Skip to main content Accessibility help

Mimesis and Mimicry in Dynamics of State and Identity Formation in Northern Somalia

  • Markus V. Hoehne

In this article, mimesis and mimicry are used as analytical concepts to explore dynamics of state and identity formation in Somaliland and Puntland since the early 1990s. Mimesis captures endeavours to imitate well-established models of social and political organization. Mimicry involves the deceptive imitation of such models in order to reach a certain aim. In the particular setting of northern Somalia, miming and mimicking in state and identity formation are also related to conflict escalation. The article first presents relevant political and legal positions on state collapse and secession. This helps to grasp the theoretical and policy implications of the empirical material. Then, the establishment of Somaliland and Puntland through mimesis and mimicry is sketched. The outline of the repeated military confrontations between both sides, particularly the last round of fighting in and around the town of Laascaanood in late 2007, indicates the relation of state and identity formation to military conflict. These localized dynamics are embedded into the continuing conflict in southern Somalia that involves a number of internal and external actors. The article concludes that miming and mimicking underlie many of Somaliland's and Puntland's internal developments and their conflictive relationship. Moreover, since the conflict in northern Somalia concerns state formation, it might have far-reaching consequences for the future of Somalia as a whole. This finally leads to the suggestion that the international norms regarding state collapse and secession have to be re-evaluated in the light of the empirical realities at hand.

Dans cet article, le mimétisme et l'imitation sont utilisés comme concepts analytiques pour explorer la dynamique de l’État et la formation identitaire dans le Somaliland et le Puntland depuis le début des années 1990. Le mimétisme traduit les tentatives d'imiter des modèles bien établis d'organisation sociale et politique. L'imitation désigne l'imitation trompeuse de tels modèles dans un but précis. Dans le contexte particulier du Nord de la Somalie, le mimétisme et l'imitation dans la formation de l’État et de l'identité sont également liés à l'escalade des conflits. L'article commence par présenter les positions politiques et juridiques pertinentes sur l'effondrement de l’État et la sécession. Ce faisant, il aide à saisir les implications théoriques et politiques du matériel empirique. Il décrit ensuite l’établissement du Somaliland et du Puntland par le biais du mimétisme et de l'imitation. L'exposé des confrontations militaires répétées entre les deux bords, notamment la dernière vague de combats dans la ville de Laascaanood et ses environs fin 2007, montre le lien entre la formation de l’État et de l'identité et le conflit militaire. Ces dynamiques localisées se fondent dans le conflit qui persiste dans le Sud de la Somalie et implique un certain nombre d'acteurs internes et externes. L'article conclut que le mimétisme et l'imitation sont à la base d'un grand nombre d’événements internes au Somaliland et au Puntland et de leur relation conflictuelle. De plus, parce que le conflit du Nord de la Somalie concerne la formation de l’État, il peut avoir des conséquences considérables pour le futur de la Somalie dans son ensemble. L'article finit en suggérant qu'il conviendrait de réévaluer les normes internationales en matière d'effondrement d’État et de sécession, à la lumière des réalités empiriques disponibles.

Hide All
Jimale, Abdi Hassan (1998) Dhacadooyinka Maddeganayaasha Geeska Afrika (Soomaaliya). Norresundby: Horn of Africa Books.
Adam, H. M. (1994) ‘Formation and recognition of new states: Somaliland in contrast to Eritrea’, Review of African Political Economy 21 (59): 2138.
Africa Watch (1990) Somalia: a government at war with its own people. New York NY: Africa Watch Committee.
Amnesty International (2008) Routinely Targeted: attacks on civilians in Somalia. 1162a792-186e-11dd-92b4-6b0c2ef9d02f/afr520062008eng.pdf , accessed August 2008.
Anderson, B. (1983) Imagined Communities: reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. London: Verso.
Bahcheli, T., Bartmann, B. and Srebrnik, S. (eds) (2004) De Facto States: the quest for sovereignty. London and New York NY: Routledge.
Barnes, C. and Hassan, Haruun (2007) ‘The rise and fall of Mogadishu's Islamic courts’. Chatham House, cations/papers/view/-/id/458/, accessed April 2007.
Barrett, S. C. H. (1987) ‘Mimicry in plants’, Scientific American 255 (9): 7683.
Barth, F. (1996) ‘Introduction’ in Barth, F. (ed.), Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: the social organization of culture difference. London: George Allen and Unwin.
Battera, F. (1998) ‘Remarks on the 1998 charter of the Puntland State of Somalia’, Working Paper, United Nations Development Office for Somalia (UNDOS).
‘Bo'ame Declaration of Dhulbahante clan elders’ (2007) Garooweonline, , accessed 24 November 2007.
Bowen, J. R. (1996) ‘The myth of global ethnic conflict’, Journal of Democracy 7 (4): 314.
Bradbury, M. (2008) Becoming Somaliland. Oxford: James Currey.
Bryden, M. (1996) ‘Somaliland at the cross-roads: situation report and update on the situation in Somaliland’. bryden.html, accessed 30 March 2008.
Bryden, M. (1999) ‘New hope for Somalia? The building block approach’, Review of African Political Economy 26 (79): 134–40.
Bryden, M. (2004) ‘Somalia and Somaliland: envisioning a dialogue on the question of Somali unity’, African Security Review 13 (2): 2333.
Charter of the State of Puntland (1998) Unofficial translation. Nairobi: UNDOS Information Unit.
Clapham, C. (2001) ‘Rethinking African states’, African Security Review 10 (3): unpaginated.
Crawford, J. (2007) The Creation of States in International Law, second edition. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
DiMaggio, P. J. and Powell, W. W. (1983) ‘The iron cage revisited: institutional isomorphism and collective rationality in organizational fields’, American Sociological Review 48: 147–60.
Doornbos, M. (2000) ‘When is a state a state? Exploring Puntland’ in Konings, P., Binsbergen, W. van and Hesseling, G. (eds), Trajectoires de libération en Afrique contemporaire. Paris: Karthala.
Doornbos, M. (2006) Global Forces and State Restructuring: dynamics of state formation and collapse. New York NY: Palgrave.
Encyclopædia Britannica (2008) ‘Mimesis’. London and Chicago IL: Encyclopædia Britannica.
Encyclopædia Britannica (2008) ‘Mimicry’. London and Chicago IL: Encyclopædia Britannica.
Esman, M. J. (1990) ‘Political and psychological factors in ethnic conflict’ in Montville, J. V. (ed.), Conflict and Peacemaking in Multiethnic Societies. Lexington MA: Lexington Books.
Farah, A. Y. (2001) ‘Somalia: modern history and the end of the 1990s’ in WSP (War-Torn Societies Project) (ed.), Rebuilding Somalia: issues and possibilities for Puntland. London: HAAN.
Farah, A. Y. (2004) ‘Troubled transition in Puntland State of Somalia (PSS) 1998 — 2001’. Unpublished paper. Nairobi: UNDP resource centre.
Farah, A. Y. and Lewis, I. M. (1997) ‘Making peace in Somaliland’, Cahiers d'études africaines 37 (146): 349–77.
Ferguson, J. G. (2002) ‘Of mimicry and membership: Africans in the “new world society”’, Cultural Anthropology 17 (4): 551–69.
Ferguson, R. B. (2003) ‘Introduction: violent conflict and control of the state’ in Ferguson, R. B. (ed.), The State, Identity and Violence: political disintegration in the post-Cold War world. London and New York NY: Routledge.
Gebauer, G. and Wulf, C. (1992) Mimesis: Kultur, Kunst, Gesellschaft. Reinbek: Rowohlt. (English edition) Mimesis: culture, art, society. Berkeley CA: University of California Press.
Gilkes, P. (1993) Two Wasted Years: the Republic of Somaliland 1991–1993. London: Save the Children Fund.
Görlich, J. (1999) ‘The transformation of violence in the colonial encounter: intercultural discourses and practices in Papua New Guinea’, Ethnology 38 (2): 151–62.
Gundel, J. (2006) The Predicament of the ‘Oday’: the role of traditional structures in security, rights, law and development in Somalia. Nairobi: Oxfam/Novib and Danish Refugee Council.
Hagmann, T. and Hoehne, M. V. (2009) ‘Failures of the state failure debate: evidence from the Somali territories’, Journal of International Development 21 (1): 4257.
Hagmann, T. and Mulugeta, A. (2008) ‘Pastoral conflicts and state-building in the Ethiopian lowlands’, Africa Spectrum 43 (1): 1937.
Hansen, S. J. and Bradbury, M. (2007) ‘Somaliland: a new democracy in the Horn of Africa?’, Review of African Political Economy 34 (113): 461–76.
Herbst, J. (1990) ‘War and the state in Africa’, International Security 14 (4): 117–39.
Hoehne, M. V. (2006) ‘Political identity, emerging state structures and conflict in northern Somalia’, Journal of Modern African Studies 44 (3): 397414.
Hoehne, M. V. (2007) ‘From pastoral to state politics: traditional authorities in northern Somalia’ in Buur, L. and Kyed, H. M. (eds), State Recognition and Democratisation in Sub-Saharan Africa: a new dawn for traditional authorities? New York NY: Palgrave.
Hoehne, M. V. (2008) ‘Newspapers in Hargeysa: freedom of speech in post-conflict Somaliland’, Africa Spectrum 43 (1): 91114.
Horstmann, A. and Wadley, R. L. (2006) ‘Introduction: centering the margin in Southeast Asia’ in Horstmann, A. and Wadley, R. L. (eds), Centering the Margin: agency and narrative in Southeast Asian borderlands. New York NY and Oxford: Berghahn.
Huggan, G. (1997/1998) ‘(Post)colonialism, anthropology, and the magic of mimesis’, Cultural Critique 38: 91106.
Human Rights Watch (2007). Shell-Shocked: civilians under siege in Mogadishu. New York NY: Human Rights Watch.
Jenkins, R. (1996) Social Identity. London: Routledge.
Koskenmäki, R. (2004) ‘Legal implications resulting from state failure in light of the case of Somalia’, Nordic Journal of International Law 73: 136.
Langford, T. (1999) ‘Things fall apart: state failure and the politics of intervention’, International Studies Review 1 (1): 5979.
Lewis, I. M. (1961) A Pastoral Democracy: a study of pastoralism and politics among the northern Somali of the Horn of Africa. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Lewis, I. M. (2002) A Modern History of the Somali. Oxford: James Currey.
Lewis, I. M. (2004) ‘Visible and invisible differences: the Somali paradox’, Africa 74 (4): 489515.
Liban, A. (2005) A Map of Confusion: Somaliland, Puntland and people of Sool region in Somalia. Manchester: Hilin Publishing.
Luling, V. (2006) ‘Genealogy as theory, genealogy as tool: aspects of Somali “clanship”’, Social Identities 12 (4): 471–85.
Marchal, R. (2007a) ‘Somalia: a new front against terrorism’. SSRC, Crisis in the Horn of Africa,, accessed 5 February 2007.
Lewis, I. M. (2007b) ‘Warlordism and terrorism: how to obscure an already confusing crisis? The case of Somalia’, International Affairs 83 (6): 1091–106.
Menkhaus, K. (2007a) ‘Local security systems in Somali East Africa’ in Andersen, L., Moller, B. and Stepputat, F. (eds), Fragile States and Insecure People? Violence, security and statehood in the twenty-first century. New York NY: Palgrave.
Menkhaus, K. (2007b) ‘The crisis in Somalia: tragedy in five acts’, African Affairs 106 (204): 357–90.
‘Mudaharaado ka dhacay magalooyinka waaweyn ee Somaliland’ (2008) Hiiraan Online., accessed 18 January 2008.
Nielsen, M. (2007) ‘Filling in the blanks: the potency of fragmented imaginaries of the state’, Review of African Political Economy 34 (144): 695708.
Niemann, M. (2007) ‘War making and state making in Central Africa’, Africa Today 53 (3): 2139.
Pasteur, G. (1982) ‘A classificatory review of mimicry systems’, Annual Review of Ecological Systems 13: 169–99.
Pegg, S. (1998) International Society and the De Facto State. Ashgate: Aldershot.
Phillips, J. (1997) ‘Punt and Aksum: Egypt and the Horn of Africa’, Journal of African History 38 (3): 423–57.
Prunier, G. (1990/1991) ‘A candid view of the Somali National Movement’, Horn of Africa 13/14 (3 and 4): 107–20.
Renders, M. (2006) ‘Traditional Leaders and Institutions in the Building of the Muslim Republic of Somaliland’. PhD thesis, University of Ghent.
Republic of Somaliland (2004) ‘Speech by the President to Members of the British House of Commons’. Unpublished, delivered 17 March 2004.
Richards, P. (ed.) (2005) No Peace, No War: an anthropology of contemporary armed conflicts. Oxford: James Currey.
Roble, F. (2007) ‘Somaliland: is invading Las Anod part of creating “new reality on the ground”?’. Wardheernews homepage, http:// wardheernews/articles_07/october/21_Somaliland_Faisal_Roble.html, accessed 31 October 2007.
Schlee, G. (2001) ‘Einleitung’ in Horstmann, A. and Schlee, G. (eds), Integration durch Verschiedenheit: lokale und globale formen interkultureller kommunikation. Bielefeld: transcript Verlag.
Schlee, G. (2006) Wie Feindbilder Entstehen: eine theorie religiöser und ethnischer konflikte. München: Beck. (English edition) How Enemies Are Made: towards a theory of ethnic and religious conflict. Oxford and New York NY: Berghahn Books.
Schlee, G. (2007) ‘Brothers of the Boran once again: on the fading popularity of certain Somali identities in Northern Kenya’, Journal of Eastern African Studies 1 (3): 417–35.
Schoiswohl, M. (2004) Status and (Human Rights) Obligations of Non-Recognized De Facto Regimes in International Law: the case of Somaliland. Leiden and Boston MA: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.
Sheikh-Abdi, A. (1993) Divine Madness: Mohamed Abdulle Hassan (1856–1920). London: Zed Books.
Somaliland Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2002) ‘The case for Somaliland's recognition as an independent state’. Hargeysa: Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Spruyt, H. (2007) ‘War, trade and state formation’ in Boix, C. and Strokes, S. C. (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Statement by the Maakhir Diaspora Forum (2007) Hiiraan Online homepage, spora_forum.aspx, accessed 30 December 2007.
Suleiman, B. (2008) ‘Somaliland: the other Somalia with no war’, The Nation (Nairobi), 30 May 2006, republished on index.cfm?id=4200, accessed 8 January 2008.
Taussig, M. (1993) Mimesis and Alterity: a particular history of the senses. New York NY: Routledge.
Thürer, D. (1999) ‘The “failed state” and international law’, International Review of the Red Cross 836: 731–61.
Tilly, C. (1975) ‘Reflections on the history of European state-making’ in Tilly, C. (ed.), The Formation of National States in Western Europe. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press.
‘US not moving to recognize Somaliland’ (2008). Hiiraan Online, http://www. aliland.aspx, accessed 1 February 2008.
WSP (War-torn Societies Project) International (ed.) (2005) Rebuilding Somaliland: issues and possibilities. Lawrenceville GA: Red Sea Press.
Young, C. (1994) The African Colonial State in Comparative Perspective. New Haven CT and London: Yale University Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

  • ISSN: 0001-9720
  • EISSN: 1750-0184
  • URL: /core/journals/africa
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed