To send content items to your account,
please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies.
If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account.
Find out more about sending content to .
To send content items to your Kindle, first ensure firstname.lastname@example.org
is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings
on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part
of your Kindle email address below.
Find out more about sending to your Kindle.
Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations.
‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi.
‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
Somalia’s years of postcolonial independence are marked by disputes over how to build a stable, modern, and functioning legal system – and what to do with shari‘a. From the start of the transition to independence in 1950 until the disintegration of the Somali state in 1991, state actors adopted an instrumental view of state law and shari‘a.
The president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, has called the rule of law the glue that binds state and society together. But this glue erodes easily. As the previous chapters have shown, practices and institutions associated with the rule of law are as broken, inconsistent, and discordant as the Horn of Africa’s many Islamic states and their colonial, authoritarian, and democratic architects have been. Throughout the Horn of Africa’s history, political elites – colonial administrators, democratically elected officials, authoritarian rulers, aqils, sultans, sheikhs, international lawyers, and foreign aid workers – have sought to resolve people’s disputes, write constitutions, draft laws, construct law schools, build prisons, and reform courts.
In 2013, I traveled to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to meet a senior government minister from Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG). He had recently left Mogadishu and I asked him to reflect on his years working to rebuild Somalia’s government, his successes and failures, the country’s legal development, and what the Islamic Courts Union and a series of failed international humanitarian interventions had left behind. He spoke about his country’s legacies of colonialism, violence, democracy, and authoritarian rule; his political strategies; and his struggle to survive attacks from militants who claimed shari‘a as their inspiration.
For centuries men have dominated Somali families, states, and the law, serving as the aqils, the sultans, and the leaders of the colonial and state governments, militant groups, clans, elders’ councils, and religious orders described in the previous chapters. Taking up and using the same religious and legal tools as those men, women activists struggling for rights have sowed a different understanding of shari‘a that they hope, inshallah, Somalis will follow. Certainly some women have been involved in co-opting law and religion to reinforce patriarchy or militancy – as informants, foot soldiers, or security agents.
On a cool afternoon in Hargeisa, I met with a prominent sheikh. As we shared a pot of tea while sitting cross-legged together on a large rug in his office, I mentioned I had come to see him for a book I was hoping to write about law in Somalia and Somaliland. He nodded, raised a corner of his lips into half a smile, and began by discussing his grandfather. The sheikh called his grandfather “the most prominent sheikh in [colonial] Somaliland … famous and very rich.” He had sired more than seventy sons and daughters from many wives, I was told.
In postcolonial Muslim-majority contexts, particularly in areas struggling with political violence, achieving the ideal of the rule of law is straightforward neither in theory nor in practice. Plural and overlapping legal orders – derived from Islamic principles, from the traditions of indigenous communities, and from the laws and institutions imported by colonial administrators or foreign aid workers and managed by postcolonial state leaders – shape how citizens come to understand different values associated with legal order. In these states, common ideals and shared visions of what law is and how it should work are scarce. Litigants may shop around among different legal systems (each one derived from an amalgam of traditions) for a desired outcome of their disputes, as they are pulled in one direction or another by family members, religious and community leaders, and lawyers.
This chapter investigates the endurance of shari‘a in Somaliland. Somaliland declared independence in May 1991, as Somalia was disintegrating, by reasserting the sovereignty it had for five days (June 26–30) in 1960, prior to unifying with the former Italian Somalia. Between 1991 and 2021, the self-declared state of Somaliland made strides to build peace and promote principles associated with the rule of law. Following a series of elders’ summits, Somaliland outlawed Siad Barre’s national security courts, held contested elections, developed a government of limited powers alongside a new currency and economic development programs, and adopted a constitution rooted in Islamic and international human rights principles.