Op-Ed: Somaliland’s informal institutions: challenges and opportunities

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According to North, informal institutions such as norms, routines, and political processes are more durable than formal rules. There is no single viewpoint on the genesis of institutions. Similarly, there are numerous explanations for why institutions fail to function efficiently and under what conditions institutional change can occur. Recent research has found a strong link between the quality of Africa’s political institutions and the continent’s poor governance and socioeconomic development. This is not surprising given that institutions, defined as systems of established and prevalent rules and norms that structure social interactions, are fundamental to the organization of human life in all of its dimensions. Institutions shape behavior and foster social order and trust, facilitating collaboration for social and economic progress. Prior to European colonization, Somaliland and other Africa’s political and social life was supported by a variety of institutional systems that reflected the diverse circumstances and political philosophies of the continent’s many socio-cultural groups. Despite flaws, political institutions in traditional African societies were functional and resilient enough to foster peace, social cohesion, and economic development. This was primarily because they were rooted in the indigenous values and social conditions of the respective polities, but it was also because they embodied a shared political philosophy that placed checks and balances on the exercise of political authority. However, the advent of colonialism and the birth of the post-colonial state has resulted in a crisis of institutions in Africa. Most African states now have weak and dysfunctional institutions, which is reflected in Africa’s slow progress toward regional integration and continental unity.

Informal institutions played an admirable role in Somaliland’s peace-building and state-building efforts. The role of informal institutions began prior to 1991, when Somaliland traditional elders and arranged diaspora groups mobilized support and resources for the armed movement that liberate in the north. The Somaliland’s informal institutions took charge of restoring law and order. Respected traditional elders, chiefs, and business people worked together to begin the process of reconciliation. In Somaliland, a half-dozen major clan conferences and a slew of smaller gatherings took place across the country. The role of traditional elders was institutionalized during this grand conference in Borama by the establishment of the House of Elders, known as Guurti, an equivalent to the upper house. In Somaliland, two other informal institutions, business and religious leaders, supplemented by the traditional elders. The businessmen provided financial support, while the religious leaders promoted through spiritual awareness through references to Shari’ah, Islamic law. It should come as no surprise that, while informal institutions aided in the Somaliland’s peace-building and state-building processes. During elections, for example, chiefs and business people control the candidate nomination process at all levels of elections.

Despite the commendable, laudable and praiseworthy role of Somaliland’s informal institutions in contributing to peace and state-building, many people including educators and young people, criticize them. According to critics, informal institutions have become an impediment and obstructer to modern and improved governance and Somaliland state building. Other people who oppose the role of informal institutions argue that their morals and values have deteriorated over time. Those who criticize informal institutions argue that they obstruct necessary reforms in the finance, education, and judiciary sectors, as well as the achievement of inclusive and successful elections and the appointment of civil servants based on merit and professionalism.

It is estimated that youth account for 70% of the population in Somaliland, and a large proportion of the youth have had access to education and graduated from universities, with very different expectations and priorities than their parents’ generation. They have a strong social media presence and serve as a model for modern governance. Concerning the benchmarking for better governance, there is widespread dissatisfaction among the youth with regard to poor leadership at the national and local levels, poor service delivery, and slowed democracy. The role of traditional elders in shortlisting candidates for national and local elections is a second issue related to governance and institutions. Many people believe that elders’ MPs and councilors selection is not based on merit, which has had a direct impact on the achievement of the socioeconomic status of the citizens.


About the author,

Mousse Abdi Mohamoud, MSc. In Development Economics

Email: muuze438@gmail.com


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the Horndiplomat editorial policy.

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