A former prime minister of Somalia, Abdiweli Ali, tells a story that demonstrates the pervasive influence of al-Shabab, even in areas ostensibly controlled by the Somali Federal Government (SFG) and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Al-Shabab collects taxes – reportedly as much as the government, and certainly more efficiently. This includes a payroll tax, described as a ‘contribution’, which salaried personnel – government staff among them – are obliged to pay. Abdiweli describes how a defector from al-Shabab who went to work for the government received a visit from a man who told him to pay his ‘contribution’. ‘How will I know whom to pay?’ he asked. ‘You will know,’ the messenger replied. At the end of the month, he went to collect his salary from the cashier at the bank. The cashier said: ‘Now let me receive your contribution.’
Bruce Whitehouse in the LRB, 30 August 2012: What does Mali’s spectacular slide from celebrated democratic model to failed state augur for the rest of Africa? The number of electoral democracies on the continent has fallen from 24 to 19 in the last seven years. It may be that Mali is a portent of state collapse to come, as the façade of democracy erodes, exposing the informal government mechanisms that really run the show. What if, as the historian Stephen Ellis has argued, the increasing fragility of African states is ‘an early sign of a wider problem with the system of international governance’ built after World War Two? Western powers are discovering that in Africa, as in Afghanistan, there are limits to their ability to impose or even reform state systems.