The above featured photo is a Creative Commons Photo of the commonly used anarchism symbol, denoting the letter A — standing for anarchism — surrounded by the letter O — standing for Order; thus, “Anarchy is Order,” otherwise known as Proudhon’s maxim (Marshall 558). Or as Ruth Kinna further clarifies, “Anarchy is order; government is civil war,” as an attribution to Proudhon and the symbol itself was designed by the revolutionary Anselme Bellegarrigue in 1848 (Kinna 6). The Frenchman Pierre-Joseph Proudhon was the first person credited with deliberately calling himself an anarchist, insisting that only a society without artificial government could restore natural order, “Just as man seeks justice in equality, society seeks order in anarchy” (Marshall 5).
Self-Governed in Somalia:
How Somalia Improved Under Anarchism
Epicurus in the 3rd century B.C. could be credited with the first iteration of the Golden Rule when he laid out a maxim on human nature, stating, “The justice of nature is a pledge of reciprocal usefulness, [i.e.,] neither to harm one another nor be harmed” (Inwood & Gerson 35). Such a notion of human nature goes against the conventional thinking of Western philosophers from Plato to Hobbes to Spinoza to contemporary thinkers. Hobbes and Spinoza both thought the natural state of man was to war with the other and therefore, the best way to prevent the warring of men was the creation of a state — the government to enforce peace and harmony. The way the government does this is by monopolizing the use of force and coercion, which is to say, only the government, legally and under the guise of social justification (more on this in a moment) are able to enforce order. As such, there is a belief among the aforementioned philosophers that without the government monopolizing force and playing the “referee” between men, we would descend back into the jungle. There’s a reason a popular connotation of anarchy is “chaos” or the “absence of order” despite the aforementioned Proudhon maxim. “In general usage the term is commonly used to describe fear and dread” (Kinna, 7). But this is the greatest fiction and it is the myth which gives the government its legitimacy: that we need it and without it, civilization itself is not possible. The monopolizing force of the government is only feasible if there is a corresponding “buy-in” from the people the state makes a claim of its authority over. Gerard Casey gives an instructive logical proof of this:
- X (peace, security et al.) is a necessary condition for human flourishing;
- Only the State can provide X [emphasis his];
- Therefore, the State is necessary (Casey, 46).
What I endeavor to demonstrate with this web page going forward is two-fold. First, to dispel with this above myth in a theoretical sense and at least demonstrate and allow for the possibility of arranging society in a different manner, i.e., anarchism (no government). It is necessary to lay this foundation in order to proceed with my second and more important endeavor: examining the case study of Somalia, a real-world example of anarchism, albeit not ideal anarchism. I emphasis ideal because it is necessary from the onset to establish what I’m doing here. I am not attempting to suggest Somalia, one of the poorest countries on Earth, located in the Horn of Africa, is somehow an anarchist paradise with which I am looking to relocate to. As economist at George Mason University, Peter Leeson, cautions, it is it not only unfair, but not useful to compare Somalia’s lack of governance to our relatively operational Western democratic governance (“Leeson on his Journey to Anarchism and Its Application to Somalia and Pirates”). Start at 1:22 for his specific point on this:
Instead, it’s far more instructive to compare Somalia’s state of statelessness and the living conditions of the Somalis between 1991 and 2006 to Somalia’s state and the living conditions of the Somalis under their predatory government. Hence, the question I am working toward and with which I seek to prove in the affirmative: Was Somalia and the Somalis better off during the period of no central government than with it?
As mentioned, to answer in the affirmative requires an admittedly shallow dive into the theoretical workings of human nature, the basis for government and the possibilities of political and philosophical anarchism. It is beyond the purview of the question I seek to answer to do a deep dive into the overall literature and question of anarchism itself. I hope to suggest it’ll suffice to create and demonstrate the possibility and to demonstrate with a real-world case study that Somalia and Somalis worked and were better off under this possibility of anarchism rather than under a government, who, when it’s all considered, is that monopoly on violence and a predatory mechanism by which it made the Somalis’ lives worse off. Likewise, to this latter point, it’ll be necessary to also take a dive into the history, customs, culture, political reality and Western intervention into Somalia historically, within the period I’m most interested in (1991-2006) and in the present day to better understand the question and its corresponding answer with which I’m seeking.
Ultimately, if I have done my job correctly, the reader will walk away with a.) a better understanding of the feasibility of philosophical and political anarchism as an alternative to government and b.) be able to reference the context of a real-world case study where one can legitimately claim a people and a country were better off under such an arrangement than with a government. The goal is not to proselytize my reader into a full-fledged anarchist, but rather, my goal is to get the reader to better understand the real life, lived-experience of the Somalis, which breaks with conventional wisdom (particularly Western) about government, authority, order, law and living standards more broadly. My foray into the theoretical is merely the way to orient the lens with which I will do so.
Leeson helps me to better lay the foundation of my goal, by saying, “Anarchy can be said to ‘work better than you think’ if the mechanisms of self-governance that undergird it work in circumstances where you thought self-governance couldn’t” (Leeson, 12). Like, say, a poverty-stricken, low-development country (LDC) such as Somalia.
To better map my goal and research here, I’m going to stylize this page like a Wikipedia page for readers to better follow along. Similar to a Wikipedia page, one does not necessarily have to read this in chronological order, rather, they can jump to particular headings of interest to them, but of course, it would be more instructive and comprehensive if the reader were to read from beginning to end. (As well as taking note of the bibliography for further readings on the subject since my work largely pertains to an overview.) Keep in mind, however, that as Wikipedia itself notes, they are not a venue for primary research. As such, while I’m styling this web page after the Wikipedia format, it is not the same intent as a Wikipedia page with respect to the fact that I am presenting an original idea with extensive research.
- Anarchist Theory and Philosophy: A Beginner’s Guide
- Definition: What is anarchism?
- Government and Authority
- Real-world Case Study: Somalia
- The History of Somalia in the 20th Century
- The Somalia People
- Somalia, the Stateless Years
- Somalia Beyond 2005
- Possible Objections to This View of Somalia
- Response to the Objections
- It’s About the Somalis
- Conclusion on Anarchism in Somalia
“Therein lies the Somali hope and perhaps the only thing Somalis need from others the most is to be left to themselves” (Abdullahi, 48).
Anarchist Theory and Philosophy: A Beginner’s Guide
“Even were we to admit that anarchism is entirely impractical, it would not follow that it has no value. As a philosophical position, as opposed to a practical program, it is well worth entertaining — indeed it is foundational — and must be grappled with in any serious system of political philosophy” (Sartwell 6).
I find it particularly interesting that anarchism is often treated as a marginalized ideology when a great many thinkers have delved into the philosophy. As Kinna points out, at least seven figures, aside from the aforementioned Proudhon, “William Godwin (1756-1836), Max Stirner (1806-1856), Michael Bakunin (1814-1870), Peter Kroptkin (1842-1921), Benjamin Tucker (1854-1939), and Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)” (12). It was these individuals who can be credited with moving anarchism into the realm of serious political theory rather than simply that of agitation, terrorism and propaganda (13).
Definition: What is anarchism?
For the purposes of this research page, I go with Crispin Sartwell’s definition of anarchism, meaning, “All forms of human association ought to be, as far as is possible, voluntary; the meaning I give of ‘anarchism’ entail that government should not exist” (Sartwell 4). As Sartwell notes, anarchists are often thought to be too idealistic and optimistic and even naive about human nature. After all, Thomas Paine, he notes, argued in essence, that if human nature were not so wicked, then we would not require a government. But that singular point — the flaws within human nature — does not itself justify or legitimize the need for a state. There still has to be an extra step to explain the necessity of an organization monopolizing the use of coercion and force. Yet, that extra step is often taken as a given once the flaws within human nature are established. Sartwell argues that, yes, society without a state would presumably not be a panacea, as rape, robbery and murder follow collections of people wherever they go, but, given that this monopolizing force would be run by those same humans we just established were flawed, then there needs to be extra work to show why then giving those flawed humans power is necessary.
“If so [those who seek public office are as likely or more likely to be as debased as everyone else], handing them guns and badges might be a very bad solution to the corruption of human nature, and indeed state power has often been a much bigger problem than those it claimed to address” (Sartwell 6). It certainly appears prima facie that humans are flawed, but it is beyond the purview of this research to adequately address the issue in terms of whether such recognition of humanity’s flaws ought to engender us with cynicism or a kind of optimistic resolve. As such, it’ll only be necessary to outline, as I have, that whichever view one takes — cynical or optimistic — about human nature, that it cannot be taken as a given that a state, in response to the human condition, is necessary.
Finally, it should be noted that, much like the varying ideologies under the overall ideology in support of a governmental authority, there exist a multitude of ideologies under the overall ideology in support of no governmental authority (see Table 1 and Figure 1 below), all with varying end games and means by which to get to “no government.” Nevertheless, I find Sartwell’s definition of political and philosophical anarchism to hold rather consistently among these varying ideologies.
The old and the new designation of anarchism is a dichotomy developed, perhaps, by George Woodcock in 1968 in response to the changing times. Instead of viewing anarchism in its 19th century roots — utopia and violent revolution — new anarchism was defined instead by a “commitment to non-violence, civil disobedience and continuous resistance to repressive uniformity” (Kinna 26). Again, the point is to at least mention the varying ways anarchist thought can manifest; its primary point is a refutation of the state, but it manifest in myriad forms. In terms of full disclosure, I am of the anarcho-capitalism school of thought, i.e., “the idea that the market is a natural form of organization in which individuals co-operate, productively, to their mutual benefit” (Kinna 31).
In so saying that the primary objection of the anarchist critique is to reject the state, it is vitally important to point out, especially within the context of my endeavor here — examining the real-world case study of Somalia — that within this critique is, nevertheless, capitulation to the reality of the world. Which is to say, an anarchist can still deal within the pragmatic landscape; anarchism, like any other ideology, ought to not be seen as an all or nothing proposition. For example, then, as mentioned by Leeson, an analyst of Somalia is not a.) an argument for Somalia as anarchist utopia and b.) it doesn’t mean Somalia is a better society arrangement than the United States. But that, in any event, on a pragmatic level, Somalia is useful to show the possibility that there is an alternative to the “given” of the state.
I also believe Penn Jillette, the famous bombastic part of the Penn and Teller magical duo, offers something for the reader, who may feel that anarchist theory and philosophy more broadly is unapproachable:
While Penn is expressing a “libertarian” point-of-view, it’s nonetheless something the average person could hear and go, “Yeah, you know, that at least makes sense, even if I may disagree with it.” Again, this work is primarily concerned with opening up the possibility, as the possibility itself is so far removed from mainstream thinking.
Government and Authority
“Anarchism…is more than anti-statism. But government (the state) because it claims ultimate sovereignty and the right to outlaw or legitimate particular sovereignties, and because it serves the interests predominantly, of those who possess particular spheres of power, stands at the centre of the web of social domination; it is appropriately, the central focus of anarchist critique.” — (David Wieck, in Reinventing Anarchy, p. 39) (Kinna 54)
The one defining feature of government, touched upon already, is that, be they constitutional, monarchist, Fascist, Nazi, Bolshevik, democratic or a dictatorship (as was seen in Somalia under Mohamed Siad Barre from 1969 to 1990, right before the state’s collapse in 1991 — more on that later), is that they exist by and operate with physical force (Kinna 57). Granted, especially in the democracies, it is not the case that there is an apparent use of physical force, although sometimes there is. More so, it is the “buy-in” mentioned in the introduction, wherein, there is no conceived alternative to the state and that itself creates compliance rather than the requirement of overt force.
And the philosophical principle underlying the state and its legitimacy is authority. “Anarchist conceptions of state authority centre on three ideas: that authority is commanding, controlling and corrupting” (Kinna 67). All three ideas of authority, which undergird the state, are instrumental to understanding the situation in Somalia, as I move forward in the analysis. The main philosophical point here is that the existence of authority is a negation of individual autonomy, necessarily, and that which flows from it, like creativity and innovation. Again, both of which emerged under statelessness in Somalia, but more on that soon. Some of the thought regarding authority and its correlative instrument of power is illustrated in Table 2 below:
Depending on which school of thought you encounter, the main critique of the state is either that it’s unjust, immoral, repressive, exploitative, alienating and inefficient or all of the above. From a philosophical standpoint, I would contend the “all of the above” option, but for the purposes of examining Somalia, it’s worth noting that the main point is that the state — via its triad of authority, power and the violence it breeds — in Somalia was inefficient at securing property rights and providing services to the Somalis and that it was exploitative of those very same people. Also, it is necessary to bear in mind that while I’ve used government and the state interchangeably, self-governance should be taken to mean not possessing the aforementioned triad, whether that’s on an individual level (quite literally self-governing your own actions) or on a larger scale. Take, for instance, an unlikely example such as this: pirates’ use of self-governance and establishment of rules. See a short clip from Leeson discussing the issue:
“Bedtimes were restricted…gambling was prohibited…it makes us wonder, why would pirates, who are criminals, would adopt those kinds of rules? Those kinds of rules are necessary to provide the social order on the pirate ship to make any kind of money.” In other words, social order, as generated by self-governing rules, is possible in a context absent the aforementioned government triad. Or put another way, anarchy is order.
Real-world Case Study: Somalia
“The difficulty facing anarchists is to persuade others to give up the devil they know for the one that is almost unimaginable” (Kinna 216).
Indeed, such is the difficulty and it’s magnified when one begins to talk about the statelessness in Somalia, particularly between 1991-2006. You mean, the place with pirates, civil war and what 2001’s Black Hawk Down was based upon?
But, if one keeps in mind Leeson’s instruction on comparative institutional analysis, then we can stay away from popular images of Somalia and frivolous assertions of “anarchist utopia.” Instead, we can answer the question which is central to this entire endeavor: Was Somalia and the Somalis better off during the period of no central government than with it?
The History of Somalia in the 20th Century
“The Somali Republic, formed in 1960 from the former British Somaliland (the North) and the former Italian Somalia (the South), is situated in the Somalia Peninsula. It is the Somali Republic, now in disarray, which is properly known as Somalia” (Abdullahi 1).
The best place to start, if we are to have a better understanding of Somalia, is with Somalia’s history and its people, albeit I’m mostly interested in the 20th century history of Somalia, not the centuries prior, as it’s not quite relevant to the work here. To that, then, Abdullahi’s accounting of Somalian culture and life was instrumental to my understanding.
There are 10 million Somalis (Abdullahi, 7). Somali identity is more closely interconnected with Islam than it is with Somalia, as a national identity (and in fact, some etymology of Somali literally means ‘became a Muslim’ (Abdullahi 8)). Much of what defines the culture of Somalia are the varying clans across the country, the largest of those being the clan confederations of the Hawiye, the Darod, the Isaaq, and the Dir (Abdullahi 8). These clans are often the result of pragmatic decisions to bring smaller clans together, like protection from violence. Nevertheless, by the 20th century, the “nation-state” did take hold in Somalia. “The advent of modern Somali nationalism and its centralist state are therefore a tributary of the nationalist ideals and the concept of the nation-state that started to take shape in nineteenth-century Europe” (24). In other words, Somalis have long been travelers (nomads) and when they ventured out to Europe and other parts of the world, they returned to Somalia reflecting the desire to have a nation-state like the countries they bared witness to. Despite having no history of a single central administration, as Abdullahi calls it, the Somalis did share one religion (Islam) and a single ethnic origin, largely, and so the manifestation of a particular brand of Somali nationalism was not altogether surprising (25).
After independence from British and Italian colonial rule in 1961, the Somali Republic, unifying the Northern and the Southern parts of Somalia, was established. But the Republic was on a fragile foundation: northerners had no influence on the government and felt alienated and the south had police contingencies, but no standing armies (27). Of course, “republic” is something of a misnomer since by 1969, Somalia had turned into a dictatorship under General Barre.
Not a lot has been written, surprisingly, about the fall of the civilian government in Somalia in 1969, but the rupture began with President Sharmarke’s assassination by his own bodyguard (29). The main thing that is known is that General Barre orchestrated a coup. In a sense, it wasn’t a strict dictatorship since Barre and his co-conspirators created the Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC), but in effect, it was Barre making the decisions; the Somali Republic had become the Somali Democratic Republic (30). As was demonstrated in the earlier sections, even a dictatorship relies upon some form of a “buy-in” and such was the case with the Somalis, looking for a more efficient government brought about by Barre than the former constitutional-based civilian government and buying into the promises of “scientific socialism.”
Within two years, Somali had effectively socialized through nationalizing the banks, insurance companies, fuel distribution companies, newspapers, the sugar refinery and anything else of importance and the youth were rounded up to increase food production (30). As is the case with a government that has the power to do the aforementioned, it also has the power to do more overtly nefarious actions, like suspending the right of habeas corpus, the freedom of political association, public expression, and the right to form labor unions and to strike — some punishments for defying the suspension was death (31). And like dictatorships before it, the Barre regime formed a notorious organization comparable in brutality to Hitler’s Gestapo: the National Security Service (NSS).
“His [Barre] circle of family members and hangers-on had one aim in mind — to stay in power and endure. Nothing was too sacred to profane, no massacre too heinous to ponder to ensure the interests of the ‘family'” (33). In short, within a few short years, Barre had destroyed any notion of nation-state comprised of a unified Somalia people. Moreover, Somalia was but a mere puzzle piece in the ongoing Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. While the latter had previously supported the Barre regime, it instead shifted to Ethiopia. Which then meant the U.S. pivoted to supporting and supplying arms to Barre in 1980, so the U.S. could use Somalia’s ports and airports (35).
Barre’s dominance over Somalia came to an end when one of the clans, the Isaaq, challenged his rule via a movement called the Somalia National Movement (SNM). In 1988, the SNM seized the third largest city in the country and Barre and the regime had no answer (37). Abdullahi argues that, were it not for outside intervention from the U.S. and other Western actors, the Barre regime would have fallen even sooner (38). By January 28, 1991, the Barre regime was no more.
Terry Atlas in the Chicago Tribune further backs Abdullahi up, “In exchange for access to the Berbera base, envisioned as a jumping-off point for an American rapid-deployment force, the U.S. directed more than $850 million in military, economic and food aid to Somalia during the 1980s.”
Not long after Barre’s fall, there was a power vacuum, as there usually is after a dictator is outed, between two warring clan lords, Mohamed Farah Aideed and Ali Mahdi Mohamed; the latter declared himself the President of the Republic, but it was mostly a self-appointed title without real power. Over the next year or two, some 350,000 Somalis died of disease, starvation or civil war. Responding to the famine crisis in 1993, the well-known “black hawk down” scenario occurred where they U.S. intervene, killing 18 U.S. Army Rangers and hundreds of Somali civilians, so the U.S. backed out of further intervention.
The Somalia People
“Today’s Somalis are 100 percent Muslims” (Abdullahi 55).
Like other Muslims, Somali Muslims pray five times a day, believe in the monotheism of Allah, fasting during Ramadan, the Haj or the pilgrimage to Mecca and yet, also informing the faith is custom, which predates Islam, known as sufism (Abdullahi 57). Moreover, there is no hierarchy in Islam, i.e., no pope, as there is in Catholicism, but there is a figure known as the wadaad or sheih who is a quasi-authority on the religion. Or better thought of as an expert (58). “In the countryside, the wadaad is a very important person; he not only performs the rites of passage (births, marriages, and funerals), but also mediates in disputes if asked by the parties concerned” (59). In this way, we can begin to see Leeson’s conception of self-governance with the convergence of Islamic faith and Somali custom within Somalia and among the Somalis. It is this custom and the aforementioned clans, which are fundamental to understanding how Somalia operated without a state.
Beyond being identified by their faith, Somalis can be most unified by pastoralist values — the raising of livestock, something ongoing in Somalia for millennia and at the heart of Somalia culture (119). From both faith and their pastoralist values, Somalis can be thought of as embracing egalitarianism — the idea that all are equal (and in this case, equal before Allah) — and not embracing anything to do with divine kings or slavery or strong political hierarchies (138). (Of course, a caveat to this is that women are most certainly not equal with men in the culture.) Imbued within the Somalis is a quality that may seem inherent to anarchism and self-governance as conceived by Leeson, “Consensual rather than coercive governance is more appealing to Somalis, and Somalis expect their leaders to be persons capable of persuasion by having oral skills required for ‘disputation, litigation, negotiation, agreement, and consensus'” (Abdullahi 138). Even more important to what occurred in the 1991-2006 period, is the notion that also imbued within the Somali culture is an “entrepreneurial dynamism,” wherein, it is the case that the Somalis have always been traders, merchants, and yes, entrepreneurs (138).
Interestingly enough, Abdullahi grapples with the question of whether the Somalis can be characterized as anarchists, by saying, “Unfortunately, too many analysts and writers tended to see ‘anarchy’ in Somali culture and then went on to attribute the present total collapse of the central authority as the product of the anarchistic and individualistic nature of Somalis of pastoral culture” (138). (And in fact, Abdullahi attributes the collapse of government to the government’s violence itself, not to something inherent in the Somali character.) This rejection seems more a rejection of the popular connotation of anarchism (with chaos), as in, his not wanting the Somalis to be associated with such a character trait, but nevertheless, I want to make clear that my goal isn’t to represent the Somalis as anarchists nor to represent the overthrow of the Barre regime as an endeavor aimed at achieving anarchism. Rather, as has been demonstrated, there are elements within Somali culture, dating back centuries, which seems to not be entirely conducive to centralized government and in fact, seems ripe for exploitation and predation by a corrupt, centralized government, as was the case with Barre.
To be sure, then, the clans within Somali operate as a quasi-minimalist communal governance, wherein “members agree to adopt a common social pact (Xeer) for dealing with community problems and for helping each other” (139). It’s worth me pointing out that Abdullahi says “members agree,” as in, it’s a voluntary association for the betterment of a community. This does not seem in contradiction to anarchist philosophy or thinking.
Somalia, the Stateless Years:
“In the absence of asphyxiating bureaucracy and profiting from a lack of a taxation system, private enterprise is flourishing everywhere” (Abdullahi 160).
It’s worth pointing out before I begin this analysis that any data prior to 1991, then in the stateless years, and after 2006, ought to be treated with some caution, as collecting data in those designated time periods is difficult give that Somalia is a LDC, albeit not impossible. Nevertheless, it seems clear that by 1995, the northern part of Somalia was experiencing an “unprecedented boom.” Banana exports, for instance, helped to restore the south, too. In fact, the U.S. company Dole came into Somalia to do business. Fishing and marine product exports increased (Abdullahi 161). As Michael Maren noted in his book, The Road to Hell, “The progress that has been made in Somalia is substantial. Sometimes this is difficult for Westerners to accept. We want to believe they need us. The truth is that they don’t.” Maren believes that it is corrupt, socialist governments, like Barre’s, which lead to the famine seen in Somalia.
As Benjamin Powell notes in his 2008 comparative analysis of Somalia, “Despite the initial civil war and recent violence centered around the attempt to impose a new national government, Somalia has been relatively peaceful for most of the period since becoming stateless, and living standards have not collapsed” (Powell 658). Powell’s work is comparative in the sense that, to better understand Somalia’s “achievements in a stateless order,” it’s best to compare its performance when it had a state, as well as its performance in comparison to neighboring African states. To that first comparison, Powell informs us that during the Barre years, 90 percent of spending was on the military, with just 1 percent of GDP devoted to social services; the banking industry also largely collapsed by 1989 (659). Within this lack of provided social services, black markets developed to cater to those needs for financial, health and educational services. As an example, credit and investment-financing was provided, resulting in the black market being the largest employer of labor by the mid-1980s (659).
“The average standard of living was so low that Somalia had one of the lowest per capita food intakes during the 1980s” (659). It is the aforementioned clans, their customs and the black market that allowed the average Somali to survive the Barre regime and which proved instrumental to flourishing in the stateless years.
It is true, of course, that the civil war seen immediately after Barre’s collapse up until the UN’s pull-out in 1995, was a detriment to Somali living standards; however, once most of the fighting had ended, the economy rebounded. As I looked at before, one of the core areas of Somalia’s economy is the pastoral sector, which has “mostly done well since the collapse of the central government” (660). That is mostly because the central government of Barre was no longer plundering the herders. In particular, Somalis live cattle trade, which has increased under statelessness, actually quadrupled from 1989 to 1998. “Overall, the volume of trade in sheep and goats in Somaliland and Puntland was greater in 1999 than when the regions were governed by a single national government” (660). Somalia, in fact, exported more than 480 million metric tons of agricultural products in 2002 and more than 180 million metric tons of livestock. That’s not to say there aren’t problems, like droughts, which also affects much of Africa, but even so, Somalia managed to do better than comparable herders in Kenya (660).
As mentioned, U.S.-based company Dole invested in Somalia after the state’s collapse, but so did a media company affiliated with the British Broadcasting Company (BBC), the courier DHL, British Airways affiliates, and even General Motors does business in Somalia (661). In 2004, Coca-Cola opened a soft drink plant in Mogadishu, employing 120 Somalis and with a productive capacity of 36,000 bottles per hour (661). All of which seems baffling to a Westerner envisioning the Black Hawk Down-world of Somalia known for its pirates and “chaotic anarchy.”
Powell in particular points to Borama as a successful city in northwestern Somalia without a government. With a population range of 150,000 to 300,000, Borama has abundant commercial activity: 95 tea shops, 82 restaurants of B, C, or D-grade (non-star rated restaurants), 145 elementary shops, 8 star-level restaurants, 69 wholesale stores, 106 retail stores, 137 clothing and shoe shops, 19 emporium shops, 30 retail pharmacy shops, 16 hotels (four of which are star rated), seven fuel stations with underground tanks, four with above ground tanks, and 10 selling fuel from barrels. There’s also an airport, a hospital (with three doctors, three nurses and even an X-ray technician); and a private university created in 1996, which now has more than 1,000 students, 45 teachers, and a library of more than 100,000 books (661).
In other words, Powell is saying, business can flourish without a central government ensuring contracts, meditating disputes, or enforcing property rights — the hallmarks of a government. But what above the overall living standards of the Somalis?
Powell builds upon the work of Leeson (to be mentioned later) and others by looking at the World Development Indicators to compare Somalia’s performance with 41 other sub-Saharan African countries in the current period and relative over time. In particular, Powell looked at the following 13 measures: the death rate, infant mortality, life expectancy, child malnutrition, telephone mainlines, mobile phones, Internet users per 1000 population, households with television, DPT immunization, measles immunization, percent of the population with access to sanitation and an improved water source, and cases of tuberculosis (662).
Obviously, as Leeson noted in the earlier video, by Western comparison, Somalia is a very poor country, but when compared with fellow African countries, Somalia’s 2005 living standard fares well. Of those 13 measures Powell looked at, Somalia ranks in the top 50 percent of nations in five of them, and ranks near the bottom in infant mortality, immunization rates and access to improved water sources (662). See Table 1:
As seen in Table 1, “Life expectancy in Somalia fell by two years from 1985 to 1990, but it has increased by five years since becoming stateless (1990-2005). Only three other countries can claim this since 1990. Even in those areas where it ranks in the bottom 50 percent, like cases of tuberculosis, Somalia’s rank still improved from 40th to 31st since the collapse of government (663). One of the most prominent areas of success for Somalia is in telecommunications, as Somalia move from 29th to 8th among African countries or main lines per 1000 of population. The reason: comparable African countries have state monopolies and licensing restrictions, which raise price and slow down the spread of those telecommunications; something that’s not seen in Somalia, obviously (663). Powell says, “Somalia may be very poor, but the loss of its government does not appear to have harmed standards of living” (665). To ensure the comparison is even more fair, Powell compared Somalia to similar countries during war and during peace. Any way you slice it, Somalia “improved measures of well being both in absolute terms and relative to other African states” (663).
It’s worth looking at something of a caveat for an astute reader, noting the aforementioned Somaliland and Puntland, two areas in the north of Somalia, who have local authorities who claim some sovereignty there (as opposed to Southern Somalia where it’s completely stateless). How, then, can we claim Somalia is anarchist? But Powell rejects the authorities’ claim as representative of true government. The working definition I’ve been utilizing is an entity with the monopoly on force around a given region, with which it employs, “ultimate dispute resolution and its enforcement.” But Powell believes neither Somaliland or Puntland fall under such a definition. “Though there are local differences throughout the country the basic common law legal system that operates in the completely stateless south is also the dominant system in Somaliland and Puntland” (665).
Leeson makes the same case as Powell that Puntland and Somaliland do not meet the typical definition of government, but even if one takes that into account — that is, to say, well maybe the northern regions where “minimal” government appears to be is what’s driving Somalia’s relative success — the tentative data Leeson does offer shows a mixed bag, but it’s worth pointing this out since neither Powell’s work or Leeson’s other data take that factor into consideration. Consider Table 9.3 then:
There’s only five indicators with partial comparison. Somaliland has better access to water and sanitation than Somalia overall does, but they also are worse on maternal mortality and has about the same GDP per capita and infant mortality rate (Powell 211).
The question, however, is how and why did Somalia’s economy manage to do relatively well in this time of statelessness? Why are Coke, Dole and GM comfortable doing business in a “lawless” society, like Somalia? Why are there still restaurants, hotels and hospitals? Why is trade, imports and exports still occurring? How is any of this still occurring without any centralized governmental force?
The use of clan and other local trust networks via simplified transactions and importing governance by relying on foreign institutions. Custom — Xeer — is what keeps Somalia operating without state, outlawing homicide, assault, torture, rape and so on (Powell, 666). When those offenses do occur, the “legal system” is more about restitution than it is punishment. For instance, a criminal must pay 100 camels to the family of the person he or she murdered (it’s 50 camels for women, hence my earlier rejection about egalitarianism when it comes to women) (667).
Powell concludes his assessment by saying, “Basic economic order in absence of a state is possible in Somalia because of the existence of a common law dispute resolution system and a non-state monetary system” (669). In other words, custom and the state getting out of the way (as a barrier to entry for a new telecommunications business, for instance) is the mechanism enabling economic success in Somalia; a predatory government, like Barre’s, would work as a hindrance to such common law resolution and low-entry monetary systems.
Leeson further adds to the literature in his 2014 book by noting that, contrary to popular belief, “failed states” comprise more than a majority in the world, saying, “The world’s ‘experiment’ with government, then, has produced far more mixed results than most people think” (Leeson 194). Naturally, these failed states are typically found in poorer countries, like Somalia. He concludes similarly as Powell, however, that, “On nearly all indicators Somalia performs significantly better under anarchy than it did under government” (197). Take note of Table 9.1. with slightly different indicators than Powell’s:
Of the data, Leeson says, “The data depict a country with severe problems, but one that’s clearly doing better under statelessness than it was under government” (205). Moreover, it’s worth noting, as Leeson does, that the Somalis are no longer living under the brutal Barre regime, restricting civil liberties.
Leeson concludes, “Even if Somalia’s ability to improve is constrained by statelessness, Somali development may still be better served under anarchy than it would under government [in particular, the brutal, predatory one between 1969 and 1991)” (220). Again, the point is about comparative and if we can — and I think Powell and Leeson have — establish that the alternative to the existence of the state is better, then such is sufficient.
However, lest one thinks this project is merely the priority of those with agendas, as libertarians or anarchists, the BBC reported in 2011, in conjunction with Powell and Leeson’s findings, the following, “Remarkably for a country which has suffered two decades of conflict, living standards have slowly improved.” In contrast to Powell and Leeson, though, the BBC says, “The relative stability in living standards may in part be because of the work of international aid agencies.” Consider their table:
My particular interpretation of this graph is thus: the West largely pulled out of Somalia by 1995 and obviously, food aid in Somalia continued, but at much lower level than when the West reemerged more strongly in Somalia by 2008 and beyond. I think it’s fair, in any event, to concede the BBC’s point that food aid played a role, saving for any contrary data as of yet unavailable to this author.
Somalia Beyond 2005:
“Everybody’s got a story, that can’t be Somalia’s only story…” – Abla Elmi
Leeson’s data, like Powell’s, stops at 2005. Somalia is now more than a decade removed from such data. So, that begs the question: what is the latest data and information?
In 2006, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) attempted to take control over the country, as backed by the international community. It was the first time of overt conflict since the fighting after Barre’s overthrow. By early 2007, Leeson notes, the TFG succeeded in at least securing Mogadishu and yet, even then, the TFG wouldn’t meet Powell’s definition of government. When the weak TFG expired in August of 2012, the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) took over, albeit it was challenged heavily by the terrorist organization Al-Shabaab in the southern and central regions of Somalia (Leeson 197).
Likewise, the International Crisis Group noted in February 2011 report, which was rather dismissive of the weak and ineffectual TFG, “The international community has not yet learned the lesson that re-establishing a European-style centralised state, based in Mogadishu, is almost certain to fail. For most Somalis, their only experience with the central government is that of predation” (“Somalia: The Transitional Government on Life Support”). Such is a reoccurring theme when looking at the Somalis: they fear a return to the Barre regime.
Reason magazine zeroes in on what occurred in 2006:
By 2006, a coalition of Islamist courts—known as the Islamic Courts Union (ICU)—dominated Mogadishu, the nominal nation-state of Somalia’s nominal capital. They imposed some rough versions of Shariah law where possible. Although they won much love from the Somali people for reducing the number of extortionary checkpoints and amount of militia fighting, they became targets of American wrath. In late 2006 a U.S. proxy invasion by Ethiopians (long-time enemies of the Somalis) brought violent chaos back to huge parts of Somalia, resulting in a fresh wave of 10,000 civilian deaths, 1 million refugees, and 3 million in need of emergency food aid.
The following PBS video (11:50), gives an inside look into the famine that hit Somalia around 2010 in Mogadishu.
The people rushing the city are being fed by a “non-government organization.” “We are feeding the people every morning and at lunch time. We feed between 2,000 and 5,000 people a day,” one man remarks. The resulting famine created scores of refugees fleeing the city into nearby Kenya and Ethiopia.
So, how are the people doing, though? Using the World Bank’s data, I can compare 1990 to 2000 to 2014 for their various indicators. That’s the best, most comprehensive data post-Powell and Leeson I have:
Let’s start with population because, despite the refugee crisis throughout the years, there were 6.32 million people in Somalia in 1990 and 7.39 million and 10.52 million in 2000 and 2014, respectively.
Life expectancy in 1990: 45, 2000: 51, and 2014: 55.
Mortality rate, under-5 per 1,000 in 1990: 180, in 2000: 174 and in 2014: 141.
Immunization even went up from 30% in 1990 (dropped to 24% in 2000) to 46% by 2014.
Water access has improved with 21 percent of the population having access in 1990, 22 percent in 2000 and 24 percent in 2014.
For comparison sake, I looked at Somalia’s neighbor, Ethiopia, a much larger country with a 2014 population of 96.96 million, which also is a comparison between 1990, 2000 and 2014, respectively.
Life expectancy: 47, 52 and 64, respectively.
Mortality rate: 205, 145 and 62, respectively.
Immunization rates: 38, 36 and 70, respectively.
Water access: 13, 29 and 55, respectively.
It seems to me when looking at this new information, Somalia, as has been the case for most of its history, is still a LDC. But to actually see improvements occur in a place with little-to-no centralized government is extraordinary, even under these relative terms.
Possible Objections to This View of Somalia
“In the twenty-first century, the state, the single most important political phenomenon, comes under tremendous pressure in some parts of the world. In fact, as current tragic events and experiences in certain countries clearly demonstrate, the breakdown of state amounts to nothing less than doom” (Mohamoud 15).
An analysis of anarchism, Somalia and anarchism manifest in Somalia would be incomplete if it were to ignore objections. As such, I first turn to Abdullah A. Mohamoud’s dissertation on Somalia, “State Collapse and Post-Conflict Development in Africa: The Case of Somalia (1960-2001).” For starters, I do agree with Mohamoud’s drive to write such a dissertation: to give a more complete picture of the events in Somalia, i.e., people tend to view moments in history as isolated events, such as the collapse of Somalia’s government in 1991, without connecting its historical dots which gave rise to it. Not only that, but the reasoning often given for the collapse — violent clan politics imploding — is too shallow for Mohamoud (Mohamoud 11).
Mohamoud’s overarching argument is situated in the post-9/11 world, wherein, Somalia’s continuing anarchist state, as a hotbed for al-Qaeda militants, is a threat to the Somalis living there and the peace and security of the international community (11). And to be sure, Mohamoud is not, in fact, arguing for military intervention and “muscle flexing” like Somalia saw from the United States in 1992, but rather, prolonged engagement with Somalia.
Mohamoud is right in his diagnosis of the problem with intervention, nevertheless. That the problem with the international community was “track I diplomacy,” meaning a formal channel to the governments in Somalia, rather than using the “track II diplomacy” of informal channels, making it appear the locals are the major players instead (150). “The building of a community and the state has always been the task of the domestic elites” (152).
Overall, his view on Somalia is not all that pleasant, “In this calamitous state of affairs, only the vicious and best armed survive” (16).
Writing in 2001, Mohamoud concludes, “Today, ten years have passed since the state collapsed yet the social fabric of the society is still in tatters while the political authority at all levels is up for grabs” (157). In fact, Mohamoud is wise in his assessment of why attempts to restore a state in Somalia have continually failed, mainly that the Somalis simply don’t want to risk another Barre regime and localism and distrust of outsiders further inform such a decision. Essentially, Mohamoud believes, even with this in mind, “good government” can be restored there, which largely respects the Somalis’ desires to be “left alone” (164).
Interestingly, Hussein Adam in, “From Tyranny to Anarchy: The Somali Experience,” doesn’t even consider anarchy as an option. The only three ways he sees to put a state back together (and of course, the premise already leaves out anarchy) are: democratization, international intervention and a strongman (Adam 4). Despite this, Adam offers an insight to Somalia no other surveyor — those sympathetic to the thesis and those opposed — thus far can: he was the head of the Social Sciences Division of the Somali National University from 1974 to 1987. But still, it’s peculiar for Adam, like Mohamoud to assert such things such as this, “no formal legal system; no banking and insurance services; no telephone and postal system; no educational and reliable health system” (18). As shown above by Powell and Leeson, there may not be what we traditionally think of when it comes to those areas functioning in Somalia, nor are they what we would call a “system,” but there is a legal system per se (the Xeer), there’s still banking and credit, universities and the telecommunication sector has been the most pleasantly surprising component of Somalia’s progress under statelessness.
Adam does do the necessary service of bringing the focus to the people in the aftermath of state collapse and the ensuring war, however. Consider, for instance, that in a country of about eight-to-10 million, in June of 1995, 4.5 million of them were starving. By 1993, one-half of all Somali children under five were dead (93). This is an important point to make because under no circumstances am I looking to minimize or ignore this fact of Somalia’s history, but it must certainly be stated that anarchism and statelessness can’t be held responsible for such a situation.
Yet, like Mohamoud, Adam does the job for me of pointing out positives under statelessness, even one I had overlooked in my research. “Women leaders have also been active, and women and children constituted a majority in demonstrations for disarmament and peace” (95). And Adam further backs up the previous points about the private sector’s revitalization without socialism’s regulatory burden under Barre, “The thriving, small-scale private sector (in both the north and Mogadishu) has moved far ahead of embryonic regulatory authorities” (95).
Most importantly, Adam tells us a story that should be familiar to the reader by now: the Somalis are anti-centralism, with an “atmosphere favoring local autonomy, regionalism, and federalism — and in the north, self-determination and secession” (96). There’s even a free press emerging with six newspapers.
Finally, like Mohamoud, Adam believes Somalia’s hope and future restoration lies in finding “good governance” (104). Economist Daron Acemoğlu makes a similar case in an interview with David Sloan Wilson in Evonomics magazine. Acemoğlu’s entire thesis centers on this notion of good governance, wherein he references Somalia’s chaos. He goes on to suggest, “no civilization has flourished economically, and I would also say socially, without a state powerful enough to provide security, property rights protection, dispute resolution and some amount of public goods to its citizens” (Wilson, Sloan and Acemoğlu). And yet, Acemoğlu recognizes that most states today are not operating as they ought to, but for him, this is a problem of who is running the state, not its inherent evilness or anything.
Response to the Objections
“The Somali experience does, however, provide insight to the robustness of markets when states collapse” (Powell 658).
This is not the space to give a full accounting for the previous objections, but it’s worth making a few comments. To begin with, Mohamoud states that the “tragic disintegration of the state, along with its institutional apparatuses, has led to loss of security of life and property. The people are defenceless against external predators who cheaply plunder the country’s tropical fruits, pillage marine resources in its territorial waters and dump hazardous waste” (11). Then he states that the breakdown of political order has resulted in a disruption of production.
First and foremost, what’s left out of this accounting is that the Barre dictatorship was itself a predatory entity, leaving the people defenseless and not exactly providing security of life and property (and in some instances, taking it altogether, as again, Mohamoud himself notes, saying, “The government started using violence to suppress any kind of domestic resistant…the government also brutally punished any person or a group who disagree with its policy (133)). As another example from Mohamoud himself demonstrates, military as a percentage of GDP went from 5.1 percent in 1969 to 13.8 percent in 1978, while health and education were 1.9 percent and 1.7 percent in 1969, and 2.0 percent and 5.7 percent in 1978, respectively (116). Secondly, as Powell and Leeson have demonstrated, after a relative peace was restored once the West stopped intervening, production still occurred in Somalia with numerous businesses operating securely.
Additionally, Mohamoud notes that Somalia was actually stateless before colonialism. “Pre-colonial Somali society, as other societies in Africa, succeeded in establishing a relatively viable political system but not a formal system of government as existed in the Western world” (18). It wasn’t until 1860 when colonial powers, like Britain, intervened in the country and disrupted what had organically occurred in Somalia (statelessness buoyed by custom and traditions). In other words, statelessness worked prior to Western intervention and yet, the new prescription advanced by Mohamoud is to re-establish through Western intervention a return to centralized government alien to the Somalia people.
Acemoğlu’s argument is worth quickly addressing and it’s easily dismissed, with due respect to what is an admittedly fascinating interview: his premise is wrong, as there is no way to get the “right” people in charge to run the state with all its monopolistic power. There is no way to wield such a state with such power in such a manner as to do the least amount of damage and to, in fact, do good for the peoples. The problem isn’t the people per se, but the power with which they are expected to wield.
It’s About the Somalis
“Somalia ticks all the boxes for the African disaster zone. It has war, it has hunger. It provides perfect images for the media: gun-wielding, drug-crazed teenagers race around in sawn-off Land Cruisers, while skeletal women clutch starving children, flies buzzing around their faces” (Harper 2).
BBC journalist Mary Harper denies conventional wisdom about Somalia, as someone that’s reported on the “failed state” since 1991. To be sure, she advocates for a type of governance in Somalia, albeit with autonomous combinations of modern and traditional, as we’ve seen advocated by Mohamoud and Adam, but she wants to mostly correct the record on the Somalis and Somalia, as reported by mainstream, Western media outlets.
“Perhaps the greatest resource Somalia has is its people. Because they live in such an unforgiving environment, they are hugely resourceful, resilient and enterprising” (21). Somalis, simply put, are a nomadic people, so a notion of a “nation” in and of itself, much less a nation-state, doesn’t make much sense as briefly mentioned prior — despite their brief flirtation with it.
Moreover, an area of particular interest to me as a budding journalist is how neatly, Harper says, the media writes about Africa, as Africa unsurprisingly seems to fit into the “death, decay, and destruction” narrative. “The experience of Somalia since the fall of Siad Barre offers fascinating examples of how society works without an effective central government, and demonstrates the inventiveness and resilience of the Somalis” (111). Harper even then references the above Powell work on how Somalia’s economy has improved and its living standards are doing favorably in comparison to its neighbors. She then recounts a meeting with a Somali businessman in London:
“I sat with a Somalia businessman in a London restaurant as he hammered out multiple deals on his various mobile phones, sent endless emails from his iPad, devoured a large plate of spaghetti bolognaise, asked me to write an email to a client on his BlackBerry, and summoned over the waiter brandishing a pile of paper. ‘Just fax these documents to this number or me,’ he demanded, with a cheeky smile and so much confidence that the waiter simply nodded and ran off to complete the task. He operates from Mogadishu, Dubai, London and Nairobi. He is a postmodern nomad with a very healthy bank account” (116).
The emphasis is mine. If there’s any way to summarize my entire thesis into one sentence, it may just be that one. Harper concludes, “The fact that even the most violent parts of Somalia have managed to experience rapid economic growth in some sectors, including livestock, money transfer and telecommunications, suggests that state ‘failure’ does not mean country failure” (141).
Then there is Abla Elmi, in her Tedx talk, “Mogadishu Diaries,” Elmi gives us a recent, inside look into Somalia, saying, “I got here and I just kept thinking, ‘Wow, it’s nothing like the media portrays it to be; it’s so different.'” She wants to humanize Somalia and the Somalis:
In other words, there are “real” human beings living in Somalia she says. What are their lives like, despite living in what is seen as a war zone of unimaginable poverty? Yes, it wasn’t “candy land” as she says, like the challenges of being a woman in Somalia (she was shot at for taking a picture — although she’s friends now with the person), but the positive reaction to the “Mogadishu Diaries” series was positive and encouraging to her.
The lessons Elmi took away from Somalia:
- Don’t let fear be the reason you don’t live the life you want to live.
- Never lose hope. (“Hope is the mother of all humanity.”)
- Be the change you wish to see in the world.
Conclusion on Anarchism in Somalia
“The best thing the U.N. can do is leave and acknowledge that the only enduring peace will be the one the Somalis carve out for themselves.” Michael Maren, New York Times, July 6, 1994.
Let us now return to the question that’s concerned this research from the beginning: Was Somalia and the Somalis better off during the period of no central government than with it? Given the data (even taking it with caution) provided by Powell and Leeson, as well as backed up by other sources, like the BBC and the numbers from the World Bank itself (especially from as recent as we can get — 2014), and given the standard with which we’re measuring the question — a comparative analysis of “apples to apples” rather than the unreasonable comparison of “apples to oranges,” i.e., comparing Somalia to the United States, then the reasonable answer is, yes, Somalia and Somalis were better off during the period of no central government than with it.
Whether looking at Somalia from the macro-level with respect to business and the economy or at the micro-level with respect to the Somalis’ standard of living, the Somalis, while most certainly still living within a LDC, Somalia and its people saw a better life than when the Barre regime was around. And every attempt to recreate a government in Somalia, like in 2006 with the TFG, has resulted in what appears to be more violence. As Leeson argues, this does not necessarily mean that Somalia would be better off without a government ever again, but for the foreseeable future, it seems to be the best chance for Somalis, given the 1991-2006 data and their culture and historical context.
Moreover, my underlying thesis behind the primary thesis is opening up the possibility for the reader of anarchism as a viable alternative to the state. At the minimum, I’ve demonstrated that for Somalia, less-than-ideal anarchism proved a better alternative than the state. In a theoretical sense, I hope I’ve at least provided the reader with a basis to grapple with the premises assumed about government (its necessity; taking for granted its monopoly on force).
Furthermore, and most importantly, for Western countries looking at Somalia from afar, perhaps they ought to reconsider their interventions and their attempts to back a government in Somalia. Perhaps it is time to let the Somalis decide the fate of their country on their own terms and in their own way. One central theme has permeated throughout this endeavor I’ve sought, whether from those who believe a state ought to be reconstituted in Somalia or those, like Powell, Leeson and myself, who believe that the current state of statelessness is preferable, is that the Somalis should be the ones to choose. Outside intervention has proven a failed endeavor in the past and for a variety of historical, cultural, traditional and current reasons, will prove unsuccessful again. As Harper says, “The rest of the world also needs to recognize that Somalis can be very good at doing things for themselves” (201).
And in this way, Maria H. Brons sees something of a paradigm for the rest of Africa: liberation.
“I still consider the collapse of the Somali state as a liberation for Somali society. Somalia now, at the beginning of the 21st century, is a showcase for the ‘second liberation of Africa’, the liberation from states and their leaders who have been superimposed on societies to the detriment of freedom and development” (Brons 284).
Somalia breaks with every bit of Western conventional wisdom when it comes to our outlook on Africa and expectations of the countries within it (which would constitute a fascinating, deeper thesis and analysis) and what one may expect in the aftermath of so-called “state collapse.” Westerners would do well to look at the real situation in Somalia rather than filtering it through the lens of preconceived expectations.