Working Paper

Recreating Political Order: The Somali Systems Today

Published on 10 January 2009

The Somali pastoral system of production covers at least six political entities. Three of the formal ones are within the borders of the former Republic of Somalia and do not meet the full definition of states. Despite the warfare that has often engulfed the former Somalia, it is a mistake to think of the three political entities that occupy it as necessarily or wholly anarchic.

Lineage institutions have survived from the colonial era and been resurrected to provide venues for negotiation, consensus-building and the reduction of interpersonal violence, even if not the authoritative imposition of decisions upon groups of the unwilling. After 17 years of centrality to the continuity of Somali governance and the recreation of quasi-state political authorities, however, these lineage institutions are showing signs of stress. As their great influence came to be recognised they were penetrated by patronage and used by warlords to prosecute sub-clan warfare. They no longer are able to provide consensus representation even in the peaceful political systems of Somaliland and Puntland. Somalis therefore have experimented with new political institutions that could provide a greater basis for cross-clan action and authoritative decision-making – regional nationalism and democracy in Somaliland and Islamic sheria in all the territories but especially by the nowdeposed (but far from dead) Union of Islamic Courts. Indeed sheria now is a central, unifying ideology throughout the Somalis, even if there is conflict over its interpretation and the instrumentalities through which it will be enforced. Somali governmental processes thus are present, but weak in their ability to impose decisions and to project their authority into the rural areas. There are public goods that Somalis need which only states can provide. But the transformation of traditional order in the warlord conflicts of the last 17 years will make such states difficult to create.


David Leonard

Visiting Fellow

Publication details

published by
Leonard, D
IDS Working Paper, issue 316
978 1 85864 571 9


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