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The Material Roots of the Suspended African State: Arguments from Somalia

  • Abdi Samatar and A. I. Samatar


In this historical conjuncture of profound socio-economic disorders, the condition of the peoples of the so-called periphery is as desperate as it has ever been. Understanding the making and nature of their predicament is certainly one of the most basic conundrums in development studies in general, and the study of Africa in particular. A useful way of looking at the continent's dilemma is to focus on two broad factors: structural constraints and subjective conditions. The first speaks to the complex of historical circumstances, habits, and rules bequeathed by the past – ‘the grid of inheritance’, to borrow from E. P. Thompson – and the overbearing logic of the contemporary global systems of production, exchange, and information. The second signifies political choices that are made as the battle with the past, the present, and for the future continues.



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Page 669 note 1 Crises of habitation at the global level are the subject of many incisive and moving works. These range from concerns with economic recession to militarism and ecological destruction. For a sample of this vast literature, see Kaldor, Mary, ‘The Global Political Economy’ in Alternatives (Guildford), 11, 4, 10 1986, pp. 431–60;Jolly, Richard and Cornea, Giovanni Andrea (eds.), ‘The Impact of World Recession on Children’, special issue of World Development (Oxford), 12, 3, 03 1984;Furtado, Celso, No to Recession and Unemployment (Reading, 1984);Harris, Nigel, Bread and Guns: the world economy in crisis (Harmondsworth, 1983);Briviniv, Mayra, Lycette, Margaret A., and Greevy, William P. (eds.), Women and Poverty in the Third World (Baltimore, 1983);Sivard, Ruth L., World Military and Social Expenditures (Washington, D.C., 1986); and Radclift, Michael, Development and the Environment Crisis (London, 1984). In the case of Africa, see Lawrence, Peter (ed.), Food Recession and the Food Crisis in Africa (London, 1987);Nyong'o, Peter Anyang' (ed.), Popular Struggles for Democracy in Africa (London, 1987);Gaku, M. L., The Crisis in African Agriculture (London, 1987);Brooke, James, ‘“Financial Famine” in Seen for Africa’, in New York Times, 21 June 1987, p. A7;Green, Reginald H., ‘Sub-Saharan Africa: towards oblivion or reconstruction?’, special issue of Journal of Development Planning (New York), 15, 1985;Beckman, Björn and Andrae, Gunilla, The Wheat Trap: bread and underdevelopment in Nigeria (London, 1985);Hutchful, Eboe, ‘Militarization and Society: trends in Africa’, in Alternatives, 10, 1, 03 1985, pp. 115–37;Timberlake, Lloyd, Africa in Crisis: the causes, the cures of environmental bankruptcy (London, 1985); and Forje, John, ‘The Misuse, Destruction, and Exhaustion of Natural Resources in Africa’, in Alternatives, 10, 3, 09 1984, pp. 565–79.

Page 670 note 1 This type of scholarship is also voluminous. Some of the pioneering works include, Rodney, Walter, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (Washington, D.C., 1981 edn.);Nzula, A. T., Potekhin, I. I., and Zusmanovish, A. Z., Forced Labour in Colonial Africa (London, 1979);Ake, Claude, A Political Economy of Africa (London, 1981);Wallerstein, Immanuel, ‘The Three Stages of African Involvement in the World Economy’, in Gutkind, Peter C. and Wallerstein, (eds.), The Political Economy of Contemporary Africa (Beverly Hills, 1978), pp. 3057; and Amin, Samir, ‘Under-development and Dependence in Black Africa: origins and contemporary forms’, in The Journal of Modern African Studies (Cambridge), 6, 4, 12 1972, pp. 503–24.

Page 670 note 2 For example, see Markovitz, Irving Leonard (ed.), Studies in Power and Class in Africa (Oxford, 1987);Stark, Frank M., ‘Theories of Contemporary State Formation in Africa: a reassessment’, in The Journal of Modern African Studies, 24, 2, 06 1986, pp. 335–47;Young, Crawford, ‘Africa's Colonial Legacy’, in Berg, R. J. and Seymour, J. Seymour (eds.), Strategies for African Development (Berkeley, 1986), pp. 2151;Marcussen, H. S. and Torp, J. E., Internationalization of Capital: prospects for the Third World (London, 1982); and Lonsdale, John, ‘States and Social Processes in Africa: a historiographical survey’, in The African Studies Review (Los Angeles), 24, 2–3, 0609 1981, pp. 139226.

Page 670 note 3 The pivotal rôle of the state is acknowleged by a diversity of scholars. For example, Anderson, Perry, the consummate historical materialist, concludes his magisterial study,Lineages of the Absolutist State (London, 1974), by suggesting (p. 403) that states are ‘authors of [some of ] the most momentous break[s] in modern history’; while Eli Sagan, a scholar steeped in the discipline of psycho-analysis, with particular expertise in ancient societies, postulates that the state was a midwife to the birth of ancient civilisations;At the Dawn of Tyranny: the origins of individualism, political oppression, and the state (New York, 1985). For a work that underscores the centrality of the state, both as an actor and an institution of contemporary social science research, see Evans, Peter B., Rueschemeyer, Dietrich, and Skocpol, Theda, Bringing the State Back In (Cambridge, 1985).

Page 671 note 1 Ake, Claude (ed.), Political Economy of Nigeria (Lagos, 1985), p. 1. Ake's smooth and very useful conception of the state is laid out in chs. 1–2.

Page 671 note 2 Hall, Stuart, ‘The State in Question,’ in McLennan, Gregor, Held, David, and Hall, (eds.), The Idea of the Modern State (Milton Keynes, 1984), p. 1. The basic functions of the state include security, revenue collection, determination of domestic rules governing social relations of production within its territory, and the conduct of foreign policy.

Page 672 note 1 Apter, David, The Politics of Modernization (Chicago, 1965);Rostow, Walt W., Stages of Economic Growth: a non-communist manifesto (Cambridge, 1960); and Lerner, Daniel, The Passing of Traditional Society: modernizing the Middle East (Glencoe, 1985).

Page 672 note 2 For example, Foster-Carter, Aidan, ‘Neo-Marxist Approaches to Development and Underdevelopment’, in Kadt, Emanuel De and Williams, Gavin (eds.), Sociology and Development (London, 1974), pp. 8194;Saul, John S. and Arrighi, Giovanni, Essays on the Political Economy of Africa (New York, 1973); and Cohen, Robin, ‘Class in Africa: analytical problems and perspectives’, in Miliband, Ralph and Saville, John (eds.), The Socialist Register (London, 1972). A broad historical study that emanates from the same theoretical base is Stavrianos, L. S., Global Rift: the Third World comes of age (New York, 1981).

Page 672 note 3 There are, of course, numerous variations of, and heated intra-debates within, this literature and no attempt will be made here to explore that labyrinth. Our primary interest is limited to paradigmatic categorisation. For a discussion on this, see Blomström, Magnus and Hettne, Björn, Development Theory in Transition: the dependency debate and beyond: third world responses (London, 1984). Important works in this area include, Goulbourne, Harry, ‘The Problem of the State in Backward Capitalist Societies’, in Africa Development (Dakar), 6, 1, 1981, pp. 4669;Beckman, Björn, ‘Imperialism and the “National Bourgeoisie”’, in Review of African Political Economy (Sheffield), 22, 1011 1981, pp. 519; Henry Bernstein, ‘Notes on State and Peasantry: the Tanzanian case ’ in ibid, 21 May—September 1981, pp. 44–63; Michaela von Freyhold, ‘The Post-Colonial State and its Tanzanian Version’, in ibid. 8 January—April 1977, pp. 75–89; Saul, John S., ‘The State in Post-Colonial Societies: Tanzania’, in The Socialist Register (London 1974), pp. 347–72; and Alavi, Hamza, ‘The State in Post-Colonial Societies: Pakistan and Bangladesh’;, in New Left Review (London), 74, 1972, pp. 5981.

Page 673 note 1 Hyden, Goran, No Shortcuts to Progress: African development management in perspective (Berkeley, 1983). Also, World Bank, Accelerated Development in Sub-Saharan Africa: an agenda for action (Washington, D.C., 1981),Sub-Saharan Africa: progress report on development prospects and programs (Washington, D.C., 1983), and Towards Sustained Development in Sub-Saharan Africa: a joint program for action (Washington, D.C., 1984).

Page 673 note 2 For a sharp and devastating critique of the ‘economy of affection’, see Mamdani, Mahmood, ‘A Great Leap Backward: a review of Goran Hyden's No Shortcuts to Progress’, in Ufahamu (Los Angeles), 14, 2, 1985, pp. 178–95.

Page 674 note 1 As used here, ‘rent-seeking’ refers to the private appropriation of public resources through administrative fiat. Cf.Watts, Michael J., ‘State, Oil, and Accumulation: from boom to crisis’, in Environment and Planning: society and space (London), 2, 1984, pp. 403–28; and Bates, Robert H., Markets and States in Tropical Africa: the political basis of agricultural policies (Berkeley, 1981).

Page 675 note 1 Lewis, I. M., A Pastoral Democracy: a study of pastoralism and politics among the northern Somali of the Horn of Africa (London, 1961).

Page 676 note 1 This phenomenon is creatively treated by Lonsdale, John and Berman, Bruce, ‘Coping with the Contradictions: the development of the colonial state in Kenya, 1895–1914’, in Journal of African History (Cambridge), 20, 1979, pp. 487505.

Page 677 note 1 United Kingdom, Colonial Office, Somaliland: reports for 1921–1937 (London, 1937).

Page 677 note 2 There were few disagreements between the Somali nationalists and the U.K. Colonial Office during their independence negotiations. Report of the Somaliland Protectorate Constitutional Conference, May 1960 (London, 1960).

Page 677 note 3 Hess, Robert, Italian Colonialism in Somalia (Chicago, 1966), pp. 23.

Page 678 note 1 This understanding was facilitated by the ‘good offices’ of the British East India Company.

Page 678 note 2 A detailed exposition of this gruesome process is documented by Hess, op. cit. and Pankhurst, Sylvia E., Ex-Italian Somaliland (London, 1951).

Page 679 note 1 Karp, Mark, The Economics of Trusteeship in Somalia (Boston, 1960), especially ch. 6.

Page 680 note 1 Mehmet, Ozay, ‘Effectiveness of Foreign Aid: the case of Somalia’, in The Journal of Modern African Studies, 9, 2, 05 1971, pp. 3147; and Samatar, Abdi, ‘The State and Rural Transformation in Northwest Somalia’, University of Iowa, 1985.

Page 680 note 2 Ministry of Planning, Somali Development Plans (Mogadishu), 1963–1967 and 1968–1972.

Page 680 note 3 Samatar, A. I., Socialist Somalia: rhetoric and reality (London, 1988), particularly ch. 4.

Page 680 note 4 Crowder, Michael, ‘Whose Dream Was It Anyway? Twenty-Five Years of African Independence’, in African Affairs (London), 86, 342, 01 1987, pp. 724.

Page 681 note 1 The deleterious effects of advice given by some foreign experts on African development are insightfully exposed in Richard, Paul, Indigenous Agricultural Revolution (London, 1985).

Page 682 note 1 Our conception of ‘personal’ or ‘neo-patrimonial’ rule is not the same, since we think that individualistic politics have a social base and are, therefore, a from of class rule. We hasten to add, however, that this should not be construed as an a priori eciction of the subject from history. Rather, our proposition focuses first on the historical river-bed within which actors are obliged to operate. There are two variants to the ‘personal rule’ orientation: one that is unabashingly Machiavellian and idiosyncratic; and a second that explores further afield but, in the end, retreats into the same grooves. An example of the first is the learned work of Jackson, Robert H. and Rosberg, Carl G., Personal Rule in Black Africa: prince, autocrat, prophet, tyrant (Berkeley, 1982); for the latter, see the knowledgeable analysis of Sandbrook, Richard with Judith Barker, The Politics of Africa's Economic Stagnation (Cambridge, 1985). In the broad paradigmatic classification of our article, both contributions belong to the modernisation genre — albeit with some modifications.

Page 682 note 2 Samatar, Abdi, ‘The State, Peasants, and Pastoralists: agrarian change and rural development in northern Somalia, 1884–1984’, Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, 1985, pp. 184–95.

Page 682 note 3 Lewis, I. M., A Modern History of Somalia: nation and state in the Horn of Africa (London, 1980), p. 204.

Page 683 note 1 Estimates of the cost of these elections were put around U.S.$8 million. As a result, ‘considering that about 879,000 votes were cast, the cost per vote comes to nearly $9 (U.S.), roughly 18 percent of the per capita annual income, while the total is more than 15 percent of the country's budget, and about 10 percent of the balance of payment.’ Rayne, E. A., ‘Somalia's Myths are Tested’, in American Universities Fieldstaff Reports: Northeast Africa Series (New York), 16, 1, 10 1969, p. 7.

Page 684 note 1 Wade, R., ‘The Market for Public Office’, in World Development, 13, 1, 1985, pp. 486505.

Page 684 note 2 Contemporary Somalia is one of four countries in sub-Saharan Africa which, together, receive about 50 per cent of the U.S. aid to the region.

Page 684 note 3 Samatar, A. I., ‘Somali Impasse: state power and dissent politics’, in Third World Quarterly (London), 9, 3, 1987, pp. 871–90, and Abdi Samatar, ‘Merchant Capital, International Livestock Trade, and Pastoral Development in Somalia’, Annual Meeting of the African Studies Association, 28 October–2 November 1986, Madison, Wisconsin.

Page 685 note 1 Source: World Bank, World Development Report, 1986 (London, 1986). p. 220.

Page 685 note 2 According to Ministry of Planning, Somali Development Plans (Mogadishu), 1974–1978 and 1982–1986, the share of foreign contributions to development funds were estimated at around 68 and 80 per cent, respectively, A more debilitating liability is the weight of the total national debt, estimated at hearly $2,000 million, more than the entire annual G.N.P. According to Richard Roda, U.S. A.I.D. Officer, Mogadishu, in a public lecture at the University of Iowa, July 1987, the annual service payment on this debt is around $90 million, greater than all the exports and income repatriation form Somalis working overseas.

Page 687 note 1 Our research in progress strongly suggests that the livestock trade is concentrated in the hands of a few merchants. For example, data for 1980–1986 show that 22 merchants (less than 3 per cent) of the total of 853 accounted for 60 per cent of the livestock exports. Abdi Samatar, ‘Social Structure and the Politics of Livestock Trade in Somalia’, Annual Meeting of the African Studies Association, 19–22 November 1987, Denver, Colorado.

Page 686 note 1 Source: U.S. A.I.D., ‘Country Development Strategy Statmemet for 1987’, Washington, D.C., 1985, pp. iii10.

Page 686 note 2 Somalia Agricultural Sector Survey Task Force, No. 2: livestock, forestry, and range report (Mogadishu, 1985).

Page 687 note 1 Our research in progress strongly suggests that the livestock trade is concentrated in the hands of a few merchants. For example, data for 1980–6 show that 22 merchants (less than 3 per cent) of the total of 853 accounted for 60 per cent of the livestock exports. Abdi Samatar, ‘Social Structure and the Politics of Livestock Trade in Somalia’, Annual Meeting of the African Studies Association, 19–22 November 1987, Denver, Colorado.

Page 688 note 1 Bardhan, Pranab, The Political Economy of Development in India (Oxford, 1984).

Page 689 note 1 Ibid. p. 61.

Page 689 note 2 Ibid. p. 71.

Page 690 note 1 Janvry's, Alain de masterful admonition re such a strategy is elucidated in his tour de force, The Agrarian Question and Reformism in Latin America (Baltimore, 1981).

* Assistant Professor of Geography, University of Iowa City, lowa City and Assistant Professor of Government, St. Lawrence University, Canton, New York. Their research was partially assisted by a grant from the Committee on African Studies of the American Council of Learned Societies and the Social Science Research Council.

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The Material Roots of the Suspended African State: Arguments from Somalia

  • Abdi Samatar and A. I. Samatar


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