Skip to main content

Elder, Claire. “Somaliland’s authoritarian turn: oligarchic–corporate power and the political economy of de facto states.” International Affairs 97, no. 6 (2021): 1749-1765.


Somaliland’s endurance as Africa’s longest de facto state has for decades preoccupied scholarship on state formation and democratization. The prevailing democratic success narrative has, however, downplayed the complex internal political dynamics and crises that have characterized Somaliland’s independence since 1991. Relying on a number of robust resources, including 110 interviews and archival work conducted in Somaliland from 2015 until 2021, this article examines at close range Somaliland’s political economy and provides a more cautious assessment of Somaliland’s democratization trajectory. It argues that the political authority of cross-border oligarchic–corporate structures and the securitization of aid created an ‘oligopolistic state’ and ‘peaceocracy’ rather than a national, democratic government. This analysis highlights how de facto states struggle to balance political control and financial hardship generating creative and uneven governance structures. This study also raises important questions about how donors in the Gulf and in Asia provide new opportunities for recognition through Islamic finance and business that may affect de facto states’ commitments to democratization. Finally, it contributes to theorizing about the ideologies of privatized governance that emerge in peripheral and developing economies and the political consequences of perennial non-recognition.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.