Living without a Government in Somalia: An Interview with Mark Bradbury: Development Processes in Somalia Exist Not as a Result of Official Development Assistance, but in Spite of It

By Feldman, Stacy; Slattery, Brian | Journal of International Affairs, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Living without a Government in Somalia: An Interview with Mark Bradbury: Development Processes in Somalia Exist Not as a Result of Official Development Assistance, but in Spite of It


Feldman, Stacy, Slattery, Brian, Journal of International Affairs


Journal: Somalia's cultural history is not unique in Africa-many countries had colonial structures of government imposed on them and managed to make the transition to states. Why did Somalia's state collapse so completely in relation to its neighbors?

Bradbury: There is little value in identifying single causal explanations for war and state collapse in Somalia. To focus solely on the contradictions between a foreign imposed colonial system of government and an indigenous political system would be to overlook the impact of the oppressive, corrupt and violent system of political patronage that marked the 21 year military rule of Mohamed Siad Barre (1969-1991), the influence of Cold War and post-Cold War politics in the region, the impact of structural adjustment and economic liberalization policies in the 1980s and the character of the armed movements in Somalia.

Clearly, state crisis is not unique to Somalia. For many people in Africa and elsewhere in the world, the liberal peace promised by the ending of the Cold War and the advance of capitalism has not materialized. Quite the contrary: the global political, economic and social transformations that have brought about regime changes in east, central and west Africa, the Balkans, central Asia and now the Middle East, have left millions of people dead and displaced. The phrase "new world order"-used to describe the post-Cold War world-not only heralded the advance of a particular ideology, but also changes in the institutions and systems upon which "order" may or may not be based. In Africa the advent of this new world order appeared in the 1980s, in the form of structural adjustment programs, state de-bureaucratization and the emergence of supranational and sub-national entities that weakened state institutions and the internal legitimacy of many governments. This gave rise to what are described as "quasi-states" or "collapsed states" with varying degrees of local legitimacy, capacity and resources to govern. In response to crises of legitimacy some states are able to impose order. The Somali government, in the absence of external support, was unable to do so. Indeed, in Somalia state collapse was particularly profound and the social costs enormous. In the early 1990s Somalia's situation deteriorated when it became a testing ground for new international institutions-in the form of a multi-lateral peacekeeping operation-for managing the problems in the new world. (1)

Responses to global economic marginalization and political exclusion have taken different forms, with new political formations assuming both liberal and illiberal forms of authority, often within the same country. Within Somalia several authorities have emerged with overlapping claims to territory and legitimacy.

In the secessionist territory known as the Republic of Somaliland in the northwest, several years of stability has enabled the people there to hold the first district council and presidential multi-party elections in 33 years. Although government authority is weak and the state-like entity lacks international recognition, the situation in Somaliland contrasts greatly to the continued instability in much of southern Somalia. The reasons why Somalia and Somaliland have taken divergent paths is complex, but serves to illustrate that state collapse need not automatically empower predatory forces.

Understanding why Somalis have demonstrated a remarkable ability to live without a state in certain areas requires knowing how particular forms of social and political organization have influenced and adapted to the reworking of the state. The political fragmentation of Somalia is intricately linked to the force of kinship-based patronage networks that developed in Somalia as state power and legitimacy eroded. Political activity, the business sector and existing development processes can only be understood in relation to the social fabric of society. Over the past decade Somalis have found ways of living and meeting economic, social, legal and security arrangements independent of state institutions. …

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