Saying No to Statehood

"A reluctant guest of honor," the Times of London reports, "will arrive for his farewell party at Kenya 's State House this morning, shake hands with government ministers and listen to the very best wishes from a relieved international donor community."

Not a moment too soon for the Kenyan government, which was the reluctant host of the President of Somalia, one Abdullahi Yusef and the rest of his government in exile.

Since his "election" by other politicians at a meeting in Kenya in October 2004, Mr. Yusuf has argued that the risk of relocating to Mogadishu , the former national capitol and Somalia 's largest city, was too great. He has insisted on moving the capital to the nearby towns of Baidoa or Jowhar, infuriating many members of his parliament (also unelected, by the way), and "frustrating international officials." This didn't work out too well either, as the provisional government was driven out of their commandeered villas and luxury hotels in short order by a coalition of tribal groups, clans, and independent freebooters acting as an ad hoc militia and forcing the new government out and back to exile in Kenya .

The departure of President Yusuf will come as a huge relief to the Kenyan authorities. They have hosted their neighbor's government since 2002. However, bitter wrangling over the choice of a capital city and the matter of foreign peacekeeping troops had raised the prospect of the government collapsing before it even returned home. How can that be, you ask? Well, consider this.

Somalia has been without a national government since 1991, when the incumbent dictator Mohammed Siad Barre was overthrown in a spontaneous, nationwide uprising, and he fled into exile. This sort of armed impeachment is not rare in Africa , but what made the 1991 "People's Coup" (as it has come to be known) unique is that no dictator, Generalissimo, junta, or any other organized national group took over ex-President Barre's place as head of state. Instead, Somalia is a patchwork of tribal regions, city-states, and open territory, each with its own unique system of local governance. No nationwide governing authority exists or has existed since 1991.

The lack of a national government in Somalia simply drives the rest of the world's governments crazy too. Armed resistance by the Somali people has prevented more than 14 attempts to install a national government. Voting with their AK-47's and RPG's instead of ballots, the Somalis have "voted" to stay the way they are now.

" Somalia is a safe haven, it is ungoverned space," says US Marine Corps General Samuel Helland in a news story. "We, the international community, have to do something to take away that safe haven."

The way I see it is that Somalia is no more a "safe haven" for terrorists than southern Florida is, or than any nation-state that garrisons foreign troops is a safe haven for aggressors and imperialists is. The old saying about 'One man's freedom fighter is another's terrorist' would seem to apply here. However, I digress.

Here is what I see as the real issue. The statist-oriented governing classes, whether African neighbors of Somalia in the Horn of Africa region, or the rest in the governments, NGO's, media, and academics hate the thought that people will discover that they can actually rule themselves. Small social entities based on tribe, clan, religion, or some other affinity can band together on a voluntary basis, and based on their own criteria make a go of it without a mega-state composed of people far from them whose only mandate to rule is their avail to armed soldiers and police. "Behind every state is a man with a rifle," the saying goes.

The people of Somalia, however, have decided to be the ones holding the gun barrels that everyone from Chairman Mao to Robert A. Heinlein have said political power emanates from. This meme they have about armed defense of independence and liberty is not an idle platitude, either. Remember the film Black Hawk Down? The film's plot is based on the true story of a spontaneous and successful defense by a Mogadishu neighborhood militia from an attack by US Army Rangers. You may remember the video clips on the news channels of downed Army helicopters and dead soldiers and pilots' bodies being dragged through the streets to the wild applause of the neighborhood.

There is no real question but that life in Mogadishu is hard and unsafe in the absolute sense. However, there are areas of Detroit where, while not quite so bad, are nearly so. What gives Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick the mandate to rule over this city of 1.2 million people? The armed force of the state and US government is what. The Detroit municipal government can't manage or even control large areas of the city. The people that live in these marginally governed zones will tell you this too, if you ask them. So why then doesn't the African Union, Amnesty International, Thomas Friedman, or the United Nations worry about them like they do the Somalis? Because they have a flag, a government, and the other symbols of political legitimacy, however absent of any actual legitimacy and effectiveness they may be.

As my philosophical mentor Wolf DeVoon pointed out so succinctly: "The simplest explanation is obvious: governments, as such, do not exist. 'Official' duties are carried out by private individuals'all of whom started life as ordinary civilians, equally innocent, before they grew up to become bureaucrats or cops. I am well aware of their numerous misdeeds, exploiting the loopholes of official 'discretion,' while wielding the practical power of armed supremacy. This is an additional reason to frown, when someone says that government is a necessary or desirable form of social control. But the central bone of contention, throughout the centuries, was not whether individual magistrates acted properly in aid of liberty and justice'but rather, whether there should be created and maintained a class of men to govern other men, typically a few in power over the many. To this question, liberal fundamentalists (anarchists) shouted No! ' while thousands of effete scholars whimpered maybe, claiming to discern the public weal in a kaleidoscope of buts and howevers." (From Justice Without Government.)

The Somalis have thrown over the last 200 years of political philosophy aimed at achieving the perfect state and have instead moved on to a newer and at the same time older formulation of human existence, one that says, "We can get along just fine by ourselves, thank you very much." Don't call us, we'll call you. Don't hold your breath waiting, though.

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Ali Hassan Massoud's picture
Columns on STR: 43

Ali Massoud is a proud old-school isolationist who writes for the Internet and blogs.