Accepted Paper:

Rethinking Somalia and the role of anthropologists  


Martina Isabella Steiner (University of Vienna)

Paper short abstract:

Since the beginning of European imperialism, colonial interventions in Somalia were both a source for secular conflicts with neighbouring Ethiopia and created socio-political gaps within Somali society. Anthropological research provided key information to realize (post-) colonial interests in the Horn of Africa.

Paper long abstract:

Colonial intervention in Somalia began at the time of the Berlin Conference 1884-1885. Since that time anthropologists have acted as consultants for colonial governments to enhance imperialistic interests. That is why local realities could be exploited to recruit cheap labour and soldiers for the colonial army. Subversive Somali middlemen of the traditional socio-political system were used to superimpose national imperialistic structures in the area in order to gain control, power and to define hegemonies.

During the UN-trusteeship by Italy from 1950 to 1960 anthropological knowledge was again the background to conceptualising an independent Somali nation state based on a western pattern. During the time of scientific socialism between 1968 and 1989 anthropologists were frequently hired to develop strategies to realize a "modern" nation state neglecting traditional societal structures and values. It became at the very least a violent totalitarian regime and a society with numerous implicit conflicts.

In 1989 the civil war in Somalia began. International organisations commissioned research to a western anthropologist to develop an applicable model to re-build a Somali nation state. The proposal had no positive outcome. Somalia has still not developed a consolidated political system, which guarantees security.

Several peace conferences have been organised by the EU, peace studies have been complied, "anthropological" ways of conflict resolution have been researched.

I will share my own experience working as an anthropologist in Somalia, where I completed my thesis and did a research project on women's role in the peace process on behalf of the EU and UN.

Panel W050
Studying anthropologists in war and conflict zones: spies and freedom fighters, scholars and advocates