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Offering an introduction to clanism and tribalism in the Gulf of Aden area, Dr Lewis uses these concepts to analyse security in Yemen, Somalia, Somaliland and the broader region. This historical overview of conflict in each country, and the resulting threats of piracy and terrorism, will benefit both the casual reader and student of development.



1. Introduction

Economically and strategically, the Gulf of Aden is today one of the most important waterways in the world, with 7 per cent, according to James Kraska (2009), of world oil trade passing through it annually. However, it is surrounded by some of the most unstable and dangerous territories in the world — Yemen and Somalia — which are connected by it. As fragile and failed states, much is made of weak governance in these two countries. Each has been studied as a microcosm of terrorism, radicalisation, corruption, underdevelopment, and a wealth of other challenges. Yet this approach has been highly limiting. Closer investigation of the broader Gulf of Aden region reveals that these challenges are not nationally confined or nationally defined. Many are transnational. Others, due to large internal variation caused by the diverse manifestation of tribes and clans, are local. In both cases, a new framework of analysis is needed, one that looks at the whole of their territories and the Gulf of Aden at once.

Alexandra Lewis

2. Clans, Tribes and Social Hierarchies in the Broader Gulf of Aden Region

‘Tribalism’ and ‘clanism’ remain poorly understood and poorly defined terms in the study of international development. They tend to be conflated and associated with hierarchical patronage networks that help to entrench conflict and to undermine positive progress towards achieving modernising development agendas. However, in the Gulf of Aden region, they have also been instrumental in maintaining social order across a number of contexts. In Yemen and Somalia, they actually play both a stabilising and a destabilising role.Taking these considerations into account, this chapter helps to update and realign existing definitions of clans and tribes within the specific context of Yemen and Somalia. It argues that two separate terms are needed to distinguish Yemeni ‘tribalism’ from Somali ‘clanism’, so as to better acknowledge the uniqueness of each phenomenon within its own particular cultural setting.

Alexandra Lewis

3. Somali Boundaries and the Question of Statehood: The Case of Somaliland in Somalia

In 1990, the state of Somalia collapsed. Since then, the country has remained infamous in international development circles as the world’s only truly failed state. However, this assessment shows only part of a far more interesting bigger picture. Not only does Somalia possess four distinct administrative institutions that exhibit varying levels of capacity, but robust clan-based structures have served to maintain surprisingly high levels of law and order in parts of the country. The territory can, therefore, no longer be taken as a single unit of analysis.This chapter takes a closer look at the zonal and local levels of security and governance in Somalia, building towards a better understanding of how these dynamics impact the Gulf of Aden region.

Alexandra Lewis

4. Divide and Rule: Understanding Insecurity in Yemen

Yemen is one of the poorest and least-developed countries in the world. Though its formation can be linked to the rise of pan-Arabism and associated Yemeni calls for national self-determination in the 1970s and 1980s, the country today is deeply fragmented. Culturally, politically and economically, there is a huge divide between tribal and non-tribal Yemeni communities, between Northerners and Southerners and between urban and rural areas. These differences have fragmented Yemeni society along competing allegiances, in which nationalism takes a back seat to tribal identity or political affiliation. In order to reconcile these differences under a single, unified state, Yemen has, as of 2014, adopted a new federal governance model. However, this new model has been insufficiently adapted to local and national socio-political dynamics and interactions. As such, it is unlikely to bring about lasting and sustainable peace.

Alexandra Lewis

5. Transnational Security: Piracy, Terrorism and the Fragility Contagion

Neither Yemen nor Somalia has the internal stability or the state capacity necessary to effectively contain local and national security threats within their borders, or to keep external threats out from their territories. This not only has led to a spill-over of their insurgencies into neighbouring countries, but has also led to the entrenchment of transnational criminal and terrorist organisations within their borders. Violent movements (such as Al Shabaab and the Houthis) operate in the same contexts as local branches of global terrorist groups (such as Al Qaeda), piracy networks and trafficking organisations. These various threats affect the entire Gulf of Aden region and are both thematically independent of one another and inherently interconnected. This chapter analyses each in turn to provide the reader with a better understanding of regional insecurity in this part of the world.

Alexandra Lewis

6. Conclusion

This book has provided a multi-level analysis of security in and around the Gulf of Aden region, looking at instability in Yemen and Somalia in turn, before examining the transnational threats posed by Al Qaeda, Al Shabaab, terrorism, organised crime and migration. In this final chapter, the book integrates all of these levels into one narrative, drawing out key interactions between Yemen and Somalia in the broader Gulf of Aden security conflagration. It also puts forward final recommendations for further research.

Alexandra Lewis


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