- Adaptation of Humanitarian Aid Practices
- 15 December 2011
The record of externally sponsored statebuilding initiatives in Somalia since 1991 is one of failure. Most of these initiatives have sought to restore a unitary state, an effort that has been unsuccessful and will not happen in the immediate future. This report calls for a different way forward – a return to a “building-block” approach to statebuilding, guided by a pragmatic outlook that transfers power to local authorities and civil society. This is not a new idea, for it has been discussed ever since the end of colonial rule in Somalia. The two-stage idea is to break up the territory into smaller pieces – “building-blocks” – that can more effectively be managed by local authorities; then, when these become working polities, reunite them under a decentralised, federal or even confederal structure.
The example of Somaliland (and to a different degree Puntland) gives credibility to such an approach. Somaliland is without doubt the most peaceful and stable part of the country. By adopting a system of governance anchored in the clan-based principles of the predominantly nomadic northern Somali society, in combination with liberal democratic values, it has been able to provide security to its citizens as well as collecting a modest level of taxes. The trajectory that led to Somaliland’s current system of governance cannot necessarily be transplanted automatically to the rest of the country, but this experience of local reconciliation and statebuilding should be given much more attention; in particular, it shows that statebuilding efforts crucially need to be domestically driven and to engage the broader public. This “indigenising” of the statebuilding process both gives legitimacy to local leaders and makes it easier for the population to hold them accountable. The way that parts of Somalia are consolidating their regional polities suggests that a revival of the building-block approach is the best route to finding a lasting solution to the Somali problem.