Governing economic hubs and flows in Somali East Africa

Project summary

This research and capacity-building project contributes to a better understanding of key economic and political processes that have shaped state formation in the Somali territories since 1991. The project wants to explain how the daily management of market centers and commodities contributes to state-building in Somaliland, Puntland, the Somali region of´Ethiopia and the Somali parts of Kenya. Thereby the project seeks to contribute to international debates and policy-development about fragile states and post-conflict statebuilding.
Our researchers study 1) how trade and transport operators manage select commodities in situations of weak statehood, 2) how trading and transport of these commodities effect security, revenue and regulation, and 3) how these processes produce different types of authority. We study and compare how Somalis trade and transport different commodities in three transnational economic corridors. Livestock and consumer goods represent the bulk of the commodities sold in these three corridors. The governance of markets and transport hubs is essential for local livelihoods and efforts to stabilize the region from below. The recent history of these three trade routes provides insights into processes of state formation and erosion in the region. We are particularly interested in how the daily governance of trade and transport effects the security, revenue and regulation of local administrations and communities. The project is implemented by a consortium of Danish and East African academic institutions that seek to strengthen qualitative social science research capacities in the Somali territories where higher education and scholarly research crumbled as a result of civil war.

Outputs

  • Project Completion Report: Over a 6 year period a team of researchers from Denmark, Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia studied the political effects of cross-border trading between Somalia and its neighbors. The aim of this research and capacity-building project called Governing Economic Hubs and Flows
    in Somali East Africa (GOVSEA) was to gain a better understanding of how trading and local state formation dynamics interact. Most public revenues in the Somali territories are generated from the formal and informal taxation of commodities such as livestock, electronics, textiles, construction materials etc. Understanding how traders and public authorities organize trading across Somali borders provides important insights into state-building dynamics. GOVSEA researchers carried out a dozen field studies in eastern Ethiopia, Somaliland, Puntland (Somalia) and various locations in Kenya. These studies scrutinized livestock marketing and exports, the trading of electronics, sugar and vegetables, the making of international trade and transport corridors, efforts to expand taxation and tax revenue, the relationship between different types of commodities and state intervention, the governance of specific markets and the functioning of hubs like air and sea ports. While each of these studies produced original findings on local economics and politics, together they allow for a better understanding of state formation in Somali East Africa and beyond. The GOVSEA project revealed that the facilitation and the control of the circulation of goods are key mechanisms of state formation. These mechanisms play out differently across the Somali territories and across the what at times appears as a self-governed Somali economy. Multiple actors are involved in performing authority over commerce through taxation and other forms of regulation. They contribute to state formation in a context of fragmented political authority and contested state presence, thereby gaining authority in the eyes of local populations. Traders and communities who move commodities across borders operate within a constantly evolving triangle of economy-politics-and-security. Our research highlights how the definition of what is (in-)formal or (il-)legitimate is one of the issues that are at stake in struggles over political authority.
    Besides original research, the project contributed to capacity-building of both individuals and partner research institutions. The University of Hargeisa, Somaliland’s biggest university, and a research partner in the project, made important progress in fostering a research culture among its faculty. GOVSEA researchers regularly presented their findings to policymakers and a variety of stakeholders through workshops, blogposts, as well as a short film on livestock trading in Garissa produced by the University of Nairobi, another partner. Bilateral and multilateral aid agencies and the Kenyan press showed interest in our work.
  • Brief popularized abstract
    GOVSEA brought together researchers from Denmark, Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia to study the political effects of cross-border trading between Somalia and its neighbors. We wanted to better understand how trading and local state formation dynamics interact. Our researchers carried out 12 studies in eastern Ethiopia, Somaliland, Puntland, and Kenya. They analyzed livestock markets and exports, the trading of electronics, sugar and vegetables, the creation of new trade and transport corridors, efforts to expand taxation, the governance of markets and
    the functioning of transport hubs like air and sea ports. Our studies reveal that the facilitation and control of the circulation of goods are key mechanisms of state building.
    Because of administrative obstacles, the project had to change two of its partner institutions, which slowed down the data collection. We shared our findings on livestock trading with policy-makers. A study on sugar smuggling was prominently cited in the Kenyan press. International donors are interested in our work on the Berbera corridor. Academically, GOVSEA contributes to interdisciplinary debates on state formation in so-called fragile contexts.
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