The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Former Somalia
by Abdul Ahmed III 
November 07, 2009

My recent articles about the Former Somalia are NOT the cause of the collapse of what use to be Somalia (1960-1991). The articles document and verified that the collapse of the former Somalia is real and irreversible. However, some recent articles on WardheerNews keep propagating a fictional notion that my colleagues and I intend to dissolve “the de-facto partitioned former Somalia”. Some even contend that the study is somehow unfair to the Somali people. In the following paragraphs, I attempt to guide these authors to the reality of the collapse. I intend to hold them accountable for some of their technical mistakes and in the process help clarify number of misconceptions that they may so obsessively hold dear.  

There is a fine line between dogma and lunacy, a line that could be easily crossed by anyone whose objectives are based on creed and not the command of science! Anyone can argue any absurdity in this age of “internet facilitated news/opinion” outlets. One can actually argue that rooster crowning is the reason for the daily rise of the sun, even create a web-site called Here Comes the Sun- (perhaps even embed the Beatles song of the same name). It may look real to some but it certainly is not a scientific argument. In the following sections, I would like to further elaborate the above statements with specific reference to the Articles of M Heebaan and Deka Ismail. In doing so I also would have to acknowledge many eloquent articles such as those by Abdul-Aziz Mohammed. While I may disagree with AbdulAziz Mohamed in one way or another, I thank him and respect his reasoning and professionalism.

1-Authorship and Intellectual Courtesy: Heebaan’s Point Examined

The fact that Dr Britt and I collaborated on some work is not uncommon in academia nor should it be an issue as Heebaan would like to think!. Please note that in most academic and research institutions, faculty/research teams collaborate on various projects, often bringing together faculty members from various departments. In the United States, projects are led by a Principal Investigator(s) and are supported by number of research collaborators.  Any report they produce is coauthored by all those who contributed.  It is not uncommon to see number of authors on a report.

2-Heebaan and Ismail’s Generalities

Generalities are an intellectual ally of the amateur, the non-specialist, someone who knows about a given subject but doesn’t quite specialize in that area/subject!. Generalities include among other things lack of crisp and detailed reasoning such as broad statements that mask depth of knowledge. It is convenient to hide behind broad statements! This is because often vague generalities employ presuppositions that are inevitably wide in scope and elegant in obscuring any plausible logical progression of arguments from a sound premise to a verifiable conclusion. This approach can work quite well for preachers or politicians running for office! It however fails miserably under scrutiny in scholarly circles and intellectual discussions. Broad general statements fail because it is not enough to explain intricacy of any given issue by just floating generic statements (however well meaning they may be).  Such generalities are therefore relegated to discussions such as phenomenological debates. (Not necessarily philosophy but certainly not scientific).

It also is weird and unheard of to see a critique of any published scientific work being solely on the basis on personal believes and/or metaphysical arguments.  In principle a scientific arguments/findings are distinctly different from metaphysical statements that are not verifiable. This has been settled and accepted during the Astro-German debates on philosophy and science. It is therefore irrelevant for me to entertain Heebaan’s  idea of  “positive regionalism” and “negative regionalism”. With the definitions provided by Heebaan, these terms are informative linguistically but they are technically void.  

Similarly Ismail’s long article seems to be elementary by lumping together tales of metaphysics, misleading claims on science and many other outlandish arguments. Most of these claims are indeed insignificant to the dynamics of collapse of what use to be Somalia as I will explain throughout the article.

Another important point is the abuse of technical terms. For Instance, the use of technical terms “Cooperation and Conflict” are well defined in mathematics upon which our study is based. But Conquest and the re-incarnation of Marshal Titto are not scientific. This is indeed a blunder, it is revealing and it represents the essence of Ismail’s article !

An authority, be it an institutional or a knowledgeable person usually refrains from misuse of terms and broad general statements of condemnation in science. But that is the ethics of research, scientific debate and that may not be true for Somali politics which I am not interested to engage here.

Moreover, The reckless use of terminology should be a bigger issue to rectify for Ismail. It is wrong to use terms unconventionally unless the person doesn’t know the term he/she is using (inadvertent fraud). For instance, Ismail calls my data skewed data; the term “Skewed” is statistical term that has a specific use and could be used to only something that you have VISUALLY or ANALYTICALLY confirmed to be deviating from a well defined point. It is NOT just a casual phrase to be used to justify one’s goal at any cost.

3- The Irreversible Collapse

It is illogical to debate the facts on the ground; rejection of facts should not justify the constant attempts of Heebaan and Ismail to identify individual authors as the enemy to contend with. It is redundant for me to reiterate what I said more than once (but  may be redundancy would help here). So I reiterate,  I do NOT have the intention NOR the means to divide the former Somalia. The collapse is somehow complete,The de-facto partition was accomplished by the Somali people! It is the Somali people who destroyed what was once a nation state. Therefore any undue blame and debate about these facts is just a nostalgic!  A fantasy of return to the past! As any nostalgia this is at best impractical because if nothing else “the arrow of time is irreversible”! Please note that It is grace to acknowledge the truth that what was once a Somali nation state  is NO MORE!

4- Trade and Economy in the former Somalia

Empirical data from early 1990s to 2009 shows a continual deterioration of trade and economic relationships between “the South and “Puntland” and “the south and Somaliland”. Most recent data shows that importation of agricultural products that often tied the north to the south is almost negligible to non-existent. (We account for zero shipments from the south to Puntland in 2009). There is also limited trade between “Puntland and Somaliland”, Puntland and with the Somali inhabited areas in Ethiopia.

The idea of a strong economic ties or free trade connecting all areas of the Somali peninsula is unsubstantiated claim. The suggestion that there is more trade in the post collapse era between Puntland and the South or Somaliland and the South may not be the case.  In fact there is NO any RELIABLE comparative data or comparative studies evaluating the pre-collapse level of trade and post collapse economic activity. I dispute Ismail’s fabrications!. Ismail must document the claim that today’s trade is far more robust than pre-collapse era!. This again may be another careless imaginary tale! (A tale to justify anything at any cost).

In fairness, any and all authors have the right to explain their points (however vague), they have every right to conduct studies that contradict any findings. However No author has any right whatsoever to fabricate facts or unfairly insult others just for the sole purpose of advancing their idea, opinions, desires regardless of how beautiful their  ideas may seem to them. !.

Similarly, the entire premise of Heebaan that Ethiopia is a land locked country dependent on the former Somalia is untrue.  Economic activities are determined by mutual dependencies and shared economic interests.  Please note that even when Eritrea was integral part of Ethiopia, the port of Djibouti was available and often used by Ethiopia. I do not have any data that shows economic collapse of Ethiopia because of Eritrea’s independence in 1990s. (for that matter any country in the world).

These arguments about Ethiopia are of course NOT a subject I am most interested in. However since Heebaan continually uses these examples it would be good for him to justify Djibouti’s  direct trade relations with Ethiopia. It is also fair to ask Heebaan to quantify many other implicit claims that accuse Somaliland and Puntland. I am sure the residents of the North would prefer ties with a friendly state than an occupying army of Jihadists (even if they may claim to be ethnic brotherhood of being Somali).

5- Canonical Errors : Ismail’s  Claims

It is hardly the hallmark of a learned person to throw sweeping statement condemning a research to be unscientific! It is NOT common to see a prudent individual announcing flawed judgment about origins of scientific concepts particularly if one doesn’t know those concepts or their historical development well enough. Such injudicious statements are almost always a reflection of the person that makes them. It takes credentials and scholarly authority to refute any findings. But it takes even more than that (more than one person more than few scholars) to condemn any work as non-scientific. It is very uncommon that a published work is so casually indicted to be unscientific; For it goes through panels prior to its publication. Any critic would know better or publish works that contradict the work they intend to critique.

Similarly, the unqualified questioning of social dynamics and irreversibility is surprising. One could ask about certain parameters and factors but cannot casually question well known scientific concepts. The study of irreversibility has started in mid 19th century. There is an ample literature that shows the use of these concepts in economics, physics, social science, evolutionary biology and anthropology. For instance Hadamard studied sensitivity of initial conditions, Comte suggested the idea of social physics as early as 1820s.  Even the use of irreversibility in environment is related to sociology and social dynamics in a socio-ecological system. It is social dynamics that affects the environment, be it carbon emissions or desertification, or fisheries were the concept of collapse and irreversibility are more intuitive. Ismael must acknowledge that Irreversibility is NOT invented by the writer R Carson.! – Did Carson popularize it for the general public? may be for the non scientist ! But in that case Ismail shouldn’t make such historically inaccurate statements.

There is also a large contemporary scientific work dealing with irreversibility in social sciences. These include social and historical dynamics by Edgar Zilser in 1930s, the present-day rigorous work on of historical dynamics by Turchin. The earlier work on Economics by Veblen and various works in Anthropology by many researchers including Oschinsky. Modern studies in finance and uncertainty conducted by many researchers including Ben Bernanke. Social interaction and Game theory by Thomas Schelling, studies on neighborhood dynamics by Jiang and technological marketing by Arthur.

Contrary to the misleading assertions of Ismail, the idea of irreversibility appears almost in every aspect of life from physical science, social science, governance, commerce and technology and more. It has helped companies and governments realize the affects of their policies. Therefore the validity of our study in using concepts related to irreversible process would be the least to worry about for Ismail.  (I wouldn’t solicit Ismael’s advice). Nonetheless, as a consequence of the incorrect assertions about the applicability of  concept of irreversible processes, Ismail must now climb higher peaks! Ismail must revoke at least couple of Nobel Prizes that directly or indirectly used irreversibility concept in dealing with social dynamics in economics and geo-politics.  If not then, Ismael must note that Science is NOT a statement of belief, it is methodical NOT casual It is procedural and follows a well prescribed conventions

6- On Ideas, Political Opinions and Political Organization

One of the  arguments of Ismail was why does Europe want to unite now when as late as 50-years back the Europeans fought bitter wars? The logical response to that question is that United Europe doesn’t reverse any preceding state of affairs! Europeans have gradually evolved politically and economically without “central command” as Heebaan and Ismael would love to force on Somali people. They have evolved through decentralized natural evolution to a common interest!

Moreover Ideas and thought on how to govern exhibit irreversibility traits. This is contrary to Ismail’s claims that ideas are not physical entities that cannot be subject to evolutionary concepts. In fact ideas evolve spread and change; evolution of some ideas and public opinions such as (regionalism in the former Somalia) get to a point where it becomes the dominant public opinion and perhaps a policy that becomes irreversible! Such policies may simply emanate from individual clan affinity and perhaps even an unconscious deeply held clan trait (regardless of whether it seems logical or fair to others). No one can make Northern Somali States fall in love with a centralized regime based in Mogadishu!. I recommend an extensive literature review on evolution and spread of ideas – Ismail would be amazed to discover that ideas behave much like fashions and fads – amusing but true!

7- Somaliland: A Shining Star

While I do not support or oppose Somaliland’s secession, I must admit that Somaliland is a shining star of hope in the Somali peninsula and an example of a good locally driven democratic system for all Africa. They have started from scratch and built on the goodwill of the local communities, the traditional clan leaders. They have perfected the art of negotiations and settling of differences.  This is particularly important because while there may be political differences between the parties and the leaders (may be even some clans), yet there is stable political, social order and fairly well established liberties for all the residents of Somaliland including those who may and may not agree with the State and/or the government. Ismail’s suggestion that some protestors waved the flag of the Former Somalia is just an evidence that in Somaliland people are free to protest. (We burn Flags in the US !). Somaliland’s system is an exemplary democratic system that must be an aspiration for all those who care for the Former Somalia.

While Ismail’s implicit message that some clans may choose to remove themselves from Somaliland is a plausible. Yet such desires do NOT necessarily restore the former Somalia nor do they change the de-facto end of what use to be Somalia. Ismail’s point however supports my conclusions that clan self-segregation is central to Somali political organization and can only be dealt with through clan based consultation such as the Guurti system of Somaliland.

8 - Puntland’s Experiment

With very limited resources and under the burden of large number of people ousted from Mogadishu. Puntland has organized itself as a regional government in early 1990s. However after failed attempts to restore what use to be Somalia, Puntland has become what is now known as the Puntland State of Somalia. Unlike the south Puntland convened a regional conference to bring together diverse clans to endorse socially acceptable governing structure.  Their efforts did take root and do bear fruit for its residents. It is also not unlikely that Puntland may someday declare a complete independence.

While the South competes for the next ruler and who controls what location, the people of Puntland solved age old problems using the mechanism of clan negotiation and bottom-up peace building. I just don’t know why would any one be not cheerful for this fine ethnically Somali state.

Peace and prosperity in Somaliland and Puntland did not come about by just empty patriotic claims or zealous cries. It was achieved by hard work and good will by its people. (Wishing these states ill will not restore the former Somalia).

9- The Dervishes Of Sool and Sanag

My studies on Somali peninsula have introduced me to the sharp minded, fiercely independent Dervishes of the North. The Dervish controlled Northern Somalia (including the Warsengeli Kingdoms) was hated by the colonial rulers and neglected by successive Somali governments, as a result the region is one of the least developed in what use to be Somalia.

Due to the desires of some local political leaders, parts of the region happen to align themselves with either Puntland or Somaliland often without clearly demarcated zones. In sharp contrast to Ismail’s claims, the political issues in these regions have more to do with internal local preferences rather than a dispute between Puntalnd and Somaliland. I cannot substantiate Ismail and Heebaan’s argument that this region is a disputed land!. It is NOT!  There are no armies (from Puntland or Somaliland) facing each other! as some would like you to believe!

Sool and Sanaag are controlled by the local people, regardless of how they may politically identify themselves. The region seems to be as fiercely independent as it was always and will likely remain so until the local people decide to be part of Somaliland, Puntland or perhaps an independent territory. Again this will have to come through clan negotiations. More interestingly however, the region is very peaceful and orderly; life in the region is as good as or better than any peaceful area this in spite of the long history of neglect.

I am amazed and bewildered that those who claim to be Pan-Somali patriots would wish these regions ill by imagining an endless war between Somaliland and Puntland, out of love for Dervishes? or just something indescribable?. Why claim patriotism and yet call for more wars in peaceful regions?

10- On the Collapse and Today’s South

As Abdul-Aziz Mohamed so eloquently put it in his article, the South or Mogadishu was the center of economic activity in the former Somali Democratic Republic (SDR). The Somali capital represented a disproportionate wealth, signifying regional economic disparity in the former SDR. This however can not be the justification for continued war in the South. Contrary to the claims of Abdul-Aziz Mohamed, the South’s riches should have been a reason for stability; A reason for initiating negotiations and possible nation-wide peace process. Controlling the national wealth should have been the rationale for attracting clans and NOT a reason to wage wars against others.  (The only explanation is some kind of Ibn-Khladouns Assabiya and pure Somali clan affinity!)

Abdul-Aziz Mohamed also condemns the idea of decentralization as a problem of Mini States with many mini problems! The fact that there are many local  problems is exactly why the decentralized governance is preferred over centralized rule. It allows the locals to devise their own solutions to their problems/concerns. The decentralized approach is far more efficient than a centralized system.

As for the South, it may not be late for the South to organize itself as a state of its own and negotiate with Puntland and Somaliland (perhaps even the occupied Somali Territories and Djbouti) on the future of the Somali Peninsula. That is up to the Somali people’s will! A will that of course will have to emerge through robust clan negotiation of some sort!.

While such attempts are unlikely to restore anything closer to what use to be Somalia, yet such decentralized efforts are perhaps the most feasible route to some NEW form of Pan Somali Union in the long run. Except that the long run may mean a time span of a generation or two or even more.

11- The Pan Somali Government known as TFG

As I stated in earlier articles, the Somali clan system is the basis upon which power is shared by the Somali people everywhere and every time regardless of the claims of the modernists and enthusiasts. For Instance, the Transitional Federal Government uses the very clan based power sharing formula known as 4.5. However as I mentioned in my earlier articles the 4.5 power sharing scheme used by the TFG is a flawed system that provides a political space to Warlords and unelected officials. It is a scheme meant to distributed power amongst the Somali clans through clan representatives that distorts the traditional Somali clan system by replacing the authority of clan leaders (Imams, Sultans etc) with clan politicians. This is in sharp contrast to the Puntland system that minimizes the political space for clan politicians and empowers the traditional authorities (Issims, Sultans, Garads).

In either case, the Clan System is and always will be central to the social and political life of the Somali people. Ignoring and/or complaining about the Somali Clan System will NOT restore what was once a nation state.

It is amazingly insincere on the part of enthusiast pan-Somali advocates to support the TFG unreservedly with its flawed 4.5-scheme and yet be harsh critics of Somaliland and Puntland for establishing authority through clan negotiation that produced a socially acceptable system of governance. I wonder why blame these states for managing their affairs? Wouldn’t it be fair and wise to let these northern states administer themselves as they see fit.?


As I said number of times, it is up to Somali people to organize themselves as they see fit in their region. It must however be acknowledged that

  1. There seems to be NO effort by the Somali people (Somaliland, Puntland and the South) towards a strong centralized Somali State. Clan System remains central to all political and social organization in the former Somalia. This includes the attempts by some to use clan based 4.5 power sharing mechanism recently adopted by the fading/failing Transitional Federal Government.

  2. Somaliland and Puntland are physical realities. Their claims are genuine and popular in their territories. (Particularly Somaliland has a very bitter history with the South). Condemning these states will not restore Somali Union, It may be sensible for the enthusiasts and Pan Somali advocates to foster a climate of good-will and negotiation rather then outright denunciation.

  3. While I DO NOT recommend ANY policy/efforts to restore strong central authority, I CANNOT and do not blame any enthusiast who may do so.

  4. I however recommend to all Somali people to respect the desires of the locals wherever they may be and allow them to fashion their own governing authorities without judging them or blaming them for organizing and administering themselves.

  5. I believe that it is far more likely and far more feasible to help facilitate some kind of socially sanctioned Union of Somali people than recreate a common centralized governing structure.

Finally, whatever prevails in the former Somalia in the years to come, whether it is peace or war, disparity in regional development or complete and equal destruction, a union of states  or permanent partition,  it will have to be something that originates from the Somali people.  The Somali people; wherever they may be in the new states that emerged from the collapse or elsewhere in the world.  No solution should be expected through the cries of the Pan Somali enthusiasts, the cowardice of warlords or far away arm-chair intellectual that dream about single monolithic Central Somali Nation-State.

Abdul Ahmed III

Contributor to The Horn of Africa Policy Institute


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