Understanding the Somalia Conflagration: Identity, Political Islam, and Peacebuilding/Milk and Peace, Drought and War: Somali Culture, Society and Politics: Essays in Honour ofI I. M. Lewis

By Lyons, Terrence | African Studies Review, April 2013 | Go to article overview

Understanding the Somalia Conflagration: Identity, Political Islam, and Peacebuilding/Milk and Peace, Drought and War: Somali Culture, Society and Politics: Essays in Honour ofI I. M. Lewis


Lyons, Terrence, African Studies Review


Afyare Abdi Elmi. Understanding the Somalia Conflagration: Identity, Political Islam, andPeacebuilding. Oxford: Pluto Press, 2010. xvii +193 pp. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $90.00. Cloth. $35.00. Paper.

Markus Hoehne and Virginia Luling, eds. Milk and Peace, Drought and War: Somali Culture, Society and Politics: Essays in Honour of I. M. Lewis. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010. xi + 437 pp. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $55.00. Cloth.

The field of Somali studies has been shaped to a remarkable degree by I. M. Lewis's lineage-based structural paradigm and more recently by the "collapsed state" conceptual frame. Hoehne and Luling have edited an excellent set of essays that revisits Lewis's paradigm while simultaneously finding innovative ways to draw fresh ideas from standard texts. Elmi's monograph draws in part from the tradition of searching for the root causes and possible solutions to the problem of state collapse in Somalia. These two works suggest that while "clan-based politics" and "state collapse" are deeply problematic concepts, they have an enormous influence in contemporary scholarship on Somalia.

Elmi promises to take a fresh look at the story of Somalia's collapse, and the monograph does a good job in tracing the general story and specifically in incorporating the historical dynamics of political Islam. As is common to most accounts by regional specialists, he emphasizes endogenous dynamics behind state collapse. Counterterrorism policies advocated by Washington and Addis Ababa, Elmi argues, benefit the Islamists by allowing them to position themselves as the defenders of Somali nationalism. The disastrous Ethiopian intervention and the U.S. prioritization of counterterrorism goals over peace-building provide the impetus for much of Elmi's analysis. "As long as Islamists are challenged by external actors and hated warlords, they will enjoy the support of the Somali people," he says. "This makes Islamist rule basically inevitable in Somalia" (72). Failed international interventions and what Elmi sees as Ethiopia's intention to keep Somalia weak and divided receive much of the blame for the "Somalia conflagration" referenced in the book's title.

The Hoehne and Luling edited volume seeks to reexamine the work of I. M. Lewis, the doyen of Somali studies. The book succeeds as both a festschrift and also as a set of extraordinary contributions by some of the most notable scholars of Somalia from across the social sciences and humanities. Lewis's legacy is diverse, and the scholarship here includes history, politics, culture, language, and social organization at a deep structural level. All interested in Somalia will find something of interest in this collection of essays and reflections.

The question of the "clan paradigm" associated with Lewis's work has been at the center of heated debates within Somali studies and politics. Some argue that the principles of kinship constituted the overarching logic of Somali nationalism and modern nation-state politics, while others emphasize transformation and the autonomous role of the state and market. This volume acknowledges this question but does not seek to resolve it. …

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Understanding the Somalia Conflagration: Identity, Political Islam, and Peacebuilding/Milk and Peace, Drought and War: Somali Culture, Society and Politics: Essays in Honour ofI I. M. Lewis
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