Alex de Waal*
The international community analyzed the crisis in Somalia in light of its own interests rather than the reality of the country. After having failed to work out a true reconciliation government between 2002 and 2004, western countries went about keeping alive a government that had no real legitimacy, but backed by Ethiopia and Kenya. The emergence of the Islamic Courts in June 2006 reshuffled the cards. More than the radicalization of the Islamic Courts, two arguments finally determined Somalia’s fate and the rekindling of war there. Ethiopia couldn’t stand to see an autonomous power friendly to Eritrea appear on its southern flank. And the United States wanted to signal the absolute predominance of its fight against terrorism over any other consideration. Such a posture provided the opportunity to try out a new security doctrine giving the Pentagon ascendancy over the pursuit of alleged terrorists, co-opting new regional powers on the African continent in the process, given that most of its European allies once again proved particularly limp in the face of yet another militarist drift on the part of Washington. Incapable of occupying the political space, the transitional Somalian government encouraged radicalization. The specter of an Iraq-style conflict in Africa began to loom with Ethiopia’s shaky victory in January 2007.
The peace agreements that were signed in May 2004 may imply the end of the war in South Sudan. In order to assess the likelihood of success, one has to discuss the changes after the Islamists were brought to power in 1989 by a military coup. Of special interest are the impacts of their internal divisions, the emergence of oil money as significant revenues for the State and the consequences of 9/11 in the Middle East. Moreover, difficulties to implement the agreements in South Sudan should not be underplayed. The underdevelopment of this region, the existence of militias still supported by Khartoum and the history of the civil war among Southern Sudanese could give room to bitter divisions and proxy wars involving Khartoum’s government. The current crisis in Darfur reflects the weaknesses of the peace process despite a strong international involvement. Structural issues such as citizenship have not been addressed and this very crisis shows how little the regime intends to reform itself.
The emergence of political movements, which have recently taken the centre stage in Eastern Europe and Sub-Saharian Africa, has raised once again the question of the preconditions for, and the forms of, political change. In particular it draws attention to the relationship between lasting phenomena -those which, at least in certain respects, indicate social continuity - and phenomena which fundamentally disturb the social order bringing in their wake immediate change. One two-fold interpretation of these developments has been particularly persuasive. On the one hand, as far as Europe is concerned, it is suggested that there has been a "return to a previously flouted identity" or "refinding of the past". As for Africa, these changes are described in terms of "tribalism" or "clanish reactions". Unfortunately such an interpretation does not help us to fully understand the interactions between long-lasting and short-lived phenomena. The paper proposes several ways to go beyond this dichotomy and to avoid over or underestimating phenomena of one kind to the detriment of those of the other. It suggests that the cultural impregnation of political systems, practices and representations can be analytically reconstructed within the concept of "political culture". This concept both embraces the idea of dynamism (giving impetus to political innovation) while taking into account the complexity of the means of transmission (assuring continuity). Arguing from the assumption that continuity feeds innovation, this paper examines three types of duality: the dialectic between external and internal dynamics; the emotional/rational dichotomy and the opposition between tradition and innovation. All of these must be observed both within the "official" political arena as well as in contexts that, while ostensibly non-political, can be "invested" by political thought and action.