In elementary school, if a peer wanted to bully you for something you like, they would say, “Yeah, well, why don’t you marry it?” This is the same type of strategy leftists, and sometimes even conservatives, employ to supposedly “own” libertarians who rail against the state: “Yeah, well, why don’t you move to Somalia?” It is an ignorant question because it lacks understanding of what libertarianism is and what transpired in anarchist Somalia.
…more businesses are no longer depending on government security forces.
Although far from being a so-called libertarian paradise, Somalia of the last 30 years is still better than some other war-ravaged African jurisdictions. Competing currencies, the rise of industry, and a robust economy were common soon after the Barre government’s collapse in 1991. Of course, present-day Mogadishu and surrounding municipalities are paralyzed by gang rivals shooting at each other and chasing down bystanders with machetes. It’s these conditions that libertarian opponents exploit to win debates.
So, what have the economic conditions been in Somalia since 1991?
Economic Growth During Turmoil
An effective centralized government has been absent since President Barre’s fall. While a new globally-endorsed government was implemented in 2012, stability continues to elude the nation as terrorist groups cripple society. However, an informal economy has allowed Somalia to improve living standards for millions.
This is what life looked like in 1991:
- Gross domestic product: <1%
- GDP per capita: $210
- Inflation rate: 200%
- Life expectancy: 46
- Adult literacy: 20%
Fast forward to 2019, and life is incredibly different:
- GDP: >3%
- GDP per capita: $500
- Inflation rate: -3%
- Life expectancy: 55
- Adult literacy: 38% (50% for men)
One could only imagine what else Somalia could achieve if the rule of law and a respect for private property were ubiquitous – two things that libertarians advocate. For now, considering what the situation has been for three decades, this is the next best thing for the more than 11 million people residing in East Africa.
The Rise of Industry
Despite political chaos, the domestic economy is doing well. Even without the proper infrastructure – the government is unable to properly and fully collect revenue – numerous companies are able to prosper and expand.
Somalia’s economy is supported by agriculture, financial services, and telecommunications. In the nation’s capital, Mogadishu, there are supermarkets, gasoline stations, hotels, and retail shops. Because of foreign investment, the manufacturing industry is beginning to boom, but security concerns threaten factory operations. This could soon change as more businesses are no longer depending on government security forces. What are they doing? Relying on private-security militias for protection instead.
While much of the economic activity takes place in Mogadishu, telecom firms are offering wireless services, which has served as a tremendous boon for other Somalian cities to grow their local economies.
A traditional banking system is largely unknown in Somalia, but informal money-exchange services are found throughout the country. These companies handle as much as $1 billion each year.
Any description of Somalia contains the words “lawless” and “disorder.” However, according to Michael van Notten in the book The Law of The Somalis: A Stable Foundation for Economic Development in the Horn of Africa, the country utilizes customary law, which places life, liberty, and property above all. He contends that this is sufficient to maintain peace and prosperity, not the international community imposing a democratic government. As a result of this cultural phenomenon, the nation’s telecom is one of the best on the continent, the agricultural sector is stronger than others, and the shilling was relatively stable until 2004 – there had been three other competing currencies (Na Shilling, Balweyn I, and Balweyn II), but the shilling was victorious.
Fishing, Pirates, and the EU
Somalia could have one of the biggest fishing industries in the region. Its waters (the Gulf of Aden) are home to massive fishing grounds, which could lead to immense fisheries and coastal area development. The experts blame a paucity of skills and tools, as well as prevalent piracy, for Somalia unsuccessfully cultivating this industry. But what about foreign looting?
When it was reported that French soldiers had been deployed on French fishing craft off the Somali coast to protect their fishermen, one question was floated around: What are French fishermen doing there? Chinese, Japanese, and European fleets deplete the coastal waters surrounding Africa, as many countries sold off fishing rights, the profits of which went into the pockets of warlords, never local populations.
Moreover, since Somali fishermen are unable to earn a living from their vessels, they turn to refugee smuggling and other illicit activities. One environmental group, Germanwatch, summarized E.U. policy in the region: “Subsidizing the creation of poverty in lieu of fighting poverty: that is the sorry outcome of a misguided fishing policy.” Operation Atalanta, formally European Union Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) Somalia, may be countering piracy. But it is countering a problem to which it contributed.
Critics of libertarianism try to compare Somalia to the U.S. to in the argument about big government versus no government. But this is a false dichotomy and conveys the Nirvana fallacy (the comparison of actual developments with unrealistic alternatives). You’re better off comparing Somalia with regional countries if you’re interested in learning the truth.
There are generally two types of libertarian thought: the minarchist model and the Rothbardian approach. The former is minimal government (police, justice, and military) and the latter is a form of anarcho-capitalism that emphasizes private property rights. Neither proposal advocates pure anarchy, as opponents disingenuously suggest. But if Somalia was considered a state of anarchy, then it was a good first attempt at it.
The next time you attend a party and someone demands you move to Somalia if you hate government, then you can inform the crowd about the advancements in the East African nation.