Somaliland’s system of governance can check the international community’s status quo approach to postconflict assumptions. Communities are not passive victims of government failure—when necessary, they will create arrangements to provide basic security and services to minimize risk and increase predictability in a dangerous environment. Somaliland has successfully navigated a 2001 constitutional referendum, 2002 local elections, 2003 presidential campaign, 2005 legislative elections (with 246 candidates and 1.3 million ballots, the 700 domestic observers, and 76 foreign observers declared the election “the freest and most transparent democratic exercises ever staged in the Horn of Africa”), and a 2010 presidential election. When President Egal died in 2002 while abroad, power passed peacefully to Vice President Dahit Riyale Kahin. Riyale won the 2003 presidential election with a margin of only 80 votes out of 500,000 ballots, and after the court appeal failed, the results were accepted peacefully.
The level of government producing the most amount of governance—with the least amount of external aid—is the municipalities and neighborhoods through informal and overlapping groupings of elders. While Somaliland has experienced violence between subclans, fights are shorter and less lethal than previously due to clan elders’ intervention to resolve conflict and limited public support for fighting. Both violence and crime have decreased significantly, particularly when compared to Mogadishu and southern Somalia. Governance is based on town meetings where all adult males are entitled to speak and decisions are made by consensus—demonstrating a high degree of egalitarianism that evokes stories of ancient Athens. Processes of adjudication, mediation, negotiation, and consensus building are emphasized and are based on transparency and good faith. This local governance in Somaliland is largely been invisible to external actors that continue to focus solely on the central government in Mogadishu.
Somaliland’s governance success has much to recommend it to other countries and to challenge peacebuilding’s assumptions. While acknowledging the important role of clans in Somalialanders’ lives, the constitution encourages consensus by requiring political parties to have significant support in all six regions of Somaliland. Their first president—Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal—negotiated state control of port revenue, rebuilt government buildings and civil service, reopened the central bank and established a new currency, incorporated militias into a national army, and cracked down on illegal roadblocks and fees. In addition, Somaliland made its own license plates and airline while fostering a booming economy. The private sector provides electricity, water, education, and healthcare; three new universities have been built and private hospitals and schools are rapidly multiplying; telephone charges are among the cheapest in Africa. Kaplan expounds:
The public feels it has a strong stake together with a robust sense of national identity and patriotic pride. It has produced an unprecedented degree of interconnectedness between the state and society. . .in stark contrast to the past when previous regimes received enormous infusions of external assistance without which they could not survive, and as a result became completely divorced from the economic foundations of their own society…Although many of its governing structures need work and many of its politicians, bureaucrats, and judges lack experience, Somaliland has already passed a number of democratic milestones that few states in Africa and the Middle East have reached.
These impressive results were achieved despite holding some of the lowest development indicators, including a life expectancy of only 42 years, a child mortality rate over 25%, and adult literacy under 20%. Somaliland stands in contrast to attempts at Western-style governance in Mogadishu, what Kaplan calls “one of postcolonial Africa’s worst mismatches between conventional state structures and indigenous institutions.” The demonstration of conflict resolution and state building exhibited by the conferences are an example of consensus-based democracy that resolved some deeply divisive conflicts and settled complex political decisions. The Somaliland budget is relatively small, at $20-30 million a year, but built functional ministries, a public school system, a respected police force, and municipal governments that are among the most responsive and effective administrative units in all of Somalia. While the local governance systems are fragile, they are widely respected and a source of pride, unlike many international efforts at governance in Somalia.
The international community should refocus on leveraging traditional indigenous governance forces rather than trying to squeeze countries into inappropriate Western models of what a country should look like, acknowledging that external assistance may have little effect on whether a postconflict state succeeds or fails. Postconflict efforts should focus on harmonizing a national government to existing local systems of governance. As much as possible, international involvement should be limited to foster self-reliance, self-confidence, and national identity.
A New Model of Postconflict Reconstruction
A different approach to postconflict reconstruction should follow a drastic localization and devolving of governance basic services. The high level of participation required by local governance will allow citizens to have a stake in the new order and give them valuable experience. While playing lip service to promoting indigenous self-reliance, many reconstruction and development plans are unwilling to actually let indigenous communities take the lead. Unless they do so, the arrangement will not last. Decentralization can encourage civil society growth and political participation by lowering the barriers to entry and increasing the ability to influence outcomes. “It has become increasingly evident that citizens need a stake in their government for democratic consolidation to happen,” concludes USAID’s analysis of decentralization. “Citizens who value their participation in subnational government are less likely to support non-democratic regime changes at the national level.” Likewise, subnational governments can train residents in the political system, impart skills, and hone leadership while also checking the power of a national government should it overstep. In addition, studies have shown that people are more willing to pay taxes that will benefit people they have kinship, ethnic, or religious ties to rather than paying taxes that will benefit those different from themselves—even if they are countrymen. Human nature as such encourages the bulk of taxation to be at the local level because then citizens would more directly benefit themselves and their neighbors.
An example of this radical localization at work is the World Bank’s National Solidarity Program in Afghanistan. The initiative organizes elected councils that vote to determine spending and development priorities, providing a forum for communities to play a role in development and work out their differences in the open while getting citizens actively involved in governance. Communities are required to draw up a project budget, manage the funds, and contribute to the project (usually by providing free labor and/or locally-available supplies). A Human Rights Watch report determined that NSP-built schools were less likely to be attacked by the Taliban than other schools and the NSP promotes community accountability. The success of NSP has been such that it has spread to two-thirds of Afghanistan’s approximately 24,000 villages and could expand in size and scope. These councils can adapt and evolve along with the skills and ideas of the people it serves, both using and renewing the public good of human capacity.
Taking what works in the NSP and in Somaliland’s experience and expanding it to give indigenous communities more responsibility to take ownership and steer reconstruction, ultimately make them more connected to indigenous norms and more likely to be accepted while being less resource-intensive on donor countries. The goal should be to 1) empower and enfranchise communities, 2) provide governance, and 3) complete projects to secure confidence in a better future. Additionally, radical localization allows for natural variation to accommodate a country’s subcultures and ethnic groups. Each village would have a leader who would be chosen customarily or elected. Each village would also have a council—with women and minorities—that may be elected, appointed, or voluntary, depending on the community’s norms and culture. Experience with quotas of women in government shows that while in the first round of elections, women candidates are less qualified and respected than their male counterpoints, such problems often fade by the second and third rounds of elections. Each council would be given seed money from which to develop the first village budget, initiate the first reconstruction project(s), and draw up a taxation plan. The vast majority of tax revenue will be collected, managed, and disbursed locally. Decisions will be made on a consensus basis, using negotiation and consultation to build support and agreement. Councils could apply for grants from donor countries (out of a common pool) for specific projects that tax revenue will not be able to cover; aid will be given on the strength, feasibility, and necessity of the project and the village’s track record on previous aid and projects. The village leader or council will also appoint or elect representatives of the town for the district, province, and national government. Depending on the amount of business before the representatives at the various levels, this may be a part or full time job (with corresponding payment).
For projects/issues that require district, state, or national involvement, villages will have to have to decide how much of their money to devote to municipal, district, state, and national capabilities. Such funding decisions will act as a de facto vote of confidence in the various levels of government, providing them incentive to perform well and invest in capacity-building to gain tax and grant money. For example, if a village wants to build a road from their village to another, they could either negotiate funding/project design between the two villages or request the district, state, or national government administer and complete the project. Upper-level governments would likely have additional resources (such as a cement mixer, engineers, etc.) that would speed up the project, lower the cost, and/or improve the quality of the project. After the cost of the project was determined, the money for the project would be given to the relevant level of government plus an additional percentage of the project to pay for administration costs. Local governments would also be encouraged to build capacity so they can do more projects on their own and not pay the administrative fee. If a level of government is corrupt or inefficient, it will get less money, creating an incentive for good governance. The higher-level governments will likely languish and remain under-funded for awhile, but more centralized institutions and governance will evolve on an as-needed basis to tackle larger projects and problems. Upper-level governance will increase as it 1) proves its value, 2) invests in capacity, and 3) earns the faith of the people.
This process may start out rather undemocratic and local governments may fall victim to warlords or various strongmen. However, the democratic processes put in place, as well as the need to secure funds, will help limit bad behavior. Government and history tends to have heavy path dependence, so once a process and incentives are put in place and closely guarded, positive developments are likely to continue in a virtuous cycle. A strongman may be able to dominate the local council and impose taxes that are his to squander, but he will be unable to get grant money due to his bad behavior and he will risk popular unrest and dismissal by the council. Particularly if one village is languishing while a neighboring one succeeds, popular disapproval can have a real effect, as the Ugandan child mortality monitoring project demonstrated. Not every destructive behavior can be prevented, but some safeguards can be put in place.