From Statehood to Primordial City States

Architects of the “Building Blocks Approach” Aim to Finally

Finish-off Somalia

Special Editorial
Hiiraan Online

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


This Editorial is in response to an article " Anarchy-Cursed Nation Looks to Bottom-Up Rule " posted on New York Time by Gettleman, Jeffrey

As Somalia continues to bleed from the merciless carnage of Ethiopian forces backing the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia and the equally brutal forces of the opposition, the world is slowly and strategically moving away from maintaining Somalia’s current status quo.   While the UN sponsored talks in Djibouti linger, some political analysts are considering alternative solutions to the endless and pitiful quagmire. They are insidiously hypothesizing dividing up Somalia into smaller primordial enclaves.


As the ineptness of clan inspired leadership leads to more internal disputes and warring factions, and as many reconciliation conferences fail for lack of principled leadership due in part to the shifting political actors and clan interests, the international community has been searching for a new strategy to finally resolve the prolonged Somali conflict. Of course there are no shortages of ideas in the international community and the one school of thought that has been gaining traction lately is the so called “Building Block’s Approach”.  The architects of this ominous model appear to have taken lessons from the Berlin conference of 1884 when African countries were partitioned by European powers without regard to ethnic boundaries, grazing lands, languages and cultural affiliations. This neo-colonial strategy if implemented would vindicate the xenophobic claims made in the Berlin conference and will eventually take Somalia back to prehistoric ethnic enclaves.


The gist of the argument in the Building Blocks Approach is that a Somali state with a unitary central government can not be reconstituted and sustained through a top down approach as is currently pursued by the UN and the international community and must be replaced with a bottom-up approach focusing solely on grassroots community development. Developing social and governance structures at the grassroots level, they argue, will in the end help the reconstitution of the Somali state. Furthermore the protagonists of the model began an all out offensive to sell their untested idea in the corridors of power where the international community convenes and in the international media. They argue that the international community must give up imposing on the Somali people an untenable national government, parliament and charter. These institutions, they believe, disregard critical local and regional clan structures and therefore lack necessary grassroots support. The bottom up approach, the argument goes, will strengthen local governance mechanisms, maintain communal law and order, and establish strong regional leadership that in the long run will muster the necessary energy to reconstitute the Somali State!


It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to untangle the imprecise logic of the proponents of this model in that, if thirty percent of the Somali people today (those twenty years of age and younger) do not know the value and importance of a Somali state and could care the least about its reconstitution today, why would they want a Somali state decades later when they become the majority and their numbers reach eighty percent or more!


The building block’s approach as is currently proposed will in effect pick the baton from where the Berlin conference left it off and will callously divide Somalia into several Bantustans lacking sovereignty and territorial integrity necessary to establish a full fledged state. 


At a time when the global community is coming much closer and Europe is coming together as a single entity with one currency, why propose a small nation such as Somalia to be subdivided into smaller entities ostensibly modeled after the oil rich United Arab Emirates. The Emirates, they seem to forget, were never a unitary state in the first place and the natural wealth from the oil fields continues to be the glue that keeps their country together. What worked for oil rich UAE will not work for poor and multiethnic Somalia!


In retrospect, it is no secret that the plight of the Somali people is worsening on a daily basis and the current conditions prevailing there are unacceptable and insufficient for human survival. It is also a fact that current Somali leadership both in government and opposition do not show the will nor the capacity to envision a peaceful unitary Somali state, safeguarding its sovereignty and coexisting peacefully with its neighbors and the larger global community.  


The response to these realities, however, is not to hastily break up Somalia into pieces as if that itself is a proven panacea for Somalia’s chronic ailments as advocated by the proponents of the building block’s approach--who may have ulterior motives of their own! On the contrary, to do so will only perpetuate the never ending cycle of clan conflicts that destroyed the Somali republic in the first place.  


The proponents of the building blocks approach be they secessionists, dominant clan advocates, and regionalists, paid international lobbyists, impressionable foreign journalists or otherwise confused Somali citizens all want the world to believe that the inhabitants of Kismayo, Merca, Baidoa, Mogadishu, Beledweyn, Bosasso, and many others if left to their own devices would be able to resolve their inter clan conflicts and would have the potential to innovate viable regional administrations!


What a fallacy and a distorted logic at that! If the claim is true, what is preventing these locales to self govern themselves peacefully now!


Illustrating the point further, imagine that there are several autonomous Bantustan states sprouting all over Somalia as the proponents of this model propose: Who then is the citizen of these states?  Does one have to be a member of a clan living in that area to feel at home? Does one have to claim land and property ownership to qualify for citizenship? How about one who was born, raised and owns property in one enclave, however, his clan is heavily dominant in another? In that case, would one qualify for a dual citizenship? What about spousal relationships, access to grazing land, sea and water, natural resources, ethnic boundaries and you name it! The thrust of the building blocks argument if given the light of the day will not hold water and thus is only gaining momentum due to the fact that Somali nationalist intellectuals are astoundingly absent from the market place of ideas generating these cataclysmic proposals intended to wipe the Somali state off the map. A weary international community already showing signs of a Somalia fatigue is therefore becoming susceptible to anything. 


Make no mistake, that there is a silent one dimensional war of ideas taking place that is purportedly deciding the future of Somalia which has the potential to succeed, if left unchallenged, as has been the case all along.


The time is right and the world is eager to hear from intellectual Somalis who can collaborate beyond personal and clan interest and who can show the will and capacity to put forth a national agenda that can safe all of Somalia.  A new counter strategy to the Building Block’s Approach is imminently needed that will not only refuse to compromise on Somalia’s unity and territorial integrity, but will give progressive and peace loving Somalis all over the world a voice in the molding and shaping of Somalia’s destiny.


Dividing Somalia further into several Bantustan enclaves in the 21st Century is adding insult to an already injured society. It can only take root if Somalia’s otherwise capable and conscientious intellectuals choose to remain silent, indifferent or on the sidelines. 


Send comments to: [email protected]


Bryden, Matt.  New Hope for Somalia? The Building Block Approach. Review of African Political Economy - Vol. 26 No. 79

Dinar, Ali B. Ali. SOMALIA: Are "building blocks" the Solution? [19990719]. Editor: African Studies center, University of  Pennsylvania

Gettleman, Jeffrey. A new approach to bringing order in Somalia. International Herald Tribune. Published: August 18, 2008


Memo from Somalia: Anarchy-Cursed Nation Looks to Bottom-Up Rule: New York Times Published: August 17, 2008
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