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FAQ: Anarchy in Somalia and its relevance to Anarchism/Statelessness

May 9th, 2009

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[First revision. Please use the comments form to send your suggestions for addition, removal, or revision!

For very informative videos about Somalia echoing the information contained herein and much more, please see Stefan Molyneux of FreedomainRadio’s 2-part “True News: Somalia” series, available on YouTube: Part 1, Part 2. ]

Every now and then, Somalia pops into the news for one reason or another. The mainstream media’s view is that it is a place where chaos and warlords reign, and poverty is widespread. In the public eye, it is probably imagined to be a place with AK47-armed militiamen in the backs of pickup trucks, with child soldiers, genocide, and the like. Yet little is known by Westerners about what the real picture in any 3rd world country is like, much less one with institutions as rich as those in Somalia especially institutions which threaten the dominant international political paradigm. “Peace in Somalia” is interpreted by most to mean the restoration of Somalia’s national government this is what the paradigm commands!

Yet in the 15 years between the collapse of Somalia’s government and the first attempts to truly reinstate the federal government via military campaign, the gains Somalia has made without a state have been ignored. Further, nearly all recent major military conflicts in Somalia have been the direct result of the attempts of external forces (the U. N. Ethiopia, etc. to impose a new government created in exile. Unsurprisingly, it is these conflicts that appear in the news as the consequence of anarchy, intended to scare you, the viewer, into further accepting your own submission to your own government. If you do not submit, the news tells you, it will be like living in Somalia. –more–>

Q: What exactly makes/made Somalia anarchistic, or stateless?

Since the fall of the tyrannical government of Siad Barre in 1991, Somalia has not had a permanent national government. Despite this, much of Somalia can not really be adequately characterized as truly stateless. In recent years, control over Somalia has primarily been a battle between 2 major factions, the externally backed Transitional Federal Government and the internally-grown and ambitious Islamic Courts Union. However, the following facts about Somali society suggest some reality of statelessness.

Across the whole of Somalia, laws are neither created nor enforced by any central authority. In fact, the laws are based on the Xeer, a traditional set of laws unique to Somalia. Legal behaviors are defined in terms of property rights, which also means that the legal system is restitutive (or compensatory) rather than retributive (or punitive).

Furthermore, the Xeer completely stands against any form of taxation. Enforcement is carried out either by traditional clan structures or private police forces, both of which are voluntarily funded. While the more primitive elements of Somali life (clan allegiance, religion, etc. are obviously evident in these seemingly anarcho-capitalistic institutions and thus do not make them the best model for a voluntary society, the simple existence of this state of affairs contradicts common notions about the necessity of the state.

Q: Isn’t Somalia a totally messed up place?

By most absolute measures, yes. But so are many other countries in the world, including those even directly modeled after “Western Democracies,” the supposedly ‘best’ forms of government. The real question to ask is.


Q: How has Somalia improved since its central government collapsed in 1991?

Here’s a brief roundup of the positives that have persisted in Somalia, despite political conditions that many critics of statelessness claim would entail an uninhabitable state of nature. While some improvements may be attributable to world technology trends rather than statelessness, something must regardless be said for the fact that improvement is even taking place in the dreaded state of anarchy threatened by those in power if we abandon them.

Law and Order:

  • Some urban areas of Somalia, like Mogadishu, have private police forces.
  • Other areas rely on traditional clan-based legal structures to serve in the function of both criminal and civil law.
  • Taxation is conspicuously absent, yet customary resolution methods still resolve disputes between individuals.

Infrastructure:

  • Electricity is available in less populated areas that lacked electricity before 1991.
  • The prior regime, as in many 3rd-world countries, had a state-backed telecom monopoly that became unenforceable after the regime collapsed. Now, Somalia has telecom services among the best in Africa. A mobile phone call in Somalia is typically less expensive and higher quality than any other in Africa.
  • Mail service is also provided privately.

Education:

  • The majority of schools are privately provided, sustained by fees (around $10/month).
  • The number of primary schools has nearly doubled since before the Somali civil war.
  • Primary school enrollment increased by 28% between 2002 and 2005.

Economy:

  • The post-Barre Somali currency has been stable compared to its prior performance; the obvious reason for this is that currencies are most often debased by government-powered inflation in the form of money printing. Indeed, the arrival of the Transitional National Government to Somalia in 2000 was accompanied by the importation of 30 billion foreign-printed shillings, which caused a currency collapse.
  • Somalia’s media industry has grown rapidly since 1991, growing competing newspapers and radio stations in almost every major area.
  • Prior to the collapse of the government, the Somali national airline had only one airplane. At present, there are fifteen airlines and over sixty aircraft.
  • Overall, two studies (Leeson and Powell et al. conclude that Somalia’s economy has improved favorably in its stateless condition, particularly relative to other African nations.

This isn’t intended to be a thorough representation of all of the good that has come about in Somalia as a result of the central government’s collapse, though it can be at some point.

Q: But if anarchy is so good, how come Somalia is still messed up (and doesn’t look like it’s becoming utopia any time soon)?

The first and most important point in response to this is that in any situation, the absence of government merely represents freedom from centralized coercion. But countries and societies aren’t made up of systems; they’re made up of people first. The collapse of a coercive national government can easily be replaced by many small organizations that use the same level of coercion, and it’s no surprise that warlords sprung up to fill the void in Somalia. The people of Somalia didn’t suddenly change overnight; they were still the same people from that same messed up African nation’s history.

Here are some of the factors stacked against Somalia being a fully peaceful and voluntaristic society:

  • Centuries of Islamic rule, and later partial Ottoman rule (2 things which did not bode well for a society’s stability and modernity after the 17th century).
  • Colonial predations, first by the Portuguese; then by Britain, France, and Italy in the late 19th century. The level of British investment into improving the portion of Somalia they controlled was small in comparison to that of the Italians, creating a rift that would contribute to the tension that would result in later civil war.
  • The makeup of post-World War II Somalia being the result of the regular arbitrary partitions, the consequences of which we know well from similar partitioning in the Middle East.
  • Powerful influence of Soviet aid and ideology, which was assisted greatly by U. S. military aid to hostile neighbor Ethiopia.
  • Almost textbook 3rd-world “revolution” in 1969 under the leadership of Siad Barre, resulting in a powerful central government and the elimination of all things “counter-revolutionary. With it came an attempt to also destroy Somalia’s traditional clan-based dispute resolution methods (which uncoincidentally play an important stabilizing role in Somali anarchy today).
  • Destructive, socialistic economic policies that, as in most similar cases, left the economy of Somalia in shambles following the withdrawal of Soviet aid. (The Soviet Union actually shifted its support in 1978 to rival Ethiopia, abandoning Somalia. )
  • American support for brutal dictator Siad Barre following Somalia’s abandonment by the Soviet Union.
  • International aid attempts creating Somali dependence on the foreign dole, and undermining domestic agriculture (as is the case with nearly every case of foreign food aid). This food aid also became a political weapon for Barre, whose engineered famines helped solidify his power as the distributor of food aid.
  • Misguided attempts at foreign aid following governmental collapse; deployment of “peacekeepers” resented by Somalis; shifting of food aid powers from central government to clan warlords. Foreign aid may very well have continued to provided the resources to fuel a conflict that would have otherwise ended.
  • The 2000 creation and attempted installation of a new government in Somalia in exile backed by the U. N. (currently known as the Transitional Federal Government), whose arrival has ultimately strengthened the Islamic Courts Union by creating yet another reason to fight.

So hopefully that gives you a general idea of just how screwed up Somalia is.

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