(Page 2 of 2)
The ICU's legal system tended toward a non-uniform syncretist mix of Shariah and xeer, with the former applying most to family, marriage, inheritance, and strictly civil matters. Some instances of harsh Shariah-like physical punishment are known to have happened in Mogadishu when the ICU dominated the city. But as Hanno Brankamp wrote in a 2013 overview of ICU practice for Think Africa Press, "Contrary to popular assumption and terminological intuition, the Islamic Courts were not able to establish a system under which sharia was systematically, or even exclusively, applied." Indeed, clan law "ensured that the legal force of Islamic law remained limited."
Andre Le Sage, a political scientist at National Defense University, wrote in a 2005 paper that "customary xeer is the most far-reaching of the Somali justice systems, particularly in rural areas that are commonly beyond the reach of formal judicial systems, and is the most effectively enforced." Since these various justice systems have maintained "a modicum of peace and security in various parts of the country," he added, trying "to force one system across all areas would undermine those systems that function locally, and 'rule of law' assistance could in those circumstances create more conflict by undermining the structures that currently underpin local peace and security arrangements."
Those are some of the cultural resources that have helped Somalia's development indicators keep pace with its neighbors'. What has bedeviled the Somalis, from the Cold War to the war on terror, is being treated as a pawn in larger powers' schemes. Intervention has bred intervention: The 2006 Ethiopian invasion to overturn the ICU led to the rise of the Al Qaeda-allied radical Islamist group Al Shabaab, which led in 2009 to a new Kenyan invasion. (The Kenyans, like the Ethiopians, acted with America's active cooperation.) Back in 1992, a State Department official said that the U.S. mission in Somalia was "basically re-creating a country." Having perhaps learned that that's a trick that never works, Washington is now more cynically using Somalia to wage a drone war and to run rendition and torture camps.
As the latest attempt to impose a national government flounders in internecine bickering, the Associated Press reported in November that Somali sources said the U.S. is threatening to cut off aid to the would-be state if the current president and prime minister can't work together effectively. The existing aid package includes "$58 million...in development assistance in this fiscal year and an additional $271 million in military assistance for the Somali national army and the African Union force in Somalia."
A wide range of scholarship and commentary on Somalia, most with no ideological ax to grind, tells an interesting and even somewhat encouraging story—one about a society with an unusual and robust clan-based system of dispute resolution and goods provision that has managed to keep daily life moving along even without a "Somali government." (Even the threat of Somali piracy has practically disappeared compared to its zenith in the early part of this decade.) But for all its very fine-grained details about militias and conferences and battles, Somalia in Transition Since 2006 misses this tale entirely.
The problems with Shay's book, as informative as it is about what it chooses to cover, are the problems with the American and international outlook toward Somalia writ small: Both view bureaucrats and military leaders as paramount, ignoring what life is actually like for the people trying to live, work, co-exist, and even thrive.
Photo Credit: UN