Sarah G. Phillips, "When There Was No Aid: War and Peace in Somaliland" (Cornell UP, 2020)


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For all of the doubts raised about the effectiveness of international aid in advancing peace and development, there are few examples of developing countries that are even relatively untouched by it. Sarah Phillips's When There Was No Aid: War and Peace in Somaliland (Cornell UP, 2020) offers us one such example.

Using evidence from Somaliland's experience of peace-building, When There Was No Aid challenges two of the most engrained presumptions about violence and poverty in the global South. First, that intervention by actors in the global North is self-evidently useful in ending them, and second that the quality of a country's governance institutions (whether formal or informal) necessarily determines the level of peace and civil order that the country experiences.

Phillips explores how popular discourses about war, peace, and international intervention structure the conditions of possibility to such a degree that even the inability of institutions to provide reliable security can stabilize a prolonged period of peace. She argues that Somaliland's post-conflict peace is grounded less in the constraining power of its institutions than in a powerful discourse about the country's structural, temporal, and physical proximity to war. Through its sensitivity to the ease with which peace gives way to war, Phillips argues, this discourse has indirectly harnessed an apparent propensity to war as a source of order.

When There Was No Aid was awarded the Australian Political Science Association’s biennial Crisp Prize for the best political science monograph (2018-2020). It was also a ‘Best Book of 2020’ at Foreign Affairs, a ‘Book of the Year (2020)’ at Australian Book Review, was shortlisted for the Conflict Research Society 'Book of the Year' Prize (2021), and was a finalist for the African Studies Association’s Bethwell A. Ogot Book Prize (2021).

Sarah Phillips is a Professor of Global Conflict and Development at The University of Sydney, an Australian Research Council Future Fellow, and Non-Resident Fellow at the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies. Her research draws from years of in-depth fieldwork, and focuses on international intervention in the global south, non-state governance, and knowledge production about conflict-affected states, with a geographic focus on the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Lamis Abdelaaty is an assistant professor of political science at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. She is the author of Discrimination and Delegation: Explaining State Responses to Refugees (Oxford University Press, 2021). Email her comments at or tweet to @LAbdelaaty.

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