default Political Settlements and State Formation: The Case of Somaliland

Author: Sarah Phillips
Institution: Developmental Leadership Program, University of Birmingham
Publication Date: December 2013
Keywords: Political Settlements, Somalia, Community Engagement, Conflict, Governance, Peace Processes, Peacebuilding


Drawing on the contrasting cases of Somaliland and Somalia, this report offers insights into why domestic power struggles in some societies help to lay the foundations for relative political order while in others lead to cycles of political violence.

This study has a number of important implications for donor policymakers who are interested in addressing problems of large-scale violence and understanding how durable political settlements can emerge internally within divided societies.

Key Issues:

Somalia’s government collapsed in 1991, engulfing much of the country in violence which persists to this day. But the leaders of Somaliland – a self-proclaimed republic in Somalia’s north-west - managed within a period of six years to end the violence and create a new political order which has kept the peace. This report discusses how this happened.

There were a number of unusual structural features of Somaliland’s context which made this possible (pp. 20-38). These included both the lack of direct external assistance and the absence of external actors weighing in to end or prolong the violence. This afforded the Somalilanders space to devise, negotiate and implement locally legitimate institutional solutions.

The role of local agents who were able to perceive the local developmental interests of the community and who had incentives and novel tools to work towards these interests was another important determining factor (pp. 38-52). These actors had in common access to quality secondary education, which prioritised leadership and critical thought, and were linked by pre-existing networks of trust which pre-dated their political engagements.

The building of peace was facilitated by drawing on existing institutions and establishing new ones which helped to regulate competition over power and resources and the handling of differences in non-violent ways (pp. 53-71). The so-called “rules of the game” included lengthy peace conferences that were highly inclusive, a search for a balance of power between clans and sub-clans, and a reliance on internal resources and initiative to solve Somaliland’s problems.

Although Somaliland’s political settlement emerged in a very unique context, its experience has a number of wider implications for external assistance which are discussed in the report:

• Somaliland’s detachment from external resources and external political support resulted in stronger local ownership of the peacebuilding process, a reliance on local resources and a co-dependence between local elites (p. 77).

• There were no pre-determined institutional endpoints to the peace talks – this created space for locally legitimate solutions to emerge rather than the parties being rushed to adopt solutions based on liberal democratic templates or hold elections (p. 78).

• Somaliland’s peace was underpinned by economic settlements between political and economic elites) which were not inclusive in nature (in line with conventional conflict prevention programmes) but which nevertheless enabled demobilisation of clan-based militias and provided security dividends for the wider population (p. 79).

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