Rebuilding Somali political systems: Growing new roots in indigenous realities, or merely reconstructing the past?

2002 2002

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Abstract (summary)

Many African states have been plagued by weak and ineffective state structures, at times culminating in complete political collapse. This dissertation considers the validity of two propositions aimed at developing an understanding of the problem of institutional weakness and failure, using the case studies of the Republic of Somalia (in collapse) and the "self-declared" Republic of Somaliland (in rebuilding). The first proposition contends that a critical root cause of Somalia's implosion can be found in the virtually total lack of correspondence between the foundations and formal institutions of the state and the norms, values, practices and beliefs---the informal institutions---of Somali society. This "disconnect" resulted in the failure of the state and its successive regimes to sustain any form of vertical legitimacy; there was no agreement between the state and society on the principles upon which the "right to rule" was based. The second proposition suggests that the vertical legitimacy of the reconstructed state can be strengthened in both intrinsic and instrumental ways via a process of "indigenization" of the political system---i.e., construction of the foundations of the state, as well as the formal institutions of the new regime, based on both indigenous Somali political culture and universal democratic principles.

Two key aspects of the "hybrid" political system which Somalilanders are constructing are evaluated: the incorporation of "traditional" elders into formal political structures via a "House of Elders" or Guurti , and the reliance on explicit, negotiated clan balance within the state's legislative bodies. Based on interviews with a broad range of Somalilanders, both the potential and actual implications for legitimacy of these adaptations are evaluated. The findings suggest that indigenization offers potential opportunities to expand political space, strengthening the state-society linkage and hence increasing vertical legitimacy. But the effects of indigenization are fluid and situational, responding to changes in the political context, the efforts of various constituencies to define and control these institutions, and the changing expectations of society. Moreover, indigenization will not prevent elite efforts to co-opt indigenized structures in ways that could undermine their usefulness to the state. But the public's familiarity with how indigenized institutions are supposed to work may make it more successful in holding them accountable.

Indexing (details)

Political science
0615: Political science
Identifier / keyword
Social sciences; Clan balance; Elders; Indigenous realities; Political systems; Somali
Rebuilding Somali political systems: Growing new roots in indigenous realities, or merely reconstructing the past?
Logan, Carolyn J.
Number of pages
Publication year
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 66/09, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
9780542307201, 0542307200
Robinson, Pearl
Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (Tufts University)
University location
United States -- Massachusetts
Source type
Dissertations & Theses
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL
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