Networks of Dissolution: Somalia Undone

Networks of Dissolution: Somalia Undone

Networks of Dissolution: Somalia Undone

Networks of Dissolution: Somalia Undone


In this penetrating and timely book, Anna Simons documents Somalia's impending slide toward anarchy. How do people react to a failing yet still repressive government? What do they do when the banks run out of cash? How do they cope with unprecedented uncertainty? These are some of the questions Simons addresses as she introduces the reader to Somalia's descent into dissolution from within the Somali capital of Mogadishu. Exploring the volatile mix of external interest in Somalia, internal politicking, and enduring social structure, she shows how cross-cultural misunderstanding and regroupment are key to explaining Somalia's breakdown at the national level. One aim of this book is to challenge broadly held assumptions about the content of nationalism, tribalism, and the state, as defined and debated by academics and as experienced by individuals. Another is to analyze the making of a pivotal moment in Somali history. Simons charts new ground in the study of the dissolution of a state at all levels, shuttling back and forth between micro and macro frames, historical and everyday practices, and expatriate and Somali experiences.


The dissolution of Somalia has cleft the nation-state and disaggregated society. It has exposed the hollowness of nationalist rhetoric concerning the "imagined community" of one ethnicity, one culture, and one language-- the definition of Somalia held up by Somalis and Somaliists alike to mark Somalia's unique place in the tribally fractured, culturally complicated landscape that is said to comprise the rest of Africa (Laitin and Samatar 1987). Consequently, Somalia's dissolution should rattle broader assumptions as well: about the content of nationalism, tribalism, and the state as defined and debated by academics, and as inhabited by individuals.

Before Somalia's dramatic emergence in 1992 as exemplar of anarchy, starvation, and famine, it was little known and hard to study. The government did not welcome journalists and it did not encourage visits by errant social scientists. Not only were there restrictions on what could be learned through conversation by any social scientist who did manage to work in the country but there were practical considerations as to where one could go and how safely. Such rules impinged on those who actually sought to learn about Somali society and also on those who remained appended to Somali society as well: the expatriates who had been sent to Somalia by their governments, aid agencies, or private nongovernmental organizations. For most of these, Somalia represented a "hardship" posting. Mogadishu, the capital, was hot, remote, and woefully underdeveloped, and the Somalis were generally felt to be difficult to deal with.

One reason that Somalis may have come across as so hard to deal with is that they were experiencing difficulties of their own. By 1989 (if not well before) the state was no longer working as many Somalis expected and would have wanted it to. It did not join them together patriotically, paternalistically, or even parenthetically. Therefore, how could Somalis have behaved in nationalistically predictable ways?

Certainly there is a great temptation to reach for analogies to help explain what has happened to Somalia and why it has disintegrated so violently. It may have been that Somalia finally became too stretched between demands radiating from the idealized supralocal (international) level downward and inward and from the local/historical (lineage) level upward and outward. Or perhaps the elasticity required to move between traditional and modern, precapitalist and capitalist, micro and macro, fluid and fixed . . .

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