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In 1991 the Somali state collapsed. Once heralded as the only true nation-state in Africa, the Somalia of the 1990s suffered brutal internecine warfare. At the same time a politically created famine caused the deaths of a half a million people and the flight of a million refugees.

During the civil war, scholarly and popular analyses explained Somalia's disintegration as the result of ancestral hatreds played out in warfare between various clans and subclans. In Unraveling Somalia, Catherine Besteman challenges this view and argues that the actual pattern of violenceinflicted disproportionately on rural southernerscontradicts the prevailing model of ethnic homogeneity and clan opposition. She contends that the dissolution of the Somali nation-state can be understood only by recognizing that over the past century and a half there emerged in Somalia a social order based on principles other than simple clan organizationa social order deeply stratified on the basis of race, status, class, region, and language.

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