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[Letter] Somalia: New players, same problems

Jan 27,2011
Many foreign observers do not understand the social foundations of Somalia.

The overwhelming majority of violent acts in the country occur in national government centers in the south. In these struggles as well as in piracy, foreign states exacerbate conflict. Within the borders internationally regarded as Somalia’s land, there exist several states whose claims of independence or autonomy go unrecognized by the “international community.”

Apparently it is in the best interest of international elites to promote one Somalia under centralized rule instead of a confederation of several smaller states.

But a cynic might wonder if the conflict that hinders the development of civil society and creates a power vacuum that can be taken advantage of, is strategically advantageous for international powers to perpetuate.

Violence occurs when trying to force a centralized government on a country with decentralized power, and in forcing a modern state onto conflicting customary law. But proponents of central government are unable to accept that forcing everyone to obey whoever has government power might not be the best way to promote harmony among different interests and allegiances.

International activity in Somalia, whether to plant a flag, recover debt from defaulted loans to dictators, or rub out blowback from other empire-building projects, has persisted well beyond the famine relief missions of the early 1990s. The United Nations, United States and Ethiopia have attempted to influence the situation using military force.

The hand of foreign exploitation is seen clearly in the piracy issue once the observer looks beyond the superficial explanation that boils down to “more force needs to be deployed to keep poor black people from committing crimes.” The long coastline of Somalia had traditionally been fished by locals operating small boats (who should thereby have a usufruct claim).

But foreign ships over-fished the waters and dumped toxic waste from wealthier nations. Somalis turned to piracy either to defend their shores or to make money in one of the few lucrative options left to them.

One must take note of the impoverishment of Somalia versus the prosperity of neo-colonial powers. Little was left in the hands of the Somali people when the looting state collapsed in 1991. They started with little yet were able to get somewhere. In “Better Off Stateless: Somalia Before and After Government Collapse,” Peter T. Leeson shows that life for Somalis has on average improved relative to life under the Barre regime. Leeson examined a series of developmental indicators, including life expectancy, access to medical care and access to communication technology.

The problems in Somalia have been, and continue to be, caused by authoritarians and looters in government, business and banking.


Darian Worden, a writer with experience in libertarian activism.



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