9/22/2018
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The Porcupine Dilemma: Governance and Transition in Somalia*

Prof. Ahmed I. Samatar
Prof. Ahmed I. Samatar
Ahmed I. Samatar

James Wallace Professor of International Studies and Dean of the

Institute for Global Citizenship,

Macalester College, St. Paul , Minnesota. USA.

 

Legislation considers men [and women] as he [she] is, in order to turn him [her] to good uses in human society. Out of ferocity, avarice, and ambition, the three vices which run throughout the human race, it creates the military, merchant, and the governing classes, and thus the strength, riches, and wisdom of commonwealths. Out of these three great vices, which would certainly destroy all mankind on the face of the earth, it creates civil happiness.

 

               Giambattista Vico, The New Science, 1968 (1744), p. 62.

 

 In most of Africa, the state is a contested terrain where different nationalities, sub-nationalities, ‘ethnic groups’ and communities go to fight for the appropriation of resources including power. A state which is a contested terrain in this sense can only be an anarchy of self-seeking and a theatre of war.

 

                                    Claude Ake, The Feasibility of Democracy in Africa, 2003, p. 167.

 

 

Dalkeennii la kala qaybiyee cadowga loo qayday

Qaadan waa awoogeen amxaar qurub la siiyaaye

Qarqarsiga ka dirir iyo anaa qaabbil kuu taline

Maantoo qudhiisii xabaal lagu qarqooreeyey

Weli qoonti way taagan tahay quudhsigii shalaye

Qaxar iyo dhib nagu soo kordhiyo qolada mooyaane

Weli qoodhi kama ay dhammaan qaranka soomaale

Hal haddii qaddaru eebbahay kaare kala qaaro

In la qalo ninkii dhiqi jiraa aan ka qaanicine

Dabbaax baa mindida kula qadhqadha qaalinta irmaane

Qasdigoodu ba'anaa kuwaa qurus ka doonaaya

Qaabaanqabtiyo beelyadiyo haaddan qananaysa

EE waax qabiil lagu hantiyo garasho qoodaystay

Qorshohoodu socon maayo oo ways qatalayaane

EEbbow qarkay maanta taal qadanka soo meeri

Soomaalidaa kala qubane qoysba dhan u jeedo

Qaraabada isugu keen allow qaabad nabadaysa

Qarankeenni soo celi aallow qaaddirbaa tahaye!

 

Maxamuud A. Cabdalle (Shiine) 2006 

 

I. Introduction

 

As of this writing, too far from “civil happiness,” Somalis continue sliding deeper into a fallen time — pitiful victims of their own follies and an ill-informed, if not manipulative, international and regional system. More precisely, the fight over the state in the past decade and a half has been at once violent and so disabling that, in the eyes of the rest of the world, Somalis have become the paradigmatic embodiment of self-inflicted politicide. Dismayingly, though the Somali state institutions are no more, the contestants wage their battles as if the prize is just waiting to be picked up. Oblivious to the fact that the state and governance are more than the sum of capricious self-promotion and claims of Potemkin political appellations and appointments, the aggressively ambitious bestow a vulgar concreteness to Jorge Luis Borges’ metaphor of the condition of “two bald men fighting over a comb.” The ultimate costs of the death of the state and subsequent communal strife are a withering of the national civic identity and spirit and, therefore, a descent into moronic existence. Six instantiations of this condition are: (a) disunity exemplified by some in northern Somalia (Somaliland) calling for a separate sovereignty in that region; (b) an essentialization of clanist maneuvers and mischief that have proven to be incapable of producing legitimate and competent leaders fit for the challenges of the epoch, let alone bring forth workable institutions for the immediate juncture; (c) the degeneration of Mogadishu from the once breezy, relatively cosmopolitan nerve-center of the post-colonial order to a dilapidated hell’s gate overwhelmed by new deadly conflagrations and mountains of ill-disposed filth; (d) a deepening socioeconomic impoverishment, barely assuaged by remittances from relatives in the diaspora, decline in educational opportunities and standards, and deteriorating public health,1 including the return of polio; (e) an acute national vulnerability to easy bamboozlement, and now direct military intervention or invasion by foreign actors, particularly neighboring Ethiopia in the case of the latter; and (f) a mixture of incredulity and contempt on the part of the larger global community. To be sure, these negative attributes (and many more) make up the defining face of Somali reality. But it is also vital to note that, among the paradoxes of the current sharp cut in time (the meaning of civil war), numerous ordinary women and men, in every zone of the country, have taken it upon themselves to address the immediate concerns of their families and neighborhoods, the virus of sectarian cabals, and, commensurately, keep the candle of civic values flickering for a future undergirded by a peaceful and democratic governance.

 

If at the core of the Somali catastrophe, defined as a series of interlocked crises, is the bloody and unending tussle over political power and the direction of the society, last year’s tidings from Mogadishu conveyed the appearance of a new actor upon the stage. Claiming to be at once fed up with polluting warlord shenanigans and inspired and tightly held together by an Islamic zeitgeist rather than kin loyalty or hunger for egotistical glory through personal rule, the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) changed immediate history2: it defeated the warlords camped in Mogadishu; extended its influence into most of the deep south and the central regions; opened both Mogadishu airport and port facilities for general use; returned the streets of the capital to its denizens; challenged the legitimacy and leadership of what many Somalis had labeled a  fadhiid-like (Somali for retarded) Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and its regional patrons; and rattled the nerves of some of the foreign policy officials of the current U.S. Administration3 and strict secularists. Despite some lightning successes and raising the already high temperature of politics in Somalia, the victory of the UIC did not last long. A combination of sophomoric tactical mistakes (e.g., reactionary and foolish social policy declarations and acts, severe lack of administrative and worldly sophistication, and ill-prepared but loud nationalist bravado against an Ethiopian regime itching for an opportunity to set up its own clients to run Somalia) and a desperate pleading by the leadership of the TFG (President Abdullahi Yusuf and the then Prime Minister Ali Geedi), under an alarmist fabrication that “Islamic terrorists” aligned with Al-Qaida had infiltrated the UIC, convinced the U.S. to bless and aid Ethiopia’s invasion.4 The ultimate objectives included these three:  to destroy the Union of Islamic Courts, their leadership and base of support; to capture Mogadishu; and to install Colonel Yusuf and his agreeable regime.

 

At the moment of this writing, the Ethiopian invasion is just over a year old and has had the following consequences: Mogadishu’s residents are thrown back into the violent and twilight zone where immediate deprivation and untimely death has become normal; Ethiopian forces and their junior Somali satraps are pitted against an urban resistance that is not limited to the remnants of the armed wing of the UIC militia; over seven  thousand persons have been killed so far, many more wounded, and, to top it all, nearly a million civilians displaced, increasing pressure on already dismal conditions for refugees in campus inside and out side the boundaries of the country; hatred for Ethiopia and sympathy for, if not solidarity with, the resistance has become more visible, particularly among the diaspora;5 and any effectiveness, let alone possible redemption, of the TFG has all but evaporated, except among those who either betray stigmata of clanist vice or are driven by sheer opportunistic motivations. Here is how one reporter relayed the crux of these developments:

 

There was a burst of optimism beginning Dec. 28, when government troops, with Ethiopian firepower behind them, marched into Mogadishu and planted the hope that the anarchy was ending. Cheering crowds poured into ruined streets. Aid experts in Nairobi circulated ambitious reconstruction plans. Ethiopian and American officials, who had worked together to overthrow the Islamists, breathed a mutual sigh of relief.

           

But what has happened in the past few weeks has killed (my emphasis) that mood. A deadly insurgency has started, beginning with a few clans connected to            the Islamists and now expanding to several more. . . . All analysts agree that the violence will continue and probably intensify unless the government reconciles with clan elders, who control as much as anyone controls, what happens in Somalia.

             

. . . So far, there’s been very little of that. Instead of reaching out to truly influential figures, analysts say the government has picked ministers not because they have any substantial support among their clans but because they will do the government’s bidding. The result is an increasingly isolated, authoritarian and unpopular government in which the transitional president, Abdillahi Yusuf Ahmed, is accused of behaving more like a clan warlord (my emphasis) — which he was — than a national leader.6

 

   Looking at these reports closely reminds one of Aristotle’s injunction in  Politics that two things are most corrosive of political leadership and institutions: hatred and contempt. The first is the antithesis of good will, compassion, and fairness; the latter is the opposite of respect, integrity, and wise competence — the essential ingredients of authority. Given such dire circumstances, the Somali catastrophe has entered a new stage: direct foreign occupation and an ugly spectacle typified by bloodletting and civic dishonor. This assignment, more urgent than ever, is an exploration of the aporia of governance in the contemporary Somali milieu. It raises four pertinent and difficult questions:

 

  • What is the state?
  • Why do Somalis need a national state?
  • What kind of a state might that be?
  • How might that state come into being and maintain a viable existence?

While it is not possible to treat exhaustively these large questions, I will attempt to enter into each one of them, with a hope of advancing the practical reasoning so much needed among Somalis, particularly those who aspire to influence the fate of the country in a constructive way. This essay, partly drawing on and updating already published research, has four main components. First, I will address briefly the phenomena of the state and governance. Second, I will present brief mediations on the growing insertion of islamist thought  in rethinking politics and the state. Third, I will reassert why the state is even more significant for the journey forward and will offer a quick look at some different arrangements of governance that a new state might take. I will conclude with a few civic recommendations. Finally, there are two supreme convictions that inform this exercise. The first is that the state is not only, in the famous expression of Jacob Burckhardt, “a work of art,” it is equally a necessity for civilized living.7 The second relates to the role of intellectuals in contexts similar to the Somali one. Since by themselves they can’t stop politicians and their armies, in the memorable words of Julian Benda, “from filling all history with the noise of their hatred and their slaughters,” intellectuals can deny them the opportunity of “thinking of themselves as great men [or women] as they carry out these activities.”8

 

II. The State: What is it?

 

To talk about governance presupposes the existence of both political activity and a state. If governance is the concrete manner of conducting public power, politics is the sum of multifarious engagements that, first, establish contact and workable concordance among strangers and, second, accompany competition for influence and authority. The state is, essentially, the main institutional link between politics and governance. The interplay between the three is constant.

Basic political activities precede the appearance of the state and are not confined to its formal arena.9 Primordial groups, typified by small bands and intimacy or, more precisely, kin attachments, have existed and continue to survive, ever so precariously, without a formal authority structure solely designed to perform political tasks. Such communities negotiated myriad individual and family interests and idiosyncrasies, in addition to the vagaries of the general material and cultural context, through custom and a set of reciprocal (talantaali or gemeinschaft) but not necessarily equal arrangements. The seeds of what we call the state are buried in those early human activities, but the appearance of the state as we have known it is a relatively modern design. One would trace the genetic base and evolution through a number of historical thresholds, which perhaps began with “city republican forms” best exemplified by the little known but pioneering Mesopotamian urban experiences and, later, the other more celebrated version in classical Greece. These early aggregations of large, but by no means universal, interests and networks, provision of public goods, and the subsequent investments of authority in persons embedded in such institutions give glimpses of some of the enduring characteristics of what we contemporaneously identify as the state.

 

The evolution of the idea and structuring of the state is long and complicated, and with numerous variations. That story is not told here. What is relevant to our purposes is to note its ancient pedigree, define its morphology, and point towards its key attributes. I define the state as a constellation of norms, institutions and those who inhabit them, ostensibly to manage the collective political fate of a given society. Political destiny includes significant contradictions and concerns that add up to political identity and direction. Structurally, a state has the following features: monopoly on coercion, specific territorial boundaries, a relatively fixed population, economic and cultural functions, sovereignty, and recognition by other states and their organizations. The supreme public power, the state, in Stuart Hall’s phrase, is “a historical phenomenon;” that is, a creation of human beings in interaction which, in turn, also acts in profound ways upon individual and collective life.

 

A. Frames

 

The state is not some formless thing. Rather, its internal constitution can be anatomized. I suggest, heuristically, four main elements that make up the state: leader, regime, administration, and commonwealth. I touch upon each briefly.


The leader is the individual who immediately embodies the state in question. He/she can make a positive difference in his/her time, leaving behind a legacy of competence, constitutionalism, and order. On the other hand, the leader can also preside over ineptness, corruption, and institutional disarray, whose consequences include an undermining of constructive efforts by others and the killing of civic spirit.

 

But leadership in not just “personal.” Usually appointed by the leader, a regime is a constellation of officials assigned to the highest portfolios of executive authority. To be sure, even under the most favorable circumstances, both a leader and her/his team have their own individual and clique interests that they represent. Nonetheless, if a regime is to attain any modicum of acceptance and legitimacy by the larger society, self or factional gain would have to be tamed by a combination of inclusive aspiration, a consciousness of needs, ethical and legal conduct, and effective management. Thus, members of a successful regime are, in Walter Lippman’s expression, “the custodians of a nation’s ideals, of the beliefs it cherishes, of its permanent hopes, of the faith which makes a nation out of a mere aggregation of individuals.” Moreover, leadership or regime cannot limit itself solely to the role of the keeper of tradition and noble ambition; rather, progress depends on the intellect to detect and the courage to articulate the hidden, and even the unutterable, elements of what is often called “vision.”

 

The administrative frame underscores the infrastructure of the state. Here are located institutions (e.g., civil service, courts, law enforcement, and educational policy, facilities, curricula and personnel) that carry out the day-to-day assignments, and preserve procedures and documents of the operations of the state. This is important for the way a society governs itself — one which presents a test case for a regime to monitor itself, the relative autonomy of offices and institutions, and their competence. In other words, the greater the compliance with basic rules and the legitimacy of state apparatuses, the larger the dividends for both a regime’s reputation and the viability of public life and order. In contrast, the more the operational organs are tied to the whims of regime interest, the greater the degree of evaporation of the rightfulness of all three frames. This is the ultimate cost of incompetence and corruption.

 

The final element of the state is the most complex yet foundational: commonwealth. In its most inclusive sense, this entails the association and spirit of public belonging that is not easily derailed by narrow impulses. To create an identity large enough to accommodate kinship with the other beyond filial or other exclusive affiliations is to transmute the self into a citizen — the oldest of the challenges to the establishment of a political community. Here, then, particularity meets universality — that is, individual or group interest engages the imperative of a large social bond characterized by civic values and, in the felicitous expression of Edmund Burke, “common affections.” To be sure, leadership and regime formation in one sense are testimony to a significant and inescapable alienation that comes with the momentary victory of one group. Commonwealth, by contrast, absorbs the divisive fallout from oppositional politics as it reinvigorates vivere civile. The result is the return of the state, through sound governance, to societal ownership, a source of competence and an architect of common destiny. Without this grounding spirit of belonging, particularity becomes the norm — the antithesis of a national project. Politics, through the operations of the state, then is an unavoidable and contradictory activity that at once unveils centrifugal issues and facilitates centripetal ideas and action. In weighing the balance of the tension between difference and commonality, it is the latter that defines the health of political life in a given society. For, beyond the struggle for power, a rather narrow objective that could easily lead to a desolation of the spirit, a politics fit for “symbiotic creatures” is, in the lasting reflections of Johannes Althusius, “the art of associating men [and women] for the purpose of establishing, cultivating, and conserving social life among them.”

 

Each of the four frames of the state, much like the parts of a body, performs at once its own local functions and works in concert with the rest to keep the whole purring along. Any damage to one means trouble for the others; and when the accumulation of deficiencies becomes greater than the assets, the state and its society are confronted with major problems. Be that as it may, it will be a mistake to overlook the significance of both the larger society, that is, the matrix of private space and action, and the global environment. Put more precisely, in addition to the vitality of the frames, the degree of health or morbidity of the state is also conditioned by its history, endowments of its society, and the vagaries of regional and transnational circumstances. Such a configuration of frames and forces produces different state forms that, in turn, have consequences for the seminal project of development.

 

States come in many guises (see Figure 1.2). For the sake of parsimony, however, one could offer a spectrum that registers five possible types that vary from, at one extreme, the highly effective, to its opposite, the dead. The primary distinguishing factors include (a) the haleness of each frame; (b) the degree of coordination; and (c) the depth of interior attachments to fellowship and collective realization.

   Since no state is immune to the vicissitudes that result from the jostling among individuals as well as larger social forces, a quintessential element of human historicity, an integral state is emblematic of a moment of delicate balance. That is, the cost of the quotidian grind and its intimidating ambiguities is compensated by efficacious state actions that replenish a mentality of collective stake-holding and exude hope. Antonio Gramsci, so existentially and theoretically aware of this supreme contradiction, reduces the challenge to its basics:

 

What is needed for [an integral state] . . . are men [and women] of sober mind . . .who don’t cause an absence of bread in the bakeries, who make trains run, and who provide the factories with new materials and know how to turn the produce of the country into industrial produce, who insure the safety and freedoms of the people . . . who enable the network of collective services to function and who do not reduce the people to a despair and to a horrible carnage.10

 

   Gramsci’s effective state does not only succeed in delivering public goods but, particularly important, the leadership generates a degree of moral and intellectual bonding with the citizens. This “organic” affiliation is central to what he calls “hegemony,” or the establishment of the “national-popular.” Africa has yet to produce an integral state.

 

If an integral state is the guardian of isonomic polity and general prosperity, a developmental state is the next best project. In this context, the state is conspicuously activist in both the improvement of human capital and the enhancement of the productive forces and national accumulation. But, as has often been the record, achievements in the economic and social realms may come at the cost of civic pluralism and basic liberties. Because the developmental state is primarily driven by ambition to quickly mollify external and domestic vulnerabilities of the society, such a singular attention leaves little room for open dissent and debate. In the end, a developmental state is visibly Janus-faced — impressive in marshalling resources and building economic capacity, but relatively less attentive to the creation of an ambience conducive to republican individuation. Moreover, and in acute cases, heavy disincentives are presented to those who dare to disagree or insist on moral autonomy.

 

There are exceptions to the discrepancy between development and democracy, as the case of Botswana demonstrates. The Botswana state has been Africa’s premier developmental state. Despite the shackles inherited from British colonialism, the state qualitatively transformed its society from a South African labor reserve to one of the fastest growing economies in the world for the better part of the last 35 years. Botswana maintained genuine commitment to liberal democracy since independence. This blending of development and democracy makes Botswana unique among developmental states. Botswana has some of the ingredients necessary for establishing an integral state.

 

Post-apartheid South Africa is a state in transformation. The independent state has strong democratic credentials. Leadership committed to democracy is supported and monitored by vibrant civil society. South Africa is striving hard to undo white economic domination and to empower the majority in order to sustain its new democracy. This requires the broadening and deepening of the country’s physical and social infrastructure. The successful dual transformation of South Africa will depend on the quality of state management, and how supportive the global economic climate is. The key question in the South African debate is whether the neo-liberal shift in development policy will broaden and deepen the market.

 

A prebendal type is typically preoccupied with the protection and reproduction of the immediate interests of a regime and its associates. At the same time, the economy becomes a source of personal and group enrichment, usually in the form of shady rent-seeking; and the political institutions amount to little more than a haven for personal privilege. A key feature of a prebendal state is high dependency — a combination of subservience to external powers, venality, and despotism at home. Unless turned around, and there is time and space for such action, these liabilities increasingly blunt any developmental propulsion, creating a general culture of disregard for the common good. Nigeria was the archetypical prebendal state. However, it degenerated into a predatory institution under successive civilian and military regimes. The cost of predation became exceedingly onerous under General Abacha’s regime. Consequently, key organs of civil society struggled against the regime during much of the 1990s. At the end, the military retreated and a civilian government was elected. Retired General Obasanjo’s leadership of the past decade made some encouraging attempts in rebuilding public institutions so they may gain legitimacy and sufficient capacity to meet the development needs of the Nigerian society. Nonetheless, heavy reliance on rent from oil, ethnic and religious antagonism, and a misappropriation of national wealth continue to be part of political practice.


The predatory state is synonymous with diabolical politics. When the prebendal state loses what little functional capacity and stability it had, alienation mounts apace. No more even a symbol of disordered legitimacy, the last veils of collective belonging drop, and scavenging over dwindling public resources becomes openly vicious. For the regime, with an ever-narrowing grid, leadership turns into its antithesis — that is, cruel selfishness that slides into open criminality. In the meantime, as decay advances, a mixture of aghastness and hyper anxiety over personal and family survival becomes the paradigm of social and political conduct. With the full atrophy of the vital functions of the state, the centaurs become one-dimensional beasts. Together, these factors dissipate the stock of citizenship and mark the beginnings of the death of civic virtue. As Maurice Godelier asserts, ”without development of the material and intellectual productive forces, any society risks becoming gradually and unwittingly stagnant and turning in on itself, becoming less able to cope with the effects of internal conflicts.” Mobutu’s Zaire, Taylor’s Liberia, and Mugabe’s current Zimbabwe come to mind as proximate examples.

 

Sadly, the predatory state may not be the last stop in the glide towards optimum degeneration; it can get worse. With heightened physical and economic insecurity, and the evaporation of public discourse and life, many take flight to anywhere before the final curtain. Those who stay behind are enveloped by a new barbarism, one defined by a looting of what is left of the commons, further retailing of identities, and prodigality of terror. Thus spoke Wole Soyinka, as he reflected on such happenings in parts of the continent:

 

The land of Syle Cheney-Coker, poet, who declares himself content to be ‘the breakfast of the peasants,’ ‘the hands that help the fishermen bring in their catch,’ ‘a hand on the plough that tills the fields,’ is silenced. This land also of the playwright Ulisu Amadu Maddy, of the urbane critic Eldred Jones, of skilled silver and goldsmiths, of the sublime sculptures of the Nimba peoples and the timeless lyrics of their griots (a traditional musician/poet or minstrel), has been turned into a featureless landscape of rubble, of a traumatized populace and roaming canines among unburied cadavers. How does a sculptor begin to carve with only stumps for arms? How does a village griot ply his trade with only the root of the tongue still lodged at the gateway of memory? The rest has been cut out—often the hand that wields the knife is the hand of the future, the ubiquitous child-soldier—and the air is bereft even of the solace of its lament. 

A lament can be purifying, consoling, for a lament still affirms the retention of soul, even of faith, yes, it is a cry of loss, of bereavement, an echo of pain but is, therefore, an affirmation of humanity, a reaching out to the world that is still human or to forces that shape humanity. A lament does not emerge from atrocities, for an atrocity is the very silencing of the human voice. It deadens the soul and clogs up the passages of hope, opening up in their place only sterile accusations, the resolve of vengeance, or else a total surrender to the triumph of banality. We can no longer speak of wars on the continent, only arenas of competitive atrocities. 11

 

The end point of such an experience is the cadaverous state. Every frame is damaged to such an extreme extent that civic life is, simply put, no more. An immediate lesson is how easy it is to demolish in quick time what has taken years to build. The Somali case is an instantiation of this category.

                                         

                                                111. The Union of Islamic Courts: An Alternative?

 

At the root of an awakened Islamic consciousness are at least eight factors: globalization and its contradictory cultural, economic and social effects on Islamic communities around the world; the total crash of the national state attributed to the destructive policies and corrosive personal leadership and regime of Siyaad Barre; the subsequent descent into unprecedented internecine wars; the spread of clanist warlordism in pursuit of individual and sectarian interests; an evaporation of ethical values in public affairs; a paucity of a unifying civic action to successfully respond to the prevailing conditions (particularly safety, order, and economic well-being); an absence of an attractive vision expressive of collective redemption and a regenerative future; and a glaring loss of national pride that had ushered in new levels of dependence and submissiveness to external machinations.


Notwithstanding a simplistic typecasting by some observers, the composition of UIC was complex. Consequently, at this stage, let alone during its brief triumph, it is still difficult to discern fully the make up of the organization, its full philosophical outlook, the sources of its funding, its conception of the transitional period, its style of leadership and preferred form of state and governance, its long-term aspirations for the country, and its complete strategy to interact with the rest of the world.  I will keep these “on hold” for another time. A point to note here is that, despite the demise of the structure of the UIC, there is little doubt that its broad national outlook is held on to by a significant portion of the Somali people. The sharpening contest over the long-term future of Somalia by its people will be shaped by, among others, the presence of social and political Islamism. Such a development, in its generic necessity, is unavoidable. Both historical identity and the pestilential nature of the present political climate press forth the relevance of a collective salvation informed by Islamic thought. If this is accurate, then, it seems appropriate and timely to sort out different orientations that might claim Islam as a source of inspiration. I proffer three broad scenarios. The defunct UIC was not an exception. In fact, its members conveyed all three perspectives. More importantly, both the current resistance to Ethiopian invasion and its allies the TFG, and debates over the future, are couched in heavily Islamist terms. Only the last option, in my opinion, has the potential to fully capacitate the faithful to deal with an entropic Somali Republic and an impatient hypermodern world.

 

 A. Reactionary

 

In light of contemporary global affairs and the preoccupation with “terrorism,” this is the most common scenario that jumps immediately into the minds of the ill informed, especially non-Muslims. Beyond that stereotypical reflex, however, there are occasions when the label fits. An inventory of features associated with a reactionary Islamic perspective includes: (a) a counterfeit innocence or unthinking zeal, (b) a backward-looking, literal, and completely dogmatic interpretation of the great texts of the Quran and the Hadith, (c) brute application of that hackneyed interpretation to every aspect of human life, (d) aprioristic hostility to other faiths, (e) annihilation of basic civic freedoms, (f) imposition of extreme patriarchal domination, (g) intolerance toward secular learning, the play of reason in shaping human affairs, and scientific explorations and consequent ordering of relationships between humans and the natural world, and (h) suppression of the autonomy of the aesthetic and, subsequently, the reduction of everyday life to an existence bereft of such creativity and joyous sensibilities as art, music and song, poetry, theatre, dance, and sport. Albert Memmi, a long-term sympathizer with the peoples of Africa and the Islamic world, has come to the same and scathing conclusion:

 

But the victory of the fundamentalists would be a step backward; none of the problems that threaten the modern world would be resolved. On the contrary, it would be a systematic return to the past, involving the exclusive use of traditional texts, suspicion of all novelty and critical thought, the restriction, if not suppression, of the majority of civil liberties, greater police surveillance than that experienced under lay rulers, increased attacks on women, the rigorous separation of the sexes, the stifling of most anodyne and most natural aspirations of the young — music, dancing — whose youth will be stolen, confiscated by the monster of the theocratic state.12

 

   In short, a reactionary Islamist project, appealing though it might be to some who are caught up in a chaotic and dehumanizing context, is replete with cruel and disabling dead-ends. An example of such an order was the rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

 

B. Conservative

 

An immediate attribute of this option is that it is at once more flexible than the reactionary mode and yet saddled with some similar problems. First, a conservative Islamist approach has a modicum of appreciation for the modern world, at least in the areas of administrative management, economic growth, technological adaptation, social welfare, and, though highly filtered, a calculating engagement with the rest of the world. Among the deficits are resistance to innovative interpretations of the great texts, major constraints on basic personal freedoms, and a limited participatory political order tightly woven into a patriarchal tradition. This perspective’s potential liabilities in the long haul might be weighty enough to denude the assets. The Islamic Republic of Iran, Saudi Arabia, and some of the Gulf States, in their at times drastically different styles, manifest a basic mixture of these attributes.

 

C. Democratic and Developmental

 

This scenario integrates the best of these three sources of tacit knowledge and worthy values: Somali kinship, Islamic piety, and democracy and development. The Somali tradition of kinship (as distinct from clanism) emphasizes fairness, generosity, and obedience to Heer. At the heart of a worldly Islamic philosophy are the promotion of peace, justice, and equality for all. “The basic élan of the Quran,” writes Fazhur Rahman, is its “stress on socio-economic justice and essential egalitarianism.” On the other hand, democracy’s chief characteristics include individual liberty, choice, and accountability of power, while development underscores a perpetual but measured transformation of the cultural, environmental, scientific, economic, and political spheres of the society. Essential indices for gauging such a strategy are an accent on ethical competence and legitimate achievement; tolerance, if not respect for, nuance and diversity through a normalization of Ijtihad; and freedom of thinking in a non-coercive atmosphere. No Muslim country in the modern world has fully achieved this scenario. A few are slowly moving in that direction, however, with Turkey and Malaysia as the most frequently mentioned. To be sure, the journey  is long and hard but the point to stress here is this: a correct beginning and collective resoluteness to stay on course are paramount  towards eventual success.

   In an earlier work of nearly a decade-and-a-half ago, I suggested that a dual challenge was facing Somali society: the first was how to make a successful transition from an older and now atrophied mode of being in the world to one that could enable Somalis to respond to the critical vagaries of their existence — that is, subjective experiences and objective imperatives thrown up by the demands of the modern world; and, second, that such a transition required a creative and effective synthesis of kinship, Islamic virtues, and the fruits of modernity.13 Together, transition and synthesis are tantamount to a gearing up for a new ontology. That assignment and what is at stake are even more apparent today. If Somalis make headway in their epochal project, then, they will have added a precious contribution to the struggle for an Islamic cosmopolitanism robust enough to simultaneously co-exist comfortably with the multi-civilizational modern world and to negotiate successfully the ambiguities of globalization. To be sure, this is the most daunting option — one whose pursuit will require all the intelligence, creativity, dexterity, discipline, and patience that Somalis can muster. Despite the enormous difficulties, it is a journey pleasing to Allah, possible and most thrilling to begin against the humiliating political squalor of the present.

           

       1V. The Necessity of the State: Options of Governance

                                                      

Somalis are no different from other societies in that none could meet its basic collective needs (ranging from security to environmental and economic well-being to education and scientific advancement) without an effective public power. As Adam Smith, the great sage of markets and international exchange, taught us long ago, “the authority and security of civil government is a necessary condition for the flourishing of liberty, reason, and happiness of humankind.” While this is uniform across the modern world, the imperative is greatest among late-developing societies. The state is not and cannot be everything but its absence is a form of acute social homelessness. Even the World Bank, contemporary apostle of market economics, made this landmark assertion in 1997, with regard to the indispensability of the state for a viable society:

 

. . . good government is not a luxury, it is a vital necessity for development . . . an effective state is vital for the provision of goods and services — and the rules and institutions — that allow markets to flourish and people to lead healthier, happier lives.14

 

The condition of the past sixteen years testifies to the supreme deficits that come with the destruction of national political structures. Another decade or more of the present situation is too horrible to contemplate. But, in order to construct a new national and effective state, Somalis will have to address this most difficult of issues: the resurrection of a vibrant peoplehood. In that regard, it is a fact that the nationalist spirit of collective belonging has been gravely damaged. The consequences include mutual suspicion, anger, pent-up revenge, outright hate, and social pulverization. At the same time, Somalia cannot amount to much even in East Africa, let alone in the world, without a revival of that very national identity. Put another way, if Somalis are unable, at least at the present, to recreate an intimate political community, they still have no choice but to establish a workable civil association that will undergird a capable state. This is where a lesson from a metaphorical pack of porcupines caught up in trauma similar to the Somali dilemma is instructive.

 

There was once, the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer tells us, a colony of porcupines. They were wont to huddle together on a cold winter’s day and, thus wrapped in communal warmth, to escape being frozen. But, plagued with the pricks of each other’s quills, they drew apart. And every time the desire for warmth brought them together again, the same calamity overtook them. Thus they remained, distracted between two misfortunes, able neither to tolerate nor to do without one another, until they discovered that when they stood at a certain distance from one another they could both delight in one another’s individuality and enjoy one another’s company. They did not attribute any metaphysical significance to this distance, nor did they imagine it to be an independent source of happiness, like finding a friend. They recognized it to be a relationship in terms not of substantive enjoyments but of contingent considerabilities that they must determine for themselves. Unknown to themselves, they had invented civil association.15

 

A. Annulment of the Union

 

This option denotes acceptance of the breakup of the Somali Republic into two (and more) separate and sovereign states and a return to, at minimum, the boundaries established by the colonial powers. The rationale for this would include distinct colonial heritages, kin affiliations and sub-cultural differences, and a perception that the thirty years of union were the basis for nefarious rule best symbolized by Siyaad Barre’s regime.

   A tearing up of the union, based on these arguments, is hard to sustain. First, distinctions between colonial legacies (Britain and Italy) had some relevance only during the early years of independence. For instance, although both the English and Italian languages gave the educated elite of each territory a sub-identity, thirty years of union have had an impact of such significance that many southern Somalis have learned how to function in English (Italian is less frequent). Moreover, both languages and their cultural accoutrements were limited to a very small segment; the bulk of the population spoke (still speaks) Somali (Mai/Maha). Second, though spatial proximity could foster affection and intimate exchanges — including intermarriage — it can also create anxieties and mutual antipathies, as we have come to observe in the eastern districts of the North (Somaliland). This is especially the case when  communities and individuals see themselves as having multiple identities and in an environment buffeted by  scant and dwindling resources. In addition, many Somalis have, at one time or another, crossed their boundaries and found the experience pleasant and enriching. Third, neglect by earlier regimes was nationwide; the exceptions were places such as Mogadishu and commercialized spots in the riverine farming areas. The brutality of the Siyaad Barre regime touched many, although the destruction of Hargeisa and Burao were unmatched until Mogadishu exploded. Fourth, smallness, coupled with underdevelopment, is not always beautiful, but could be hideous --- In the latter guise it combines internal brittleness and vulnerability with external manipulations. But, and this can’t be over-emphasized, concrete and verifiable regional accomplishments, since the disembowelment of national institutions, must be acknowledged and used as guidelines for the different future to be made. In the new dialogue to resurrect a viable national state and governance, then, the leadership of  the North  is in a strategic position to use these chips as part of an at once inspirational and hard-nosed bargaining stance rather than as obstacles to thwart a redemptive, mutually respectful and, in the end,  productive national conversation towards rejuvenation.

 

B. Confederation

 

A confederated arrangement means an extremely loose relationship between two or more equal states. These states relate to each other through some international treaties and cooperate in specifically identified areas such as trade and defense. In the end, the power of authority or sovereignty belongs to each state in the confederation. This minimalist arrangement strengthens regional identities and interests at the cost of vibrant national institutions. Moreover, there is the real danger of some people wanting power for themselves regardless of the consequences for the rest. In the modern world, a confederal arrangement is mainly instructive as a historical artifact, the famous Swiss exception notwithstanding. Some will retort that the current EU resembles such a design. Here, however, one must note two points: the great diversity the EU is aggregating, something akin to the numbers of contemporary African states, is grounded on many of its members as already strong states and, moreover, the insistence on the ultimate creation of an effective pan-European form of political authority — perhaps a super state.

 

C. Federation

 

This form of governance underscores sharing power between regions/provinces and a central authority. Though the nuances vary, in a federal system the central government solely designs and manages areas such as defense, international, and fiscal policy. Moreover, it shares with the regions responsibilities like revenue generation, education, transportation and communication, health care, law and order, judiciary, public administration, etc. Because of the nature of the distribution of power between the central structures and the somewhat autonomous provinces, federalism also carries some potential major dangers. First, and particularly in the current climate, there is the difficulty of establishing legitimate provinces. Where does one draw the boundaries? Second, what becomes of equity/equality in those potential regions that will house within their boundaries different kin groups? What would be the lines of accountability between the province and the federal state? Who will pay the cost of these levels of political privileges and bureaucratic administration? Since this scenario is the one most discussed, if not strongly proposed by many, an extremely careful and workable response to these concerns is necessary.

 

D. Decentralized Unitary State

 

A unitary state need not be a highly centralized form of governance in which the regime of the day and the capital of the country monopolize power and privilege. This, to a great extent, is the most unforgettable lesson from Somalia’s post-colonial era, particularly the Siyaad Barre era. A decentralized unitary scenario implies a strong central authority but leaves some limited but important local decisions to the provinces of the country. In comparison with a federal system, the center will be mightier, with a clear secondary role for provincial and local authority. The latter’s power is voluntarily ceded by the center; the central state, however, monitors how that power is applied. There is little doubt that a decentralized unitary state could be an effective mechanism to speak on behalf of the whole Somali nation, and immediately undertake the urgently needed projects of reconciliation, law and order, and rehabilitation of the national infrastructure. But there are unavoidable and large questions here too: How far will the authority of a decentralized unitary state go? Will the provinces have the constitutional mandate to reign in a dictatorial central leadership? What liberties must be sought through the structure of governance? What liberties must be promoted within? What liberties must be protected from the reach of political authority? In other words, what concrete constitutional arrangements are needed to shield the society from a repeat of the worst of the post-colonial experience? Are the porcupines ready and willing not to embrace too tightly, yet get close enough to each other to form this type of a state?

 

V.  A Concluding Remark: Beyond the TFG

                             

The Somali people, like other humans, cannot avoid the maelstrom of their own history. Consequently, the choice is stark: bear the testing burdens of transition and invent a stronger somalinimoo and a correlate civic agenda or to continue, to paraphrase Bunyon, pulling flesh from each other’s bones — the price of living in chronic political ignominy.  In addition to the discredited way in which the TFG was born, the transitional leadership has been directly responsible for at least two phenomena hitherto believed by almost all Somalis to be so obscene that they took for granted that they would never occur: a Somali invitation for an Ethiopian military invasion and consequent occupation of Mogadishu; and a demonization of any Somali political consciousness intersecting with Islamic thought and deduced practical design. The latter is often prejudged through the prism of “terrorism.” For Ethiopian ruling elites, it is an easy stance to embrace. It fits well into a longstanding maltreatment of Muslim Ethiopians. Despite the fact that at least half of the population is Muslim, the power of the state, the commanding decisions over the economy, and the national cultural symbols have been dominated by the interests and identity of the Coptic Christians. More specifically, the Somali-inhabited region is still among the most impoverished. In this regard, although some changes in the way citizens of Somali heritage are dealt with have been less harsh than during earlier regimes, the marginalization is still acute. Compounded by an apprehension based on the Somali national belief that the region was wrongfully ceded to Ethiopia by the colonial powers, the Ethiopian political class has consistently maintained a deep suspicion of, if not out right hostility towards, a purposeful Somali people and their state. In other words, Ethiopian leaders have always maneuvered to weaken any Somali national project. Notwithstanding the fact that the old Somali state gave direct and concrete succor to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi during his years as a hard-up dissident, the old grammar of Ethiopian obsession with Somali national identity has not changed. A future triumph of a fully democratic Ethiopian dispensation may change this condition, but such an eventuality will depend on the degree of  Pan-Africanist reasonableness and a shedding of national chauvinism. For now, it did not take much for the current leadership to jump into the front seat of the bandwagon of equating the resurgence of Islamist thinking in the Horn of Africa to being the dangerous “Other” and thus deserving of military preemption. Among the great tragedies of the moment, however, is the hoodwinking of the United States, much admired by most Somalis, to endorse and actively support both the Ethiopian invasion and the much detested warlords masquerading as legitimate national leaders of a new Somali democratic political dispensation. The aerial bombardment of fishing villages and nomadic camps in the most southern region of the country, alleged to be hiding places for individuals suspected of participating in the terrorist destruction of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam, cost many lives. This is now part of a bitter and spreading lore among the Somali people who are at a loss as to why a great country such as the United States is prone to act so blunderingly, insist on such a position even after the initial fog of possible misreading had lifted, and be continue to be party  to the cruelties of occupation visited upon the Somali people, as well as the internationally documented abuses of human right in the Somali- Ethiopian province. The bewilderment is compounded by the fact that most Somalis believe that the UIC invited the United States government to come in and conduct a maximum search for the suspected individuals said to have had a sanctuary in the country.

   If it is true in this contemporary historical diremption that the Somali Republic is nothing and has almost nothing, it has only one choice: to reimagine itself. To do that, the most immediate and supreme tasks for the Somali people, inside and outside, is to establish a well-organized, non-violent and vocal movement that minimally does the following , and in quick time:

  • insists on the immediate departure of all occupying Ethiopian troops from the whole country, and requests the immediate arrival of neutral peace-keeping forces from non-frontline countries, Muslim countries, and other members of the international community.  
  • creates a credible alternative (a prefiguration of a future that is not — yet) to the TFG in terms of ideas, organization,  leadership and strategy that will compete effectively and as soon as possible.
  • links tightly the domestic communities, particularly the active resistance, and a mobilizing diaspora.
  • effectively explains to a perplexed, if not contemptuous, the world, particularly the United States, the European Union, the African Union, the Organization of Islamic States, the United Nations, and major NGOs, the realities of the situation in the Somali Republic and the yearning of the majority of the Somali people for a democratic developmental order and legitimate and competent leadership, enriched by mixture of own virtuous traditions and  proven workable experiences from other part of  human race.


 

Notes

 

*This document is based on a larger essay that appeared in volume 7, Bildhaan, 2007.  I am grateful to the assistance of my student, Erin Gullikson, and my Executive Assistant, Margaret Beegle. Moreover, I acknowledge the , as always, valuable comments of Professor Abdi Ismail Samatar. His own timely and discerning essay, in the same volume, on the question of the Somali economic circumstances in the time of transition is well worth reading.

 

1.  Stephanie Nebehay, the UN Somalia humanitarian coordinator, released an alarming report that the current conflict in the Somali capital between Ethiopian troops and “Somali insurgents” was about to turn “a humanitarian crisis . . . into a catastrophe and very soon.” In the report 12,429 cases of acute diarrhea have been identified since January and 414, mostly children, have already succumbed to the disease. “UN Somalia  Humanitarian Chief Warns of Catastrophe,” Geneva: Reuters, 19 April 2007.

 

2.  Jeffrey Gettleman, “Islamists Calm Somali Capital with Restraint,” The New York Times, 25 September 2006, pp. 1 and 10.

 

3.  The current American Administration’s perspective on the rise of Islamic political consciousness in almost all Islamic societies around the world seems to be guided by a deeply flawed reductionism — one that forecloses any intelligent exploration of the reason behind the embrace of Islamist thinking in situations of unbearable globalization or hypermodernity and the varieties of responsive Islamists’ political orientations and agendas. Here is how a keen scholar has expressed this American strategic blunder — a repeat of earlier and costly mistakes:

 

U.S. foreign policy and political Islam today are deeply intertwined. Policy makers, particularly since 9/11, have demonstrated an inability and/or unwillingness to distinguish between radical and moderate Islamists. They have largely treated political Islam as a global threat similar to the way that Communism was perceived. However, even in the case of Communism, foreign policymakers eventually moved from an ill-informed, broad-brush, and paranoid approach personified by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s to more nuanced and pragmatic policies that led to the establishment of relations with China in the 1970s, even as the tensions remained between the United States and the Soviet Union. John L. Esposito, “Islamists and US Foreign Policy,” ISIM Review, Autumn 2006, p. 6.

 

4.  Ignacio Remonet reports that, “The Pentagon encouraged it to launch an offensive against Somalia, providing aerial reconnaissance and satellite surveillance support.” Ignacio Remonet, “Somalia,” Le Monde Diplomatique, February 2007, p. 1. The U.S. is contributing $14 million to the cost of “peacekeeping.”

 

5.  Somali Solidarity of North America (SOSIVA), “A Word of Warning to the World: Genocide in the Making,” accessed at [email protected]. This release includes the following (a tad hyperbolic) statement:

 

We are not using the world ‘genocide’ loosely here. The mass murder, rampant slaughter of innocent Somalis, the displacement of more than 100,000 people and the campaign to wipe out whole Mogadishu neighborhoods is comparable to the Darfur genocide. We perceive the Somali version of the Janjaweed as the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) supported militia from Puntland belonging to the President’s clan, numbering 4,000, camped in Villa Somalia and the Military academy that are intentionally shelling and targeting heavy artillery into the neighborhoods populated by rival clans. This is a calculated clannish vengeance that the international community is unfortunately condoning.  

 

The Chief of the European Commission’s delegation to Kenya announced that he had created a team to examine serious allegations of war crimes said to be committed by Ethiopian-cum-TFG militia against civilian populations. Jeffrey Gettleman, “Somali Battles Bring Claims of War Crimes: Ethiopia and Allies Faulted as 300 Die,” The New York Times, April 6, 2007, p. A8. See also, Ibrahim Farah, “Somali Diaspora Communiqué,” Leicester, England, April 6-8, 2007; “Response of Concerned Somalis to Report of Monitoring Group Re-violations of UN Sanctioned Arms Embargo on Somalia,” Mogadishu, November 28, 2006; and “Bayaan Ka Soo Baxay Jaaliyada Daarood Ee London,” London, 21 April 2007. This last group (who consist of political figures, intellectuals, religious authorities, women, and youth representatives) met for three weeks of intensive conversations in London. In their communiqué they articulate a number of important points but two seem to stand out: (1) “in aan laga aamusnaan karin fal gaboodka iyo xasuuga ay ka geysanayaan magaalada Muqdisho ciidamada cadawga ee Ethopia & damiirlawayaasha u adeega [There should be no silence over the aggression and destruction visited upon the city of Mogadishu by Ethiopian enemy forces and the conscienceless who serve them] and (2) Waxaan ugu baaqeynaa ummada Soomaliyeed in si wadajir ah dalka & diinta loo difaaco, lagana gayb galo dagaalka looga xoreynaayo dalka gumeystaha & u adeegayaashiisa” [We urge the Somali nation to defend, in solidarity, the homeland and the faith; and to partake of the battle to liberate the country from colonialists and their collaborators]. 

 

6.  Jeffrey Gettleman, “The New Somalia: A Grimly Familiar Rerun of Chaos,” The New York Times, 21 February 2007, p. A3.

 

7.  Jacob Burkhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, translated by S.G.C. Middlemore (New York: The Modern Library, 2002), p. 4.

 

8.  Julien Benda, The Betrayal of the Intellectuals, translated by R. Aldington, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1955), pp. 30–31. On the tasks of the intellectual, I add here two that have been asserted (for poets/critics) by Breyten Breytenbach: “He [she] is the questioner and the implacable critic of the mores and attitudes and myths of his [her] society. … he [she] is also the exponent of the aspirations of his [her] people.” Breyten Breytenbach, End Papers: Essays, Letters, Articles of Faith, Workbook Notes (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1986), p. 99.

 

9.  The following section of the essay directly draws on Abdi Ismail Samatar and Ahmed I. Samatar, eds., The African State: Reconsiderations (Portsmouth, Maine: Heinemann, 2002), pp. 5–12.

 

10. Antonio Gramsci, Ordine Nuova, quoted in Ralph Miliband, Marxism and Politics (London: Oxford University Press, 1977), p. 181.

 

11. The Mail and Guardian, Johannesburg, South Africa, 3 September 1999.

 

12. Albert Memmi, Decolonization and the Decolonized, (trans. Robert Bononno), Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006, p. 48. Also, Sadia Ahmed, “Islam and Development: Opportunities and Constraints for Somali Women,” Gender and Development 7, no. 1 (1999): 69–72.

 

13. Ahmed I. Samatar, “The Curse of Allah,” in The Somali Challenge: From Catastrophe to Renewal, Ahmed I. Samatar, ed. (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1994), p. 138.

 

14. World Bank, World Development Report (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997).

 

15. Quoted in Michael Oakshott, Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1991), pp. 460–461. 

 

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