Somaliland just held elections recently. Political scientist Scott Pegg was there as an international observer. I reprint his report with his permission:
I was in Somaliland as an international election observer for their parliamentary and local council elections on May 31st. The blog I did with Michael Walls has lots of cool photos in it if you want to see low-tech democracy in action in an extremely poor country in the Horn of Africa: https://defactostates.ut.ee/blog/observing-somaliland%E2%80%99s-2021-parliamentary-and-local-council-elections.
So, the biggest problem by far with Somaliland elections is that there is almost no policy or ideological differences between the candidates (everyone wants them to be recognized, everyone wants to promote livestock exports, etc.). Candidates will loudly proclaim how they fundamentally differ from their opponents but then when you ask them something like “give me three key issues you disagree about,” they start mumbling and deflecting. Unfortunately, much of their politics is clan-based (and often sub-clan based). When I was there for the 2017 presidential elections, a seasoned political observer who is a friend of mine gave me this incredible breakdown of “we’ve got this clan, that sub-clan and the other sub-clan, they’ve got this clan, that sub-clan and the other sub-clan and the only unknown variables are this clan and that sub-clan.” It was exactly like John King pulling up different electoral maps on CNN, just without the maps and the technology. Based on his analysis, I asked if I could get posted to either Burco (where I was sent in both 2017 and 2021) or Boroma because they were what he correctly predicted were the equivalents of “swing states” in their election. So that’s the depressing part.
The inspiring part is that there are several minor issues or problems, but the elections themselves are incredibly peaceful, festive, free, fair and orderly. The single biggest problem I saw this time was an unsealed ballot box. The polling station staff knew it was a serious problem and had already called the regional electoral headquarters to ask for additional seals to be brought out. Yet, the box is sitting in the middle of the room in full view of all voters and all observers and no one is tampering with it in any way. I initially thought the polling station I saw close was closing early and leaving a few dozen voters in line locked out of the process. Then, I soon discover that it is a 20 minute break for evening prayer time, after which they resume voting and stay open 90 minutes late to accommodate everyone who was in line before the polls close. They weren’t supposed to do that, it was technically wrong, but it wasn’t anything that was done with any kind of fraud or malicious intent and all the voters were totally cool with it. The one area where they totally violate international norms is on the secrecy of the ballot. Voters can vote in secret but large numbers of them just don’t care if people know who they are voting for and walk into the polling station loudly proclaiming I want to vote for X or Y candidate. The election staff either shows them how to do this or does it for them and then shows the ballot to all observers so they can see the voter’s intent was carried out. Alternatively, some voters vote in secret but then go up to the political party observers and say something like can you verify that I actually voted for X and Y candidates, which they then do honestly and scrupulously. They have assorted small problems or mistakes, but absolutely zero fraud, systemic irregularities or malevolent intent. Watching the process on election day is truly inspiring and I wish more Americans who are so jaded and cynical about our democracy could see it.
That’s the topic of my latest column at RealClearHistory. An excerpt:
2. Sovereignty and suzerainty are concepts that have little to no bearing on today’s world, but perhaps they should. Prior to the end of World War II, when the U.S. and U.S.S.R. became the globe’s alpha powers, suzerainty was often used by imperial powers to manage their colonies. Suzerainty is a formal recognition, by a power, of a minor polity’s independence and autonomy, and a formal recognition by the minor polity of the power’s control over its diplomatic and economic affairs. Suzerainty was used especially often by the British and Dutch (and less so by France and other Latin states, which preferred more direct control over their territorial claims), as well as the Ottoman Empire. The U.S.-led order has focused on sovereign states rather than unofficial spaces, and this has led to many misunderstandings. Somalia, which has long been a region of suzerains, is a basketcase today largely because it is approached by powers as a sovereign state.
Please, read the rest. The Dervish state was an ally of the Ottoman and German empires during World War I.
I will be dedicating many, if not most, of my columns at RealClearHistory to World War I over the next few months, mostly because it’s been 100 years since an armistice ended a war that was supposed to end all wars. Some of my thoughts will be heavy, but some, like this week’s, will be playful:
3. The Dervish state. This small state in the Horn of Africa was renowned throughout Europe and the Middle East for ably fending off challenges from Italians, the British, and the Ottomans during the roughly 25 years of its existence. The Dervish state openly resisted attempts at colonization during the Scramble for Africa and was recognized as a major ally by the German Empire and the Ottoman Empire. Being a small, independent state in the Horn of Africa, Dervish’s leaders played it smart and offered Ottoman and German troops assistance lightly, preferring instead to pay close attention to the realities of its allies’ war situation. When Istanbul and Berlin surrendered in 1918, no tears were shed by the Dervish. The state was conquered by the British Empire two years later, in 1920.
The piece is about some of the countries that played lesser roles in World War I. Please, read the whole thing. Any suggestions for next week’s column? (Bearing in mind that the theme is World War I.)
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- The good, the bad, and the ugly of Somaliland secession
I’ve gone on record here at NOL as stating that one of the big problems facing advocates of individual liberty today is the failure of the international system to recognize calls for autonomy from sub-state actors, and that one of the best ways to do this is by counterintuitively incorporating that new autonomy into the international system in some way (you can do this by admitting such regions into the UN and other IGOs, or by admitting such regions into suprastate organizations like the United States or the European Union).
Mary Harper, a journalist writing for the BBC, has a new piece up that suggests I may be entirely wrong in my approach for a more individualistic and peaceful world:
The differences between Somalia and Somaliland raise interesting questions about recognition.
Somalia is a fully recognised country. Billions of dollars have been spent and many lives lost trying to restore a country devastated by more than a quarter of a century of conflict.
There has been some progress but there are no signs of full stability returning any time soon.
Somaliland is not recognised and does not receive much outside help. But it has built itself up from the devastation of civil war.
I first visited the territory in the early 1990s, when the capital Hargeisa had been reduced to rubble. When I returned in 2011, as I stood on a hill above the city, I was astonished is to see a whole new Hargeisa below me.
With the international gaze so firmly fixed on Mogadishu, it is unlikely Somaliland will be recognised in the near future – but that may be a blessing in disguise.
Maybe, but Somaliland’s plight could be a whole lot better, too. Imagine, for example, Somaliland joining the EU…
If a neo-Ottoman federation arises I suspect it will begin as a political alliance between Turkey and Israel. Perhaps such a federation will arise from the Mediterranean Union, who can know really. The two countries are already relatively close in interests and are, alongside a few of the Gulf States, the closest things the region has to secular liberal powers. The Turks at this time would not favor an independent Kurdistan though and I fear they might withdraw support for a federation if that was part of the package.
I think it would be easier to first form an Ottoman federation and afterward grant Kurds their independence within the federation.
It is hard for me to imagine the Arabs joining said federation either way. The Egyptian-Syrian Arab republic went nowhere. Part of me (an infinitely small part!) kind of hopes ISIS manages to defeat the Iraqi and Syrian forces and creates the core of a Pan-Arab nation.
I’ll let him have the last word here (be sure to scroll though the entire dialogue), but I just want to take this opportunity to stress the importance of thinking about the world in terms we might not be used to. The standard unit of measurement – for lack of a better term – for thinking about international affairs is the nation-state, but this way of thinking about the world has, like all devices humans use to make sense of their world, weaknesses as well as strengths. To my mind, as the world becomes increasingly interconnected thanks to liberalization, the nation-state becomes less and less useful as a tool for understanding human action.
What Michelangelo is doing here is thinking ahead of the curve; he is applying the notions of suprastate and substate to international affairs. A suprastate is an organization or union that is composed of various nation-states, such as the ones Michelangelo uses in his argument (i.e. “Mediterranean Union”). A substate is a region within a nation-state, such as Kurdistan or Scotland or Somaliland.
Often, especially in debates here at NOL, the notions of suprastate and substate are used in conjunction with the developing, or post-colonial, regions of the world. This doesn’t mean these notions can’t be applied to places like the United States or Argentina. Indeed, the US itself was created as a supranational union in order to combat the strategies of the British, French, Spanish, and various Native nations. If you can entertain the notions of suprastate and substate when you think about human action, you will be that much closer to advocating clearly for the free and open society (see this piece on the informal economy by Dr Gibson, for example).
As many of you may know, the recently-minted country of South Sudan has descended into civil war. I’m going to show you how this violence was actually predictable, but first I want to point out a couple of things.
- Why did South Sudan get international recognition and not Somaliland, which has been a functioning democracy for about twenty years now? I’ve got two theories: One of them has to do with Islam. The peoples in what is now South Sudan are Christians and animists and the Arabs they were fighting in Khartoum were Muslims. Theory 2 has to do with Western pseudo-guilt associated with its past, state-sponsored racism. The peoples of South Sudan are black and the people running Khartoum are not. Neither of these theories makes sense, mind you, but I think this actually bolsters my thoughts on ‘why?‘.
- Where did the violence between South Sudan and Sudan go? These guys were duking it out over an oil-rich region just a few months ago and now I can’t find much about the conflict. I’ll bet Khartoum’s disappearance has to do with both Western threats and the realization that it could accomplish more behind the scenes, so to speak, by playing its former enemies (various black ethnic groups) off on each other.
- The violence between former allies in war against Khartoum is also worth musing about, if only for a moment. A bunch of different ethnic groups were former allies in the war against Arab Khartoum and now they are at each other’s throats. I don’t think ideology, specifically ethno-nationalism, is an issue here…yet. It won’t be for a long time. Ethno-nationalism seems to be something that shows up within a society after years and years of botched efforts by elites to mold a nation out of a post-colonial state.
Ok, back to the issue at hand. I’ve blogged a little bit about secession before, and one thing I like to remind readers of is that there is an underlying concept that is much more important than case studies. For instance, you can probably get a much better understanding of what is going on in South Sudan by reading this old piece by yours truly:
In fact, the West could help to turn this disaster into something quite worthwhile: Build an international consensus and recognize the independence of the fiefdoms. If the West does this now, there is a good chance that local players will be more agreeable in their claims on territory. To secure independence from a Leviathan like Libya would guarantee a period of time for the local fiefdoms to regroup and rebuild what Ghaddafi had destroyed.
A parallel can be drawn to the velvet divorce of the Czech Republic and Slovakia just after the collapse of the USSR. What made the divorce “velvet” was international cooperation. When the international community doesn’t play the game smart, however, divorces look more like Algeria, Indonesia, the Congo basin, the Balkans, and, of course, Somalia.
If the West is to “do something”, and I think it should in most cases, then pursuing diplomatic relations that focus on decentralized governance and international trade are a good way to start.
Can you see how this works? Just replace ‘Libya’ with ‘South Sudan’ and ‘Ghaddafi’ with ‘Khartoum’ and you have the right parameters in place for what needs to be done in regards to making secession in failed states work (I blogged a little bit more about these parameters in South Sudan here as well).
Here is the relevant map for our weekend question:
This is a map of South Sudan’s ethnic groups. It looks like Switzerland, to be honest, but unlike Switzerland South Sudan does not have the same institutional structures in place. Nor does this new country have the full support of the international community. There are plenty of condescending Leftists “monitoring” the country inside and out, but that’s about it.
If the West wants to play a role in helping to avert a violent downward spiral, then it would do well to quickly recognize the futility of South Sudan’s existence and start acknowledging the legitimacy of the fiefdoms. You know where the ‘comments’ section is!
That is essentially what a political scientist is arguing in a short piece in the New York Times:
Yet because these countries were recognized by the international community before they even really existed, because the gift of sovereignty was granted from outside rather than earned from within, it came without the benefit of popular accountability, or even a social contract between rulers and citizens.
Imperialists like Dr Delacroix and Nancy Pelosi don’t seem to care about the legitimacy of post-colonial states (largely, I suspect, because they thought they did a great job of creating the borders that they did). You never hear them make arguments like this. Instead, the imperial line is all about helping all of those poor people suffering under despotic rule by bombing their countries, just as you would expect a condescending paternalist to do.
Since tactical strikes and peacekeeping missions have utterly failed since the end of WW2, why not try a new tactic? Our political scientist elaborates:
The first and most urgent task is that the donor countries that keep these nations afloat should cease sheltering African elites from accountability. To do so, the international community must move swiftly to derecognize the worst-performing African states, forcing their rulers — for the very first time in their checkered histories — to search for support and legitimacy at home […]
African states that begin to provide their citizens with basic rights and services, that curb violence and that once again commit resources to development projects, would be rewarded with re-recognition by the international community.
Englebert (the political scientist) goes on use examples of democratization in Taiwan as an example of how delegitimizing states can lead to democratization.
Another interesting angle that Englebert brings in is that of Somaliland, a breakaway region of Somalia that has not been recognized by the international community and, perhaps as result of this brittle reception by the international community, it is flourishing economically and politically. You won’t hear imperialists point to Somaliland either. Instead, you’ll get some predictable snark about ‘anarchism‘ or African savagery from these paternalists.
Yet, it is obvious that Somaliland is neither anarchist nor savage, as there is a government in place that is actively trying to work with both Mogadishu and international actors on the one hand, and rational calculations made by all sorts of actors on the other hand. What we have in the Horn of Africa, and – I would argue – by extension elsewhere in the post-colonial world, is a crisis of legitimacy wrought by the brutal, oppressive hand of government.
Leaders from Somalia and Somaliland have held their first formal discussions on the future of the self-proclaimed Somaliland republic.
It broke away in 1991 and wants to be a separate country – but it has not been internationally recognised.
Mogadishu wants the northern territory to be part of a single Somali state.
Since declaring independence, Somaliland has enjoyed relative peace in contrast to the rest of Somalia, which has been plagued by conflict […]
It was the first time in 21 years that there had been formal, direct contact between the authorities in Mogadishu, and the Somaliland administration, which used to be a British colony, whereas southern Somalia was governed by Italy.
The two sides agreed the talks should continue and, in a declaration, they called on their respective presidents to meet as soon as possible – this could be as early as next week in Dubai.
They also called on the international community to help provide experts on legal, economic and security matters, which our correspondent says are all issues that will need to be addressed in clarifying the future relationship between Somalia and Somaliland.
This is great news! Continue reading
I just came across an article in the New York Times via Bill Easterly, and it is very discouraging. The article is, of course, about the aspirations of Azawad, the breakaway region of Mali that just declared its independence. The article outlines the slim-to-none chances Azawad has of breaking free from the shackles of colonial legacy and African despotism:
“[…] there is little likelihood that anyone will defeat the Tuaregs on the battlefield anytime soon.
Still, they face slim odds of establishing a nation. Just ask Ahmed Abdi Habsade, a government minister in Africa’s other unrecognized state, Somaliland. ‘We have many problems,’ Mr. Habsade said in a telephone interview from Somaliland’s capital, Hargeysa. ‘The country cannot get donations from the U.N. or other governments. We are not having a budget to develop our country.’
Somaliland, which sits in the northwestern corner of Somalia, has been a de-facto independent nation for the better part of two decades, and an oasis of calm in the chaos that has swept up Somalia. Its claims to independence date from the colonial era, when it was a British protectorate while Somalia was controlled by Italy. The two states merged after independence, but the Somalilanders had almost immediate regrets, and have been trying to break free ever since.
Somaliland has had successes, including holding peaceful elections, yet it has struggled without an international stamp of Continue reading