Dr. Dominik Balthasar (né Helling)

Senior Researcher, swisspeace

About Myself


For the past dozen years, I have worked as a researcher, policy analyst, and practitioner in the field of international development. While having obtained broad academic training in different disciplines with a view to development studies, I have specialized in aspects pertaining to peace, conflict, and fragility.

Since May 2015, I have been working at swisspeace, the Swiss peace foundation, as a senior researcher with its statehood program. In this capacity I have developed and acquired research projects on issues pertaining to state fragility and resilience in Africa, carried through policy mandates on Syria, edited the swisspeace working paper series, and lectured on the topics of peace- and state-building at the University of Basel. Moreover, I have convened the executive training module on ‘Fragility, Conflict & Statebuilding’, designed for professionals working on these issues. Previously, I had worked with the Institute for Peace and Security Studies (Addis Ababa), the EU Institute for Security Studies (Paris), the US Institute of Peace (Washington, DC), and Chatham House (London), where I had largely been engaged in conducting policy analysis.

This work experience in the think tank world had importantly been informed by my previous career in research. In my doctoral studies at the Department of International Development of the London School of Economics and Political Science (London), I investigated processes of state-making and state-breaking in Somalia, paying particular attention to dynamics of institutional fragmentation and social cohesion. During my fellowships with the Crisis States Research Centre (London), the Global Public Policy Institute (Berlin), the Centre d'études et de recherches internationales (Paris), the Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding (Geneva), the Academy for Peace and Development (Hargeysa), and the Heritage Institute for Policy Studies (Mogadishu), I acquired diverse perspectives on conflict, fragility, and development.

Apart from having worked as a researcher and lecturer at the London School of Economics and Political Science and the School of Oriental and African Studies, I have also gained valuable work experience with the World Bank, the United Nations, and other bi- and multi-lateral development organizations in Somalia, DR Congo, Nepal, and Timor-Leste. For additional information about myself, please feel free to contact me.

Work Experience


Think Tank & Policy

  • May ’15 - pres.: Senior Researcher with swisspeace and lecturer at the Department of Political Science at the University of Basel (CH)
    Developing and acquiring research projects on issues pertaining to state fragility and resilience in Africa, carrying through policy mandates, editing the swisspeace working paper series, and lecturing on the topics of peace- and state-building at the University of Basel.
  • Jan ’15 - Apr ’15.: Advisor on Policy Analysis and Research with the Institute for Peace and Security Studies (ET).
    Supporting action-oriented research and policy dialogue projects on Somalia; enhancing IPSS policy analysis capacity within the Africa Peace and Security Program; and assisting with the advancement of a strategy for the institute’s policy-oriented research.
  • Mar ’14 - Dec ’14.: Associate Analyst with the EU Institute for Security Studies (FR).
    Conducting policy-oriented analysis of issues pertaining to state fragility and the role of international actors in state-building processes in support of the institute’s Africa Team.
  • Jul ’13 - Feb ’14: Research Fellow with the US Institute of Peace (US).
    Carrying through mediation, facilitation and negotiation skills training for AMISOM troops in Burundi, Uganda, and Djibouti in the framework of the ‘Africa Contingency Operation Training and Assitance.’
  • Nov ’12 - Jun ’13: Post-Doctoral Fellow with Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs (UK).
    Undertaking research in the framework of a post-doctoral project entitled ‘Responding to Fragility: State-Making Interventions in Somalia and Beyond’.

Intrenational Development

  • Dec ’14: Regional Expert with the United Nations Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group (SO). Appointment declined for personal reasons.
  • Oct ’12 - May ’13.: Consultant (part-time) with the World Bank (SO).
    Conducting a Political Economy Analysis and supporting the World Bank’s Public Expenditure Review of Somaliland. Three weeks of field research in Somaliland..
  • Jun ’11 - Aug ’11: Consultant with the United Nations Development Program (SO).
    Advising on the conceptualization and implementation of UNDP’s ‘youth-at-risk’ program for north-western Somalia/ Somaliland in cooperation with the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey (SAS) and the Somali Observatory for Conflict and Violence Prevention (OCVP).
  • Jun ’07 - Sep ’07: Consultant with the Department for International Development (NP).
    Strengthening post-conflict support initiatives on democratization through monitoring and coordinating projects of the Rights, Democracy and Inclusion Fund (RDIF).
  • Apr ’07 - Jun ’07: Consultant with the World Bank (TL).
    Supporting composition of the TFET (Trust Fund for East Timor) Report of the trustee and conducting research on socio-economic parameters in preparation of the Timor-Leste Development Partners Meeting background paper.
  • Feb ’07 - Apr ’07: Consultant with the United Nations Development Program (CD).
    Assisting UNDP in implementing the third wave of its DDR programme for Ituri, and composing an analysis of the role of DDR processes and programmes for war-to-peace transitions and post-conflict state reconstruction on the case study of Ituri.
  • Oct ’06 - Dec ’06: Consultant with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (CH).
    Composition of an inventory of handbooks, tools and guidelines on early recovery; conducting diverse analyses for the Peace-Building, Livelihoods and Partnerships Section; and compiling UNHCR-learning units on early recovery, reintegration & self-reliance.

Academia & Research

Broadcasting experience includes BBC (radio broadcasting) and Al Jazeera (TV)

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PhD Project

State-Making in Somalia and Somaliland – Understanding War, Nationalism and State Trajectories as Processes of Institutional and Socio-Cognitive Standardization


Although the conundrums of why states falter, how they are reconstituted, and under what conditions war may be constitutive of state-making have received much scholarly attention, they are still hotly debated by academics and policy analysts. Advancing a novel conceptual frame­work and analysing diverse Somali state trajectories between 1960 and 2010, this thesis adds to those debates both theoretically and empirically. The core issues examined are why and how Somaliland managed to establish state-run structures of governance, in how far its development paralleled or diverged from past Somali state trajectories, and under what conditions violent conflict advanced or abridged the polities’ varied state-making projects.

Drawing on diverse strands of literature on state-building, nationalism and warfare, the thesis develops an original analytical frame to better understand processes of state-making and state-breaking. It argues not only for the need of ‘bringing the nation back in’, but proposes to conceptualize state trajectories in terms of changing levels of institutional and socio-cognitive standardization. Scrutinizing received wisdom, the empirical research presented finds, amongst others, that Somali state trajectories have been less unique than commonly claimed, and proposes that Somaliland’s alleged state-making success between 1991 and 2010 hinged at least as much on autocratic governance, top-down policies and coercive means than on frequently emphasized elements of grassroots peace-making, ‘traditional’ reconciliation and ‘home-grown’ democracy.

Conceptually, the project is located at the intersection of political-economy and historical and institutional approaches to state-making. Applying qualitative research framed in comparative case studies the thesis not only advances the theoretical debate surrounding issues of state fragility and state-making, but also offers novel insights into Somalia’s history and presents new empirical findings on the frequently romanticised case of Somaliland. Yet, the research results are significant beyond Somali boundaries as they provide relevant insights for our general understanding of state trajectories and the role of conflict in state-making and state-breaking.

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Research Interests


  • state formation, state fragility and resilience, and state failure
  • war and warfare, civil conflict and post-conflict reconstruction
  • state building, administrative reform, bureaucratisation and taxation
  • nation building & nationalism
  • the international aid regime and effectiveness, donor assistance in post-war societies
  • my regional insterest is on Sub-Saharan Africa, with changing sub-regional interests over the past years. Currently, my regional focus lies on Somaliland, Somalia, and Mali.

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Academic Articles

Book Chapters

Policy Papers & OP-Eds

Academic Posters

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