Spoilers in Somalia: The self-sustaining chaos and its supporters

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2005

19 Pages, Grade: 1,3



1 Abstract

2 Background: On the Concept of “Spoilers”

3 History and recent developments in Somalia
3.1 General Situation
3.2 The “old” Transitional National Government (“TNG”; 2000-2003/4)
3.3 The „new“ Transitional Federal Government (from October 2004)

4 Spoilers in Somalia: Sustaining the chaos as rational choice
4.1 Greed: The War Economy in Somalia
4.2 Grievance: Why Neighbors want to sustain the Status quo
4.3 Autism of Violence: Violence as a Way of Life
4.4 Creed
4.5 The Somali Spoilers and their Motives: Summary

5 No way out? Dealing with Spoilers

1 Abstract

This paper provides an explanation for the continuous failure of peace processes in Somalia over the last decade, using based on an extended rational choice / public choice approach. Based on the concept of “Spoilers” and their main motives as outlined by Schneckener (2003), it provides a mapping of the main actors in stateless Somalia and analyses their respective motives. As a result, this paper argues that the behavior of the main actors in Somalia is completely rational. The two main motives out of which the actors involved have spoiled peace processes in the past reflect the basic dichotomy that has been discussed in recent literature concerning intra-state wars. The most important reason for spoiling peace processes in Somalia is greed, which applies mostly to local warlords and businessmen as well as to international companies. To a lesser degree also neighboring countries are affected by greed. The second important motive is grievance; which affects mostly neighboring countries as external actors, and - to a lesser degree - “separatist” actors from the northern autonomous regions of Somalia. Two other motives – “creed” and “autism of violence” are not as important, but also play a distinct role for some actors, in the first case foremost for members of local militias, in the latter case for the “separatist” regions. Based on the detailed analysis, this paper provides a summary mapping of the relevant actors according to their predominant motives. It concludes with some strategies on how to deal with the different Spoilers in the Somali context.

2 Background: On the Concept of “Spoilers”

In explaining inter and especially intra-state wars in sub-Saharan Africa[1], ethnic diversity as a result of artificial colonial borders without prior nation building processes (see among others Ayoob 1996, Laremont, 2002) is still used widely as main explanatory variable. However, a direct causality between ethnic diversity and the emergence or absence of (civil) war can not be observed[2]. Thus, scholars have concentrated more on primarily economic explanations recently (see e.g. Collier / Hoeffler 1998, 2001).

This approach can be traced back to “Rational Choice” (RC), which became prominent as an explanation of social action largely through the efforts of James S. Coleman (late 1980s and early 1990s). RC is mainly based on neoclassical economic theory, utilitarian theory and game theory. Actors are perceived to act purposively and intentionally and weight the cost and benefit of their actions. The latter are aimed towards specific ends or goals. Essentially, an actor will choose an action - based on his preferences, values, utilities - that promises that highest net benefit and/or the highest probability of its occurrence (Levi 1990). The RC approach was used to develop “Rational Choice Theory” (RCT) by sociologists and “Public Choice Theory” (PCT) by political scientists (Zey 1998: 1).

Similarly to the RC approach, the basic assumption of PCT is that individuals act as rational egoists who pursue their private interests – also in political life. Hence, political actors act rationally to maximize their utilities. “In one sense, all public choice or economic theory of politics may be summarized as the discovering […] that people should be treated as rational utility maximizers, in all their behavioral capacities.” (Buchanan 1987). PCT assumes that individual (political) actors are guided by self-interest in choosing the course of action to maximize their personal advantages[3].

For explaining intra-state wars, the basic questions evolving from RCT / PCT are who is interested in starting or maintaining violent intra-state conflicts under which conditions and what is the rationale behind it? In other words, what are different actors’ rational motives for starting or maintaining violent conflicts? In recent literature, there has been a “need vs. grievance” dichotomy. Collier / Hoeffler (1998) reach the conclusion that “opportunity”[4] is a more important reason for civil wars than “objective grievance”. However, there has been some significant criticism upon Collier’s / Hoeffler’s model arguing that it concentrates too much on the purely economic / financial “greed” aspect and neglect other possible aspects (see e.g. Ehrke 2004). This paper considers “greed” and “grievance” prominently. It does, however, take into account additional motives for “Spoilers” as proposed by Schneckener (2003) and Zartman (2000).

The term “Spoilers” refers to individuals and/or groups who sabotage a peace process to maximize their economic or political advantages. In other words, they prefer the (violent) status quo over a peace process out of self-interest. What are their motives? In a nutshell, they oppose any peace process completely or at least under the conditions that are being discussed because under a peace accord they might lose power and/or access to resources. In other words, the Spoilers’ ultimate aim is not winning the war (Keen 2000: 39) but maintaining the violent status quo as a good basis for economic activities (Paffenholz 2004: 275). Schneckener (2003) summarizes four possible categories of motives for Spoilers[5].

Need / Grievance

The Spoilers are not satisfied with a peace accord because they feel that their political demands have not been met. They either feel that grievances have not been abolished or they feel that their needs have not been taken into account. In particular, they fear that a peace deal would discriminate against them or completely exclude them from political power and access to resources. As mentioned above, the significance of grievance aspects[6] has been neglected by Collier / Hoeffler. However, other scholars have found evidence for a correlation between level of democratization and the probability of war (see Elbadawi / Sambanis 2000).


The greed argument refers to actors that are profiting economically and politically from the conflict. Some catchwords are extraction of natural resources, plundering, blackmailing, protection money, smuggling and underground economy. In the course of a peace process, these actors could lose part of their economic basis, often linked to a partial loss of control over territory of economic sectors. Thus, these actors can be seen as truly rational cost-benefit maximizers. Collier/Hoeffler attribute high importance to “opportunity” motives[7] which are closely linked to the concept of greed. However, the term “greed” does not only refer to economic self-interest. Enrichment and prebends are also aimed at securing political power. Political and military leaders can thus “buy” fighters, supporters and loyalty. As soon as the access to certain resources ends, their power is endangered. As chapter #3 of this paper finds, greed is the most common motive in Somalia.


The creed argument refers to the collective or individual identity or sometimes the mere existence of the actors involved. This concept is sometimes linked to control over a particular territory or sacred places (e.g. Middle East peace process). This concept is based on debates on the acknowledgement of cultural or ethnic identities, which is often crucial to political solutions.

Autism of violence

Once politically motivated, fighting and warfare has become the “way of life” and an end in itself (Paffenholz 2003: 8). Schneckener argues that this autism of violence is often accompanied by religious or quasi-religious identities, charismatic leaders, and a clear division between “good” and “bad”. Empirically, small and conspirative groups are more vulnerable to the “autism of violence”. Actors under the “autism of violence” concept can usually not be reached by rational arguments, since they do not necessarily analyze the cost-benefit ratio. In addition to Schneckener, however, it has to be noted that still there is some underlying rationale. From a top-down perspective, leaders who are interested in maintaining the status quo, can easily use the autism of violence concept for their purposes. From a bottom-up perspective, members of street gangs, local militias and the like are obviously interested in maintaining the status quo for their economic survival.

3 History and recent developments in Somalia

In Somalia, we currently find different actors are engaged in an environment characterized by civil war, statelessness and chaos. This chapter gives a brief history of recent developments in Somalia and introduces main actors. On this basis, the next chapter will show that all important actors benefit from the status quo.

3.1 General Situation

Somalia has been without a central authority since the ouster of the dictator Siad Barre in 1991. In 1992/93, the American led UN forces in Somalia (UNOSOM) had to face serious challenges mainly posed to them by the resistance and obstruction that came from the so-called “warlords”. This resistance finally cumulated in the killing of 18 US troops in October 1993, which led to the withdrawal of all US/UN troops from Somalia. Since then, Somalia has experienced a decade of inter-clan war that has resulted in the total destruction of infrastructure, educational and health systems of the country. Somalia is being classified as “least developed country” and one of the poorest countries in the world.

In the absence of a national government structure, Somalia is de-facto divided into three entities. In May 1991, northern clans had declared an independent Republic of Somaliland. Though not recognized by any other country, this entity has been relatively stable and peaceful for more than 10 years now[8]. Three regions in north-east Somalia comprise the autonomous state of Puntland, which has been self-governing since 1998. Puntland has also made attempts to establishing a representative government, but it has so far not declared itself independent. In terms of relative peace and stability, Puntland falls in between Somaliland and the insecure central and southern regions of Somalia. The third entity of the country of Somalia is usually referred to as “South-Somalia” or “Southern-Somalia”. It is the most unstable and insecure of the three entities, though the situation has improved recently – even in Mogadishu. Incidents of killings and kidnappings are less frequent now than in the near past, though they still prevail. In spite of these gradual differences between the three parts, the whole country is still suffering from inter-clan war and a general lack of security. International help has so far to a large extent concentrated on humanitarian assistance. During the second half of the 1990s (after all UN troops had left Somalia) countries in the region have tried to act as peace brokers. However, all peace initiatives and efforts have failed (see e.g. Paffenholz 2003: 3ff.).

Since 2000 two new peace processes have been initiated that brought up two transitional governments. While the first one failed completely (see below), the second one seems to have at least some chance of succeeding.

3.2 The “old” Transitional National Government (“TNG”; 2000-2003/4)

A process initiated by Djibouti[9] brought clan-based peace negotiations and finally established the TNG in August 2000. However, the follow-up of the 13th Somali peace conference (held in Arta, Djibouti) can serve as a good example on how internal and external actors can spoil peace processes. The TNG was an attempt to rebuild a political authority in Somalia. However, Arta failed to include some of the most crucial actors. Warlords had not been invited to the conference that also ignored the interests of some regional stakeholders like Ethiopia (Kamudhayi 2004: 109). After the establishment of the TNG, opposition war factions formed the Somali Reconciliation and Restauration Council (SRRC), a process which was initiated and fully supported Ethiopia. Both TNG and SRRC tried to gain new allies, and as a result, fighting even intensified in the post Arta period (ibid.: 116).

All TNG political leaders were linked to a cartel of key Mogadishu businessmen. Moreover, the TNG has never managed to gain sufficient authority and to exercise control over significant parts of the country[10] (Paffenholz 2003: 3; Yifru 2002: 82). Somaliland and Puntland had never participated in the TNG. Accordingly, it can be argued that the main way of exercising at least some “power” was the TNG’s involvement in the Mogadishu business cartel, in other words, membership in the TNG was used to serve economic purposes (see chapter #3).

3.3 The „new“ Transitional Federal Government (from October 2004)

In 2002 the regional “Intergovernmental Organisation on Development” (IGAD) initiated new talks in Kenya[11] building upon the Djibouti process and also including the warlords. The delegates at these talks adopted a roadmap in May 2004 to install an interim parliament and a federal government during the second half of 2004. They accepted the selection of MPs according to a proportional scheme that granted slots for all clans and all warlords. According to this scheme, 275 MPs were selected from the delegates and held presidential elections. Finally, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, the former leader of the semi-autonomous Puntland and member of the Darod clan based in the north-east, was elected president in October 2004[12].

In December 2004, the interim parliament approved the prime minister and his cabinet. The new transitional Federal Government is a fairly representative “mixture” of all important power holders in Somalia, including all major clans and warlords. The size of the cabinet (roughly 45 ministries with 90 ministers or deputy ministers) also shows that during its establishment, the main aim was clearly not to create a cabinet with a potential to function effectively, but to make sure that all important internal actors receive their post. From this angle, it is quite reasonable to assume that in the new government, different actors will rather continue to pursue their own interests. This trend has already emerged when different factions in government started to disagree over the deployment of foreign peacekeeping forces.

Currently (March 2005[13] ), Yusuf, his prime minister and the government are trying to establish ways to return from Nairobi to Mogadishu, which is difficult due to the security situation. Yusuf has called the African Union to send at least 20,000 peacekeeping troops to Southern Somalia to establish a minimum security. However, so far only neighboring countries have offered troops (see chapter #4). This has caused quite some unrest among the members of the transitional federal government, with some important Mogadishu warlords refusing to allow any more troops from neighboring countries on Somali territory and threatening with war.

In a nutshell, it can be seen as a success that the interim parliament elected a president who appointed a prime minister and a government. President and prime minister represent the two most important clans and MPs and Ministers have also been chosen according to a strict proportional scheme. However, as it was argued earlier, president and his prime minister are considered rather weak. The government does not yet have real influence or a power base in Southern Somalia. It is still based in Nairobi and hesitant to return to Mogadishu. In other words, the distribution of power has not changed significantly. The main internal (clan elders, warlords, local businessmen) and external (neighboring countries, international economic community) actors and their interests – see chapter #4 – remain stable.


[1] The arguments presented in this chapter to a lesser degree also apply to other regions. However, due to the fact that in this paper I use Somalia as an example, I will also use explanatory concepts with a focus on sub-Saharan Africa.

[2] For example, two of the ethnically most diverse countries (Tanzania and Burkina Faso) have not seen civil wars; on the other hand, the most prominent example of complete state failure (Somalia) is the only African territorial state that is characterized by ethnic homogeneity. However, ethnicity has often been used to politicize conflicts and thus contributed to their respective intensity (see e.g. Tetzlaff, 1991).

[3] For a more detailed discussion see e.g. Tullock et. al. (2000); Buchanan (1987).

[4] Conceptualized as the incentive of starting a civil war which is big enough when compared to the cost incurred. The expression “opportunity” is coherent with what other scholars call “greed”. Collier / Hoeffler themselves call one of their publications “Greed and Grievance in Civil Wars” (2001).

[5] For a detailed discussion see Schneckener 2003: 4-7.

[6] In their analysis Collier / Hoeffler (2001: 6ff.) use „ethnic or religious hatred, political repression, political exclusion, and economic inequality” as proxies for “objective grievance”.

[7] “Opportunity” is conceptualized as “extortion of natural resources, donations from diasporas, subventions from hostile governments” (2001: 3ff.).

[8] This has been achieved through the efforts of clan elders and leaders (aided by the dominance of one ruling clan).

[9] Commonly referred to as the “Djibouti process”, the “Arta conference” or simply as the 13th Somali peace conference.

[10] In fact, it has only controlled one district in Mogadishu and has had some influence in the smaller towns Marka and Kismayo.

[11] Also known as the 14th Somalia Peace Conference. The duration of the peace negotiations might also serve as an example for a “mutual” spoiling process. As long as negotiations continued in Kenya, all delegates enjoyed an atmosphere that was clearly more enjoyable than the Situation on the ground in Somalia. It has been reported that invitations for the peace conference sold for US $ 100 on the black market (Grosse-Kettler 2004: 12).

[12] This choice is on one hand considered an attempt by some main factions to establish a weak interim president which could be replaced soon. This explains why a candidate from the Darod clan was chosen, who has no power base in Mogadishu. On the other hand, it can be seen as a move to re-integrate Puntland and to avoid further conflict with the semi-autonomous region. After being elected President, Yusuf appointed the new federal government under the widely unknown Mohammad Ali Gadi as prime minister. This can be seen as a strategic step since Gadi is a member of the Hawiye clan which has its power base in Southern Somalia and especially in the capital Mogadishu.

[13] Main sources for the actual news in this paragraph are the BBC News Service Africa and IRIN News, the United Nations News Server.

Excerpt out of 19 pages


Spoilers in Somalia: The self-sustaining chaos and its supporters
University of Potsdam  (Institut für Politikwissenschaft)
Democracy and Good Governance in Developing Countries
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Spoilers, Somalia, Democracy, Good, Governance, Developing, Countries
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Dirk Spilker (Author), 2005, Spoilers in Somalia: The self-sustaining chaos and its supporters, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/46600


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