Free Minds & Free Markets

Somalia Lived While Its Government Died

"Serious" foreign policy minds care about everything but citizens' lives.

(Page 2 of 2)

The ICU's legal system tended toward a non-uniform syncretist mix of Shariah and xeer, with the former applying most to family, marriage, inheritance, and strictly civil matters. Some instances of harsh Shariah-like physical punishment are known to have happened in Mogadishu when the ICU dominated the city. But as Hanno Brankamp wrote in a 2013 overview of ICU practice for Think Africa Press, "Contrary to popular assumption and terminological intuition, the Islamic Courts were not able to establish a system under which sharia was systematically, or even exclusively, applied." Indeed, clan law "ensured that the legal force of Islamic law remained limited."

Andre Le Sage, a political scientist at National Defense University, wrote in a 2005 paper that "customary xeer is the most far-reaching of the Somali justice systems, particularly in rural areas that are commonly beyond the reach of formal judicial systems, and is the most effectively enforced." Since these various justice systems have maintained "a modicum of peace and security in various parts of the country," he added, trying "to force one system across all areas would undermine those systems that function locally, and 'rule of law' assistance could in those circumstances create more conflict by undermining the structures that currently underpin local peace and security arrangements."

Those are some of the cultural resources that have helped Somalia's development indicators keep pace with its neighbors'. What has bedeviled the Somalis, from the Cold War to the war on terror, is being treated as a pawn in larger powers' schemes. Intervention has bred intervention: The 2006 Ethiopian invasion to overturn the ICU led to the rise of the Al Qaeda-allied radical Islamist group Al Shabaab, which led in 2009 to a new Kenyan invasion. (The Kenyans, like the Ethiopians, acted with America's active cooperation.) Back in 1992, a State Department official said that the U.S. mission in Somalia was "basically re-creating a country." Having perhaps learned that that's a trick that never works, Washington is now more cynically using Somalia to wage a drone war and to run rendition and torture camps.

As the latest attempt to impose a national government flounders in internecine bickering, the Associated Press reported in November that Somali sources said the U.S. is threatening to cut off aid to the would-be state if the current president and prime minister can't work together effectively. The existing aid package includes "$58 development assistance in this fiscal year and an additional $271 million in military assistance for the Somali national army and the African Union force in Somalia."

A wide range of scholarship and commentary on Somalia, most with no ideological ax to grind, tells an interesting and even somewhat encouraging story—one about a society with an unusual and robust clan-based system of dispute resolution and goods provision that has managed to keep daily life moving along even without a "Somali government." (Even the threat of Somali piracy has practically disappeared compared to its zenith in the early part of this decade.) But for all its very fine-grained details about militias and conferences and battles, Somalia in Transition Since 2006 misses this tale entirely.

The problems with Shay's book, as informative as it is about what it chooses to cover, are the problems with the American and international outlook toward Somalia writ small: Both view bureaucrats and military leaders as paramount, ignoring what life is actually like for the people trying to live, work, co-exist, and even thrive.

Photo Credit: UN

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  • juris imprudent||

    No one wants facts when they employ Somalia as a rhetorical totem.

    I had some FB derp from an acquaintance who trotted out Somalia as free-market capitalist anarchy in its purest form. When I replied that free-market capitalism depends on rule of law and property rights, and that as far as I could tell Somalia did not follow any school of anarchist theory (anywhere on the right-to-left spectrum) the 'discussion' ended.

  • Brian D||

    Of course it did, because they 'won'.

  • sarcasmic||

    That's only because you and every other libertarian out there don't understand what you really believe. Only progressive intellectuals know what libertarians really believe. You see, when libertarians don't want something to be done by government, then they don't want it to be done at all. The fact that libertarians don't want the government to raise crops means that libertarians want everyone to starve. See? You don't know what you really believe.

  • juris imprudent||

    Yeah, I always love that: a) you don't know what you believe - let me tell you, and b) even if you believe that it isn't in your own best interests - I know those better than you.

    I mean fuck - how can you argue with that kind of enlightened mind?

    Sometimes you can goad them a little with how mistaken humans can be and then remind them that they themselves and every expert they believe in are just as human as the ignorati. The looks on their faces when that dawns on them - of course you don't get that all too often.

  • sarcasmic||

    Sometimes you can goad them a little with how mistaken humans can be and then remind them that they themselves and every expert they believe in are just as human as the ignorati.

    Nope. Doesn't work that way. You see, when someone joins government or has a lofty degree from the right college, a miracle happens. They cease to be fallible human beings and become something more. In the case of joining government, because they serve the Will Of The People (formerly The Divine Right Of The King) they are no longer affected by self interest or greed. They become angels. In the case of intellectuals (formerly the clergy) they lose all fallibility and are above reproach.

    We live in a feudal system. Only the costumes have changed.

  • wareagle||

    that's kind of funny. Not long ago I saw a Milton Friedman video where he was saying the basis for the incorruptible British civil servant was a massive reduction in the number of things classified as illegal. With fewer laws to circumvent, there was no reason to bribe public officials or otherwise play games with the system.

  • sarcasmic||

    Not only that, but when there are tons and tons of laws as there are in America today, it is practically impossible to follow them all. It is at the discretion of the enforcers as to whether you get in trouble or not. If the enforcer likes you, then you get off the hook. If they don't like you, they just follow you around until they have an excuse to bust you. The result is rule of man, not rule of law.

  • wareagle||

    and they (the enforcers) must see that as a feature. The best way to make everyone a criminal and, therefore, subject to state sanction, is to make as many things as possible illegal.

  • sarcasmic||

    Ever notice that the more progressive a city is, the worse the cops are? It must necessarily be so, because progressives feel that everything should be subject to rules backed with state violence. This gives them the opportunity to initiate state violence on anyone they don't like, and the enforcers are more than happy to oblige.

  • wareagle||

    and that was the real story behind the Eric Garner incident. Selling. Loose. Cigarettes. Absent that law, cops had no reason to say a word to Garner, let alone act like uniformed thugs. Not excusing what the cops did, but the wheels on that began turning with TopMen.

  • Pulseguy||

    I used to own bars in British Columbia. If you read the rules carefully it was virtually impossible to run a bar. The liquor inspectors were all ex-military, ex-RCMP types who walked into your bar like feudal lords looking to exact tribute. They generally would threaten me and loom above me, (they were all big guys in those days, now of course 60% of them would be left leaning women), and glare at me. But, they left me alone in general.

    I hated it. But, I was stuck with it. At one point I did something nice for our inspector. He was getting worse and worse with his drinking. By the time he would hit my place he would be pretty wasted. One day he came in drunk out of his mind and told me he wanted whiskey, which I gave him. But, I also took his keys and asked him for his home phone number. He was drunk enough he didn't question me. My hotel was 100 miles from where he lived, I was a on a circuit. When he finished drinking he wanted his keys and I said 'not a chance', took him upstairs and got him into a room and let him sleep it off. I then called his wife and told her not to worry that he wasn't coming home, but I also told her what had happened. Some months later he showed up, thirty pounds lighter, cold sober, with his wife. He told me that day was a wake up call for him, his wife had suspected but not admitted what was happening, and he went to AA etc. His wife came up because she wanted to personally thank me.

  • sarcasmic||

    @ Pulseguy - thank you for that story. And good for you for doing that. I probably would have pushed the guy in front of a bus.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Mencken wrote, all the way back around WWII, that the Cop's idea of paradise was one in which he always had some law he could show you to be breaking.

    The Liberals think like cops. Quelle Surprise.

  • Pulseguy||

    When you're trying to do business in a rule bound country, such as Mexico, it is the bribe that makes things happen. You don't bribe someone to be allowed to do something you shouldn't be allowed to do. You pay someone in the bureaucracy to walk your piece of paper past the dusty stacks of applications that have sat there for months, so that yours doesn't.

    Rules create corruption.

  • wareagle||

    'rules create corruption' And full circle to Friedman's story about the incorruptible British civil servant. He wasn't always that way, not when Britain was a nation full of smugglers because so many things were illegal. Make things not involving force/coercion legal and, voila, the civil servant cannot be corrupted because no bribes are necessary.

    The statist, unfortunately, is blind to this believing instead, that laws are magical. As a bonus, places where economic freedom exists are far more likely to also have political freedom. Not always, but often. Political freedom, meanwhile, never exists without the presence of the economic kind.

  • juris imprudent||

    You see, when someone joins government or has a lofty degree from the right college, a miracle happens.

    Yep, that's their default. The trick is to deny them such deus ex machina, since they invariably are fellow atheist/agnostics. Usually they'll huff off about like a Christian does when you deny Jesus. Of course they won't allow that they are doing exactly the same thing - no, it's different for them.

    Progressives really are just incredibly mindless things. They would be so much happier as an ant or a bee.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    "Progressives really are just incredibly mindless things. They would be so much happier as an ant or a bee."

    And then swatting them would be legal.


  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    We live in a futile system. There, FTFY.

  • Free Society||

    We live in a feudal system. Only the costumes have changed.

    A feudal system, being a system of contracts between property owners for mutual recognition and protection, is not the same as serfdom which as the name implies is a system of involutnary servtitude. Feudalism and serfdom have existed at different times and different places as well as simultaneously.

    A modern 'feudal system' of sorts, would be an improvement upon the centralized state system that we now employ. The current system of governance I believe represents a regression in the rule of law.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    "I mean fuck - how can you argue with that kind of enlightened mind?"

    I favor a large mallet.

    I just LOOOOVE the kind of fatuous LIRP* idiot who is sure you don't know what you think, or what you really feel, or what you said, or what you want. I love them because I can say to them; "Explain to me why my statement of my position isn't really reflective of my position without resorting to jargon or psychobabble." Since they practically cannot BREATHE without jargon or psychobabble, they can't. But they also know that they have to refute my accusation or lose, so they try.

    The sputtering is most amusing.

    Most of what they say is gibberish, sanctified by constant repetition and if you are rude enough to challenge it they can't deal with that. If they even try to think about it their heads start to come unwound, like a ball of string falling down the stairs of the Washington Monument.

    *Liberal Intellectual Radical Progressive

  • juris imprudent||

    I favor a large mallet.

    Is there a jurisdiction where that is legal?

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Well, considering how fond the LIRPs are of "symbolic" actions that, viewed dispasionately, comstitute assault, you could just wait for one of them to assault you, and then apply the mallet.

    But it's a grey area.

  • Ornithorhynchus||

    It's legal if you live in a cartoon.

  • juris imprudent||

    In a thread about Somalia I drop a set-up line that just screams "Somalia" and no one goes there.

    I am disappoint.

  • Redmanfms||

    I love them because I can say to them; "Explain to me why my statement of my position isn't really reflective of my position without resorting to jargon or psychobabble."

    I usually just do the exact same thing to them they do to me.

    You see me do it here occasionally when I use the, "Translation:" response.

    Of course, it usually helps when you can quote major historical figures in the prog movement, which progressives can almost never do.

    I disagree with your description of progs as "liberals." When progs in Britain and the US started calling themselves "liberals" sometime in the mid-20th Century and got everyone to play along with their theft of that label they succeeded in pulling off perhaps the greatest Jedi mind-fuck in history. Progressivism was/is by definition an expressly anti-liberal third-way socialist movement. What they accomplished was co-opting a movement antithetical to their own ideology and claiming the history and victories of that movement, history and victories they had previously (and sometimes still do, witness the term "neo-liberal" now en vogue with right-thinkers in Europe) denounced vociferously.

  • Juice||

    He could have easily retorted that it doesn't matter what "theory" the people follow, when you remove government this is what you always get no matter what. It's not true at all, but it's an easy retort.

    The results of removing government altogether depends entirely on the culture of the people. If they grew up in a tradition of individual rights, reason, education, and literacy, then it will be much better than if the people hadn't grown up with those traditions.

  • wareagle||

    and how many places had this tradition of individual rights, reason, education and literacy without some framework involving the rule of law to undergird it? Those traditions also require the tradition of a legal framework in order to exist.

  • mtrueman||

    "When I replied that free-market capitalism depends on rule of law and property rights"

    You could have simply pointed out that nomadic herdsmen don't practice capitalism. The nomad with a couple dozen head of cattle is probably not going to fret too much over satisfying his investors by increasing his herd over the next quarter. They do have law and property though their conception no doubt differs from that of your typical capitalist. As for your "Somalia did not follow any school of anarchist theory," that's almost certainly for the best. These schools of anarchist theory, like schools of socialist or libertarian theory, are best not followed.

  • gaoxiaen||

    Wikipedia has a good article on Xeer and how it works. The "anarchy" there is not lawlessness.

  • tami2kind||

    It seems that in these tribal communities that rely on village elders adjudicating their disputes works out because they know the people involved personally and can tailor the resolutions to suite also the social safety net is the family. It seems to suite the community fine like in Afghanistan their government is notoriously corrupt so the average citizen is sure to get a raw deal from the government. Our government is doing a stellar job in reaching astounding levels of corruption so we can be proud.

  • See Double You||

    OK, Brian, you're just asking for it: LIBERTARDS CAN HAZ SOMALIAS*@^!

  • Andrew S.||


  • sarcasmic||

    Reductio ad Somaliaism

  • ||

    The "Somalia" argument is almost as bad as the Godwinning of an argument.

    And you know who else used to Godwin arguments to win them?

  • Almanian!||

    The last President of Somalia?

  • Res ipsa loquitur||

    John Godwin ?

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

  • gaoxiaen||


  • Almanian!||

    OT: Or actually, perhaps exactly On T. Mrs, Almanian and I are on V in Richmond, VA to attend the funeral of the guy who taught us bagpipes (which is how we met at age 12 and ultimately became Mr/Mrs Almanian /backstory). SO - the growth around DC is UNREAL! Holy fuck! Been hearing about it - but when you SEE's horrific.

    People are so fucking stupid and the federalization of EVERYTHING gathers MOAR SPEED.

    So the growth of Mordor on the Potomoc continues apace, rendering state govts immaterial, and hastening the run toward SOMALIA when it all collapses as it must, cause it's not sustainable.

    I cannot WAIT to get out of here tomorrow and get to Tennessee/Kentucky. Think we're moving's still in human scale, plus the ROADZ are fabulous!

  • Almanian!||

    Also, SugarFree...

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    MORDOR was better organized and less harmful.

  • Pulseguy||

    And, it had really cool uniforms.

  • Scarecrow Repair||

    Brian mentions the lack of private property, presumably meaning clans "own" big areas.

    One reason I favor individualism is because contracts can simulate 99% of collectivism, everything except coercing outsiders, whereas collectivism cannot tolerate individualism, let alone simulate it.

    But I can't see any very good way of simulating clan land ownership with private property. It all depends on the definition of clan membership, and contracts are too variable. It seems obvious that those born to two clam members are in turn clan members, but what if they move away to go to college, then come back? Are they still clan members? What if they live in the clan area but work outside? What is the adopt a non-clan baby?

    I can only see it being practical for a geographically and culturally isolated area, like a Pacific island.

    Anyone have any insight or know of any practical real world instances?

  • Agammamon||

    Clan member = national citizenship.

    As an example - the US clan.

    You don't *actually* own any land in the US, you just have an indefinite lease-hold - with a ton of restrictions (including the restriction that the restrictions can be added to or changed without notice). You can secede but the 'clan' retains ownership (though you can continue the leasehold). 'Clan elders' (elected politicians) manage the communal property that hasn't been given over to leaseholds.

  • Scarecrow Repair||

    O come off it. That's not even close to answering what I asked.

    Private ownership, as it exists in the US, may not be private ownership as it would be under a freer government, but you still have general rights to fence in your land, build on it, graze cattle on it, drill for oil, and so on.

    Under clan ownership, the clan decides those things because the clan owns it. As in the Americas before 1492. As in tribes fight over land, but individuals have no stake. I assume they had some form of private ownership in the sense that whoever planted and tended a crop in a field got first dibs, but who knows.

    What I am curious about is how these tribes, or other clans, handled clan membership.

    Getting all ranty with property taxes, eminent domain, etc, contributes nothing.

  • Agammamon||

    i wasn't getting all ranty about property taxes, etc.

    But a modern nation state runs this thing basically like its a clan that owns the land and lets members use it.

    As I said - indefinite leasehold. You pay a fee to the clan managers and you get the use of a parcel of land for an indefinite period. There can be restrictions on what you do with it. And the analogy holds to ownership of land *here* - it can be taken away for not paying taxes (lease), restrictions on what you can do with it (zoning laws and easements).

    Admission into the clan - is citizenship. If you're considered suitable (and this can be measured many ways, form the US' extended paper chase to some countries flat-out allowing you to simply buy citizenship outright) you're given clan membership.

  • gaoxiaen||

    Most of the area in the Horn of Africa away from the coast is geographically and culturally isolated. Those lines that you see on the map are just suggestions.

  • Scarecrow Repair||

    It's also such shit land that few people see any point in trying to take it over. Those warlords wouldn't exist without outside support. Even our own progressive shitlords wouldn't want anything to do with it directly, only through proxies.

  • Libertarian||

    I find the Singapore subject much more interesting. i hope an editor or two at Reason will address the apparent paradox, which even National Review headlines "In Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew built a Welfare State That Works."

  • Agammamon||

    At best, he is an example of what you can get if you have a 'good' despot running things.

    An autocrat who understands that the best way to increase his own wealth and power is by 'growing the pie' can be incredibly good for a society - while he's in power.

    Once he's out, the very mechanisms that he used for good are ripe for takeover by those who only care about how much of the current pie they get to eat and fuck the future.

  • LibIntOrg||

    Another problem is the failure to actually look at what L/libertarians are actually doing in Somalia/Somaliland. It's no secret, see

  • gaoxiaen||

    It seems that the Flag Counter country information there is lifted directly from the CIA World Factbook. NTTAWWT. The CIA's site is pretty good for a quick overview.

  • ||

    After reading the filters required to pass before receiving government assistance I would not call it a welfare state under todays definition of welfare state.

    It seems like more of a true safety net rather than welfare like the US version.

  • sarcasmic||

    Before we met, my wife applied for government assistance. She was working three jobs while trying to support her son. They told her she had to sell her car and quit one of her jobs before they would put her in line. She told them to screw.

  • wareagle||

    "quit one of her jobs"

    if that is not the embodiment of the perversity of welfare, I don't know what is. When the downturn began, I had numerous former co-workers who stayed on unemployment because "I'm not going to take some shit job."

    No, Sparky; better for you to leech onto me than to do something to help yourself. Then again, the shit job would have likely meant less money that unemployment and whatever else was providing, so I understand the economics argument. Anyway, good on your wife; you have clearly married well.

  • Agammamon||

    Its why I support the CBI concept - as a compromise.

    We're not going to get rid of state welfare, so just give it to them in one package. No queuing, no 5 thousand forms to fill out, no 15 overlapping bureaucracies who *almost* all do the exact same thing.

    Just 'here's your 10 grand, go find a job, or don't, just go away'.

  • Michael Price||

    I do door to door work. To qualify frankly you have to be not developmentally delayed (well not VERY much so), be able to talk to people without making them throw up and walk. Not much more than that. I get a $50 bonus for every person I sign up to do my job. I ask every person who tells me they can't help my charity because they're unemployed they can have a job. Guess how many takers on average per year. Go on, guess.

  • ||

    Benjamin Powell of Texas Tech

    Shout-out to my alma mater! Raider Power, whoop whoop! Libertarians on campus, fuck yeah! Time to sell plasma and go to the Bash Riprock's for penny pitchers, which is what we do at that school!

  • ||

    ...I miss college.

  • cfskyrim||

    Goddamn it Reason, you damn well know that without gov't the sun doesn't shine, rain doesn't fall, and cattle won't graze. You know that seeds won't germinate, birds won't chirp, and fish won't bite. Gov't is the source of life and without it there are endless wars, famine, starvation, and all around jackassery.

    Wait a sec, you say that gov't is the source of the latter and not the former....Oh shit, I thought I was at HuffPo, my bad.

  • JPyrate||

    Somalia is what I like to call a "Black Market Correction".

  • Michael Price||


  • blist14ant||

    Anarchist facts:Anarchist are fake libertarians,Murray rothbard supports terrorist anarchist groups in Spain and France,Anarchists came from communism. the left and libertarians laughs at you,and Murray Rothbard stole the "libertarian"from the originals who had the name first.

  • JPyrate||

    WTF ????

  • MattFC||

    Very interesting article. It would be nice if international data gathering organizations actually focused on unbiased economic data so there was a clearer picture. I wonder how much the life expectancy and other health related improvements were due to an increased charitable focus on the area and improvements in medical processes in general over the time since the government's collapse

  • Peter||

    So in essence, people's lives improve when you remove the effects of a corrupt government.

  • OfficialGovtSpokesperson||

    In Somalia, "Life expectancy is higher today; infant mortality has improved 24 percent; maternal mortality has fallen over 30 percent; infants with low birth weight has fallen more than 15 percentage points; access to health facilities has increased more than 25 percentage points..."

    See? Obamacare works!!!


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