Thursday, July 28, 2011

Enforced Chaos

Somalia has become a byword for anarchy. I've often heard and read liberals throw it in the faces of right-libertarians, and I've heard rightists speak with disdain for its lawlessness and unpredictability. What they need, I'm told, is someone to get in there and whip up a little law and order. Chaos! War! Tribal conflict! Mayhem! Piracy! Man's descent into barbarism: Somalia! Somalia! Somalia!

And now they are starving in Somalia.

The BBC cites population growth and drought as contributing factors, but they also note:

More often than not, though, conflict has been a contributing factor at times of hardship.

The 1973 famine in Ethiopia occurred against the background of a creeping coup against Emperor Haile Selassie.

The 1984 famine there came at the height of the war between the government of Col Mengistu Haile Mariam and Tigrayan rebels.

And the 1992 food crisis in Somalia occurred as the country was descending into anarchy.

And I think a good argument can be made that nearly twenty years of war is a major contributor to the famine, as food surpluses, manpower, and ingenuity have all been diverted to battle. Complicating matters is the Islamist militia al-Shabaab, which objects to UN food distribution efforts in the areas they control.

The solution? More fighting!

Our correspondent says the fighting started just after dawn when the government and African peacekeeping troops launched an offensive on an al-Shabab stronghold in the north of the city, about 7km (four miles) from the airport....

Lt Col Paddy Ankunda, a spokesman for the 9,000-strong AU force in Mogadishu, said its "short, tactical offensive" against al-Shabab would make it easier for aid agencies to work in government-held areas.

Please take a moment to laugh darkly at the phrase "peacekeeping troops launched an offensive..."

And then take a walk down memory lane. Remember five years ago, when the dreadful anarchy in Somalia... ended. Did you miss it? I can't blame you. It didn't take too long before the US-backed military of Ethiopia, combined with a US naval blockade, surrounded the nascent victory in the Somali Civil War and strangled it. Somalia descended into war. Moderate and hardliner Islamists, their alliance defeated and destroyed, squabbled. Guess who won! Things got much, much worse, at least judging by the number of internally displaced people and refugees rushing the border. Rocket attacks began. Death squads operated freely. And now there is a famine in Somalia. Which only leads to more death, Western and proxy advance.

And now the last five years are down the memory hole for most of us. The BBC waxes nostalgic about life before 1991. Gone are the memories of what the war to save Somalia is in actuality. Now we can go back to mourning, and act as if the loathsome al-Shabaab is a foreign contaminant as opposed to a force that was fostered and nurtured with a steady diet of intervention, oppression, and blood. The bastards, like Mugabe or Saddam or any other scrappers that rise to the top of the heap not through navigating bureaucracies but through clever brutality, are the only force that can survive in Somalia. Being a bastard can have its uses.

And if we think about life before 1991, let us think about the military dictatorship of Mohamed Siad Barre, or more specifically its end. Here is the difficult truth for those interested in anarchy and anarchism. Somalia is a perfect example of devolution. It was imperfect, messy, and unattractive. It was egoist anarchism in action. Siad Barre overreached. The Cold War's end left him without backers. The government became more authoritarian. Ethiopia, still watchful over Somalia after their war over ethnic-Somali-populated Ogaden, probably encouraged internal dissension. Siad Barre sought to restrain separatists and oppositionist tribes. He failed, was overthrown, and died in exile a few years later.

I think the word "anarchy" is thrown about lazily, but the end of the Somalian (as opposed to the Somali) regime represents an interesting case example for state dissolution. We may wish to avoid its example in some or many ways (I certainly do), but that it is thrown in the faces of some does not mean we should cast it away without looking at it carefully. In Somalia, separatists succeeded in Somaliland, and now Puntland. In Somalia, individual tribes allied, feuded, or ignored each other. They confederated, and maybe that means the end of anarchy and the forming of states, but again, I have a more liberal interpretation of what the state is and see the state damn near everywhere, so anyway--what we call it may differ, but in this I see order emerging. In short, there was no overarching authority and merely the contest, violent or otherwise, between those who held territory and those who claimed it. To expect that to be lacking in the anarchy that follows the collapse of a state is foolish.

So I suppose if you believe in a negative anarchy, in which the state is removed, the Somali revolution did not go far enough; statelets remained. If you believe in positive anarchy, in the imposition of something in order to preserve freedom or autonomy or whatnot, then perhaps the revolution failed or was averted. Either way, what occurred in Somalia was a step toward anarchy. I don't think this can be denied.

But that was in 1991. What of 2011? Twenty years on, you cannot call what has occurred in Somalia anarchy, or a step toward it, or anything resembling it. Somalia is not independent but lawless. It is lawless and under the jurisdiction of powers whose bases are far outside its borders. It is a playground for Ethiopia and Eritrea and the United States of America. It developed a state, to which I was hostile. Once the Islamic Courts Union took Mogadishu, I knew it would abuse power, seek its own ends, behave with impunity, and so on. I knew this because of very simple assumptions I hold. It was a state! Of course it would behave according to its own narrow interest! Of course it would abuse power! And yet it emerged from Somalia. Did it impose its power with violence? Yes it did. And yet it was a product of Somalia. I doubt it would have made it a paradise. I don't doubt it possessed elements that were ugly and warranting deposition or death. And yet it did compromise. And yet it did serve local autonomies. And it was followed by something much, much worse. Authoritarian theocracy and foreign occupation. Piracy as a means to bring income to a nation where war has become the paramount industry. Radicalization of local culture. All the products of proxy war and geopolitical polarization.

But don't call it anarchy by any means. Somalia may not have any state, but it is the baby of quite a few states. It exhibits the barbarism only civilization can foster. It is enforced chaos. And every mortar shell that falls, every baby corpse abandoned by the side of a road, is not the result of a lack of rule but rather the imposition of rule from far abroad.


  1. And I think a good argument can be made that nearly twenty years of war is a major contributor to the famine, as food surpluses, manpower, and ingenuity have all been diverted to battle.


    also there's an assumption that third world people need to "modernize" -- with which I'd disagree.

  2. Modernity is a construct and an empty label. When we say "modernize," we mean any number of things, all slanted toward us.

  3. my one-handed typing imposition has me using obscurant-ish shorthand... meant to suggest that "modernization" lurks beneath the wars you mentioned... see John Perkins Confessions of an Economic Hit Man; see World Bank.

  4. Ah. It could well be so; we have definitely tried to prompt a little neoliberal vassal state there. But we've also never really pacified the place, and I wonder if the fact that we only killed about a thousand of them to avenge our 18 has something to do with it. I mean, if there was a state, then at least there'd be a mailbox where we could send the bill.

    Maybe it's really low on the priority list for domination. I see no more strategy in our dealings with Somalia than I do in a child who steps on an anthill, watches the panic, and then repeats the process as soon as the poor bastards get a new one built.

    But yes--predatory capital is always waiting. Oh, and please read the Esquire article. I've seldom read a more glowing portrait of death squad operation. It's revoltingly fascinating.

  5. I'm steeling myself for the Esq article!

    lots of oil in Somalia and easier to control oil when the peepz are in disarray. i.e.,

  6. It's certainly possible, Karl, though between piracy and the constant warfare, it's damn hard to get at it. Sure, the West is trying to take out Gaddafi, but it probably wouldn't stand for 20 years of "liberation." Who knows? I think it's simple dicking around, but there may be some plan behind it.

  7. think in decades or generations, not near-term