Paul R. Camacho, Ph.D.
The William Joiner Institute for War and Social Consequences
University of Massachusetts Boston (retired)
Several articles have appeared lately illustrating the crossroads confronting not only the Federal Government of Somalia, but the various sectors of leadership and public across Somalia and throughout the diaspora. These articles include, but are not limited to the article by Abukar Arman concerning Somalia’s fault lines, particularly those of a clan-centric nature, the Michael Weinstein article concerning silver linings and vicious cycles and his earlier article on the political poisoning by the donor nations, and Armin Rosen’s concerning banking and the Dahabshiil / hawala transfer system.
The Arman piece is illustrative of how various external actors are enticing, influencing the internal players, the Somali clans and others. The point I would make is the Somali people and particularly the clan structures should beware Balkanization. On one hand, there are overt demands the F.S.G. negotiate a reconstruction of the political situation, but as Weinstein points out, on the other hand there are the contradictions of the donor nation’s separate negotiations with those very entities. I know not what funding is being proffered before the government; it is perhaps a chalice that may never be forthcoming, and could very well be a poison one if it actually arrives. The “up-front” requirements are challenging as it is and certainly there will be “back-end” demands as well.
Now given the diaspora provided a little over half of the Somali GDP; it seems plausible to say this community can do what is financially necessary even if over a longer period of time. However, as Armin Rosen noted the ability of the diaspora to facilitate the maintenance of its current contribution and / or an increase of this is in danger. The blunt instrument of the US is to thwart any financial support of terrorism by cracking down on a financial transfer system that ignores / circumscribes western accounting methods with its financial flows. If US policy should choke the financial lifeline of the diaspora, then what becomes of Somalia?
This potential shutdown of the remittances portends the Balkanization of Somalia. There is a neo-liberal argument articulated during the last decade that Somalia, and other fragile and / or failed states are better off stateless; economist Peter Leeson argued for this in the Journal of Comparative Economics, The policy preference for Balkanization has been in the overall context of discussion pertaining to Somalia in a variety of other areas. It was a theme tendered at the Patuxent Defense Forum of 2008 and readers will note it is implied in a supportive manner in the concluding passages of the Rosen article. Weinstein’s “Belgian Waffles” article notes the donors negotiating on their own with Somaliland and suggests a coming “scramble” of factions. Further, George Selgin, writing in The Cato Journal suggested weak states should have privatized currency. All this does not lead to genuine self-government.
Will there be a Somalia for each clan and perhaps even sub clans? What about other powerful factions of warlords, pirate lords, or even Al-Shabaab? It will no doubt have an appeal to those immediately envisioning wealth and power. However, what would be the consequences? I think it would be catastrophic, an end to a Somali nation and perhaps over a modest time frame for the Somali culture. Reduced to numerous fifes, what could any of these quilt-patches of Somali sovereignty bring to countervail the powerful forces of privatization and globalization? What rules and context of procedure law, property rights, or commanding interests would prevail? Can clans incorporate? What would be their legal status? It is a forgone conclusion legal authority would tilt in favor of those offering the foreign direct investment – donors and more particularly the international corporations – virtually all of whom will possess greater resources than any of the fifes.
Further, I submit that Balkanized, Somalia represents a new and sizable experiment for privatization / globalization and enclave investment in a conveniently self-cleft society. Once this process truly begins, it will likely be irreversible and will signal the beginning of a new trend / policy for weak / failed states. It may create wealth for a few local elites, but will probably be to the detriment of all others.
The phenomenon of globalization is now well established; yet there is no forecast of how it will continue to unfold. Even the United States – the entity allowing / encouraging the genie out of the bottle - has no actual control of the path. The socio-economic debate in the U.S., the ever accelerating concentration of wealth and disparity of wealth, the culture “war” in general, the issue of immigration in particular, and of course the proclivity of Wall Street and other financial empires to seek their immediate enrichment over the welfare of the nation are indicators of a failure of governance by our political and corporate elites. The forces of privatization constantly seek to eclipse public space in the United States and their advocates always reach back to the constitution and James Madison for justification. Yet, as a recent New York Times article noted, there were no competitors then. Currently private corporations constitute as much, if not bigger threat to the public over any governmental power. They are too big to fail and their elite leadership is too connected to be prosecuted. So what are the possibilities for those in less powerful nations?
Somalia can become a strong unified nation state, channeling the forces of international development for the benefit of all Somalis, thereby becoming an anchor for collective prosperity and development in all East Africa. It could also unravel and sputter out as a unified society over the next two decades if it takes even that long. The choice is up to the Somali people and particularly its leadership, which exists in all the potentially divergent sectors. Again, Abukar Arman has noted both external and internal fault lines. The Somali leadership should focus on the latter: the hybrid clan-centric behavior, the need to develop a truly professional military over an amalgamation of militias, and regional state development. There are also the issues revolving around the hybrid presidential-parliamentary system, a myriad of legal issues, particularly property rights in the development sector, and the establishment of a solid and sustainable tax base.
The present government represents the best opportunity for unification. It seems doubtful a better opportunity will come about later given the trends noted thus far. All self-interested focus on relatively short term narrow gains will beget a disaster of Balkanization which bodes ill for Somalia and perhaps for all Africa. Visions of self-determination and prosperity within these potential fifes are a treacherous mirage.
Abukar Arman, Obstacles to Progress: Somalia’s Fault Lines, Think Africa Press, August 3, 2012 - http://thinkafricapress.com/somalia/obstacles-progress-new-government-fault-lines
Peter T. Leeson, "Better Off Stateless: Somalia before and After Government Collapse." Journal of Comparative Economics 35(4) 2007: 689-710
Armin Rosen concerning banking and Dhabshiil / hawala transfer system, Armin Rosen, “Picking Up the Pieces Banking on Somalia”, American Interest, December 19, 2013 - http://www.the-american-interest.com/articles/2013/12/19/banking-on-somalia/
Jeffery Rosen, “Madison’s Privacy Blind Spot”, The New York Times – Sunday Review, January 19, 2014, p. 5.
See George Selgin, “Currency Privatization as a Substitute for Currency Boards and Dollarization”, The Cato Journal, Volume 25, Number 1, Winter, 2005, pp. 141 – 151.
Michael Weinstein article concerning silver linings and vicious cycles – Michael Weinstein, “Somalia: Silver Lining or Vicious Cycle”, Garowe Online, December 20, 2013,
Michael Weinstein, “The Political Poisoning of the F.G.S. by Belgian Waffles”, http://www.garoweonline.com/artman2/publish/Analysis/Somalia_The_Political_Poisoning_of_the_F_G_S_by_Belgian_Waffles_gazette.shtml
The opinion above is solely the author's and does not necessarily reflect the views of Garowe Online and its affiliates.