The Anarchy Advantage in Somalia


As Ethiopia invades to break the power of the Union of Islamic Courts over Mogadishu and much of Southern Somalia, Benjamin Powell over at the Independent Institute argues that Somalia has been doing better without an effective central government of late than it was with one. The heart of it:

In conducting research for a new study comparing Somalia's economy relative to 42 other African countries, my coauthors and I examined 13 different measures, including life expectancy, immunization and disease rates, access to various telecommunications, and access to water/sanitation.

In 2005, Somalia ranked in the top 50 percent in six of our 13 measures, and ranked near the bottom in only three: infant mortality, immunization rates, and access to improved water sources. This compares favorably with circumstances in 1990, when Somalia last had a government and was ranked in the bottom 50 percent for all seven of the measures for which we had that year's data: death rate, infant mortality, life expectancy, main telephone lines, tuberculosis, and immunization for measles and DTP. Furthermore, we have found that during the last years of Somalia's government, 1985 to 1990, their performance was deteriorating compared to other African nations as their relative ranking fell in five of these measures. Since their government's collapse, Somalia has seen its relative ranking improve in four of these measures and deteriorate in only one: infant mortality.

Perhaps most impressive is Somalia's change in life expectancy. During the last five years of government rule, life expectancy fell by two years but since state collapse, it actually has increased by five years.

Powell's full study on Somalia.

An earlier short report by me on a World Bank study coming to similar conclusions. (You will note I mistakenly referred to Somalia as a West African nation in that piece–it is, of course, in East Africa.)

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  1. Somalia also demonstrates anarchy’s weak point: there is no strong force to prevent an authoritarian faction from seizing power. A point often overlooked by reporters is that the Islamists were initially funded by businessmen who were tired of paying protection money to the various warlords.

  2. That’s it, I now know where I am moving if Mrs. Clinton becomes president.

  3. So a clan-based governance is better than that of a incompetant dictator… did I miss something here.

  4. Other than the mandatory conversion to Islam or death, how did you enjoy your vacation in Somalia, Reason editors and contributors?

  5. I love how the Powell study drones on about the rise in Somalia’s anarchic prosperity while completely glossing over the simultaneous surge in Somalians observing International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

  6. So I wonder how much land Ethiopia plans on keeping?

  7. Thomas: I don’t think it’s about land. From what I’ve read Ethiopia’s main goal is to thwart their longtime rival Eritrea in their support for the Islamic Knucklehead faction in Somalia. Can’t say I blame them. Who wants Islamic lunatics for neighbors?

    Click my name for an insightful book on Africa.

  8. The study would have more validity if it included the statistic for Numbers Killed for Watching TV Soccer.

  9. Just off the wire: the Islamists have abandoned Mogidishu:

  10. Just off the wire: the Islamists have abandoned Mogidishu:

    Maybe Ethopia could teach us a thing or two.

  11. Yes, yes, yes. Fine.

    But can we smoke in the bars there?

  12. Why is it that when the government of somewhere doesn’t look exactly like a typical modern nation-state, someone runs up to try to call the situation “anarchy”?

  13. Eric the,
    Are you skeert of anarchy?
    Anarchy is good for you.

  14. The Ethiopian attack demonstrates another practical problem with anarchy. There will usually be a state next door that can invade.

  15. Just curious, does this report include Somaliland (fmr. British Somaliland)? If so, the ‘no state’ hypothesis is weakened. By all accounts, Somaliland has had an effective functioning government for quite a while now (although not internationally recognized.)

  16. The other piece of this is that Somali got so dangerous the international aid organizations had to leave. I think their leaving actually helped the situation, seriously. When the international do gooders left, people actually started doing things for themselves.

  17. Don’t forget Puntland. Also, this report seems to rely a lot on “anecdotal evidence” not gathered from an actual fact-finding trip to the country (was anarchy too dangerous for the scholars?), and is up front about lacking most of the normal metrics used in gauging economic development. How could this be considered rigorous, then? I daresay the II has an axe to grind…

  18. It’s not too difficult to believe that in a state composed of ancient feuding clans, the “government” amounts to nothing more than the most powerful clan conducting a “smash and grab” against the others.

  19. Anarchist societies generate enough prosperity to make attractive targets for gangs of thugs to decide to take them over, within about five years.

    Didn’t we already learn this lesson from Spain?

  20. Still looking for the commentors who advocate total anarchy around here . . . . nope.

    Most around here adhere to a minarchist philosophy – with the minimum government necessary being one that: enforces contracts; enforces restitution/punishment on those who break contracts; and (optionally) prevents others from using force as a measure of coercion.

  21. Ironchef meet Ruthless…

    “Anarchy is good for you.”

    Ruthless advocates total anarchy. A more coherent position than most of his minarchist peers who want their cake and to eat it to.

  22. It’s not too difficult to believe that in a state composed of ancient feuding clans, the “government” amounts to nothing more than the most powerful clan conducting a “smash and grab” against the others.

    Sounds like the US in another 20 years, with the Bush, Kennedy, and Clinton clans going at it.

  23. Wow. I’m impressed by the number of commentors here lauding the collapse of Somalia’s first working government in 16 years, and the return of Somalia to lawlessness, anarchy and warlordism. God forbid another Islamic government come to power, even if it’s one that poses absolutely no threat to us, and brings peace and stability to the country. I’m sure the Somali people (predominately Muslim by the way) will be lauding the “liberators” from Ethiopia for returning the warlords to power and guaranteeing years of civil war.

  24. Oh, please move to Somalia. You’ll be happy there.

  25. Look, what is this anarchy you’re talking about? This is Ethiopia invading to get rid of a spontaneously-formed, popularly-approved (as much as the USA’s rulers are, so not necessarily unanimously), clerically-led Islamic government. It’s perfectly reasonable to sympathize with the Union of Islamic Courts, or to appreciate the good they have done for the people of Somalia since the collapse of the last government.

    But how can you call Islamic governance anarchy? They’ve got rule by judges. An ancient concept, brought with Islam from the Middle East – the Biblical Book of Judges compiles myths about this style of government from Bronze-Age times. It is still practiced in many Middle-Eastern areas today.

    We can probably, even without on-the-ground knowledge, assume that Sharia rule follows certain well-understood principles of Islam as in other Muslim countries around the rule. Islamists aren’t anarchists. They aren’t evil boogeymen but they aren’t anarchists either. There are prohibition laws. There is a tax system and there is welfare. There are blue laws of all sorts. All this is mainstream Islamic thought straight from the Koran. Islam is not anarchic.

    Should Ethiopia go in there and kill people? Probably not. But let’s not pretend that the UIC are all Libertarians, let’s not pretend that they’re over there debating the fine points of end-stage Libertarianism, sitting in a cafe somewhere deciding whether public roads should be sold off to nearby landowners or whether marriage should continue to have legal status … they’re running Somalia based on Sharia which is an ancient legal code just like common law, and is not anarchy or libertarianism or objectivism or anything like that.

  26. Yeah, I forgot…Islam is all about peace and justice.

  27. Comment on several posts–
    1. All Somalis are well armed, and fiercely independent. It is not likely that they will tolerate for long a “strong authoritarian takeover” of the country by either the Islamic Courts or the Ethiopians.
    2. The Somalis in 1991 made a conscious, well considered decision to abandon Western style government. It is simply NOT a question of evil warlords preventing the people from getting what they want. By and large, most of the people, despite 15 years of constant UN and US intervention, plus natural disasters, do NOT want a western style government.
    3. Considering that there have only been a few real anarchies that we can look at besides the most primitive aboriginies, I think it can still be said that anarchies do NOT collapse into chaos or submit to the first authoritarian group that wants to rise to power.
    As examples, the Icelandic Commonwealth lasted for three hundred years as an anarchy, before it became corrupted.

    The Celtic Irish lasted for one thousand years without a central government before finally crushed by Cromwell c 1640.

    There is evidence that an anarchy lasted in Southern India in the bronze age for 700 years.

    Of these examples, the Irish were the ones invaded the most. Yet, they gave ground grudgingly, and were not completely conquered for 4 centuries by the British. The British had the advantage of a more or less unified throne that collected taxes to build armies. The Irish, like the Somalis, did not collect taxes to build a unified defense, yet their volunteer and guerrila style defense lasted for centuries. In the twentieth century, it was Michael Collins IRA guerrila resistance that freed Ireland from British rule, NOT DeValera’s attempts to fight the British with Westphalian style regular armies. The IRA has been studied by Arabs since the Battle of Algiers.

    We are entering into a new era of governance. Although we think we are small, the basic libertarian premise of decentralization, secession and yes anarchy has a good chance of success. The Westphalian nation states are reeling and certainly the overall centralization that occurred in the late nineteenth century is waning.
    If we can end the American empire, we will see more Somalis. Some of it will be ugly, but overall not as ugly as the western style governments that the Somalis believe are the cause of Africa’s problems (genocide, corruption, poverty.)

  28. This compares favorably with circumstances in 1990, when Somalia last had a government and was ranked in the bottom 50 percent for all seven of the measures for which we had that year’s data: death rate, infant mortality, life expectancy

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