Beyond Polarity: Negotiating a Hybrid State in Somaliland

Michael Walls, Steve Kibble


Many African states struggle to reconcile traditional social institutions with the precepts of nation-state democracy within colonially defined borders. Since the 1991 fall of the dictatorial Somali regime of Siyaad Barre, Somaliland has gradually pieced together what appear to be a durable peace and an increasingly sophisticated, constitutionally based nation-state democracy. It is still negotiating the relationship between identity, nation and territory in which there is a differential commitment to democracy between the political elite and the wider population. Accommodation between a clan-based social structure and a representative democracy has been enabled by local socio-cultural traditions. External intervention, while minimal, has on occasion proved fruitful in providing a way out of crises. The territory has escaped the violence and political breakdown experienced in Southern Somali areas. This contribution argues that the remarkable resilience of the present socio-political system in Somaliland is challenged by present and forthcoming problems in the fields of democratic representation (inter alia of women), delivery of public goods, a fragile sub-regional context and foreign investment.

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