Towards alternative precepts of statehood in Africa : the role of traditional authorities in reconstituting governance and state in Somaliland

Wiuff Moe, Louise (2009-03)

Thesis (MA (Political Science))--Stellenbosch University, 2009.


In recent years it has become increasingly evident that the idea of the state as a universal (Western) type of governance structure, i.e. a set of bureaucratic institutions headed by a central government with the capacity and interest to govern all of its territory, is incongruent with realities on the ground, particularly within the African continent. The 1990s has been a critical period in the evolution of African statehood, during which old strategies of state control have broken down. While this has given rise to a debate on the ‘failure’ of African statehood, it has also led to attempts to revise and expand theories and concepts of statehood and set off a search for more indigenous and empirically viable alternatives to the state as it was devised by the European colonizers. This thesis aims at contributing to the debate on the challenges and potentials of contemporary African statehood by investigating the case of de facto statehood in Somaliland emerging on the backdrop of state failure in Somalia. The collapse of the de jure state of the Republic of Somalia in 1991 provided an opportunity for Somaliland to fundamentally redefine the pillars of statehood and governance. This entailed the combining of modern institution building with traditional practices of governance, to in this way bolster the capacity and legitimacy of the new de facto state in the north of what is formally recognized as Somalia. Drawing on the analytical framework of ‘mediated state’ provided by Ken Menkhaus, this thesis explores Somaliland’s self-reliant path to state formation as well as the governance structures which underpin its contemporary statehood. Particular attention is given to the role of traditional authorities as driving forces behind state formation and as a means of complementing the under-capacitated state institutions. The study thus relates to the debate on the resurgence of traditional leadership in Africa. The resurgence of traditional leadership within governance is a tendency which is part of a broader development of the reconfiguration of the state in Africa since the early 1990s – a tendency which introduces new possibilities, as well as new risks, in terms of reconstituting new viable governance structures. The study concludes that Somaliland’s approach to state formation demonstrates an impressive indigenous alternative to externally driven top-down attempts to revive centralized statehood, and that the case also challenges the perception that the breakdown of old strategies of state control necessarily leads to generalized anarchy. The study, however, also points out some risks involved in the exercise of the state and the traditional authorities ‘converting’ different forms of power between different realms of governance, and concludes that collaboration between the state and traditional authorities does not per se counteract undemocratic governance practices. On this basis the study suggests that the new ambiguous roles of traditional authorities within governance in Africa merit more academic attention.

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