Friday, October 12, 2007

Somalia and Failed Nation States

A phrase we hear often lately is "failed nation-state." The term is used for Iraq, and now it is an apt term to describe Somalia. But I question the universal value of nation-states. Why can't some people be organized on some other basis?

According to this week's Economist article "Somalia: Breaking into even smaller bits?", in addition to the U.S./Ethiopian/U.N. imposed chaos in southern Somalia and the capital, Mogadishu, now Somaliland and Puntland are splintering as well. The "governments" of the two areas fought a small batlle over the town of Los Anod.

One problem in Somalia and much of Africa is that today's nations have artificial borders that were created when European powers carved up the continent into colonial territories. Most of these nations have multiple tribal groups within them. In many cases a tribal group will find itself half on one side of a border and half on the other side. This is also true of Iraq, where, for instance, the Kurds form a natural nation that occupies only a fraction of Iraq but also includes sections of Iran and Turkey.

In the past empires typically consisted of multiple tribes or nations. Often nations, for instance Germany, were broken down into multiple states. There is a pragmatic belief that if a national grouping, defined by language and culture, is incorporated into a single state, the result tend towards peace, stability, and harmony. Such nation-states are rare in their pure form, since most contain one or more minorities.

Somalia was never a nation state. It corresponds roughly to the Horn of Africa. There were ancient civilizations there as old as any on earth. But for the most part Somalia in the past consisted of city-states and smaller tribal regions (See Portuguese Catholics Destroyed East African Islamic Societies in 1500's). Even in the colonial era Somalia was not a single colony, the British have grabbed some and Italy having grabbed the rest.

So why try to unite this vast area with not-particularly related tribal groups? For the convenience of the U.S. war on "terror?" To keep it from having multiple seats at the U.N.?

Switzerland is a good example of a state that is not a nation is the classic sense. At least four languages are spoken there. It works as a state because the inhabitants have something else in common: living in the Alps and valuing freedom and prosperity over meddling in other people's affairs.

The problem in Somalia is in local "big men" not being content to be local. Everyone wants to be king, or at least President. It is true that grouped together, united in a nation, it might be easier to resist outside preditors. But that is just a choice of preditors.

The recent government like substance known as the Islamic Justice Courts had found a way for the people of varying clans to get along with each other. By stripping the warlords of their power and turning power over to a popular court system they briefly allowed for peace, freedom to travel without robbery, and renewed economic activity. That freaked out the CIA, which got the Ethiopians and U.N. and various thugs to reimpose chaos.

All the foreign troops in Somalia are war criminals, and all of the leaders who sent them there are war criminals.

But think beyond that. If there is peace, if there is trade between areas, and if there is some system of justice, do we really need a nation state? Do the people benefit from any state based on elevating a minority to power over a majority?

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