeisa between October 1996 and March 1997, Egal

was re-elected for an additional five years by a Shir Beeleedka (Congress of Clans),

comprised of the national Guurti and 150 additional delegates chosen by their clans. A

new provisional constitution was approved, which required the government to hold a

nationwide referendum on its ratification within three years.15 The Hargeisa Conference

The institutional structure of central government set forth in this provisional constitution was very similar
to that established by the earlier National Charter (one important departure was a less extensive peace-
making role for the House of Elders). The provisional constitution (with a few minor revisions) was
ratified by 97% of voters on 18 May 2001.
was also able to end a two year war between the Habar Gerhajis sub-clan and Egal’s

Habar Awal sub-clan that was precipitated by the selection of Egal as President in 1993.

Since the resolution of this war, no other meaningful conflict between lineage groups has

taken place in Somaliland.

IV. Summary and Conclusion

This paper has been an initial effort in the attempt to gain a better understanding

of the divergent paths followed by Somalia and Somaliland during the past decade. The

comparative case study above was an attempt to show that the effects of centralization

varied in Somaliland and Somalia, and have diminished Somalia’s ability to utilize xeer

as a means of conflict resolution and state-building.

The Italian administration inculcated the values of a Western-style centralized

government to the Somali urban elite created by the administration’s economic

modernization policies, while the British placed much less emphasis on both

modernization and the creation of a system of highly centralized national governance.

During the civilian regime, the southern urban elite, whose commitment to the concept of

xeer had already been diminished due to the abandonment of clan-ties, dominated the

Italian-style central government, and soon became a predatory ‘state class’, using their

government positions for personal gain to the detriment of the Somali people. The under-

representation of northern politicians in the upper levels of the central government during

this time meant that few northerners were part of the predatory state apparatus. In the era

of the Barre regime, the brutal repression of the Isaaq, the north’s predominate clan-

family, only served to strengthen northerners’ commitment to xeer, as the Isaaq rallied

around the SNM, which was founded with the express purpose of creating a national
government based on xeer principles. Conversely, Barre’s tactic of rewarding (primarily

southern-based) clans loyal to the regime created a new predatory state class in the south.

However, due in large part to their leaders’ lack of a long-term plan for a post-Barre

Somalia, armed clan factions repressed by Barre also became caught up in the struggle

for personal economic gain, vying for control of what little was left of the state.

After the collapse of the state, the resilience of xeer in Somaliland, coupled with

the absence of international intervention, allowed the SNM to utilize a xeer-based

“bottom-up” approach to reconciliation and the building of state capacity. Conversely,

the “top-down” approach imposed upon southern Somalia by the UN and other

international actors only served to legitimize the warlords allowed to take part in the

reconciliation conferences, and eradicated any possibility of a xeer-based reconciliation

effort by refusing to recognize clan elders as a legitimate indigenous peace-keeping force.

The fact that a number of the members of Somalia’s Transitional National Government16

were also members of the Barre regime reveals the difficulty of purging Somali politics

of the former predatory state class.

I plan to carry out a much more detailed examination of traditional institutions of

governance in Somalia and Somaliland in the future, as this comparative case study is

admittedly guilty of oversimplifying the reality facing Somalis and Somalilanders. The

value attached to xeer by Somalis and Somalilanders has likely been affected by a

number of other factors, including, inter alia, the pan-Somalism that played a major role

in Somali politics from mid-colonial period until the defeat of Somalia by Ethiopia in the

1977-78 Ogaden War; Cold War geopolitics; the current manipulation of Somali politics

The TNG was formed during the Arta Conference, which was organized by Djibouti’s President; this is
another example of the “top down” approach to reconciliation.
by its neighboring countries (most notably Ethiopia); the commercialization of the

pastoral economy; ecological degradation; the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the

region; and globalization. Xeer has acted as means to pattern person-to-person

relationships among Somalis in the Horn of Africa for centuries, and has allowed them to

face the many contingencies of pastoral nomadic life. It is therefore essential to examine

the ways in which xeer and the tradition of “pastoral democracy” have been affected by

these events and processes, for as Vincent Ostrom reminds us, “Person-to-person, citizen-

to-citizen relationships are what life in democratic societies is all about” (Ostrom 1997,

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