In January 2022, many Somalis will have reflected on the thirty-first anniversary of the state collapse of 1991. The piecemeal governance transformation that Somalia has undergone since 2000, when the first transitional administration was formed after a Djibouti-sponsored reconciliation conference, continues to be a Sisyphean task, argues Abukar Arman in an article in BIldhaan, a journal of Somali Studies published by Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
Arman has proposed trusteeship. He sees as a panacea for Somalia’s prolonged political turmoil. Turkey is the country that Arman views as the most capable of all nations to help Somalia exercise full sovereignty. The solution to the dysfunctional governance in Somalia lies in total overhaul of structural advantages that contribute to self-perpetuation of the post-1991 elites’ fiefdoms, Beelstans, a coinage of Arman’s made up of beel (community) and the politically incorrect suffix stan. National elites, powerful conglomerates and foreign countries form a troika that prevents Somalia from transitioning into a viable state. Transition is word that Arman dislikes due to the dual meaning of its Somali equivalent kala-guur.
The article, in my view, will generate heated discussions not only because of the issues Arman discusses concisely but also his determination to stand back from factional politics and see the whole picture as far as the reconstitution of the Somali state is concerned.
“A country is not sovereign if it fails to fulfill its obligation to protect its citizens and all others living in the geographical territory that is within its domain of authority from domestic and foreign threats” writes Arman. If one uses this formulation as a yardstick to determine whether Somalia is a sovereign nation state or not, the result will disappoint Somali nationalists. Neither the Somali Federal Government not its predecessor has been able to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks or forced displacement. Kenya has used Somalia’s state powerlessness to justify its invasion of 2011 and 2012. When a national government cannot maintain a control over all its territories, the country is susceptible to invasions framed in self-defence language.
While Somalis are waiting for a savior, Arman proffers trusteeship because “Somalia is already in a muted or a “stealth trusteeship” in which U.K. still remains the country’s pen-holder or the official gate-keeper of all Somalia related issues at the UN Security Council.” Both the premises (severely weakened de jure sovereignty) and the conclusion (trusteeship as the way forward) create legal controversies. Somalia has undergone state collapse, not sovereignty collapse. For all their conflicting agendas, Somalia’s International Partners have got one thing right: they have made distinction between the state’s limited coercive capacity and total collapse of sovereignty. That is why the UN Security Council reiterates the territorial and political unity of Somalia. Arman has inadvertently adopted the position of Bildhaan editor, Professor Ahmed Ismail Samatar, who, in violation of scholarly conventions, refers to the Somaliland Administration as the ‘Republic of Somaliland’.
The Trust Territory of Somaliland was administered by Italy between 1950 and 1960 under trusteeship (gobanimo-gaarsiin). It was a part of decolonization. Since state collapse is self-inflicted imposition, trusteeship is not a match for Kissinger’s flawed African solutions to African problems paradigm. African states will not be using outdated anthropological observations to make sense of complex political realities in former colonies. How a new trusteeship in any form will address state-building challenges in Somalia remains a conundrum. Before 1991 the state did not only become predatory, it had inspired post-1990 elites to recycle it in the form of self-governing regional administrations that have evolved into Federal Member States. The state at any level faces an image problem in the Federal Republic of Somalia. Reforming Somali politics begins when the tussle between the center and periphery gets transformed into shared political practices based on accountability, equality and citizenship.
Liban A. Ahmad