When Do Rebels Become State-Builders: A Comparative Case Study of Somaliland, Puntland, and South-Central Somalia

Andrew Scott Duffield

I. Introduction

This essay is a contribution to the literature on Somali state formation by reviving Charles Tilly’s concepts and insights explaining how warfare impacts state-building. It theorizes, analyzes, and explains how three Somali territories—Somaliland, Puntland, and South-Central Somalia—underwent such different state-building trajectories since the collapse of the Siyad Barre regime in 1991. To that end, it demonstrates how Tilly’s work may be applied in a modern context, such as to rebel groups, unrecognized states, and regional political systems operating within a state. It recognizes and overcomes gaps in Tilly’s literature by incorporating recent scholarship on Limited Access Orders (LAO) by Douglass North. The essay demonstrates how the organization, financing, and use of violence, as well as qualities about the violent actors themselves, influence state-building trajectories.

II. The Theory of Rebels as State-Builders

This article assembles a new framework for understanding the historical processes that shape state formation. Its modus operandi is derived from bellicose literature, which argues that while violence is not to be condoned, historically it has been one of the main contributors to state-building and, therefore, state-formation.


For the purposes of this analysis, state-building is defined as the concentration of coercive control over violent competitors, thereby stimulating administrative structures, standardizing one set of rules over a reasonably defined territory, and providing an environment for competitive exchange over economic and political resources.

Charles Tilly characterizes this process as the War Makes States and States Make War to summarize the interaction of processes spawned by war and state-building.[1] The most important components, all of which will figure prominently in driving the argument, are as follows[2]:

(i) Centralized Control over Territory, by which Tilly means the increasing control and concentration of violence;

(ii) Development of the State Apparatus, by which Tilly means bureaucratic developments arising from the financing and organizing of violence through centralized administration; and

(iii) Process of Civilianization, by which Tilly means a bargaining process between “rulers” and “ruled” which leads to the development of accountability and the production of political identities.

While Tilly posits warfare as an independent variable to explain state formation over hundreds of years of European history, this essay will apply it to modern Somali rebel groups and trace their violent strategies to appraise whether violent actors performed state-building functions, in the spirit of Elhawary,[3] Taylor and Botea,[4] Rapkoch,[5] and Helling.[6] It does so by viewing rebel group activities as the independent variable to explain state-building. In so doing, it traces a historical analysis of what this study calls the “marketplace for violence,” whereby competitors—rival violence specialists—compete with each over the production and deliverance of security to their subjects (or their “customers,” if we take this perspective to its fullest expression). Grounded in concepts borrowed from economics, specifically institutional economics, this article will deploy concepts like transaction costs, economies of scale, and comparative advantage to analyze the behavior and outcomes of rebel groups.

Tilly’s analytical tools, this essay will argue, are still essential for understanding state formation in post-colonial states. To do this, the study will need to overcome the following gap in Tillyan literature as it applies to Somalia: Tilly’s analysis concerns the macro-level, as opposed to a bottom-up explanation of how organized violence spawns state-building. In essence, Tilly’s “War Makes States” logic does not adequately explain rebel transitions from violent to peaceful strategies that necessarily occur in order for state-building to materialize.

Douglass North and colleagues[7] capture this line of thinking in their framework, which explains why rebels would put down arms and pursue strategies akin to state-building. According to this paradigm, violent specialists and elites come together and control the organization of violence in the form of a state, through law and order. This is because the benefits of extracting political and economic resources through violence are short-lived, dangerous, and less materially rewarding than developing an indirect system of control and dominance, such as through hegemony of political, legal, and economic institutions. Henceforth these political settlements are referred to as Limited Access Orders.

State-building at its most basic level is stimulated when violent specialists and elites consolidate security and thereby provide the first and most important public good: the control over the use of force. Once violence is successfully controlled through the licensing of force and the adjudication of disputes according to established rules, there can be expansion and maturation of economic and political institutions.

Together, Tilly and North help us shed light on divergent state-building experiences between Somaliland, Puntland, and South-Central Somalia (henceforth called Somalia). As Tilly wrote, “recognition of the centrality of force opens the way to an understanding of the growth and change of governmental forms.”[8]

The essay will appraise the impact of rebels on state-building according to their Tillyan qualities, i.e., centralized control over territory, development of state-like institutions, and depth of political identity formation. The argument describes how these qualities produced legacies that altered the trajectory of state-building long after these rebels became state-builders or ceased to exist. Furthermore, the study will analyze these legacies primarily through the framework of North et al., and thereby show how the nature of the rebels weighed heavily on the Limited Access Orders that emerged (see Figure 1 below). It is a subtle recasting of Tilly’s contentions but introduces new perspectives that allow us to explain how rebels became nascent state-builders in Somalia.

When Do Rebels Become State-Builders
Figure 1. Tilly + LAO Model

Part III: Case Studies

The following case studies illustrate how the appearance of Tillyan processes in the rebel period influenced the character of the Limited Access Orders that materialized, and thereby influenced each jurisdiction’s state-building trajectory. In Somaliland we see a stable and durable LAO; in Puntland a partial and unstable LAO; and in Somalia, we see an externally imposed LAO.

When Do Rebels Become State-Builders
Tanks and heavy weapons were assembled for a disarmament parade in Hargeisa stadium, Somaliland on April 27, 1994. This was the second mass disarmament parade to be held during the first half of 1994. Copyright: Hamish Wilson

A. Somaliland

Somaliland’s achievements in state-building, such as creating functioning political and administrative institutions, are normally understood in a time sequence that begins on May 18, 1991, when the Somali state collapsed and Somalilanders declared independence. A Tillyan analysis begins with its rebel group, the Somali National Movement (SNM), whose unique method of organization, financing, and pursuit of warfare against the regime of Siad Barre (1969–1991) cultivated state-building practices during the war.

1. Pre-1991: Rebel Period

Establishing and centralizing control over violence was the SNM’s first Tillyan task, and one at which it excelled throughout the war until Somaliland claimed independence. The SNM was established in London on April 6, 1981, by an elite diaspora group of the Isaaq clan-family to defend the northwest, and principally their own tribe, from the dictatorial regime of Siad Barre and its military and economic campaign of terror.[9] The evolution of this group into becoming the hegemonic player in Somaliland’s marketplace of violence was not pre-ordained, but resulted from a skillful organization and tactical success,[10] thereby choking off the possibility of growth for competitors and eliminating any viable alternative but to participate in peace talks with them.[11] A third factor that nullified the rise of competition, and unintentionally stymied the rise of warlordism, was that the SNM transformed into a part-time, widespread, decentralized guerrilla force, tightly controlled by elders and their communities. It, therefore, removed opportunities for wartime economic activities, like plunder and extortion.[12]

The second and third Tillyan processes were the bureaucratization of the SNM and the civilianization process—which is the bargaining process between actors and rulers that leads to the development of accountability and the production of political identities. This occurred to an extent unmatched elsewhere in recent Somali history, as witnessed by the rise of political structures, especially for securing the support of important stakeholders such as elders and financiers.[13] Organizing these relationships is a difficult collective-action problem that was overcome by the SNM intentionally and unintentionally; for example, the Upper House of Somaliland’s future parliament was an institutional legacy of the Guurti, the Elder’s advisory body founded by the SNM to operate alongside its own Central Committee of civilian leaders.[14] These, according to Helling, “helped to lay the foundations for a post-war state.”[15]

Furthermore, the task of financing the fight against Barre proved a challenge as SNM lacked a foreign sponsor.[16] Establishing mechanisms to generate revenue is an investment rebel groups must make in order to succeed and outperform competitors. The SNM succeeded in this regard by establishing a relationship with commercial intermediaries of the Abban system (an indigenous credit system constructed outside of Barre’s nationalization processes), by encouraging entrepreneurialism but also containing it, and finally, by taxing constituents themselves by commandeering one young man and one sheep from each household.[17] These processes produced a negotiation between rulers and ruled in which the opinions of ordinary Isaaq kin mattered since they provided the resources to continue the fight.[18] Finally, the self-reliance, self-financing, and self-dependent rebel group took on the appearance of a government in waiting.[19] It was run by six separate, elected civilians, thereby avoiding the trappings of military “big men.” Developing into a highly democratic political unit,[20] it produced a democratic logic that formed the “clan-based system of power-sharing, which became the basis for government in Somaliland.”[21] The security of minorities who had supported Barre against the SNM was taken seriously, and reconciliation was pursued based on SNM’s ideology of “one clan cannot liberate another.”[22] The SNM structured the politics of state reconstruction significantly and the emergent Somaliland state would mirror the SNM in many ways, thereby illustrating how rebels can become state-builders, according to Tillyan logic.

2. 1991–1996: LAO Forms

On the evening of January 26, 1991, the rebel groups fighting Barre’s desperate campaign descended into Mogadishu and claimed victory. In Somaliland, the SNM were successful in their home-fought victory and convened the Grand Conference of the Northern Peoples in Burco on May 18, 1991. Amid pressure from constituents, such as former fighters, the SNM and a number of elders declared that Somaliland would “withdraw from the union that had joined the colonial territories of Italian Somaliland and British Somaliland.”[23] From 1991–1996, Somaliland was engaged in a variety of conflicts between the state and militias that could have derailed the state-building project and required the state to devote significant economic and political capital to achieving a centralization of coercion. The state’s capacity to respond to these challenges illustrates how Tillyan processes influenced the strength of the political settlement in Somaliland by creating an environment for its members to succeed in consolidating coercion and responding to challengers.

The members of the SNM leadership transformed themselves into state-builders for Somaliland’s first government in 1991, as they were “the only organization in Somaliland with sufficient authority to establish law and order.”[24] The chairman and vice-chairman of the SNM transitioned into formal politicians after 1991.[25] The institutions created during wartime were transplanted into Somaliland’s government.

The progress was set back, however, by the surprising outbreak of violence in January 1992.[26] In hindsight, we can see that the SNM became factionalized without the specter of a common enemy, thereby reminding violent specialists of potential opportunities elsewhere and lowering the cost of exiting the SNM. The marketplace for violence was still alive and well.[27] Moreover, the transaction costs of splintering were reduced as militias were organized autonomously during wartime and each clan militia amassed and held onto its own weapons in case other violent actors emerged.[28] The series of confrontations that erupted between the state and clan militias were over strategic assets, especially those in proximity to groups making claims of ownership, but which also justified the state in accruing the cost of organizing, fighting, and claiming control over territories, such as in Burco and the port of Berbera, or the airport of Hawiye.[29] Fighting between the state and militias between 1991 and 1996 involved the heaviest battles since the rebel period.[30] How did Somaliland successfully consolidate its LAO and eliminate opponents to state-building?

Tillyan processes influenced the emerging LAO by centralizing coercion in the state, building an administration, and producing actors whose interests were tied to state-building. To respond to groups such as the Haber Yunis and Warsengali clans, who saw themselves outside of the inner core of elites running Somaliland, Somaliland’s rebels-turned-state-builders had to lay claim to resources essential for state-building or territory because acquiescence could imply weakness or timidity towards the state’s opponents. Thus, force was used.[31] Somaliland’s LAO responded by disarming groups and reorganizing the distribution of rents and power to accommodate actors who could be co-opted.[32] This was facilitated by the fact that SNM’s monopoly of violence meant that the fighting was organized by militia groups and not by rival rebels groups of the SNM with state-threatening financing and organizational strength; that the state had political institutions to legitimate its reprisals against the rebels;[33] that it had economic resources to buy off groups or hand out patronage;[34] and that the fighting was not of rival identities or ideologies since the SNM’s experience had predominantly shaped the direction of state-building in Somaliland and the president at the time was able to use a statist discourse.[35]

Moreover, Tillyan processes also influenced the formation of constituencies led by elites with an interest in state-building. These groups, whose status or positions were linked with the state-building project, thus had reasons to step in to settle disputes and see state-building continue. First, the elders intervened by hosting peace conferences and adjudicating disputes according to customary law, using traditional sources of conflict resolution at critical junctures when state institutions were faltering.[36] The elders provided disincentives to state challengers due to their level of respect in society, which was institutionalized and linked to Somaliland’s state-building project because of the creation of the Guurti.[37]

Second, minority groups intervened to settle disputes between former SNM members of the same Isaaq kin.[38] This remarkable feat would have been impossible had the SNM during their insurgency not developed a respect for the autonomy of separate clans.[39] Minority kin groups also had the incentive of enhancing their status and securing governmental positions through contributing to dispute resolution. Third, the president during this critical period was able to raise significant revenue from key business people connected with his clan to pay for the government militia and support state-building efforts to increase state capacity.[40] This relationship with businesspeople was initiated by the SNM and continued into state-building, whereby they provided loans and expected benefits in return, such as a stable business climate to export goods.[41] Tilly reminds us through the insights of another historian that, “behind every successful dynasty stood an array of opulent banking families.”[42] The diaspora and wealthy Isaaqs provided the credit. Local business people managed this credit and the government proved itself to be a reliable customer. These transactions represent a symbiotic relationship that originated in the SNM.[43]

Somaliland’s LAO thus demonstrated it was durable enough to withstand challenges to its coercion, and after 1996, Somaliland saw an acceleration of significant state-building. Warfare, therefore, was a necessary but not sufficient condition for explaining this initial period of state-building. The LAO was equally important as a mechanism for holding the coalition together.

3. 1996–2012: LAO and State-Building

The Hargeisa conference of 1996 is recognized as a defining moment in overcoming the turbulent dynamics of Somaliland’s first six years. A draft constitution was adopted that set the stage for a transition from clan-based representation to multi-party democracy.[44] Somaliland’s government was able to organize a constitutional referendum on May 31, 2001, which despite some manipulation of figures, showed clear support for independence and democracy.[45] Elections were successfully held in 2002, 2003, 2005, and recently in 2010.[46] These accomplishments are rooted in the sequence laid out in Figure 1: Rebel Violence → LAO → State-Building. The SNM cultivated a strong foundation for state-building by producing a durable LAO capable of centralizing control and eliminating competitors. The fact that this LAO evolved in a democratic direction illustrates the Tillyan influence from the rebel period, during which the SNM was Somaliland’s first experiment with democracy. In addition, it illustrates the fact that the LAO’s successful consolidation of coercion matured as a result of Somaliland’s indigenous, bottom-up state-building process, which took place without significant international attention or funding and thereby suggests the importance of political settlements being organized, financed, and, if necessary, fought over, by internal elites rather than international actors.

State-building in Somaliland illustrates the relevance of both warfare and political settlements. The Tillyan processes put Somaliland in a strong position for state-building. However, the political settlement was called into question and tested throughout the first six years of state-building. The state responded to these deviances with persuasion, but also with force.[47] This process follows the Tillyan logic of “War Makes States” by creating demands on the state to organize and concentrate its control over violence. The fact that the Somaliland government has regularly contributed circa fifty percent of its budget to security and that Somaliland remains a heavily armed society despite all of the progress illustrate how questions of violence and warfare are never far from state-building projects, even successful ones.[48] Moreover, it also shows the importance of a durable LAO, which in this case was negotiated between local actors without significant international help. This increased the accountability and effectiveness of Somaliland’s state-building because it was pursued out of the interests of actors genuinely committed to the state-building project—an attribute we shall see separates Somaliland from its former partner to the south.

B. Puntland

Puntland’s state-building achievements are limited to consolidating its security sector and avoiding a proliferation of violent groups. As a consequence, Puntland has achieved a degree of stability and order at times reminiscent of Somaliland. However, it has also suffered periods of intense fighting due to factionalism within the dominant rebel group. In comparison to Somaliland, its LAO is partial and incomplete due to the legacy of shallow Tillyan processes. For example, consolidation of the public administration, such as the ability to collect revenue and encourage economic growth, suffered during periods of turbulence due to a collapsing political order in which actors saw opportunities in the marketplace for violence. The state trajectory of Puntland remains uncertain, but in contrast to Somalia’s collapse of control, it has fulfilled its founding motivation adequately: to be the cornerstone of a future federal Somalia.

1. Pre-1991: Rebel Period

Centralizing control over violence was successfully accomplished in Puntland in the pre-1991 period. This process was facilitated by Puntland’s homogenous clan make-up. In terms of the marketplace for violence, this can help reduce the number of opportunities. First, studies show ethnicity can help overcome the collective-action problems of organizing young men for violence by allowing political entrepreneurs to exploit common grievances and identities.[49] The Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF), which led the fight for Puntland, conforms to this pattern by being an alliance of the clans under the Darood clan-family in the northeast.[50] Second, the SSDF emerged as one of the first rebel groups in Somalia to fight Barre in 1979, also giving it a “first out the gate” competitive advantage. Led by military leader Colonel Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, a mutineer from the Barre regime, the SSDF began cross-border fighting from Ethiopia into Somalia in the 1970s.[51] It fought several significant military campaigns against Barre in the early period of the civil war. While the literature is unclear, the dominant role of Yusuf and other military men in the SSDF likely diminished the number of potential challengers. Whatever the reason, it proved critical and sets it apart from Somalia.

Paradoxically, the SSDF both emerged as a hegemonic rebel group and disappeared from the scene early. Therefore, a significant aspect is the relative absence of the SSDF in the affairs of Puntland from the mid-1980s to its return in full in 1998.[52] Explanations for its disappearance focus on its reliance upon foreign financing from Yemen, Ethiopia, and Libya.[53] When funding atrophied from Libya, it stopped fighting even before the struggle was over.[54] If its demise is attributed to a reliance on foreign funding, then we should be reminded of Tilly who wrote: “the more costly the activity, all other things being equal, the greater was the organizational residue.”[55] The process of raising funds for war internally spurs bureaucratic and administrative processes, such as tax collection and negotiations with capitalists.[56] Relying on easy money, in effect, can stunt the evolution of a rebel movement in its early stages. Lacking funds from abroad and unable to generate internal fundraising mechanisms, the SSDF disappeared even before the end of the civil war.[57]

As a result of the SSDF‘s early departure, Puntland’s foundation for state-building was positioned differently than that of Somaliland. To the detriment of state-building, the SSDF left Puntland without a political program or a concept of how to organize power in a post-Barre Puntland,[58] thereby leaving open existential political questions such as how to organize power among the sub-clans or what role the elders would play. The exposure to democracy experienced by the SNM helped to produce an accountable rebel group and stimulated important institutional and administrative outcomes that put state-building in good stead. This did not take place in the SSDF. Thus, the Tillyan influences in relation to Puntland were blunted by this early departure. Consequently, there was no compass for Puntland to follow in terms of how to charter new political territory, unlike in Somaliland where the experience of warfare partially resolved these questions. It also demonstrates what happens when a rebel group disbands before fighting ends and thus leaves unresolved questions revolving around distribution of power. These discontinuities in the SSDF help explain how Puntland has emerged with an unstable, partial political settlement, which in contrast to Somaliland, has less successfully transformed its rebels into state-builders.

2. 1991–1998: Partial LAO

A Tillyan analysis to this point sheds light on the fact that the SSDF helped prevent diffusion of violence across Puntland’s territory. The other Tillyan identified processes, administrative capacity building and fostering accountability between rulers and ruled, however, did not materialize. Appraising the state-building trajectory of Puntland with the formula of Rebel Warfare → LAO → State-Building illustrates that the weaker performance of the SSDF helps explain the instability and lack of durability of Puntland’s LAOs.

The political vacuum in Puntland opened wide when the Barre regime fell. As violent competitors emerged in Puntland, the organizational entropy haunting SSDF was mitigated by a set of threats by violent competitors. In May 1992, Yusuf’s allies came together in Djibouti to discuss the challenge posed by an Islamist-inspired rebel group, al-Itihaad al-Islaami, and a rebel faction based out of the south, the United Somali Congress.[59] The threat was enough to re-ignite the SSDF briefly when on “16 May, the SSDF Central Committee and traditional titled leaders of the clans of the northeast regions jointly issued an emergency decree to effectively dissolve the cabinet…(and) replace it with an emergency security committee led by Colonel Abdullahi Yusuf as commander of the SSDF militia.”[60] Fighting developed, and when fifty traditional elders, politicians and other prominent personalities were taken hostage, heavy fighting ensued, which was eventually won by the SSDF.[61] Fighting with the USC in the south was resolved when Yusuf and General Aideed of the USC faction were both facing challenges at home and therefore concentrated on consolidating their home support. They signed the Mudug Peace Agreement in 1993.[62]

Together, these military victories warded off the threat of dispersion of violence across Puntland, which is a significant accomplishment never achieved in the south. Indeed, the singularity of SSDF’s military might is well recognized.[63] However, just as before, the SSDF’s Tillyan processes were limited to the centralization of coercion. Outside of its military role, the SSDF floundered at administering a functioning state despite being the umbrella organization of political actors in Puntland.[64] For example, the elders, who could be counted on for mitigating the SSDF’s neglect of developing political institutions by providing leadership and adjudicating disputes, were never institutionalized (as were those in Somaliland) into the Guurti.[65] The 1991–1998 period thus witnessed a partial LAO incapable of state-building. Puntland would have to wait until 1998 to witness progress on this front.[66]

3. 1998–2012: LAO Collapses and Re-Emerges

The SSDF’s re-emergence with a political mission in 1998 might have convinced optimists that the state-building that was absent during 1991–1998 could proceed and allow Puntland to “get its house in order” and establish itself as a model for a future federal Somalia.[67] Indeed, Puntland’s first Charter was formed in 1998, laying out how the region was to govern and organize institutions to deliver public goods.[68] This set the stage for a disarmament campaign to demobilize militias and construct a central army and police.[69]

However, as in the rebel period, this LAO would suffer similar qualities that stunted its state-building potential. Just as the qualities of SNM structured the durability and stability of Somaliland’s LAO, so too did the SSDF impact Puntland’s LAO. Its military ethos carried over into Puntland’s emerging LAO, and the absence of important bureaucratic innovations meant that when violence broke out in Puntland, it was between rival militias rather than a state versus rebel challengers, as was the case in Somaliland’s LAO. This was demonstrated by the series of events that began in 1998, when former SSDF leader Abdullahi Yusuf, described as an “unreformed warlord” by international observers, realized that new political realities were crystallizing such that Puntland’s lack of military and political identity posed a serious risk to Puntland and to himself.[70] He exploited this apprehension among different clans and strong-armed his way into the leadership of the SSFF again, becoming Puntland’s first president.[71] This paved the way for a leadership dispute between Puntland’s other most powerful figure, Jama Ali Jama, Yusuf’s loudest critic, and from a separate clan.[72] This contest dominated Puntland’s LAO, in contrast to Somaliland where the SNM’s civilian leadership cultivated a LAO led by politicians rather than militia leaders. The political institutions created in the Charter of Puntland were nullified when Yusuf refused to follow the constitutionally allowed three-year mandate[73] and step down as President, turning SSDF’s former hegemony into a remilitarization of Puntland.[74] The speed with which both sides amassed significant militias demonstrated the fragile foundations of Puntland’s LAO, despite some progress in disarmament.[75] Moreover, this represented a breakdown of the leadership of Puntland’s basic political settlement, in contrast to Somaliland, where the factionalization occurred at the margins of the political coalition, thereby testing the state’s ability to centralize and effectively control violence. This reminds us of the centrality of solving the problem of the distribution of political resources among the elites in order to avoid violence. Instead, Puntland’s LAO was polarized until a peace agreement was signed between Yusuf and one of Jama’s militia leaders, securing Yusuf’s position as President and his former militia rival as Vice-President, thereby cutting Jama out of power.[76]

Puntland’s LAO, therefore, suffered from factionalization and discontinuous leadership, blunting the pace of state-building. The problems afflicting this LAO are also evident in the SSDF’s poor performance as a cultivator of an institutional and social environment capable of lessening Puntland’s LAO reliance on key military people, such as Yusuf. From the beginning of Puntland’s regime in 1998, it could be described as an immature social order, or alternatively, as a “clan dictatorship,” deficient in comparison to Somaliland’s strong civil society.[77] Puntland was administered partly as a “fiefdom,” whereby Yusuf tethered the state’s existence to himself and his clan by ensuring that eighty percent of the state’s revenue came from his home base of Bosaso.[78] Moreover, constraining influences in society—such as the Tillyan-described bargaining process with capitalists for funding—were arguably blunted by the continuation of foreign donor support, principally from Ethiopia,[79] which gave Yusuf “the flexibility to chart his own military strategy.”[80] It is also interesting to note that, from a Tillyan perspective, the peace conferences in Puntland were externally funded[81] and therefore potentially lacked a set of business interests committed to a state-building project. The importance of Yusuf for Puntland’s LAO is evidenced in the deterioration in state-building immediately after his departure.[82] Yusuf’s ambitions could not be met in Puntland and he relinquished his seat in Puntland for one in Mogadishu, as head of the emerging Transitional Federal Government in 2004.[83] The LAO of Puntland, therefore, suffered dramatically from personalized and militarized leadership, factionalism, discontinuities in governance, and a lack of a vision for how to overcome challenges to state-building.

The state-building in Puntland that has followed since the resolution of 2004 has been “adequate in maintaining relative internal peace and stability,” but it remains “utterly incapable of establishing the rule of law,”[84] and no significant political reforms have taken place.[85] Puntland successfully held a presidential election in which sitting parliamentarians voted for Abdirahman Muhammad Mahmud Farole as President. He has been in favor of reform and tackling the piracy issue.[86] Fortunately, widespread violence has been avoided, but this fragile peace has come at the expense of institution building as well as economic and social development. It has also resulted in the emergence of illicit economies, such as piracy.[87] On the continuum of state-building trajectories, Puntland stands in the middle between Somaliland and Somalia but risks sliding back due to the increasing role of piracy and illicit economies.

C. South-Central Somalia (henceforth, Somalia)

The state-building experience is radically different in Somalia than in Somaliland and Puntland. It lacked the initial conditions featured in Tillyan processes, especially a centralization over violence. Its political settlement is perpetually being renegotiated, collapsed, resuscitated, and collapsed again. Unlike Somaliland and Puntland, the entire process has been influenced and, controversially, heavily managed, financed, and directed by the international community and countries with vested interests. The following paragraphs will trace a narrative of how the Tillyan framework relates to the absence of a LAO and thus state-building in Somalia.

1. 1988–1991: Rebel Period

As Barre’s regime crumbled and his monopoly over violence was reduced to a group of kinsmen, the first opportunity to form a LAO materialized in Somalia. This is due, in part, to the way in which violence was organized in the civil war. As opposed to Somaliland and Puntland, where violence was concentrated more or less in the SNM and SSDF respectively, in Somalia it was diffuse. In effect, the marketplace for violence was much more competitive, with no group achieving anything close to a monopoly position. This is due to Somalia’s uniquely complex clan geography, which is complicated by politics of trust between Somali’s kinship configurations.[88] The most dominant group to emerge in Somalia in the 1980s was the United Somali Congress (USC), a faction that originally included multiple clans but eventually concentrated on providing security and pursuing the interests of the Hawiye kin group. The marketplace for violence became more competitive as all clan-families rationally pursued their own strategies for survival.[89] This blocked the USC from achieving what Tilly described as economies of scale from violence, and is a key variable separating Somalia from Somaliland and Puntland.

In the absence of a hegemonic group, Somalia depended upon the formation of a political settlement among the different violent actors. This was stunted by the fact that in the absence of any hegemon, the incentive structure of the post-Barre environment was to maintain maximum violence potential. Deviating from this strategy would mean taking a bet on a highly uncertain future outcome without any immediate returns, such as guaranteed safety.[90] Such an insecure environment can be an effective barrier to political settlement bargaining, and at best, will lead to a basic LAO in which elites are closely connected to their “violence specialists.” Second, the lack of a hegemonic position meant that there were more spoilers. As Menkhaus writes, “there is a wide range of players who are not necessarily powerful enough to shape a peace accord or government, but who have the capacity to derail political projects they do not like.”[91]

Furthermore, the USC shared an important characteristic of the SSDF: division between two leaders. Unlike the SNM, which had a highly institutionalized decision-making apparatus, developed internal democratic practices, and made important contributions to solving collective-action problems for Somaliland, the USC failed to produce a blueprint for how Somalia would be governed, and thus the same questions haunt peace in Somalia today.[92] The lack of a political program for the sharing of power between groups produced an even greater security challenge than Barre’s totalitarian government by paving the way for warlordism.[93] Under such conditions, Somalia became the world’s quintessential failed state the moment Barre stepped down and the marketplace for violence became diffused and self-defensive.[94]

Moreover, the violence in Somalia deviated from one of the most important dynamics outlined by Tilly: paying for the resources to fight is as important as the fight itself. However, the USC and warlords escaped this problem by relying on funding from abroad, wealthy business people, and, crucially, more and more on looting food aid, exhorting international actors, and extracting rents from competing groups and marginal members of society.[95] It would not be correct to trace the wanton war economy that emerged in Somalia exclusively to this trait of the USC, but it is noteworthy that the revenue-raising mechanisms employed by rebel groups if put on a continuum between the semi-institutionalized collection, as in Somaliland, to the pursuit of banditry, as was the case in Somalia, has predictive power about the subsequent practices of their respective leaderships.

The decline of Mogadishu from being the “Pearl of the Indian Ocean” to a chaotic graveyard in the 1990s was born out of the USC’s internal and deadly struggle between Aideed and Mahdi, setting off a complex web of clan fighting.[96] The first effort of international actors to plug the political vacuum is a foreshadowing of future efforts. Outsiders ignored the dynamics of violent actors and imposed their own political settlement, out of which a stable central regime was expected to emerge. The result was, and is, usually the opposite. “The minute Siyaad fled Mogadishu,” Hussein Adam writes, “Italian Ambassador Mario Sica is reported to have urged businessman Ali Mahdi, leader of a wing of the USC, to proclaim himself President before the entrance into Mogadishu of General Aideed and his armed volunteers.”[97] This alienated many rebels groups who had contributed to Barre’s exit and now were being deprived of a say in his successor by an outside power.[98] As civil war raged between Aideed and Mahdi, the stop-gaps on violence were removed and violent actors multiplied throughout Somalia.[99] For the first time in Somalia’s history, the absence of livelihoods and the lure of profits led a variety of actors to pursue warlordism.[100] In Mogadishu alone, nineteen bandit groups terrorized the city. These groups were well-organized gangs, “closely linked to various clans and work from well-defended bases in the city.”[101]

Such began a marketplace in Somalia, one where violence was the most traded commodity, and it is in large part due to the antecedents of Barre’s removal—a tragic reversal of fortunes that should have ushered in a new LAO. Tilly’s analysis says that one of warfare’s greatest contributions to state-building is through raising revenue. The case of warlordism in Somalia illustrates how the type of violence and the purpose it is serving determine whether it will be helpful for state-building.[102] Moreover, the absence of any semi-formalized taxation hindered the emergence of what Tilly describes as a “civilianization process” from forming between violence specialists and the constituents over public goods and social rights and obligations.

Therefore, the USC, as a group upon which Somalia depended for a political settlement and subsequently an LAO, was a poor performer relative to the SNM and even the SSDF. Its lack of hegemonic status, inability to orient political affairs toward a central administration, and disintegration into warlordism endowed Somalia with differentially weak qualities for the formation of a stable LAO. Understanding these processes helps us elucidate why a LAO failed to emerge in Somalia.

2. 1991–2001: The Absence of an LAO Leads to Chaos

The absence of an LAO in Somalia created the world’s most pressing humanitarian predicament, providing the justification for a series of externally created LAOs that continue until the present time. These LAOs involve bringing elites together and creating incentives for them to stay together in order to control violence and facilitate state-building. This approach faces several difficulties, which are present in all of the LAOs discussed: the fact that external powers align actors to suit their own foreign policy interests; that the actors recognize that such settlements are temporary, which creates perverse incentives and undermines accountability; and that these external LAOs impose artificial distributions of power and rents.

The first international conference organized by outside powers to put an end to Somalia’s power vacuum was the Djibouti conference, with the objective of forming a national government.[103] Due to the internal power struggles within the USC for nominating a leader, and the apparent machinations of Italy and Egypt in having their chosen leader elected, Aideed chose not to attend the conference.[104] This top-down approach, which was driven principally by the interests of outsiders to confirm Mahdi and reject the independence of Somaliland, set a precedent for failure. Mahdi himself became too impatient to await the parliamentary nomination process spelled out in the illegitimate and unsuccessful Djibouti conference, and he “had himself sworn in upon his return.”[105] He also tried to establish a Cabinet that excluded members associated with Aideed.[106]

The same logic applies to the United Nations missions in Somalia, UNOSOM 1 and UNOSOM 2. Each attempted to build an LAO when one did not exist. They were the most expensive humanitarian missions ever undertaken,[107] and yet evidence in their favor is negligible. First, they required a political coalition ready to form, something Somalia transparently did not possess.[108] Second, the only individuals remotely capable of doing that were warlords, some of whom UNOSOM made its mission to destroy, such as Aideed who had a bounty on his head. In addition, the process of pursuing these goals through force undermined the fragile relationships with Somalis. Third, it was clear that the U.N. was a transient political power, therefore the rational strategy of groups was to outlive the U.N., amass weapons and gain strength in the meantime, loot aid if possible, and then re-emerge when it left.[109] Third, the perceived lack of neutrality meant that some groups were seen as benefiting and others losing. State-building, therefore, took on a zero-sum game dynamic.[110] Any political coalition that emerged would be undermining another coalition from forming. These factors help explain how the UNOSOM missions in many ways increased the violence, and when they left, despite billions of dollars spent on nation-building, Somalia was arguably in worse shape than when they arrived. As Bryden says about UNOSOM’s departure, “Ironically, UNOSOM probably left Somalia more heavily armed than it had found it.”[111]

After the failure of the UNOSOM missions, Somali governance turned inwards and despite the continuance of conflict, local solutions to governance were forming.[112] The most dramatic example of this is the steady rise of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU). The Islamists achieved a degree of stability and control over Somalia that has yet to be replicated, and the only precedent for which was the Barre regime before 1991.[113] The Islamists were able to help solve the problem of violence in ways UNOSOM could not because of the Tillyan processes it went through: (1) their Muslim identity helped overcome clan differences and facilitated a centralization of coercion;[114] (2) the Islamic courts using Sharia law represented an administrative advance in terms of dispute resolution;[115] and (3) they had the backing of business people who saw an opportunity to increase profits in a more secure environment and reduce the high transaction costs imposed by militiamen for safe passage of their goods.[116] However, its rise was paralleled by growing anxiety toward Islamic politics in the West, and the United States funded its main competitor, a group of warlords known as the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism,[117] which was eventually defeated by the ICU. The ICU’s centralization of control was nearly complete in 2006, leading to what “appeared as though the reign of Somalia’s warlords had finally come to an end.”[118]

From a Tillyan perspective, this was the first player to achieve nearly a hegemonic position, which qualifies the ICU as Somalia’s first LAO since 1991. If the ICU’s path had continued, it would have been a new experiment in Somali politics. However, it was cut short when the Ethiopian government, with the backing of the U.S. government, determined that this was too great a threat to its national interest. It intervened with massive military force to destroy the Islamists, producing what Menkhaus calls the most “unexpected and unnecessary” battle to date.[119] Shortly afterwards, Ethiopia and America installed the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Mogadishu as the recognized government of Somalia. Up until that point, however, it had no control over violence and its ministers were too fearful to present themselves in the capital.[120] This act replaced what was an indigenous Somali LAO with a new one that sidestepped Tillyan processes. The militia group of the ICU separated and radicalized, producing the Al Shabaab group, which is currently engaged in a bloody struggle with the TFG and today’s Federal Government of Somalia.

The TFG, and its precursor, the TNG, were an external attempt by the international community to impose an LAO in Somalia. The TNG was established at the Arta Conference in July 2000 but was eventually a failure. The TFG was created in Nairobi in 2004, following two years of peace talks.[121] It was ostensibly intended to reconcile the moribund TNG but in practice was a “managed transition of power from the TNG to a pro-Ethiopian coalition known as the Somali Restoration and Reconciliation Council (SRRC).”[122] From a Tillyan perspective, this has several flaws. First, it bypasses the centralization of the coercion process. The question of whether it could gain a monopoly on the legitimate use of force on its own was out of the question, yet donors tried to disarm groups and centralize force under the new government with the help of African Union troops, despite Somalis typically viewing a central state suspiciously and a threat to their own security.[123] Second, the TFG received millions of dollars of funding from the U.N. and international agencies and was recognized as the sole representative of Somalia. This came before the TFG moved from Nairobi to Baidoa, a provincial town far away from Mogadishu.[124] Thus, the TFG received recognition before actually demonstrating any ability to govern.[125]

While arguably an externally funded LAO is superior to no LAO since it at least has a basic solution to the problem of violence, it is not possible to appraise the counter-factual and predict if Somalia could have followed Somaliland’s or Puntland’s path. From a Tillyan perspective, external LAO’s lack the unique processes of coercion, administration, and bargaining that cannot be reproduced or compensated for by recognizing sovereignty, development aid, or technical advice. An effort at centralizing coercion via African Union troops presents a reversal of Tillyan logic in which force is bestowed and unearned and therefore detached from state formation. Bypassing Tillyan processes, for example by centralizing coercion or generating an administration to raise revenue, therefore helps account for the high degree of instability at the center of the TFG’s LAO. The political coalition put together by the TFG was by definition transient, but groups outside of it felt it was another “cynical attempt to further the political ambitions of one Somali faction at the expense of its rivals.”[126] As such, externally created LAOs suffer from trying to solve the question of violence before tackling the question of distribution of power. For this reason, the creation of these externally funded political arrangements themselves produced warlordism by injecting patronage for fighting state rivals, empowering warlords in positions of government, and recycling foreign dollars into the Somali economy.

The TFG failed to meet Tilly’s definition of legitimacy, which is essentially that “Legitimacy is the probability that other authorities will act to confirm the decisions of a given authority.”[127] Since the TFG’s authority was based on external actors, this should come as no surprise. It is still too early to tell the fate of the TFG’s successor, the Federal Government of Somalia, but if this essay has any lessons, it should be that the distribution of power should be negotiated internally rather than decided by external powers.

IV. Conclusion

This comparative case study demonstrates the effect warfare has had on state-building trajectories in Somaliland, Puntland, and Somalia. It illustrates how warfare impacts state-building differentially, depending on how it is organized, financed, and exploited, and by whom and for what cause. Somaliland demonstrated how the SNM influenced state-building by satisfying all three of the Tillyan processes for state-building: coercion was centralized, the bureaucratization of the rebel group materialized, and negotiation took place between the leadership and the constituents, leading to accountability and political identity. The SSDF in Puntland satisfied only the centralization of coercion aspect, neglecting the other processes determining state-building. Last, Somalia’s diffusion of violent actors and the absence of the other processes produced an unstable foundation for state-building to take place. Tracing these different forms of warfare reveals the decisive impact of rebel groups in Somalia and the differential impact they had across the country, depending upon qualities that either do or do not conform to a Tillyan logic.

In addition to drawing attention to the utility of Tillyan concepts and tools for explaining state-building processes, this analysis incorporates recent scholarship with the formula Rebel Warfare LAO State-Building. This model revises Tilly with North’s LAO concept. The case studies reveal how this can be useful in explaining the transitions from violent strategies to ones complementary to state-building. In the case of Somalia, the continual absence of an LAO is the decisive factor in the perpetuation of the conflict. Somalia cannot agree on how to distribute power among its elites, clans, and factions. The absence of Tillyan-specified conditions decisively shaped this outcome. In contrast, actors in Somaliland were able to form a political settlement, and as time elapsed, renegotiate and evolve with it.

Last, while cultivating violence is not a long-term state-building strategy, understanding the centrality of violence in LAO formation and state-building is essential. As this article illustrates, state-building is an inherently contradictory process. It is both the cause and the solution to the problem of violence in Somali society. No social organization can provide citizens basic security and public goods except for an entity that controls coercion and establishes an administration. Moreover, state-building is a complex, non-linear process, frustrating the efforts of Somalia’s externally supported transitional governments and those continually wishing for the problem of governance to just go away.

About the author

Andrew Scott Duffield, MSc from the London School of Economics and Political Science, is a specialist in the area of international development. Currently, he lives and works in Lusaka, Zambia. With a business consultancy venture focused on helping businesses that create “social value.” He has previous work experience with an African-focused boutique business intelligence firm, Songhai Advisory LLP, as well as prior assignments in the humanitarian field with the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the United Nations World Food Program. He has written previously for the Canadian-based Centre for International Governance Innovation, as well as the e-magazine, Generation C. He was born and raised in Guelph, Ontario, Canada.


[1] Tilly 1992, p. 67.

[2] Leander 2004, pp. 5–6

[3] Elhawary 2008.

[4] Taylor and Botea 2008.

[5] Rapkoch 2009.

[6] Helling 2010.

[7] Douglass North et. al 2007 and 2009.

[8] Tilly 1985, p. 172.

[9] Bradbury 2008.

[10] Adam 2007, p. 29.

[11] Terlinden and Ibrahim 2010, pp. 2–3.

[12] Helling 2010, p. 113.

[13] Reno 2003, p. 24.

[14] Bradbury 2008, p. 64.

[15] Helling 2010, p. 13.

[16] Reno 2003, p. 24.

[17] Helling 2010, p. 111.

[18] Ibid., p. 113.

[19] Adam 2008, p. 201.

[20] Adam 1999, p. 270.

[21] Bradbury 2008, p. 67.

[22] Ibid., p. 79.

[23] Dua 2010

[24] Bradbury 2008, p. 83.

[25] Bryden and Farah 1996, p. 8.

[26] Bradbury 2008, p. 87.

[27] Ibrahim 2010, p. 7.

[28] Adam 1994, p. 31.

[29] Jimcaale 2005, p. 61.

[30] Bradbury 2008, p. 88.

[31] Ibid., p. 116.

[32] Renders and Terlinden 2010, p. 733.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Bryden and Brickhill 2010, p. 249.

[35] Renders and Terlinden 2010, p. 10.

[36] Ibid., pp. 730–731.

[37] “Most elders recognized that government administration was not their responsibility, but they brought to the task a moral authority invested in them by communities” (Bradbury 2008, p. 87).

[38] Ibid., p. 91.

[39] Academy of Peace and Development.

[40] Reno 2003, p. 30.

[41] Zierau 2003, p. 60.

[42] Tilly 1985, p. 179.

[43] Reno 2003.

[44] Bradbury 2008, p. 131.

[45] Ibid., p. 133.

[46] Renders and Terlinden 2010, p. 735.

[47] Bradbury 2008, pp. 77–130.

[48] Gilkes 1995, p. 29; Hagmann and Hoehne 2008, p. 50.

[49] Collier 2006, p. 12.

[50] Farah 1999.

[51] PDRC 2007.

[52] Adam 1995, p. 76.

[53] Bryden and Brickhill 2010, p. 243.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Tilly 1985, p. 181.

[56] Tilly 1985.

[57] Adam 1995, p. 76.

[58] Farah 1999.

[59] PDRC 2007, p. 17.

[60] Ibid.

[61] Ibid.

[62] Ibid., p. 19.

[63] Ibid., p. 55.

[64] Doornbos 2002, p. 101.

[65] WSP 2001, p. 20.

[66] World Bank 2007, p. 3.

[67] Doornbos 2002, p. 100.

[68] World Bank 2007, p. 3.

[69] Bryden and Brickhill 2010, p. 252.

[70] ICG 2009, p. 2.

[71] Ibid.

[72] Ibid., p. 5.

[73] Ibid., p. 3.

[74] Interpeace 2010, p. 1.

[75] Bryden and Brickhill 2010, p. 252.

[76] ICG 2009, p. 3.

[77] Hagmann and Hoehne 2008, p. 50.

[78] Reno 2003, p. 37.

[79] Hoene 2007.

[80] Reno 2003, p. 37.

[81] Ibid., p. 35.

[82] ICG 2009, p. 7.

[83] Adam 1999, p. 270.

[84] Ibid., p. 253.

[85] Hagmann and Hoehne 2009, p. 50.

[86] BBC 2011.

[87] Interpeace 2010.

[88] Ahmed and Green 1999, p. 114.

[89] Menkhaus 2007, p. 80.

[90] Menkhaus 2006/2007, pp. 95–96.

[91] Menkhaus 2003, p. 415.

[92] Adam 1992, p. 19.

[93] Ibid., p. 20.

[94] Ibid.

[95] Samatar 1994.

[96] Ibid., p. 122.

[97] Hussein 1992, p. 20.

[98] Ibid.

[99] Makinda 1993, pp. 31–35.

[100] Bakonyi and Stuvoy 2005, p. 366.

[101] Horn of Africa Bulletin 1991.

[102] Grosse-Kettler 2004, p. 4.

[103] Adam 1995, p. 20.

[104] Ibid.

[105] Adam 1995, p. 81.

[106] Ibid., p. 21.

[107] Ahmed and Green 1999, p. 122.

[108] Herbst 1996, p.125.

[109] Menkhaus 2006/2007, p. 366.

[110] Ibid., p. 94.

[111] Bryden and Brickhill 2010, p. 255.

[112] Menkhaus 2006/2007, p. 34.

[113] Barnes and Hassan 2007, p. 154.

[114] Menkhaus 2007, p. 371.

[115] Barnes and Hassan 2007, p. 154.

[116] Ibid.

[117] Marchal 2007, p. 1103.

[118] Bryden and Brickhill 2010, p. 258.

[119] Menkhaus 2007, p. 368.

[120] BBC 2010.

[121] Menkhaus 2006/2007, p. 74.

[122] Bryden and Brackhill 2010, p. 257.

[123] Bryden and Brickhill 2010.

[124] Ibid., p. 151.

[125] Le Sage 2009, p. 1.

[126] Bryden and Brickhill 2010, p. 259.

[127] Tilly 1985, p. 171.


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Recommended Citation

Duffield, Andrew Scott (2014) “When Do Rebels Become State-Builders?: A Comparative Case Study of Somaliland, Puntland, and South-Central Somalia,” Bildhaan: An International Journal of Somali Studies: Vol. 13, Article 5.

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