I’ve been working on a case study of the anarchist “state” of Somalia for a couple of months now. But have been unable to work it all into a cohesive whole. There’s just too much data from too many sources to water it all down to a single post. At the same time, I don’t want to just give you a bunch of links to academic papers that are difficult to sift through. If you wanted to read those papers you likely already would have done so. It’s my “job” to make you interested enough to read (or at least skim) them for yourself by giving you the highlights. So, in the intereste of actually moving things forward I’ve decided to break up the case study of Somalia’s current, ongoing, anarchy into several large “chunks” focusing on different areas. How many? I have no idea. But everything’s gotta start somewhere, so I’m going to start with a brief history of Somalia-
Egyptians, Romans, and Byzantines all traded on the Somali coast, but it wasn’t until the construction of the Suez Canal (opened in 1869) that Somalis had much contact with Europeans. Shortly thereafter, France, Italy, England, and Ethiopia all occupied parts of Somali territory, though they failed to penetrate the rural areas where nomads continued their daily life undisturbed by foreign influences.
In 1947, the United Nations arbitrarily split the Somali nation into five separate countries overseen by Italy, France, Britain, Ethiopia and Kenya. As an aside, isn’t it ironic that an organization called the United Nations was busy splitting up countries? In 1960, former British and Italian Somaliland were consolidated into the Republic of Somalia, which is the “state” generally referred to as Somalia today. In 1969, Brigadier General Mohamed Siad Barre overthrew the Republic of Somalia and established a Marxist dictatorship and Soviet client state, which he renamed the Democratic Republic of Somalia.
In 1978 Siad Barre declared war on Ethiopia. The Soviets backed Ethiopia, whereupon Barre became pro-Western. Barre lost the war, and his credibility with Somali citizens, causing rebellion to break out in the north. In the late 1980s a series of attacks in Berbera led to a government massacre of 30,000 civilians. In 1991 Siad Barre’s administration collapsed, and the government was dismantled. Clan fighting and widespread famine ensued, leading the United Nations to return, occupying the country and attempting to install a “democratic” government (as if democracy can be forced upon a people). In 1995 the UN finally acknowledged the will of the Somali people and withdrew leaving no formal government in place.
Instead of a government, the 11.5 million Somalis have returned to the customary laws of their ancestors, the Xeer. I will go into a lot of details about the Xeer in future posts, but here are some basics-
- Law and, consequently, crime are defined in terms of property rights. The law is compensatory rather than punitive. Because property right requires compensation, rather than punishment, there is no imprisonment, and fines are rare. Such fines as might be imposed seldom exceed the amount of compensation and are not payable to any court or government, but directly to the victim. A fine might be in order when, for example, the killing of a camel was deliberate and premeditated, in which case the victim receives not one but two camels.*
- A person who violates someone’s rights and is unable to pay the compensation himself notifies his family, who then pays on his behalf. From an emotional point of view, this notification is a painful procedure, since no family member will miss the opportunity to tell the wrongdoer how vicious or stupid he was. Also, they will ask assurances that he will be more careful in the future. Indeed, all those who must pay for the wrongdoings of a family member will thereafter keep an eye on him and try to intervene before he incurs another liability. They will no longer, for example, allow him to keep or bear a weapon. While on other continents the re-education of criminals is typically a task of the government, in Somalia it is the responsibility of the family.**
- There is no victimless crime. Only a victim or his family can initiate a court action. Where there is no victim to call a court into being, no court can form. No court can investigate on its own initiative any evidence of alleged misconduct.*
* MacCallum, Spencer Heath – The Rule of Law without the State
** Van Notten, Michael. 2005. The Law of the Somalis: A Stable Foundation for Economic and Social Development in the Horn of Africa. Trenton NJ: Red Sea Press.