Hargeisa, Somaliland (Photo: Retlaw Snellac)

Somaliland: When less was more

How the domestic drivers of peace and development work when unhindered by significant variables such as aid and other forms of international intervention is examined in an open-access article by Dr Sarah Phillips published this month. When less was more: external assistance and the political settlement in Somaliland appears in the May edition of International Affairs, and draws on some of the research conducted by Dr Phillips for a DLP Research Paper.

For the first ten years or so following its unilateral declaration of independence in 1991, Somaliland had almost no access to aid or external finance or income. This made Somaliland’s government more reliant on domestically generated revenue than most states that have formed in the post-WW2 era.

Dr Phillips’ study examines the dynamics of the interdependence this has fostered between powerful political and economic actors to ensure their mutual survival and prosperity. Her analysis questions three underlying assumptions of western state-building and post-conflict transition models:

  • The more inclusive a political settlement, the greater its legitimacy and therefore its resilience.
  • Effective Weberian governance institutions are a prerequisite for a lasting peace.
  • External assistance is usually necessary to end large-scale violence, or prevent its recurrence, in developing states.

She finds that the bargain between Somaliland’s political and economic elites that delivered what has proved to be an enduring peace was, in fact, highly exclusive. While peace is widely seen there as preferable to the alternative, this exclusive political settlement inhibits the prospects of more inclusive development, and has been characterised as a deal that holds Somalilanders hostage to peace.

Somaliland’s experience also suggests that donors cannot expect transformation to happen in accordance with ‘road maps’ or predetermined institutional end points. The fluidity inherent in the establishment of a durable political settlement may be incompatible with the structural requirements of donor agencies.

Finally, the process that constructed Somaliland’s peace shows how less intervention actually created greater political space for locally legitimate solutions to emerge. Local elites had to depend on each other for their mutual survival and prosperity. Yet while ‘local ownership’ has become a core rhetorical component of contemporary state-building discourse, it is usually seen as something that complements donor interventions rather than as something autonomous from it.

The study concludes that if donors step back from attempts to engineer specific outcomes, this may have long-term political benefits in developing states. Allowing space for real local agency to develop might help foster a sense of mutual dependence and encourage compromise among stakeholders who can expect no external support for an uncompromising position.

But the findings also hint at how the deeper structures within the international political economy contribute to poverty and conflict. Somaliland’s government did not have access to international finance or weapons markets; it did not have to contend with the protectionist policies of wealthy countries; and it did not have to conform to western ideas of what a state ‘should’ look like. The successful peace process that emerged from this suggests that the international community should be open to critical examination – and reform – of the many non-aid channels through which power and influence flow between donors and recipients.

Read more from Sarah on Somaliland's route to peace.

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About DLP

The Developmental Leadership Program (DLP) is an international research initiative that explores how leadership, power and political processes drive or block successful development.

DLP focuses on the crucial role of home-grown leaderships and coalitions in forging legitimate political settlements and institutions that promote developmental outcomes, such as sustainable growth, political stability and inclusive social development.

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