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The misconceptions of state failure in contemporary African state: a case of Somalia.

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Contemporary African states make up a substantial number of states that are regarded to be failing. Somalia is moreover considered as the epitome of a failed state; it has been regarded as a collapsed state since 1991. In this view, an important characteristic of a state is its possession of “the monopoly of the legitimate use of force” (Weber 1919:1) in its territory/jurisdiction. States institutions have to be robust to control and provide security to its citizenry. When these state institutions are not robust enough and thus cannot perform their mandated tasks; the society will depreciate into anarchy owing to the lack of order meant to be provided by the state. Expectedly, with a lack of a central government, Somali society was seen to be in turmoil and in a state of anarchy. Contrary to this claim, Somalia has developed effective mechanisms embedded in their local settings to offer services that would ideally be regarded as government’s responsibilities. The provision of education, health services, security and general maintenance of order is assured by interested business men and elders whose authority is reinforced by the governed society. State failure theory does not however allow for this reality since it equates the absence of a central government to disorder in the society. This is owing to its account of a state that is devoid of a society. To remedy this misconception, I propose Migdal’s (1994) state in society approach. In this approach, the state is one of the many organizations of the society. There exists between society and the state continuous engagements which yield struggles or accommodations that are mutually transforming. Seen in this light, Somalia is not a failed state. The condition simply reveals the struggles, accommodations and general interactions between the state and the different Somali social forces.


M. A. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg 2015.


Failed states--Somalia., Somalia--Politics and government--1960-, Theses -- Political science.