For the eminent political scientist and theorist of international relations Charles Tilly, behind the construction of every great nation lies a great crime, or even many great crimes, although he would also have been the first to agree that Western concepts of nationalism and nation-building simply did not apply to failed states like Somalia. Indeed, it never was a nation in the modern, Western since but a colony up until 1960, and was then ruled by the military dictatorship of Mohamed Siad Barre from 1969 to 1991. It was also a client state of the West during the Cold War before completely collapsing and disintegrating into tribal, ethnic and religious warfare. Like the robber barons and feudal warlords of late medieval Europe, Somalia has seemingly endless feuding, corruption, piracy and plunder, but of course no centralized government or state. Only aid from the international community has kept the population from starving en masse, while there is a constant danger that Al Qaeda and other Islamic extremist groups will establish a base there. After all, they have attempted to do so before, and this is one reason the Western powers and their client states in the region like Ethiopia have attempted to maintain at least some vestige of order in the chaos. Whether Somalia will ever be anything but a failed state is problematic at best, and it would be wildly optimistic and idealistic to predict that it will ever be a ‘real’ nation at all.
According to Tilly, very few developing countries and developing countries have the same type of historical trajectory to nationhood as Britain, France, Germany and the other Western powers, and of course Somalia is not on a trajectory to anywhere. If a nation is defined as having a centralized state with a monopoly on violence and coercion, then Somalia is a highly fragmented society in which clans, warlords, religious extremists and criminals all engage on violent acts without any control by the government. Although governments generally offer many other public goods besides policing and the military, it can hardly be a government at all unless it is able to maintain internal order and defend the country from external enemies. In this respect, Somalia has no government at all worthy of the name. As Tilly points out, all the European nation-builders in the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries started out in highly fragmented or feudal societies, controlled by rival gangs of nobles, barons and aristocrats. At first, they had no intention of creating modern nation-states since no such entities had ever existed in history before that time. All the Bourbon, Hohenzollern, Stuart and Tudor kings sought was capital and a monopoly on military force so suppress all rival warlords. They did not hesitate to use pirates, bandits and mercenaries to achieve their ends, and made little moral or legal distinction between legitimate or illegitimate uses of force. For Tilly, both war making and state building qualify as organized crime or a protection racket, rather than more idealistic exercises in social contracts, liberalism and obtaining the consent of the government. Insofar as those occurred at all, the came after the nations were established by military force.
Somalia has plenty of crime and plunder, to be sure, but no force or leadership that is willing or able to carry out nation building. Tilly notes that this process took decades or even centuries in Western Europe, with the eventual winners employing “subjugation, dividing, conquering, cajoling, buying as the occasions might present themselves.” Someone would have to put a great deal of time, effort and resources into Somalia over many years to create a nation there, and the outcome would be by no means guaranteed. Almost certainly it would have to be a local actor with a significant ethics and tribal base, but then again, it might simply be a mistake to even make the attempt. Siad Barre already made this attempt when he overthrew the elected government in 1969 and was finally overthrown in a bloody coup and civil war in 1991. Tilly also observed that this was commonplace in the developing world and former colonies that had no real history as nations or experience with nation building and state making. They had built up their military machines “through sustained struggles with their own subject populations”, and eventually reached various compromises and accommodations with them. Almost none of the Third World countries had this type of historical experience, and in fact their military machines came readymade, trained and equipped by the Western powers. After decolonization, especially in Cold War hotspots like the Horn of Africa, the Western powers continued to provide support to their client states and ‘friendly dictators’. With the support of the West, military rulers were able to seize power because the armed forces were stronger than virtually any other political, civil or economic institution. Given this highly negative experience in Somalia since the 1960s, Tilly would probably question both the wisdom and the effectiveness of attempting state making again through the support of some other warlord.
Reynn, Anthony S. “Somalia: The Problems of Independence”. Middle East Journal, Vol. 13, No.3, 1960, pp. 247-55.
Tilly, Charles. “War Making and State Formation as Organized Crime” in Peter B Evans et al, Bringing the State Back In. Cambridge University Press, 1985, pp. 169-88.