Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Where All Politics Is Local

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Where All Politics Is Local

Article excerpt

Ever since the outside world gave up its efforts to re-establish a central government in Somalia three years ago, it has been widely assumed that this country in the Horn of Africa fell back into chaos and violence. This is not the ease, writes Menkhaus, a political scientist at Davidson College. "While Somalia today is stateless, it is not anarchic."

Local communities have moved to take up the slack. In most of Somalia today, he says, the basic political functions "are carried out at the village, town, or (in Mogadishu, the only large city) neighborhood level. Law and order is ensured either by clan elders, by sharia [Islamic law] courts springing up in urban neighborhoods, or in a few instances, by local police forces."

Somalia's northwest - which seceded in 1991 but has failed to gain international recognition - "is at peace," notes Prunier, of the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris. Since the end of fighting there in 1995, the self-proclaimed Republic of Somaliland has created a written constitution and a two-chamber assembly and other viable institutions of government. It has combined traditional Somali culture with Western democracy - and without foreign help of any sort. Somaliland's modest progress, he believes, deserves something better than "the international cold shoulder it has received so far."

Somaliland president Mohammed Ibrahim Egal, notes Menkhaus, has overseen "a revitalization of the commercial economy. …

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