The Anarchy Of Somalia

Selected excerpts from Somalia And Anarchy by Jim Davis:

In 1991, the Democratic Republic of Somalia ceased to exist. The dictator, Siad Barré, was overthrown. His government was removed from power, and no successor government was installed in its place. Taxes ceased to be collected. Regulatory agencies ceased to regulate. Payments on the dictator’s foreign debt ceased to be made. And there was much rejoicing.

During the course of the celebrations that followed, radio stations in Mogadishu broadcast the message that nobody was certain what to do next, so it might be a good idea if everyone returned to the villages and towns and cities from whence they came. A great many did.

Since that time, thirteen different “peace conferences” have attempted to create a new government for all of Somalia. Thus far, all of them have failed. The UN and the USA were unsuccessful in their nation-building efforts in 1992–1995, and, although they destroyed thousands of Somali lives, and spent many American lives and much treasure, still, no Somalia-spanning government is collecting taxes, enforcing regulations, imprisoning and torturing dissidents, or doing any of those things for which vast, central governments are known. Since 1991, the principals of Awdal Roads Company have been investigating, and since July 2000 actively pursuing business opportunities in the region.


I find the idea of Somalia as a place mediated by warlords to be an odd concept. In this turn of phrase, I’m not sure what “mediated” is meant to convey. There are a lot of mainstream journalist articles which use the term “warlords” in connection with the half dozen or more groups with militia units in Mogadishu. Warlord is a term that could apply to a shogun in 18th Century Japan or an Indian chieftain in 19th Century Montana. General Norman Schwarzkopf, at the height of the Persian Gulf war of 1991, could have been called a warlord. He wasn’t, though, because the term is deliberately insulting.

The cultural difference among the various people who could legitimately be called warlords is so great that I don’t feel the term has any useful meaning. It does appear in a lot of tripe that passes for mainstream media coverage, but as George Carlin notes in his delightful book Napalm & Silly Putty, we call the mainstream a stream because it is way too shallow to be considered a river.

I don’t think there are any warlords in Somalia. There are war leaders, or militia leaders, in various parts of Somalia. People who defend their homes often organize militias; it is done in places as gentile as Switzerland, Texas, and Israel. You find that the mainstream media tends to call the leaders of these militia “officers” in countries other than Somalia. Very often, the elders of a community choose a war leader or officer, and he chooses his lieutenants and subordinates. He provides leadership, until the crisis is past or until another officer is chosen to replace him, or until he dies. Calling him a warlord and calling his lieutenants “henchmen” doesn’t further a discussion of these issues.

Goatherds, Land Ownership, Oil Companies, and the State

Are there goatherds who own land that mineral deposits are found upon? Yes. In Somali culture, land is owned by sub-clans, which in Scottish culture are called septs. A group of septs forms a clan, a group of clans form a great clan, and a group of great clans is part of a larger lineage group. All Somalis are related by common descent. So, in addition to goatherds who own land, one may find university professors, doctors, lawyers, sheiks, and businessmen who own land.

Land in town tends to be subdivided, and individual homeowners and business owners have ownership of homes and manage particular shops. Houses and shops are also leased. There is some evidence that other forms of lease structure would be acceptable under traditional forms of Somali customary law.

There were a number of multinational companies which were interested in oil and natural gas in Somalia during the 1980s. Chevron, British Petroleum, Conoco, and Sinclair are among the majors who were drilling in the north part of Somalia. The last of these companies left the region in 1992. Various documents I’ve seen indicate that the last of their exploration leases expired in 1999, while the dictatorship with which they seemed comfortable doing business was expired in 1991.

I’ve approached various individuals associated with the major oil companies. Their position seems to be that it isn’t possible to convince their legal departments that individuals can govern their own interests. The ideas of ad hoc government and self government expressed in bodies of tradition and law such as the Xeer Samaron do not seem to be the sort of thing multinational corporation lawyers want to educate themselves upon. Perhaps that would be an area for some corporate law types to investigate further.

A typical discussion on this subject took place in December 2000 in Holland. The corporate law expert and the petroleum development expert expressed the opinion that none of the majors would touch the resources in Awdal unless there were a Western-style government imposing taxes, exercising eminent domain, providing security forces (police, military) at taxpayer expense (rather than at oil company expense), and offering a “mining law” that guaranteed the distribution of the “take” between the oil company and the government. The notion that anyone but a government could own property or contract for a mineral exploration or production leases seemed difficult to convey. I also found the use of the phrase “in civilized countries” to be frequent and offensive. (I’m of the opinion that followers of socialistic systems of coercion who willingly subvert private interests for the sake of obedience are not civilized, and never have been.)

Subsequently, however, we have had considerable interest expressed by professionals in the mining industry who don’t work for the staid, multinational dinosaurs. So, it may be possible for landowners in Awdal, the people who live there, to see some development of their mining resources take place without going to the all the difficulties inherent in forming a huge, bureaucratically inept, powerful, dominating, and obedience-commanding “state.”

Assuming that a company, let’s say a small Texas wildcat firm, wanted to go to Awdal and extract, say, tantalum, here’s how I would suggest they go about it. They would need to be introduced to some people in Awdal. My company can do that, and so can some others. They would need to understand the area by visiting it, look at some of the documentation that supports the presence of tantalum, and then go about identifying the exact places they think are prospective of tantalum. Satellite imagery may be helpful in this regard, and there have been geologists who have done considerable fieldwork in Awdal. In fact, I met one, trained in the UK, who had come from Mogadishu in 1991 with a very interesting report on tantalum deposits all over Awdal. I’d be happy to make introductions among interested parties.


As for anarchy, I don’t think you’ll find it there. I’m not an anarchist, by the way, but a propertarian, which is a freedom-oriented philosophy concentrating on private property as the fundamental from which all other freedom derives. Of course, I have been called an anarcho-capitalist without voicing any complaint.

Certainly, among the nomads of Somalia, you won’t find anarchy. Kropotkin would be proud of the way individual nomads and their families defend property in grazing lands, wells, and livestock. Bakunin, too, perhaps. Out in the field, you won’t find many representatives of government. You’ll find people everywhere, even in the vast Guban desert. You’ll find self-government, communities of related interests, families, and clans. You’ll find elders, leaders, and people concerned about their future. You’ll find children who are well-cared for, with very little evidence of coercion in their raising. The land has a natural beauty which you might find delightful.

Modern notions of wealth don’t inspire me. Modernism is an empty philosophy which tied itself, early on, to “scientific socialism” and other nonsense. Postmodernism hasn’t always been much better.