Somalia is a mess. It is a country dominated by warfare, crime, famine, instability, and insecurity. British Prime Minister David Cameron, recently hosted a conference on Somalia, saying “If the rest of us just sit back and look on, we will pay the price for doing so.”
Over 50 countries attended the conference, which focused on what sort of coordination of international assistance would be best in order to help Somalia. What conferences like these ignore is that Somalia would be much better off without state interference. Indeed Somalia functions well as a stateless society for most of its history.
Many stateless institutions such as the Somali legal system (Xeer) and money transfer system (Hawala) are proven successes, and not worth interfering with. Until the British and Italian adventures into the Horn of Africa, the region had never really known the statehood that has been imposed upon it. Indeed the tragedies that have blighted Somalia in the decades since independence have almost all had at their genesis stupid, arrogant, and mismanaged government intervention. When examining what to do in Somalia foreign governments, policy officials, and others should consider letting anarchy rule in Somalia, especially if the welfare of the Somalis is their motivating concern. Statelessness would deliver better results for Somalis than any pan-national humanitarian or peacekeeping plan.
While the situation in Somalia is poor in absolute terms, progress was made during statelessness. As economists like Prof. Leeson has pointed out, under statelessness life expectancy and access to health facilities increased, infant mortality was reduced, and extreme poverty dropped rapidly. There were also encouraging signs of material improvement, with the number of televisions and radios per 1,000 people increasing. In the mid-1990s violence dropped after the collapse of the government.
Perhaps the best argument for anarchy in Somalia is that there are already traditions in place which Somalis trust and have used for centuries. The property based legal code, Xeer, is an effective legal system that decentralizes legal power and allows for a high degree of specialization. Because the system is property-focused it is primarily based on compensation, rather than based on punitive measures, reducing violence and doing away with incarceration. Even today, Xeer is widely used throughout Somalia.
The Hawala money system is not unique to Somalia, but it is ideal for a country with a history of decentralized power. Money is transferred in an honor-based system, which allows transaction fees to be reduced, and breaks any government’s monopoly power over monetary transactions.
Somalis have only known misery and suffering living under the power of the states. One of the most disastrous legacies of the imperialism of countries like Britain and Italy is the damaging effects western style governments have had across much of the developing world. Interference in the Horn of Africa should be minimal. Of course there are some concerns that concern U.S. interests, such as the rise of piracy and the establishment of Al-Qeada in the region. But these can be dealt with without establishing statehood in the region.
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