Order Out of Chaos: Somali Customary Law in Puntland and Somaliland

This article highlights the role clan elders play in mediating conflicts in Somalia. Elders uphold Somali customary law known as xeer that provides reciprocal rights between kin and clans and they also arbitrate when xeer is violated. Clan elders’ ability to maintain the rule of law has been especially important considering the chaos that ensued with the collapse of the Somali state in 1991.  Not only have they managed everyday conflicts among people, but clan elders also mediate conflicts between political entities as illustrated by their role in resolving  the territorial dispute over Puntland and Somaliland. Learn more about Somali clan leaders’ role in managing security and upholding law and order.

Traditional Authority and Good Governance in Africa

Drew Christiansen from the Berkeley Center highlights how tribal leaders in Africa can be allies in advancing democratic institutions. While these traditional moral authorities can undermine institutional authorities and the integrity of democracy –as illustrated by Zulu king Goodwill Zwelithini’s xenophobia –, tribal leaders can also make a positive impact on good governance. The efforts of Moghu Nabaa, “the emperor” of the Mossi Burkina Faso’s largest tribe, to force former president Blaise Compaoré give up his plans to alter the constitution to run again after 27 years in office” are highlighted as an example of positive influence. Learn more about tribal leaders and good governance by reading the full article here


Tribal Governance and Stability in Yemen

This report not only assists in understanding some of the reasons for Yemen’s current state of conflict, but more importantly, shares valuable insights about Yemeni tribes as a social force over time. When it comes to discussing the tribes and their role in providing security and justice — key pillars of effective governance –, Nadwa al-Dawsari speaks with authority having spent eight years working directly with Yemeni tribes and tribal leaders. She points out, “Yemenis have relied on indigenous tribal traditions to regulate conflict and establish justice for centuries, if not millennia. … [They] provide social order outside the formal system.” And tribes continue to do this primarily in response to weak and ineffective state security and rule of law institutions. Learn from an expert about how tribes and tribal leaders influence, assist, and sometimes stymie the state security sector and why understanding this presents an opportunity to design “an approach to state-building that can facilitate the political transition process in a way that responds to Yemen’s unique and strongly tribal society.” Read full article.

Village Stability Operations and the Afghan Local Police

Moyar begins by stating that “for nearly all of the recorded history of what is today Afghanistan, the village militia was a central feature of village autonomy… [holding] primary responsibility for the community’s security in most villages…” Despite this fact, it took the US Government almost a decade to acknowledge the important role of tribes and other non-state actors in terms of providing security in Afghanistan. Moyar’s report examines two Department of Defense (DoD) programs — Village Stability Operations (VSO) and the Afghan Local Police (ALP) – that were created in 2010 in response to this apparent “epiphany” on the part of DoD. As counterinsurgency programs, VSO and ALP were designed to improve village-level security and by doing so, directly weaken insurgent groups. While counterinsurgency was the “flavor of the month” in Afghanistan for several years, this report gets beyond labels. And it reveals a basic truth: improving security requires a detailed understanding of all political relationships and political personalities, both formal/state as well as ethnicities, tribes, families and the informal power structures they create. Read full article.

Tribal Security System (Arabakai) in Southeast Afghanistan

Interested in understanding just what in the heck tribal security and justice looks like? Then read Mohammed Tariq’s study of Arbakai, a form of community policing that has existed for centuries in Afghanistan. Considering the dearth of literature addressing the role of tribes in providing local security (to include justice ), this report is a find. And it’s not just a well-written desktop study. Tariq provides original research findings using data collected during interviews, focus group discussions and his own experience working with the Arbakai between 2001 and 2006, after the fall of the Taliban regime. He also answers the critical question: how can the state security sector engage with the Arbakai? All of this makes for a thorough examination, helping us to wrap our heads around the structure, operations, strengths, and weaknesses of a tribal security system and its relationship to the state. Read full article.

Tribal Mediation in Yemen

Najwa Adra’s working paper examines indigenous dispute resolution in Yemen. What makes this paper so interesting is that it includes seven (7) case studies from her extensive fieldwork between 1978 and 2005 in Yemen’s Central Highlands. These case studies, in addition to Adra’s apt description of what mediation looks like, allows the reader to leave the oh-so lofty (and somewhat tedious) realm of concepts to get a feel for what it’s like to live with and experience customary law. Another highlight is her coverage of women’s participation in dispute resolution. Although told that women play no role in tribal affairs, Adra learns that this is a myth. In fact, “women actively taking part in mixed gender mediation, again in contradiction to formally stated principles.” Read the full paper to learn how “c]ustomary law not only maintains peace among an armed population in a region of widely dispersed communities that are difficult of access, but it affirms, and the mediation process enacts, tribal values…”


Tribes and Tribalism in the Syrian Uprising

The study of tribes and tribalism is essentially a study of power dynamics. Tribes are an organizational structure that wields power and influence by exerting collective action as a means of survival and self interest. Historically, alliances and coalitions between strong states or imperial powers and prominent tribal leaders have been established for  strategic purposes. The same holds true today. Haian Dhukan’s article discusses these and other issues in the context of the Syrian uprising. He delves into the structures, formations, and alliances of Syrian tribes as well as their assorted relationships with both the Al-Assad regime (under Hafez Al-Assad and his son, Bashar) and neighboring countries, especially Gulf nations. By reading Dhukan’s piece, you’ll gain a deep appreciation of tribes as “mini states” as well as the political landscape and current status of Syria as a state heading towards dissolution.  Read full article. 

The Pakistan-Afghan Borderland: Pashtun Tribes Descending into Extremism

Dr. Khan Idris examines the impact of Salafists on the tribal, social, political, religious, cultural, and even the daily lives of the Pashtuns. His study utilizes a series of case studies from a small village in the Pashtun border region to demonstrate the transition from traditional Hanafi Sufism to Salafism that has been occurring in the Pashtun tribes that inhabit the Pakistan-Afghanistan borderland. Learn more about the dynamic between religious and tribal leadership. Link to Tribal Analysis Center.

Gaza’s female mediators in tribal councils stand up for women

Women mediators in Gaza are now serving in tribal councils headed by men. Some of these women inherited the traditionally men-only profession from their fathers and grandfathers, while others possessed innate wisdom and statesmanship. After training, they joined Gaza’s mediation committees a favored forum to take issues rather than going to the judiciary or police. In their role as mediators, women not only resolve disputes, but also defend women’s rights. In this regard, they often work with female lawyers when it’s necessary to present women’s issues before the courts. Read full article.


The logic of partnering with Iraqi tribes against ISIS

While the environment for working with Iraqi tribes to defeat a common enemy has changed significantly since the Anbar Awakening — primarily as a result of the democratically bankrupt Maliki government –, Daniel Green makes a strong argument for partnering with these tribes again. First, the social structure of tribes readily facilitates a mass movement that can quickly and effectively target an enemy. Equally important, the self-interest of tribes in defending their territory and families and securing their future makes them a formidable force. Clearly, working with Iraqi tribes to defeat ISIS is logical, but  the question for Green is, “Why would they want to partner with us?”  Read more.