This article proposes an alternative interpretation of political disorder in Ethiopia's Somali Regional State since the rise to power of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) in 1991. Some observers have perceived contemporary politics in the former Ogaden as an example of ‘internal colonisation’ by highland Ethiopians. Others attribute political instability to the ‘nomadic culture’ inherent in the Somali clan structure and the ineptness of its political leaders. This study argues that neither of these two politicised narratives grasps the contradictory interactions between the federal Ethiopian government and its Somali periphery, nor the recursive relations between state and society. With reference to the literature on neo-patrimonialism, I elucidate political disorder in the Somali Region by empirically describing hybrid political domination, institutional instability, and patronage relations, showing how neo-patrimonial rule translates into contested statehood in the region and political devices ranging from military coercion to subtle co-optation. Rather than unilateral domination, a complex web of power and manipulation between parts of the federal and regional authorities animates political disorder in Ethiopia's Somali Region.
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