The case of Somaliland is significant in illustrating that the Somali context does not merely feature fragility, insecurity, and armed conflict but also holds important lessons on peace processes.

Comparing Peace Processes

Edited By Alpaslan Özerdem and Roger Mac Ginty


This book offers a comparative survey of 18 contemporary peace processes conducted by leading international scholars.

There is no standard model of peace processes and all will vary according to the context, type of conflict, timing, national and global economic climate, and factors like natural disasters. Therefore, making comparisons between peace processes is difficult, but it is beneficial – indeed, imperative – and is the principal motivation behind this volume. What works in one context may not work in another, but it can be modified and adapted to fit another context.

The book is structured to maximize comparison between processes, and the case studies chosen are topical and span the major regions of the world. The concluding chapter systematically compares the case studies around 11 variables that cover the conflict context, peace process procedures, the responsiveness of the peace process to demands, and levels of participation and inclusion. Each peace process is then given a numeric score according to each of these variables, and the book thereby reaches judgments on whether each case can be termed a ‘success’ or a ‘failure’.

This book will be essential reading for students of peace studies, conflict resolution, war and conflict studies, security studies, and IR.

Table of Contents

Introduction Roger Mac Ginty and Alpaslan Özerdem

  1. Aceh Nathan Shea
  2. Afghanistan Anatol Lieven
  3. Basque Daniele Conversi and Gorka Espiau
  4. Bosnia-Herzegovina Dejan Guzina
  5. Cambodia SungYong Lee
  6. Colombia Jenny Pearce
  7. El Salvador William Stanley
  8. Liberia Sukanya Podder
  9. Mindanao Ayesah Abubakar and Kamarulzaman Askandar
  10. Myanmar Stefano Ruzzo
  11. Nepal Elly Harrowell and Varsha Gyawali
  12. Northern Ireland Roger Mac Ginty
  13. Palestine-Israel Mandy Turner
  14. Somaliland Louise Wiuff Moe
  15. South Africa Adrian Guelke
  16. Sudan Alex de Waal
  17. Sri Lanka David Lewis
  18. Turkey Bahar Baser and Alpaslan Özerdem

Conclusion Roger Mac Ginty and Alpaslan Özerdem

Editor(s) Biography

Alpaslan Özerdem is Associate-Pro-Vice Chancellor Research at Coventry University, UK. He is co-editor of Local Ownership in International Peacebuilding (Routledge, 2015), co-author of Peacebuilding: An Introduction (Routledge, 2016), and co-editor of Conflict Transformation and the Palestinians (Routledge, 2017).

Roger Mac Ginty is Professor of Defence, Diplomacy and Development at the Durham Global Security Institute, Durham University, UK. He edits the journal Peacebuilding and co-directs the Everyday Peace Indicators project.

Chapter 14: Somaliland

By Louise Wiuff Moe

Book: Comparing Peace Processes

Edition: 1st Edition

First Published: 2019

Imprint: Routledge

Pages: 15


This chapter discusses the process of peacebuilding and reconstruction that took place in Somaliland, in the aftermath of the collapse of the state in Somalia in 1991. The case of Somaliland is significant in illustrating that the Somali context does not merely feature fragility, insecurity, and armed conflict but also holds important lessons on peace processes. The chapter offers a brief historical contextualization, discussing the different colonial experiences of Somaliland and Somalia, post-colonial competitions over state resources, and the eruption of civil war under the dictatorship of Siyad Barre. It explains the dynamics and nature of northern resistance and armed struggle against Barre, up until the eventual defeat of the latter in 1991. The chapter presents an analysis of the nature of, and key agency behind, the peace processes in Somaliland, following its declaration of independence and the defeat of Barre. It discusses different instances of intervention and ensuing effects on local peace and order.


In a conversation about how Somaliland managed — in a context of very low external support — to bring about a remarkably stable peace in the absence of a strong state, the former Somaliland foreign minister explained to me, ‘we knew you cannot build a house starting from the roof’.1

This chapter discusses the process of peacebuilding and reconstruction that took place in Somaliland, in the aftermath of the collapse of the state in Somalia in 1991. The case of Somaliland is significant in illustrating that the Somali context does not merely feature fragility, insecurity, and armed conflict but also holds important lessons on peace processes.

The above quotation speaks to one such lesson; namely, that sometimes reconciliatory achievements can be enabled by the absence of a centralized state or internationally led coordination and management. The chapter explores in greater detail how the decentralized peace and reconciliation processes unfolded. It also highlights the role of historical contingencies that allowed for both preserving and mobilizing certain ‘socio-cultural capital’2 — specifically, customary institutions — that subsequently came to serve as key resources for peacemaking. Hence, differing from highly formalized peace processes — i.e. processes facilitated by third parties, and involving a clearly defined framework with sequenced steps — the Somaliland peace process evolved more organically and drew on customary practices and skills rather than externally pre-defined negotiation schemes. The related approach of building upon reconciliatory outcomes of localized peace processes as the basis for wider political reconstruction offers insights of broader significance for issues of legitimacy and political authority. Specifically and in contrast to a framework of ‘building states to build peace’ (Call 2008) — the Somaliland approach allowed for a process whereby political arrangements were born out of, and as such validated through, the negotiations and settlements reached among local communities. Against this backdrop, Somaliland emerged as the most stable polity within the Somali territories.

Somaliland has by now received significant attention, and rightly so, for its self-reliant path to peace. Yet, the external intervention has not been absent altogether and merits further attention. This is especially since the internationally un-recognized status of Somaliland has encouraged more flexible and ‘low-key’ models of intervention than is usually the case in post-conflict states. Following on from this, the chapter explores examples of, first, low-key facilitative support to reconciliation processes in the 1990s and early 2000s and, second, more recent examples (based on the author’s field research from 2014; see Moe 2015) of interventions allegedly seeking to ‘secure the peace’ through counterterrorism initiatives. The two types of examples allow for drawing out the ambiguous effects of flexible ‘low key’ intervention on local peace: from facilitative support of already ongoing peace processes to subtle securitization of local peace.

The chapter is structured as follows. The first section offers a brief historical contextualization, discussing the different colonial experiences of Somaliland and Somalia, post-colonial competitions over state resources, and the eruption of civil war under the dictatorship of Siyad Barre (1969—1991). The section traces the dynamics and nature of northern (Somaliland) resistance and armed struggle against Barre, up until the eventual defeat of the latter in 1991. The second section turns to an analysis of the nature of, and key agency behind, the peace processes in Somaliland, following its declaration of independence and the defeat of Barre. The latter half of the section provides a discussion of different instances of intervention and ensuing effects on local peace and order.

Conflict analysis

With colonization in the late nineteenth century, Somalis were for the first time subordinated to a central state, ruled by the Italians in the south and the British in the north, which led to a shift of the locus of power and politics. While in pre-colonial Somali society politics took place on the community level, during colonialism, politics, and power were transferred by the colonial rulers to the urban administrative centers.

The colonial experience of the north and the south, becoming a British protectorate and an Italian colony, respectively, differed in important respects (Spears 2003; Reno 2003; Jhazbhay 2007). Since the main interests of the British forces in Somaliland were to secure food supply — Somali mutton — for their military garrison in Aden and to prevent other colonial powers from taking control, economic and political interference was kept to a minimum (WSP 2005; Reno 2003; Spears 2003). To the extent that the British colonizers did exercise authority over the rural population (the vast majority of the population), they did so through the customary authorities (Bradbury 2008; Reno 2003). This method of indirect rule created some degree of ‘decentralized despotism’ (Mamdani 1996) but also left the traditional structures — which later became the basis for peacebuilding and state formation — largely intact (Spears 2003). The Italians, in contrast, pursued a strategy of direct rule and thus imported a whole new political system to southern Somalia, with centralized economic planning, state appropriation, and substantial support for big enterprises. In this ‘modernization process’, Somali custom was perceived as something to be ‘overcome’ (Jhazbhay 2007; Reno 2003).

The nationalist movements and parties emerging in the 1950s, across the north and south, increasingly pushed for independence, which finally was granted by the British on 26 June 1960, and a few days later, on 1 July, by the Italians. On the latter day, the two territories united into the new ‘Somali Republic‘. However, the Republic was only a few months old when northern dissatisfaction with the unification started to rise (Bryden 2003; WSP 2005; Ahmed 1999). There was a perception in the north that it was being politically under-represented, and the hasty merger of the two different systems of administration left little room for the articulation of northern interests and furthermore did little to address the British legacy of severe economic underdevelopment in the north (Ahmed 1999).

Elite competition over state resources and related processes of the degeneration of the political party system eventually paved the way for a bloodless military coup in 1969. The coup initiated more than 20 years’ dictatorship under General Mohamed Siyad Barre, which worsened the situation for Somalis in general and for the populations in the north in particular.

Geographically located far away from the economic hub of Mogadishu, and therefore politically, militarily, and economically marginalized, the clans from the north had little chance of effectively tapping into state resources and were largely excluded from the patron-client networks of Barre (Reno 2003). Simultaneously, the marginalization of the northern clans (in particular the Isaaq and Dir) markedly worsened and became increasingly violent in its expression, especially from the late 1970s onwards.

On this basis, the northern political elite adopted a strategy of resisting rather than adapting to the Somali national state (Doornbos and Markakis 1994; Simons 1998) — a development which created a significant measure of social cohesion in terms of alliances and networks developing outside Barre’s political reach (Reno 2003). Specifically, in the late 1980s, northern resistance against Siyad Barre produced close cooperation between the northern customary leadership of the largest clan family in Somaliland, the Isaaq, and the regionally-based resistance movement the Somali National Movement (SNM). The SNM did not operate as a distinct guerrilla front, but rather as ‘an armed expression of the Isaaq people’ (Prunier 1994: 62). This embeddedness of the SNM within the Isaaq communities and the lack of any substantial external funding led SNM to rely upon customary authorities. The customary authorities, which are the key clan representatives, became the driving forces behind the mobilization of resistance among the Isaaq communities and organized a council — known as a Guurti3 — specifically for coordinating purposes.

The SNM was one of several movements in a wider mobilization of the armed opposition, in response to Barre’s increasing loss of political and economic power, and corresponding increasing reliance on violent repression. The SNM expanded rapidly as the struggle against Barre intensified during the late 1980s, and in 1988 in a ‘surprise offensive’ managed to capture Burao and Hargeisa. Barre reacted with an indiscriminate bombing of Hargeisa, which laid the city to ruin but also triggered an unprecedented large-scale mobilization of support for SNM (Bradbury 2001). In 1991, Barre’s support bases — internally as well as externally — had disintegrated to the extent that he was forced to flee Somalia.

This marked a critical juncture in the Somali civil war, and in the north—south conflict. Yet, peace was far from assured in Somaliland. While the northern resistance against Barre had mainly been mobilized among the Isaaq clan, segments of other clans, such as the Gardabursi and Harti, had been armed by Barre to combat the SNM. Deep divisions and fear of revenge, therefore, shaped the post-Barre Somaliland environment. Moreover, as the common enemy was defeated, internal divisions among the Isaaq sub-clans resurfaced. The destabilizing potentials of such tensions were heightened by the post-war conditions of displacement; lack of Infrastructure, social services, and governmental structures; instances of looting and livestock raiding (ongoing since the civil war); and a high number of weapons among the population. As Bradbury notes, while the mobilization of resistance fighters along clan lines had worked as a strategy of the SNM during the war against Barre, after the war, ‘the difficulties of managing multiple clan militia with no central command became readily apparent’ (Bradbury 2008: 88).

The next section turns to an analysis of the shift from resistance politics to the challenges of post-conflict reconciliation in Somaliland.

The conflict resolution process

Since the end of the war against Barre, Somaliland has gone through several phases of peacebuilding and reconstruction, allowing it to gradually emerge as the most stable political entity within the Somali territories. This section first outlines key aspects and outcomes of the early local peace and reconstruction processes and discusses some of the central factors that explain these outcomes. It then moves on to explore different ways in which external actors have engaged with this ‘homegrown’ peace.

Reconciliation and the emergence of the Somaliland state

Within a month of the defeat of Barre in January 1991, the SNM convened the first of many clan-conferences, aimed at peace and reconstruction. It was held in Berbera and provided a platform for signaling a commitment to reconciliation politics by the liberation elite — i.e. SNM and leading Isaaq clan members — while also serving as a forum for pre-negotiations laying the foundation for a larger ‘national’ (i.e. Somaliland-wide) clan-conference held in Burao. The latter resulted in the declaration of Somaliland’s independence from Somalia on 18 May 1991. The declaration was made by the liberation elite but was pushed forward by wider public pressure. Subsequently, the SNM central committee, headed by Cabdiraxmaan Axmed Cali known as Tuur — formed the first Somaliland administration and was faced with the task of constructing security and a government from scratch. This was particularly challenging for an organization that, after all, had been established as a liberation movement — not a government.4

While the Burao clan-conference was critical in terms of creating peace between the Isaaq and other clans in Somaliland, especially the Dir in the north and the Harti in the east, it had not addressed the grievances between Isaaq sub-clans. Therefore, internal conflicts between different factions of SNM — which had been suppressed out of necessity during the fight against Barre — soon broke out. After a little less than two years with the Tuur administration, sporadic fighting between Isaaq sub-clans was ongoing, and new irregular militias had taken up weapons and engaged in predatory activities. It was clear that the rising tensions if left unaddressed, could have spill-over effects strong enough to undermine the longer-term project of re-establishing peace and political order in Somaliland.

Security and reconciliation thus emerged as the main objectives, and the application of customary conflict resolution mechanisms became the means to reach this objective. Against this backdrop, the customary authorities and their councils remained highly influential. They went from being mobilizing forces behind the resistance against Siyad Barre to developing as the driving actors behind the peace, reconciliation, and reconstruction processes. As such, the administration under Tuur Increasingly relied on the Guurti’s (i.e. the council of customary authorities established during the resistance against Siyad Barre; see above) capacities rather than the SNM charter (Renders 2006). However, the charter in any case envisioned a political program grounded in Somali traditions, also reflecting the historical alignments of SNM and customary authorities.

During a peace conference in Sheik in 1992, the Guurti mediated a large intra-Isaaq clan conflict that had erupted over tax revenues in the Berbera port. The leading mediating roles were taken by elders from the Gardabursi clan, so as to ensure third-party (non-Isaaq) neutrality. This formed the basis for expanding the Guurti beyond only Isaaq membership, and it was this more inclusive council that became part of a new Somaliland government the year after.

One of the key dynamics characterizing peacebuilding and reconstruction in Somaliland during this 1990s period was a synergy between localized context-specific reconciliation processes and Somaliland-wide clan conferences. Thus, numerous local and regional negotiations between customary authorities from different clans dealt with civil, security, and justice issues, such as restoring collaborative relations and agreements to facilitate trade and remove roadblocks, negotiating access to grazing for livestock and reducing livestock raids, returning looted property, and reaching agreements on mutual reconciliation politics (i.e. making oaths to abstain from attacks). These negotiations were critical for containing violence on the local level and paving the way for large-scale peace conferences, bringing all the northern clans together to negotiate the pillars and institutional framework for a new political order (see Bradbury 2008: 107). As explained by a Somaliland political analyst, who had been an active participant in the peace processes:

Every clan had to accept the rebirth of Somaliland and to accept Somaliland they had to deal with the ‘next door’ clan, to address all the grievances, and to exchange xeer.5 Only then could we start to agree on how to build a state. The local and regional conferences were handling conflicts of certain areas and these conflicts would otherwise have destabilized the whole situation.6

A huge clan-conference in the city of Borama in 1993 was particularly significant in regard to providing institutional substance to Somaliland’s political order. It was largely financed by the communities of Somaliland and lasted for about four months. An estimated 2,000 people attended, including 150 voting delegates from customary authorities (Bradbury 2008).

The most important results were:

  • The adoption of a national charter defining a hybrid system of governance which institutionalized the Guurti council of 82 clan elders in the upper house of parliament
  • The nomination of a lower house of parliament, selected on the basis of clan-representation
  • The formulation and adoption of a peace charter, which ‘elaborated a code of conduct for the people of Somaliland, in accordance with their traditions and Islamic values’ (Bradbury 2008:98). The charter outlined the responsibilities of the customary authorities for mediating conflicts and leading the demobilization process. Furthermore, it demanded that all communities make an oath to refrain from attacking any other clans. In brief, the charter spelled out a ‘national xeer’, 7 aimed at restoring the relationships among the northern clans and also providing the foundation for political order (Menkhaus 2000; Bradbury 2008)
  • The nomination of a new president, Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal, and vice president Dahir Rayale Kahin (Menkhaus 2000; WSP 2005; Bradbury 2008)

As Menkhaus rightly notes: ‘By any standard, this was an impressive accomplishment for a traditional peacemaking mechanism facing entirely new types of political challenges’ (Menkhaus 2000: 189).

After a more stable peace was established towards the end of the 1990s, a new constitution was drafted, which outlined the steps for a transition from a clan-based to a multi-party political system (Renders 2006). The final constitutional draft, which proposed this multi-party system as well as an independent Somaliland, was sent out to public referendum in 2001 and was endorsed. On this basis, the clan-system was reconfigured into a system whereby the Head of State and the House of Representatives are elected. The Upper House of Elders — the Guurti — remained in place, however, so as to continue to allow a balancing of party politics with clan-representation.

Somaliland has gone through significant political changes, developments, and also crises since the early years of reconciliation. During this period, the de facto state institutions have continuously consolidated, and Somaliland has completed three rounds of direct presidential elections and six direct elections overall, including parliamentary and local council elections. Tensions, in particular with Puntland (at times supported by Somalia), concerning territorial control cause ebbs and flow: of armed conflict, yet Somaliland has remained by far the most stable and secure territory in the Somali context.

Three factors, in particular, stand out in explaining these outcomes. First, historical contingencies appear to have played a significant role. During colonial times Somaliland mainly suffered what Prunier terms ‘benign neglect’ as a British protectorate (Prunier in Spears 2003: 93); and such ‘neglect’ in fact allowed for preserving the socio-cultural capital — i.e. customary institutions — which in turn became a key resource in later reconciliation and reconstruction processes. Moreover, during the struggle against Siyad Barre in the 1970s and 1980s, the mobilization against a ‘common enemy’ created a significant measure of social cohesion in terms of alliances and networks developing outside of the reach of the state. In particular, the alignment of the SNM and the customary authorities during this struggle translated into post-war collaboration, combining the efforts of reconciliation and political reconstruction. While not all segments of the Somaliland population had supported the resistance against Barre, it was clear that with the defeat of the Somali army, SNM had emerged as the winner and evidently most powerful force in the region. Consequently, the movement had no need to enforce its rule over competitors and could choose a path of reconciliation politics (Bradbury 2008: 79).

Second, the sequence of first prioritizing local processes of reconciliation and letting achievements from such context-specific processes feed into wider processes of ‘national’ peacemaking and political reconstruction was particularly suitable in a context where centralized power and decision-making had been de-legitimized through historical experiences of abusive state practices. In brief, the absence of a state was not — as is often assumed in mainstream peacebuilding literature — an impediment to peace. Similarly, state-building was also not the precondition for peace, but rather vice versa. As Bradbury accurately observes, ‘by removing the state as a primary object of conflict, social relations could be addressed through customary Institutions’ (Bradbury 2008: 107).

Third, and similarly challenging mainstream the very low level of intervention — from benign neglect during the colonial period, to very limited external Interference in the reconciliation process — necessitated and facilitated heterogeneous processes of bargaining, accommodation, and cooperation between a range of different local actors (Bradbury 2008; Renders and Terlinden 2010; Moe 2011). In this regard, Somaliland illustrates that sometimes reconciliatory achievements are made possible because of the absence of international attempts to manage the process.

International engagement has, however, not been absent altogether, and in recent years interventions have in fact increased. The following discussion will tease out the ambiguous effects of past and recent interventions on peace in Somaliland.

International support to conflict resolution

Against the backdrop of non-recognition of the Somaliland state, donors did not as a point of departure have a strong interest in dominating peace and reconstruction agendas to the extent seen in many other post-conflict societies, including in Somalia. This has in turn made possible more flexible and low-key models of engagement. For example, the large-scale 1993 Borama clan-conference which provided institutional substance to Somaliland’s claim to independence was in fact enabled by a combination of clan-based regional facilitation and funds as well as small-scale targeted external support. The latter included air transportation made available by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) for delegates traveling from the eastern regions to Borama and funds supplied by a range of foreign governments, the Norwegian, French, and US embassies, and several international non-governmental organizations (INGO) (Walls et al. 2008: 50), which helped in making the organization of the four-month conference possible. As Walls and Elmi (2012: 13) note, ‘by channeling this support through existing channels and in a manner that avoided its “politicization”, the engagement was constructive and non-disruptive, but still vital’, and as such enabled autonomous peace and state-making (beyond the parameters of internationally led state-building).

Another noteworthy example of low-key facilitative support of the already ongoing local initiatives is the engagement of an INGO, namely the Danish Refugee Council (DRC). In 2003 the DRC was approached by a group of Somaliland customary authorities who asked for support to begin dialogues and experience-sharing among prominent clan leaders and to facilitate better cooperation and coordination between customary and religious leaders as well as state actors on matters of peace and security.8 There had been an increase in revenge killings during the early 2000s, particularly in the Togdheer region of Somaliland. Revenge killings typically happen when a clan or sub-clan involved in a conflict is unable or unwilling to pay compensation as per the Somali customary law, the Xeer, and the aggrieved clan responds by killing the perpetrator or other members of his clan. This may set off a spiral of revenge killings.

The customary authorities which approached the DRC considered that stronger joint efforts among representatives from different clans and sub-clans in Somaliland, and between them and other security providers, would be necessary to deal with this growing insecurity. Recognizing the importance of the customary system as the primary source of conflict resolution, DRC decided to support the initiative. DRC was one of the first INGOs to systematically engage with this type of authority in Somaliland (despite the fact that customary authorities take care of about 80—85 percent of everyday disputes and crime; Gundel 2006).

The first dialogue took place in the Togdheer region in Somaliland and brought together policing actors, religious leaders, and over 100 customary authorities from five clans in this region. Interest in the initiative spread and the Togdheer dialogue was followed by a series of regional dialogue meetings in Sahel, Awdal, Maroodi Jeex, Sool, and Sanag regions. Later, in the mid-2000s, the initiative spread to Puntland. The role of the DRC was mainly one of facilitating the consultations by providing support and funding for logistics, such as transportation, food, and planning (lack of such basic logistics, and resources for hosting dialogues, can oftentimes be the barrier to local peace meetings).

During focus group discussions in Ceel Af-weyn and Hargeisa districts, customary authorities that had been involved in the initiative expressed that relationships and networks between the leaders of different clans and sub-clans had been strengthened through the dialogues. Some noted that this was the first time they had an opportunity to come together, take the time to share insights and concerns over peace and security issues, and attend to long-standing unresolved clan conflicts. Following the dialogues, a number of both local and regional conflicts (in particular, cases of revenge killing and conflicts over water, grazing, and land) had been addressed in both Somaliland and Puntland (Moe and Simojoki 2013)

Also, with regard to the aim of strengthening the cooperation between the customary authorities and the Somaliland state providers, field studies have reported indications of positive developments, with a decrease cases of revenge killings and clan protection being provided for perpetrators, coupled with a corresponding increase in the number of murder cases being handed over to, and processed by, the courts after the dialogues took place (Simojoki 2010).

Yet another example, illustrating more recent external engagement in the arena of government politics, is the role played by international actors in the deep political crisis in 2009 related to the upcoming presidential elections. Clashes occurred over the extension of the Guurti’s and the president’s term, the establishment of the election committee, and the annulment of voter registration. Stakes were high in terms of consolidating and demonstrating Somaliland’s continued democratic progress (APD and Interpeace Regional Office for Eastern and Central Africa 2010). Here the external donors were involved in brokering a six-point agreement providing the basis for a consensus, and in enabling the formation of a new Electoral Commission. Ultimately, this ‘proved critical to the process and provided the turning point in the electoral process’ (APD and Interpeace Regional Office for Eastern and Central Africa 2010: 18).

Again, given the condition of international non-recognition, external donors could not dictate the terms, but engaged in both assertive and supportive diplomacy, including the drafting of a ‘non-paper’ which subsequently was taken up as a suitable draft for the six-point memorandum that eventually was signed by the key Somaliland stakeholders (Walls and Elmi 2012; Kibble and walls 2009; Walls 2009).

Resonating with the above examples, Somaliland analysts who have more widely reviewed international support in the Somaliland context suggest that the common features of the ‘successful cases’ of external intervention are: that ‘external funding did not disproportionally dominate’, that ‘outsiders did not establish frameworks and deadlines beyond the immediate release of funds’, and that the form of engagement was ‘smaller in scale and (built) actively on local initiatives’ (Walls and Elmi 2012: 83).

In recent years, however, a number of international actors have developed a more vested interest in Somaliland, as the stability of the polity is seen to offer a bulwark against the spread of the al-Shabaab insurgency (which is understood to pose not only a local but also an international threat). Against this backdrop, recent internationally driven counterterrorism initiatives, which have produced new securitized institutions, are cast as efforts to secure peace in Somaliland. As will be discussed in the following, however, the effects of such initiatives on local order are in fact often far from peaceful.

New international security trends: securing the Somaliland peace — or jeopardizing it?

While the need for more contextual and culturally adapted intervention approaches has long been emphasized in scholarship on peacebuilding (Mac Ginty 2008; Richmond 2009), and specifically with reference to Somaliland (Boege et al. 2009), less attention has been paid to how ‘bottom-up discourse’ and the vocabulary of ‘peace’ have been taken up by international security actors seeking to make counterterrorism and counter-insurgency approaches more flexible and capable of engaging ‘local’ agency and institutions (Moe 2016). When I visited Somaliland in 2014, a British security contractor explained to me that for him, Somaliland’s condition of relative peace makes it an ideal entry point for interventions aimed at containing ‘extremism’, following an approach that focuses on ‘investing in and helping indigenous communities and institutions build up the [ … ] security infrastructure. And help them combat al-Shabaab. 9

Indeed, the influx of international security contractors, and related efforts of building up the defense sector, are on the rise in Somaliland and are commonly framed as support for maintaining the polity’s ‘impressive strides towards democratic governance and stability’ against ‘violent crime, arms trafficking and terrorism’ (Adam Smith International 2016: 13). Somaliland indeed deserves support in maintaining its stability, and beyond doubt, al-Shabaab constitutes a genuine concern. Yet, the kind of institutions and practices produced by interventions that securitize capacity-building and reform efforts in the pursuing of counterterrorism are unlikely to support foundations for a sustainable inclusive peace.

One example of the far from peaceful effects is the 2012 establishment of the Rapid Response Unit (RRU), tasked with targeting al-Shabaab. This example is also more widely illustrative as it mirrors US support in the south of Somalia and Puntland. Trained and supported by British contractors, the Somaliland RRU is far better equipped than the Somaliland forces; yet, it is described as ‘Somaliland police’, and the establishment of the RRU was thereby ‘sold’ as a security sector reform programming, designed to ‘help Somalilanders keep their hard-on peace.’10 This stands in stark contrast to widespread local complaints noting that the force has been used not only against al-Shabaab suspects but also as a political tool against people and institutions critical of the Somaliland political elite. Examples mentioned in my personal communication with people in Somaliland and in a report by the Human Rights Center Somaliland (2014) include a number of night-time arrests by the RRU of Somaliland citizens, including an opposition party member, a regional deputy governor, and a former Vice-Minister of the Interior. The RRU has moreover been behind several violent crackdowns on peaceful public demonstrations.11

Many saw the RRU as but one example of a broader trend towards a significant increase of internationally established and supported security and defense institutions, which are cast of means of securing the peace, but in fact hold risks of rather jeopardizing it.

Risks highlighted include: first, the security actors created by counterterrorism support are understood as not locally embedded, and also not locally restrained or accountable. Whereas the established Somaliland security structures have evolved through domestic processes (as illustrated above), the internationally created units — such as the RRU — are new appointees, who have received substantially more training and funding than the former.12 Moreover, people I spoke to expressed the concern that access to positions within new, internationally supported forces could become a bone of contention among clans and among other providers (this has been the case for example with regard to Oil Protection Units set up in the contested eastern regions of Somaliland).13

Second, while at times international support to Somaliland is framed as ‘decentered support’ — i.e. targeting institutions and actors beyond the level of the Mogadishu-based recognized government — counterterrorism agendas in fact tend to feed into profoundly centralizing logics within Somaliland. The manner in which the RRU has been deployed as a political tool is seen as a sign of centralized and authoritarian security command, which risks having de-legitimizing effects for both Somaliland government institutions and international actors. Framed as part of the Somaliland police, yet lacking a public mandate, clear command structures, or procedures for reporting arrests, 14 the RRU pointedly illustrates a wider double-sided development born out of contemporary forms of ‘light footprint’ counterterrorism approaches; namely, ‘the centralization of coercion by externally supported yet fragmented government elites and, simultaneously, a de-bureaucratization that enables the evasion of transparency and legality’ (Moe 2018: 338).

Third, Somaliland does not have a legal framework in place to define ‘terrorism’ or spell out the scope and procedures for counterterrorism. This, in conjunction with the unrecognized environment, put few legal constraints on international actors. In fact, the Somaliland government became the entry point for international attempts of ‘updating’ the legal environment, to provide the legal foundation for initiatives along the lines of the RRU. Thereby, the government has been approached by donors, with the UK taking the lead, for the endorsement of a ready-drafted ‘anti-terror bill’, presented as legal support to enable Somaliland to protect ‘its development, rule of law, democracy and the right of its citizens to live In peace, freedom, and security’ 15 The bill has been strongly criticized by local human rights activists for containing an open-ended definition of terrorism that would permit secret court hearings with no defendants and, as a result, dubious prosecutions. Furthermore, it would invest the government with powers to intercept communications and the police with powers to make arrests without warrants. As I have argued elsewhere, this exposes both the contradiction of permitting violations of civil and human rights while

constructing such violations as peaceful and democratic measures to counter-terrorism and insurgency, through the lawful enforcement of legal provisions and the contradiction of seeking to install such new ‘state law’ through a state which is not granted de jure recognition in the first place. (Moe 2018: 340)16

Overall, these developments are apt to significantly affect how peace and order-making are understood and can be pursued. This is particularly apparent when comparing historical and contemporary dynamics m Somaliland. While the war between Somalia and Somaliland in the 1980s, and the intra-Somaliland conflicts in the 1990s, generated Incentives for bargaining and consultative processes with various local constituencies, elites, and civilians, the current global geo-politics of counterterrorism, which today significantly shapes most local Somali orders, is a context in which the need for local bargaining is decreasing as selected sections of the elite instead can strike deals with external actors in order to expand security rents and coercive capacities.

Lessons learned from the case study

This chapter has shown how the Somali context is not only a showcase for failure and insecurity but also features impressive examples of decentered peace and reconstruction processes, which showcase the significance of customary reconciliation skills. It was discussed how these processes in the context of Somaliland were shaped by historical contingencies and characterized by synergies between localized reconciliation processes and wider inclusive political reconstruction. It followed that the political arrangements that emerged generally reflected, and were born out of, the settlements and accommodations achieved through the reconciliation processes.

Somaliland thereby challenges approaches that have prioritized top-down state and peacebuilding as a means of achieving lasting peace, and also serves as a reminder that it is sometimes better to limit external intervention to facilitation and allow Internal processes of reconciliation, political negotiations, and institutional reform to evolve on their own. Along these lines, the chapter discussed a number of concrete examples where international engagement in Somaliland positively contributed to peace. These examples were characterized by ‘low-key’ engagement where external actors took facilitative and logistical roles (rather than agenda-setting powers), maintained transparency, and avoided external funding or frameworks-dominated processes. Such ‘low key’ approaches were partly prompted by the condition of official non-recognition of the state (and related avoidance of directly pursuing internationally led state-building).

In turn, the chapter also discussed more recent interventions that propose to ‘secure’ Somaliland’s peace by building up counterterrorism capacities. Such interventions are rapidly on the rise, and consequently, the boundary between war and peace is becoming increasingly blurred, also well beyond Somaliland.17 Moreover, counterterrorism and counterinsurgency approaches have acquired significant flexibility in terms of more widely engaging with actors and structures beyond formally recognized state institutions (also as these pose less legal and accountability constraints). According to Menkhaus (2014: 7), practically every polity within Somalia has ‘benefited’ from internationally promoted post-9/11 security-driven Institution-building to beef up counterterrorism capacities, often at the expense of human rights and development. This unavoidably has a profound impact on processes of order-making and on what forms of local ‘peace’ are produced.

The above analysis highlighted the counterproductive potentials of the reconceptualization of ‘peace’ as counterterrorism containment by demonstrating through examples from Somaliland how such interventions have produced practices and institutions that run counter to the political negotiation and the gradual democratization processes that have historically been key for Somaliland’s peace. More widely, the current reframing of ‘peace’ as counterterrorism tends to sidestep policies and efforts seeking to address political and social causes behind armed conflict.18 Of course, the tensions between counterterrorism, on the one hand, and consultation, reconciliation, and human rights, on the other, currently mark politics on a global scale. Yet, in contexts where efforts of securing lasting peace and crafting sustainable and representative institutions are ongoing and under significant pressures from wider Internal and external violent conflict dynamics and limited resources to ensure accountability (including the accountability of interveners), the stakes are particularly high.


I would like to thank the research team at the Social Research and Development Institute (SORADI) in Hargeisa for invaluable discussions and assistance in relation to conducting parts of the research that forms the basis for this chapter. Thanks also to Roger Mac Ginty and Stephanie Jänsch for reading through earlier drafts.


  1. Interview with the former foreign minister of Somaliland, Abdillahi Mohamed Dualeh, Addis Ababa, 16.03.08.
  2. Here the term ‘socio-cultural’ (used for lack of a better term) also refers to profoundly political repertoires.
  3. The concept of Guurti traditionally refers to the highest political council of titled as well as non-titled elders in pastoral Somali society (Jhazbhay 2007)
  4. Interview with the former general of the SNM, Hargeisa, 02.05.08.
  5. Somali customary law.
  6. Interview, Hargeisa, 17 April 2008.
  7. Xeer is Somali customary law and is also referred to as a social contract, negotiated and agreed upon between clan linage entities (diya-paying groups).
  8. Everyday ‘rule of law’ matters in Somaliland are shaped by legal pluralism, where religious law (shari’a), customary law (xeer), and secular law systems co-exist and interlink.
  9. Author’s field notes, personal communication with British security contractor, Hargeisa, Sept. 2014. See also Moe (2018:23).
  10. Author’s field notes, personal communication with the British office (part of the British Embassy Mogadishu), Hargeisa, Sept. 2014.
  11. Author’s personal communications with local analysts and human rights activist, Hargeisa, Sept. 2014. See also Human Rights Center Somaliland (2014).
  12. This is not to say that the established providers like the Somaliland police are accountable. There are concerns regarding abuse and unaccountability regarding the police as well. This speaks to the importance of not further complicating accountability by introducing specialized forces with no clear mandate and command.
  13. See Moe (2018: 338).
  14. See Human Rights Center Somaliland (2014).
  15. (In the name of) The Republic of Somaliland, Law on Prevention and Combatting Terrorism (unofficial translation), Law No: xx/2012. See also Moe (2018, 340).
  16. To the knowledge of the author, the law remains under consideration but has not yet been endorsed at the time of writing.
  17. See, for example, Bell (201 1), Charbonneau (2017).
  18. See also Charbonneau (2017).

Louise Wiuff MoeAbout Dr. Louise Wiuff Moe


Louise Wiuff Moe was an associated researcher at the Helmut Schmidt University until 2020, on the project of ‘Interface Conflicts in African Security Governance’ (with the DFG-research group ‘Overlapping Spheres of Authority’). Her research combines theoretical and empirical perspectives on security governance, securitization, peacebuilding, and conflict transformation, with a regional focus on Africa.  Her recent work explores changing norms and practices of interventionism; inter-organizational conflict and collaboration in peace operations in Africa and; spatializing effects of intervention activities in the Somali context. She is now working at the University of Hamburg.


  • Ph.D. in Political Science and International Studies, School of Political Science and International Studies, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia (Ph.D. obtained January 2015)
  • Master of Arts in International Studies, Department of Political Science, Stellenbosch University, South Africa (under an exchange agreement with the International Peace Research  Institute, Oslo, Norway) (Master obtained March 2009)
  • Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Copenhagen, Denmark (Bachelor obtained August 2006).


  • 04/2020 Research Associate, Cluster of Excellence: ‘Climate, Climatic Change and Society (CLICCS), B3: Conflict and Cooperation at the Climate Security Nexus, University of Hamburg
    2017/07-03/2020 Associated Researcher, Helmut Schmidt University, as part of the DFG project, ‘Management of Interface Conflicts in African Security Governance’
  • 2015/01-2017/06. Postdoctoral Researcher, the Peace, Risk and Violence Unit, Danish Institute for International Studies.
  • 2015/08-2016/08. Maternity leave.
  • 2010/06–2015/01. Ph.D. in Political Science and International Studies, School of Political Science and International Studies, University of Queensland, Australia.
  • 2014/06–12. Researcher on projects “Protection and (In)Security beyond the State”, and “New Approaches to Foreign Aid: Adapting to Conflict-Affected Countries and Fragile Situations,” with Finn Stepputat (for the Danish Foreign Ministry), Danish Institute for International Studies .
  • 2012/03–06. Teaching and marking, “Non Violent Change and Conflict” (undergraduate Course), School of Political Science and International Studies, University of Queensland.
  • 2012/03-06. Researcher on the project “Working with Local Strengths: Supporting States to Build Capacity to Protect,” (funded by the Australian Responsibility to Protect Fund), Asian-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, University of Queensland.
  • 2011/07–12. Associated Ph.D. Researcher with the Danish Refugee Council’s Regional Office for Horn of Africa (based in Nairobi, Kenya), with field visits to Somaliland.
  • 2010/06–2012/12. Researcher on comparative project “Addressing Legitimacy Issues in Fragile Post-Conflict Situations to Advance Conflict Transformation and Peace-Building,” University of Queensland (funded by the Berghof Foundation).
  • 2009/10–2010/06. Consultant for Crisis Management Initiative (CMI), Helsinki, and the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FMI) (on joint CMI-FIIA policy research program on post-conflict state formation and peace building).
  • 09-10/2008. Research assistant with the DIASPEACE research project, coordinated by the University of Jyväskylä. Project focus: Patterns, Trends and Potentials of Diaspora Involvement in Conflict Settings.
  • 01-04/2008. Research assistant at the Academy for Peace and Development (the Decentralization team), Hargeisa, Somaliland.

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