Verification and legibility in Somaliland’s identity architecture

Published: 1/Jan/2016
Source: SOAS University of London

Rader, Anna C. (2016) Verification and legibility in Somaliland’s identity architecture. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:


Although internationally unrecognised, Somaliland seeks, like all states, to be able to unambiguously, repeatedly, and reliably identify its citizens. In the two decades of its selfdeclared independence, this central task of statehood has proved to be one of the most difficult and protracted of all its accomplishments.

At first glance, the impediments to the development of official identification schemes in Somaliland have been limited capacity, insufficient resources, and weak political will. Underlying these factors, however, are deeper issues relating to the state’s contested and imperfect ‘legibility’ of the population, the legacy of civil conflict and the country’s continued limbo in the world of juridical states. Comprehensive systems of civil registration and authoritative documentation are under-developed, meaning few people have paperwork with which they can be recognised and authenticated as citizens and voters. In order to verify the identity of its citizens, the Somaliland state therefore utilises practices of testimony and guarantee, in particular authentication by clan elders, increasingly supplemented by biometric authorisation. The intersection of vernacular identification practices and hi-tech, state-led processes is reflective of the hybridity that characterises Somaliland’s political institutions, and shows how official identification schemes draw on the underlying ‘identity architecture’ of norms, practices and narratives.

Drawing on in-depth interviews, participant observation and archival research, this thesis presents an extended case study of biometric voter registration and the production of new IDs in Somaliland, an important contribution in light of the rapid growth of biometrically enabled identification systems across sub-Saharan Africa. I also delineate practices of vouching and quotidian verification as essential components of identification, arguing for their central place in the analysis of ID systems. This thesis therefore offers new empirical material on the case of Somaliland, and contributes theoretically to the scholarships on identification, citizenship, electoral management, and state-building.

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Themes: Birth Registration, ID Documents and Passports
Regions: Somalia
Year: 2016