The ultimate straw man for a statist to use against an anarchist is Somalia. “If you don’t like the government, go to Somalia! You can be a pirate!” And then they laugh, as if that was a clever trump card. I don’t think so. First, no anarchist who knows what he is talking about advocates an immediate or violent implosion of government, like what happened to Siad Barre’s government in 1991. Anarchism is also called voluntarism or voluntaryism, because anarchists want to see voluntary institutions arise over time to replace the coercive ones of government. Life was not good, or voluntary, under Siad Barre.
Second, the violence in Somalia is committed by groups fighting each other in order to form the government and control the levers of power. This violence has been exacerbated by well-meaning westerners who think they know which group should rule the country. Anarchists believe that the initiation of force is wrong, which is why government is wrong, and no one should be allowed to form the government. A variety of warlords fighting for control of the people is hardly a voluntary society. Ethiopia’s 2006 invasion of Somalia to shore up its proxy army there did not help much either.
Besides, many countries with governments are worse off than Somalia, so government is obviously not the answer. To say the reason places like Canada and Australia and Germany are peaceful is purely because of the existence of government is simplistic because it is divorced from history. Among other reasons, one could point to the political culture. A lot of our rules come from people’s simply deciding that certain things are right and wrong. Some rules are in place because government put them there, though many of those rules are based on natural laws like no killing or enforcing contracts. If those rules, if the government superstructure went away over time, would we stop following all rules? Of course not. We already believe that certain rules are right. For example, one day when I was living in Canada, the traffic lights near my house broke down. What do you think happened? Do you think everyone started racing through the intersection, and there were dozens of fatal accidents? Actually, there were no accidents. Everyone simply behaved as if there were a stop sign there instead. The stop sign rule was one they were all already familiar with and agreed with. It was a custom, and we adhere to customs unthinkingly. They didn’t need a traffic light there, just like they didn’t need a policeman handing out tickets to enforce compliance.
But back to the Horn of Africa. Under Siad Barre, Somalia did not have rules accepted by the people; it had rule by one man (so kind of like a majority government in Canada). Siad Barre killed and tortured thousands of people. There was no civil society because everything was forced from the top down. How could they have expected the collapse of his government to have led to a voluntary society? Anyway, Somalia outside Mogadishu is not as bad as people seem to think. After 1991, things began to grow more peaceful, and by the late 1990s, most of Somalia was at peace. There is sporadic fighting among rival gangs, but there is not so much violence against civilians. (1) (Sounds a bit like Los Angeles.) There is no question a humanitarian crisis afflicts Somalia (given that some of the refugees I teach in Cairo come from Somalia, I would have to be blind not to know that), though violence is not the only factor. The militant group al-Shabab, styling itself as government, has decided to prevent food aid to millions of Somalis. Nevertheless, the people are more healthy and prosperous, and obviously far more free, than they were under Siad Barre (2), which means that they are better off now than they were. (That is partly due to the existence of humanitarian aid groups, who were not allowed during Siad Barre’s time.) Telecommunications have improved as well. A variety of companies are operating with no government regulation, and as a result, Somalia has more phone lines and internet access than most of the rest of Africa. (3) Water and electricity are provided by the private sector, and social insurance comes from remittances and the expansive clan-based family structure. Somalis have access to private healthcare at low costs. Somalia now has universities it didn’t have under statism. Somalia has made decent economic progress since Siad Barre, and some major multinationals like Coca-Cola, DHL and affiliates of General Motors and British Airways have investments in the country. Somalia’s financial sector is doing well, and Somalis lend and borrow a lot of money. Because there is no central bank, inflation is low. Somalis have access to the latest electronic gadgets, too, thanks in large part to the Somali diaspora. (4) In fact, even in Mogadishu things are a lot better. Rapid construction of hotels and restaurants and a light manufacturing industry are developing. (5) If you think things are as bad as they were during the disastrous US “Black Hawk Down” intervention, you might find there is more to Somalia than meets the eye that hasn’t done its research. Of course, if you are going to compare Somalia to Canada and Australia and Germany, fine, it is far worse, but that can hardly be a fair comparison, can it?
Civil society crept back after Siad Barre, and with it returned Xeer [ħeːr], the traditional Somali legal system. Xeer is a functioning legal system that nonetheless has no single authority. Rather than a body that endlessly makes laws to regulate every aspect of life like we have and change with the whims of the powerful, elders mediate disputes based largely on natural human rights. Dispute resolution is a lot faster and cheaper than the average national justice system. (6) Waddaya know? There can still be law and order, even when there is no national government.
Then people talk about piracy as some kind of inevitable consequence of Somalia’s lawless society. However, anyone who reads beyond the headlines knows that the real reason some—not as many as you might think—Somalis have turned to piracy is that rich-country fishermen, with no respect for Somali property rights, went there, poached all the fish they could, dumped their waste and destroyed the fishing industry. Piracy is not only understandable but also, in effect, payback.
Unfortunately, attempts by outsiders (Barack, I’m looking at you) to battle the small al-Qaeda presence in Somalia are likely to lead to the deterioration of a country doggedly building itself up from the bottom. It certainly did not help the first time. Perhaps they should just leave Somalis alone to figure things out for themselves, which seems in fact to have been working so far, and stop trying to impose their statist dreams on everyone.