Clan-based government in Somalia?

politics and culture — By on August 28, 2008 at 5:14 pm

The best designed governments are those that build upon the culture of a country, rather than those that try to impose foreign ideas and systems on a people. So I read with interest this recent story in the International Herald Tribune about a movement to re-design the government of Somalia in a way that would emphasize the traditional role of clans and elders.

Does the international community have it all wrong on Somalia? After 17 years, 14 transitional governments and more than $8 billion in foreign aid, the country is as violent and lawless – and many say hopeless – as ever…

Nothing seems to be able to lift Somalia’s curse of anarchy. And part of the problem, a rising number of Western academics and Somali professionals argue, is that the bulk of outside efforts have concentrated on standing up a strong central government, which may be anathema in a country where authority tends to be diffuse and clan-based…

But there may be another answer: going local.

Many Somali intellectuals and Western academics are pushing an alternative form of government that might be better suited to Somalia’s fluid, fragmented and decentralized society. The new idea, which is actually an old idea that seems to be enjoying something of a renaissance because of the transitional government’s shortcomings, is to rebuild Somalia from the bottom up.

It is called the building block approach. The first blocks would be small governments at the lowest levels, in villages and towns. These would be stacked to form district and regional governments. The last step would be uniting the regional governments in a loose national federation that controlled, say, currency issues and the pirate-infested shoreline, but did not sideline local leaders.

“It’s the only way viable,” said Ali Doy, a Somali analyst who works closely with the United Nations. “Local government is where the actual governance is. It’s more realistic, it’s more sustainable and it’s more secure.”

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