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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:Visible and Invisible Differences: The Somali Paradox: The Colonial and Post-Colonial Framework for Ethnicity in Africa
Author:Lewis, I.M.
Periodical:Africa: Journal of the International African Institute
Geographic term:Somalia
Subjects:ethnic identity
State collapse
Politics and Government
History and Exploration
Peoples of Africa (Ethnic Groups)
Ethnic and Race Relations
Abstract:In exploring the difficulties experienced by the traditionally politically uncentralized Somalis in establishing a stable and effective State, based on their ethnicity, this article compares ethnicity, nationalism and lineage identity. In this case, ethnicity and nationalism are local products, influenced but not created by the colonial experience. They have had to contend with the intractable force of segmentary lineage identity, which has proved extremely difficult to adapt and accommodate to the requirements of modern statehood. In its cultural context, agnation is all the more pervasive and powerful in constituting an 'invisible' bond, conceived by Somalis as a biologically based distinction like 'race'. Unlike race, it is almost infinitely elastic and divisible. Ethnic identity, which rests on external distinctions such as language, culture and religion, cannot be broken down into a series of formally equivalent segments, but is less binding as a social force. Today, after the collapse of the State of Somalia in 1991, two parts of the nation - the former British Somaliland, and the northeastern region of Somalia ('Puntland') - have developed separate local States. Although Somaliland claims complete independence, which Puntland does not, both polities incorporate parliamentary institutions that accommodate traditional and modern political leaders and processes. The ex-Italian residue, Southern Somalia, still without any form of government, is in what appears to be the final throes of its long-running, fourteenth international 'peace' conference in Kenya. Although its embryonic constitution now recognizes 'clans' as constituent political units, this attempt to re-establish Somalia is based on the usual 'top-down' approach, rather than on spontaneous local negotiations amongst 'stakeholders' on the ground, such as those on which Somaliland and Puntland are founded. Bibliogr., notes, ref., sum. in English and French. [Journal abstract]