Second Prize: The Last Vestiges of Statehood: Failed States and the Groups that Work Within Them

Blake Edward Barkley


This paper explores how the Somali terrorist organization Al-Shabaab straddles the line between terrorist group and insurgency. It argues that Al-Shabaab has been able to make use of non-state institutions, such as Somalia’s clan structure as well as the physical infrastructure provided by international aid agencies to maintain organizational capabilities within the context of a failed state. This research seeks to uncover the role of sociocultural and informal institutions that exist outside the formal structure of the state. Maintaining the ability to adapt to fluctuating political conditions has allowed Al-Shabaab to simultaneously engage in terrorist activity abroad while maintaining an insurgency campaign in Somalia. The insurgency movement is aimed at undermining the African Union forces operating in Somalia, while simultaneously delegitimizing the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS), as they are unable to independently ensure Somalia’s national security. This case provides insight into how external actors can react to both variants of violent movements under conditions of state failure. Understanding how these institutions are manipulated and appropriated by groups like Al-Shabaab can inform the way the international community interacts with failing states and their surviving vestiges of statehood.

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JMSS is a publication of the Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary.

JMSS gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the Social Science and Humanities Research Council.